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: