Thursday, December 31, 2015

In which I risk, at best, ostracism, and, at worst, death when I proclaim: The Beatles were great for about four years. After that the went badly off the boil, not least after three of the four of them began believing their own bullshit

NB At the end of this post are three soundfiles. Just click start to hear any of them. If you are using a Windows machine, they work (on Windows 7) on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Opera. If you are on a Mac, they work on Safari, Chrome and Firefox (and also on some obscure browser I have for some reason installed called Stainless), but they don't work on Opera.

Well, hallelujah (or not). Forget Syria, the EU migration crisis, China building new islands in its latest move to dominate the world, Dame Harriet Harman about to be declared a saint by the RC mafia in the Vatican and Manchester United quite overjoyed that they have finally not lost a match (they were 0-0 against Chelsea, who were also over the Moon that they didn’t lose - who’s to say there isn’t a God in Heaven, eh?).

Yes, forget all that rubbish. Forget even the flooding of most of the North of England, a disaster for folk living there, one only partly ameliorated by the Government’s decision to rent all those affected scuba diving gear and, in keeping with the spirit of the Christmas festive season, postpone any payment for four weeks. No, the Really Big News is that The Beatles - well, the two Beatles who are not yet six foot under, Paul and Ringo - have finally consented to make their ‘oeuvre’ available on iTunes and Spotify. Well! Who says God never listens to our prayers!

I must confess that I was a Beatles fan as a kid and can even remember getting physically excited at the imminent release of their soon to be latest album Revolver (and we still called them ‘LPs’, which were preferably CDs because it was easier to roll a spliff on an LP cover. Try doing that on a CD case.) I didn’t get in a ground level because they hit the big time when I was still living in Berlin and I didn’t get to hear them much. I do once remember hearing She Loves You on BFN (British Forces Radio, the rather paler version of AFN, American Forces Radio), but I can’t say they registered. In fact, I can’t really remember when I got hooked although I was most certainly hooked by the age of 16 when I bought my first Beatles LP (though their sixth) Rubber Soul.

By then the so-called Swinging Sixties was well into its stride, the Beatles were growing hair long (before it had simply been longer, to the disgust of ex-World War II soldiers throughout the land who thought if a short-back-and-sides was good enough for them, it was good enough your you, sonny-me-lad!) I soon had the first five albums though, and great they were too, although the very first did have some weak tracks.

After that came Revolver and, in its time, it did sound different, as even more so did Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. We played that one to death at school, and I tried to learn some of the chord sequences (and failed). And although the songs were catchy - of course, they were catchy - I didn’t quite warm to them as I had warmed to the short three-minute gems on, particularly, a Hard Day’s Night and Help. Sgt Pepper created a huge hoo-ha and the Beatles were lauded to high heaven, but I suspect it was also the point where they began to take ‘their art’ and, crucially, themselves more seriously, verging on a little too seriously. And that is never a good thing.
Ringo, the drummer, who was always the down-to-earth one, must be cited as the honourable exception. When he was asked on his return from the ashram in India of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (after just ten days. McCartney lasted a month, Lennon and Harrison two months before they, too, sussed him out as just another godwhacker on the make) what it was like, he replied: ‘Just like Butlins’. Ringo calls a spade a spade and has always struck me as having his feet firmly on the ground. He was also a good drummer.

They seem somehow to have lost it when Brian Epstein died. I don’t think Epstein was the greatest or smartest manager, but he was a crucial part of their world until then, one in which they were really just another ‘pop group’, although a hugely successful one. When he killed himself, I think the parts all fell apart. And that was noticeable in their new LP, the so-called White Album. I remember looking forward to that and being distinctly underwhelmed. Distinctly.

One warning should have been that it included 30 tracks, a great many of which were very ordinary indeed. Yet my feelings weren’t those of the mainstream and everyone seemed to join in and reinforce the Beatles belief that they were pretty much the world’s most talented folk and that whatever they turned their hand to was touched with genius. Well, it wasn’t.

Before that had been their Magical Mystery Tour TV programme and its attendant songs, none of which grabbed me, although I didn’t like to admit it to myself for some reason. But then does anyone below the age of 40 relish admitting to himself that his hero or heroes have feet of clay like the rest of us?

Then came the last two LPs, Abbey Road and Let It Be. Again these were played to death, not at school this time but in the flat I shared in Castle Street, Dundee, and, yes, of course, they were catchy, but by now the magic really had gone. I actively began to dislike many of McCarney’s songs, far too many of which I thought and still think were horribly twee. Let It Be - ugh! The Long And Winding Road - ugh! And earlier Fool On The Hill - ugh!

Bearing these in mind, the writing was obviously on the wall with She’s Leaving Home on Sgt Pepper and earlier still I’ll Follow The Sun on Beatles For sale. And ever since heart by almost everything he has since done, Paul McCartney has demonstrated, to me, at least, that he is a twee shite at heart. Lennon last a little longer in my affections, but not much longer. His first solo LP I thought to be nothing but a long whinge of self-indulgent shite, not even redeemed by the one good track, Revolution.

Then came Imagine which I did buy but which underwhelmed me, too, followed by Mind Games. I bought that, too, but I don’t think I played it more than two or three times. And to this day, I want to puke every time I hear Imagine played. Jesus, it’s awful.

I remember being particularly irritated when I caught footage on TV of Lennon playing it in some concert New York concert hall. Lennon was alone on stage, wearing sunglasses and playing a white piano. The camera panned to the audience, which consisted - quite obviously - of the monied and chic of New York, all in their finery and who most certainly wouldn’t give peace a chance if their fucking lives depended on it. As they might say in Scotland: get to fuck John, you big phoney.

Both Lennon and McCartney’s solo output and the reception given to it seem to imply that they were still the musical geniuses from Liverpool and that, including the bullshit about the political activism of the ‘man of peace’ Lennon carries on to this day. Harrison was a half-decent guitar player, but not better than any number of other half-decent guitar players and session men. More to the point he wasn’t a very good songwriter and didn’t have a good voice, although it was useful for some of the harmonies.

Yes, like almost all our one-time heroes, The Beatles did go off the boil, and in retrospect it is rather more obvious to me now than it was then. I mean I did buy the first three Lennon solo albums, although I hardly played them. I didn’t buy any of McCartney’s albums at all. Granted there were still the occasional catchy tunes but . . .

But they really did have their moments and it’s good to remember what was good not what was self-indulgent and mediocre, so here are three songs, coincidentally with Lennon on lead vocals, although all three are very much a group effort and to my mind really do stand the test of time. As for the rest of it, the Sexy Sadies, the Helter-Skelters, the Fool On The Hills and all the rest, leave me out.

The first is No Reply from Beatles For Sale:



No Reply

Then there is I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party from the same album:



I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party

And finally, from a Hard Day’s Night, my favourite from that album of very strong songs, I’ll Be Back:



I’ll Be Back

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Merry Christmas to you all, but there’s still a dash of vinegar here (I hope)

As I write, it is mid-afternoon on Christmas Day and I am sitting at my stepmother’s bedside in Bodmin Hospital where she has been transferred for stroke rehab now that she is not medically in any danger. In fact, she was not medically in any danger pretty soon after suffering her stroke two weeks ago tomorrow, but had to stay in Truro (an 80-mile round trip) because no beds were free at Bodmin (an 16-mile round trip - guess which I prefer).

For the past few years, my daughter has had a job at the Red Lion, St Kew Highway, to top up her college funds (or, from where I sit, to get even more money to waste on clothes she doesn’t need). The restaurant there is doing a Christmas lunch for I don’t know how many and she was asked to work, and she agreed.

My son has also had a holiday job there for about a year now and although he wasn’t that bothered about working on Christmas Day, he decided to as my daughter’ decision to work has meant our Christmas lunch has been postponed until tomorrow, Boxing Day.

So, being at a loose end this afternoon - and not much being one for watching the Queen’s Christmas message, one of innumerable James Bond reruns or any of the other shite they decided to screen on Christmas Day, I’ve come to Bodmin Hospital to spend a few hours at my stepmother’s bedside and keep her company.

A bottle of champagne - on of her’s so it wasn’t any of the cheap shite I tend to buy - of which I am swilling by far the lion’s share, and a Christmas stollen, with Hymns from Kings College,
 Cambridge, playing on Radio 3 means it is all rather pleasant. My stepmother has yet again fallen into a happy slumber, which give me the chance to compose this bulletin from her bedside.

So a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, even those who haven’t suffered a stroke. Oh, and for about the umpteenth time I have reflected on just how bloody lucky we are here in Britain to have healthcare for each and any complaint utterly free of charge. Totally free. Not ifs, no buts. The sad thing is too many of us take it for granted.

. . .

Christmas has been an odd time for me for quite some years now. I am - perhaps ‘was’ is more truthful - what is called by some a ‘cradle Catholic’. That means that we were born, baptised and raised as RCs. There’s none of this ‘going over to Rome’ nonsense, whether it is because a deep-seated faith has finally come to the realisation that the Romans have got it right whereas the rest Christianity has got it wrong, however sincere they are; or whether, as is all-too-often the case, they are attracted to Rome because, unlike the bloody, sodding bastards Anglicans, the RCs will have no truck with what are called this ‘women priests’ nonsense and still thinks - thoroughly hypocritically, it has to be said, as a large part of the Vatican play for their own side - that homosexuality is ‘a sin’ and an abomination, and woofters of any stripe, however good and sincere they are, are banned from the kingdom of heaven. (This is usually announced in a tone of heartbreaking regret, that repeating what Rome’s doctrine is hurts them more than it hurts the woofters, but . . . well, but.)

