Sunday, June 11, 2017

In which I descend to thoroughly trivial matters, including the farce which British politics has become in a matter of 24 hours

To be honest, the only reason I am writing this entry is that I was about to revert the ‘Election Special’, photo above for the original artwork, but I can’t: I made a copy of it and saved it to one of my many other laptops (and you think I’m joking: I still have nine, for no very good reason, obviously), but that one, the one I usually use and which is pretty much permanently at home in Cornwall in the kitchen, is as I write about 240 miles away (if you take the A303) or 260 miles away (if you take the M4 and M5).

But tonight, a Sunday night after my single shift at work, I am in London, sitting outside the Scarsdale Tavern in Kensington (motto: No Price Too Steep, But We Know You All Have Cash To Burn), writing on one of two small, but rather neat 11in Lenovo x121e(s). And I’ve just decided that in keeping with the utterly mundane, not to say thoroughly trivial, nature of this entry, I shall add a little more domestic detail (and replace the photo above when I am home again on Thursday).

I was here last Sunday evening, and drank two large glasses of house red. I then drank another, small, glass at La Pappardella around the corner from my brother’s flat in Earls Court where I put my head down. And as is the way of these things, I didn’t then get to sleep until almost 3.30am, watching I don’t know what, so when I woke – early as is the way when you go to bed late – I was feeling distinctly grotty and was bloody tired all day, a double shift. That probably contributed to it. What’s ‘it’? Well, hang on and I’ll tell you.

While at work, deciding what to have for lunch or supper, depending upon whether I eat lunch or supper is always a conundrum. The canteen food is usually pretty rough, and I am getting sick of my usual tuna salad/chicken salad from Pret A Manger in the Tube station. The thing is that I have long ago pretty much knocked bread, pizza and pasta – in fact any other wheat-based on the head, so sandwiches are out. It’s not a health fad or anything like that, it’s just that I find that since I’ve stopped eating wheat (within reason – it’s not an all or nothing thing), I feel less bloated, get less hungry and have lost a small, but distinct rim of flab around my tummy.

But last Sunday, and I gave in and bought two rustic rolls from Marks & Spencer just down the road and crucially a slab of brie. (I warned you this entry would be remorselessly trivial. By all means go and find something better to do, I really shan’t be upset.)

I had one of the rolls and a third of the brie at about three, then the second roll and some more brie at about 8pm. And that’s when it started – yes, that ‘it’. To begin with I seemed to have a belly full of trapped air, but the instinctive action of swallowing even more to build up pressure to release what was already there simply made it all worse. This went on for some time – swallowing air, trying to burp, not managing to, swallowing more air, feeling even fuller, trying again to burp – until about an hour later I began to feel sick.

Now, I’m sure pretty much everyone hear has been through it: you know in your bones you are will sooner or later throw up. At first you ignore it. Then you realise you can’t ignore it. Finally, with minutes to go, you rush to the nearest WC and, with seconds to spare, spew up everything in your stomach. As a rule, you retch several times, until your stomach is clear. And once your stomach is clear, you wretch again, pretty much bringing up nothing. But at least you feel better.

That’s what happened, and I did feel a bit better, though still very tired from the night before. I am usually due off at 10pm, but managed to get off a few minutes earlier, caught a convenient bus, and was at my brother’s within 20 minutes (for someone who works in London, I live very, very close, thank the Lord). There’s was no listening to the ten o’clock news that night or watching something inconsequential on Amazon or Netflix, it was just out with the light and heads down. And for a few brief minutes, knowing that I had a full ten hours of sleep ahead of me, I was in heaven.

The trouble was that just minutes later I began to suffer from stomach cramps. I turned sides, lay on my back, lay on my tummy, went back on my back turned again, but could I get rid of the cramps and could I get to sleep? Could I buggery. And this went on hour by hour (I kept checking my watch) until just before 4am I once again got that feeling – I knew – I was about to throw up. But I’ve nothing left in my stomach, I thought.

Well, my stomach didn’t seem to know, and it was another rush downstairs to my brother’s WC and once again I was (as the Aussies, who always have an apt phrase for most things, say)
talking to God on the great white telephone. And Lord did I throw up quite a bit. Where it came from I really don’t know and cared even less. Then the cramps faded, but my limbs, every single one of them, ached and ached and ached, the kind of ache you have when you have the ‘flu, and I don’t mean man flu, which is nothing but a bad cold, I mean the real flu.

My mind was pretty much made up that I didn’t want to be anywhere, but anywhere, but home in Cornwall in my own bed. Bugger work, bugger everything. The trouble was it is a drive of between four and four and a half hours and a journey I am increasingly beginning to dislike. Work was out – I wanted to do nothing but stay in bed – but the decision was whether to spend the day in London or bite the bullet and drive to Cornwall. I drove to Cornwall.

I texted my boss and the colleague with whom I was due to be working that I was making myself scarce and took off just before 7am. I was home by midday, after taking it slowly, and went straight to bed and stayed there for two days. I got up last Thursday only because I was due to drop off my car at the garage for a bit of work and to vote. Then it was back to bed. I didn’t really feel myself until yesterday. What was ‘it’? I really don’t know. And I really don’t care. At least ‘it’s’ over.

. . .

If you were to sit down with several imaginative scriptwriters and write a political farce, you could not do better than come up with the current political scenario here in Britain. I rather like politics and have been listening to and watching pretty much all the political programes on  radio and TV, and there is - obviously - just one topic: the total disaster of her own making the prime minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party find themselves in. From pretty much every angle the woman is, to use a word with which I’m sure most of you are familiar, fucked. Truly and utterly fucked. And I must repeat in case the point somehow gets lost:  it was all of her own making.

The Brits being the Brits, pretty much everyone except dyed-in-the-wool Tories are laughing their socks off. I know I am. And it does sound like a farce: The Tories ‘won’ the election, but, in fact, in the real world they have lost it. They had a majority of 17, now they don’t have a majority at all and if they want to hang on to power, their only solution is to throw in their lot with a gang of ten Protestant cutthroats from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and rely on their votes to survive each and every House of Commons vote.

Because the DUP is holding every trump card in the pack, their price for cooperation will be high. This lovely gang of thugs oppose same-sex marriage, denounce homosexuality as an abomination, want abortion banned throughout the United Kingdom and have close, though tacit, links with Loyalist paramilitaries. And they are the only friends May now has – she has absolutely none in her own party which is livid with her beyong description.

On paper Labour ‘lost’ the election, but in the topsy-turvy and highly amusing world which is British politics, they pretty much won. Corbyn, the ‘friend of terrorists’, the unelectable Commie-rat leader

(our press assure us) proved exceptionally popular with many voters, to the extent that Labour gained 60-odd seats. Even my plummy-voiced stepmother says she voted Labour. (I voted for a chap representing the ‘Socialist Labour Party’ in North Cornwall. It’s not that I support him, but I couldn’t bring myself to voting for the Tories, the Lib Dems or Labour, and he and some guy from the People’s Christian Alliance, another homophobe, were the only other two options. As I didn’t want to waste my vote, the Socialist Labour Party bod got it. And he got 197 other votes out of something like 45,000.)

The result in Scotland also proved to be a hoot. Whereas two years ago the Scottish Nationalist Party swept the board and hoovered up all but two of the 50-odd seats in Scotland, this time around they lost ten to the Scottish Tories. And Labour grabbed one or two back, as did a sole Lib Dem. I am hazy on all the details, but overall they lost about 20 seats, which pretty much puts paid to a second independence referendum for a decade or two.

. . .

Does any of this matter (apart from the entertainment value)? Well, I suppose it does. May, who has shown herself to have an ego well out of proportion to any talents she might possess, is due to sit down in eight days’ time to spend the next two years hammering out Britain’s divorce deal with the EU. And she hasn’t got a leg to stand on. Not one. But it gets a lot worse: although the Tories now want nothing more than to get rid of her, they can’t.

It’s not that there isn’t any number of Tory politicos who would love the job – and one in particular, that arch-buffoon Alexander Boris ‘Boris’ de Pfeffel Johnson – but who in their right mind wants to take on the job – for which read the impossible task – of getting even a half-decent settlement with the EU. So May, who I should imagine would now prefer nothing better now than crawling into some obscure hole somewhere and forgetting everything, has no choice but to carry on.

There’s a lot of brave talk from Labour about May ‘standing aside/standing down’ and allowing them to cobble together a government, but it’s not going to happen: even with the support of the Lib Dems – who aren’t at all keen – and the Greens, they still couldn’t make up the parliamentary numbers.

Finally, no one but no one wants yet another election. We, Brenda of Bristol and the rest of us have had two general elections and a referendum in two years and that is it: we don’t want one. And the final irony is that even if there were one, it would well end up just as inconclusive as the one last Thursday.

. . .

The EU, of course, is also laughing its socks off. Just like the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland although in a different context, they hold every trump card in the book. And it’s all very well, as May once trumpeted ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, but it simply isn’t. We need a deal, even a bad deal. And whichever way you spin it that is all we are going to get.

This latter part was written after Fiona ‘Fi’ and ‘I don’t want to give my name’, her friend came to sit at the table next to me, but I know it is Gillian. They are American visitors (I think. Later: no they weren’t, they were Irish, though one lived in Canada for a while. We were later joined by Clark, an Australian) and have been celebrating something or other for a few hours in the company of booze (it would seem). I mention it only because I said I would mention it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How to look very, very silly in one easy step: call an election and lose your majority when no election was ever necessary. Narcissism helps as does a smug belief in your own infallibility. And the curious case of that nasty ’ol crypto-Communist stinky old Trot Corbyn who isn’t quite as hated by the ‘middle-class’ as some would have you believe

As I’m sure all reading this entry will know, there are many, many ways of making yourself look very stupid, but of those many ways, some are open to only a few. For example, only someone like Donald Trump can get himself elected as the President of the United States, then comprehensively alienate pretty much everyone and anyone who crosses his path and end up, within just five months of his inauguration look like the biggest dick on the planet. But as this blog entry is an ‘Election Special’, it will restrict itself to ways available to those involved in yesterday’s general election Trump faces a strong challenge for that position from (despite her gender) on Theresa Mary May.

Just under a year ago, May found herself as Prime Minister of Britain, and for someone who has latterly proved herself to be something of a narcissist, it will have been one of her biggest

and ;bestest dreams come true. Fancy! A modest vicar’s daughter from rural Oxfordshire now running one of the world’s leading nations (subs please check).

It came about in an odd kind of way: the Tories then leader, and a rich old Etonian called David William Donald Cameron, who in hindsight was rather less politically astute than he was smooth and suave, felt that the only way to deal with the irritation of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) snapping at his heels was to call their bluff.

UKIP had been banging on about Britain leaving the European Union almost since the dawn of time and though still insignificant in electoral terms, the party was gaining supporters for what came to be known as Brexit. Cameron knew that a large number of his own Conservative MPs were also keen on Brexit - indeed two of them did defect to UKIP - so he announced that the matter of wether or not Britain should leave the EU would be put to a referendum.

We know how that one ended, though the smart money was on Britain remaining (and when visiting Germany for my brother-in-law’s 60 birthday party I smugly assured everyone who asked what the outcome would be that Brexit was laughably impossible. Never in a million years, squire. Mark my words. Don’t even think of it, s’not going to happen). Cameron resigned.

There was then an unholy scramble for the leadership of the party, which was pretty much a farce in itself. One would-be candidate, Andrea Jacqueline Lucretia Leadsom, touted her suitability for the post by citing her wide-ranging City of London experience. It turned out that said experience was rather less wide-ranging than touted and had mainly consisted of counting the paperclips at Barclays bank HQ when the office junior was off sick.

Another would-be candidate, Michael Andrew Lucifer Gove, at first announced he wasn’t at all interested in standing and would support another candidate, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson - known in Old Blighty as ‘Boris’ or ‘That Twat’ - only to about-turn and do the dirty on Johnson by declaring his own candidacy. Both got short-shrift from those electing the leader.

That’s when May got her look-in: cannily - or perhaps sneakily - she had kept her head very low during the campaigning for and against Brexit and was not identified with either side. The assumption was that she was a Remainer, but . . .

Then, come Cameron’s resignation and the subsequent farce that was the Tory leadership election, she was appointed, or as she would probably liked to see it, crowned. There was no election as all the other candidates, having sooner rather than later been revealed as nine bob notes of the basest kind, May just breezed in.

At first there was rejoicing: May was somehow seen to be a strong, no-nonsense leader who knew what she was doing: wasn’t it she, who, as Home Secretary, bravely stood in front of row upon row of coppers at a Police Federation conference and told them what a gang of overpaid and underworked sods they were? Indeed it was. Full marks to May the call rang through the land. As the newly appointed leader of the Conservative Party and thus as the new Prime

Minister her first appointments caused some consternation, especially that of Boris Johnson as her Foreign Secretary.

At the time this was seen as a Machiavellian masterstroke: ‘You, Boris,’ she seemed to be saying as she passed him the poisoned chalice ‘were all in favour of Brexit, so now it is up to you to deliver’. The appointments of two other possible leadership rivals, David Davis and ‘Dr’ Liam Fox, to work with Johnson on Brexit were seen in the same light: if they cocked up, the fault would be theirs and she would be well in the clear.

Well, that was then. May performed reasonably well at the Dispatch Box, making any number of laboured and unfunny jokes as is the way of rather too many politicians and seemed to be establishing herself in the public mind as someone who knew what she was doing. Well, now it seems she didn’t and doesn’t have a clue, and the disaster which Brexit always seemed to threaten the UK with looks as though it will be even worse. Whenever asked what her strategy would be during the Brexit talks, May put on her best Mystic Meg face and would whisper ‘wait and see’. The suspicion is now that she wasn’t keeping her cards close to her chest, but that she didn’t and doesn’t have any cards at all.

. . .

Five weeks ago, after repeatedly assuring to country that she would not call a snap election, she called a snap election. Her thinking was probably that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was such a useless prat - two-thirds of his own MPs voted against him in a vote of confidence a few months ago - that she would walk it. She already had a slim, but workable House of Commons majority of 17, but as soon as called the election and presented the country with the choice between herself and the ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn, the word went out that ‘this will be a Tory landslide’. The polls will have encourage her, putting her apparently 20 points ahead of Labour. And then, over the past five weeks, it all began to unravel.

For one thing she decided (and I gather from the election coverage I was watching last night that she surrounds herself with a very small, tight group of advisors) to put herself at the centre of her election campaign: the message on posters and the leaflets of Tory candidates up and down the land was ‘Back Theresa May for strong and stable government’. There was almost no mention of the Tory party, something which did not go down well with many Tory grandees. Then there was the ‘dementia tax’.

To be frank, I am rather unclear on what went wrong here, except that some policy May put forward about how the government would recoup money spent on care in old age went down like a lead balloon, and once it was dubbed by some smartarse newspaper sub-editor as ‘the dementia tax’, it was pretty much curtains for that policy. So after barely a few days it was ditched. Wrong! Ditching a policy so soon is seen as real weakness, and when a would-be leader likes to show themselves off as ‘strong and stable’ but in the event proves to be ‘weak and wobbly’ (as inevitably May was described) you have lost badly.

The matter of the ‘leaders’ debate on TV and radio also helpt to cook May’s goose: both she and the Labour leader Corbyn at first said they would not be taking part. But at the very last moment Corbyn smartly about-turned and declared he would be taking part after all. It was a great move and utterly wrong-footed May. She should have also agreed to change her mind and appear, but she didn’t, and her absence really damaged her. It’s odd how such seemingly small points can do so much harm in politics.

Last night showed just how much harm can be done to a politician in just a matter of weeks. May had a majority in the Commons, now she has none. The ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn managed to gain quite a few seats and will be a much more confident Opposition leader. The Lib Dems, still banging along the bottom where they always have been these past 70 years except for the recent coalition blip, gained a seat or two.

Remarkably, in Scotland the Tories gained several seats from the Scottish Nationalist Party, but it is generally agreed that that is down to hard and good work from one Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Tories and bugger all to do with May. (The SNP also lost a few seats to Labour, which makes the much heralded second independence referendum look even more like pie in the sky than ever before).

And there you have it: from a position of reasonable strength, May has painted herself into a corner where, to be honest, there is nothing to comfort her. Blame it on narcissism.

. . .

Incidentally, the curious though undoubtedly popular rise of Labour leader The Honourable Jeremy Bernard Rutherford Smyth-Corbyn, to give him his full name, is interesting in itself and might be worth an entry of its own right.

This is a man who could not command the respect and loyalty of his own MPs but who not once but twice was elected leader by a poll of Labour Party members. The second election took place after he lost by two-thirds a vote of confidence by his MPs and put himself up for election again. In one sense, although the description is curiously unfair, Corbyn is a strange fish.

He is pretty universally seen by the unbiased as a ‘decent sort of man’, and there can be fewer doubts about his integrity than about, say, those of Boris Johnson - fiendishly ambitious - and Michael Gove - also fiendishly ambitious, although now something of a non-player. He is apparently a man of courage, viz going for re-election as outlined above when his own MPs had largely turned against him when he need not necessarily have done so.

For many he talks a lot of sense: does Britain really need its own nuclear deterrent, he asks, and many reply ‘well, probably not’ (although that debate is rather more complex than the usual

‘cancel Trident and build loads and loads and loads and loads of allotments for immigrant schoolchildren’). And his railing against the ludicrous salaries enjoyed by a small elite in Britain, especially in the financial sector, also finds a great deal of support.

Yet can he be seen as a future Prime Minister of Britain? Would he really be tough enough when in a no-holds barred fight for survival in the now inevitable EU divorce proceedings? Would he, as the Tories suggest, be eaten alive in trade negotiations with China and the US? Who knows?

But what is indisputable is that he has defied all the naysayers and proved himself to be ever more popular. If I were a Tory leader, I would take careful note of what he is suggesting. I don’t mean a cynical ‘let’s grab his policies ’cos that’s what the punters want to hear’ but ‘this man is getting a response from many non-Labour voters as Labour supporters and perhaps we should find out why’.
. . .

NB Shortly after the election was called and, being 20 points in the lead, May was said to be in line for a ‘Tory landslide’, I thought to myself ‘ho hum, not so fast’. I went to on the Ladbrokes websites (other bookies are available) to check the odds on a hung parliament: 5/1. That’ll do me, I thought, and punted a tenner. I’m no £50 better off. And it’s about to go to my head.

Pip, pip.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

You want an election promise? I’ll give you an election promise: Jam tomorrow!

Well, it’s election day in Britain tomorrow, and a bloody odd election campaign it has been. We usually have just three weeks of campaigning once the government of the day has called a general election, but this time it has been seven. At the time the British prime minister, the Conservative leader Theresa May, had what looked like an unassailable lead in the polls and it was predicted she would have a landslide. That lead has now diminished to if some polls are to be believed, just one point ahead of Labour.

Theresa May looked like winning by a landslide and the long, long predicted demise of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - who a few months ago even lost a no-confidence vote by his MPs with more than two-thirds of them declaring he was a complete no-hoper, but who then went on convincingly to gain the backing of party members in a leadership election - looked imminent. It all looks very different now.

The oddest people, who normally see themselves as Tories are saying things like ‘well, I have to say that that Corbyn does say some good things’. And May who seemed so unassailable has shown herself to have feet of some of the hardest clay known to man. It didn’t help that she decided to become the centre of the Conservative election campaign which was centred around how ‘strong and stable’ she was and how chaotic Labour and the other opposing parties looked. Her line was that ‘she’ was up for re-election, not the Tories, and that tack even pissed of many Conservatives - personality cults don’t go down well in Old Blighty.

It all began to come unstuck for May when she announced something along the lines of ‘old people won’t be charged for their care until after they die’, which, as many pointed out, seemed to imply that once they had die, the state would swoop in and hoover up as many of their assets as it could. It only needed some astute sub-editor somewhere to label such a measure as a ‘dementia tax’ and the policy was a dead in the water and a surefire vote loser. And don’t you know it just four days later May abandoned it. ‘Strong and stable’ folk began to ask themselves. How about ‘weak and wobbly’. And as image is all, May just hasn’t recovered.

As for Corbyn, it is now almost a cliche to remark what a dead nice chap he is and what sensible things he says, and if he wasn’t actually the leader of the left-wing ruffians, why, one might even consider bringing oneself to vote for him. As it is the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have gone for the jugular on front page after front page, trying to make him out to be a ‘friend of terrorists’. And they are, of course, slavishly in favour of May despite here persistent wobbling. Oddly, enough - or possibly not at all oddly enough - the Mail’s former stablemate, but still it’s office mate at Northcliffe Towers in Kensington, the Evening Standard is rather viciously anti-May. Well, there’s an strange thing, you might think, but it ain’t that strange after all.

Here are two good examples of the Mail’s style. The irony is that for all the huffing and puffing and viciousness, they are preaching to the converted (and the same is true of the Guardian, although on the other wing).

You see when David Cameron resigned after what can now only be called the Brexit referendum disaster, so did his Chancellor George Osborne. And then to great surprised from hacks throughout the country Osborne was appointed the new editor of the Evening Standard. Needless to say he has no journalistic experience at all, although the nature of his job doesn’t really demand any if, as is very likely, he his safely surrounded by professionals who know their job.

The general wisdom is that, like Blair and Brown - though without the rancour and eventual utter mutual loathing - the idea was that Cameron would be PM for a while, then Osborne would take over and take his turn in the cockpit. What larks, eh? But the Brexit vote saw to that. So the general wisdom has shifted to declaring that Osborne his using his editorship of the Standard to take well-aimed potshots at May in the hope that she will sooner or later fail and he can ride in to rescue the Conservative Party. Well, I personally think there’s little hope of that. The Tories don’t like a snitch and a snitch is what he will look like.

Apart from that, the election campaign has been surprisingly low-key. I’ve known far livelier elections. I have agreed with my stepmother to stay up tomorrow night and watch as the results roll in, which isn’t usually until after 2pm, four hours after the polls close, by which time we shall have had our fill of rambling, sonorous political analysis, most of which will be shown to be garbage by the end of the night, but then most of which will also be comprehensively forgotten by the end of the night. Sometimes you get a laugh or two when some politico or other makes a gaffe, and if you can stay the course, it all gets very rough around the edges by about 5/6am when people are well and truly flagging and have run out of cliches.

The last time, in 2015, there was great excitement early on when against all expectations - the polls were predicting a hung parliament - a slim Tory majority was predicted by the exit polls. In the event it wasn’t even as slim as the prediction. Interestingly, I heard on the radio a few days ago that at the last elections and then the 2016 Brexit vote, although the bookmakers were predicting a hung parliament and that Britain would remain in the EU, their wrong predictions were necessarily their fault. All they were doing was recording how much money had been wagered on different outcomes. And it seemed that although in total more money had been wagered on those two results, more but lower value bets had been placed on what proved to be the final results. Bear that in mind tomorrow. Or not.

Pip, Pip

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Conversation is great. Call it communication if you are so inclined, but I just see it as talking to someone else. And if you have lost a parent, cry. And do it now if you have never done it before. As for breaking up with girlfriends (as a guy or a gal) or boyfriends (as a gal or a guy), think carefully

Nothing much really, except general shite, but after two or three gins - not half as stiff as I used to make and drink them - and sitting outside in the garden of my stepmother’s house, I just feel like jabbering. NB Strictly speaking not. This was written on Thursday afternoon/early evening, but I am completing it on Sunday, June 4, sitting outside the Scarsdale Tavern in Kensington, West London, after work. Why I add that – why I can even be bothered to add that, I really don’t know. But, as you see, I have.

I gave the crucifix I had bought in one of the bazaars in the Old City in Jerusalem to my stepmother, and she is very pleased with it. For me it is just another piece of sentimental religious tat. For her, an 80-year-old Irishwoman (though one born in Bodmin, Cornwall, to Irish parents) it is far more than that. I very dimly, from my ‘cradle Catholic’ childhood, recollect how such things as ‘a crucifix from Jerusalem/the Holy Land’ might have significance. These days for this quasi-liberal, 67-year-old ageing semi-cynical newspaper hack it has less significance than a stick of Blackpool rock. For her, it is different, and she was delighted; and it is enlightening to reflect on that difference: who is right? Well, neither of us and both of us, of course.

Coincidentally, when I arrived here this afternoon to give her the crucifix and show her the pictures I had taken on my short trip to - forgive me, but I can’t resist the inverted commas - ‘the Holy Land’, she was watching a TV documentary about Jerusalem. And just as I walked in, the presenter was talking to Roman Catholic pilgrims (quite possibly just yards away from where I might have bought the crucifix for 200 shekels, although at the end of the day I found one for just 25 shekels) about their experience. They were over the Moon, simply overwhelmed by the experience of walking down the Via Dolorosa (down which Jesus is said to have dragged his cross to Calvary).

Me, who most probably walked on the same cobblestones, it was just being another tourist in a well-known place, a place where Muslim, Jewish and Christian stallholders sell all kinds of goods to visitors, goods which include the kind of thing I describe as ‘Christian tat’. Who is right? Undoubtedly, those devout pilgrims would be appalled by my cynicism, but . . . Who is right? Neither of us, of course, and both of us. Now there’s something to ponder on.

A few minutes later, the presenter took us, the TV viewer into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and said - I paraphrase, of course - when visiting the spot where Jesus is said to have been entombed after his crucifixion and where he is said to have come alive again, that he was overwhelmed by the experience. I don’t think he said his skin was tingling, but he might well have done. Me? I didn’t actually bother going in.

For one thing the queue of devout Christian pilgrims was long and for another - well, it really means nothing for me. The spot, he said, was pretty much ‘the holy of holies’ for Christians the world over. For me, it was just another ‘holy’ spot for one of the world’s faiths. Who is right? Again, neither of us and both of us: faith is so utterly personal that there can be no objective judgment. All I shall say is that although I share not one jot of their faith and beliefs, I wish them all well.

The same can be said of the Western Wall, the ‘Wailing Wall’, the last surviving part of the temple in Jesus’s time after its destruction by the Romans in Ad60. I went there, I touched the wall myself, surrounded by devout Jews all saying their prayer, but felt nothing. My lack, my shortcoming and their devotion? Their gullibility and my savvy? Well, neither, of course, and both. But I won’t ramble on because I think I’ve made my point.
< br />The point of this entry is that there is none, there is no difference, at least there is no objective difference.

. . .

This afternoon, my stepmother, Jill (her friend, former carer and tenant) and I have been sitting outside supping gins. And whenever I sup a gin or a cider or a glass of wine I tend to remember things, things occur to me and want to write in this blog. As I have said more than once, this isn’t really a blog in which I record important things, but more of a commonplace book cum diary, somewhere to record whatever triviality crosses my mind. time and again, walking down the street, at work, lying in bed or wherever I might be, something occurs to me and I think ‘must put that in my blog’. And I invariably do not, for one reason or another.

For one thing there’s the niggling suspicion that it’s just a tad too self-important to imagine that anyone could be interested in what I have to say when all folk – and mean all - have their own thoughts and preoccupations. And their own lives and problems (although I should say – touch wood – that I am unaware of any potential problems in my life. But still, the point of this, at the end of the day, is not to pass on anything, to inform in any way, but simply to blather without fear of retribution. Still, you are here reading this, so what the hell.

I met one or two people and fell into conversation with three or four people in Israel as I am the chatty sort, but the one conversation which sticks out was with a young Israeli in Jaffa. He was 22 and originally from Russia, but had lived in Israel since he was 7. It was a short chat about this and that earlier on – I was surprised at how good his English was and he spoke with an American accent that I asked him whether he was an American.

An hour or two later, when his shift finished (he was waiting on tables at the Bell Café in the touristy port part of Jaffa, he stopped off again, I can’t remember why and we began chatting again, and that ‘chat’ went on to last for several hours. He told me quite a bit about himself and his plans and what he wanted to do, and I will have told him a lot about myself, though being - he was 22 and I am 67 and thus 55 years older - we both had a slightly different perspective on things. He was an interesting guy, especially because he reminded me of myself 55 years ago, but young, as I was then young. Talking to him, as I told him, was like talking to my son or rather a son.

My son is 18 and we have a very good relationship, but I was able to tell Vladimir (for that was his name) things I might have been more cautious about telling my son. Vladimir knows of this blog and for all I know might well read this entry, especially as I emailed him the URL, and if he is reading this I must reassure him that I shall betray no confidences or tell any tales out of school, but there is one thing I shall pass on, not for his sake but for anyone and everyone who has been in the same situation. Among a very, very wide-ranging conversation – I asked him about life in Russia under Putin or what he could remember about it, life in Israel, what the general feeling was about the ‘Israel/Palestinian conflict’, films (I recommended some, he recommended some) music blah, blah – he mentioned that his father had died five years earlier.

His mother was, in fact, his father’s second wife and he had step-siblings with whom he got on reasonably well. How the conversation got around to it, I don’t know, but I asked him whether he had cried when his father died. He said he hadn’t, but I immediately sensed that he really had not come to terms with his father’s death. I can relate to that.

Thirty-six years ago when I was staying at home for a week to do some shifts on The Sun, I walked into my mother’s room, concerned that there had been no sound from her after I had risen and been making quite a bit of noise in the kitchen, and found her dead. At the time and for several years after that I thought I had taken it in my stride. But I hadn’t. I had simply tucked it away and – this has been a habit of mine to overcome difficulties, upsets and problems – I made myself ‘not care’. Well, that is a stupid thing to do. So I told him – perhaps tactlessly, perhaps usefully – that when he got home that night he should talk to his mother about his father and his father’s death and cry. Let it all out. I don’t know whether he did or not, but I’m glad I told him that.

With me the chickens came home to roost about two years later when I broke up with a girlfriend. Actually, I did not want to. At the time I assumed – stupidly – that she ‘was the one’, that we would end up together and, I supposed, eventually marry. In fact, I was so convinced of that that I thought she would resist being dumped. Sadly, she didn’t. In fact, I now realise that she was rather relieved to be shot of me. And – I remember the occasion even now: we were sitting in a wine bar in Birmingham – within minutes I realised my stupidity. And – here I might sound quite dramatic, but this is what is seemed like – there was something like a nuclear explosion in my head and everything, but everything seemed to disintegrate. From that moment on and for several years after that, I quite literally, not think straight. And life was hell.

It wasn’t the usual break-up scenario, and I now realise my mental collapse, if that isn’t overegging the pudding, which went on for a long, long time afterwards, had little to do with breaking up with the girl (well, woman, her name was Sian) but my grief over my mother’s death and the suddenness of it all finally emerging. And boy did it emerge. But I must admit that what I have just written and my realisation of it all did not come to me for many years. Many.

These days and since they were very young, I have tried to teach my two children, now 18 and almost 21: don’t bottle things up! Let it out! Acknowledge what is troubling you. Now, quite obviously neither Wesley, the 18-year-old, and Elsie, the almost 21-year-old are their own people. They are not carbon copies of me and have their own personalities, their own strengths and their own failings. And along those lines I must repeat what you ars sure to know if you are a parent, and must understand if you are not but still hope to be, that quite possibly the hardest thing about being a father or mother is letting go, accepting without reservation that your ‘young ones’, those delightful little babies, toddlers, young children, not so young children, teenagers and then young adults are breaking free and, crucially, need you less and less.

Perhaps that is why – no, in fact, that is why - I was pleased to talk to Vladimir. It wasn’t that I could pick his brains about Israel and the Russia he knew. It was simply because I could speak to him as I would a child of mine, tell him the truth as I saw it, help him a little along his way, and just as I get more pleasure from giving presents than getting them (some of us do, believe it or not) it wasn’t an ego trip of any kid, a wise owl passing on advice. It was simply just helping another soul in this world.

. . .

This has become a long entry. I note, from the little tab at the bottom of my Office Word app page, that I have so far written as of now 2,080. But I can’t leave it and post this entry without adding one more thing. Yesterday, still at home in Cornwall, I was in our kitchen playing my guitar (I’m trying to be a little more disciplined about it to make a little more progress. I don’t at all doubt that were I to play for some folk, they might think ‘ah, he’s quite good’.

Well, take it from me, no I’m not. I could be better, but it entails far more discipline. Anyway, for some reason I found myself humming the theme from the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the choral movement. So, my iPhone to hand, I decided to play it. And within minutes I was almost in tears – almost because I stopped myself: what would anyone think if, at 11am in the morning, they came into the kitchen and found me ‘in tears’? Nutter? Probably.

The point is that the whole movement, which leads up the glorious Oh Freunde, nicht diese Töne! gets right deep, deep, deep to the heart of me. It gets to the idealist in me, the man who wishes the world well. And that, perhaps is why I come across – or more truthfully try to come across – as cynical. It’s that old ploy I used when my mother and father used to argue and bitch at each other and I hated it: I pretended, very successfully, it has to be said, that ‘I didn’t care’. So one last thing: if you meet a cynic, know one thing: this is merely a man (woman can also be cynical but for very different reasons) who simply hasn’t the moral backbone to stay true to his idealism.

. . .
Just for the craic: this is the scene from the Scarsdale Tavern tonight as I write. My laptop and where I am sitting is at the bottom left.

And just a few more pics. The bird, the chairs and shadows was taken in Israel. The bench is in St Breward.

... and just now (a little later).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Last brief post from Israel with a few more pictures…

Israel – Ben Gurion Airport, Day XVII (or something)

I’m on my way back tonight and turned up at the airport a few hours early after being warned that because of unprecedented security measures, I should give it all plenty of time. So I did, only to discover that although by no means lax, the Israelis are far more relaxed about security than their British colleagues in Gatwick and Luton.

Unlike there, where you pretty much have to get undressed – take your belt off, take all the change out of your pockets, make sure all your shampoos, soaps, deodorants etc (and never more than 100ml) are all in the same transparent plastic bag (and a pretty small one at that if you use one of those supplied free by Her Majesty Comptroller of Airports and Sundry Modes of Transport (MCASMT) – all that needed to come out of my bag was my laptop and iPad.

Change stayed in my pocket, belt stayed around my waist and there was none of the British fake cheerfulness which makes perfectly clear that ‘if we have any trouble with you, sonny me lad, and I mean any, we’ll delay you for so long that not only will you miss your flight by several hours, but you’ll shit in your pants and be charged for clearing up the mess. So watch it!’

Mind, it is Saturday – shabbat – and there aren’t that many of us around, although when I mentioned this to one guy checking my passport (‘your friends who say security will take forever have got it wrong. Tell them that’), he said, no, it’s pretty normal today. What Terminal 3 here at Ben Gurion Airport most certainly has nothing in common with, at least not today, is the cattle market Gatwick is which makes any travel abroad so dispiriting.

. . .

Yesterday, I took off to have a look at Haifa up the coast from Tel Aviv, but when I got there, I realised that the nature of the city – it is strung along a hillside and did not appear to have a centre as such, although I’m sure there is one – meant I wasn’t really going to see much. So a quick look at Google Maps showed me that Acre (which you will have heard of from your dim recollections of the several crusades – it’s one of the many places where Christians gained years off purgatory and gained an awful lot of God’s ‘grace’ by slaughtering as many ‘heathens’ as they humanly could. And if you think I am making that up, head for your history books) was just up the road.

So I mosied off there and spent a few hours wandering around the Old City (which I have to say is pretty much like any other old city in the Med – 1,000-year old stone arches, extended by breeze blocks, with a satellite dish here and there and sitting between tumbled down ancient walls and modern wire fences. Still, I’ve been.

. . .

Finally, here are a few of the pictures I took in Jerusalem a few days ago.


and the one I like best (he’s in a world of his own)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I make it to the Western Wall along with several thousand young Jewish folk celebrating their country’s survival. As for becoming a master at bartering, I’m not even off the starting block, but at least my stepmother gets her crucifix (made of olive wood with just a dash of ‘holy sand’)

Israel – Day 3: Jerusalem

Well, actually that was yesterday, and I am confusing myself. If I arrived at 19.30 on Monday and got to my hotel an hour or so later, that would be, by this reckoning, Day 0, but I had that only to keep myself on the straight and narrow. ‘Cos although the title says ‘Jerusalem’, that was yesterday. With me? Does it matter? No, not really.

I picked an interesting day to visit what I shall diplomatically call the capital of Israel and the capital of Palestine (although, as yet, no Palestinian state exists. And I’ve decided - well, realised - that pretty much always the best course to take is not to take sides. I admire both sides, but support neither in their conflict).

Even though I had hired a car (and eventually got to pick it up courtesy of a photocopy of my driving licence), I realised it would be far simpler and easier to take the advice of the Jewish accountant I met in Luton airport and take the bus. Easier and simpler? You bet. It’s just a ten-minute walk from my hotel to the bus station next to Tel Aviv rail station and once aboard the 480, you are in Jerusalem central bus station 50 minutes later for just 16 shekels (£3.45/$4.48), which is value in anyone’s currency, and the buses run every 20 minutes throughout the day. But that’s enough trivial detail.

Once in Jerusalem, I then had to get to the Old City. So: how do I get to the Old City? I asked a burly security guard next to the light railway (i.e. tram - who calls a tram a light railway? Well, the Israelis do. Oh, and sadly, though understandably, burly and not so burly security guards are thick on the ground in Jerusalem). He told me, so I jumped on the tram and within minutes found myself in conversation with Albery/Albury - don’t know the spelling - who now an Israeli, was born and raised in Glasgow before moving to Israel once he graduated.

I told him I was heading to the Old City. and he said ‘come with me, I’m going there, too, so I’ll show you.’ It turns out that although he was a teacher, he was also a volunteer guide to the Old City, and he gave me a lot if good info on the way. We entered through the Jaffa Gate, and he
passed on all kinds of information along the way. I was on my way to the Western Wall and we parted company just before. The day was interesting to visit because, as my new Scottish/Israeli friend told me: the Old City will be jam-packed with people, especially young people, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Six Day War in 1967 which was a stunning success for Israel. And I should point out that on that occasion Israel was attacked on all sides by its hostile Arab neighbours, an attack it thwarted quite superbly.

There were young folk everywhere, all wearing white T-shirts and in a hell of a good mood. And given that the country’s very existence was at stake in 1967 and they were celebrating the thwarting of the threat to their country’s existence, who can blame them? There is far more that might be said about the ongoing Israel/Palestinian conflict, and I must add that I am not completely ignorant to its complexities, but I shan’t pontificate about it here. I shall only add that ‘not taking sides’ ever, but being open to hearing what both sides have to say is, for me at least, pretty important.

. . .

The Western Wall is, well, the Western Wall, the holy of holies of Judaism, and although this idiot is now that curious sort, a man who believes in God, but nothing at all beyond that, I do respect those who have another faith, unless, of course, they subscribe to any creed - or rather and better the bastardisation of any creed - that involves the misery, death or destruction of non-adherents. It’s notable that pretty much every faith in its purest form has as one of its central tenets goodwill to all mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed, and that only the nutters - of whom there are far too many - take a minority view.

So there were many devout and I should think even not quite so devout Jews at the Wall milling around and praying. I myself went up and touched it, but I have to say I didn’t say a prayer of any sort.

After that it was off through one of the exits and then I found myself in the warren of very narrow alleyways with ‘shops’ selling pretty much anything and everything. And it was here that my bartering skills show themselves to be not just in their infancy but pretty much stillborn.

. . .

Just before I left Cornwall, my stepmother, an Irish Roman Catholic who still takes communion and all the rest, rang me to ask me to bring her back a crucifix made of olive wood. Well, why not? So sauntering along past row upon row of shops selling all kinds of what I have to describe as - sorry - Christian kitsch I spotted crosses and crucifixes. (The difference is a
crucifix has the added figure of Jesus nailed to the cross). ‘Interested?’ asked the seller while I was looking at his array of crucifixes in all kind of different sizes.

How much is this one?’ I asked, pointing to a medium-sized crucifix. 200 shekels, he told me, and pointing to a small window at is base added ‘real olive wood, it has holy sand’. Well, that was too steep. 100, I replied. 150, he came back. OK, I said, do you have any without holy sand? Ah, well, he said, in that case you will want just a cross, and he picked one up.

How much? I asked. 80 shekels (£17.27/$22.38). Still a bit steep, I thought (and I must admit that the ‘80’ still rather frightened me, although it was shekels. (NB Charged 16 shekels that morning in a cafe in Tel Aviv for a large cappuccino, I remember thinking ‘well, that’s a bit steep. Maybe they have price and tourist prices. Well, no they don’t - 16 shekels is actually a not at all exorbitant £3.45/$4.48 in Western money and pretty much what you will pay in Old Blighty.) ‘I’ll pay 40 shekels,’ I said. ‘Done,’ he said, and there my duty to my stepmother seemed fulfilled.

Here, just to conclude this account of my pitifully poor battering skills, I must jump forward a little. Later, after I had visited the American Colony Hotel and negotiated my way back from East Jerusalem jam-packed with huge numbers of heavily armed Israeli and Palestinian soldiers, I found myself back in the warren of dimly-lit alleyway and walked past more ‘shops’ selling everything and anything. And there I saw some more crucifixes (the ones with the figure of Jesus).

These were just as big as the ones I had seen and even had the, I suppose obligatory window of ‘holy sand’. I was approached by the shop owner. 'You Interested?’ he asked. How much? I asked. 50 shekels, he said. 2o, I replied. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘you are (I must now paraphrase) cutting my throat! 25 shekels and I’ll give you a small gift.’ I agreed. I paid up my 25 shekels and received my small gift - a tiny cross, about 3cm tall by 2cm across. Bargain!

So let us here reflect on the economics of such a difference in price: 200 shekels in one shop, but just 25 shekels in another barely a quarter of a mile away, and, furthermore, one which is identical and which was most likely manufactured in the same sweatshop in Nablus, and one, I should imagine, of 2,000 produced in any given working day? What factor is at play here? Simple: the stupidity - call it gullibility if you want to be charitable - of the punter/tourist. Oh, well.

. . .

I jumped forward, of course, so here I’ll jump back again. Once I had reached the Damascus Gate which leads into East Jerusalem, I consulted Google Maps and headed for the American Colony Hotel. Although I had long realised that staying there was way out of my price league, I decided I could still visit it, have a beer or two and ring my stepmother from its interior restaurant courtyard. And this I did. And there I also treated myself to my second plate of hummus and pitta bread (pretty much all I have eaten so far in the past few days, but I’m not complaining).

An hour or three later, I decided to visit the Al Aqsa mosque and was persuaded by the front desk that taking a taxi rather than walking was the best way to get there. There was a taxi waiting outside, which I assumed had been ordered, but which, in fact, was waiting for custom. Yet there was no sign of the driver. He was eventually discovered (I hadn’t actually spotted him) dozing on the back seat. But before you conclude - and as I was about to write - that cliches abound in real life as well as fiction, I should point out that the taxi wasn’t parked on some dusty street in downtown East Jerusalem but outside the exceptionally plush American Colony Hotel. As for the dozing, well, he explained that he was cleaning the back of the cab. Why not? It’s what I would do, too.

We took off for the Al Aqsa mosque, but didn’t get very far. The roads were blocked off by armed Israeli soldiers - the women rather fiercer than the men, but, I have to say, twice as attractive (what is it with women in uniforms?) - so it was out of the taxi and onto the street. Again consulting Mr Google I slowly made my way back to where I had come from (and then came across the ‘shop’ selling crucifixes while again negotiating the warren of shops) trying to find my way back to the Jaffa Gate, although only because that was where I thought I should be able to catch the tram back to the bus station.

On my way I came across the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and dutifully - I am, after all, a tourist - stopped off there. The name of the church was known to me and might be to you, too, just as we are all dimly aware of other global landmarks such as Robben Island, Buckingham Palace, Greenland, Ayers Rock and I don’t know what else. But I had to consult Google to remind myself - oh, all right, to read up on its significance. Well!

Apparently the church was built in the 4th century on the spot where, it is said and believed by many, Jesus was not only crucified but, quite nearby, buried. Well, dear reader, I find that just a little hard to believe. Sorry, but I do. I really can’t imagine that the Romans crucified convicted men quite so close to everything else, and it also rather stretches credulity to accept that the corpse was then entombed about 2oft away. But as I have pointed out, I am at pains not to step on too many toes in these here blog entries, so if that is your conviction, good luck to you. And I have to say there were a good many who do have that conviction, notably many faithful of Indian heritage.

Then it was a slow schlepp back home. Slow, because by now, towards the end of the afternoon the crows of celebrating the glorious anniversary had grown substantially and there were No Trams. None. Not one. Google insisted it was just an 18-minute walk from the Jaffa Gate to the central bus station, but...

I later consulted my iPhone health app and was assured I had walked 11.9km overall. You might be accustomed to walking far further (and, please, no bragging emails telling me and implying just what a sodding wuss I am) but I am not.

Oh, one last thing. Just as two or three years ago in Mallorca I became thoroughly fed up carrying about with me all kinds of shite - my cigars, my mobile phone, my iPad (which I am now using to write this outside the Bell Cafe in Jaffa - a power pack, a novel to read (why for God’s sake, I never read it), reading glasses, sunglasses and I don’t know what else) I bought a ‘man bag’ in a street market (which was stolen from my car just months later, along with my brother’s ashes, though that is another tale), I spotted a bag shop in the warren of underground shops I was walking through and bought another - fake leather, natch and cheap, but who cares. It’s a lot easier than juggling all kinds of crap.

So there you have it: one idiot’s guide to Jerusalem. Today I took the bus downtown to Jaffa and tomorrow I shall, I think, head off to the Sea of Gallilee and try out my water-walking skills. Well, you have to don’t you, just as many Brit tourists have lost their lives in Spain trying their hand at bullfighting.
. . .

But bugger all that. Best news yesterday: Manchester United beat Ajax 2-0 to win the Europa Cup but, more important, qualified for next year’s Champions League. Yes, even for this convoluted, confused semi-atheist there is a God!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

. . . . and a plate of hummus to end the day. You can't do better than that

Israel – Day 2: Caesarea

Best news of the day is that I got my car after all, which means I don’t quite have to curtail my plans as I thought. A quick phonecall to my son on Monday night got him to find my driving licence, scan it and send email me a pdf of the scan which the front desk printed out. Then it was off to the branch of the rental firm I was with at 114 Ha-Yarkon St to see whether, you know, this might just be a photocopy and not the real thing, but…

My hopes were not high (and to be honest and given the advice about the very efficient public bus services in Israel I wasn’t really that bothered) but that old Roman Catholic, public school, size nine shoe, 32 waist charm worked and I was given a car, though I did have to wait 90 minutes for one to become available. So it wasn’t till gone 2pm that I was able set off and my destination was the Sea of Gallili. The satnav I had decided to rent from the car firm turned out to be an 8in iPad using Google Maps with some kind of magnetic device which was supposed to clip onto the car’s air vents. But it didn’t. Every time I clipped it on, the weight of the tablet made it turn pretty much face down so you couldn’t actually use it. And I have Google Maps on my iPhone anyway.

I looked at Google maps and saw, or thought I saw that the 20 was the road north, and after taking the wrong turn-off and heading south on the 20, I was on my way. Well, kind of. The traffic was just bloody awful: if we weren’t – all three lanes – crawling along at 5kph bumper to bumper, we were crusinging along at a very speedy 40kph until we hit the next traffic jam.

This went on for an hour till we finally joined the 2 north and I realised what had been going on – we had been driving through what, if it wasn’t one big building site developing the road, was a series of several big building site developing the road. When I saw a sign for Caesarea, I decided enough was enough and as visiting the ruins there were also part of my plans, I decided, along the admirable lines of ‘adapt, adopt and improve’ to got there instead. But I was not looking forward to the journey back to Tel Aviv. Not at all.

. . .

I like ruins and find them interesting though I have to say ruins without those crucial signs (in this case in Hebrew, Arabic and English) explaining what is what they might not be quite as

interesting. Then, after the culture came the beer and cigar and a plate of delicious hummus and pitta bread (pictured).

Today, it’s off to Jerusalem, by bus as advised, then back in time for the match – at 21.45 local time of the Manchester United v Ajax final in Stockholm of the Europa League final. It might be shown on one of the 200-odd channels my room TV set screens, but I also know I can watch it on BT Sports using my trusty Zenmate app. I have to say that, to adapt Fergie’s famous phrase, it’s always squeaky bum time when watching United, but here’s the best.

I really can’t mention the team without mentioning the appalling bombing a day ago: why do the deaths of children hit us even harder. As the father of two, my prayers go to the parents of those young ones who died.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My trip to Jerusalem (home of the legendary Jesus Christ ©Harry Harris) and other matters. Buses, for example

Israel – Day 1: Vital Hotel, Tel Aviv

The dateline might surprise you, but it shouldn’t. As part of my welcome drive to expand my mind and discover more to life than just the sweetie counter in Denis Lusby’s shop cum post office in St Breward, North Cornwall, I have washed up in Israel with a view to seeing a bit of the country. I mean, why not? Over the years I’ve seen quite a bit of – in no particular order as folk are rather sensitive about such matters – the West Midlands, Tyne & Wear, Italy, France, Germany, Wadebridge, Kensington & Chelsea, most of what you can see from the driver’s seat of Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon, and, of, of course, dear, dear London, now cleaner than it ever was thanks to a steady supply of immigrants from the newer members of the EU (so Lord knows what will happen when that tap is turned in March 2018. Can’t see too many Brits jumping in to fill the breach and doing on honest day’s work for rather pitiful pay, not in our nature). So why not Israel?

It is something I have planned for some time. Seriousness apart, we hear so much about the achievements of Israel, the Palestinian conflict, the urge of many on the country’s borders to be neighbourly (have I got that right?) that I have long thought it would be worthwhile to come to see the country for myself. A generous Christmas gift from my stepmother made it possible, although I did have to make some changes to my original plans. (‘You must stay at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem,’ she said, ‘Tony [my father] and I stayed there and it was wonderful.’ Well, I don't doubt it was wonderful at around £230 a night.

As it happens my stepmother, once ‘Paddy O’Keeffe’ before she married my father, used to produce BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent and had arranged for the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent at the time, Asher Wallfisch, to make a series of talks. So it was off to Jerusalem for a few weeks with my newly-retired father in tow at the BBC’s expense.

I duly checked out the American Colony Hotel and its price for a ten-day stay, but blanched at the cost which was well over £3,500. I then spent more time on the net looking for something cheaper in Jerusalem, but quite rapidly realised that if you wanted somewhere half-decent, that, give or take a grand, was what you must expect to pay. I would very easily have settled for a cheap, though clean B&B, but tracking one down proved surprisingly difficult. I suppose it’s because Jerusalem ‘has history’ or something like that. In the event it occurred to me that reducing my stay to one week, basing myself in Tel Aviv and hiring a car to get around might well mean that I could come in on budget. And that is what I did. Though there has been one fly in the ointment.
. . .
Everything was going swimmingly. At Luton I fell into conversation with an elderly Jewish accountant with dual British/Israeli nationality who commuted every week to and from Jerusalem, and on the flight I sat next to a Jewish couple from Tiberias on sea of Gallili and got quite a bit more information from the wife (toda is thank you), who was immediately next to me. (They had spent the week in Tredington in the Cotswold’s with Australian friends who had rented a cottage, if you are interested. ‘Quite a few older and old people in that part of the country,’ she told me. Well, I could have told her that, and wealthy to boot.) I arrived at Tel Aviv airport refreshed by three gins and tonic and two bags of nuts and once passed passport control – not the inquisition I had been warned to expect – headed off to the car rental desks to collect my car. And that’s when it all went a little less swimmingly.
. . .
I cannot explain why, but just yards from the desks, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to bring my driving licence. As one does, and knowing full-well what the outcome would be, I searched and searched again every pocket in my jacket, jeans and luggage for that bloody licence, and, of course, didn’t find it. I went ahead and – again knowing full-well what the outcome would be – tried my luck to see whether I could pick up my car anyway despite not having my licence. ‘No,’ you can’t,’ they said, ‘sorry’. I told them that I was certainly no boy racer (though I’m sure they knew that just by taking a look at me), that I drank sparingly, had often been tempted to vote Conservative (and, who knows, might well do so in the future), that I was married with children, came from good stock, had more than once thought of donating to charity and was generally an all-round regular guy. ‘Sorry,’the said, ‘not dice.’

One last possibility is that I might be able to show them a copy of my licence, so I rang home and got my son to scan it in and email me a pdf. Just now while writing the above I have been on the phone to Expedia through whom I booked the whole trip, but it seems I can’t get my meny back from the rental company. I should have cancelled 24 hours before departure.

But there is, as always pleases me, an irony here. While chatting to the old accountant from Jerusalem – we bumped into each other again after the flight – I mentioned I intended to drive to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. ‘Don’t do that,’ he said, ‘get a bus. The bus services are exceptionally good in Israel and anyway you’ll never find anywhere to park in Jerusalem and especially nowhere near the Old City.’ That advice, dear friends, later went some way to soothing the irritation I felt about fucking up my car hire arrangements.

However, the plan – it is still only the first full day of my break – was not just about visiting Jerusalem but also seeing a bit of the country, touring around, that kind of thing. I especially wanted to visit Caesarea and the Sea of Gallili. Well, I suppose that kind of thing is still possible by bus, but a car would have been handier. There is just one small glimmer of home. I shall get the front desk here at the hotel to print out the pdf of my driving licence and see if I can’t persuade Alamo to give me the car I paid for. Fingers crossed.

Last night, I went for a stroll, a beer and a cigar along I do not know where. Here is a picture I took.

NB I couldn’t think how to work it in so I shall just tack it onto the end here: the Daily Mirror once had a football correspondent called Harry Harris. He once flew to Israel to cover a match between Israel and England in Jerusalem. And the intro to his piece is a classic of schlock journalism: ‘Jerusalem,’ he wrote, ‘home of the legendary Jesus Christ.’

Friday, May 19, 2017

Getting the lowdown on human frailty - why we are all suckers for wanting to teach the world to sing (and making Coca Cola even wealthier). But who cares: it's art

I’ve often thought that if I were to have my time all over again, I’d have tried for a job in advertising and marketing, or ‘advertising/marketing’ as I think it should be called as the two are so intricately entwined that I’ve come to the view they are just two sides to the same coin.

Obviously, none of us can have our time over again, and equally obviously I am talking as a man who, over the years, has learned much, not least about himself and who now judges a lot rather differently. (Incidentally, one of the things I like to think I have learned is that the only really stupid people are those who do not learn from their mistakes. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you have no one to blame but yourself when yet again things go tits up.)

What I mean is if, at 18, I knew what I now know, I would have worked far harder at university and taken the whole thing a lot more seriously, and then upon graduating with a far better degree than I did get headed straight for the advertising industry to find whatever toehold I could to get started. (I sat for an MA Honours in English and philosophy, but was awarded an MA ordinary - the English department wanted to fail me after a college career of doing hardly any work, reading hardly any of my set texts and turning in essays which were at best puerile and at worst utter rubbish. That I got a degree at all is down to the philosophy department insising that as I had done reasonably well for them, I should get some kind of degree. (And thank you Neil Cooper for passing on that snippet.)

I know there are some, if not many, who regard advertising and marketing as perhaps the shallowest of all shallow professions, but I disagree profoundly or rather to some extent. That criticism of advertising, the suspicion that it is essentially venal and mucky, is neatly summed up in a description I heard recently (and I can only paraphrase) that advertising/marketing ‘delves deeply into the surface of things’. But I have come to regard it as something very.

I was reminded of all this when I came across a series of ten 15-minute talks on BBC Radio 4 recently by one Rory Sutherland called ‘Marketing: Hacking The Unconscious’, a series the BBC describes on its website as ‘Rory Sutherland explores the story, and psychology, behind the most influential marketing campaigns in history’. That very neatly sums up why I am interested, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say fascinated, by advertising/marketing: examining what makes people tick, getting to understand their behavior as individuals and in groups, and then applying the knowledge gained to creating advertising.

OK, using the insights gained to, as cynics might have it, sell to people crap they don’t need might not be the most noble human activity, but the ‘selling’ is not what I am interested in: I am interested in the doing, the thought and creativity that goes into marketing, as well as the oddities in human behaviour it throws up. I am bound to admit that I - although apparently not a great many others - feel that much of the creative work in advertising can often come far

closer to being ‘art’ than a great deal of what we are presented with as being ‘art’ in self-conscious ‘art’ exhibitions (although I should add that I don’t much, if at all, subscribe to the hi’ falutin descriptions of ‘art’, its purpose, its imperatives, its consequences and principles. But I shall leave that for another time.)

I am attracted to the deep thought that goes into creating an ad campaign. I am attracted to, and impressed by the subtlety, the vision of many ads, the analysis of human behavior, and I don’t restrict this to television ads, but to posters and photography. I readily acknowledge that many, a great many, might be put off by the purpose of advertising: simply to get more people to buy a certain product, and I concede that there is nothing necessarily noble in that. But it is the preceding processes involved in thinking up an ad and an ad campaign which capture me and which I cannot deny I admire and respect.

I have recorded one of those 15-minute programmes by Rory Sutherland and you can listen to it below. Perhaps they might convey just why I am fascinated by the industry and its work.
Here is the one:

Rory Sutherland on advertising, excerpt 1

. . .

It is surely no fluke that some of some of those who worked in advertising went on to become artists in a different realm: the novelists Fay Weldon, Elmore Leonard, Dr Seuss, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Salman Rushdie, the filmmakers Jonathan Glazer, John Hughes and Ridley Scott, and artists Andy Warhol – famously — and Norman Rockwell. I suspect there is something about the discipline necessary in copywriting and graphic art which is conducive to make the transition from the one ‘venal’ realm to the far more hi’ falutin world of ‘art’. Or perhaps I’m completely wrong: they would have progressed anyway and the fact that they worked as advertising industry ‘hacks’ is coincidental. But I don’t think I am wrong. That isn’t to limit art in any way and that most certainly isn’t to promote all advertising as akin to art – there is quite a bit of dross out there, too.

Obviously, as there is quite a bit of dross in about any sphere you care to look at. But the best advertising is, at least for me, quite fascinating. I have spent that past 43 working in the newspaper industry, first, comparatively briefly as a reporter and then as a sub. I wasn’t outstanding as either. I was by no means a bad reporter and, I must add modestly, possibly better than some because there really were and are some clunkers out there. But my heart wasn’t in it. I disliked the bullshitting involved and realised that to progress and get to the top you either had to really believe in ‘news’ and ‘the public’s right to know’ and ‘writing the first draft of history’, or you simply had to be a real cunt, someone who really didn’t care about trampling over others. And none of that fitted the bill.

I turned to sub-editing because I was equally interested in the whole process of producing a newspaper, and reporting was only the first step. And there I remained, not a particularly good sub-editor, though one who knew what I should be doing, but nor was I outstandingly bad either. I coasted (and I have to say coasting is pretty much the story of my life). But there is also something in the discipline of sub-editing which could give an insight into the production of ‘art’ (and sorry, but I really can’t resisit those inverted commas).

For example, for five years, from 1990 until 1995 I lived in London and ‘did shifts’ for a variety of newspapers. One day I could be working on The Times, the next on the Evening Standard, then back on The Times, then the Daily Express, or the Daily Mail, or the Sun. Some were broadsheets, some were tabloids, but each demanded a certain style. And I have to say that boiling down several hundred words of agency copy into four or five short paragraphs, or reducing a welter of rather boring copy into something reasonably interesting did teach you a lot.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

As Sam Goldwyn observed ‘if they liked it once, they’ll love it twice’, so with little to entertain you with today, here’s a rerun – all the rage these days are reruns – of a previous blog entry about smut and double entendre

I’ve nothing much to say today (did someone say ‘as always?’ Quiet at the back), but earlier this evening I was chatting to a guy at La Pappardella in Earls Court, and we were talking about – or possibly I was talking about – seaside postcards (by Bamforth & Co and later Donald McGill), music hall humour and double entendre, and I said I would send him a link to one entry of this blog (posted on just under two years ago in Augist 2014).

It contains a recording by actor Arthur Bostrum who in the BBC’s sitcom ‘Allo, allo’ played an Englishman in wartime France pretending to be a French policeman but who, unfortunately, spoke French very badly. Don’t know what ‘double entendre’ is? Well, let me explain by way of a joke: a woman walks into a bar in Paris and orders a double entendre. ‘Certainly,’ says the barman, ‘I’ll give you one.’

Anyway, having nothing much to say today and given the current TV fascination with reruns and compilations and reruns of compilations and reruns of reruns, I thought why not, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So without further ado click here to read my entry, or re-read my entry, celebrating smut. I love smut. The recording is in four parts. Just - well, I am sure you know the drill.

. . .

PS The character I was talking to, one Jim Harman, a man with quite some experience, now 77, who was in the RAF, then worked as a telecoms engineer for an oil company in Nigeria after previously working in Angola and Portugal and who splits his year between Old Blighty and Ausatralia, had a fascinating story to tell.

It seems that last Thursday he went for a check-up with a private dentist after root canal treatment when his dentist found that there was still some infection in the wound. He injected him with bleach but forgot to dilute the bleach. Because he was in such pain, the dentist injected him with anaesthetic which calmed it for a few hours, but then it got worse again.

After a day of agony, he returned to see his dentist who immediately sent him off to A&E at the local hospital where where he was found to have renal failure: the anaesthetic had shut down his kidneys, spread the remnants of the infeciton and his lymph system had been poisoned. After a day’s worth of treatment of steroids and a saline drip to clear his kidneys, he was told by the medics that they had found odd antibodies in his blood which had countered the infection which they couldn’t explain: had he at some point ever been bitten by a snake? Yes, he said, three times, in fact, over the years he spent in Africa. Ah, they said, that has saved your life. The antibodies helped to counteract the infection.

Well, reporting it now, it seems to me that some of the story doesn’t add up, but that might have been me not getting all the details. Anyway, that was his story.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Will it snow on June 23, 2018? Who knows? I don’t and neither do you. But there might certainly be stormy weather ahead for the EU

I’ve tried, I really have. I’ve twice posted I’ve taken photos - irrelevant to current events our what? Couldn’t be more irrelevant - reported two spats with the Guardian, recycled a few videos with music tracks I like and even threatened to start a new, personal blog, which no one will have access to, anything but anyting rather than join the cacophony and add my two ha’porth in comments about Brexit - what’s best to wear in the run-up to Brexit, how Brexit might prove to be the ultimate diet, why Brexit can be blamed for the decline in bees, that kind of thing. But there is no getting away from it (which isn’t that surprising).

Brexit is everywhere, though what it will mean for Britain is still anyone’s guess, and in keeping with the fact that it is anyone’s guess, everyone with even half a deadline is predicting: in today’s Guardian the Lib Dems Vince Cable is on the side of the doomsayers and reckons it will cause an even bigger financial crash than the one in 2008.

On the other hand some think once Britain has rid itself of the shackles of the EU, the good times might come a rolling. Here the Independent (no longer a print newspaper but carrying on online like some ethereal guardian angel for the bien pensant who thinks the Guardian is too much of a lefty rag) outlines ten reasons to feel positive about Brexit.

Given my abysmal track record in predictions - I predicted Britain would vote to stay in the EU and that Trump would not be elected - I shall gracefully resist once again taking a Mystic Meg role and keep schtumm. But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk generally about what might happen to Britain and the EU over the coming years.

As for predictions, I am bemused: can anyone here tell me what wether we will have on, say, June 23, 2018? That would be exactly two years after the Brexit referendum was held. Will it rain? Will it be a day of glorious sunshine? Will it be hot, unseasonably cold? Will it be windy? Will we be in the fifth week of a drought? There are one or two things we can rule out, of course. Given the time of year, a blizzard would seem unlikely, although I did once witness snowfall in June. (It was in June 1975, and I was attending a two-month NCTJ block release course at the then Richmond College in Sheffield (now Stradbroke College). My mate Tim, a Sheffield local, and I had taken to having a lunchtime pint at the Richmond Hotel ten minutes walk away, and we were sitting (‘sat’) in the bar when I looked out and noticed it was snowing. Mind, it was not a blizzard, the snow didn’t settle and it was unseasonably cold for June.)

So we can say one or two general things about the weather on June 23, 2018, but would be wise to keep it vague. Similarly with predicting what effects Brexit will have on Britain and the rest of the EU: keep it vague and ensure the amount of egg you get on your face is kept to as little as possible.

I don’t doubt it will be an upheaval. Moving house is an upheaval of sorts, even if you move from the bleak inner city to place of bucolic bliss. Things go missing, stuff gets chipped and you don’t really settle in for a month or two after the move. The same will be true of Brexit, but how commentators and pundits can predict so certainly that it will spell doom for Britain/be a return to a golden age I really don’t know.

The fact is that before it became shackled to the tyranny of Brussels/embraced the community of European enlightenment, Britain was far from being the poster boy for prosperity and progress. All nations have their myths, and a current myth in Britain is that we were an industrial giant and a superpower on equal terms with the US and Soviet Russia. But that is not quite true.

Britain has been a member of the EU - and crucially the single market - 44 years and enjoyed many free trade benefits, but from the end of World War II until it signed up in 1973 economically Britain was often a basket case. Cheerful Brexiteers up and down the pubs and golf clubs of the nation will forecast a new golden age of trading. The thing is that the previous golden age of trading had been some 130 years earlier and the world has moved on considerably since then.

Conversely (and in my view) the EU has benefited from Britain’s membership and, arguably, needs us to be a member, and this has less to do with the financial contribution Britain makes than with the steading influence it had. Conventionally, Britain has been portrayed as something of a bolshy fly in the ointment member, complaining about this, objecting to that, but in truth Britain has been one of the steadier members, more inclined than many other members to observe the letter of EU law.

Furthermore, and given the accepted view that France and Germany are pretty much the two mainstays of the EU (and that, we are told, a desire to stop the two countries continually going to war with each other was one of the main objectives of forming a ‘European community’), the lack of Britain’s stabilising influence might be keenly felt.

We’re also told that many of the smaller member states were grateful to Britain for taking the lead in matters where they, too, had the same concerns about some aspect of the EU, but who felt that without the voice of Britain, they could not speak out.

Then there is what might now already be called ‘the problem’ of the EU of Poland and Hungary. Neither country feels much like toeing the Brussels line these days. Just a few days ago Victor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister made a speech that was heavily critical of the EU’s migration policy and in other ways has been apt to clash with Brussels of lesser matters. Mention this to keen supporters of the EU and they will get all misty-eyed and say that ‘families often have their little spats, but at they end of the day they pull together’.

Well, I shouldn’t bank on it. Just as the perceived view of many Brits was (though it was and is not mine) that EU migration and attendant matters was somehow wrecking Britain, it might not be too fanciful to suggest that migration from North Africa and the Middle East could prove to be one of several nails in the EU’s coffin, the loss of Britain’s stabilising influence being another.

As for Poland and the threat it poses to the equanimity of the EU, as far as I am concerned the Polish come in two flavours: reasonable and outright nutters. On the reasonable side one might count the former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who seems to strike a note of commons sense in all the Brexit bollocks and has no discernible axe to grind. As for outright nutters, look no further than Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the surviving half of the Kaczynski twins - his brother Lech, then Poland’s president died in an air crash in 2010 - and who occupies a strange position in Polish politics.

He and his twin founded the right-wing (and some say rather anti-semitic) Law and Justice party, which is now back in power in Poland under the premiership of one Beata Szydlo. Kaczynski is chairman of the Law and Justice party, and although it is power holds no government position and is just an MP, he is widely thought to be pulling all the strings. Pertinently Kaczynski is also as implacably opposed to further immigration than Orban and has clashed with Brussels on that and many other matters.

Migration is, though, just one of the problems the EU will continue to face without Britain as a member. Another is the perpetual problem of the euro for many member states and the related problem of unemployment: manageable in northern states, embarrassingly high in Med states. This map, from the European Commission itself, shows quite graphically that the differences are large. And to compound the problem these are just overall jobless figures: among those under 25 the number is far higher, with often one out of two without work.

I did start off by insisting that Mystic Pat had been banished to under his giant toadstool in the garden and vowing to make no predictions. Well, I shan’t, but that doesn’t preclude me from making one or two suggestions. Well, make that one suggestion: Brexit will be the first step in the slow, painfully slow, but certain disintegration of the EU as we now know it. And history will show that Brexit wasn’t a cause but a symptom.

If, as I suggest, the EU will prove less durable than supporters hope, I further suggest it has only iteself to blame. It worked as a small trading bloc and it worked as a European Community. But then the idealist took over from the pragmatists and developed a queer sort of megalomania: talk of ever-closer politic union became louder, there was talk of forming an EU army and for a while the EU had its own ‘foreign minister’ (for some time an ineffectual former Labour Party apparatchik of whom little is now heard).

The real problem for the EU was that it had overreached itself. Member states and their citizens were perfectly happy with getting spanking new roads and schools and hospitals over the years, all paid for by EU funds (which, let’s be frank, was the money of the EU’s major contributors, Britain and Germany), but many became rather picky when it came to the downsides of membership. Most notably they weren’t at all keen to share in the EU’s goodhearted, liberal drive to take in as many immigrants as possible.

This might make it sound as though I am agin the EU. I’m not, although my sister and my brother are both convinced I am a closet Brexiteer. As far as I am concerned the EU is essentially a great idea, but one which, for one reason or another, has gone bad. I think it might have started losing the plot when it was turned from a trading community, and economic bloc into a would-be political union (although keen ‘le projet’ supporters insist that that was always the intention: odd, then, that the rest of us were unaware of it).

In an ideal world I should like to see the wiser heads in Brussels take stock of the situation and decide that losing Britain is Not A Good Idea, and set about seeing how they might change Britain’s mind. But even I know there is no hope of that. Oh well.