Saturday, July 30, 2016

Merkel for the chop? Well, for about five minutes or at last as long as it took you to read a recent Daily Mail story. And ‘the will of the people’: just how bloody inconvenient is it going to become?

Browsing as one does — OK, ‘as I do’ — browsing as one does the Daily Mail online website, I came across this story and it occurred to me I should, perhaps, try to put it into context.

(Incidentally, ‘One does/I do’: I’m still hoping to persuade the many doubters that I do, indeed, have a college degree, though an ordinary MA awarded by Dundee University in 1972, not the Honours degree in English and philosophy I sat for, I did so appallingly badly in English, but (I’m told) so reasonably well in philosophy that when the English department insisted I would get an Honours degree over their combined dead body, the philosophy department countered that insisting that I should get a degree of sorts as I had, at least, done them proud. So the compromise was an ordinary degree. Oh, and the Scottish MA is the equivalent of the English BA.)

On the face of it and going by the Mail’s story you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that one Angela Merkel can expect her P45 in the post any day now and will have to reconcile herself to taking up a supply teaching post in chemistry in Baden-Baden or whatever it is sacked German chancellors do. The truth is most certainly a little different and tells us more about the working practices of our esteemed Fourth Estate than the mood of the German electorate. (Later: here is a more recent story. Obviously the newsdesk apparatchik responsible is getting into his/her stride.)

OK Germany, too, has its nutters in the form of Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) and, latterly, the AfD which has become far more right-wing and rapid since its original coterie of rather more restrained
academics and sensible businessmen and journalists was ousted several years, but they still form a rather tinier proportion of Germany’s movers and shakers than the Mail’s headline and story might seem to indicate.

The story goes on to cite the ostensibly startling statistic that 83 per cent of all Germans would like to see duskier fellow citizens shown the door with a flea in their ear and the stern admonition not ever to be seen again on European soil peddling their tales of famine and genocide, but even that, apparently copper-bottomed fact should be taken with a pinch of salt.

For example, if I had the money to commission a survey on, I don’t know, the abuse of toothbrushes, and consulted the usual random sample of 1,100 folk willing to be approached by a stranger with a clipboard, I reckon I could prove at least 25 per cent – a 'startling one in five' sounds more dramatic - believe that ‘toothbrushes get a raw deal and it's time the government did something about it’.

The modus operandi from here to the outer reaches of the solar system is simple: as a rule news is inconveniently erratic and makes the job of a paper’s news editor and his staff a trial. It is, for example, only now and again that some nutter drives an artic through innocent holidaymakers on a Nice seafront promenade or takes a Glock pistol to the nearest Munch McDonald's and tries to kill everyone in sight. On those days when nutters around the world haven’t obliged, news has to be ‘developed’ and this is what I suspect went on at Mail Online.

The word went out to some stringer or other in Germany to go out onto the street and ask as many folk as you can whether they think in view of her more charitable attitude to refugees and Merkel is a total loser shitbag and should be shot. Oh, Mr Stringer will be told, and take your camera and ask the prettier ones whether you can take their picture. Assuring them - the prettier ones - that their photo will be displayed on a leading newspaper website accessible from anywhere in the world and you're in there with a chance.

Hence the story: ‘Angela, your time is up’. That should keep the readers in ready-made opinions for at least a day, and don’t be surprised if when you mosey down to your local tomorrow and are buttonholed by the leading pub bore he – it’s always a he, sadly – assures you that ‚‘that Merkel, she’ll be gone by next week’. Then with a sage wink, he’ll tell you why Ian Botham was the greatest cricketer ever to play for England, and, yes, he will have another pint, thank you very much.

So what is ‘the truth?’ Well, I don’t know and nor do you. The fact is that in a matter of about four months the western world and its certainties has been turned well and truly upside-down, and things are really not looking very grand at all.

To put things in perspective, a little common sense is necessary: about one million folk have arrived in Europe from the Middle East and North Africa over the past 16 months and, putting aside whether you think they are entitled to come or not, whether they are genuine refugees or merely folk doing what the rest of us are continually being exhorted to do, namely to make the best of things and to get on in life. In our case — for us white honkeys, that is, all, no doubt, descended from a long line of stout-hearted folk from Devon/the Black Country/Northumberland/Derbyshire or wherever, getting on as a rule comes down to kissing the right arse or schmoozing the right town hall functionary. (Some also get on in life through intelligence, hard work and natural ability, of course, but let’s not cloud the issue unnecessarily.)

In the case of the refugees it has meant uprooting yourself, your and your family several thousands dollars to pay some scumbag for a place in an overloaded lilo, then heading off into the unknown many thousand miles away in the hope of a better life, one where you aren’t periodically hit by famine and hunted down by genocidal idiots. But at the end of the day they are just doing what countless folk have done throughout recorded history and earlier. And I for one can’t blame them.

Undoubtedly quite a number, maybe 500, maybe 1,000, maybe 3,000 wrong ’uns joined the trek to Europe with evil on their minds, but a as proportion of the total number of migrants their number is infinitessimal (i.e. ridiculously small. I thought I’d better add that because I’m not too sure how to spell infinitessimal).

Then there’s the pertinent point that not the Nice murderer, not the lone gunman in Munich and not the two teenagers in Normandy who stabbed to death a priest were ‚‘immigrants’. But that will not mean very much to the several thousands who are just waiting for an excuse to vote, for example in France, for Marine Le Pen. That will mean very little to the millions in the US who are just itching to vote for Trump ‚‘because he’s not a politician‘. The will point to the goings on in Europe and how a million folk have arrived from the Middle East and North Africa and tell themselves ‚‘Yes, of course, we should build a wall to keep those bloody Mexicans out‘.

. . .

The big dilemma for us wet liberal types is, of course, the ‘will of the people’. It makes sense for we wet liberal types to applaud democracy as the will of the people when ‘the people’ do the right thing according to our wet liberal principles, but we find ourselves in an awful pickle when the will of the people contradicts them.

Turkey is a case in point: the nutter Erdogan (who is, of course, not a nutter at all but a very astute bastard) has substantial popular support. Sadly, that support is not among the metropolitan elite in the smarter westernised suburbs of Istanbul and Ankara where wet liberal principles feel well at home, but in the poor rural districts and the poorer parts of Turkey’s cities.

The comparison has been made, not least by me in a previous post, of the democratic rise to power of Erdogan and the – more or less – democratic rise to power of one Adolf ‚‘Moustache of the Month’ Hitler. It was the will of the people who put them both in power. It might well be the will of the people who put Trump in power and next year Marine Le Pen. It was the will of the people which decided that Britain should get the bloody hell out of the EU.

Is there a moral get-out clause which says the ‘will of the people’ should always be paramount, but only until it decides to do something which we wet liberals disagree with and must then be discounted? Is an immutable principle only an immutable principle while it suits us? To put it anotehr way: can a women really, in some circumstances, only be a little bit pregnant?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

OK, so which of the current stooges (one’s now dead) will cause the most havoc for us before breakfast? My money’s on Erdogan – Trump hasn’t yet grown a moustache

This blogger likes to think he is not much given to hyperbole. Perhaps he is wrong. But watching Donald Trump strut the stage in Cleveland at the Republican convention at which he was nominated (if, of course, any man alive an actually aurally strut a stage) and hearing about Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaring a state of emergency in Turkey, allowing himself and his cabinet (though I think we can safely assume it will at the end of the day be himself) pass laws without the say-so of the Turkish parliament, one does wonder whether comparisons with the rise of Hitler are all that fanciful.

Yes, any hack worth his salt has already pointed out that Hitler also came to power – more or less – democratically. I say more or less because a little skulduggery and bending of the rules did go on. And every hack worth his salt has quoted Erdogan’s ominous description of democracy of (I paraphrase, of course) a train from which one can get off once one has got to where one wants to get to. Erdogan most certainly came to power democratically and if – a long shot, of course, but it is possible – Trump is elected president of the United States, it, too, will be with a democratic mandate. But comparing the two, I think we have more to fear from Erdogan than Trump.

Trump is, in my book at least, a buffoon, a kind of American Boris Johnson without the Latin. Neither, I suspect, has had an original thought in their lives. Erdogan, on the other hand is not, stupid (and I don’t think Johnson is stupid, either, just a buffoon whose one idea is how to make Boris Johnson a figure of history. The man, apparently, already thinks of himself as a latter-day Churchill.) But Trump, if he is elected, will still have to contend with a Congress which will not necessarily be inclined to do his bidding if his bidding is patently utterly daft. And more to the point, I don’t doubt the US has a fully functioning civil service, the lads and lasses who do all the donkey work, who will gladly stick a spanner in the works if needs be by they simple expedient, in true civil service style, of slowing everything down. (I must, though, admit here that I know bugger all about the US civil service and maybe I am just whistling in the wind.)

Where Trump could do a lot of damage is by creating uncertainty, and he has already taken a step or two along that path by suggesting the the US would not necessarily come to the aid of a Nato ally when threatened (by the Soviet Union – sorry, Russia) if it feels that ally hasn’t been pulling its weight in the organisation. Putin and China must have cheered when they heard that and I don’t doubt there is and will be any number of Russian and Chinese spooks patriolling the highways and byways of the US urging its citizens to vote for Donal J Trump and make America great again.

The man’s speech to the convention was a textbook case of vacuous political bombast: apparently he’s going to put and end to crime and violence in the US. That does make me wonder what America’s law enforcement agencies have been trying to do all these years when they found themselves with a little time on their hands while not roaming the streets hunting down blacks to shoot dead. (Cheap shot, I know, but I couldn’t resist it.) And I do wonder how a man who doesn’t believe in gun control feels ‘ending violence’ will be such a cinch.

In the event, of course, few expect Trump to be beat Hillary Rodham Clinton to the White House. But then few expected the British people in the ‘should we, shouldn’t stick it to the EU?’ referendum to vote to return to the Fifties and the era when the ordinary man in the street could hate foreigners with pride. But they did. (Incidentally, what does the ‘ordinary man in the street’ actually look like? Am I one? Is he bald? Is he a little bit gay? Is he a fan of Cliff Richard?

We do know, thanks to the referendum of four weeks ago exactly today, that he – the British man in the street that is – isn’t fussed whether his food tastes of shit, talks about shagging more than he actually does it, thinks the safest place to keep your money in France is underneath the soap and that all Germans go to bed in their jackboots. Oh, and central heating is for wimps: if keeping out the cold be slavering goose fat all over his body of a morning was good enough for his great-grandfather, by jingo it’s good enough for him.)

As for Clinton, well from where I sit she has the one advantage over Trump in not being quite as stupid. But watch she makes up in intelligence, she squanders wholly in dishonesty: from where I sit the choice between Trump and Clinton is pretty much analogous to choosing between bowel cancer or stomach cancer.

Erdogan, of course, is very much a different threat. Quite what the man wants I really can’t fathom. Is it just power? Does he have a vision for the future of Turkey which is so difficult to achieve that it necessitates him having dictatorial powers unencumbered by a parliament. I really don’t know and I suspect you don’t, either.

To get to the point of this ramble (which for originality must compare favourably with our Sunday newspapers which do very little by precis the previous six days daily newspapers, then advise on what aftershave to wear when you are off to the timeshare in the Dordogne - readers of the more downmarket Sunday papers must


look elsewhere for relevant persiflage – what, exactly, do the next 30 years hold for our young? I have a 20-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son for whom what happens in the coming 30 and 40 years is rather important. And if Trump fucks things up for the rest of the world by making America great again, and if Erdogan pretty much screws up the Middle East for the next 100 years, their prospects of peaceful prosperity will be rather curtailed.

Actually, I don’t know what to think. To be honest, I’m wondering whether I’m simply beginning to suffer from the condition with seems to affect everyone getting on in years that ‘the world is going to the dogs’. I’ve been trying to recall world situations from when I was 20, 30, 40 and 50 and just how bloggers (or their steam age equivalents) reacted to ‘world events’. The trouble is I can’t. To put it succinctly, am I just more pessimistic because I am simply more aware of world events or are things really going rather worse than they were in recent memory? And to be honest I don’t actually think they are worse: in a certain mood they always are awful, so, dear reader, look on the bright side. Like me you might well be dead be 2030. Which brings me onto global warming, but fuck it, I’m to tired to ramble on anymore. Pip, pip

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A few last words for no very good reason at all...

I am writing this in the couryard - the 'smoking' couryard of The Horse in Moretonhampstead, pretty much the back of beyond on Darmoor, though certainly not in its bleakest parts. I had planned to stop off at my regular going home haunt, the Brewers Arms, in South Petherton, but when I got there at just 4.25pm, it was shut and wasn't, so the girl in the knick-knack shop opposite told me, due to open until 6pm. Well, it seemed a bit daft hanging on for 90 minutes, so I took off again to home in Cornwall, consulting as I drove - dangerous, don't try this at home, kiddiwinks - the Sky Cloud wifi finder app on my iPad. It assured me that the Union Inn in Ford Street, Moretonhampstead, had Sky wifi, so I set my sat-nav for all points Moretonhampstead.

I've never been here before and imagined some modest clutch of mud huts (though, I hear you remark, the Sky wifi might have been some indicator), but instead found a smallish town in which driving anywhere in its small streets consists of reversing a great deal to let pass yet another Chelsea tractor. Moretonhampstead, on Dartmoor, is that kind of town. Just how much I found out when after one pint of Thatchers at the Union Inn and not really fancying a bowl of the industrial sized chips it serves, I wandered off and found The Horse.

This 'inn' - well, I suppose they would call themselves a gastro-pub - is a very different establishment entirely. Going out to get another laptop mouse, I noticed more folk have arrived since I did about 30 minutes ago, and they all seemed to be the very nubile daughters of the local gentry and their brothers. One indication of
how I am ageing, if any more indications were needed, is just how bloody young 18/19 lasses are these days. They certainly weren't that young when I was 18 and praying to get my end away at least once before I died. (I did, as you ask, and I had just turned 19. I know, a little older than some and a lot older than some others, but there you go, that's life. I blame a Roman Catholic upbringing and a fat early adolescence persuaing me - to this day, in fact - that I am not particularly attractive.)

The schlepp here was just that. We have plenty of very narrow lanes in Cornwall but none I have yet come across meanders for more than five miles and which have to be explored at a very safe 20mph as you have no idea what might be around the corner. As it happens I met only one car and one tractor coming the other way in all
those five miles. I just hope I can find what we here in Old Blighty call 'an A road' which isn't something out of Enid Blyton and her Famous Five. As it is I shan't be back home for some time yet and most of that journey will be taken up getting the hell off Dartmoor again.

I semi-enjoyed the past week in Bordeaux, but my aunt really is now getting old and doddery, and unfortunately deaf and set in her ways. That wouldn't matter if I didn't inadvertently seem to do everything, but everything in a way she didn't like, which didn't conform to her ways, with the result that my head was chewed off pretty regularly. But I should add that she is not in the best of health and I don't think I should be any the more genial if and when I reach 86.

Last night we went to a concert of more or less Latin music and I enjoyed some if not all of it. Several pieces I did enjoy were played on harp and flute, but I'm buggered if I can track down what they were, because even before they musicians tuned up, they informed us that the programme had been changed in some ways, but then didn't actually tell us which ways. One thing I did't like were three piece by Villa Lobos (is that how it's spelled?), I just didn't. I know that's heresy of a certain kind, but, well there you go.

Got to say one thing in favour of The Horse (and I shall chase up a write-up once I have written this last piece): I've just bought a final half-pint of Simmonds cider (not Thatchers, unfortunately) and it was only - only - £1.70. Bloody hell. That did surprise me. Now here's a link to a write-up  and the place's own website

. . .

The crap going on in Turkey will have taken most of us by surprise but only for coming so soon. My sister and brother-in-law lived in Istanbul for several years and even then, she tells, me Erdogan dictatorial tendencies were well to the fore. The coup was in his words 'a gift from God' and will get many in the foreign ministries of Europe and the US scratching their heads as to what to do. But seeing as they did bugger all when Sisi took over Egypt, I suggest it won't be very much.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Spielberg gets just two cheers from me for his Berlin Wall epic, but klezmer music gets all three. A shtik naches

It’s odd how, when and why thoughts come to you. Last night was the second in our concerts this time around, and we were at a wine chateau called Domaine de Chevalier near Leognan to listen to klezmer music played by Meshouge Klezmer Band I don’t know why, but Steven Spielberg’s film Bridge Of Spies came to mind and I realised why I was a tad underwhelmed.

OK, the film won three Oscars and was also nominated in three further categories. Well, leaving aside that the Oscars are arguably as much to do with drumming up business in and for Tinseltown, they are not necessarily the best guide to quality as many all too often assume. Where, for example are the nominations for the innumerable independent productions made each year. Heart on heart this the Oscar ceremony is very much an mainstream industry smoochfest. But that doesn’t get close to why I was a tad underwhelmed, and it wasn’t until last night, apropos nothing I can think of, that I realised why.

Bridge Of Spies is very much a Spielberg film and the guy knows how to make films. It had all Spielberg’s hallmarks, quality oozed from almost every shot and, thankfully another of his hallmarks – a large dose of schmaltz – was less in evidence. That particular quality, for example, ruined his much-vaunted ‘America is the land of the free irrespective of creed or colour’ epic Amistad, and when I heard Spielberg quoted as saying that when he filmed his biopic Lincoln, he felt he almost had to wear a suit and tie while doing so, I decided the film would not be for me. As a pretentious and sycophantic comment it surely takes some beating.

Bridge Of Spies did have some schmaltz, of course, notably the end scene when James Donovan is seen riding the subway on his way back to work, but largely Spielberg kept it in check. What he didn’t keep in check was his penchant for over-egging the pudding. . And ‘the building of the Berlin Wall’ was nothing as it was portrayed by Spielberg. I should say that I was living in West Berlin in the years the Wall went up and with my brother was even taken on the S-Bahn to Berlin-Friederichstraβe by our father (the BBC Berlin representative from June 1959 until July 1963 and possibly working for MI6, in some capacity or other).

First off, there is a comment from, I think, some CIA spook or other, that the agency had word that the Soviets were planning to build a wall to stem the flow of refugees to from the East to the West. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. In fact ‘the Wall’, which wasn’t even a wall for many months, was a panic measure by the East Germans on the night of August 12/13. It consisted initially of the East Germans – with no Soviet involvement – sealing of the East from the West simply by pulling barbed wire across every street and road connecting the two parts of the city. Until then folk could travel between both parts at will, and did, visiting family at weekends, for example. And it is not surpising that there appears to have been no planning whatsoever.

Walter Ulbricht (pictured), chairman of the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) and, since the previous year the German Democratic Republic’s head
of state, had admittedly, in an interview two months earlier, declared ‘no one intends building a wall’, but the sudden sealing of off East Berlin appears to have been an ad hoc decision in view of the thousands of East German citizens who were seeking refuge in West Berlin throughout the very hot summer of 1961. It would seems his declaration

The Germans, for good reason, are known for efficiency and planning and there was no efficiency or planning when they sealed the East off from the West. But Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies gives a wholly different picture. The exchange of Abel for Gary Powers, the U2 pilot shot down over Soviet Russia, took place seven months later in February 1962 and the scene depicted of stout-hearted East Berliners making their bid from freedom while the wall was being built – with tanks and soldiers looking on – is simply very silly. Nor was there anyway the American student, Frederic Pryor, could have crossed over to the East to visit his sweetheart. As for the final putting in place of the last bricks shown in the film, well, that, too, is risible. Yet, it is admittedly still a film, and Spielberg might plead he was portraying an ‘artistic truth’.

What occurred to me during last night’s concert was that the overall production of the film was somehow too sumptuous and oddly out of keeping with the subject matter. The rich colours, even when depicting drab East Germany, the substantial sets, all of it was somehow out of kilter. Even the style of filmmaking – the set pieces, the ‘good acting’, even in scenes between Abel and Donovan in the prison and the court scenes were first and foremost filmmaking, and fine filmmaking at that. And that was exactly what seemed and seems to be inappropriate.

The world of spies and the whole business of cynical East/West relations was shabby, on both sides. We told lies to our people, they told lies to their people. I grew up in that Cold War era and until I began to think for myself was wholly convinced we, the West, were the Good Guys in White Hats, and the Commies, the Russkies were the Bad Guys in Black Hats. If only life were so simple. But that is still the mentality of Spielberg’s film: Good v Evil. It’s as though he also word a suit and tie in homage to the Goodness Of The West when he made Bridge Of Spies. Shame, really. As the Sixties thriller The Spy Who Came In From The Cold showed us, it is possible to give a more realistic and more honest account of the times – and their breathtaking cynicism – without resorting to fairy tales. .
. . .

As for the klezmer music, I have to say I enjoyed it immensely. If I were to be cruel, I could claim that one or two klezmer tunes go a long way, consisting, as they seem to, of about three chords, but there is a definite joi de vivre about them which could cheer up a corpse and makes up for everything. And it is not the kind of music to sit
listening to in rows of ten – I was dying to get up and move, though I couldn’t tell you how. But this was a French music festival and although I shan’t claim it is in anyway po-faced, it was a shame we heard the music in what was to all intents and purposes a concert hall (albeit a makeshift one) and weren’t part of a wedding party of some kind, any kind of party, in fact. Then there are the slow, sad klezmer tunes. They too grab you and don’t let go.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

No, this honkey believes that blue men can’t always sing the whites and sometimes shouldn’t even try (but no, I’ve not crossed over to the LibDems, no sir, life’s far too short). As for Turkey – well, what did we expect from an apprentice dictator such as Erdogan? That last remark will pretty much mark my card. If he staged his own coup, he wouldn’t be the first, but then, if…

There was a jokey question years ago, originally posed, I think, by Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band – and, no, I wasn’t a regular fan or thought they were the best thing since sliced bread – was ‘can blue men sing the whites’. I suppose, in the interests of clarity, I should deconstruct that but if you have already heard it or know what Stanshall was getting at, please don’t be offended. What with the rediscovery of ‘the blues’ in its various incarnations by British rock artists in the Sixties (much to the delight of America’s blues artists who were pretty much universally ignored in their home country), and given the provenance of the blues, it was asked, not necessarily stupidly, whether it was not just a little daft, not to say, insulting for nice white chaps and chappesses to sing the blues. In short, were we white honkeys entitled to sing the blues?

Well, that is a question I won’t get into here, mainly because life is too short. But again in short, I understand why some black folk might be offended, although I suspect the claim that whiteys shouldn’t sing the blues was first made by whitey liberals, many of whom tend to think those on whose behalf they fight the good fight aren’t really up to fighting their own corner and can do with a bit of whitey liberal help. (It’s pretty much a fact that no one is more appalled by ‘racism’ in Britain than white twentysomething middle-class Labour supporters in Hackney and LibDems in the rural Quantocks just outside Bristol).

If when you are singing the blues, you are singing about the goddam-awful life of your own, your parents, your grandparents, their parents and their grandparents, in what seemed like perpetual servitude with no hope of escape and betrayal by your government again and again and again, you do wonder quite how skinny white chaps from Dartford, Edgware, Macclesfield and Cardiff could really identify with the feeling of hopelessness or even the gallows humour which engendered many blues songs. As I say, it’s debatable and, wisely, not a debate you will find me involved in at any time soon. I mention this because last night my aunt and I drove the few miles to the parish Church of St Vincent (Eglise Saint Vincent for the sticklers) in Preignac to hear five singers who call themselves Concert Studio Gospel de La Bordeaux Gospel Academy singing a number of gospel songs. And I have to say, their technical abilities notwithstanding, I found the whole experience a tad dispiriting (ironically, pretty much the opposite of what gospel singing was intended to do).

First, my less contentious objections, in no particular order. The five of them – all white, needless to say - sang at the front of the church about 20 feet in front of the altar and were amplified, with their amps pointing towards them so, presumably, they could monitor themselves. But that meant that the sound was thrown into the rear of the church and up to the cupola, where it was reflected back into the church (and no doubt partly re-amplified when it was caught by the five microphones) and was generally a noisy mush of noise.

The five themselves did not have a range of voices necessary for and interesting choral sound: there was no bass, for one thing; and although they sang together well, there were no arrangements as such (for example not attempt at counterpoint to give a piece more texture). Had I not been in France in the Church of St Vincent in Preignac, Acquitaine, but somewhere in the West Midlands where I was told I was listening to a concert by the Evesham WI Singers (runners-up in the 2013 WI Sing Britain, Sing finals in the Albert Hall), I would have been none the wiser. And equally as unimpressed.

My more contentious point comes back to the satirical question ‘can blue men sing the whites’. And my response would be ‘no, not really your Honour’. Yes, I know I am on sticky ground here, and I know that there have been several white honkeys with exceptional voices – Treforest’s very own Tom Jones or Janice Joplin, for example - who might just pull of singing a blues or a spiritual. Just. But surely to goodness the provenance of gospel songs and spirituals make it difficult territory for us whiteys to trek on, some might say walk all over.

From what I know (and pedants are very welcome to write in and set me straight) when a congregation of slaves gathered on a Sunday in their makeshift church in South Carolina or Louisiana or Alamaba and encouraged each other somehow to find the strength to get through another week of the abject and hopeless misery by singing Wade In The Water or Praise Him or Everybody Sing Freedom or Swing Low Sweet Chariot (some of the songs sung last night), they really felt it. They felt it in their hearts and souls. They didn’t just sing those songs ‘because they liked the melodies’, they sang those songs out of desperation.

On my iPhone I have 24 songs by Marion Williams (I just put one on now, This Train) and listening to her and other black singers there is an almost indefinable essence which is wholly absent when the songs and music is played by whiteys. OK, I know I am laying myself wide open to criticism here, I would be very interested to hear contrary arguments (some hope – no one, but no one ever responds to my invitations to get in touch), but all I shall say ignore my possibly ham-fisted way of saying it, just try to listen to what I am trying to say. So they answer to the satirical question I quoted above – ‘can blue men sing the whites’ – is, as far as I am concerned, ‘no, not always by any means’.

.  . .

Then there’s Turkey. That fine example of democratic practice – 3,000 judges locked up overnight – Recip Tayyip Erdogan is at it again. He blames his would-be nemesis Fethullah Gűlen and for all I – we – know Gűlen might well be behind it all. He, on the other hand, suggests Erdogan is behind it all and staged ‘a coup’ as part of some Machiavellian strategy to neutralise his opponents. Neither claim is verifiable, but from where I sit that second claim would seem to be just a little more

plausible. It was, for example, odd how small the coup was and how easily the military involved in the coup threw in the towel. But I doubt whether you and I will even know the the truth of this mukey affair for many a year. I might well be dead by the time one or the other comes clean and announces to the world: ‘Ok, it’s a fair cop, it was me, guv.’

The US, of course, is stuffed because they need Turkey as somewhere to base their aircraft. And as Erdogan has been making things up with Israel – quite possibly, the thought occurs to me, in the run-up to staging his own ‘coup’ – the US is pretty much between a rock and a hard place. I don’t doubt the commentariat are full of opinions and in a minute – it is now 14.37 (2.37pm for my Brexiteer readers) and I shall have to wait another 10/15 – I shall listen to The World This Weekend on Radio 4 to collect my newest set of opinions. The EU is stuffed because they need some they can sell their immigrants to. But I can’t see EU members lining up soon to welcome Turkey into the brotherhood, not after this. Why buy in trouble.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Consternation in France when I turn down lunch (yes, really), but if that’s too boring (it is a bit), an odd response to Turkey’s military coup (in that we’re all supposed to cheer along democrats even when they are nothing of the kind) and the ‘Brexit was the right move’ line gets a sound analysis

Illats - Day Three

I am in my third full day down here in the south-west of France, but we have not yet attended any concerts. We have three, three nights in a row, from Monday on, and then I fly off again on Thursday. My aunt had various medical problems and two operations, so it wasn’t certain I would come this year, and when she did decide she would be up to it, I had to persuade my boss to allow me this week off as she is already short-staffed. Next week was out of the question.

So far I have done next to nothing if not exactly nothing, and that is how I like it. I caused some consternation today by asking to be excused lunch. The fact is that although each meal is by no means substantial (and always very tasty), I am no longer accustomed to eating a great deal. At home I can start the day off with half a
big tub of unsweetened Greek youghurt (i.e. the creamy one) and some kind of fruite, perhaps three satsumas chopped up. Then I might not eat again until supper. Or if I have lunch, usually some kind of salad - Greek salad, or one of my own devising (it’s not difficult - just chop up, in any order or combination, an onion/some spring onions, leek, tomatoes, celery, orange, apple or some other fruit and a little chopped up garlic and the lost seasoned with fresh pepper and drowned in olive oil). With that I’ll eat a tin of smoked herring or a hunk of cheese or a pork pie - Christ, this is getting dull writing it all, let alone reading it, so I’ll stop here as I’m sure you get the picture...

As I said, I don’t really eat a great deal these days, and for no reason other than I like to eat only when I am hungry. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like food - I do, a great deal. It’s just that I don’t like feeling full. I more or less stopped eating bread or wheat products some years ago, although I’m by no means anal about it, and will certainly eat, for example, a piece of cake if some were offered, and the result is that the spare tyre almost all of us carry has been substantially reduced, I don’t feel as hungry so often and generally a little more alert. Ironically, I do eat bread when I come to stay here because the ‘something compagne’ bread is a tasty as hell when toasted and a fresh baguette is also very, very nice. So here it the exception.

But as I don’t get up very early while I am here (and this time round I have strictly been turning the light off at 11pm rather than reading throught to gone 2am/3am as in past years) so I’m getting loads of sleep (which I like as I dream a great deal), I don’t eat my breakfast - three small pieces of that very tasty ‘something compagne’ and a mug of tea - until way after 11am. Then, in the course of things comes lunch at around 1.30pm and I’m just not hungry. The trouble is that I do like food and don’t stint myself.

My aunt (step-aunt) if essentially Irish although she grew up in Britain until her early twenties (just under 60 years ago) since when she has been living in France (and, for a short time, Algeria when it was still France) and she doesn’t count herself as ‘a good cook’. That’s mainly because she isn’t, on her own admission, particularly interested in cooking. But in those 60 odd years of living here in France, she has picked up one or two good tips which can make an ordinary dish punch above its weight.

So, for example, the other night for supper we had fish pie. It was very straightforward: a mish-mash of salmon, tuna and sardines covered in mashed potato (‘pomme mashe’ I should imagine it is called hereabouts). But what made it stand out a little were the herbs my aunt added: fresh dill, for one, and one other I can’t yet remember.

As I say, lunch in this household is still traditional: several courses eaten over the best part of an hour and a half (but then that’s also because we talk to each other). My aunt claims the French way of eating, eating protein, vegetables and starch separately, is healthier than having everyhing on one plate, and for all I know she’s right. So we start with some very simple salady thing – grated carrots or sliced tomatoes with dressing – then pate, then a meat course, then a vegetable course, then cheese. And then my aunt has a cup of Nescafe and ‘something sweet’. I don’t drink the coffee because although I like freshly ground coffee, I’m not that bothered about Nescafe.

In addition to all this is the wine. Neither of use drinks a lot and her husband, a Frenchman from Corsica, can’t drink any alcohol for health reasons. The thing is that long gone are the days when I could drink at lunchtime and not feel like sleeping for the rest of the afternoon. And even the modest amount I do drink with lunch these days make me so sleeping, doing anything else but sleep is a bloody chore.

So there you have it: for the most honourable reasons imaginable I asked today to be excused lunch. And as I skipped supper last night, the consternation I caused was rather large. Oh well.

. . .

There will be plenty of ‘oh, well’ going on in Turkey now after the failed coup. You will know as much or as little as I do, but although military coups against democratically elected heads of state and prime minister are not usually a cause for rejoicing, I was disappointed to hear this morning that the coup against president Erdogan had failed. For however ‘democratically elected’ he is, he is increasingly showing dictatorial tendencies and, for example, is giving those parts of the Turkish media not yet controlled by the government a very hard time.

x My sister lived in Istanbul for several years until five years ago, and long before she left she was telling me how her Turkish friends and neighbours, admittedly professional middle-class secular folk of a liberal beng, were becoming worried by how Erdogan was turning the country into ever more of a police state. So, as I say, I was a tad disappointed that this coup had gone off half-cock. It remains to be seen what will happen next (and it doesn’t quite help Britain that our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson a few years ago lampooned Erdogan in a limerick, describing him as ‘the wankerer from Ankara’. I can’t imagine Erdogan laughed much when he heard that.

Overall, we are living in interesting times. I was listening to British news yesterday and it seems in some quarters Theresa May’s appointment of Johnson and two other ‘leading Brexiteers’, David Davis and Liam Fox as, respectively chief Brexit negotiator is regarded as a move that would have made Machiavelli blush. Well, put last description down to journalistic hyperbole and one too many gins, but it is most certainly a very canny move. As the Financial Times puts it ‘Johnson, Davis and Fox to pursue EU divorce and take blame if it goes wrong’. That’s not Machiavellian in my book, that’s a class move: the wanted Brexit, so they can shoulder the burden of getting a good deal for Britain outside the EU. And if they fuck it up, or even if they deals they strike are poor, one Theresa May – who didn’t want to move anyway – is in the clear. Nothing underhand about that, m’lud.

. . .

A few days ago, I heard a commentary on the EU referendum and its result, one of five as part of a series by the BBC’s Radio 4 by academics. It was by someone called Professor John Gray, who teaches philosophy at Exeter College, Oxford. He didn’t actually identify himself as either a Leaver or a Remainer, but what he had to say did make me think a little (and if you have access to Radio 4’s iPlayer, you can ‘listen again’. It was on Tuesday last, July 12).