As I say, that ‘doctrine’ - religion’s misleadingly posh word for ‘policy’ - is hypocritical to the nth degree if we are to believe the reports of a gay mafia running the Vatican. (Actually, on reflection the phrase ‘gay mafia’ is thoroughly offensive and I ask any gays reading this to please try to understand the sense in which I use it: members of the criminal mafia are Italian and Italian/American, but that most certainly doesn’t mean Italians and Italian/Americans are all mafioso.)

But it is not that hypocrisy, or better just that hypsocrisy, which I dislike intensely. As a lad I was brought up to repeat pieces of what were called ‘the catechism’. The only piece I can now remember is ‘a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace’. I didn’t at all understand what that or any of the other pieces of catechism I was taught to parrot meant, but I was expected to learn it, and crucially, believe it anyway. I attended mass (Mass with a capital M if you are still a believing RC), went to confession and took communion. Because I had to.

If, at first, I was lax in my attendance as I grew into my teens and twenties, it was most certainly not because I was having intellectual doubts. It was because I could think of better things to do on a Sunday morning, staying asleep in bed being one of them. But those intellectual doubts did slowly grow and then lead on to sheer disbelief that what is taught by the RC church, and other churches, is taken in the slightest big seriously.

I cannot these days hear any religious service or any religious proclamation, as I have been while listening to the carols from Kings, without thinking of Doctor Who or various threadbare bargain-basement sci-fi novels I read when I was in my salad days. When I hear of the mystery of the Trinity or the mystery of transubstantiation - that the host given as communion doesn’t merely ‘represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ’ but is that body and blood of Jesus Christ, I really have to wonder.

A strict Catholic will, as primed, respond that ‘yes, of course, it is odd, but that is why faith is important - faith that although is sounds like just so much stupid bollocks, it is nothing of the kind - it is the truth as revealed by Our Saviour Jesus Christ’. Well, sorry, I not longer buy it. And nor do I buy the suggestion that ordinary rules of comprehension and logic simply have to be suspended because this is different, this is God’s revealed truth. Ever met a really good carnie, or cardsharp or conman. He will tell you the same: ‘Yes, a 15pc return on investment is, I agree, unbelievable, but we have achieved it. Just hand over you hard-won savings and we will show you - and what could be more convincing evidence than that?’

But at this point I really must insert a caveat: I might think that the various religious ceremonies, services, invocations and the rest are as close to goobledegook as one can get, but many don’t. For many their faith is important to them and gives them great comfort when they need comfort. Please remember that.

So that is why Christmas is always rather a strange time for me. On the one hand, the older I get, the more I abhor the commercialism and rampant sentimentality of Christmas - ‘peace on Earth to all men of goodwill’? Why, of course, but pray tell me, why only now, at Christmas? - and for many years have reminded my children, especially when they were younger, exactly why we celebrate Christmas.

On the other I regard the whole nativity story, the ‘three wise men’, the shepherds coming to adore and all the rest of it as akin to Hansel and Gretel and The Sleeping Beauty. But, as the man says, there you go. As always, it’s horses for courses, you pays your money and you makes your choice, chacun a son gout, whatever floats your boat, an apt cliche is worth hours of thought, that kind of drift. You gets my meaning (and do I really have to add ‘squire’)?

Now where’s my glass of Comte de Senneval?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать. And in newspapers facts are said to be sacred, but not quite as much as sales - use your discretion

Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать I tend to look at the stats for this blog every morning when I check my email, and a few days ago I noticed that rather a lot of visits had come from Russia. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and everyone is welcome to waste whatever time they have to spare in their busy, busy lives reading my ramblings. But I was puzzled. It’s not as though I have anything useful to say about Russia, mainly because I don’t know Russia or much about the country and her people and culture. And I don’t speak Russian.

The snippet of Russian above I’ve used head this entry - I mean to say ‘I’m glad/pleased to see you and welcome’, but which it seems actually translates as ‘I’m excited to see you and welcome’ - comes courtesy of ‘Google translate’, then checked on a second sight. I am wary of Google translate (which I why I checked). I speak German and once or twice I’ve noticed that what Google translate offers is rather closer to goobledegook than one might wish. I checked on this site and this because for all I knew Google’s offering of Я рад видеть Вас и добро пожаловать actually means ‘don’t bother me with your problems, you fool’ or ‘off with you now, woman, and find me some vodka’.

According to the stats 50 people visited some entry of other of this blog in the past 24 hours, of which 31 visits were from Russia. The others were from the US, the UK, German, Taiwan, Australia, France and Ukraine (which I must remember not to refer to as the Ukraine as that, I understand is an insult). And in the past week of 353 visits, more than half - 188 - were from Russia. Why, I really can’t imagine.

There is, of course, one, rather sobering, explanation: it’s not what I have chosen to write about which last week attracted 188 visits, but some netbot scouring the web for whatever reason netbots scour the web. I have come across that before. Then, it seems, this blog was sought out by someone who had initially visited another blog, one active for just one month in March 2009 in order to sell houses. Why? I have no idea.

. . .

Like man other people - possibly still like many other people, who despite ‘social media’ and news on the web buy a daily newspaper - I grew up rather in awe of newspapers. It seemed to me that they and the stalwarts who produced them were somehow set apart from the rest of us. Journalists seemed to ‘know things’, some of which - but most certainly not all of which - they passed on to us.

They did this, we were assured by any number of Forties, Fifties and early Sixties Hollywood films dealing with newspapers, for noble reasons: we, the public, had a ‘right to know’. Journalists, we were - somehow - assured had a moral, almost sacred, duty to get ‘the truth out there’. Journalists were ‘in the know’, or at least that was the impression they liked to give us. From June 4, 1974, on - that was the day I started work as reporter on the Lincolnshire Chronicle in Lincoln (I specify that because the Lincolnshire Standard, part of the same group, was based in Boston, Linconshire).

The scales didn’t fall from my eyes overnight, though gradually but very surely it all came into focus, and gradually but very surely the pleasure I got from reading a newspaper disappeared like morning mist on a summer’s day. Now I get none at all, because I know how its done. I often compare it to the awe we have of stage magicians: we know with absolute certainty that no ‘magic’ is involved, we know it is all just trickery, dexterity and clever sleight of hand - and yet . . .

We plead with the magician to show us how its done. The wise ones refuse, always, both for their sake and ours. But occasionally one will relent and demonstrate how what held us so spellbound and in awe was quite simply to achieve. And then the regret sets in: we now wish we had not been shown how the trick was done, we wish we were still in that state of awe. But like losing your virginity, you can never regain it. It’s like that with newspapers.

Having written a great many news stories and later in my career edited them (as a sub-editor), I can spot the joins unerrringly. I can spot where the reporter wasn’t quite sure of the ‘facts’ and had to fudge; I can often spot what brief he was given by her/his news editor; I can spot - and we can all do this - what exactly is ‘new’ in the story we are reading and what is just a rehash of past news stories. But there is one magazine - which rather oddly likes to call itself a newspaper - which I still read, though less often than I might.

It is delivered every Saturday, and on the previous Thursday I can download it to my iPads directly. It’s the Economist. There are some, on both the Left and the Right, who don’t like the Economist and I can see why. It wears it principles on it sleeves and is unashamedly free market and in favour of the free movement of goods and principles. I should guess, though I really don’t know enough about them to make this claim, that it stands for pretty much what the old-fashioned 19th-century Liberals stood for.

On social questions it is ‘progressive’ (a word I believe should always get its quote marks). And like some ‘progressives’ it does, occasionally, give the impression of being rather pleased with itself and its value. But my response to that is ‘oh well, there’s always a price to be paid for most things.’ And I am prepared to pay that price becasue the Economist is a great source of information from all over the world.

This morning, for example, I discovered, that Chennai in India (once known as Madras), a city with a population of 8.7 million, has been almost wholly underwater for the past month; in Germany one

Ursula von der Leyen, the defence minister, is possibly shaping up to be a successor to Angela Merkel; that a very bloody-thirsty television series in China of 36 parts (they don’t do much by halves, do they) which goes out rather to early in the evening for some has led to calls for more censorship; and that Fiat (though most other manufacturers are doing similar things) has developed an engine - and already uses it in some of its cars - which is only a two-cylinder, 900cc beast but which can accelerate to 62mph in 10 seconds and - apparently - reach up to 117mph (and, yes, I also find that hard to believe, but then that is what the Economist is reporting).

Ford has developed its EcoBoost range of engines, 1-litre, three cylinder engines which are said to deliver more power than the previous generation of 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engines. In South Africa, the finance minister, by all accounts a capable and honest man, has been sacked at a rather delicate time - the country might soon be applying for an IMF bailout.

There are certainly many other journals - whether they call themselves newspapers or magazines - which provide just as good a service as the Economist informing us about that which we know little. But I have to say that the awe I felt for our daily and Sunday rag when I was far younger has long disappeared.

Here’s a useful exercise for you to perform next Sunday when your paper is delivered: turn to the main stories and read them. Then ask yourself exactly how much fresh information you have been

provided with. You might find it is surprisingly little. And I really must yet again point you in the direction of the website Committee to Protect Journalists which details the number of hacks killed and where they worked.

These are men and women who really do risk their lives daily ‘to get the truth out there’. Consider that when you next read the gossip column of your favourite rage (speculating on whether Posh and Becks are soon to divorce) and peruse the Mailonline’s column of shame (which keeps an admirable account on where and and with whom various non-entities have taken lunch). You might also care to visit this page to hear about journalists killed in Pakistan who most certainly not reporting on Kim Kardashian’s latest dress.

С моим лучшим wishe, до свидания, до тех пор пока в следующий раз, когда мы (and I do hope that doesn’t make me sound very silly indeed. If it does, blame the various online translation services.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Events, dear boy, events, though this time of a personal nature, though thankfully I am wholly unaffected. But perhaps you will do my stepmother a small favour. As for Voltaire and Satan, there’s a certain wisdom there

Well, I headlined a recent blog post ‘Events, dear boy, events’ which, I’m sure, many will have recalled as the response given by one Harold Macmillan, a former prime minister of Britain when he was asked by a journalist what was likely to blow his government off course. I suppose a companion piece to that quote would be the old joke ‘What makes God laugh?’, to which the answer is ‘When you tell him your plans’.

Well, I’m glad to report that nothing has gone amiss in my life, but ‘events’ have occurred, or rather an ‘event’ has occurred, in the life of my stepmother. More than eight years ago, on March on the night of March 17/18, two days before her 70th birthday, she suffered a massive stroke. She was in a coma for three days and in hospital several months, before she went to live in a nursing home. Things looked very bleak.

One minor blessing was the stroke did not affect her speech or brain, but she could not stand or do anything physical unaided. If she needed the loo, it required the use of a large contraption (of which Mr Heath Robinson would have been very proud) and two carers to hoist her out of her armchair, move her to the bathroom, then sit her down on the loo. She never complained.

There were several meetings with all sorts from social services, including one woman who simply insisted that my stepmother (who I shall refer to as Paddy, as that is her name) should reconcile herself to the a life in which she could never live independently. But my stepmother did not give up (and to this day spits when she is reminded of that woman).

Her older sister, the aunt I have been staying with these past few years in the Bordeaux area to go to concerts with, was also having none of it and tracked down a very capable physiotherapist (who also deserves a name in view of the help she gave, Emma Mees) who bit by bit by very slow bit managed to get my stepmother to regain the use of her legs and her right arm and hand. (She might well have also more or less regained the use of her left arm and leg but was rather lazy about doing her prescribed exercises, which is a shame).

So after a year and a half at the nursing home, she was able to move back into one of the cottages she owns, one which she had inherited from her sister. (There are three in a row, her own, the one she inherited and a third, in between, which at some point she and my brother bought together. She later bought him out and thus owned all three. They are three separate granite cottages, but all one building and her one motive for buying the middle cottage (it is, in fact, called Middle Cottage) is that she was a very keen gardener and wanted to make sure all the gardens surrounding the cottages were very nice gardens.

She is by no means wealthy and the course of events - that word again - which brought the other two cottages into her ownership was as much luck (if you can call the death of her sister, to whom she was very close and who left her a cottage in her will ‘luck’). She lived in the one cottage for several years, but was intent on eventually moving back into her own cottage if for no other reason than it was the one she and my father, who married her after my mother died, had lived in.

A small area beneath the stairs, which until then had been used for storage, was rather neatly converted into a lavatory with wash basin, and that meant she was able to live a more or less independent life. She spent her days sitting watching an awful lot of daytime television, and occasionally listening to classical music (in Classic FM - snob that I am, I refuse to and listen to Radio 3 when I listen to music on the radio) and every so often reading. That was her life for the past, what, four years. I return from London on a Wednesday night, did her shopping on the Thursday and spent a few hours with her every day for three days until I had to bugger off back to work in London on the Sunday morning.

Last Saturday - today is Tuesday night - I was called at about 10am by her carer of the day to say she couldn’t move her left arm and leg. As it turned out she had suffered another stroke. An ambulance was called and then the air ambulance which flew her to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske, Truro. And there she remains as I write. But now the good news. I have learned that there are, broadly, two kinds of strokes: one, the very serious kind, she is brought about by a burst blood vessel in the brain; and then a slightly less serious kind which is brought about by a blood clot.

She, ‘thankfully’, suffered the second kind. So her speech is not affected and although, now 78, he thought processes are often painfully slow, she is very much on the button. The use of her left leg and arm and still adrift, but I was told today that the occupational therapist (who remembered her from when she first washed up in Phoenix Ward, Treliske, eight years ago) has already had her standing on both feet. I really, really, really hope she will be able to get back to the state she was in before last Saturday morning and will be able to come back here (I am writing this in the kitchen of here cottage) to resume the life, albeit the limited life.

That, I’m sure, gives you, dear reader, yet another take on ‘events, dear boy, evnets. The irony is that before her first stroke she was a very active woman, spending all day gardening and twice a day taking her two springer spaniels for a walk, one very long, usually on Bodmin Moor, the other a little shorter. Her condition after her first stroke did bring her down a lot and she has been an anti-depressants. But - the relevant ‘but’ - not once in the eight years since that first stroke have I heard her complain. Not once.

. . .

I am not religious, and although were I asked ‘do you believe in God’, I would truthfully reply ‘yes’, it is most certainly not the God the Christians, Jews, Muslims or Hindus would recognise. It could, I suppose, be described, though very loosely, as a ‘humanist God’, although no such thing exists. My God is, when I am not beset as I have been a few times, by Churchill’s ‘black dog’, simply a faith in what makes humans admirable: their kindness, humour, optimism, altruism, sociability, laughter - that kind of thing. But I did the other night say, as I was brought up to say as a child an Our Father asking for my stepmother to at the very least to be brought back to a state where she can live the reasonably happy life she had before last Saturday. As we say, in a storm any port will do.

That reminds me of the story - and give me a moment while I google it - of the story of . . .

. . . Voltaire who, when on his deathbed, was asked by a priest to renounce Satan. His replied: ‘Now, now, dear man, this is no time to be making enemies.’

Quite. So whether you share my modest views or are a fully-fledged Godwhacker, you might care to remember my stepmum in your prayers tonight and ask whoever for the grace that she pulls through and has another few years on this earth. . . .

There is the old joke about why the Irish rarely suffer from memory loss. Well, apparently, however bad their memory becomes as they reach their dotage, they are said never to forget a grudge. Unfair? Who cares? My father met my stepmother in 1964. Both were working for the BBC and she, as I hear it (from her) fell in love with his voice before even setting eyes on him. Quite how, I don’t know.

The trouble was that in 1964 my mother was still very much alive and didn’t die for another 16 years (of a massive heart attack as it happens). But my stepmother and father began an affair. I don’t know the full details and have never made it my business to get chapter and verse, and what I do know has been volunteered by my stepmother. I gather my parents’ marriage (like rather many marriages) was not made in heaven and they most certainly had their ups and downs. I also suspect that my father, who though irascible and intolerant, was undoubtedly charming and had already had an affair or two. There are things we can only look back on and try to piece together. We’re most probably wrong, but

. . .

My stepmother inherited a small sum from her aunt and bought a small cottage here in St Breward. Although her heritage is wholly Irish, and although her two sisters and her brother (who became a priest, though later lapsed and married) were born in Ireland, my stepmother was born in Bodmin. Her father ran the local - well, what was it called in those days: mental hospital? So she was familiar with North Cornwall and loves it and with her inheritance bought what she renamed Rose Cottage (and in whose kitchen I am now sitting).

She and my father then jointly extended the cottage and built a kitchen, study/bedroom and bathroom. All this while my mother was still alive. He lived with her in her flat in south-east London and the two of them would spend weekends down here in Cornwall. My mother didn’t know, but I’m sure she suspected and perhaps she did know a little of what was going on. I didn’t though. One day, in January 1981, I happened to be staying at home and found my mother dead. After ringing for an ambulance (and being told ‘well, if she’s dead, you won’t want us then’), a few hours later I had to ring my father to tell him his wife, my mother, had died. She died at just 60.

As it turned out this was rather a good turn of events (that word again, and I am not, 30 odd years on being quite as callous as you might think). Three years later, my father married my stepmother when he retired. She also retired, early, at 45, and they lived what for her must have been quite an idyllic life, although even she had to walk on eggshells, given my father’s irascibility. And then he developed prostate cancer at 67. It spread and he died in July 1991. She was devastated.

I must confess that I, who had been very close to my mother (though a little less close in her final years due to my then still jejune sensibility and after what I regarded as ‘a betrayal’ - and Christ how slight it was. I still flush with embarrassment at the thought of it 35 years on) did not immediately get on very good terms with my stepmother.

My father did not invite me to their wedding because he feared I might ‘cause a scene’. That, too, irritated me, because I have always been reasonably polite and know I would never have done anything of the kind. But over the years I have got to appreciate, like and then love her all the more, not least because she has a very good heart and would do anything for anyone.

So, dear reader, down on your knees and pray, in whatever way you know, for a useful outcome to her current predicament.

Oh, and if you’re thinking that I am taking something of a risk by being so candid, don’t worry. I only know of two people who read this blog and neither knows my stepmother or knew my father. Secrets? They’re for spilling. There’s no other reason for having them. ‘Jejune’? I was 66 on November 21 last, but isn’t ‘jejune’ what this blog is? I do hope so.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Back in the saddle (and glad for it) and wondering what next is going to go wrong in Syria. Everything or even more than that?

Well, I’m back in the saddle, more or less, thanks to a daily pill of sertraline hydrochloride, which seems to have done the trick and banished that perpetually thick head, the locked shoulders and a desire to get away from everyone and just sleep for the time being.

Actually, I’ve been back in the saddle for a few weeks now, but it has taken me this long to return to this blog and admit as much: and that’s the odd thing. Why should I feel a tad shamefaced about it? I shouldn’t but I do. Had I suffered a bad dose of - real - influenza or been laid low for a couple of months with hepatitis or, like my brother, been out of action for more than a year with tuberculosis (he refused to go to the doctor for several months despite my insisting, then he did, was whisked into hospital, and then spent the best part of a year on medication recuperating), I wouldn’t feel this niggle to apologise and excuse myself. But I do.

Much has been written about our attitude to ‘depression’ and ‘mental illness’ and I don’t think there’s a great deal more I can usefully add. I’ve already pointed out that - in my case, at least - there’s bugger all ‘mental’ about my symptoms (wanting to be elsewhere and on your own can equally be brought on by being in the company of a group of crashing bores in committee) and, like ‘cancer’, I suspect a great deal of disparate conditions are lumped together under the heading of ‘depression’.

But I will point out - and I must stress that I most certainly cannot speak for anyone else - what when, as I have in the past, often severely, I have suffered from a bout of ‘depression’ it had nothing to do with ‘being unhappy’ and any feelings of being ‘down’ I experienced was brought about by the, at the time, fear that ‘this just isn’t going to end’. It did, of course, and that is the first thing I always remind myself: it came to and end before and it will do so again. But now enough of that.

. . .

My last entry, on November 13, was ‘Events, dear boy, events. But are some worse than others? Or are they all equally bad?’ Then bugger me, not hours later the massacre in Paris occurred, to be followed - here in Britain - just three weeks later by Parliament’s decision to extend the our involvement in the bombing campaign in Iraq to Syria. Talke of ‘events’. Pretty much overshadowed I’m A Celebrity, Give Me The Money for almost a day.

The vote in the Commons got all the pundits talking with Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn finding himself truly between a rock and a hard place. He opposed and opposes extending bombing to Syria. Most of his MPs, including most of his Shadow Cabinet didn’t. There was talk of him imposing a three-line whip on his MPs instructing them to oppose David Cameron’s motion that ‘this House believes Britain must do everything and anything to persuade the world that we really are still a force to be reckoned with, even though because of budget cuts are Royal Air Force at present only has two Sopwith Camels and a few barrage balloons. Oh yes!’

We’re off to bomb those frightful ISIS chappies. Wish us luck! (See you at teatime)

Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds: the RAF, we are told, already has 50 Airfix kits on order and they should arrive from Shenzen well before Easter. And if not by then, well, this bother in Syria looks set to run and run so there’s no danger of it all being over before the RAF can get it together and demonstrate the full extent of its might.

Unusually, I am with Labour commie rat and national danger Jeremy Corbyn on this one in thinking extending our air strikes it not such a good idea. Well, I think that’s his reason, and it is most certainly mine. Despite all the brave talk about ‘the damage our boys have already done to ISIS’ (©Daily Mail) the reality looks rather different, apparently.

There were some statistics on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night which are illuminating: according to its Mark Urban, since the bombing began, the US has made 8,537 bombing raids on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Since they joined in a month or two ago, the Russians have made 2,300 raids, though Urban pointed out there is some dispute as to how they arrive at those figures. There is no dispute, however, over the UK’s figures: 380 bombing raids since it all kicked off (and, of course, all of them in Iraq). Pretty much all commentators I have heard stress that however useful bombing is, it will ultimately not get rid of ISIS. For that you need (cliche alert) ‘boots on the ground’.

David Cameron assured the Commons two days ago as he was beating the war drum and enthusing MPs in their bloodlust that 70,000 assorted fighters are standing by to attack ISIS. Most commentators are laughing out aloud at this figure and claim it has more or less been pulled out of thin air by Cameron. I think we should not get involved in bombing Syria because it will not achieve anything. Those in favour point out that all we would be doing would be extending the bombing from Iraq to Syria. Point taken, but my concern is Britain getting ever deeper into an already hugely complex situation. What, exactly, apart from getting rid of ISIS do those members of the anti-ISIS coalition hope to achieve?

As far as I can tell - a necessary proviso - the UK, France and the US want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president (and it was his heavy-handed response to protests up and down Syria which kicked all this off). He is, we are assured, a nasty dictator and the West is morally obliged to rid the world of nasty dictators (or at least rid the world of those we haven’t palled up to and who are useful to us, Egypt’s Sisi and Turkey’s Erdogan, for example, though Erdogan hasn’t quite got all his badges to qualify as a nasty dictator.) On the other hand others in the anti-ISIS coalition, notably Russia and Iran, want Assad to stay.

So what happens after ISIS is no more? One of the objections trotted out by those opposing further involvement in air strikes is: what exactly is the long-term strategy? And given that apart from anything else the Syrian conflict is also a proxy war between the Sunni Muslim Saudis and the Shi-ite Muslim Iranians, to which conflict will it transfer if and when ISIS are beaten?

I might be older than I was, but I am not old enough to remember the start of World War I. But I do know that it started almost ccidentally: as today, various powerful nations were itching to demonstrate that they had balls - one constant in many commentaries is how Russia, or rather Putin, wants to regain the position it lost when the Soviet empire went tits up as power in the world and the US, naturally (remember them? The guys in the white hats?) would far prefer to keep Russia in the box it has been banished to these past 20 years.

Things are not going well for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, Iran has internal troubles of its own with something like more than half its population being born many years after the Islamic revolution and rather wondering when they might eventually get a bit of the Western lifestyle action.

Apart from that the EU is beginning to go through its ever-so longwinded death throes - kicking Greece out of Schengen is not a good sign (though it hasn’, as I write, yet happened), and Europe-wide the right and far right are getting ever more support what with all the folk making their way north from Africa and the Middle East. Looking a little dodgy, isn’t it. Oh, and Ukraine has gone a little quiet these days, hasn’t it. Is it all hearts and flowers there again? Doubt it.

Have a Happy Christmas.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Events, dear boy, events. But are some worse than others? Or are they all equally bad?

I can’t remember what ‘dangers’ the world faced when I was ten because I didn’t follow the news then. The first big issue I remember being aware of was the Cuban missile crisis. I was 12 (not a particularly mature 12, just your average 12-year-old) and living in what was then West Berlin, and the world as presented to me was made up of Good Guys - us, the West - and Bad Guys - them, the red Ruskies.

I have since learned and come to understand that nothing, but nothing is that straightforward and whatever evil was perpetuated by the Bad Guys, we, the Good Guys, could match them blow for blow and then some. But until then I wasn’t aware of ‘world events’, especially as there was no internet, no instant news and all things considered television, if not in its infancy, was still in its early days. But if I had been, I don’t doubt the landscape would have looked just as bleak as it does today. Ignorance really is bliss.

The question is: do world affairs really wax and wane in their potential for danger? Perhaps they do, perhas they don’t. But if they do, it would be hard to disagree that things aren’t looking all that good in the autumn of 2015. It’s not so much what is happening now, it’s the potential for silly situations to escalate and grow out of control.

So, for example, take Syria and specifically the involvement of Putin’s Russia there, as well as the regional interests of Iran and Saudi America, to say nothing of the horrific actions of IS (or ISIL or whatever they are calling themselves this Thursday). Then into the mix throw in vague reports of talk of growing disagreement among the several thousand - it seems - Saudi princes and talk of some kind of potential coup there.

Add to that the fact that traditionally Saudi Arabia has been the West’s ally whereas traditionally Iran has been the West’s enemy, but it might now suit the West more if things were the other way around, and the situation becomes ever more confused. Russia, of course, will have its own reasons for getting involved (which I’ve read range from the pretty straightforward one of wanting to protect its interests in the region to the rather less straightforward one of wanting to re-establish itself as ‘a player’ in world affairs). Related to the problem of Syria is the sheer number of Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey and then on to Europe.

Related to Turkey is the difficulty that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president and one-time poster boy for ‘Islamic democracy’ (as we condescendingly put it) is proving to be rather less democratic than we assumed and is apparently angling to make himself the strong man of Turkey. But the West, especially, Europe is in no position to get arsy about what it suspects might be his undemocratic tendencies as we want him on our side to help solve ‘the migration crisis’ and are this week offering Erdogan several billion euros to make sure the Syrian refugees in Turkey stay there.

Nominally the money is intended to help Turkey offset the cost of looking after them, but it does, from where I sit, smack pretty much like nothing more honourable than a bribe. As for ‘the migration crisis’ - and I’ll repeat that whatever considerable difficulties the flood of migrants might be causing Europe and the EU, I really can’t blame the poor folk risking their lives to get to Europe for wanting to improve their fortunes - it is proving to be the first true test of EU solidarity. And as, arguably, EU solidarity is the essence of the European Union, we might well over coming months find out whether the whole notion of the EU as it stands today has any substance at all or is just a load of post-hippy hooey.

If, of course, you think it’s all getting just a little frivolous and the troubles in Europe and the Middle East are being organised by the community of unscrupulous news providers to keep their rating up, here’s a shocking piece of news which will bring you right back down to earth.

. . .

A sideshow in the test the EU faces is Britain’s hissy fit about EU membership. I’ve always thought that over the past 20 years the EU, run as it is by (in my view) a gang of superannuated Sixties hippies who have since discovered the joys of high pay, generous pensions, jobs for life and fine wining and dining, pretty corrupt and long ago lost not just its democratic credentials but its way, most definitely needs wholesale reform.

One well-known example of how in many ways the EU has lost the plot would be establishing and operating two parliament buildings, complete with the necessary bureaucratic infrastructure, merely to keep the French sweet. But having said all that, I think that given the EU’s potential, it is still - as yet - worth salvaging and, more to the point, Britain’s interests are better served if it remains a member and is in there as part of the party having a say in what decisions are made.

