Saturday, December 9, 2017

It’s all pretty much a blur consisting of yet more hours travelling by coach, topped off with an utterly futile search on my own for a cigar shop which might exist or might just be a 1,001 Arabian nights myth

Morocco – Day Five: Rabat/Casablanca

To be honest, I could almost not be bothered to write this entry detailing today’s goings on as not much really happened. And I am even having trouble recalling the itinerary. We started a the usual take-off time of 8.30am on the dot, and given the flexible timetable of the rest of the day, I can’t quite understand the insistence on utterly punctual departures except that that is how the Germans like it and would feel distinctly out of sorts if any kind of laxity crept into the proceedings.

As I have already admitted, I am very German in some ways – I am as direct as they are, which to British ears sounds horribly like tactlessness, and if you ask a German his opinion, he or she will give it to you and if you don’t like, well, you did ask. They are not at all folk for the kind of sugary and, to be frank, often downright dishonest beating about the bush the Brits make their own. But in other ways I am as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pud. I like to go my own way if I want to and if that causes ructions, well, so be it.

For example, I am down to my last four La Paz Wilde Cigarros and at the hotel here in Casablanca (OK, I’m jumping ahead a bit, but – well, what the hell) I asked reception whether there was a tobacconists nearby who sold cigars. Yes, he said, turn right, go down the road and you will come to a square. It’s on the left of the square. Well, that’s what he said, but why I don’t know.

The square was jam-packed, it’s Saturday night, with honking traffic and folk of all ages, young children even, everywhere, but search as I might, I didn’t find a tobacconists a la gauche. I wandered around, asked several people in my best abysmal French ‘pour un magasin qui vente les cigares’, oh, just down there, on the right, on the left, first left, second right and on and on. I searched high and low, all the time trying to keep my bearings – who wants to get lost in Casablanca on a Saturday night with very, very little French and no Arabic to speak of – but could find nothing. Finally, I came back mission utterly unnacomplished. But, the inevitable but, for the first time in several days I was on my own, wandering around and seeing the sights a little rather than trailing around with a gang of tourists. And I rather enjoyed it, trivial as it might seem. But back to the itinerary.

First stop was Rabat where we all dismounted and took a look at the king’s palace, though from afar. And no pictures of the members of the army, navy, air force and police standing guard. Then, or before, I really can’t remember, we inspected the mausoleum of Hassad II, the current king’s dad. Then it was back on to the coach and down the motorway to here, Casablanca. Once here, we dismounted again somewhere and – I am not being cute or trying to be clever – I just can’t recall what it was we inspected this time. Something, anyway.

Anyway, here we are at the Almo Hades Hotel where for me the highlight was marvelling at the extremely colourful garb of the women in a party of Senegalese tourist group. Driving from Meknes to Rabat and then Casablanca it was once again apparent what a very green country Morocco is. As I said yesterday my first impression, gained while driving to Marrakesh from Agadir of a rather barren arid country was very wrong.

And that’s your lot for now, I’m afraid. Courtesy of a browser plugin called Zenmate, which allows you to seem as if you are on the net from many other countries (in this case Old Blighty) I shall now sign off and tune into BBC One’s Match of the Day. And along those lines tomorrow, bugger what’s on the timetable, has just one task for me: to seek out a TV somewhere in the hope that it is showing the Manchester United v Manchester City match. A must, I’m afraid. I do know that a supper of Moroccan food is planned with and exhibition of ‘folklore’. Well, count me out. That kind of thing has done bugger all for me in the past, and I can’t think tomorrow will be any different. I’d much prefer mooching around and see real Moroccans.





Friday, December 8, 2017

Nothing much more, keeping in faith with the title of this blog (possibly a touch twee?) and so just a few more details of day’s goings on, including an interesting visit to a city’s ruins

Morocco – Day Four: Meknes (Where, you ask? Well, bloody look it up. Don’t you have Google maps?)

OK, it’s getting late, I’ve spent another 48 hours on a coach, inspected a Roman ruin and generally been the cultural angel, I’ve had two bottles of Casablanca lager and helped polish off two bottles of Moroccan wine, so forgive me please if a little kindness creeps into this account. The wine, by the way, was not half bad, and compares quite well with its peers from Spain, France and Italy. And if that makes it sound as though I think I know a thing or two about wine, let me reassure you that the only thing I know about wine is when one is crap panther piss (and I’ve bought quite few bottles of that in my time) and when it isn’t.

Tonight we are in a town/city called Meknes, about 70km to the south-west of Fes, reknown our guide tells us, as being the centre of Moroccan wine production. I didn’t even know the Moroccans produe wine, but hence our choice at supper.

We didn’t drive here directly, but stopped off at the ruins of Volubilis, and although I called it a Roman ruin, it was, in fact, a rather large city of 10,000 which existed for about 1,000 years, from the 3rd century BC until the beginning of the 14th century, and the Romans only ‘had’ it for about 400 of the of those years. It started out as a Berber city, was then Roman, and a few hundred years after they abandoned it, the Muslim Arabs arrived and took charge. But don’t take my word for it, look up – as, of course, I did, cos I didn’t actually know anything at all about the city before today – this entry here.


I’ve got to admit I’m a sucker for ruins, whether Roman, Norman castles, or the range of castles my brother and I visited in France a few years ago. It helps, of course, that these days they are excavated well and plenty of info is given in little plaques here, there and everywhere when you visit them. Years ago I visited the castle at Caernafon in North Wales, and I you like castles, go there. Even far smaller castles like the on at Villandraut which is close to where my stepmother’s sister lives south of Bordeaux and which I have visited several times is worth a look. That’s if you like castles, of course. If you don’t, well . . .



I’ve got to say, I’m enjoying this week, although I know full well that it is the last as well as the first time I shall go on a touring coach trip. It’s not just the organised culture of it all, where I far prefer nosing around to see where I might end up and be surprised, or the, as I put it yesterday rather starkly and perhaps unfairly, somewhat voyeuristic nature of this kind of tourism. It’s the bloody travelling around by coach which I haven’t at all taken to.

We have, however, seen a little more, or a lot more, or rural Morocco and my initial impression, gained while travelling from Agadir to Marrakesh and the early part of our bloody interminable journey from Marakesh to Fes (and I’m still not sure whether that should be Fez) that it is an arid and barren country is wholly wrong. Further north, and the further you get from Agadir, the more fertile the country is, and then some. Dark earth where the Moroccans grow their vegetables and fruit, and the mile upon mile of olive trees tell me that I was quite wrong.

. . .

I have already written an entry, composed on the flight over, on a historian chappie called Herbert Butterworth, his book The Whit Interpretation Of History and how I am inclined, like Simon Heffer whose radio broadcast on him and it first brought it to my attention, to think that Butterworth had a point, but I shan’t publish it here for a week or two, mainly because I haven’t finished it. I add that because having complete the above, I notice I had still only written just over 500 words, and we can’t have that, can we. If I am unable to waffle on for at least 1,200/1,500 the world must surely be coming to an end. Well, it isn’t, and I like to think I am not daft enough to carry on with more inconsequential waffle just to make up the numbers.

So, there you have it, tonight’s entry. No piccies, I’m afraid, because today I used my camera and didn’t bring with me the cable to transfer them to my laptop. Tomorrow it’s Rabat. So goodnight and . . .

Except to say, I had a very interesting dream two nights ago which I shall make work for me. I shan’t say anything else except to ask you to look out for Emily. Means, nothing to you, does it? Well, it means something to me, and as long as I remember the dream and can reconstruct its essense, that’s all I ask. Oh, and also to write something like 60,000 words.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A five-hour schlepp around the souk reminds me that a souk is a souk is a souk. And I am persuaded not to waste my money on a de luxe camel leather bag, and that the difference between £9.10 and £101 is a rather hefty £91.90

Morocco – Day Three: Fes

In May I was in Israel for a week and spent a day in Jerusalem, where after visiting the Wailing Wall, I headed into the souk. It was my first visit to any souk anywhere. A few days later, after driving into Jaffa and realising that it wasn’t really the city for simply following your nose and wandering around, I took of to Acre, about 14 miles to the north, and after eating a tasty lunch right on the waterside, I headed back to the car via Acre’s souk.