Essentially he was saying that the EU is an inward-looking, failing and isolationist organisation on a road to nowhere and which will be left behind by the rest of the world. And given that in several Mediterranean member states the rate of unemployment for folk under 25 is over 50pc and has been for some time, he might well have a point. What struck me was the reasoned way he argued: there was none of this
to my mind hysterical and phoney, ‘take back control and seize your destiny’ and ‘bring back the groat’ rhetoric which helped to make the referendum debate such an intellectual embarrassment (the Remainers were no better, by the way).

Instead he laid out the circumstances as he saw them: with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the EU decided it wanted to be a force in the world and set out along that course. The trouble was that it was already being left behind by the rest of the world where economic growth made the EU’s economic growth embarrassingly piddly. But listen yourselves if you want the real thing rather than my potted and probably simplistic summing up.

The irony, of course, is that the gang of Brexiteers stomping around the country yelling out their jinogistic slogans will have bee wholly unaware of any of that. Of post-Brexit planning there seems to have been nothing, and if things do work out economically for Britain and Old Blighty doesn’t go down the tubes as prominent Leavers predict (and no doubt secretly hope so they can crow ‘we told you so!’), it will be nothing more than a stroke of luck. Fancy!

Tonight we’re off to a concert of gospel music. It isn’t strictly part of the series of concert put on here by the good, middle-class folk of Acquitaine, but I’m looking forward to it as I like a bit of gospel music, me.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Boris (hereafter and in view of his unprecedented, not to say bizarre, coronation as Britain’s New Foreign Secretary to be referred to as ‘Johnson’) and a tale of woe, woe, woe when there was no room at the inn for this traveller and, bugger me, if not one Wise Man turned up. As for surly, unhelpful French bastards, I present a prime example

Illats – July 15 (Bastille Day plus 1)

The baffling, baffling, utterly baffling appointment of Boris Johnson as Britain’s new Foreign Secretary must be left for another time as I’m still tired, though I slept
well last night and am not as tired as I was yesterday. Any non-British readers wash up at this blog and don’t know who ‘Boris Johnson’ is, you’ll find extensive details of the man and his crass stupidity on the Wikipedia page on clowns and their role in responsible government. But for those who do not know what he looks like, here, left, is his official appointment portrait, taken two days ago at the Foreign Office.

. . .

I should, of course, have written and posted this entry yesterday when unkind Brit gibes at the French would have carried more weight and been even more gratuitously tactless, but as I spent more or less all day asleep – I’ll explain later – there was not really time and I wasn’t really in the mood. As it is, and while I was asleep, the annual parade of military might by which modern nations like to demonstrate national pride took place along the Champs Elysee in Paris, no doubt frightening the hell out of Isis and giving them second thoughts about whether to poke out their tougues again at Marianne and make suggestive comments about her virtue.

(Why when the French march all their troops and transport all their tanks and other armoury up to Paris to send it through the centre of the capital it is a ‘demonstration of national pride’, but when the Russians and Chinese do the same outside the Kremlin and Red Square it is an ‘unprecedented display of militarism designed to frighten the world’ I have yet to fathom. I do know it is something to do with democracy, but I have yet to make the link.)

The reason I spent more or less all Bastille Day lying on my bed asleep was because I had had barely three hours kip in the previous 48 hours (give or take an hour for dramatic representation but really no more than one). I had for some reason I am still trying to work out booked a 6.50am flight from Gatwick to Bordeaux with BA instead of the usual 9.50am flight with easyjet I have been catching every year when I fly out to Bordeaux for my annual concert-going with my elderly aunt. I can only think it was because at the time of booking BA were £2.35 cheaper than easyjet and – well, we all know that post-Brexit times are hard or will become so and that every penny must be made to count. (That I booked the flight on June 18, four days before the EU referendum, and so could not have known the outcome is a point which would only be made by a pedant and if that is you, you are officially banned from reading this blog for six months.) The upshot was that I was faced with getting up at just after 4am to drive to Gatwick from my brother’s flat in Earls Court, West London. It was that or find a hotel near the airport and drive down the night before.

Courtesy of an offer from APH parking with whom I have dealt before to leave my car near the airport, I was able to book a bed at the Gatwick Europa Hotel in Crawly for just £11 more than the cost of parking my car for eight days. However, somewhere along the line there was a cock-up. I got to the hotel at around 11.40pm and very much looking forward to a quick shower and wank before getting my head down only to be told there was no record of a booking in my name. I insisted there must be (and it didn’t help that the night staff were a surly middle-aged Frenchman who gave a new dimension to the concept of unhelpfulness and a slightly young, very tubby Brit who was that night’s nominal night manager. It is obvious the Europa Hotel chain don’t care very much who the appoint for night shift duty).

I returned to the car to get my laptop and was able to show them the email I’d been sent from APH confirming a room had been booked in my name, but that cut no ice at all. There was no record of a booking made in my name and, anyway, the hotel was full up (apparently of 1,000 Japanese juveniles all playing Pokemon on their phones and tablets to judge from the racket coming from the adjacent lobby.) Once midnight had long come and gone and it was obvious I was getting nowhere, I decided to cut my losses and try to find a room in a nearby hotel – any nearby hotel. I asked the surly Frenchman what were the hotels nearby. ‘How should I know,’ he
replied, ‘I’m from France.’ That, dear friends, is verbatim. Idiot. Brexit is looking ever more attractive.

After looking up hotels on the net, I tried the Crawley Holiday Inn, but had no luck, and then the Holiday Inn Express – yes, I know, what’s the difference, but there is, it seems – and was told I could have their last room which I booked for £99. So with the customary ‘fuck off you unhelpful French bastard’, I was off in search of the Holiday Inn Express my satnav informed me was just over a mile away.

That finding the bloody place took me the best part of 20 minutes I put down to the fact that like black cats in the night commuter towns like Crawley all look the bloody same at any time of day and are riddled with roundabouts every 200 yards or so – you take the wrong turn-off at one and you are onto the next roundabout before you realise your mistake. Or perhaps I’m just thick as shit.

As it was I found the hotel just before 1am and booked in, given the electronic key to room 135 with a cheery ‘you are lucky, sir, it’s our last room, and that will be £7 for parking’. In fact, it wasn’t, and for that I am very grateful, because when I slid in the electronic key and let myself in, I found it was already occupied by a foreign family of four. Back to the reception desk who pronounced themselves flummoxed and immediately found another ‘very last room’, this time 301. And so it was to bed where in all the excitement and praying I didn’t sleep through my alarm I didn’t get off to sleep until about 2.30am. I know because I kept looking at my watch. Two hours 20 minutes later my iPhone alarm went off.

There were more fun and games at Bordeaux airport (where I found myself at 9.35am that morning). I wasn’t due at Cerons railway station, 20 minutes south of Bordeaux and where I was to be picked up, for another five and a half hours, but I cared not one bit. I had already planned sitting in the sun at a café I know opposite Bordeaux Gare St Jean, supping a beer and enjoying a cigar, but as it was still early I decided to treat myself to a café au lait and a croissant at the airport. Which is what I did, only ten minutes after settling down for the whole area to be invaded – very slowly, it has to be said – by a policeman, a soldier with a very lethal looking automatic rifle and various typists with ‘Police’ armbands who told us to get our things together and leave. The area was then taped off. We who had been removed sat on metal benches about 20 feet away waiting for the café to be re-opened, but we were then told to make ourselves even scarcer and we withdrew to the further part of the airport. There, settling down again we heard a loud (or loudish) bang and that was that. I can only think they found a suspicious discarded Dunkin’ Donuts box and were not prepared to take any chances.