Yes, I know of all the arguments and claims that Britain would be better off out of the EU, but there are just as many arguments ‘proving without doubt’ that Old Blighty would go to the dogs economically if it went it alone: the point is that, as all too often, we make our minds up about an issue - in this case Britain in or Britain out - then cast about for the necessary arguments which will

The EU debates on what measures are best to sort out the migrant crisis

bolster our particular prejudice. Sadly, it comes down to nothing more intellectually rigorous than ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice’. Of course, what with the ‘migrant crisis’ if things really go badly for the EU, and brotherly love and common interest is in very short supply on this issue, there might in time no longer be a viable EU to for Britain to leave. There’s a good piece about Britain leaving the EU and attendant shenanigans here.

I’m often described as ‘cynical’ - yes, really - though to be honest I like to think of myself more as ‘pragmatic’. But were I asked to defend my views about human behaviour and why I am ‘so cynical’ about it, I would say ‘just look at how people behave’. In from ‘dust to dust’ dust comes first and last. The other thing about taking a ‘cynical’ view - make that ‘more pragmatic’ view is that you are rarely, if ever, disappointed by what happens. Dismayed, yes, saddened most certainly, but rarely disappointed.

What happened to that young ten-year-old in West Berlin (who once suggested to his mother that one solution to the then perceived problem of overpopulation would be if folk simply stopped having sex for a while)? He grew up and spent more time among people. And what in all this of events in South America, North America, the Far East and Australia? Well, I don’t know and so I am unable to pontificate.

I do wonder quite how much the Bolivians, Brazilians, Peruvians, Canadians, Malaysians, Indonesians, the Koreans, the Australians and the Samoans are agonising over IS and the ‘migrant crisis on the EU’s borders. I suspect they find themselves with their own concerns and problems

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Not yet scared shitless? You will be if Mr Edward Lucas has anything to do with it

It has long been my contention that one tactic newspapers adopt to try to keep up circulation is to scare their readers shitless. It is a commonplace that ‘bad news is good news’ and that the headline ‘Boy Scout does good deed’ would never sell a single copy, although the game is, in fact, more subtle than that. It can’t all be bad news. The horror and reports of how evil the world is have to be leavened a little with heartwarming pieces in which rampant sentimentality usually plays a significant part to make it all a little more palatable (and keep up sales).

What the bad news is - and occasional what good news is supplied that is necessary to achieve a commercial balance - obviously depends upon the newspaper (and what I call bad news is not the obvious stuff – 2,ooo die in Pakistan earthquake or, as recently, Russian tourist plane crashes in Egypt’s Sinai desert killing all onboard). Just as right-wing and left-wing politicians are said to have dog whistles, a quick blast on which is believed to summon the faithful, so the different newspapers cultivate their own particular schtick.

Here in Britain, for example, the Daily Telegraph, the Sun and the Daily Mail, all seen as being on the right of centre, will resort to horror stories along the lines of ‘Every British family will house two immigrant families under proposed new law’ and ‘EU to tax toenails!’ That kind of stuff always gets the readers huffing and puffing with indignation bordering on fury, and though even the papers themselves will gladly admit it is all outright fiction, that doesn’t matter: no one, but no one remembers what was in yesterday’s paper. It’s today’s horror story that counts.

On the other political wing, the saintly Guardian (‘Nothing too trivial to agonise over’) and the Mirror (or has it now reverted to calling itself the Daily Mirror?) play the same game. So their pages are full of horror stories of how Tory death squads are scouring the shires seeking out folk on benefits and executing them on the spot. Last week, the Mirror (Daily Mirror?) reported that several food banks in the North of England – the North of England always suffers more, apparently - had been firebombed by masked men shouting capitalist slogans.

NB For practical purposes the Independent can also be lumped in with those two caring papers, although it might well deny it is ‘left-of-centre’. The paper is read by folk who, like Guardianistas’ pride themselves on ‘having a conscience’ and ‘being thinking people’, but who for whatever reason can’t for love or money bring themselves to read a paper which is ‘left-wing’. The Independent is also, uniquely among papers the world over, the only publication I know of whose circulation is in minus figures. Add to that very curious fact that it – and its stablemate London’s Evening Standard – are owned and run by the KGB’s successor the FSB, and the paper really does stand out.

Global warming is a special favourite of the Guardian and the Independent: describing its horrors is useful on many levels: not only can readers feel virtuous because they occasionally ditch the car to use a bike or turn off the heating on cold winter nights to ‘save the planet’, they have something to talk about when they meet each other for supper parties (‘When will we learn!’) and can compare energy-saving measures (‘Becky and I sleep in the garden two nights a week’). There are always hours of fun to be had castigating ‘global warming deniers’, universally regarded by thinkers and those who care as the very personification of evil, and if, by chance, a group of them happen upon a sole example of one such denier, they day is complete: waterboarding is the least of his worries.

The psychology behind the strategy of scaring the shit out of its readers is simple: after an hour of reading of all the horror the world has in store for them, it is a moment of pure joy to sit back and reflect on their own less than ideal circumstances and realise, but for the grace of God, they could be. Then, of course, there is the outrage to be savoured: outrage how the evil EU led by a jackbooted Angela Merkel will stop at nothing until Britain is under the Brussels heel; outrage at how evil Tories have made it their life’s work to reduce to miserable penury and beyond ordinary, hardworking folk who ask for nothing more than a portion of fish and chips and an evening watching Downton.

. . .

Every newspaper has is stable of writers, each of whom knows full well what the hand that signs the cheque expects to hear from them. The Daily Telegraph has in recent years employed one Dan Hodges, who still masquerades as a staunch Labourite, but can be relied on to tell the Telegraph readers what complete shits the current bunch of Labour leaders are.

Dan is a former union official and Labour Party apparatchik, and the son of former Labour MP and one-time actress Glenda Jackson, so if he, Labour to his fingertips - apparently - Telegraph readers tell themselves, think Labour has finally and irrevocably lost the plot, well it must be true, mustn’t it, straight from the horses mouth, don’t you know.

The Guardian plays the same game: it has hired on Matthew d’Ancona, a former deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph and then of the – true-blue – Spectator, who in his weekly column of the paper informs readers that the Tories have finally and irrevocably lost the plot and he really doesn’t know what is becoming of the right-of-centre these. Well, Guardian readers can tell with his track record working for the Tory press Matthew must surely know what he is talking about, and if he thinks the Tories have well and truly gone to the dogs – well!

So Telegraph readers and Guardian readers are once again reassured in the respective prejudices, all is well with the world and both papers have staved of bankruptcy for another day by ensuring their readers are still reasonably happy.

Depending upon the topic, all papers have their tame tigers: the Mail, for example, which is perpetually fighting off accusations that it is sexist and racist will counter the charges by getting a well-known ‘feminist’ or a high-profile Asian to write a piece if and when the occasion might demand. The names Jenni Murray, the grande dame of BBC Radio Four’s Woman’ Hour, and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown spring to mind.

Both can be relied upon to push the Mail line – more or less a British version of Kinder, Kirche, Küche – but given that Murray is a ‘feminist’ and Albhai-Brown is ‘Asian’, the reader is reassured that if even Murray/Albhai-Brown thinks this particular piece of progressive nonsense really has gone too far – well!

. . .

One writer whose picture byline regularly turns up in the Mail every few months is Edward Lucas. And given that Lucas is a ‘senior editor’ at The Economist, a former Moscow bureau correspondent for that paper and a ‘fellow and contributing editor at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington DC, we really should, the Mail hints, take the man seriously.

According to his website Lucas’s ‘expertise includes energy, cyber-security, espionage, Russian foreign and security policy and the politics and economics of Eastern Europe’ he is surely not a man whose views and prognostication we can safely ignore. Lucas’s particular hobby horse is what a complete and utter shit Vladimir Putin is, and warning the West about that dangerous demagogue for several years now.

His latest piece in the Mail outlines how by taking sides with Assad in Syria against Islamic State – and one of his country’s mysteriously crashing out of the sky above the Sinai desert – Putin might well have bitten off more than he can chew. Well, perhaps, or perhaps not. Who knows? I certainly don’t.
The point about Lucas, who is undoubtedly well-informed as a journalist (although I would be careful about pushing the ‘works for The Economist’ tag to much – so once did Graham Hancock who is vying for the title of World’s Greatest Nutter), is that he does bang the drum just a little too hard for my tastes, and that always makes me just a tad sceptical. And to be honest I find it exceptionally difficult to take seriously such polemic when it appears in a tabloid.

Were he to read this, he would undoubtedly retort that my complacency in the face of his dire warnings about Putin simply plays into the hands of that nasty dictator and I mustn’t be at all surprised if within just a few short months I am obliged to eat borscht for breakfast and sing Red Army songs with with no chance of parole. Well, Edward, I’ll take my chances.
The first piece by Lucas I read in the Mail was several years ago, but here are a few of his more recent offerings: comparing Putin to Hitler, why war in Europe is now more likely than ever before, why Russia flying nuclear bombers over Britain should make us very scared indeed and how the death of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has chilling echoes of Stalin’s terror.

So what is my point? Well, it is quite simple: I am a firm believer in the adage that what really is news doesn’t appear in the papers. Or put another way: if you are reading about it in your favourite rag, to all intents and purposes it isn’t really that important. For all his hi-falutin’ contributions to the Center for European Policy Analysis (and what does that mean, what does it do, who finances it?), his years covering Eastern European politics and affairs and his expertise in cyber-spying, Lucas is something of a nine-bob note, a man whose opinion of himself is quite possibly rather high than is healthy. And I also believe the Lucas simply protests too much.