Today our battalion of tourists jumped onto our coach and after a brief stop at some palace or other, we headed for Fes’s old city and spent the next four hours trailing around its souk. And I have to say, risking accusations of being an old philistine, it seems to me that once you have seen one souk, you have pretty much seen them all. My sister, who lived in Istanbul for several years, tells me that the souk there is something else, and I don’t doubt it. But that not withstanding, I don’t think I shall be rushing to join the queue to visit yet another. If you haven’t been to a souk, by all means take yourself off and inspect one, and I’m sure your first will impress you. Your second less so. This was my third.

Fes’s souk has the usual rundown of tiny butchers, tiny ‘shops’ selling olives or spices or vegetables. There were tradesman galore, working in wood, in copper, in leather, in this and in that, there was more than any number of men young and old hawking leather wallets, purses, bracelets and caps, though it occurs to me as I write that I didn’t see any shops selling electrical equipment, irons, sound systems, that kind of thing. The one in Jerusalem did (plus and extraordinary amount of cheap religious tat being offered as severely high prices

We spent some time a rather large leather tannery, gazing down from the windows of one of the showrooms in to a large courtyard of any number of vats where the hides of animals were stripped of their hair, treated with quicklime and pigeon poo to soften them up, washed, dyed, then worked into various items, bags, jackets, satchels, trousers and I don’t know what else. On the way in we were each hand a sprig of mint to help us overcome the smell, but to be honest it wasn’t at all bad. Anyone who has taken a leak in any rural British pub, pissing into a shallow trough caked in urea crystals will know the smell, and in terms of offensiveness, the pub gents were often far worse. Sadly, for visitors to Old Blighty wanting to gain an authentic impression of Olde England, especially its traditional smells, you will hardly find such a gents (US ‘rest room) anymore now that health and safety have taken hold and insisted – against tough opposition it must be said – on better hygiene. And let’s thank them for that.

Ever since the man bag I had bought myself in a street market in Mallorca was stolen from my car two weeks later in a London square (and don’t knock them, for the convenience of carrying various items you seem to want to need while on holiday, a man bag takes some beating. Sod machismo), I have wanted another, so my sister and I wandered off to one of the many showrooms at the tannery to inspect those intended for men.

We were immediately given the hard sell, the plain unadorned one which caught my eye being lauded to high heaven as the best quality camel leather money could buy. ‘How much,’ I asked. ‘130,’ the man replied. ‘100,’ I said. ‘115,’ I replied, thinking that I could probably beat him down further, but what the hell. At that point my sister took me to one side and insisted it was far too much. What I had not realised was that the price was in euros, not Moroccan Dirham, so not the £9.10 my bargain might have been, but £101. ‘You can get them for much less,’ she assured me. But more hard sell ensued and it took a while to persuade the guy that there would be no sell. Oh, and barely ten minutes later when the showroom’s main man gave a general talk about the leather used and so on, he proudly told us that they only used lamb, pig and sheep skin, never camel.

Once we had left the tannery and its showrooms, it was on to the workshops of other craftsmen and it slowly became apparent – well, slowly to me – that we were not being guided here and there to admire the skill of the various Moroccan craftsmen, but to buy stuff. I’m not against buying stuff in the slightest, but I’m the boring sort that has come to mistrust the impulse purchases which were so much a feature of my younger days.

. . .
To be honest, the whole souk tour rather swiftly became something of a schlepp, and I was glad when finally, about seven hours later (with a one-hour break) we returned to our hotel. It was also a bit dispiriting to realise that whatever benefits tourists – I have to say under the circumstances ‘we tourists’ as I was part of one of several gangs trooping around the souk and getting in the way of Moroccans doing their shopping, coming home from school and trying to deliver goods through the narrow alleyways – that we are not quite as welcome was we affluent northern Europeans (and a troop of South Korean tourists) seem to imagine.

As I have already remarked, I am really not one for going around in organised groups, but prefer, as on my visit to Israel in May, to be on my own. For one thing, and there is no other way I can put this although it might be too harsh a description, there seems to be something essentially voyeuristic about this kind of tourism, rather like 18th century Londoners enjoyed trips to Bedlam – the Bethlehem hospital for the ‘mad’ – to gawp and laugh at the loonies. Yes, I know I am overegging the cake a little, but I can’t deny I feel that way. When I go abroad, I like to visit a country and see it as it is and perhaps meet some of its people. Yet these organised tourist trips seem almost to achieve the opposite: to see less well-off tourist countries as better-off countries would like them to be. Not for me, chums.

The same kind of sensitivity affects my picture taking. I just don’t like pointing my camera at people and snapping away as though they were merely some kind of exhibit. The upshot is that I tend mainly to take pictures of objects and buildings, and when I do take a picture of someone, I ask them first. Fair enough, but then they tend to pose and the resulting picture is not much good at all and is nowhere near the picture you would like to take. So far I can’t see a way around it.

Tomorrow, it’s off somewhere else, but I can’t say off hand. I know that Rabat, Casablance and a place called Meknes are on the itinerary but which we will head for first I really don’t know. I know I could do with one or two rest days, doing fuck-all for as long as I feel like it, but that isn’t part of the plan. So I shall be a brave soldier and carry on. Still, no Champions League tonight, so it can be an early bath and bed before 9pm (or something like that).

. . .

Since writing the above, I have just found more information about Morocco on the web, following a Google search, and it seemed to confirm an impression I got while trooping around the souk. It was that for every friendly Moroccan, there seemed to be two or three who, although not necessarily unfriendly, did not seem at all pleased by the rabble of tourists choking up the souk. What at first seemed an unimportant impression, possibly a misleading impression, gained a little more of my attention when I was apparently barged into by a teenage Moroccan girl who was coming towards me arm-in-arm with her mother.

This was in the crowded souk, so I thought no more about it. I turned and apologised, but did not get a reciprocal acknowledgment, rather more of a sullen one, as in ‘you should be more careful’. Later, no longer in the souk and walking towards our coach chatting to our tour guide on a less than crowded street, I again bumped into someone, a man in a green djellababa or asleham. Again I turned around to apologise, but the man did not turn around and just walked on. Then I realised that the incident had not been my fault, for although I was turned to the tour guide while talking to him and was not looking ahead of me, there was more than ample room for the guy to walk past without a slight collision. Yet a slight collision there was, and I could only assume it was intentional.

. . .

One last thing: it is bloody cold here in Fes. OK, not as cold as the unimaginably appalling Arctic conditions our gutter press are rather gleefully predicting will afflict Britain over the coming days – temperatures plummeting to -1C and commuters being warned to expect contending with at least 2cm of snow on their roads to work – but distinctly chilly. I opted to bring a pullover with me, expecting the others in my party to subject me to a barrage of ribaldry over my wimpishness.

Well, that hasn’t happened as they are just as chilled as I am and have retreated to their rooms for a little warmth. I am now wearing it. Writing this, fully aware of my duty to acquaint the world with very trivial detail of the minutiae of my life and intent on fulfilling that duty come what may, I am sitting in the large lobby cum TV room cum bar cum Lord knows what else of the hotel and am grateful that about 20 minutes ago a wood fire was started.

It is now only 6.45pm (US 6.45pm) and we are all meeting up for supper at 7.30pm (US 7.30pm), but I can’t deny that I am more than keen to get upstairs, enjoy a hot bath, then crawl into bed for a long kip than, quite frankly, is decent in polite society. We Brits are expected to buckle down if need be and cross the North Pole on our hands and knees before breakfast and are rightfully proud that one or two of our national idiots have done just that. But count me out.

Tomorrow we are due to clamber aboard our coach ready to set of for our next destination at 8.30am. That’s the Germans for you. But why does it have to be so early? Finally, a couple of piccies to keep you happy, though sadly not one of the Moroccan gent who barged into me. Perhaps that’s for the best.




Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Day Two in which I get full permission to let the bile flow freely

Morocco – Day Two: Fes

NB I have been given carte blanche by my sister – I am here with her, her husband, her husband’s sister and my brother – to spout as much bile as I like. The reason I didn’t in my yesterday’s entry was simply diplomacy. I am here at her and my brother-in-law’s invitation to join the party, which with the exception of my sister, my brother and myself, is made up entirely of German pensioners, and if one or two of them aren’t exactly retired, they bloody well behave as though they were. So it occurred to me yesterday that to be catty – and risk upsetting my sister, who reads this blog (though not my first novel, I might add cattily) – did not seem right. But none of it: go to town, she told me this morning as in some ways she feels rather like me.

The thing is that although I am German in many ways, ways which no one meeting me, a chap who speak excellent English with an excellent RP, might suspect, there are also many ways I am not. And one of those ways is that I loathe being organised, lining up meekly to fill in forms, trooping round in gangs and all the rest. Many, though not all Germans, on the other hand, don’t mind. In fact, I rather suspect they like it and would feel rather at a loose end if there wasn’t someone around with a clipboard and a biro reciting the detailed arrangements for the coming two hours. Is that catty enough for you, Marianne?

I must say that this being a holiday, break, call it what you like in a country I have never visited before, I am rather liking it. But Lord there are some oddities about the set-up. I told you yesterday that we were all flown into Agadir in the south of the country and expected to be coached off to our hotel, for a refreshing shower and, in my case, a glass of cold lager and a cigar. But none of it. Once on the coach, we were informed of a ‘change in plan’ – we would not be staying in Agadir and instead spent the next three or four hours driving to Marrakesh. Oh, well. Today, however rather trumped it all.
It was onto the coach at the, for me, unfeasibly early hour of 8am to be taken to Fes. My brother and I (who, much to his displeasure are sharing a room) got up, joined the others for breakfast, then retired to our room to get our stuff together and duly sauntered down at 8am to get on the coach. Silly us. When Germans say be at the coach at 8am, they mean be there in very good time because the coach leave pünktlich at 8am. And as we were not there, a search party was organised to drum us up.
On the coach we were told the journey to Fes would take, oh, about six hours, but that there would be a rest break for those with weak bladders. We would also be stopping off for lunch, or rather lunch for those who had agreed to shell out a few more euros.

Six hours? Including the one hour lunchbreak, and two rest breaks of about 20 minutes each, the journey took ten hours. So, dear hearts, I have been in Morroco for two days now and have seen the back of a coach seat for most of that time, plus what can be viewed from a speeding coach taking the highways and byways of the Kingdom of Morroco.

What could be seen on the first few hours was not particularly interesting: it was all as flat as a pancake and aridly barren. The scenery perked up somewhat when we ventured into the foothills of the Atlas mountains, where the earth was darker and more fertile and the whole landscape was greener. And that was it, really. Tomorrow, it’s a less early start to see something of Fes, though I do bloody hope it is not through the window of a coach. We are staying at this hotel for another night and then it is off somewhere else to see what else we can catch sight of through the window of a coach.

Our Moroccan guide, who speaks very good German, filled us in an many details of Morroco, its culture and what else, though on more than one occasion the detail got rather confusing. As though I had some premonition of that, I had brought along with my one of the Very Short Introduction series of slim bookd, in this case a Very Short Introduction to the First World War. Now that was interesting and for the first time in my life I have been able to put together a timeline of what went on and do now have a better understanding of that horrible, horrible conflict. So coming to Morocco for eight days has not been without its charms. .

In many ways, though I should imagine not surprisingly, the landscape, both the barren bits and the rather greener bits, remind me of the part of Spain I have seen when I was visiting Seth Cardew in his potter’s bolthole north of Valencia, and Italy, especially Sicily. And I also know that however scruffy houses and apartments look from the outside, it is a very different story inside. The point is that when you live in a country where the sun beats down relentlessly for most of the year, there’s really bugger all you can do with exteriors. Paint peels and walls dry out and crumble. So best stick to making where your life inside pleasant. .

I have taken hardly any pictures seeing as I have so far seen little to take pictures of, but also because it seems Moroccans, especially their womenfolk, just don’t much like having their pictures taken. Now it’s off to bed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Marrakesh and that beer and a smoke, but, no, not that because I no longer indulge (though I wouldn’t mind) and although my brother-in-law’s guidebook to Morocco claims pretty much everyone smokes hashish openly (and the country is its biggest producer), it isn’t actually legal and the cops are quite keen to crack down on dope-smoking tourists. Have I learned a little wisdom in my old age?

Morroco – Day One, Marrakesh.

I should actually be titling this entry Agadir, but there was a ‘change of plan’, which didn’t suit me too well. After getting up at 5.30 at my hotel in Dusseldorf to catch the 6am shuttle to the airport, I arrived in very good time, but was knackered. The reason: well, I tried to be wise and get to bed early preparing for the early start and put out my light at 10.30.

Didn’t immediately get to sleep, but then at about 11pm was wide awake when I realised I had forgotten all the sodding paperwork my brother-in-law had sent me – plane e-ticket and all the rest. So it was downstairs to reception to see whether I could print out another, as well as all the rest of the necessary bumf. Yes, they could, and they were very helpful, except that their printer wasn’t working and no one knew quite why. It took them 30 minutes to work out that no only did the their laser printer not have the toner, but it took them another 15 minutes to find a new toner cartridge.

By the time I returned to my room with all the crap I thought I would need, it was way past midnight, and with all the excitement (the polite word for bloody hassle) I didn’t seem to get to sleep at all, except that I must have done because I had a very odd, though interesting dream involving World War II British war veterans barricaded in a church where a memorial service was being held in their honour and a necessary flag was missing. Great dream but part of it entailed that ‘I must get to sleep!’. Then my alarm went. And at the airport, checking in I was assured that the bloody e-ticket wasn’t at necessary as my name was already on the system. And thank the Lord for that because my brother, he who pays great attention to detail, had forgotten to bring along his bumf, too.

The flight was, as pretty much all flights are, uneventful and as pretty much all flights are which last longer than two hours, bloody boring, though I discovered I had stored the film Glengarry Glen Ross on my iPad, so that helped somewhat (and it’s a great and highly recommended film). My one thought was to get to the hotel where we had been booked in in Agadir and settle in with a beer and a smoke. That was where the change of plan came in: we were not anymore going to stay in Agadir but would be driven by coach to Marrakesh, but it’s only a three-hour journey with a ‘rest break’. The journey, though took four and a half hours, and I never manage to sleep on buses, coaches or in cars.

Arriving here, I discovered the beer and the smoke were yet again delayed: there followed a very long-winded process of registration, eventually followed by a ‘talk’ which consisted of the tour company hoping to sell us extras. No dice in my mood. My brother thinks I have developed into a grumpy old git and he might well have a point: all I wanted to do for the past eight hours was to settle quietly into a shady corner and have that beer and smoke, and, as is increasingly likely as the years roll by, I wanted to have no one’s company but my own.

Thankfully, I finally got there.

The evening was, to my delight, rounded off with a great game of Champions League football, Bayern Munich v Paris St Germain which was only spoilt by PSG, who for some reason I found myself supporting, playing like prize dicks. With all their talent – Neymar and Dani Alves once of Barcelona are now part of their side – they still don’t have realised that the best way to win matches is not to spend as much time in their own half making dodgy passes to each other. Bayern were 2-0 quite soon, and a goal for PSG soon into the second half didn’t improve their play, and when Bayern scored an easy goal – in fact, all their goals were easy, to be frank – and won 3-1 my mood was only improved by my team, Manchester United, who were 0-1 down in Moscow against CSKA, ending their game 2-1 and conclusively top of their table. (NB Very early late correction: the game was at Old Trafford.)

Tomorrow it’s off – by coach, natch – to Fes, a journey on A roads rather than motorways, but which, we are assured will be worth it as we will be travelling through the Atlas mountains, which are said to be colourful. I hope so because the countryside we drove through from Agadir was remorselessly barren.

No piccies yet because piccies of the inside of hotels pretty much anywhere and the inside of coaches (however long the journey) don’t make for scintillating or even interesting images. But here’s a picture of some rocky in case you have forgotten.