So there you have it: although I arrived at my aunts at about 5pm (she wanted to go shopping in the local Intermarche and, at 81, is no longer the fastest shopper) I didn’t get to bed until about 10.30pm because – well, I was being polite and thought disappearing into my bedroom for the next 24 hours might be a little rude. I got up at 11.30am yesterday, had a substantial lunch of lamb cutlets – I mention that because these days I find I eat less and less meat – and just a few glasses of wine. And it was the wine at midday which did it, because I again had to crash and slept for another four hours. The bonus was, of course, that I missed all the Bastille Day excitement.

. . .

Our concerts, only three in my stay here although there are, of course, more on other dates, don’t start until Monday night and I am off again on Thursday. My aunt, who is feeling her age a lot these days and has had two operations over these past 12 months, doesn’t like to go out on her own after dark, so she isn’t able to attend any of the concerts if I am not here to accompany her. (Incidentally: no Liszt or Chopin. Yippee! All that banging around on the keyboard – Liszt – and silly showing off up and down the keyboard while we, the audience, play Hunt The Melody.)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The easy way out again in which Mystic Pat admits ‘The future of the EU? I don’t have a sodding clue, and nor does anyone else’, so it looks like a coming boomtime for snake oil salesman (still, surprisingly, allowed to practice under EU regulations, although they are working on rectifying that by 2026. It seems the Portuguese are being difficult and claim it will destroy their snake oil industry)

On 9 Jul 2016, at 09:04, — — — — —  — — — — — — — — — wrote:

The threat of invoking Article 50 will be pre-empted by the French and the Germans soliciting our remaining with promises of a more ‘accommodated’ UK. These countries require the UK as resident arbitrator so as to lessen the risk of a permanent impasse between them.

Hi — — — — —,

I thought I would reply to just one point, the above. You might well be right, but to be frank it is just one of several possible ways the whole nonsense could play itself out.

If what you suggest above were to happen (and I agree entirely that the UK is the third leg of a three-legged stool), the Germans and French might well want to accommodate the Brits, but it wouldn't be up to them. It would be up to the EU as a whole, several of whose members - Poland, the Baltics, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia - benefit very well thank you very much from 'the free movement of labour' and would be dead set against it. It keeps their domestic employment figures looking healthy and remittances from their citizens working in the wealthier EU countries keep their finance very stable. So I can't see much happening on that score.

Then there's the furore that would be created here in Britain if the government of the day, probably Tory, went against the referendum vote (which was, admittedly, merely advisory), loads of folk determined to 'reclaim their destiny' taking to the streets demanding Britain bring back the death penalty for foreigners and if the Fifties was all right for the Fifties, how come it is suddenly not all right for the year 2016? Answer that one!

It would, though, take the sting out of the threat of Scotland's secession from the UK, although the EU has made it very clear that Scotland wouldn't get an automatic pass to rejoin swiftly were that to happen, and anyway the Spanish prime minister is dead against it. And would certainly take the sting out of the never simple what we should probably start calling 'the Irish question' again.

As it stands, and were the UK to leave, there would be an EU border right across Irish bandit country, a very long one at that, and differences in price etc would most certainly give rise a huge amount of smuggling. Then there are the renewed calls for reunification. Christ, it would be back to the Troubles again, with a vengeance.

I was reading in the Economist just last night of a likely crisis in the Italian banking industry, and the paper suggested that in time a renewed euro crisis, this time involving Italy, the fourth-largest EU economy rather than a minnow like Greece, could well end with the collapse of the EU. If that were to happen, or rather if that were on the cards, we might well see a panicked EU try to save what it can by thoroughly restructuring itself. And if that were the case, an EU far more to the liking of Brexiteers could well emerge i.e. something more akin to a trading bloc with all this ever-closer political union bollocks thrown overboard, and far more stringent rules governing the movement of labour.

There are other dangers facing the EU: Austria is to re-run its May presidential election and the far-right chappie might well get in this time. And if he did, he would find a willing ally in Hungary which, if not ostensibly far-right, is run by a cunt for whom the democratic process is very much a nuisance and who is rather anti-semitic.

Then there's the news of two days ago that Austria is searching every vehicle crossing from Hungary and Hungary is now doing the same, which drives a coach and four through the Schengen waffle. But even if my scenario were to take place rather than yours, it wouldn't all happen over one weekend and the political uncertainty would create economic chaos eventually worldwide given how 'the world is now global' (who've have thought it, ed?)

So there we have it: Britain is fucked if they do and fucked if they don't. And, who knows: if the EU were to collapse with all members retreating into their previous nationalistic shells, continental-wide peace might be a thing of the past, and with my putative recession happening, loads of folk unemployed and many more on the breadline, fighting a war might well strike many countries with scores to settle as a useful way of keeping the great - now jobless - unwashed busy and out of trouble. (I distinctly remember how Bohemia viciously insulted Carpathia in 1767, and that

How Northamptonshire will look once they've seen off the Carpathians


grave slight is still festering deep in Carpathian hearts and calls to 'Carpathian men' to restore national pride have continued for the past 249 years. So watch out, Bohemia, there might well soon be no EU finger anymore to wag at Carpathia and insist this isn't the way to settle quarrels.)

Actually, despite all that, the truth is no one is in any position to guess what might happen in Europe. It is worth quoting the two gibes made at economists:

1) Ask ten economists what they think will happen over the next few weeks and you'll get 15 answers. (And isn't it odd how there are several economists who we revere for correctly predicting past recession, but we conveniently forget all those whose firm predictions turned out to be so much cack in the pan?)

2) An economist is a man who will convincingly explain today what what he convincingly predicted yesterday didn't happen. On thing is certain: when, next Wednesday, I fly out to Bordeaux for my annual concert-going with my 81-year-old aunt, I shall, for eight days, be crapping daily in a European bog.

Once again, given the length of this response, I shall, with your implicit approval, also post it as a blog entry, If, of course, you invoke your inalienable human right not to have your correspondence plastered all over the internet, you can also call on the good services of the European Court of Human Rights to have the post removed. (NB 'the information superhighway' we all kept talking about: what happened to that? These days the only information I get is that Argos is holding yet another special sale and that if I apply swiftly, I can get four spades for the price of two at Tooltime.co.uk.)

All the best and better stock up on garlic and Camembert now while pound will stand it.

Patrick.

. . . 



Is this:

1) a Belgian novelist?

2) a Sixties French/German existentialist?

3) a Lutheran theologian?

4) a Portuguese snake oil salesman?

5) a newly retired IT manager from Macclesfield who is upping sticks and moving with his wife and Vauxhall Safira to Devon now the kids are out of the house? ('We've always loved Devon').

Answers, please, on a postcard and sent to the usual address*.

(*Cell C33, Pentonville Prison, Caledonian Rd., London N7 8TT, United Kingdom.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

In which I take risk of offending a distant family member who I don’t think reads this blog but just might come across it. Oh, and a hearty hello to a reader from Eye, in Suffolk, who seems to be a regular visitor. I’ll explain how I know in a let blog entry (although the eagle-eyed might find out for themselves)

This started as an email to a friend (who reads this blog). I far prefer writing long emails and would even write letters if my handwriting weren’t so illegible, but at least I can write long emails. I trust my friend, — — — — —, won’t object to this odd time-saving technique, but I have promised him that if he is offended, I shall delete it.

Hi —————,

I hope this email finds you well. I have been listening to the Philip Eade book and shall in a minute listen to this morning's edition because I missed it. It is interesting and entertaining enough, but I haven't heard anything yet I hadn't heard before.

I've just been onto Amazon to look it up, but instead bought a biography of Waugh called Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by one Paula Byrne simply because the Amazon blurb contains the following rather startling claim 'Far from the snobbish misanthropist of popular caricature, she uncovers a man as loving and complex as the family that inspired him – a family deeply traumatised when their father was revealed as a homosexual and forced to flee the country'.

Well, I've read several biographies (of which I think Selina Hastings is by far the best) and thought I knew most facts about Waugh and the course of his life, but that one really is new on me. I know less of his life in the Fifties up to his death, so maybe that's when it happened. He did have a nervous breakdown of sorts because of his heavy drinking and the sleeping draughts he was taking and took himself off on a long cruise (later written up in the ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold), so maybe that is the episode she is referring to. But I do think if Waugh was a closet queen (and six children and seven pregnancies seem to indicate he also like the women), wouldn't it have 'come out' before now. I shall tell you more once I have read the book. (I got that wrong, apparently, although I blame the Amazon summariser for writing so vaguely.)

Still got the hives, but it is all very odd. I thought it was primarily a skin thing, but I'm not getting that at all really. With me it is something called histamines making my skin prickle/tickle/itch in different parts and I am simply trying to get on with it and wait for it to finish, though it has been going on since last October (when, though, it took are rather more severe form). I do feel a bit of a fraud in that other folk around and about are getting strokes, cancer, heart failure etc, but all I have to complain about is that 'my skin prickles/tickles/itches a lot and it's uncomfortable'. For example, Seth Cardew died a few months ago (and you emailed me at the time) and that was wholly unexpected: death is rather more severe a fate than pricklin'/ticklin'/itchin'.

I swallow antihistamines of all kinds by the handful, but whether it makes any difference I really don't know. Today, for example, I didn't take any and it is pretty much the same, a bit better if anything. Oddly, it seems to have hit my left eye, with the eye getting blurred with gunge of a kind and the pharmacist I asked in Asda (it has its own pharmacy in Bodmin) said he didn't think it was conjunctivitis and suggested anti-histamine eyedrops. The eye is also a little read and raw, so I have stopped wearing my contacts for a while and wear glasses, and as they are the kind which darken in the light (polymorphic/luciduous/transmutual/metadoxic - I'm sure there's a more technical word for it, but I can't think what it is) I am often mistaken for a French existentialist by the good folk hereabouts who are slowly (though surely) emerging from the Fifties.

As for the blog, well I did mention that I hadn't written many entries recently because all I could think about was this very, very silly Brexit crap. I don't know about you, but my view is a plague on both their houses, but, of course, that isn't much of a practical stance. I get equally pissed off with the 'I am a passionate European' creeps who claim they were 'devastated' by the result of the referendum as with the idiots who swallowed all the 'we must take back control of our own destiny' bollocks. Neither side seems to have a clue about any of it. I voted Remain because, by a whisker, it struck me as the most practical choice of two very, very bad choices.

I honestly think this one will run and run with 'Article 50' not being called for for some time yet and in the meantime the EU being convulsed with rebellion elsewhere. Undoubtedly it will have economic consequecnes, but then it isn't as if we were doing all that well anyway. In the long run the wealthy will stay wealthy, the poor will still be shat upon and the middle middle will carry on reading the fucking Money Mail pages of the Daily Mail and congratulating themselves on saving £23 a year by switching chimney sweeps.

There was one other thing I could have written about, a brief three-day trip to Hamburg for the funeral of an uncle (not a blood relative, but the husband of a blood relative). I met my two first cousins again and the two extremely attractive daughters, 24 and 21, of my male cousin.

Hamburg struck me as a pleasant city although even they admit the weather can be very iffy the whole year round. I flew out on the Thursday, attended the funeral on the Friday, had the do and later a meal, and flew back to London on the Saturday. (Incidentally, while writing this - and I hope you don't mind - I thought I might also
post it as the latest entry of my blog to reassure my dear public that I haven't yet died of hives. But I shall remove your name. If you object, tell me, and I shall remove it again. And what I am about to write will make sense, not so far mentioning the trip to Hamburg, I mean.)

I was dossing down with the elder second cousin/great niece (?) and her boyfriend, an American who is 'studying for a Masters' in Hamburg, yet doesn't speak any German. I really can't make that out. (My two second cousins/great nieces (?) both speak excellent English). Anyway, my cousin - my second cousin - went around to her father's house - my first cousin - to help him write his funeral oration so I took the Yank out for a meal at a (rather good) hamburger joint he recommended. The point is that he was almost a caricature of a twentysomething Yank from rural Illinois. He is a lacrosse player (and took off to Berlin to play in a lacrosse tournament on the Friday night at the last minute) but more to the point was dull, dull, dull and had no conversation. (I am bound to admit that he is so far in my life the only twentysomething from Illinois I have met and that it is entirely possible that not every single young male from rural Illinois is dull. Which reminds me of something a certain actor/manager/writer, Samuel Foote, said: 'Not only is he dull, but he is the cause of dullness in others'. Foote was actually a Cornishman from Bodmin, though he hightailed it to the bright lights of London pretty sharpish.)

When I find myself in that situation, my standard strategy is to ask people questions about themselves, and I have yet to meet anyone who won't willingly bore you solid with detail after detial of the duller aspects of their lives, but it is - it always is - heavygoing. And
that, really, was why I didn't write a blog entry about it all: there was no way I couldn't mention him, but I didn't want to risk my cousin, his girlfriend, comin)g across it and thinking I'm a two-faced cunt (which now, of course, I shall if she comes across this.)

Well, as I shall be posting this as an entry on my blog, I have obviously changed my mind. And that is it, — — — — —. Yes, I shall try to get down to your neck of Sussex and we can have another lunch. I was thinking of combining it with a trip to see a college friend who is now retired and has washed up in Deal.

All the best, Patrick.