I don’t doubt that Putin is a complete wrong ’un (and the circumstances of the death of Nemtsov are particularly murky) and no one in their right mind would allow him anywhere near the family silver. But is Putin’s behaviour really much different to what the U.S., Britain, France and Germany get up to? At the time Lucas made a big song and dance about Russia’s annexation of the Crimea: this is just a foretaste of what is to come if we don’t shackle the Russian bear now! But forgive me, Edward: just what were the Russians to make of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain in 2003? What were the Russians to make of the U.S. Britain and Nato’s involvement in Afghanistan.

You might argue, as many do, that ‘we are the good guys and those Ruskies are the bad guys, so what we do has God’s stamp of approval’. The trouble is that’s not how the Russian’s see it. I don’t at all doubt that Lucas has his ‘contacts’ in the security services and I don’t at all doubt that they ‘brief’ Lucas every so often. But I also don’t at all doubt that they tell Lucas just as much as they want him to know but no more and are rather happy to have a man who is invited to rant in the pages of a national tabloid passing on what they would like to pass on.

As for the Mail, of course, Lucas serves a purpose: he can be relied upon to scare the readers shitless, just what they like.

Friday, October 30, 2015

I say goodbye to an old friend, one with whom I have seen good times and bad. But I do have a new cap. Well!

Well, there’s a pretty state! It has been several week now since I put digits to keyboard and blathered on here, but it’s not as though my life has been without incident. Not once, not twice, but three times I’ve been to the shops for my stepmother and forgot to get the milk my wife asked me to get! Then the other day I took the dog for a walk — and only forgot my cap! You can imagine how much I regretted that omission when within ten minutes it began to drizzle a little. But, you know, ‘turn that frown upside down’ as they say and it’s not as though life has been all misery — at lunch today my wife announced that for a change we will use the good spoons for our soup at supper. Well!

Long-time readers of this blog might remember the glory days when I recalled all the marvellous, marvellous motor cars I have been proud enough to have owned: well, there’s further news on that front. For these past eight years I have been driving — as in driving into the ground — a 16-year-old Rover 45 and it seems that car will soon be driving its last mile. (NB Cars aren’t ‘she’ and ‘her’ but ‘it’ — you must be thinking of boats and ships and rafts and ferries and that kind of thing.)

My Rover, surely one of the very few cars on the still active on Her Majesty’s highways painted ‘British racing green’, is slowly dying on its wheels and showing its age. But it has done me good service — there were 82,000 miles on the clock when I bought her for £800 from Davidstow Garage (a landmark in these here parts — there must be at least 40 cars in various states of disrepair on what passes for Rob Gibbons’s forecourt) and now there are 211,000. Furthermore, I must have spent at least five times the sum I paid for it since then on MoTs and repairs.

Once, I had to have the whole front of the car repaired after I went into the back of some stupid woman’s 4x4 on Wentfordbridge. She had braked suddenly so as not to run over a sodding weasel that had suddenly scampered over road. Then I had to have the head gasket replaced — and it’s not cheap to have that done, I can tell you — when the radiator fan died of old age just at the end of the M4 outside London and I overheated. (I am in the RAC and my membership entitles me and my car to be repatriated from anywhere in Britain. As it turned out and because of RAC logistics the opted to take the car back to Cornwall on a low-loader over a matter of days and pay for me to get a hire car. It was a top-of-the-range new 1.6l Vauxhall Astra with so many dials, knobs and gadgets I didn’t know where to look).

On another occasion I again ran into the back of a car in the rush hour driving out of London one night, and stoved in the left-hand side of the car, though it wasn’t as badly damaged as in the previous collision. Getting that done wasn’t cheap, either. Most recently, the windscreen wipers packed up — twice. First the link on one went wiper, bringing both to a halt. Then once that had been sorted out, the other went. On that occasion I had just set out on my 240-mile drive home in pouring rain and it carried on raining for the next two hours (but then it stopped). And I can assure everyone that negotiating commuter traffic on the M25 in heavy rain at 7pm at on a weekday night is no picnic.

But what has decided me to give the piece of junk a coup de grace is that the cooling system has sprung a leak and I now have to top it up substantially before every weekly schlepp to London, then again before I set off home again four days later.

So why, I can hear everyone reading this ask, has this moron not junked the sodding car years ago. Well, I promise you there was and is method in my apparent madness. I can’t really go into details. All I can say is that I was able to park quite legitimately in the streets around where I work in West

London without incurring heavy hourly parking charges. The time has now come to make other arrangements, so my dear, dear Rover 45 is off to the knacker’s yard.

The odd thing is that although I know it’s a wreck and a true piece of junk, I am finding the parting quite hard. So people get attached their spouse, family and friends. I am apt to get attached to my cars. Now, forgive me a moment while I go off and shed a quiet tear. There, that’s better.

The good news is that courtesy of a very generous brother I am not obliged to buy another car because I already have one. When a gay friend of my father’s died a few years ago, he left his flat and his car to my brother. And as my brother had no use for the car, he gave it to me. I have to say it is not in its first flush of youth — it was first registered in June 1999 — but as the old codger had bought it more or less new and hardly ever used it, there were only 38,000 miles on the clock when I took it over about four years ago, and I have hardly used it since.

As I say, I might have neglected this blog for a few weeks, but my life has most certainly not been dull or without incident. Oh, and I have bought a new flat cap, a ‘newsboy’ style one in subdued red tartan. But surely news of that and other pieces of headgear I am proud to proclaim myself owner-user must wait for a subsequent entry. But here’s a pic of it.


Unbelievingly, breaktakingly smart or what?

. . .

Just to reinforce the point I made in my last entry: depression, or at least the variation, I am apt to suffer from every so often, has fuck-all to do with ‘being unhappy’ and ‘being sad’. I really would like to make that clear. Yes, you — I — can get to feel low, but that is only because of the physical symptoms, of which, unfortunately, you are too aware your every waking minute. But it’s getting better now, and thanks for asking. I think it must be the smart new tartan flat cap.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Depression - what it is not

I thought I would, for a change, give one of my blog posts a succinct and straightforward title, and one which entirely sums up part of what I want to say. It is a commonplace to bemoan that ‘depression’ and ‘mental illness’ are not spoken of and discussed as much as they should be and that there is still stigma attached to being ‘depressed’ or ‘mentally ill’, but that complaint and social attitudes to ‘depression’ isn’t at all what I want to write about, or rather not at all directly.

I have previously mentioned in this blog that I have over my past 65 years suffered bouts of ‘depression’, both mild episodes and, far more rarely, quite severe ones. And in those 65 years I believe I have come to understand a little better what is going on, and the very first thing I should like to say is that ‘depression’, or at least the ‘depression’ I have on occasion suffered is a wholly physical not a mental affliction. And the second thing I should like to point out that it has, in my experience at least, nothing at all to do with being ‘sad’ or ‘unhappy’. Absolutely nothing.

On the first point I suggest that ‘depression’ (and I keep writing it in quote marks to highlight how much, in my view, we are mistaken about its nature and to try to distance what I am writing here from hitherto accepted notions of what it is) came to be regarded as a ‘mental’ illness simply because there are few, if any, physical symptoms. It doesn’t make you sweat, you don’t change colour, you don’t run a fever and you are almost always capable of functioning as ‘normal’ (another word I would prefer to leave in quotes). In fact, the rest of the world might well be unaware that someone is suffering from ‘depression’, unless and until that sufferer volunteers information about themselves.

As for depression having little to do with ‘sadness’ or ‘unhappiness’, well, I know that at first hand. I do admit to being, if I allow myself to be, a little to rather irritable when it comes over me, but that has nothing to do with sadness or unhappiness.

My symptoms are quite straightforward: I always have a perpetual ‘thick head’, one which I liken to the headache you have when you are hung over. This can be mild or severe, but it is continuous and

Fuck, they’re going to think I’m sad!


ever-present. It is at its worst in the morning when I wake up and lifts bit by bit as the day goes on. Another symptom is an almost crippling lassitude a marked reluctance to do anything at all. I just don’t want to do anything, but oddly when I do do something, I get very impatient to get on to ‘the next thing’, however trivial or unimportant that next thing is.

This lassitude goes hand in hand with frittering the day away, finding it very difficult to concentrate on anything - reading, watching TV, writing (I am writing this at 3.30 in the afternoon, but twice tried to write it before lunch and just couldn’t get my thoughts together), conversation or whatever work I should be engaged on. Related to that lassitude is outright boredom, completely boredom with everything and everyone. I just want to be alone and count the hours until I can go to bed and go to sleep (and dream - I always look forward to dreaming).

In the past, when things got very bad (I had a very bad bout when I started my first newspaper job in Lincoln in June 1974) my neck and shoulders locked tight and that in conjunction with an appalling and perpetual ‘thick head’ headache is enough to bring anyone down. But note: ‘feeling down’ is a consequence of physical symptoms and should be understood as ‘feeling bloody fed up with this never-ending bloody headache and aching shoulders’.

The first rather severe bout I remember was when I began my first term at boarding school. and I think it developed as a result of a rather drastic change in my life, from being a happy-go-lucky, possibly rather smug, 13-year-old German kid attending a Jesuit college in Berlin where the emphasis was on positivity and doing your best to being a rather plump, very naive and outspoken 13-year-old who didn’t take well to being teased about his shape - I was still only about 5ft 5in - and still hated the glasses I had had to wear for the past year or so. Home was warm and comfortable and my mother was a good cook. School was cold and uncomfortable and the food was rather worse than pigswill or so it seemed to me. And I was very homesick (I was one of only two boys in my year’s intake of 49 who had not already spent several years boarding a prep school).