And just for the craic, one of Lukaku scoring his first in we don’t know how long. And may he score many, many more.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Like Webster’s dictionary I’m Morocco-bound

Off to Morocco tomorrow for what is pretty much a buckshee holiday. Not quite buckshee, but £263 for seven nights in pleasant hotels, flights there and back from Düsseldorf to Agadir, then a guided tour of ‘royal palaces’ is as buckshee was you are likely to get this side of Brexit. My brother-in-law organised it after coming across a package deal which looks good value. He and my sister, his sister and my brother and I are going.

I must admit that I didn’t quite get the details right when I was first invited to join the gang – last summer – and have spent the past few months looking forward to a week of ligging, camping out by a nice pool supping an inexhaustible supply of Moroccan gin and tonics, but it was not to be. My brother alerted me to the tour element of it all a few weeks ago, and when I expressed my surprise, he chided me, in the way younger brothers can have glad to get their own back for some long-forgotten slight – well, obviously only long-forgotten by me – for ‘not paying attention to the details’. Well, I can take it.

Quite apart from having a rhino’s skin, developed by necessity I should add, my brother is the lad who, though more generous than many, spends little on himself and always has an eye out for a bargain. So not spending much of his pay working for some odd little outfit in Old Moulton St (or Great Moulton St or some such. NB Later: South Moulton St - I remembered this morning) central London, he saved enough and, crucially, invested in various shares in the early 1990s and struck gold.

For a while he thought as himself as something of a dab hand with finances and picking stocks even though I pointed out again and again that in the years he was buying the market rose and rose and rose, and pretty much everyone was quids in. Luck is more the case than skill. But the wheels came off the cart when he lent his employer, a charming Indian semi-crook called Vidia, £10,000 of the money he had made (and to this day I am astonished by the sum: he must have invested quite a bit in order to have the amount lying around waiting to be lent out. (Vidia, and I don’t know his surname or else I would give it here, also owned several old peoples’ homes – sorry, retirement communities – along the South Coast). Came the time my brother wanted his money back so he could buy a flat at auction (you can get bargains, apparently, though most need quite a bit of work), charming Vidia asked innocently: ‘What £10,000?’ Mr Attention-to-Detail had not got anything down on paper at all and was fucked big time. He never got his money back.

Still we live and learn, and we are all ill-advised to crow. I, myself, have most probably been rooked to the tune of £76 by a gang of Chinese (I would write ‘Chinks’ but I understand doing so might well land my in prison for up to five years of hard labour for racial intolerance, though the temptation is great, but wisdom will here prevail) after answering one of those many ads which seemed to be taking over Facebook. On offer was a Zoom R24 digital recorder for just £76, but with a recommended retail price of around £250. Too good to be true? Most certainly, but I went for it anyway.

In my defence I should add that I did have my suspicions and rather than paying by debit card, with the money irretrievably taken out of my bank account, I opted of using a credit card, knowing that under rather useful financial legislation here in the UK, if one is subject to fraud – which I rather think I was – I can claim the money back from the credit card company, and the hassle of getting the money from the crooks is all down to them. I discovered the seller was Chinese when I went on the credit cared company website to look at my account and spotted AIP*YUHNZJ CO of Shenzen, China. ‘Not good news,’ I distinctly remember myself thinking. ‘Thank God I listened to myself and paid by credit card.’ But, as I say, here is not the time to crow, in fact, to be frank never it the time to crow (though £76 to a gang of Chinese crooks is easier to take than £10,000 to an Indian crook. Get my drift?

. . .

The flight to Agadir leaves Düsseldorf at 08.15 on Tuesday (December 5), so I am obliged to get my arse over to Düsseldorf tomorrow and am taking the 15.50 BA flight from Heathrow. And that’s another story. It seems BA have taken to heart the lessons taught by Ryanair and passengers now pretty much have to pay for everything. ‘Will you be wanting a seat, sir? That will be another £11. Oh, and because of rising costs [funny how costs never fall] we are now obliged to charge you for the air you breathe while in flight, at £1 minute of oxygen used. And didn’t we tell you about renting the upholstery on your seat? Sorry, we should have done, and we’re sorry to inform you that the use of an upholstered seat is now a Air Transportation Agency safety requirement, so that will be another £20.’ And so it goes on. ‘Do think you might want to relieve yourself in flight, sir? Because if you do, we are now sadly obliged to charge for the use of our toilets, safety again I’m afraid. But never mind, I’m sure you will enjoy one of sandwiches from our in-flight menu, very tasty they are, too, and at just £15 for a cheese n’ pickle de luxe special well worth the price, even though we say so ourselves.
To make sure passengers shell out for as much as possible, you can now only check in 24 hours before your flight is due to leave. Bastards.

In Germany I have booked myself into a hotel barely a stone’s throw form the airport, close as I could get seeing as I shall have to be in the terminal at least two hours early to the various instructions the Germans like to give passengers. But still, a week in a place rather less damp and cold than Old Blighty is for ten months of the year, so mustn’t grumble.

. . .

After that it will be just two weeks to Christmas with all the trimmings (my wife and I are currently negotiating what we can fall out about. At the moment, it is the ‘cordless hedge trimmer’ she told me she would like when I asked her what she wanted. Fair enough, I thought, and looked up various models. You can get very good ones for about £90, but you can also push the boat out and get some for £130/150.

Shit, I thought, it is Christmas and decided to be a little more generous. Then she informed me of the one she wanted: one with an ‘extendible’ reach which will deal with all those hard to get to corners of hedges. Made by some outfit called Stihl, apparently the Rolls Royce of hedge trimmer makers, the one she has set her heart on comes in at a cool £385 – without Vat. Well, fuck me, I’m a spendthrift, but surely not that much of a spendthrift. So, in parallel to the tortuous Brexit negotiations we have reached stalemate. I’ll keep you informed.

. . .

After Christmas it will be a gentle rundown until the beginning of April when I shall finally hang up my pen and hand back my Oxford Book of Cliches and call it a day. I must admit that I am still apprehensive, despite my ambitions to keep myself out of harms way by writing the Great Cornish Novel, because push will most certainly then really come to shove.

Incidentally, my cherished den which I bragged about in the summer is now not quite as much mine as I should like as it has cunningly already been filled with prams and cots and all the rest of the paraphernalia demanded by women when they are about due to give birth to their first child.

The woman in question is my daughter, just 21, and the baby was not planned, but happily she is in a steady relationship with a pleasant and hardworking lad who is successfully setting himself up in business as a tree surgeon. But more, quite probably much more of that, another time.

Pip, pip.

. . .



BTW There is a very good joke about Noah Webster, he of the famous dictionary. Apparently, he was in his study beavering away at writing his dictionary – or so his wife thought, and decided to bring him a cup of coffee. But when she opened the door, she found him on his sofa rogering his pretty young secretary.
‘Dr Webster,’ his wife exclaimed, ‘I am surprised!’
‘No, dear,’ the good doctor responded, ‘we are surprised, you are astonished.’



Thursday, November 30, 2017

Susan’s funeral and her husband’s sense of humour and ‘an aesthetic approach to politics’

A funeral today and my birthday (this entry was started on November 21). There is no particular connection and most certainly no meaningful connection, but I thought I would mention my birthday anyway: 68 and never been kissed, or at least as far as I am concerned not been kissed enough. I should like to do some more kissing, and as for the other, well, however the desire is, the flesh, as other gents of my age and older will agree, gets weaker. Sod it, but there’s no pretending.

The funeral was that of Susan Wharton, nee Moller, a devout Roman Catholic and a lovely woman. I wrote of her death a week or two ago, but I shall repeat that she was one of the nicest and most interesting people I have known. RIP Sue. Her funeral mass, attended by family, friends and members of her church community, was at St Teresa’s, Princes Risborough.

Afterwards, as is customary, there was what the Irish call a wake and the rest of us call a buffet, booze and tea or coffee for those who had arrived by car and intended to depart by car and who didn’t want to risk death or, worse, being nabbed for drink/driving on the journey home. Sadly, I am not one of that wisest of wise groups and enjoyed several glasses of house red wine.

The funeral mass was pretty much as all other funeral masses are, and I can’t really add much detail. Once again as at the wedding of my nephew in Cologne several weeks ago when mass was also celebrated I didn’t – I won’t say couldn’t, just didn’t – take part in any of the liturgy. I’m afraid I and the Roman Catholic church have long since parted company. Susan’s cousin David Moller gave a eulogy, again stressing just what a kind and unassuming women Sue was, and although that kind of thing is par for the course, it was still good to hear, especially as it was so true.

Sue put herself out for others and of how many of our family, friends and acquaintances can we say that we do that? But what did strike me as remarkable (in as far as I am going to remark on it) was that her late husband Michael also featured, quite prominently in that eulogy. And ironically this entry will largely be about Michael, but also his extended family. The irony is furthered in that it must surely be a real pain for some women that they and their lives are still apparently defined by ‘the men in their lives’.

. . .

I have written about Michael Wharton before, here and here, but, briefly, he was a right-wing satirist who wrote a column called The Way Of The World for the Daily Telegraph, using the columnar nom de plume of Peter Simple. I
got to know him and Sue as they were friends of my father’s and regularly came to visit him and my stepmother, Paddy, in North Cornwall for many years.

Usually, probably because they had two Labrador dogs, they stayed in one of the two holiday cottages my stepmother had come to own which abut her own cottage in De Lank (once Lower Lank, and I really can’t remember why or when the name was changed to De Lank. I live just up the road at Higher Lank, and both – well, what do you call them, they are not even hamlets – are just over half a mile from the moorland village of St Breward).

My father, who also liked to call himself ‘right-wing’ – he even once, when I asked him what he was politically, called himself a ‘right-wing radical’ which is pretty much meaningless in as far as it can mean pretty much anything – had, in the early 1970s contacted Michael after being a fan of his Peter Simple column in the Telegraph, and the two met up and became friends. Their friendship endured until my father’s death in 1991 and Michael’s in 2006.

What concerns me a little is that the description of ‘right-wing’ is, at least, in their cases, rather misleading. I shan’t talk about my father here, but pass on what Michael’s son Nicholas said about his father’s politics.

NB I am about to write what might be regarded as ‘personal stuff’ about Michael and his family, and although none of it is in the least contentious or slanderous, I should like their family – his son Nicholas, his daughter Jane, his son Kit and his grandson’s Max and Isaac – to know that if they feel I am stepping on toes (although I don’t think I am), I apologise, as I really don’t mean to. But to be honest I don’t think any of them would object to what I am about to write.

. . .

Michael Wharton wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Missing Will and A Dubious Codicil, and both are good to read although the second is more in the way of memoirs (and if I remember correctly as I haven’t read it in years anecdotes of Fleet Street colleagues and pubs) than autobiography. He was born in Bradford to a German Jewish father and a Yorkshire woman, a gentile. And his birth name was Michael Nathan.

At some point, and this is not talking out of school, he changed his name from the Jewish ‘Nathan’ to the gentile ‘Wharton’, which, I’m told was his mother’s maiden name. Doing such a thing is not at all uncommon among Jews,
or was not earlier in the last century, because their Jewishness was often, though subtly, held against them. Thus a Goldstein might become a Goodman and a Jewish reporter I once worked with, a Pru Philips, came from a Cardiff family who were once known as Pinkas-Levi. And given the almost insufferable and as far as I am concerned inexplicable prejudice against them ‘as Jews’, I can’t say I blame them. In fact, I don’t blame them at all: why let something as ridiculous as prejudice hold you up in life and if a simple change in name takes you out of the line of fire, go for it. I know I would.

Nicholas was his son from his first marriage, ironically to a Jewish woman, born in the early 1940s and as this will have been before Michael changed his surname, he is known as Nathan. Nicholas (with whom I chatted later after the funeral) studied philosophy and then taught it at Liverpool University.

Jane (who wrote in interesting piece for he Daily Telegraph which you can find here) was his daughter by his second marriage, but Michael then went on to bring up two more children, though neither was biologically his, but the result of a long and, as I understand it, open affair his wife was having with a journalist friend and colleague. (I know his name and it would be well-known to those with knowledge of Fleet Street and its papers in the 1960/70s but there’s no very good reason to give it here.)

Michael was a one-off, journalist and satirist who could be very, very funny in a very dry way, so I asked his son Nicholas who of Michael’s children had inherited his father’s sense of humour. ‘None of us,’ he told me. Well, perhaps not, but Jane is – as she will tell you and as she has told me more than once – is very much her father’s daughter, which might well be summed up as having a keen eye for bullshit and no patience with it at all.

But when I say Michael could be – was – very, very funny, he was not one of those life and soul of the party types with a quip and a joke for every occasion and can often rather soon evolve into a distinct irritation. At least, he wasn’t when I knew him, but I am pretty certain he wasn’t either as a younger man. I’ve met several over the years, and if you and I ever meet, I can assure you I am not ‘the life and soul of the party’ and would be mortified ever to be so described. (NB Whenever I hear anyone described as ‘larger than life’ I always take it to mean ‘a complete pain in the arse’.)

As for his ‘right-wing politics’, Michael, Nicholas explained, using a very useful and thoroughly illuminating phrase, had ‘an aesthetic approach to politics’ and was not essentially right-wing at all. Michael, Nicholas told me, disliked Communists and the Left intensely and thus took up a ‘right-wing’ stance on many matters pretty much only because it was in opposition to what the Left might believe. For example, in the post-Tito disintegration of then Yugoslavia he championed Serbia not because he felt any particular sympathy for Yugoslavia but because demonising Serbia was the Left’s cause.

I think I know what Nicholas meant when he said Michael had an ‘aesthetic approach to politics’ because I suspect I do, too, although I like to think I am not in the slightest ‘right-wing’. And nor, Nicholas told me, is he, and he went on to say he had many political disagreements with his father.

And here I will end this entry. As I say above, it was started and more or less completed more than a week ago, and after going through it, dotted i’s and crossing t’s here and there and trying to ensure it isn’t complete gibberish, I can’t really build up steam to carry on. I also can’t remember the point I was hoping to make (if I indeed had one). Sorry.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sorry, but Brexit: pretty much a fuck-up all round. Sad, but true

Sorry, but I can’t resist it any more. What with the daily, if not hourly, developments in – well, why don’t I for simplicity’s sake merely refer to everything as ‘Brexit’ and use the word as a catch-all term? – the whole shooting match is getting sillier and sillier and sillier. That wouldn’t actually matter if the possible – perhaps even probably – consequences of Brexit for Britain weren’t so dire.

I happened to have voted Remain, though I must admit through rather gritted teeth. I am not an EU cheerleader, one who thinks, as some seem to think, that the EU is the best thing to have happened to the world since the invention of lavatory paper. On the other had there was never the slightest chance that I would have voted Leave. And I don’t think I am alone in realising that on June 23, two years ago, I faced a horrible Hobson’s Choice.

It might help, although I am supremely conscious of just how boring it will be if I don’t manage to express myself succinctly, if I outlined my position. And it most certainly isn’t either ‘Remain under all costs’ or ‘Leave under all costs. Christ, no.

The concept of the EU as it was when the European Community evolved into the European Union was – as I understand it – a very good one. For me its essence can be summed up in one word: co-operation. There has, of course, been co-operation between the various European nations for some time on many matters, but the EU could be seen to provide a useful streamlining function. That included the streamlining of trade, keeping down costs which was to everyone's benefit.

I was, and most certainly still am, also in favour of one of the underlying principles of the EU at the time, that the wealthier nations are net contributors to the EU budget, and the poorer nations are beneficiaries – those who could afford to do without shelling out and helping those who needed help. Thus even a short trip to Spain, Portugal and Greece – all three were countries which had suffered under dictatorship for many a decade and whose economies had stagnated - would show to what good use those EU funds were put. That, at least, was the theory.

In practice, it was not quite as straightforward. For example, Greece, a beneficiary, would perhaps not necessarily have been quite as badly off as it purported to be and as its official figures showed it to be if it had collected its taxes more efficiently, i.e. had not allowed its rich folk to stick two fingers up to the state as far as their taxes were concerned. And we now know that in other ways it was rather wasteful, for example, allowing its men and women to retire at, I think, 55, and to draw a state pension while they then immediately carried on working, occupying jobs which those without employment could have done with.

But I don’t want to sidetrack myself, except to add that according to one Radio 4 programme I heard, a great deal of EU money was disappearing into the pockets of, in Italy the various mafia and in other countries to their criminals, but this was not publicly acknowledged - glossed over, even by the EU - in the interests of the greater good.

. . .

The point has often been made here in Britain, and I think it is a valid point, that there was little talk, and pertinently, little public talk, of the EU eventually aiming at ‘political union’. Stout-hearted europhiles will here declare that it was always the intention, right from the outset to unite politically. Well, perhaps it was, but no one was banging the drum for it then, especially not in Britain which in the 1970s held a referendum, its first, on whether to withdraw from the EEC. It chose not to. And note the institution was then still called the ‘EEC’ in that it was first and foremost an economic community, one which by gradually abolishing trade barriers and tariffs benefited all.

It all began to change when the Soviet Union collapsed and former members, all pretty much on their uppers economically, eagerly queued up to join. Was that, I ask, because they were eager for ‘ever closer political union’ with the rest of Europe? Was it hell: they wanted some of the economic action, they wanted markets for their goods and they wanted, without putting too fine a point on it, as much of the good times as they could get. I am not in the slightest bit convinced that those, all very proud nations, having just emerged from being part of political group in which they had little say as to what was to happen were thoroughly content in becoming part of another political groups in which, arguably, they would also have little say.

In 1993 the institution was changed into the European Union under the Maastricht Treaty and was already gaining members, so it once had 12 members rather rapidly increased in size to its present state of having 28 members. And now it quite openly declared that it wanted to become, though it was not called this, a United States of Europe. The purists in the EU visualised and still visualise a state with one parliament, one armed force, Europe-wide taxes and one currency.

That was when alarm bells, which had long been ringing in Britain, became even louder. ‘Do we really,’ an increasing number of folk asked, ‘really want to surrender our national sovereignty to a United State of Europe?’ No, many felt, no they did not.

But still it isn’t that simple. For in other member states there was also growing disquiet, though it was by no means as pronounced as in Britain. What makes that British disquiet all the more pertinent is that folk who, to put it mildly, didn’t and don’t have the slightest understanding of the intricacies of the EU acquire what can only be described as a visceral hatred of the EU. It is utterly irrational, certainly, but that doesn’t diminish it.

They then began to believe rather a great deal of nonsense – mainly because they wanted to believe it - about how Britain might well do far better economically if it were no longer a member of the EU and would be ‘free to forge its own trade deals with the rest of the world’. And that is where I think they are living in cloud-cuckoo-land, though, I must add, as there is just the one cloud-cuckoo-land, it is also home to those ‘I am a European’ types agitating for ‘ever closer political union’.

Well, that was then, but we are here and now and – as I keep pointing out to my sister who suspects I am a secret Brexiteer – the foregoing is neither here nor there. What is here and now is the fact that the negotiations between the EU and Britain are getting nowhere. Or perhaps they are, but both sides are keeping it all so close to their chest that we, the public, have no idea as to what is going on.

What is so thoroughly dispiriting is that both sides, Britain’s Leavers and her Remainers simply aren’t listening to one another, even though in my view both need the other rather more than either side is prepared to admit, even to itself.

Talk to a Brexiteer, and you will be bored rigid with all kinds of economic gobble-de-gook, that Britain will ‘liberate’ itself from some kind of imagined EU tyranny at 11pm on March 31, 2019, when we finally leave, but pertinently it is gobble-de-gook that is lapped up with gusto by like-minded folk. Every slight piece of economic information, if it is good – unemployment is coming down, the sale of salt has increased, this or that forum of distinguished economist (of whom the Brexit believers will never even have heard) is disingenuously corralled by them into justification for Brexit and as proof that Britain is doing the right thing. On the other hand, signs that things might not turn out as rosily is dismissed as ‘Remoaner propaganda’. As always folk believe what they want to believe, and bugger the truth.

Conversely, if you are a British ‘convinced European’ you will now be crying out in anguish and despair about the catastrophe which awaits Britain, a prediction which even I, not a convinced European in the sense usually understood, agree is far more likely to come true. And in there desperate zeal to turn back the clock, these folk, like their Brexiteer counterparts, are also largely clutching at straws.

Recently, for example, a chap who, according to the Guardian, drew up Article 50, the clause which governs a member relinquishing membership, remarked (and I am sure it was a throwaway remark) that under Article 50, and despite the ever so slight Brexit majority two years ago, Britain could still reverse its decision to leave. ‘There,’ the faithful cried as one, ‘it’s not a done deal, we can still remain a member of the EU.’ To which my immediate response was ‘yes, if you say so, but just in theory, and that in practice there would be almost, but no quite, unprecedented political chaos in Britain if a government, whether Tory, Labour or one run by the Tellytubbies, did an about-turn and declared Britain would not be leaving.

The real tragedy, the real completely unnecessary tragedy, is that here in Britain neither side, neither swivel-eyed Leavers, nor the starry-eyed Remainers is listening to the other but merely stoking up their fury at the other’s disingenuity and thinking up more ways to widen the gulf between them. Well, let them. It doesn’t mean I have to join in. And the real problem for us, the public, is that we haven’t a bloody clue as to how the ‘Brexit negotiations’ are proceeding.

. . .

The EU is insisting, and I can’t fault them on that, that the financial details of Brexit – i.e. how much money Britain is liable to cough up given its obligations under plans made years ago for this and that expenditure – must be settled before any talks can begin on what kind of trading relationship Britain will have with the rest of the EU. Britain, on the other hand, wants those talks to be held in parallel, but the EU isn’t buying that (and again, given the nickname long attributed to Britain, ‘perfidious Albion’, I can see why). So, apparently, there is stalemate.

But it is all so bloody, so frustratingly silly: as far as I am concerned whichever way you cut it, both sides will still need each other after Brexit, and not just economically, but politically: Britain, boring old, bolshy old, pragmatic Old Blighty was useful to have around when they various hotheads from different parts of the continent got into a tizzy. And given that France and Germany are seen as the pillars of the EU, Britain was useful to keep stability. There doesn’t seem much likelihood of the Krauts and the Frogs (to use the terms used in King Charles St, Westminster, London SW1A 2AH) falling out, but history does have its quirks, so having Britain around to calm matters would be no bad thing.

(NB I discovered recently that at the Congress of Vienna when the enemies of the defeated Napoleon got together to carve up the spoils, it was Britain’s representative, Viscount Castlereagh, who insisted that France, too, should attend, and so Talleyrand was of the party. Russia, Prussia and Austria weren’t at all in favour, but Britain held out, in the interests of a lasting peace.

Something similar happened after World War II when the Soviets and the US were all for destroying defeated Germany and grinding her into the dust. Certainly not, said Britain, we must build up the country and make her viable again economically as soon as possible if we want long-term peace.)

Britain was useful in other ways. For many members of the EU Britain was useful as a fig leaf, bolshy Britain saying things they agreed with but did not necessarily articulate because, Britain was saying it. And I believe among many eurocrats there is the conviction that Britain was useful in other ways, bringing a kind of stability to the whole shooting match.

For Britain, of course, the EU – for which read its markets – the EU is also needed. But can they work it out? Can they get to the point where both sides win a little, lose a little? Can they fuck. Like in a bitter divorce each side thinks it is right and the other side is being unreasonable, and it seems the twain will simply not meet to compromise.

I’ll repeat: whatever happens in the long term, by 2060 for example, 43 years hence when a great deal of water will have flowed under the bridge it might all look very different. But I do fear that in the short term – by which I mean five or ten years - Britain will suffer and will suffer badly from Brexit. Britain needs to trade, it needs to sell its goods, but trade deals are not made overnight and there is a very real risk that in the interim many industries will suffer to badly that they will go to the wall. But I also believe that has much to lose. It, too, needs and equitably trading relationship with Britain, one of its big markets.

In the short term it would seem that the EU is less under pressure. Life will go on, trade will continue elsewhere, there are, after all, another 27 members of the EU and things won’t go tits up just because Britain, in a strop, doesn’t join the party. But in the longer term the EU also must look to its future. And I believe that unless the EU rids itself of its pie-eyed obsession with ‘ever closer political union’, it is on a hiding to nothing.

Economically, the EU is still sitting quite pretty. Yes, with Britain no longer part of the customs union and no longer part of the EU economic block there will be a price to pay, but it will be a comparatively small price, and there is a lot more to the EU than just Britain. But there are other dimensions to the EU that cannot be ignored.

Certainly, they EU is still a supremely viable institution. OK, so Britain is gone, but that is not the end of the world. But that ignores something quite crucial about the whole EU shooting match, the situation of an EU with Britain as a member and a post-Brexit EU of which Britain is no longer a part. That is the political future of the EU, a future, given this obsession with ‘ever closer politca union’ which is not just part of academic discussion over coffee and cognac.

Already there are very uncomfortable rumblings of discontent which have nothing to do with Brexit. The assumption was always in Brussels that these days every member can see the virtues of the Brussels vision, that all members subscribe to the all for one and one for all. So the results of the most recent EU elections were, at best, uncomfortable, and it might have dawned on the less starry-eyed eurocrats in Brussels that the assumed harmony is not quite as copper-bottomed as they might like. They might even, after a bad meal and a bout of dyspepsia, have feared that the cherished and assumed harmony is nothing but a sham, a rancid piece of whishful thinking.

On the surface politically all might well be portrayed as sweetness and light, but problems are beginning to make themselves apparent. There is, for example, the embarrassing matter of the Brussels desired distribution of refugees and immigrants from Africa: Poland and Hungary are simply saying ‘fuck off, we don’t want them’ and there seems nothing the eurocrats in Brussels can do about it. The trouble is that one or two lesser states are more in sympathy with Poland and Hungary (not, it has to be said, at present shining examples of democratic practice) than with the wishes of Brussels and are letting those two countries do the talking for them.

For the EU, of course, it is a real dilemma: nominally they are taking those two members to court for, I don’t know how they put it in officialese, but it could be summed up as ‘not doing as they are told’. But they can’t push that lined too far, because it they do, they might well be the losers. But if they don’t crack down, they will look weak. And this bunch still want ‘ever closer political union’.

That all, of course, has nothing at all to do with Brexit. But if there are problems, the EU might well consider that having Britain as a member on the side of the angels would be rather useful. Except that they won’t: Britain wants out.

. . .

So there you have it: Brexit is, whichever way you look at it, developing into the mother of all fuck-ups. Additionally, now the sun has stopped shining the EU ALSO has to deal with other problems.
As usual all is sweetness and light when the sun IS shining, but things tend to fall apart when it doesn’t. 

What do I want? Well, I would like the EU to back down, compromise. And for Britain to back down and compromise. The EU can ditch the notion of ‘ever closer political’ and Britain can see sense that it cannot go it alone. Will any of that happen? Of course, not. Me, I am 68 in seven days times and with luck I shan’t be too discomforted. But I have a 21-year-old daugher and an 18-year-old son and I rather fear for them life will not be quite as sweet.

So there you have it: doom. But did you really expect anything else?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

RIP Susan Wharton, one of life’s gentlewoman and the best company ever. As for the RCs and the rest . . .

In my last post, I reported that one Susan ‘Sue’ Wharton had died, and that I would write about her a little more at length in my next post. Well this is the post.

Susan was the widow of one Michael Wharton, a man who is perhaps better known to the world as Peter Simple. He wrote the column which appeared in the Daily Telegraph for almost 40 years. But this entry is about his widow, Susan, and if you want to know more about Michael, you will find his Wikipedia entry here and a blog entry I wrote about him here.

Susan was Michael’s third wife and even though I know it is almost de rigeur to gush about folk among the English middle classes, it is not a practice I knowingly subscribe to or even like. So when I say Susan was, in my experience at least, a delight, entertaining, always interesting and always good company and one of the nicest people I have ever known, I hope you are assured that I mean it sincerely and am not simply going through a typical middle class motion. I don’t suppose there is any more any point in me denying – although I have never done so – that I am irredeemably and remorselessly middle class, but I do like to put a lot of blue water between myself and both the English/British and German middle classes in some of their manifestations. But, again, this post is about Susan not me, so I shall shut up on the matter.

Susan, who was 91 on October 81, was found dead at home last week. She had vague heart problems – vague in that she would be the last person you would hear about them from – and, as I discovered talking to her nephew last week, has suffered a minor stroke at some point in the past few years, but nevertheless her death was unexpected, as it turns out even by her.

There is/was to be an inquest and I don’t know its result or whether it has yet been held, but Robert, her nephew and her nominated next of kin, told me that she had already been dead for a number of days when he body was found. Her death will have been sudden in that she was found in an armchair with a book and a half-drunk cup of tea by her side. I last saw her just over a year ago when she came to Cornwall to stay with my stepmother and pointedly not to celebrate her 90th birthday.

When I said goodbye on that occasion, I faithfully promised to get in touch by the following spring – that is last spring – to take her to London to visit an exhibition or two and treat her to lunch. To my shame I never got around to it.

She was born Susan Moller and her heritage was Norwegian, although by a few generations (NB Dec 01 correction: In fact it was not, it was Swedish). She studied art and then became an art teacher at Wycombe College. At some point she met Michael, I think in the 1970s, and they lived in a cottage in Naphill Common north of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.

I first met her at my father’s house in North Cornwall, where my stepmother still lives, at some point in the 1980s and met her many times again when she and Michael came to stay in one of the two holiday cottages my stepmother owned, often at Christmastime. Michael died in 2006 and apart from seeing her in Cornwall when she came to visit, I also used to visit her at home in Naphill Common and take her out for a meal. And as I say, she was always the best possible company.

Perhaps the most notable thing about her was that despite her increasing age she was somehow, in the best possible sense of the word ‘girlish’ – enthusiastic, fun, amused, laughing – not ‘girlish’ in that calculated way some women are which always sets my teeth on edge. And being an artist, and she drew and painted until she died, she knew a lot about art and I could always pick her brains. She and Michael never had children – perhaps she was already too old by the time they married – but I am certain she would have made a good mother.

She was a Roman Catholic, but I don’t know just how attendant she was. But rest in peace, Susan, and please forgive me for not keeping my promise to see you again earlier this year.


This is Susan in the St Tudy Inn near where I live when I took her to
supper there a few years ago.

. . .

I mention that Susan was a Roman Catholic and, like me, what is known – or perhaps what was once known – as a ‘cradle Catholic (NB Dec 01 correction: In fact she was not, I have been told, but was a convert). But whereas she kept her faith, I ‘lapsed’ years. But even the notion of ‘lapsing’ irritates me.

This is, perhaps, putting it rather too brutally, but the Roman Catholic church, as opposed to the faith, could teach a thing to each and every totalitarian party, not least the communists. For the RC church will insist that my apostasy has nothing to do with reason but is just a falling away and that I might well, in time, see the light. Thus the ‘lapse’ is merely a temporary state: I shall, once I have regained my reason and am once again given grace, ‘find my way back to the church’.

To be frank, although I say I am irritated, I actually don’t give a stuff either way. If that’s they way they want to play it, good luck to them. And I must also point out that I am not one of that curious breed the zealous atheist, someone who is so consumed with ‘not believing’ that they almost make it their life’s work to persuaded each and every believer that they are horribly benighted and then some.

I take a different view: if someone has a faith, whether it is RC or that of any other christian denomination, or perhaps follows the Jewish or Muslim creeds, is, perhaps a Hindu, or a Buddhist, good luck to them. There are inestimable instances where someone’s faith has given the sucour and solace, and I am the last to deny them that or even to see anyone else try to deny them that. Good luck to them and may their God be with them. It’s just that – well, I don’t have a ‘religious faith’. That doesn’t mean I have no faith, though. I have faith in much, just not anything laid down by a creed.

At the wedding ceremony last week there was a Catholic mass with all its invocations to a ‘Lord’, a ‘saviour’ and all the rest, but it does nothing but remind me of Doctor Who on TV, with with British readers will most certainly be familiar and foreign readers might well have heard of. In Doctor Who a great deal is made of the Time Lord and all the rest. I simply cannot see any distinction whatsoever between the christian devotions to saints, its sacraments, its practices, its ceremonies and the rest and those ‘heathen’ and ‘pagan’ practices it derides so much.

But I stress again, if these give solace and comfort to anyone in need in some way, good luck to it all. It’s just that I can’t pretend for the sake of pretending. It is the organisations and institutions I abhor.

A few years ago, I visited St Peter’s in Rome and exploring the labyrinth which is the heart of the Roman Catholic church and seeing the wealth there, I felt almost physically sick at the hypocrisy of the claim that it was all ‘for the glory of God’ when it was and is so obvious to me that it is merely for the glory of those men – not women, not, no, not women in the RC church – who run that organisation. I have over the years read up a little on the history of the christian church and noted is schisms and power play.

The first schism was barely a few hundred years into the existence of christianity when the western church split from the eastern church (or vice versa, as lord knows who split from whom) and it is, to me at least, blindlingly obvious that it the battles and disagreements had nothing to do with faith and everything to do with power – who should be calling the shots. Well, count me out.

Writing this I am even conscious that someone disagreeing with me might demand that I come up with better arguments as to why I hold those beliefs. Really? Well, read again what I have to say. But none of the above should be taken to mean that I don’t believe in Good and Evil: there is most certainly Good and Evil abroad in the world and it doesn’t take much of an intellect (which is why I am able to comment on it) to see how the monotheistic faiths can come up with the notion of ‘the Devil’.

Each and every one of us will be familiar with both good and evil. We will all have come across it: the gratuitous evil which seems to have no cause. But also the gratuitous good folk do, the sacrifices they make for others. So don’t write off what I have to say as simplistic nonsense.

I find the christian churches attitude to women abhorrent and blame my RC upbringing, which although no super-strict was pretty mainline, for my own – and very private but deeply imbedded and wholly unfair – attitudes to women. Despite my intellectual condemnation of that attitude, I am still uncomfortably aware that there are faint echoes in me that ‘women are somehow second-class’, that ‘women don’t quite matter as much’ and all the rest. And without sounding too dramatic, I don’t just not like that part of me, it really does distress me. A confession.

PS Her funeral is next Tuesday, my 68th birthday, at St Teresa’s om Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A short trip to Cologne to see my nephew wed his Polish squeeze (and a good opportunity to slag off the Roman Catholics, something, though, only we 'cradle Catholics' are allowed to do)

Cologne/Köln

Here with my son, Wesley, for my nephew’s wedding. Just a brief visit, flew in today, wedding tomorrow, fly out again tomorrow, then home for him and work for me, but worth a post (I think – perhaps I should leave it to you, my reader, whether or not it is worth it).

We flew out from Bristol at 12.10 and arrived at the airport at 15.15 local time, and already there are a few ironies to report, highlighting how Germany is Germany,

The first: planeloads of visitors and Germans arrive by the minute at the airport – as you would think – and many, like us, use the train/S Bahn to get into the city. So why on earth there should only be four ticket machines as the airport train station catering for, in our case, about 100 people – if not quite a few more - is rather beyond me. And how is this an irony?

Well, the cliché is that Germany and the Germans are hugely and enviably efficient, but just how this purported efficiency has been translated in practice when it comes to allowing passengers to buy their tickets is not at all obvious. Our flight from Bristol took one hour and ten minutes – it’s not far – but once we had reached the four machines and joined one of the four very long queues to buy tickets, we had to wait at least 25 minutes to get them. Slow just wasn’t the word. Just why there are not fare more ticket machines there and perhaps even a window or two I really don’t know.

We got to our hotel, literally just a long stone’s throw from the central station and settled in. My son, who didn’t get in and to bed until (he tells me) about 5am this morning then immediately put his head down to catch up on sleep. I am not quite as tired, and fancying a quiet cigar and a glass of Kölsch, the city’s own beer, I took myself off looking for somewhere to enjoy both. And looked and looked and looked. It’s not that there weren’t enough pubs to have a drink in but as indoor smoking has been banned for I don’t know how long and as I couldn’t find a German pub/bar with and outdoors (as in tables and chairs on the street) I finally settled for the first outdoor drinking establishment I could find: a Thai restaurant which anyway deals more in takeaways than sitdown meals. And the Kölsch I ordered and am now drinking is sadly from a bottle, not on tap which is usually the nicest. Oh, well. At least it isn’t the end of civilisation.

. . . 

The wedding tomorrow is nearby, though across the rive at St Heribert’s (unlike me, my sister and her family have stayed true to the faith so it is a Roman Catholic mass and wedding ceremony. The double whammy is that my nephew’s bride-to-be is Polish, pretty much the Irish of Eastern Europe when it comes to Catholicism, although, of course, in that very sane way of theirs which is sadly still not acknowledged, Ireland has been rapidly putting as much distance as it can between itself and the RC faith (too many folk abused by priests and too many unmarried mothers in decades gone by treated like less than shit by the church and her officials and nuns for there to be much love lost).

(Just been tapped up for five euros – I’m not usually as sympathetic, especially as the guy only wants it for booze, but it seemed the quickest way to move him on and carry on writing. Shame is me.)

So although I’m not really looking forward to the ceremony – all that quasi-mystical Lamb of God stuff and saviour of the world bollocks sounds far too much like Doctor Who for me, Time Lords and the rest of it – I am looking forward to the do afterwards. In fact, there are two dos, one immediately after the ceremony at a brewery, with German beer and local tapas (it says on the invite), and then the reception afterwards. And for all their faults – as in every nation has its faults - the Germans do do a good do. I love them. Don’t know how long it will be going on for, but the following morning we shall have to be up early to catch our flight back to Old Blighty, bloody 11.10! Oh, well.

. . . 

And what else? Not written here for a while, so I’m sure there must be something to waffle on about until I have finished the second bottle of beer I have just ordered. Oh, yes, I’ve signed up to Alamy, the photo agency, though I must also tell you that anyone can do it. If pictures you submit are technically OK, have ‘context’ which of course means they want pretty bog standard pix rather than the kind of arty-farty stuff I have made my own, they will take everything.

I found out about it because a guy I work with has also been submitting pictures and told me all about it. Alamy want as many as you can supply – given the above proviso – because they more they can offer anyone coming their way, they more they will sell. Simple, really. To see what I am talking about, just visit the website – alamy.com – then type in whatever you want to type in, the name of your home town, for example, and take a look at what’s there. Bog standard piccies of everything and everywhere, and I’ve decided that when I do call it a day at work, I shall l spend a few days taking loads and loads of pix and submitting them. And I should stress that anyone can do it. It’s just that the pictures must conform to their criteria, for example, if people are in the picture and can be recognise, you must get their express consent for the picture to be submitted. Similarly, anything which might be a trademark in a picture should be avoided.

. . . 

Köln was, and probably still is a very RC city, so as I write, at 18.15 – 6.15pm in old money – pretty much every church around as well as the Dom is ringing its bells. Old habits die hard. And I don’t doubt that when the time comes and I am a breath away from death, I, too, shall throw in the towel and cry ‘I was wrong, you are right, and please don’t send me to Hell!’ And here is an occasion to record the last words of one Voltaire, a sane atheist if ever there were one. He was on his deathbed when the local priest came to see him and pleaded with him to renounce the Devil and all his works. ‘Now,’ Voltaire is reported to have replied, ‘is not the time to be making new enemies.’ Boom, boom, though quite who was around to record those last words is not quite clear.

PS Just remembered one last thing, but I shall leave it for another post as the good lady is worthy a post all of her own: Susan Wharton, the widow of Michael Wharton, known professionally as Peter Simple, has died.