Saturday, 31 July 2010

another one for the Guardianistas

Not In My Name.  Because what is in this picture is just fine and dandy, Guardian readers.  Hein?  Either this is right or it is wrong.  And if it is wrong it should be stopped.  Wherever it happens.  People who do this must be stopped from doing it.

the third man

This is what I thought of Peter Mandelson's book:  My remarks assume a lot of knowledge of, and interest in, the Labour Party and especially New Labour post 1994.  So if that doesn't interest you, er, don't read it.

he defines, in the intro, what New Labour really is/was, as perhaps he should, as he, rather than Tony, is perhaps the defining figure of New Labour - he says "they [Tony and Gordon] were attuned to voters' feelings rather than simply to what our activist base wanted to hear" (p. xviii).  And that is what New Labour is for me.  And that, comrades, is why I am a Blairite.  But this book is not really about New Labour.  Or about Tony.  Or about Gordon.  It is about Peter Mandelson.  And at the same time it manages to tell the reader very little about Peter Mandelson, though it tells you a lot about things he did, places he was at important times, enough so that this book could almost be called "It's All About Me!". But we still don't know him at the end of the book.  He is as cold as ice.  He claims to love the party, but he has no care for those who gave their lives to it.  Very early (p. 18) he refers to "the ill-health and subsequent resignation of the
Labour MP for Glasgow East, David Marshall".  The resignation certainly happened (as did the subsequent SNP victory in the by-election), and the ill-health may well have done too - it was rumoured, and possibly spun by Mandy himself,  that David Marshall was suffering from crippling depression.  It might even have been true.  But Peter, I knew David Marshall, I worked with David Marshall, and Peter, you're no David Marshall.  David Marshall was thrown to the wolves, as were so many others.  Cannon fodder.

We get flashes of Mandy's rightness early on too, when he quotes George Osborne (p. 29) approvingly as saying of Tory association members "They're not interested in ideology.  They're interested in a Conservative Party that wins".   Remember that and you won't go far wrong my boy - it is where too many constituency Labour Parties have gone wrong over the years, portraying, and perhaps believing, that their local Tory associations are peopled by swivel-eyed Thatcherite ideologues, when in fact most such people simply want to serve the community, and many of them sincerely believe themselves to be "non-political".  Even though their key objectives are  to see Tory councillors and MPs elected at every poll.  Whereas Labour would rather be in opposition.  Discuss.

Peter Mandelson's family was seriously dysfunctional.  When his maternal grandfather, Herbert Morrison, died in 1965 his mother learned about it from a TV newsflash.

He is interesting on points of history, because he was there for quite a lot of it, including being a fairly obscure figure at Walworth Road, then Labour Party headquarters, for a number of years.  But some of what he says is conjecture - he is only a year older than me so he was 17 and not exactly at the heart of the Labour Party when Harold Wilson lost the 1970 election, and yet he cites, as if he knew personally, that Harold Wilson knew that Labour was not going to be back in government any time soon and so Harold was in no rush to take on the hard left, who were in the process of taking over the NEC.  Well, maybe.  He presents no evidence.  He is not exactly a Harold Wilson fan, and I am, so there we differ.  I had forgotten too about the Fulham by-election of 1986, in which he (Mandy not Harold Wilson) claims credit for the slogan "Nick Raynsford Lives Here".  Someone else, namely Mr Martin Salter (Lab, Reading W., retd) claims credit for that slogan, and indeed used it when he was the Labour candidate for Reading East in 1987.

Mandelson says "So much of the Labour Party seemed weighted down by torpor and an acceptance of defeat" (p. 114).  That was certainly my experience in my early activist years, post 1987.  So what changed as time went on?  Mandy doesn't say.  But he finishes that chapter with "I would seek election as a Labour Member of Parliament" (p. 115).  I remember that statement being very public, having been heavily spun (we did not call it that even then) and I also remember Mr Salter saying he had said to Mandy after this statement (did he really?) "Why do you want to be an MP, Peter?  You're much more valuable where you are, directing operations."

Mandy seems to alternate between spite and right.  A lot of spite is directed against Mo Mowlam, who was a neighbouring MP as well as his predecessor as Northern Ireland Secretary.   She gave him a present as a "thank-you for bringing her into the centre of policy presentation" -  the present was a "combination radio and television" (does anyone even know what that is these days?), which had "pride of place in my constituency home" - so it was stuffed into the Hartlepool house where it didn't matter.  He says re the mushy peas guacamole gaffe that it was committed by an American intern working for Jack Straw - of whom he is not the biggest fan.

He says it was tax and spend, not the Sheffield rally, that lost us the 92.  He is right.  He mentions Robin Cook as a potential leader after this, saying "for soft-left party members who wanted to vote for an intelligent new leader but did not want to confront any awkward issues of policy, Robin was the man".  (p. 134).  What bollocks.  Robin was a policy man,  including on quite difficult issues.

And still the self-importance.  "I would often read and answer my correspondence from constituents at a big table just off the central lobby, no doubt to the bemusement of colleagues and visitors" (p.137).  Er, no-one cares, Petey.  No-one is looking at you when you sit there.  And if they were most of those who pass through would have no idea who you were.  And still the apparently careless rewriting of history: "Tony... became an unfailing supporter of OMOV" (p. 150).  Well, perhaps he was, but I don't remember it.  Mandy was "distraught" he says (p. 162) at the prospect of a contest between Tony and Gordon when John Smith died.  Oh yeah?

The Granita story was spin launched by Mandy, he says, adding that Gordon came to believe it, and that Gordon could never have won.  I am not so sure.  I think Gordo might have done it in the constituencies.

Of himself and his career he says, in what may or may not be an unconscious revelation (I do suspect sometimes that self-knowledge is not Mandy's strong point) "the reason I had first entered politics was that I hoped one day to be a fully fledged minister in a Labour government."  (p. 194) Really Peter?  So all that stuff about a better society was, er, what exactly?

Mandy worked with Philip Gould on and off over many years, and before 1997 they produced  a strategy paper saying Labour shouldn't be fooled by its poll lead - the memo leaked to the Guardian "to his [Philip Gould's] embarrassment - and mine as well, since somehow the media contrived to suggest that I was behind it" (p. 197).  So that's crystal clear then.  On election night 1997, on the way to London, Mandy kept saying, he says himself, "Will this majority be bigger than 1945, bigger than Grandpa's?". Oh, Mandy.

He writes at some length about events in the summer and autumn of 1997, including (p. 229) his bid for the NEC.  My own memory of this is of course Martin Salter, MP for Reading West and for Reading East when he felt like it, 1997-2010, announcing loudly in Reading that he and his brain bank John Howarth, were leading a campaign to get Peter on to the NEC.  Salter even tried to tell the Reading party at one stage that I was in agreement with all of this, which I most certainly was not - he usually prayed my support in aid when he was not sure of himself - if he was sure of himself then it was all him.  It is a fact that Salter and Howarth were chased off, and that Mandy did not know them - I saw his note to Salter in response.  Apparently Prince Charles wrote to Mandy to commiserate on his NEC defeat!  Am I the only one to be amazed at this?  I didn't think Charles would even have heard of the NEC!  Speaking of this branch of the Royals, Mandy says Alastair Campbell had a "near teenage infatuation" with Princess Diana.  Not how Alastair puts it in his diaries, from which it seems that it was Diana who wanted Alastair washed and sent round.  Whether Alastair realised this at the time or not, and I strongly suspect he did not, he was not going there.

Mandy chooses post election 1997 to bang on, rightly but rather boringly, about state funding for political parties.  He does have courage in citing his own statements which have been quoted against him "we are intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich" (p. 265) for example.

Boy did he love being a minister.  Most don't though. He says Gordon dobbed him in for the home loan that cost him the DTI job (p. 271).  It had already been in the Routers book (Paul Routledge, a journalist of legend) of course, but no-one had noticed.  He says that when Tony sacked him it was because "the media atmosphere was too ugly" (p. 276).

He reminds us, as others have done, of Tony's speech in Chicago in April 1999 on interventionism, which he says founded a "Blair Doctrine".  Like all the others, he mentions it only in passing (p. 282), though he clearly understands the importance of it, unlike the others.  On his sacking from DTI he quotes Philip Gould in a letter to him: " should never have got into the position that led to your resignation.  At any time in the last two years, if you had spoken to me, or Alastair, or Tony, or Anji about the loan, you would have been helped and supported and the need to resign would never have occurred" (p. 283).  Oh yeah?  That' what they all say, afterwards.

He says on his sacking from NI that Robert Harris fell out with Tony over it.  Well, possibly.  And possibly hence Ghost and the Polanski film.  "Tony had decided... That I was simply not worth the trouble, and was dispensable.  Maybe that illustrated something about the nature of government" (p. 326).  You are right, Peter, about Tony.  But that statement also illustrates something about the nature of  you, as you seem not to realise.

Tony: "There are those who are genuinely New Labour.". Peter: "Who are they?". Tony: "Me.  You.  And that's about it.". (p. 355).

"Most of the British public, and most MPs, had backed the invasion of Iraq in 2003" (p. 360).  At last!  Now we're getting somewhere.  Most MPs, yes.  And about half the public.

Tony had a Gordon as I had a Salter.  "I could handle any of this if it wasn't for the constant undermining" (p. 364).

"I slipped into Downing Street" (p. 366).  Why does he play to the stereotype with turns of phrase
like this?

The Hartlepool by-election when he left for Brussels - he refers to the threat from the LibDems as a real one, but he never mentions the candidate by name.  She was called Jody Dunn.  It would not have hurt to mention her.  She is a terrific person, now living in Finland with her French husband and five of her six children and doing sterling work on human rights.  She is well out of that one.

He thinks (p. 395) the European Commission should have more power than the Parliament.

But why did Tony have to go?  This has never been explained, by Granita or anything else.  Why does this always happen?  What is wrong with politics?  Is there anywhere this doesn't happen?

He writes (p. 433) about campaigning for the victims of the Omagh bombing and says he got a Sunday Times article to talk about it - but then, amazingly, refers to "the proceeds of the Sunday Times article with which I began the fightback over my firing" - they paid him for this stuff?  It was all for his career and not the Omagh victims' families?  I thought he should have been glad to get a platform.

(At  the G20) "one of the day's stars was undoubtedly Barack Obama... His height made him stand out".  (p. 460) Is he taking the piss?  Being POTUS didn't?  Being black even didn't?

The self-importance continues, not exactly sadder and wiser in his third incarnation as a Labour minister - he says his "New Industry, New Jobs" (hmmm) paper was ignored because of the Damian McBride affair - but no-one these days even remembers who Damian McBride is.

Mandy prepares for his conference speech under Gordon: "for years I had dreamed of being able to make a big conference speech, the kind that made an impact not only on a political level, but personally too" (p. 485).  So that is what it was all about, hein?   Not about practical policies for a better Britain?  Mandy was in the frame, he says, for the EU foreign affairs post, but Gordon didn't want him to go.  Hmmm again.

How often he spoke to Tony!  Not a surprise really I suppose, but, (p. 525), ringing Tony to discuss the Budget while it was being drafted - but I suppose Gordon and Alistair Darling must have known he was doing it.  He rightly says that the TV debates sucked the life out of the 2010 campaign - they were always waiting for them to begin, and then waiting for the next one to take place.

On the Sunday after the election, before there was a UK government, Mandy texted Tony "GB is going to church" to receive the answer "He'll find that a tougher negotiation" (p.550).

And that was the end of that.  Goodbye New Labour.  End of us in power.  OK with that Peter? Or is it all about you?  As it always was?

Sent from my iPad

here's one for the Guardianistas

it is a comment on a post on Harry's Place by Edmund Standing about white liberal idiots, and allegedly was overhead on a bus in Newcastle, England:

On a bus coming out of Newcastle, a whole bunch of high school kids got on, and two girls about 16 or so, sat in front of me. Both in uniform clothes, but one of them wearing a hijab. The conversation I overheard went something like this:
“How long are you going to have to wear that thing on yer heid Nadia?”
“Me Mam sez all the time. She sez it’ll make me more respected and that. And men won’t try to get off with me.”
“But Nadia, nobody ever tries to get off with us. We’re both mingers!”
“Aye, that’s what I told me Mam but she wouldn’t see sense. She said I’m just a late developer, like she was”
“What’s yer Mam like, is she bonny?”

here they are again!

this is a comment posted last night on a post which is so elderly I had to search quite hard to find it, but I have let it through and thought I would reproduce it here as it is just about fit to be seen on a family blog and is well representative of the Reading boys.  I have no idea who wrote it though, possibly not a Reading boy at all.  Doesn't matter really, shows you what is out there.  Would be nice if people who want to express their views on this blog identified themselves though.  Surely the views expressed below are nothing to be ashamed of?  Hein?

Jane, your reply above just about sums you up ("where did Labour Friends of Israel come from? I was a member of that for many years - so what?")

It's a bit like saying "I was a member of the Nazi party for many years, so what?"

It matters because it shows that you have no principles of scruples of any kind, in that you think that being a stooge for a racist apartheid state doesn't really matter. You were supposed to represent your Reading constituents, not lobby for a foreign state. It used to be called treason, and the penalty used to be the gallows.

And you haven 't answered my question: How much did did the Israeli government (aka Labour Friends of Israel pay for you?

I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies: you're so inept and incompetent that you couldn't have done the apartheid state of Israel much good.

30 July 2010 21:49

I note on re-reading that there is a question in it "how much did the Israeli government... pay for you".  Of course, nothing.  If I had ever received any financial or other benefits from that or any organisation I would have had to declare them, and would have done so.  I further note on re-reading that the comment contains what can be construed as a death threat.  I cannot usually be bothered to investigate the identities of those who post on my blog, taking the view that if they choose to conceal their identity that is their affair.  However a little investigation may be merited in this case.  The threat does not frighten me - I live in Strasbourg, France, and am in the phone book and my name is on the door plate of the building I live in, so if this person wants to find me he can do so -  but this individual clearly has some issues to resolve, and I am not in a position to know whether he would be minded actually to put such a threat into effect, and thus whether he is a danger to the public.  But it would be worth knowing, hein?

Friday, 30 July 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life (1) Jurek Mazurkiewicz

Thanks to Mr London Street, for it is from him I got the notion of boring you all with this, here is the first one.  They are approximately in chronological order.

Jurek Mazurkiewicz was from Poland and was a pilot in the Polish Fighter Squadron in the Second World War.  Like many Poles he fetched up in west London after the war and found a job and stayed, although also like many Poles he was strongly nationalist.  He married an English girl, blonde and glamorous, whose name was Kitty but who was nicknamed behind her back, not unkindly, Blondie.  They had three children and they lived next door to us in west London for the first seven years of my life, until we moved out to Bedfordshire.  I was friendly with the middle child, the girl, Danusia, a little younger than me, my brother's age.  Later she became famous for a while, not in a good way, as a police officer who was forced out of the police by jealous misogyny - she was also my constituent in the late 1990s when I was MP for Reading East.  But all that is another story.  Her father Jurek seemed old to me, compared with my other friends' fathers - he had grey hair and his Polish accent was exotic to my ears - in late 1950s London English was still pretty much the only language you heard outside the East End. When I was five, and proud of myself because I had just learned to read, I picked up a book at their house and opened it.  And I couldn't read it!  When just that morning I had been able to read!  My mother had to calm me down and explain to me that the book was in French, a language that people spoke in France, and that Mr Mazurkiewicz could read French because he was foreign.  From that moment on I became a linguist.  Not necessarily a good one, but someone for whom language and languages are a passion; more than 50 years later that passion is as hot as ever.  If Jurek Mazurkiewicz had not been our neighbour I might not have seen a book in a language other than English for another 10 or 12 years; we lived on a council estate in South Ruislip and there weren't many books of any kind in people's houses.  When my grandmother said "books" she meant magazines like "Woman's Realm".  Jurek Mazurkiewicz also gave my brother a book (in English) called "Fire and Sword", which he still has but has never read.  Without I am sure ever knowing it, he brought books into our lives in a way that changed them for ever.  Jurek Mazurkiewicz died I think some years ago, after his wife Kitty, who was carried off by breast cancer.  Part of my story (which you will have to wait some months to get from Mr Amazon) was inspired by him and his family.

Music: Hey Ayatollah, leave those kids alone

Thursday, 29 July 2010

only one "newspaper"could do this

the Guardian of course, praising Turkey's recent initiatives (various) in an editorial:

There was one statement, however, that stood out from the others: Turkey ‘defended the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir as a good Muslim.’ Appearing in a list of events that show how Turkey’s influence has grown, in an editorial that praises the country for ‘using its soft power effectively’, the reference to defending al-Bashir as a good Muslim could be read as a commendable example of Ankara reaching out to the Middle East whilst still trying to join the EU, a development that would give Europe a ‘secular, majority Muslim bridge to the Middle East, the Caucasus and central Asia.’

The reality is that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, was arguing that al-Bashir could not be guilty of genocide because he is a Muslim, and that the Sudanese ruler was free to visit Turkey without fear of being extradited to The Hague. This view is at odds with that of the International Criminal Court, which in 2010 made legal history by indicting al-Bashir on genocide charges, the first time such a charge had been made against an incumbent head of state. This followed the issuing of an arrest warrant by the ICC for al-Bashir in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity; again, the first time such a warrant had been issued for a current head of state.

Given the seriousness of these charges, it is unclear why The Guardian has chosen to uncritically include Erdogan’s defence of al-Bashir in its list of notable foreign policy achievements by Turkey. This is especially true given the broadsheet has previously argued that the international community must take an active role in holding those accused of war crimes to account.

In ‘Arrest warrants: Short arm of international law’, The Guardian’s editorial from December 2009, the broadsheet criticised the British government for seeking to make it more difficult for Israeli politicians to be prosecuted for war crimes in the UK. The editorial stated that since ‘law is meaningless without enforcement, we also have to buy into the principle that universal jurisdiction is an essential arm of international law. Without it, war crimes are commited with impunity.’ However, in ‘Turkey: A vital player’, it seems that The Guardian is commending, rather than condemning, Ankara’s decision not to take seriously the accusations levelled against Omar al-Bashir.

Hat-tip a cross-post from Just Journalism at Harry's Place.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Freedom in Armenian

I'm glad I stayed up last night to watch this TV film, called "Azad", which is "freedom" in Armenian.  It was quite wonderful.  I had never seen a TV film which was partly in "bande dessinee", or BD (graphic novel style, hugely popular in France) but also a human drama.  Too much to hope that it could be shown in the anglophone world I suppose.  The second largest Armenian diaspora in the world, after California, is in France, so not surprising such a talent and a theme should emerge here.  It is based on the memories of the author's grandfather, who fled the Turkish genocide of Armenians.  The hero, a young French graphic novel artist of Armenian descent, finds himself sharing a flat with a young woman of Kurdish descent, who fails to persuade him that her people were at least as oppressed by the Turks as his were.  And both were born in France, speak no language but French, and are not comfortable with confronting the history of their respective families' flight to France.  I found it both beautfiul - the episodes done as BD are stunning and it was partly filmed in Armenia, a country I have been to five times and have a great longing for - subtle and deeply affecting.  Well, those who do not watch French TV will not be able to see it, and France 2 has it well firewalled.  But please, some scheduler somewhere, put this on a channel UK viewers can watch, with subtitles.  You will not be sorry.

Alsatian cherries

this weekend I have been eating cherries (cerises in French).  It is a cliche to say that in France food is eaten more seasonally than it is for instance in the UK - but it is a cliche because it is true.  I have always liked cherries, and English cherries are mostly excellent, especially since the summers warmed up, but in England I sometimes forgot to look for cherries at the right time of year, and they are among the more perishable fruits, so I'd miss them altogether.  But here it has been cherries cherries all the way, we are at the end of them now and the apricots are here.  The Alsace cherry festivals take place at the end of June, and the cherries last about another four weeks.  Incidentally did you know that cherries are exceptionally good for diabetics - and for alcoholics btw - because they give you a lot of fructose, which unlike most other sugars is processed by the liver, giving the pancreas some time off and taking the pressure off the kidneys, which have to deal with stuff when the blood sugar gets too high.

Friday, 23 July 2010

the man at RISC

tells me that the Reading Labour GC last night was a little uncomfortable, especially if you were a certain former lead councillor, some of whose doings, some of which had to do with the former MP for Reading West, have reached, not quite the public domain yet, but the hands of certain former opposition councillors now front-benchers.  I can tell that councillor, when certain members of the GC get hold of something it is worse than when the News of the World does.  By a long way.  Couldn't happen to a nicer person.  Cannot think of any more to say without (a) revealing my source, which would never do, and (b) scuppering the public humiliation of the person concerned.  Which would CERTAINLY never do.  So come on, those who have it, do something with it! 

so there

the International Court of Justice yesterday issued an opinion on the 2008 declaration of independence of Kosovo, which you can read here.  It's OK, they said.  Complies with international law, they said.  Serbia disagrees, as you might expect, and so does Spain, for reasons that are understandable to do with fears of separatism, and so do six other EU countries.  I have readers who are quite keen on compliance with international law, so I am sure they will be pleased - anyone?  anyone? (sound of tumbleweed)

I have been to Kosovo twice, once with the military in 2001 (the News of the World reported certain events there when I got back, byee Clairey Ward former MP for Watford) and once last year, by way of visiting all Europe's capitals.  Pristina is a dump.

the third man

not the film but the book, yes, Mandy it is.  I will post a review when I have finished it, but just to say now that it is well written, his authentic voice (if you like that sort of thing) and that Mr Salter's name does not appear in the index, despite Mr S informing Reading Labour Party that he and Mr Howarth were "leading Peter's campaign to get on to the NEC", and despite Mandy writing about his attempt (unsuccessful) to become a member of that august body at some length and in some detail.  All excellent stuff.  And on Petey's forced resignation as DTI Sec of State and subsequent expression of sympathy from Philip Gould, he quotes Gould as writing to him: " should never have got into the position that led to your resignation.  At any time in the last two years, if you had spoken to me, or Alastair, or Tony, or Anji about the loan, you would have been helped and supported and the need to resign would never have occurred" (p. 283).  Mandy does not comment on this, but my reaction was "Oh yeah?  Bollocks.  That's what they all say.  Afterwards. "

Thursday, 22 July 2010

what if the US Army went GAY?!?

thanks Chris for this

oh and boys

yes you, the Reading ones, you are still commenting, especially when I mentioned Wikipedia.  It won't help you.  Nothing can save you now.  You have got what you wanted, two Tory MPs in Reading, a Tory coalition council and the delight of circle-jerk opposition.  Have fun with it.  But in the meantime you might wish to enlighten me as to what process of Reading Labour Party has entitled Basher McKenzie to describe himself as "the Labour candidate for Park ward" before the May election and ever since, without a break.  Hein?

those pesky unions bringing the country to its knees

thanks to Gene at Harry's Place for bringing this to my attention, from TULIP (nothing to do with Calvinism but the newsletter of Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine - a good thing, hein?).  The Histadrut, the Israeli trade union federation, has begun organising foreign workers in Israel.  Many of these are Chinese workers, who at home are only allowed to belong to state unions, and they are signing up in their droves.  The Histadrut is independent and very often clashes with the Israeli government.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

boom baby boom

Baby boomers were born between 1945 and 1955, or 1959, depends on who you believe.  I was born in 1954.  What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do for Us? is a book which - well, I haven't read it yet - seems to say, not much.  trashed the world for the next generation apparently.  Well, possibly.  We have had only two baby-boomer prime ministers in the UK, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and there will be no more.  We are out of power now.  It didn't last long. Whatever.  I am slightly more interested in how few novels by baby boomers there seem to have been.  The 1980s is a decade more likely to be portrayed in British novels than the 1960s or 1970s, and if the latter it will be from the point of view of a child.  Why do readers think that is?  I have my own point of view about the baby boom generation, as a member of it, but it does make me laugh when I read that my generation "went to university without paying fees, and got grants".  How many of us went to university do you suppose?  Think about it.

chilean spice

Wikipedia is just evil and wrong.  But you readers knew that, didn't you?  Not only can a slow-witted seven-year-old, or, worse, someone maliciously intending to deceive, edit an entry by inserting lies, but if another person then tries to remove the lies the Wikipedia editors, if they believe that person is the subject of the entry, remove their edit, leaving the lies in place.  But everyone knew that, right?  howstuffworks (check it out) is much better - all its entries are sourced.  Anyway, I will not dignify the Wikipedia entry checked out by someone on Harry's Place by linking to it, but it referred to the 1973 coup in Chile, which overthrew President Salvador Allende and put Pinochet in place, as "US-backed".  Whatever else it was, no it wasn't that.  We are not far off 9/11 Troof here.

In 1973, when the coup happened, I was at university (in Durham, UK, since you ask).  I was studying languages which did not include Spanish.  Some of the wealthier students of Spanish (travel was a lot more expensive in those days) did their year abroad in South America rather than in Spain (mine was in Brittany and Minsk).  One of those, whose surname now escapes me (and doubtless she now has the name of her second husband) but whose first name was Fleur (what were the parents thinking of?) came back from several months in Chile, after the coup.  I think she had been staying with a wine-grower who knew Daddy.  She told us all that the Allende time was not how it had been portrayed in Europe.  Oh no.  Not good for people at all.  She told us that "ordinary conservative people" were very glad the new regime was in place.  I suspect that even then she had no idea that anyone she might be talking to could hold a different view.  I wonder what she thinks now?  However I am prepared to say, and indeed do say, that I do not know South America in general, or Chile in particular.  I have never been there and do not speak more than a very little Spanish and Portuguese.  Oh and the tedious creature who comments whenever I say this that my visit to Mexico in 2002 means I have been to South America, save it.  No it doesn't and no I haven't.

So perhaps Fleur was right.  But I don't think she was.  Though I am sure she was reporting the views of her wine-grower hosts accurately enough.  It is always amazing to me that people say things about, say, Iraq, like "Everyone I know agrees with me" - er, that is why they are your friends and that is why you go to the same dinner parties, you Guardian-reading scum.  Which Fleur wasn't.

Monday, 19 July 2010


now I've heard everything.  Can this really be happening?  transport minister Norman Baker says it is, so it must be true.  Hat-tip Norm (Geras, the clever one).

The transport minister has intervened to stop guide dogs and their blind owners from being ordered off buses because Muslim drivers or passengers consider the animals unclean.

The refusal, for religious reasons, to carry even guide dogs has become so widespread that it was raised in the House of Lords last week by Lord Monson, a crossbench peer.
Last night Norman Baker, the transport minister, signalled to bus companies that a religious objection was not a reason to eject a passenger with a well-behaved dog.
"If dogs are causing a nuisance, a driver has every right to ask the owner to leave," he said. "It is much more questionable to be asked to remove a dog for religious reasons. One person's freedom is someone else's restriction."
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association said that, although refusing to take a blind person with a dog in a bus or taxi was illegal under disability discrimination law, it received constant complaints from members.
There had been so many reports from blind people with guide dogs who had been thrown off buses or refused a ride by cab drivers that it had held talks with Islamic organisations about the problem.

Don't you just love those LibDems?  "questionable", says Normie Baker.  Nothing to question.  Very simple.  If a bus driver refuses to take a guide dog that is a disciplinary offence.  If he or she does it again they get sacked.  End of.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

dance me to the end of...

could not get this to play directly on the blog, but it does if you copy and paste the link.  A Jewish man, aged 89, an Auschwitz survivor, dances at Auschwitz to "I Will Survive" with his daughter and grandchildren.  It made me applaud and it made me cry, and it shocked me a bit too.  Please watch if you can and if you have not already (I am a bit late in discovering it I suspect).  At the end, before he speaks, the opening bars of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me To The End of Love" are played.  That song is about the Jewish orchestras in the camps.  It was played at my wedding in 1999.  Presumably the great Lenny knows all about this clip.  But thank you to everyone who did it.

parliamentary gossip

this little piece entertained me:

Louise Bagshawe ( Tory: Corby) has done a hog-whimperingly stupid interview with the Review section of The Times today - spending a large chunk of it berating the evil Daily Mail!!! - by name and with examples!
Stupid creature has already been singled out for vituperation by the DM and now, it seems, she has ordered and paid for, the most expensive coffin in the funeral parlour. No Co-Op discounts here!
She is a chick-lit author/divorced and to cap all, marched into the Chamber clutching the arm of Noaksey (Caroline "Shagger" Noakes, Con, Romsey, Ed.) after the latter had been caught having tape-recorded sex in a seedy hotel. Show of female solidarity.
thanks to correspondent for it - but why no tabloid interest?  they don't like female MPs and they especially don't like female MPs who hunt in pairs - as I know from experience. 

Friday, 16 July 2010

BBC Monitoring

is allegedly at risk of closure by government spending cuts, says His Master's Voice (so it must be true).  Its story is based upon a press release from Cllr Bet Tickner (Conservative, Abbey ward) who worked there for 31 years.  She did indeed, and for 13 of those years I worked there too, and never discerned any professional competence on the part of Ms Tickner.  But it would be wrong to close the place.  Just spend the money where it should be spent.  But that's always the right thing to do.

everyone knows it's windy

and in London it really really is.  I am not used to it any more, the wind doesn't blow like that in Strasbourg.  And it is good to get away from the stifling heat of a summer in Alsace, and to spend time with my granddaughter and in London as a visitor.  The South Bank yesterday was a revelation - it is not bleak any more, but lively and friendly, many many cafes and restaurants and entertainment going on.  Tomorrow we are going to a children's festival called Lollibop where there are DJ workshops (you will not get me off those wheels, eat your heart out David Guetta), today I am having drinks and dinner with my son, what could be nicer really.  And while there is no possibility of my forgetting how to speak English, one does get a tad out of touch with the language as people actually speak it.  I am staying in Sydenham, so an overground train is required to get into the centre, and I don't put my headphones on, I just listen to people talking, which outside the rush hour they do. London, city of my birth, my early years, a bit of time in my 20s and eight years' part-time residence followed by two years' full-time later on, is one of the world's great cities.  Only Tokyo comes close in my view.  Though I have never been to New York.  Or Rio de Janeiro.  Saving the latter for my gap year.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


Mr London Street has posted movingly about this, an extract from which is here:

you are in a flat that doesn’t look like yours, all huge rooms, long straight lines, empty glasses and cups as far as you can see. It's as full of detritus as it is devoid of company. It looks as if you’ve had a party and not yet cleared up and that's half right; you’ve not cleared up yet, but it’s hardly been a party.

He is currently abandoned temporarily by partner, who is away, as I understand it.  So am I.  For at least four weeks, maybe six or even eight.  But I think this is a chap thing.  My experience is the opposite.  The rooms too big, yes.  The place too quiet, yes, TV hardly ever on.  But the emptiness is physical.  There are no discarded tracky bottoms on the bedroom floor.  The laundry basket is empty, because my washing is done.  There is no book on top of the fridge (why does he stand in front of the fridge eating toast and reading a book?) and as I walk by the kitchen door I can see the sunlight reflect off the newly Jiffed work top. (Yes, I know it's not called Jif any more).  There are no crumbs on the PC keyboard.  Because I don't eat in front of it. I cleaned it with baby wipes and it is still clean. I am sure my feet slap rather loudly on the hall floor when I get up at six and head for the bathroom, because there is nobody still asleep to be quiet for.  And I read while I eat my dinner.  Which is lonely.  And I wash it all up straight afterwards, and the next morning there is no cup or glass or plate to pick up and take into the kitchen.  The bathroom dazzles me with light reflected off (clean) empty surfaces.  There is nothing here.

head teacher on sick leave after media coverage

says His Master's Voice, so it must be true.  I know nothing about Moorlands School - it is in the Reading West constituency so obviously I have never been there -  but whatever issues there are, it is clearly utterly wrong for them to be addressed by media briefing, which is what has been going on.  It seems clear that following briefing to the media by some parents, the local education authority have now decided there is a serious problem (if there was why didn't they know about it before the stories hit HMV?) and the head teacher has been pushed out.
The head teacher is called Mrs Sudhana Singh.
For shame.

Monday, 12 July 2010

les orages

this is what the sky looks like during a summer storm in Alsace.  They happen about once a week.  We are on storm alert today, now that the "canicule" alert has been lifted.  We expect a more comfortable 34 degrees this afternoon, and 26 tomorrow, as opposed to the 38 or so we have had the last few days, not very bearable.  At 0730 today it was a very pleasant sunny 25 degrees.  And I am in the UK for a few days from Wednesday, in London with family, and have had to pack a CARDY for the evenings!  Almost couldn't remember where it was.

Friday, 9 July 2010

la canicule

means, not exactly a heat wave, but a prolonged period when temperatures reach a certain level at some point in the day and do not go below another level at night.  It is Not A Good Thing.  Here in France the temperatures required for a canicule vary with the region - what is fairly normal in summer in Marseille might be a canicule in Brest.  Here in Alsace we regularly get very hot summer weather, as we have a continental climate, but nonetheless we are now on "canicule alerte orange" as temperatures have been reaching, and are forecast to continue to reach, 35 degrees or higher in the daytime and not to go below 20 degrees at night.  We share this with part of the Paris region and the Rhone at present.  An excellent initiative by some cities is to offer free admission for pensioners to their municipal ice rinks.  The pensioners don't skate but they enjoy watching the skating, and they stay cool.

the picture above was taken in Belfort, not far from here, yesterday, and this is what it feels like at present.  We are 500 km from the sea.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

the Zionist oppressors' secret weapon

it's a shame

they wouldn't have him.  The Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be saying that it is the fault of the leak to the Sunday Telegraph, which is how I found out about it.  Well, maybe.  I'm sorry.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


is what it is today.  I have posted before about omy own experience in London that day - I was trying to get from home in Kennington, south London to King's Cross to go to a job interview, and was about 10 minutes behind each explosion.  Fortunately I did not see any carnage and nobody I knew was hurt, but it was not a day to forget, that is for sure.  Iain Dale says:

I'm sorry there is no official event to allow us as a country to remember those who died in the biggest terrorist atrocity ever seen in Britain.

and he is totally right.  Why on earth is there not?

the story of the summer

which has been topping the news for a long time here, is reported like this by the Beeb.  I had to wait a while for this, but I thought many of my readers would prefer a report in English.  I think the BBC's emphasis is a bit wrong.  They focus on the fact (true) that Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Oreal squillionaire, funded Sarko's election campaign and channelled those funds through Eric Woerth, the then budget minister.  But Woerth was then and remains treasurer of the party, the UMP, and was treasurer of the Sarko campaign, so who else would receive the money?  He is being vilified for accepting money from a party supporter.  The French media have got a bit like the UK tabloids over this, but they are not so worried about the money.  No, it is more interesting than that.  Eric Woerth's wife worked at the time for a company which managed the Bettencourt, ie L'Oreal, finances.  Therein lies the conflict of interest, methinks.  Also, Bettencourt's daughter is suing the company, or rather its former accountant (not Eric Woerth's wife) for mismanagement of funds; she says the former accountant preyed upon her mother's mental fragility to induce her to give huge sums of money away.  Not that the daughter, Francoise, has any personal interest, oh no. Liliane Bettencourt herself, who admits to being 87 years old, has come out fighting and has been giving media interviews lately to demonstrate that she is not at all mentally fragile and is in full possession of her faculties.  I must say she convinced me.  And she says, rightly, that if she is minded to give money to a political party she supports then why should she not?

In related news, Sarko has just sacked two junior ministers, one of whom for using a private jet at public expense to travel to the Caribbean on government business, and the other for claiming something like 12,000 euros for cigars, only about 4,500 euros' worth of which he says he smoked himself.

The L'Oreal story is like an American soap from the 1980s, hein?

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

that leadership contest

quite interesting to see who is nominating whom - you can see a list of constituency parties here with their nominees.  I note that the Reading party - there is no constituency party in Reading, just one large party for more than two constituencies, there's party democracy for you - has not bothered to nominate anyone at all, what is keeping them, it is  not as if they have a council to run any more, hein?  Come on boys, let's be having you!

Monday, 5 July 2010

support these parents!

read here about a family whose two children, five and eight, cycle to school unaccompanied.  A mile, and not on the road.  The parents have been threatened by social services because,the story says, "other parents" disapprove.  I had some of this crap when my children were young and walked and cycled unaccompanied.  I believe firmly that driving children to school is irresponsible and should not be permitted.  What do readers think?

Sunday, 4 July 2010

what would you miss?

a friend and former colleague is British, is married to a Frenchman and lives in Finland.  She and her family are currently in Ecuador for a study visit.  Read her blog here.  Anyway, she says what they will miss when they go back to Finland and what they won't, and what they do miss from Finland.  I am not going back to the UK, but it set me thinking.  Things I miss: a quiet pub on a Saturday afternoon; pork pies; English summer days; the sea; polite and friendly service; Sunday shopping in Reading.  Things I don't miss: crap public transport; the NHS; rubbish housing, especially in cities.  Things I would miss if I left France: most of the food, especially bakery; the public transport, especially trams; the fantastic health service; sustainable high-density urban life; French pop music; Plus Belle La Vie (though I thought I would miss The Archers when I left the UK and I don't).  Things I wouldn't miss: bureaucracy; rudeness and xenophobia; the opening hours of everything except bakeries and florist shops; the country shutting down for the whole of July and August; the subjunctive.

Bishop of Reading

no he isn't.  Jeffrey John, pictured.  But he nearly was.  And now he has been shortlisted for the bishopric of Southwark.  The Prime Minister is said to be supportive of this appointment.  And the Archbishop of Canterbury has not blocked it.  So I hope it happens.  It will draw the line under a very nasty episode in the history of theChurch of England if it does.  Some most unattractive elements claiming to be Christians managed to get his appointment as Bishop of Reading blocked because of his sexuality.  As if that is anyone's business.  I remember the whole thing well.  When I heard about it in 2003 I wanted to table an Early Day Motion, but I knew it would look a little strange if only one Reading MP's name was there.  I also knew that Mr Salter would be reluctant, because of his own homophobia (why is he so worried?) and because taking a clear position on an issue without first ensuring a supportive headline and letters page in His Master's Voice was not his way.  So I buttonholed  him in front of a number of other MPs after a vote, and he signed.  He said nothing publicly on the issue, in Reading or elsewhere, leaving me to take any media flak there might be.  Which there was not.  Some "evangelicals" had a go at me, but they were not exactly my, or the Labour Party's, strongest supporters anyway.  And I thought if they were having a pop I must be doing something right.  I raised the matter at Business Question, beginning my question to the Leader of the House with "Will he join me in condemning the militant tendency in the Church of England?"  The then leader of the House, John Reid, a Catholic, looked mystified at first, but fortunately his deputy, Ben Bradshaw, who is gay and a high Anglican, knew exactly what I was talking about and whispered in his boss's ear.  In the end Jeffrey was forced to withdraw.  I found out later that Mr Salter had invited Jeffrey to dinner at the House of Commons, in order to be seen there with him, but said nothing about it in Reading.  I've nothing against the present Bishop of Reading, but I wish it hadn't happened that way.  The Telegraph, reporting these matters, says Jeffrey's appointment could split the Church, but offers no evidence for that supposition,  So, shadowy group of men who will vote this week on the appointment of the Bishop of Southwark, vote as you know you should.  And Jeffrey, come and see us again in Strasbourg.

those pesky foreigners

DO take good British fish!  It's official!  The Mail says it, so it must be true! So all foreigners must be drummed out of UK pdq!  Save the British Fishery!  I loved the Environment Agency spokesman in the article who said that fish for the pot should come from the fishmonger not from a lake.  Excellent.  So where do fish, er, start their lives?  In, er, water?

Saturday, 3 July 2010

talking foreign

I am a lifelong language learner, just because I like it.  I am currently having a pop for half an hour or so each day (a different one each day, natch) at the following: Alsatian - probably will never speak it but it is widely spoken around here and I like to understand what I hear; Japanese - formerly interpreter standard now slipped back to intermediate level and it is my favourite language to speak; Russian - that was my degree, a long time ago, I can still speak and understand but want to pick up fluency and vocabulary again as I have Russian colleagues and friends; German - was a beginner when I came here but am slowly picking it up, we are 5K from the border and go shopping in Germany and the grammar is fab; Latvian - still at elementary level but I want to progress for the day when I realise my dream of a summer cottage on the Baltic coast in Latvia; Korean - I used to be a slow speaker and a good reader and would like to get back there for the sake of my ageing brain; Greek - total beginner but it is for my dream of living in Cyprus.  All of these I do on my own, either with my ancient Linguaphone tapes (the Linguaphone method is excellent but cassette tapes are really annoying) or with Eurotalk, which is highly recommended by me, you can get them either as CDs (nice games and visuals) or MP3.  Oh and French, in which until now I was never fluent apart from one summer long ago when I worked as an au pair in Brittany age 19.  That I do once a week in a class kindly provided by my employers and once a week with a private teacher hired by me.  I am at advanced level now but I doubt I will ever stop, because French is HARD.  This is not to say how fab or clever I am - most English people are over-impressed by fluency in another language - just to say that everyone can learn a language, because we all have.  And it is not true that children learn more quickly.  They learn more slowly in fact.  Almost all children take at least two years from birth to acquire reasonably fluent speech with a vocabulary which will meet their needs, and another ten years or more to acquire the vocabulary they will need for the rest of their lives.  And they do not have much else to do for the first few years.  And most of them have adults around them who spend time, often hours and hours a day, helping them to learn.  If they don't they will be seen as dysfunctional by the time they start school at five.  But an anglophone adult who comes to live in France with no French can become fluent enough for everyday life, social occasions, the TV, dealing with bureaucracy (I promise you this is necessary) cultural awareness and so on, in about six months, if they spend about an hour a day making an effort at it and if they have some kind of teacher (which can be a CD).  And that is apart from the time they spend at work or doing whatever else they do.  Some do not learn the language because they are too lazy or too scared.  But never because they cannot.  So you CAN.  Try it, you might like it.  And it is as good a brain gym as sudoku or puzzles.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Georgia on my mind

Let's not be mealy-mouthed about this.  Very nearly two years ago, in August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia, the "issue" being South Ossetia.  I posted about this last year, and was nearly submerged by a flood of comments supporting Russia's action, none of them so far as I could tell from Russians but a great many of them from self-confessed Guardian readers.  You can read a very interesting report by the International Crisis Group on the South Ossetia situation since then.  It should be noted that there are only four countries which do not recognise South Ossetia as part of Georgia.  But I do not hear any protest about the foul abuse of human rights which has been going on in South Ossetia for some considerable time.  Anyone?  Thought not.  Anyway, those who care might like to read this extract from the report here and now:

South Ossetia is no closer to genuine independence now than in August 2008, when Russia went to war with Georgia and extended recognition. The small, rural territory lacks even true political, economic or military autonomy. Moscow staffs over half the government, donates 99 per cent of the budget and provides security. South Ossetians themselves often urge integration into the Russian Federation, and their entity’s situation closely mirrors that of Russia’s North Caucasus republics. Regardless of the slow pace of post-conflict reconstruction, extensive high-level corruption and dire socio-economic indicators, there is little interest in closer ties with Georgia. Moscow has not kept important ceasefire commitments, and some 20,000 ethnic Georgians from the region remain forcibly displaced. At a minimum, Russians, Ossetians and Georgians need to begin addressing the local population’s basic needs by focusing on creating freedom of movement and economic and humanitarian links without status preconditions.

The war dealt a heavy physical, economic, demographic and political blow to South Ossetia. The permanent population had been shrinking since the early 1990s and now is unlikely to be much more than 30,000. The $840 million Russia has contributed in rehabilitation assistance and budgetary support has not significantly improved local conditions. With its traditional trading routes to the rest of Georgia closed, the small Ossetian economy has been reduced to little more than a service provider for the Russian military and construction personnel. Other than the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), no international humanitarian, development or monitoring organisation operates in the region; dependent on a single unreliable road to Russia, the inhabitants are isolated.

Dangerous Pictures Act

a man from Lower Earley on the edge of Reading has been convicted under the Dangerous Pictures Act - you know, the one which arguably would make possessing a DVD of Basic Instinct punishable by a jail term because in it people apparently do horrid things to each other.  The story is badly put together even by the standards of the Reading Evening Post - it confuses "extreme porn" with child porn (the latter is mainstream and possession of it was illegal long before Dangerous Pictures) and necrophilia is confused with violent porn (er, dead people can't fight back, that is the point - oh and anyone remember the film "10 Rillington Place" about the murderer Christie?  that was a mainstream film and there are several scenes of necrophilia in it, I remember being a little taken aback by it when I was in my teens).  From what I can piece together from the appalling farrago of nonsense that purports to pass for journalism in that organ, the man convicted has an unhealthy interest in very young girls.  He isn't going to prison, possibly because he says he is impotent.  Someone should tell the judge that the penis is not the most dangerous part of the body.  In the comments it is pointed out that this law is in existence because Mr Salter wanted it to be.  Well, possibly.  He had his own reasons for this particularly sickening piece of ambulance-chasing, and has always refused to debate the issue, even though he referred to the urban myth of snuff movies in the House of Commons.  Why do readers think this might be?

hooray for London!

on an impulse (and a bargain from Eurostar) I am going to be in London from 14th-18th July, avoiding the Jour de Fete Nationale (which is what the French call Bastille Day), mainly seeing my children and grandchild, but also for the first time in my life being a tourist in London - so what places and people should I see?  There is talk of a festival in Stoke Newington and of the Tate Modern among other things.  Suggestions please.