My second bout came in my second year at college when I was possessed by what I can only describe as an ‘existential’ crisis which, I think, much to do with the final transition from childhood to adulthood and I truly felt all at sea.

But I must stress that although, as it seems to me, circumstances, or rather a change in circumstances, brought on these bouts, the affliction on each occasion was physical not mental - the thumping thick head to which I awoke and the rigidi shoulders and neck which, if nothing, else was almost painful.

As for not being ‘sad’ or ‘unhappy’, I am by nature a chatterbox and cheerful, both a day person and night person, as likely to talk ten to the dozen at 6am in the morning as 1am at night. And that doesn’t change when I am suffering from a, usually mild, bout of depression, except that often I would prefer to be on my own and that bloody thick head can make me quite irritable and short with people.

So there you have it. It is now 4.20 (I had to interrupt writing this to pick my son up from where his school bus drops him) and, having taken - just the one - paracetamol, my head isn’t too bad. But I can’t deny that I can think of nothing else at the moment than getting undressed, brushing my teeth, getting into bed, turning out the light and falling asleep. And dreaming. I always dream.

Oh, and as for the oft-made claim that ‘depressives’ are often ‘creative’, I have to say I don’t buy it and never have. For one thing both terms are far to vague to allow for any sensible discussion, ‘creative’ being even vaguer than ‘depressives’.

Pip, pip.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Labour turns left as it elects as leader The Devil Incarnate/A True Socialist (delete as applicable)

A quick look at the viewing figures for this blog shows that, for example in the past four weeks, less than one in five lives in Old Blighty. So the name ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ (right) will quite possibly mean very little to four out of five bods who happen my way. Yet if you listen to the hype surrounding that name, the man is either the Devil re-incarnate or a latter-day - and secular Jesus Christ come to save Britain from all that is evil in this overwhelmingly capitalist world.

As Britain has been only too aware in the months since we held our last general election and the ‘left’ party was beaten soundly and it’s leader resigned (quite possibly to his quiet relief despite leading his party to defeat), Labour has been in the process of electing a new leader.

There were initially three runners, all to a man and woman pretty much clones of what contemporary politics thinks is great and good, albeit with the obligatory, and entirely understable, left slant. They could all three have come from central casting and had all in one capacity or another served in previous Labour governments (although not necessarily in a senior capacity).

Labour, which sees itself - and, and more to the point, markets itself as the very essence of fairness, realised that all three were pretty much from the right of the party (that’s right, the right of a left-of-centre party - it does make sense if you read it slowly), and that, you know, let’s be even-keeled here, we really should have a bod from the left of the party just to show how fair we are. Jeremy Corbyn has been the MP for Islington North for the past 32 years and from the outset was ‘a man of the left’. At first he was reluctant to stand, but was persuaded to do so in the interests of fairness and so the voters should have a real choice of candidates. He almost didn’t make it onto the list of candidates because his supporters couldn’t drum up sufficient nominees. Eventually, again in the interests of fairness, several MPs agree to nominate him even though they didn’t want him as candidate and wouldn’t vote for him and said so publicly.

From the outset Corbyn was given less than a snowball’s chance in Hell of being elected Labour leader - it was argued that he was too far out on the left to be the man (or woman) to lead Labour and persuade Britain’s electors to put the party back in power. But then something very odd happened. Under the outgoing leader, Ed Miliband, a new protocol for electing Labour’s leader had been introduced: for £3 anyone could sign up as a member of the Labour Party and would then have the right to vote in the leadership election.

Various Tory wiseacres suggested that Tory voters should do exactly that — join up and vote in the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn to ensure the Conservatives held power until Labour ditched him for someone with a better chance success. Perhaps some did, but most certainly a lot more folk on the left also signed up, folk who, it is now assumed, were of a decidedly socialist persuasion and had given up the current Labour Party as more or less being Tory-lite. And bit by bit Corbyn’s chances of winning the leadership contest improved. And as they improved, Labour gained even more members.

Finally, two weeks ago, Corbyn was voted in as leader by a whacking 56pc. The Tories crowed, reasoning that that was Labour’s goose well and truly cooked for the forseeable future, and Labour ‘grandees’ despaired, also reasoning that that was Labour’s goose well and truly cooked for the forseeable future.

. . .

Corbyn is marketed - indeed markets himself (if ‘marketing’ isn’t too insulting a word to describe the behaviour of a devote anti-capitalist) - as a straight-talking, sincere and honest politician, and that might well be true. He makes no secret of his politics which can be summed up as ‘all them cornfields and ballet in the evening’. Whether or not he is the right leader to help Labour back to power is highly debatable. Straight-talking, sincerity and honesty are not three virtues which usually come to mind as the key to political success.

He was long at odds with the majority of the Labour party and voted against it in Parliament many times. He opposed the invasion of Iraq (which, admittedly, wasn’t billed as ‘an invasion’ although that’s exactly what it was) and is a convinced nuclear disarmer. More controversially, he had nice things to say about the IRA while the IRA was setting of bombs on the British mainland and in the longstanding Israel/Hamas stand-off is not just an unashamed champion of Hamas but has previously had close links with one Paul Eisen, a controversial character made out by many to be a ‘holocaust denier’. (Odd how just adding the word ‘denier’ immediately seems to prove your guilty and establish beyond all doubt that you are wrong ’un.) I mention Mr Eisen, of whom I know little, because a great deal has been made of Corbyn’s acquaintance with him and suggestions that Corbyn is a crypto anti-semite.

What has been hugely entertaining has been the buckets of bile several papers have been pouring over Corbyn. Britain’s press are quite distinctly split down the middle: the Guardian and the Mirror are his champion, whereas the rest, most notably the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, are daily printing stories demonstrating just how evil the man is. Guess what? He had an affair in the 1970s (though after his wife had left him); he refused to sing the national anthem at a ceremony honouring Britain’s fallen servicemen but sang the Red Flag at a meeting not days later; he has been invited to join the Privy Council but there are doubts as to whether he will agree to bow before the Queen! It all begs the question: just how shameless can a man! To put those last two into context, Corbyn is a longstanding republican who would like to see the end of the monarchy, and as for the former - single young man goes to bed with single young woman? Shocking or what?

The Daily Mail attacked him for being a misogynist because he didn’t appoint any women as shadow spokespeople for the ‘top four offices of state’. It overlooked that of his shadow cabinet of 32, 15 appointees are women. Both the Mail and the Telegraph are making much of the fact that Corbyn is ‘the most unpopular party leader in history’. Well! And with very new horror story about the man from the Mail and the Telegraph I find myself asking again and again: exactly what are those two papers afraid of? If, as contemporary wisdom has it, Labour under Corbyn will never be voted into office, why all the angst?

All the above might make it sound as though I am a Corbyn supporter. I’m not, but neither am I a Corbyn opponent. I must admit I find it refreshing how he has to an extent shaken up the increasingly cosy political consensus prevalent in Britain at the moment, but I think it is highly unlikely we would ever seem Corbyn as Prime Minister, which, in my book, is no bad thing. The man is certainly an idealist, but he is an idealist the rest of the world’s politicians would eat from breakfast. I am, however, vastly entertained by it all and am curious to see how it will pan out.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Has the rot finally set in for the EU? Who knows, but it ain’t looking great, but why is Ukip so quiet these days? And I come clean though details, I trust, are admirably vague

Here in Britain our ‘swivel-eyed, looney, United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) has gone rather quiet of late. Granted no general election is imminent, but I do seem to remember them adding their two ha’porth on more or less everything. Where have they gone? It’s not as though I miss, them, however. For better or worse - and they insist it would be for better - they insist that the Great Britain should leave the European Union, a body which, they further insist, is directly or indirectly responsible for more or less every ill known to mankind, or least every such here in Britain.

They did quite well in the general election held her last May, with one in eight of all those who voted supporting their local candidate, but because of our electoral ‘first past the post’ electoral system, they won only one seat (and that seat in the Commons was ‘held’ rather than won). Ukip got 3,881,099 votes, 12.6pc of those cast. By comparison, the Liberal Democrats got 3,881,099 votes (7.9pc), but won eight seats, and the Scottish National Party got 1,454,436 votes (4.7pc), but won an astonishing 56 seats, exclusively at the Labour Party’s expense. You can look at the figures here.

This is not, however, a piece about how hard done-by Ukip are. The description of Ukip and its supporters as ‘swivel-eyed loons’ is attributed to our esteemed Prime Minister, who immediately denied saying it, or claimed that the description was now ‘inoperative’ or that he ‘misspoke’ or whatever his excuse was, but I happen to agree with him. I have met several Ukip supporters and none struck me as being an Einstein in the making with a cute political nose to boot, although, of course, that doesn’t mean they are not entitled to their political views. (I like to think I was one of the first to point out that, counter to then contemporary wisdom, it would not be the Tories who would lose the most votes to Ukip but Labour, and that’s apparently what happened. The fatal blow Labour suffered last May was losing more than 50 of its seats to the SNP, but they also lost several English seats to the Tories and I suspect that was because some of their support in those seats went to Ukip. After all, it was her large ‘working class’ support which had switched its allegiance from Labour which kept brought Margaret Thatcher to power and kept here there (she never lost an election) and Labour are completely in denial whenever they believe there’s nothing ‘the workers’ want more than ‘all them cornfields and ballet in the evening’. Given the apparent unfairness of getting several million votes more than the Lib Dems nationwide but ending up with seven MPs fewer, you’d think Ukip would be up there on the barricades demanding electoral reform. Well, you would, wouldn’t you, but so far I haven’t heard a peep from them on that score. But that’s as maybe.

What I now find so surprising is just how quiet Ukip seems to have become, especially now. As far as the EU is concerned and Britain’s membership of it, I hold the, by now distinctly unfashionable, view that Britain should carry on in the club, notwithstanding that the EU needs root and branch reform. Both the pros and antis on British membership like to portray people who hold that view as a mandate short of an issue, but that happens to be what I feel.

The EU (I would tell you at length given half the chance) is a good idea gone increasingly wrong, but essentially a very good idea, though, I see it as more of a trading community and fight just as shy as Ukip of any move towards ‘greater political union’, the ostensive objective of many. But in view of the crisis over the migrants arriving in southern Europe hoping to make their home in the EU, that objective is rapidly losing support.

Many thought that the ongoing shilly-shallying over Greece and the euro was the test of the EU’s resilience and many, pointing out that the EU seemed as rock-solid as ever once the dust had settled (not that it has settled, but that’s what they think), smugly thought the EU had come through with flying colours. Well, the recent response by EU members to how to handle the ‘migrant crisis’ should really make them think again.

A test of anything is how well it does in bad times as well as good times and for all its pseudo-socialist talk of ‘one for all and all for one’, the EU seems to be faring rather badly. From where I sit any talk of unanimity is in very poor taste and the faultlines in the EU are - as in time they always would - becoming very apparent. It doesn’t help that in Hungary’s Viktor Orban the EU is dealing with someone who might well have felt at home in the Nazi party and is not shy about doing just as he pleases, especially when it comes to demonstrating his anti-semitism.

I’m sure all the EU queens in Brussels will find some way to smoothe over the cracks, but cracks there are between the East and West of the EU - between some countries who were in the old Soviet bloc and those who weren’t. (I suspect that after being under the Soviet heel for well on 50 years, those new members are not yet quite in the mood to be dragooned again, this time by Brussels. I’m curious as to how all this will pan out. And why is Ukip so quiet about it all. As it happens I don’t actually care, but I am a tad puzzled. Until May and for the past few years you couldn’t keep them quiet.

. . .

For the past two weeks I have been conscious of not posting here and there was a reason for that. This blog is a mishmash of this, that and t’other, and not the least of its charms are my longwinded and boring accounts of trips abroad. The trouble is - or, rather, was as I have now got around to mentioning it - I didn’t enjoy my last trip very much at all, but felt - feel - that as I went to stay with someone, it would have been churlish to say so.

‘Well, you don’t have to mention it, do you’ you might remark, and, of course, I don’t. But somehow, in a way I don’t even myself understand, I do have to mention it, in that in a sense it would be dishonest not to. Savvy? Well, if you do, I still don’t, but I shall mention it and hope that my comments will not find their way back to my host (and I shall be as vague as possible to boot - no names, no pack drill. It didn’t help that the weather was pretty awful.

The country in which I was staying is usually regarded as one of Europe’s sunny countries but for the seven days I was there - at the beginning of September, no less - there was precious little sun. Instead, we got quite a bit of rain and when we didn’t get rain the weather was generally overcast and dull. Then there are the conditions in which my host lives. In previous visits I didn’t seem to mind them too much, but this time that state of the place just got to me, especially the state of the kitchen.

My bedroom was clean as were my bedsheets, and there was a small bathroom with a hot shower, but the rest of the place is a tip. That wouldn’t necessarily matter too much were it not for the fact that because of the rain and the generally cool and overcast weather we were indoors most of the time. And even when the sun did shine - it never actually got hot and there was the persistent threat that the weather would change - sitting outside was no fun, either, what with broken-down chairs and tables, a discarded this and a discarded that.

There was the fact that on my second or third day I must have eaten something which disagreed with me and I felt off-colour for a day or two. Then there was what I feel most ashamed about: that I felt my host had become rather boring. The anecdotes were the same as was the conversation. So overall, I didn’t enjoy my break very much at all and was pleased to get home.

I don’t know why I should feel guilty about writing that, but I do. However, as I said, I somehow felt it would have been dishonest to carry on writing this blog without mentioning it, so I’m glad I have. Odd, but true.

Pip, pip.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

In which I introduce you to an unexpected – quite possibly unsuspected – facet of my character: discretion

Discretion, as all my friends will tell you if you were to ask them, is my middle name, so several details in this entry will be vague to the point of non-existence. I must explain why.

I am staying with a friend in Spain for a week and, and this will be my fourth year here. He is a potter of some renown, although his father was the famous one and whose name is spoken with hushed reverence by potters everywhere who are apt to speak with hushed reverence. Not all, of course, are and although that is no reflection on the man’s expertise, artistry and status in the world of potters, it does indicate that many potters are down-to-earth folk not given to pretension).

My friend, who I got to know when he was still living and working in Cornwall, takes in students who arrive from all over the world for a week or a two-week live-in course on pottery, and when I was here several years ago one such student who was staying at the same time as me was a complete pain in the arse. Fair enough, but my mistake and my then indiscretion was to record the fact and a description of the student in several uncomplimentary blog entries.

For good measure I was also very indiscreet about another woman who was staying at the time, who was, however, not a student but another of the potter’s friends. She, too, had remarkable ability to get on one’s nerves very quickly indeed. (Ah, I hear some of you think, and you don’t? You are Mr Interestingly Pleasant all the time? Well, of course I’m not, but this is my blog you are reading and I trust in this matter you are on my side.)

As I assured you earlier, I am keeping details as vague as possible, but I can’t resist giving a taster of just why I, who is at heart essentially affable and good-natured, was driven to the extremes of irritation within minutes of arriving and introducing myself to the second woman I have mentioned:

For my stay here in Spain that year I had bought what its advertising had assured me to be a mobile phone sim card that would afford me bargain basement calls home to Britain and, crucially, data rates so low that access to the internet would more or less be free. All I had to do was to insert it into my phone once I had arrived in Spain and that, I was promised, would bring me as close to heaven on earth as one can be brought in the magical world of mobile phones. (That, by the way, was a very good example of ‘if is sounds to good to be true, it is’, although obviously I had already disregarded that piece of invaluable wisdom.)

So, after arriving, saying hello and exchanging the usual pleasantries one does with a stranger who is also a guest, I immediately set about taking the back cover off my smartphone and installing the sim card to test it out. The woman, the other guest, sitting nearby, was intrigued.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked.

So I explained what I was doing.

‘What is a sim card?’ she asked.

I told her it was the necessary part of the phone which did all the work. Without one, I added, the phone wouldn’t work.

‘Yes, but what does it do?’

I told her I wasn’t an expert on mobile phones generally and sim cards in particular and couldn’t really elaborate much further. It was just . . .

‘But you must know,’ she interrupted, ‘or you wouldn’t be doing what you are doing.’

That, quite literally within four minutes of meeting the woman, was when the first alarm bell rang. Christ, a bloody irritating old crone alert, I thought, but I repeated that ‘a sim card is the essential part of every mobile phone and it includes, for example, all the necessary, hardware, software and every other ware necessary to allow you to use the phone as a mobile phone rather than as, oh I don’t know, just another fucking expensive paperweight’, although I didn’t swear and I wasn’t sarcastic. I do remember saying it all in a tone intended to discourage any further questions. But some hope.

‘What’s software?’ she asked.

‘You really don’t know?’

‘No,’ she said, ‘and I like to know these things.’ And on it went, and on and on, for I don’t know how long.

I am, when I need to be, polite, and I’m sure I remained polite on that occasion, but believe me I didn’t want to be. She was there for the rest of my week, as was the student I mentioned above – but as I’ve warned no more details will be provided, I’m afraid, although, she, too was, such a pain in the arse that I would dearly love to repeat the indiscretions and outrageous insults of several earlier blog entries and, to boot, add several more. Here’s why.

A friend of my friend’s who lives locally came across my blog – which gave far greater detail of who my host was and where he lived and worked, so there’s no mystery as to how he might have chanced upon it – and became alarmed that potential pottery students reading it might be put off applying to come to stay for a course. He alerted my friend who, in turn, asked me to remove the entries, which I did. So, dear reader, all I can tell you is that ‘I am in Spain’.

As to whether it’s north, south, east or west, you’ll have to guess.

. . .

I’ve been here now for three days and have just under a week left. As usual I’ve been doing nothing except, in no particular order, read, sleep - The Razor’s Edge by Somerstet Maugham, and well worth it - drink (beer, wine or gin), smoke, listen to jazz and play guitar. My friend, the potter, is an accomplished musician, although by no means an outstanding one, who plays, each after a fashion, classical guitar, piano trumpet and, I believe, even the clarinet. But for this week I have commandeered his guitar (a gut-stringed Spanish guitar) and have been learning to play some of the songs I like.

These, I’m sorry to tell any younger folk coming across this blog, are not Taylor Swift or One Direction or anything of that kind, but what are for me timeless tunes – As Time Goes By, These Foolish Things and others of that ilk. Boring for some, maybe, but musically most satisfying. Furthermore, the chords you use to play them are, if you want to play them without sounding like a girl guide sitting with friends around her first campfire, the rather less usual ones – C7/9- for example, Em9/7 and F#m13/sus4 (I made that one up) – which are, at first, more difficult to get your fingers around, but which are well worth it once you can (and I’m glad to say that, after spending the past few years practising scales on the guitar, my fingers are agile and flexible enough to achieve).

If you are interested, here is the best website I have come across giving you the chords to many, many songs. There are others, of course, but I like this one best. Try it.

. . .

Here is the one clue you will get: