Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Labour leadership

I have just tried to post here a missive from Diane Abbott, received by party members this morning and which has also pinged into my inbox, though I am of course no longer a Labour Party member.  Technology has temporarily prevented me from reproducing it, so before tackling that I had a quick browse of my blogroll, with a view to tidying it up a bit and getting rid of some links that I never look at these days or which no longer seem relevant. One of these was the site of the barely literate Geordie loser and wife-dumper John Howarth, which I have not looked at for months.  I did look, and he has posted recently on the Labour leadership contest, here, except that the picture of the line-up is missing one of the candidates.  You guessed it, Mr Misogyny has come to tea and is kicking his shoes off and making himself at home.  No Diane.  No change there.  And a comparison of this particular contest with Big Brother is facile at best and in my view puerile.  No change there.  Anyway, if you have a little look round his site you will find some musings on what blogging is.  Apparently blogs are "worthless" because they are not "journalism" (what, like the Reading Evening Post?) and do not deal in "facts".  Ah, well spotted.  If anyone compared my blog to the Reading Evening Post I would be mortally offended, the only similarity between us being that we do not deal in facts.  Only one of us deals in lies and smear.  My blog contains my views on stuff, links to stuff I find interesting for various reasons, and sometimes little stories I want to tell.  Er, that's it.  Shakespeare (whose oeuvre bears no similarity whatever to this blog) did not deal in facts either.  In fact he was a kind of classy spin doctor for much of his career.  Worthless, hein?

So it's goodbye to John.  Labour unelectable in Reading for a generation, Reading's transport system well and truly f***ed up, a fine legacy.  Bye.

Oh and John - the next leader of the Labour Party may well be called Miliband.  He will not be called Milliband.  Personally the one I like best is Steve - remember "Black Panties and an Angel's Face"?

let's bash Wokingham!

er, let's not.  Green councillor Rob White (Park ward, Reading, Reading East constituency) posts as reproduced below.  I would have thought better of him.  This is a tired Reading Labour argument from the 1990s and has not improved with time.  Even Reading Labour, when it was still voicing the "Tory Wokingham keeping Reading children out of its schools" trope, did not believe it.  The Labour Group supported the Madejski Academy in south Reading, which gave real opportunities to Reading children, to the extent that Mr Salter took the Madejski shilling and became a governor of the academy, may still be one for all I know.  Reading should be looking to provide an education for its children that everyone can be proud of, not exporting its disadvantage to Wokingham, whose democratically elected council can do precisely what it likes with its school catchment areas.  I hope the current Reading Borough Council will have none of this crap.  Anyway, I have never fisked a Green before, so here goes:

Rumours are circulating so this piece is based on no facts at all, just something someone told you in the pub that Wokingham Council is having another go at excluding Reading children -- from the Alfred Sutton primary school area -- from Maiden Erlegh secondary school.

I am currently in the process of trying to get an up-to-date briefing from Reading Borough Council. You're a councillor, you can get whatever briefing you want, especially now that the unlamented Dictatorship Dave "moronic members of the public" Sutton is no longer in post to intercept mail, try a bit harder As soon as I have more information I will post again. Yeah right, and if this turns out to be rubbish will you tell us so?
For those of you out of the loop what loop would that be, the word in the east Reading pubs, where they talk of little else? (Not), as I understand it the rumour is that Wokingham is seeking to make September 2011 the last year for Alfred Sutton as a catchment school, also:
-- No Alfred Sutton school children except for siblings of current children from September 2012 this sounds a lot more like a briefing than a rumour, it also sounds as though you know about it but have not bothered actually to do anything about it, my advice to you is do not post until you know what you are talking about
-- There will be a consultation meeting on September 6 in Wokingham for people to put their views -- views on what?  on a rumour in the east Reading pubs? if this meeting is happening it must have a topic and an agenda, it is only next week, Wokingham council will provide information to anyone who (unlike me) can be bothered to make the effort to find out more details once I have them.
Rest assured I will be fighting for Reading children. so you should, as a Reading councillor, going to fight for Reading council to provide decent education for its children rather than sending its inconveniently working-class children out of the borough so as not to offend the Guardian readers?  People voted for you because they wanted change and a new voice, not more of the clapped-out Reading Labour boys' sub-Howarthian crap.  Get real boyo.

Monday, 30 August 2010

well it went off OK

The Jethro Tull concert in Israel that is - so far. And the best the boycotters can think of is to say that Ian Anderson is not Jethro Tull. No, because Jethro Tull was a 17th-century English agricultural reformer. Now they have turned on (as in turned against) LCD Soundsytem, whose Facebook page is here. I have to confess that they are a popular beat combo whose oeuvre is mysterious to me, give it time give it time.

Friday, 27 August 2010

the next Israeli attack on Gaza is in the name of Jethro Tull

says the neo-Nazi US Campaign for Cultural Boycott of Israel.  And they didn't mean the 17th-century English agricultural reformer.  Jethro Tull himself (Ian Anderson, legendary flute-playing one-leg-standing lead of legendary 1970s prog-rock band) is in fact playing in Israel, and has this to say about it:

Having performed concerts in the Middle East region many times over the last few years, I am well aware of the ethnic and religious tensions existing, not only in the countries concerned, but in the broader international diasporas representing the various groups and their interests.

Having long maintained the position that culture and the arts should be free of political and religious censorship and a distance kept between them, I took a decision in February of 2009 that any future concerts in Israel by me or Jethro Tull would result in charitable donations to bodies representing the development of peaceful co-existence between Muslims, Jews and Christians, and the fostering of better Palestinian/Israeli relations. A number of potential charitable beneficiaries have now been identified and are under consideration.
I speak only for my own share of concert profits here – I am not about to tell the rest of the musicians or crew what views they should hold or what to do with their remuneration. Nor do I feel pressured by human rights groups, national interests or any individuals to perform or not to perform in Israel or anywhere else. I make up my own mind in light of available facts, with my own experience and a sense of personal ethics.
To those who tell me I should “boycott” Israel (or, for that matter, Turkey or Lebanon), I can only point out that on my travels around the world I am continually reminded of atrocities carried out historically by many nations who are now our friends, and it serves to strengthen my resolve that some degree of peace and better understanding may result from my and other artists’ professional and humble efforts in such places. If I had the opportunity to perform today in Iran or North Korea, hell – I’d be there if I thought it would make a tiny positive net contribution to better relations.
It’s a long time since Pearl Harbor, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the firestorm of Dresden and I hope that, one bright day sometime in the future, it will seem a long time since the blockading of the supply flotilla to Gaza and the bombing of Israeli citizens by Hamas and Hizbolla.
So, I decided many months ago not to profit from my work in this troubled region and hope that interested parties on all sides will understand and respect my decision and resolve. The details of recipients of my charitable donation will be posted for the benefit of the doubters, as usual, on this website later in the year.

Good man.  And come and play somewhere near where I live.  He is playing Yerevan, Armenia, on 24th September, and a modest lottery win would get me on a plane to one of my favourite places in the world, Zvartnots Airport.  Living in the Past?  I don't think so.  (Now the reason for the previous post becomes clear.)  I remember a legendary evening at the Dunstable Civic Hall in 1969, when I had on a long Indian skirt and  That's enough.  Ed.


Jethro Tull - Living In The Past 1969

but he's not

a bit of rough? I don't think so

this is the actor Pierre Martot, who plays police officer Leo Castelli in Plus Belle La Vie.  Dunno, just thought I would...

those cleverer than me...

might be able to tell me why The Times app for iPad, which I am delighted to have, does not give access to the Oliver Kamm blog.

whup they sorry asses

Sarko has been sending Roma back to (mostly) Romania, which the silly comic the Independent has belatedly noticed, as follows:

France has urged European leaders to force Romania to stem the flow of Roma gypsies leaving the country, suggesting that they could block Romania's entry to the Schengen border-free zone if the government in Bucharest fails to do so.

Raising the stakes as Romanian officials arrived in Paris for talks, President Nicolas Sarkozy's government defended its recent repatriation of hundreds of Roma people and said the Roma emigration from Romania had become a European problem.
The French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, has written to Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, asking him to take steps to ensure that €4bn in European Union funds given to Romania each year is used to settle the Roma. The Romanian government, for its part, has questioned whether the repatriations comply with European law. A spokesman for the European Commission said it would issue a report on the legality of the expulsions next week.
Since announcing plans last month to demolish hundreds of illegal Roma camps in a crackdown on crime, France's centre-right government has repatriated more than 600 gypsies, mostly to Romania.
Critics of Mr Sarkozy have denounced the move as a ploy to boost his flagging popularity before elections in 2012, and to divert attention from his unpopular plans to raise the retirement age and cut public spending.

Except that this is not quite the whole story.  The city of Bordeaux has, as a result of this move by Sarko, made available a very large area of fields on its outskirts for several thousand travelling people and their caravans ("gens de voyage"), who are overwhelmingly people who were born and have always lived in France - travelling people tend to migrate in continental Europe, but between France, Spain and Portugal, avoiding Germany and Austria for linguistic not political reasons.  The people Bordeaux is accommodating are not Romanian citizens.  If Romania has, and there is some evidence that it has, been expelling people on the basis of their ethnicity as Rom, then Sarko and other European leaders should be berating them for it, and should indeed be keeping them out of Schengen unless they stop it at once.  The Indy article fails to mention that a great many of those expelled (and as just about all are EU citizens they will be back, having taken the air ticket and the 100 euros each) are from Bulgaria, and the the government of Bulgaria, which does not I believe have a particularly proud record on its own treatment of Roma people,has gone on record as saying it has "no problem" with the Sarko policy.  I just thought I would shed a little light on this.  An interview in the "Telerama" cultural mag this week with a person named "Esmeralda" who is a campaigner for the rights of "gens de voyage", and who describes herself as "Manouche" (a word I had never heard before coming to France, it means "gypsy" but without any ethnic connotation, most French people know the word in connection with a certain kind of music and with influences on jazz) points out that in France there has nearly always and nearly everywhere been peaceful coexistence between travelling and settled people, and that most "gens de voyage" including Esmeralda herself, live settled lives.  There was of course, which she does not mention, a fairly brief and inglorious period in French history when an occupying force, invited in, had an altogether different point of view on gypsy people, but that is another story.

Where Sarko is of course wrong is in using the existence of illegal encampments and trespass as a reason to expel non-French people on the basis of their ethnicity.  This is wrong, disgraceful and racist.  There are perfectly good sanctions available against trespass and illegal occupation of land.  I did not think any politician since former MP Mr Martin Salter - who called for the expulsion of travellers from the Reading area on the basis of their ethnicity - would do this, but I was wrong.  If you look at the link to His Master's Voice quoting Mr Salter, you will see that the story is in fact racist itself, congratulations Mr Murrill.

The Parti Socialiste is starting its "universite d'ete" ("summer university", the equivalent of party conference) today, until Sunday, and will have something to say about all this.  A nation awaits you...

Thursday, 26 August 2010

the right to criticise Islam

I cannot speak Spanish, still less Catalan or Portuguese, but I can read Spanish for gist and am trying to make progress by looking at various websites.  This is one of them, Pilar Rahola.  She publishes some of her site in English from time to time and I find her views both interesting and mostly commendable.  She, like me, is a big fan of the French organisation "Ni Putes Ni Soumises" (Neither Whores Nor Surrendered), which has protected and empowered many French women, mostly young, mostly from ethnic minorities, most but not all Muslim.  Read her article here - she makes the interesting point, not made often enough, that those, like herself, who campaign against attempts to introduce medieval and barbaric theocracy into democratic (more or less) societies are not the ones who are attacking Islam - those in the mosques who call unveiled women "uncovered meat" are those who are against Islam.  Views please.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Ed Balls found In Wheelie Bin

from Nabidana via Iain Dale:

The wife of Labour leadership candidate Ed Balls has asked the public not to take matters into their own hands after the hapless politician was found in a wheelie bin outside his own house. Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford has said she’s simply grateful to find him safe and well, and has urged people not to take the law into their own hands.

CCTV footage shows a female passer-by finding the former Education Secretary sitting on the wall, before bundling him into the large plastic bin. He was discovered unhurt some fourteen hours later by his wife, who heard him giving a random and incoherent yet passionate speech inside the dark plastic moulding, apparently believing he was being interviewed by Jeremy Vine.

Local police have confirmed that Kathryn Brightshore, Constituency Labour Party chairperson for Morley and Outwood has been questioned in connection with the offence and offered police protection. When questioned by a local radio station, she told of being overcome with an intense desire to ‘smash his fucking brains in’ and opted to put him into the bin in order to protect the Labour Party.

Ms Cooper has asked for people to co-operate with the police and IPSA on the matter, and not to vote for him for party leader.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life (6) Paul Roberts

I made a big and unexpected change in my life in 2007.  I had been training to be a teacher for a few months in 2006 and early 2007.  I have tried to be a teacher several times in my life, and it was the first thing I wanted to do, but almost every time something has got in the way.  This seems to be nature's way of saying "Don't be a teacher".  In 2005, after I stood down from Parliament, I did the CELTA certificate, which qualified me to teach English as a foreign language to adults, and I got a job straight away, in Riga, Latvia, where I worked for six months.  I could have stayed there longer, but significant other stayed behind in London, where he was working, and whatever else I wanted I did not want to lose him, and, misguidedly as it turned out, I thought it would be a better career move to get qualified to teach in state schools, job with a pension and all that.  And I did not have time to hang around, as I was already into my fifties.  So I started doing a PGCE at the Institute of Education in London.  I enjoyed studying, which I had not done for many years, and I enjoyed being in the classroom.  I found that I liked teaching 11-16 year olds, especially those with minor learning difficulties or who were never going to make waves academically.  I was praised for classroom management skills (age and life experience helps here) although the low expectations of most of the pupils worried me.  But I found the unfettered joy and enthusiasm displayed by people of that age (not usually about their school work) uplifting, and I miss it still.  However, it was (yet again) not to be.  Unexpectedly I was tipped off about a job opportunity in Strasbourg, a place I knew as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for three years from 2002, and I applied - the process took many months, but the job was offered, and I walked out of the PGCE course without regret, and moved to France without looking back.  Significant other followed three months later.  We talked a lot before making this decision, but it was not a hard one to make.  Neither of us has any wish to live in the UK again.  The inevitable culture shock followed, and I have seen colleagues who have arrived since go through it too.  It is usually kicked off by the rudeness and xenophobia of French people, especially it seems those who work in some capacity where they are expected to serve the public, and by the fact that organisations and institutions operate for the benefit of the staff who work in them and not for their customers.  I had the usual struggle to become fluent in French, which was harder for significant other than it was for me because he arrived with no French at all.  Memo to French people: miming and shouting when someone does not speak your language fluently and is trying to make themself understood is Not Helpful.  Saying on a telephone helpline "Madame, if you cannot speak French correctly I cannot help you" is Poor.  Throwing someone out of a supermarket for speaking in a language other than French on their mobile phone is Very Poor.  (I have seen the last happen, fortunately it has not happened to me).  Oh and if half the nation starts their annual holiday on the same weekend as the other half is returning from theirs, and if the whole nation goes on holiday in France, by car, then you are going to get severe congestion on the roads, so don't be surprised when it happens every year.

The job I came here to do was new when I arrived.  What I do does not matter for this story, but to do it you need to be a native speaker of English with some clue about the law and with an understanding of the structure and workings of your own language, as well as some idea of what translation is all about.  Three were recruited in the first instance, and I was the second to arrive.  Paul Roberts was the last of us.  A tall man, early forties, dark hair and very bright blue eyes.  He was a cheerful, talkative colleague, full of stories - he spent a lot of his time in Argentina - and with a wonderful talent for making connections.  There are still things I do, music I listen to and books I read, because Paul told me about them first.  Paul had split up with his partner not long before coming to France, and was still very sad about it.  He was also not well.  This was clear to me before others noticed it - I spent most of my waking hours sitting next to Paul - and after some weeks at work he had to stop, because he needed treatment for cancer.  This he started in January 2008, first in London and then in Strasbourg when he made an attempt to come back to work, which did not last long. Through the spring and summer of 2009 I was one of the people who tried to help, and to look after Paul when he was at home, which he was for some weeks, with a nurse coming in daily.  He got thinner, and slower, and sadder - well, I don't need to describe what someone is like when they are dying of cancer, if you have been with someone who is then you know already, and if not then save it for when, or if, you need to have the experience.  Each time there was a crisis, and organs started to fail, they brought him back, and each time he spent longer sedated and decorated with tubes.  Each time the hospital regime got stricter (washing before visiting, top layer of clothes removed, plastic apron and gloves).  I started to talk to his widowed father, his only relative, in his late eighties, regularly with updates.  During one of the last conversations I had with Paul he told me how much he loved his father, and how he wished he had been a better son.  I wrote this down later and sent it to his father. Some of us were with Paul in his last hours, when he was sedated and moving away from us.  I think perhaps most deaths are like this.  He certainly died alone, although his friends were with him in the room.

Maybe every death changes us.  I know I grieved for Paul as much as I had grieved for my father more than 30 years before, though differently. I was surprised by this.  But the change in my life came from something Paul did in 2009, once he knew that he was too ill to do very much for himself any more.  He gave me the password for his email account and asked me to check his emails; he told me the names of the people he really wanted to hear from, and asked me to print any emails from them and read them to him.  I spent several months last year effectively immersed in another person's life.  I read emails I was never originally intended to see.  I was witness to rows, to grief, to anger, to worry, and to joy too.  And there was nothing I could do with any of it.  It was not my life, but another person's, and I couldn't make it better.  I found out for certain what I had suspected for some time, that Paul was very often not truthful, and that the life he talked about, his life in Argentina, Spain and South Africa, was mostly an invention.  I found out too that he could be unkind.  A female colleague who often visited him in hospital was a little smitten by him, which he was fully aware of.  Paul was gay, and was very cruel about her in emails to others.  During that hot summer I began to feel physically heavier, as if I was carrying a weight inside me.  Nor did I understand my own feelings very well at this time.  Colleagues who didn't really know us often approached me, and the rest of the small group who were looking after Paul, to praise us for what we were doing.  A lot of this was said at Paul's funeral in September 2009. That praise even found its way into my annual appraisal at work.  And it made me furious.  I didn't want praise.  I wanted things to be better, and I couldn't make them better.  I knew from the emails that there was, or had been, a lot in Paul's life which had contributed to his illness, and I couldn't make it, or him, better.

After Paul died I saw a psychiatrist twice.  I was initially sceptical about this, but she helped me.  When I told her about the emails she helped me to see that Paul had given me a lot of the bad things in his life, because he couldn't, or didn't want to, deal with them.  And I couldn't either, which was why the burden was so hard to bear.  It was, literally, unbearable.  The psychiatrist suggested I write Paul a letter telling him I was angry with him - which I had not realised until that moment I was - and my first reaction was, how stupid is that?  Write a letter to a dead person, who can't read it?  But I wrote the letter, and I told him I was angry with him for giving me stuff to carry that was too heavy for me.  I told him, I've got new colleagues now, and they are good and friendly and good company, but I don't want them, I want you back again.  And for some reason I made a photocopy of the letter.  As if I was really sending it and keeping a copy for myself. And with the warm paper in my hand I felt, just a little bit, lighter.  Now I can remember how Paul and I laughed at silly stories in the news, and how when someone brought chocolates in to share we raced each other along the corridor to get there first because we both liked the same centres.  Things are different now.  I do get disproportionately sad when someone leaves my life, much more than I used to, and I know it is because I tried so hard to keep Paul there and I couldn't.  But I remember the happy things now.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Who killed David Kelly?

the BBC of course.  Nick Cohen writes about it much better than I can.

Reading Labour's misogynist outburst

is here.  They are probably right that the Chancellor's financial measures will be paid for more by women than by men.  But why are they so pleased about it?  We all knew those boys were woman-haters, but wouldn't you think they would want to keep quiet about it?

Friday, 20 August 2010

be careful out there

Brassens, Basher and the gorilla

Basher McKenzie has posted this clip, of Georges Brassens singing his song "Gare au gorille", and defies his readers to say what the song is about.  Sex and male fear.  Er that's it.  Easy really.  Why did you choose that theme, Basher?  Anyway, for my monoglot readers, of whom there may still be a few, the song has been translated into English, several times in fact, in my view the best translation was by the late great Jake Thackray, who as you know dealt with themes of sex and death and male fear in his songs, and who dealt with them lightly, so that when you read his translation  you want to laugh despite the theme, but when you hear Brassens you just shiver.

Through the bars of a large enclosure

The village ladies intently stared,
Where a gorilla with massive composure
Was impassively combing his hair.
They were shamelessly interested,
Eyeing devoutly a certain spot,
But my mother's especially requested
I refrain from telling you what.
Brother Gorilla!

The door of the circus lock-up,
Where the noble brute had been put,
By an administrational cock-up
Was unwisely left unshut
"I'm going to lose it at last," he cried,
Swinging lissomely out of his cage,
Referring, of course, to his chastity:
He was just at the difficult age
Brother Gorilla!

Those self-same ladies who previously
Had been licking their lips from afar
Did a bunk, which shows how devious
And whimsical women are.
In the path of the lovesick monkey
There were two who wouldn't budge:
A little old lady, all shrunken,
And a petty sessions judge.
Brother Gorilla!

The old girl said "It would be surprising
And unlikely in the extreme
If anyone found me appetising,
And beyond my wildest dreams!"
The judge intoned with tranquillity:
"To take me for a female ape
Would be the height of improbability".
Even judges make mistakes.
Brother Gorilla!

It would be curious and uncanny,
Say, if the choice were up to you
To ravish a judge or a granny
And you didn't know which to do.
If I were in such a position
And the choice had got to be mine,
I'd beg the old lady's permission
But go for grandma every time.
Brother Gorilla!

Though the gorilla is very proficient
In the role of a paramour
His mental equipment's deficient
And his eyesight's awfully poor.
With a Palaeolithic leer
He gave the old lady the miss
And, grabbing the judge by the ear,
Gave him an introductory kiss.
Brother Gorilla!

In time the gorilla's desires
Were more or less gratified.
The judge, being rather biased,
Couldn't see the funny side.
He was kicking and screaming and wailing
When his moment of truth had come,
Like those wretches he orders daily
To be taken away and hung.
Brother Gorilla!

btw in French the word "guenon" means both "female ape" and "very ugly woman", which Brassens plays on remorselessly.  Listen up.

also: Basher is now calling himself "a Labour activist" instead of "the Labour candidate", thanks for reading this blog Bashy babes

Thursday, 19 August 2010

religion and sexuality

I will never get the hang of what all this means in the USA, I really will not - but the picture amused me. Ann Coulter is the wrong sort of neocon homophobe.  Hat-tip Alan A. at Harry's Place.  Apparently Ann Coulter, the right-wing talk-show, commentator, whatever-person, is speaking at a GOProud (Republican Party gay organisation) event, and this is BAD.  Or something.

oh dear Basher oh dear oh dear

Basher McKenzie, who is still describing himself as "the Labour candidate for Park Ward" in east Reading, posts  that he has joined "the Pakistani community" to break the Ramadan fast and "raise money for flood relief".  all very good Basher.  Hope you had a nice chat with the women who were there, who undoubtedly were playing an important role in the event.  What's that you say?  They were in the background preparing the food?  Ah.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, Pakistan flood relief.  No mention of the gross and corrupt mishandling of the disaster by the Pakistan government.  No.  That might get complicated.  And - oh dear, Basher - he titles the post "Pakistani earthquake".  Yes, there are earthquakes sometimes in Pakistan.  There was a major one a few years ago that took a lot of lives and made a lot of people homeless.  But, er, this time it is not an earthquake, it is a flood.  This really will not do. 

Basher informs us that "some Labour councillors" were there.  Jolly good.  Park has one Labour councillor, Fatboy Hartley, not known for doing any work, ever, and whose only means of support is the rental income from the house Mummy and Daddy bought him, and his councillors' allowances.  Was Fatboy there?  We are not told.  "Other Park Ward councillors" were not there, we are told.  Were they invited?  If not why not?  Was the Reading East MP there?  Was he invited?  If not why not?

Whatever we might go to Basher's occasional outpourings for, it is not for accurate or truthful accounts of anything that happens in Park Ward, or anywhere else.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

down under

the general election in Australia (yes, you did know there was one soon, tell me you did) is just a few days away now.  The Labour Prime Minister, who is hoping to hold on to government, is female and was born in Wales (pic left).  As the campaign was getting under way there was some disgraceful coverage, focusing on Prime Minister Julia Gillard's physical appearance, kitchen and marital status.  Things have not improved, though arguably that coverage did something to enhance Gillard's standing with female voters, because hey, we know what this stuff is like, don't we girls?  This is what the Crikey website had to say about it earlier on:

Don’t look good enough, you’re disparaged as unattractive. Don’t have a family, you’re deliberately barren. Have a family, you’re a career-obsessed harridan neglecting your kids. But it’s more than that. The Australian yesterday launched a series of personal attacks on the Prime Minister, with the clear aim of ridiculing her and delegitimising her as a political figure. It complements an effort by Liberal Party figures to attack Gillard over her childlessness and her de facto marital status.  First was the already-notorious piece by Kate Legge on the Prime Minister’s ears, discussion of which, Legge assured us, “drowned out any serious post-debate analysis of her policies or performance” and which “could derail her ability to keep the electorate focused”. Well, indeed, Kate, that’s why you’re drawing attention to it.  Mockery is an important tool in the political communications arsenal. The Right is particularly adept at using it. Frequently there need be no basis in reality for it; it’s enough to simply reiterate something so often that it becomes part of mainstream debate whether it has any reality or not

Julia Gillard has a good chance of holding on to Australia for Labor (spelled like this down under, boys).  She appears to have said today that when the present Queen dies it will be time for Australia to be a republic.  Probably, yes.  Not clear what that will do to her standing in the polls.  Nothing much, I should think, the issue is not particularly divisive these days.

I wish her and the party well.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life: (5) Suze

I saw Suze coming towards me from a long way off, although I couldn't see her face, as she was walking in the shade of the trees because the sun was still hot on that early September day.  The paths were crowded, but it was only Suze I saw.  She was taller than the others, but this was the campus of Seoul National University  in Korea, and although there weren't many foreign students there in 1987 that wasn't why I noticed her.  She had a way of ducking her head from time to time as she walked that must have come from growing up tall, although most Dutch people are tall; I had read somewhere that the Dutch are the tallest nation on earth.  Now she needed to duck her head, because the tree branches were trimmed to a height that assumed the only walkers on the paths would be Korean.  Suze and I walked towards each other that day, and for the next three months we were together pretty much all the time.  I liked everything about her, the skinny little pigtail on the top of her head, the baggy blue jeans she nearly always wore, so that from behind she looked like a cartoon nautical Dutchman from a children's book - you almost expected when she turned round that she would be smoking a pipe - and the way she said, when she was searching for a word in English or Korean (we were both taking a foreigners' course in the Korean language, for very different reasons), something in Dutch that sounded like "hubbledepup".  We drank beer together, sometimes a lot of it, and we smoked a lot.  I smoked Arirang cigarettes that were as close as I could get to the Marlboro I was used to, and she smoked roll-ups made from a Dutch brand of tobacco she had sent to her from home called "Javaanse Jongens" that I thought was the coolest thing I had ever seen.  South Korea in 1987 was just out of military dictatorship; there was still a midnight curfew in the streets; and although there was no shortage of consumer goods they were all Korean-made.  Japanese pop music, in those pre-download days, was actually illegal.  I was away from my family for three months to take this course, and I loved Suze for her company, for her ideas - we went to alternative theatre and traditional dance shows and odd smoky bars she found - and especially for our endless, swooping conversations that sometimes saw the morning come in before they were over.  When I was pursued by a Buddhist monk with amorous intent it was only Suze I could tell about it, and we laughed.  When we were both locked out of our hostels because we missed the curfew we spent the night in a coffee shop talking nonsense, and we laughed.  When we pushed open the door of an odd little cafe we wondered, but we were on our second drink before we realised it was a brothel, and we laughed.  I dragged Suze along to a student rally against the government, where we were abused because the students thought we were Americans, and there was tear-gas in the air from an earlier demonstration.  Much later, over beers, Suze told me I was going into politics, and we laughed.

I saw Suze three times after that Korean autumn - the next year she came to London and we spent some days together - she liked my children, who were five and ten then - and I went to Amsterdam twice and surprised her both times with a knock on her door in Warmoestraat.  Ten years passed between the two Amsterdam visits.  Suze told me, weaving the message somehow into the thread of our conversations in Seoul, that I was allowed to do things, that I could do things, that I could change things for myself and for other people.  I hadn't known this before the Korean autumn, but after knowing Suze I knew it for myself.  She had studied medicine and modern dance, and she wanted to learn about Korean art.  Later she managed a cafe in Amsterdam. She could do anything she liked.

Suze died two years ago.  She was two years younger than me. The only picture of her I had I sent to her partner Harmen.  In it she has her eyes closed against the wind that was making our cheeks sting that day, and she is standing on the harbour wall at Inchon.

Goodbye Suze.  I think of you when a cold wind blows, and I remember our Korean autumn and how different things were afterwards.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

and now for something...

Andrew Rosindell MP (Con, Romford) hey?  He's a boy!  The Mail on Sunday has a corker here.  There was no sex party at the Commons but the piece tried its damnedest to make it look as though there was.  Good for Andrew.  He was supporting a business in his constituency.  Which decent MP wouldn't?  The business is legal and wealth creating.  And good for whoever in the company leaked this to get publicity for them.  Top.  Thanks to a regular correspondent for bringing it to my attention.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Patricia Neal

has died.  I am so sorry.  She was 84 and had lung cancer.  I admired her a lot as an actress.  She is seen here in a still from Breakfast at Tiffany's, with George Peppard and some dumb chick with an eating disorder who couldn't act but who definitely got the best hat from wardrobe that day.  Patricia Neal had three strokes in 1965 while pregnant and married to Roald Dahl.  He, the histories tell us, "directed her recovery" and she learned to walk and talk again.  Hmmm.  Was he a doctor?  I think we know what is meant here.  Oh and he promptly shagged her best friend and they divorced.  I hope her later years were happy.  I REALLY hope so.   Goodbye Patricia and thank you especially for The Fountainhead (never mind the politics).

Review: 'Solar', Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape 2010

Solar, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape 2010

The blurb calls this book satirical.  I did not read it that way at all, darkly humorous, certainly, which is not the same thing, but above all about wrongdoing and redemption.  Or sin, if you like.  Oh and about climate change too.  If anything the book is rather solemn, though it is also hilariously funny in places, of which more later.   The hero, Michael Beard, is a scientist who has won the Nobel Prize, and who is a bad man.  There is no other way to put it.  He is lecherous, slobbish,  gluttonous, vainglorious, slothful, duplicitous, more, in fact he seems to embody the seven deadly sins without realising it.  Inexplicably, (he is short, fat and not good-looking) he attracts beautiful and often good women, some of whom marry him, and as the book begins he is coming to the end of his fifth marriage - this is the first one which ends with her affair not his, and with her the victor, if it can be said that a woman who is beaten up by the man with whom she is having a clandestine affair is in any way victorious.

The humour is there from the beginning - there should be nothing funny about a middle-aged man fantasising about his own wife while she is just across the landing from him - but Michael Beard keeps getting distracted from his fantasy by images of Rodney Tarpin, his wife's lover, who, "like some ignorant stagehand with ladder and bucket, kept wandering on to the set" (p. 7).

There is nothing in this book for the Guardian-reading dinner parties of north London.  This is probably why the UK critics hated it so much.  The book is about science, quantum theory and whether the world is warming - early on it is set in Spitsbergen, where our hero genuinely thinks his dick has been frozen off.  Obviously.

I wonder if this is really the King Lear story, without the daughters, and also why I kept thinking so.  it is very very funny in places - even the death of his wife's lover is hilarious.  But there is such a lot of Stuff in here, such a lot of Character, most of which is excellent - the courtly, bearded Mallorquin ice-sculptor for example, who may or may not also play classical guitar.  Perhaps too much of the book is used on description of things which are, unlike the glaciers of Spitsbergen or the family restaurants of New Mexico, not very interesting, such as what you see when your aircraft makes half a dozen circles as it comes in to land at Heathrow.

McEwan keeps Doing Things in this book, in hugely entertaining fashion.  He invents, or relates, an urban myth, the one in which you are eating crisps on a train and the person opposite you starts eating them too, from your packet, to your increasing indignation - except that when you get off you discover that you still have your own packet and you have been eating theirs.  

Random characters come and go, like the misogynist professor from Northern Ireland who is hounded out of his job for being, er, misogynist, and yet he hasn't actually done what he has been accused of.  This book argues, through its characters, that not all differences between people are "cultural constructs", to explosions of loathing from the Guardian, and at the same time makes us wonder why we are even thinking about "differences between people".

Another random character explains his presence (he is a professor of folklore) at a scientific gathering by saying (p. 147) "I'm interested in the forms of narrative that climate science has generated.  It's an epic story, of course, with a million authors...". Our hero's inward response, as he prepares to take his place at the podium, is "People who kept on about narrative tended to have a squiffy view of reality, believing all versions of it to be of equal value".  No wonder the critics hated it.  This is hugely admirable stuff.  This book of course is a story that relates to climate change science, but also to integrity, to retribution, to faith, and to sin.  The main character is remarkably unattractive, does many bad things and almost no good ones, and yet we actually care what happens to him. 

The narrative moves to New Mexico and there is a terrifying professional and financial disaster - this is retribution - in parallel with a child's innocent and unconditional love.  The retribution has two layers, one of which contains within itself the opportunity to get it right again, or to get away with it, and, Oscar Wilde-like, our hero makes a decision that snatches away another chance of salvation.  To save your life you must lose it.  And yet who is saved, and what is lost?

This is an Essential book.  Possibly the first novel of the twenty-first century.  Read it.   Solar

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Review - 'What Did The Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us?' by Francis Beckett

this book (What Did The Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us?, Francis Beckett, Biteback 2010) starts out plain wrong, as I knew it would.  "The baby boomers saw themselves as pioneers of a new world - freer, fresher, fairer and infinitely more fun [sounds like a Katy Perry lyric, Ed.].  But they were wrong.  The world they made for their children to live in is a far harsher one than the world they inherited.". (p.ix, introduction).  Yes, OK.  We did see the world like that.  But we were right.  Because we were pioneers for ourselves.  We had no idea what kind of world our children would live in.  Our parents were responsible for it, not us.  Because we all make the world our grandchildren live in, not the one our children live in.

"The baby boomers casually assumed that it (free health care) was 'the ordained order of things'" (p. Xi).  Of course we did.  We had never known anything else.  Every generation fails to question what it is born into.  "The freedoms the baby boomers fought for, they deny to their children" (p. Xiv).  Here he is talking about student grants.  What bollocks.  We didn't fight for those, they were provided by a previous generation.  "When the baby boomers were young, they believed society could afford student grants" - we knew it could, because we knew not many of us were getting them, and many of us (especially the girls) were sneered at by our elders for aspiring to university education, because, we were told, it had been denied to our elders, and we should be content too.  Especially if we were girls.

"Now they are old, they think society can afford pensions".  No.  We are not. We are not sure it can.  And we know that our freedom from fear caused too many of us to squander our time, and to fail to build up what the French call a "patrimoine" - some assets, a heritage.  "Almost none of the baby boomers learned to value the extraordinary legacy they had, and today most of them sneer at it.". Utter bollocks.  The moon landings?  We didn't make those happen, they were part of the legacy we inherited, and we didn't, and don't, sneer at them either.  This bloke is a big Attlee fan.  As I think I am.  He says that with the ending of Lend-Lease most prime ministers would have watered down their reforms, but not Clem.  School milk - of course boomers remember it and we mostly didn't like it.  In my first two years at school, in my class of about 40 there were probably two children who appeared to need the milk.  Our parents, children in the 1930s, would have needed it more.  Now it has become a political sacred cow, about 70 years after it should have done.  Each generation tries to provide for the next what it lacked itself, not understanding that it is no longer needed, but that other things are.  At the same time it fails to provide correctly for its grandchildren, which is the generation it actually is in a position to provide for.  This however is not Francis Beckett's premise.  The NHS has its detractors, and I am sometimes one of them,  But he is wrong.  What about polio?  My grandmother was terrified of polio and I was born in the first year of polio jabs, provided universally, and free, by the NHS.  People just three or four years older than me have often had polio.

"Many of the baby boomers grew up on Bevan's council estates, [including me until I was seven].  If they had been born a generation earlier they would have been children in grim urban slums [like my mother, who turned out all right, though free school milk and welfare orange juice would have made her generation healthier] and if a generation later, in terrifying tower blocks [they're not terrifying actually, unless you are a Guardian reader].  They were indeed a blessed generation.". Yes we are.  And what is wrong with that?

Here we go again.  "In 2003 Britain was living in good economic times, but that year a baby boomer prime minister, Tony Blair, went to war in Iraq at the behest of Washington and against the wishes of his own people" (p. 10).  Bah.  Too wrong.  Wrong twice.  Where to start?  Not at the "behest of Washington"  and not against the wishes of his own people.  Guardian readers didn't like it.  But most MPs voted for it and at least half the coutnry supported it.

He is right though about food.  Food was boring in the 1950s when we were children.  But it was what there was, and we grew to like it.  We didn't eat tasty food, but we didn't eat junk food either.  He mentions white bread and pork pies, and my mouth fills with water.  My nine-years-younger husband, a 1960s child, is revolted by my private food longings.  He also argues, with some foundation, that the war babies and those born in the mid-1930s were the real radicals.  Perhaps. There is another whole book in that.

Oh. (p. 32).  Suez going wrong for Britain was all the fault of Ariel Sharon being over-zealous.  He seems a little confused here.  If Suez was a bad idea (and I think it was, but that is easy to say now) then the zealousness or Ariel Sharon is neither here nor there.  But this bloke condemns Britain for being the poodle of America, and yet when we do something, without telling the Americans, that the Americans don't like, like Suez, then we are somehow Bad People.   

" ...people think of Harold Macmillan as the last prime minister of the fifties... but he was the first prime minister of the 1960s" (p. 61).  Spot on.  Telly friendly, dismantling Empire, still relevant well into the Thatcher years.

Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965 (p. 86) - despite the pomp of it, or perhaps even because of it, my parents were unimpressed - too young for wartime service, their early childhood had been pre-war, their adolescence in wartime, and their young adulthood in austerity Britain.  Churchill was no hero to them, though perhaps he had been to their parents.  I know my maternal grandmother, a Londoner who had been "bombed out" in the Blitz, always referred to him as "Mr Churchill".

Pop songs, and pop stars, were not about changing the world.  Beckett sets up the scenario that  they said they were, or should have been, but did not live up to it (p. 90).  But why should they be?  Not even Bob Dylan was.  Nor did he ever say he was.  It wasn't so much that we wanted to change the world, it was more that we knew the world was new, and that there were endless new things we could do in it.  What on earth was wrong with that?

Beckett says the 60s began in 1956, with Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary, and ended in 1968, with Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia.  But he is a bit older than me.  For me the 60s began in 1963, when the Beatles hit it big (I was eight and we girls sang Beatles songs in the playground) and ended in 1972, when glam rock was all you saw on Top of the Pops and all the hair was layered. (p.97).  Allegedly (p. 100) Tom Driberg (for you young people he was a flamboyantly gay Labour MP of the time) tried to get Mick Jagger to go into politics.  "We wouldn't expect you to attend to the day-to-day ephemera of the House" etc.

Beckett says (p. 106) that the Beatles' song "When I'm Sixty-Four" is cruel.  I always thought it was affectionate, with a touch of relief that things weren't like that any more.  That was how many of us saw our grandparents' lives.

The notions of the Sixties came from America.  Bennett says this baldly, without analysis, as if
coming from America was a Bad Thing.  Yes the notions of the Sixties did come from America, pretty much.  The Beatles, arguably, were the greater pop group, because they made the musical influences they had their own, adding to skiffle and blues the English music hall, which Sergeant Pepper spelled out for anyone who had not quite got it yet, while the Rolling Stones just whitened the black man's rhythm and blues.

Beckett has an excellent turn of phrase at times though.  "Thatcherism... had been crouching beneath the bridge of the seventies like a demented troll".

He is wrong about business too.  For some reason he makes Germaine Greer the villain of the piece here, when she was and remains so far as I know publicly funded and employed to this day.  He does not even mention Richard Branson, the squillionaire boomer entrepreneur, who probably called his company Virgin because in the 60s that was a slightly shocking word.  Instead he goes on all the time about someone called Paul Mackney, of whom I confess I had never heard until I read this book.

Our generation lacked political courage, he says.  That is why we got New Labour.  Well, maybe.  He may have a point about political courage.  It is certainly true that the best minds of our generation mostly did not go into politics.  But have they ever, in any generation?  On courage he notes that boomer Greg Dyke was forced to resign as Director-General of the BBC.  Indeed he was.  But to say it was just because "the government put pressure on the governors" is just arse.  Of course they did.  Governments always have put pressure on the BBC and always will.  But there was a bit more to it than that this time.  The lack of fibre posited by Beckett might have been behind the disgraceful journalistic mispractice of the Andrew Gilligan broadcast which probably led to the suicide of Dr David Kelly.

"Why, when we were sure things could only get better, did they get worse?" (p. 195) My answer is that they didn't, and also that we, who were young at the end of the Vietnam war, when half of Europe was totalitarian and most of Latin America was under military dictatorship, were not at all sure things were getting better.  And all those things were put in place by our elders, not by us.  Things did get better.  And they will get better still.  This book is arse because Beckett makes the elementary error of holding us, the generation which came of age in the 1960s, responsible for how things actually were then and for a decade or two afterwards.  No.  We do what we can with our parents' legacy, our children do what they can with ours, and our grandchildren are the ones who benefit from we actually do.

So yes, Francis Beckett, we are still crazy after all these years.  We are the generation who would never get old - we were wrong about that, but we are the first to feel good about our older years.  Yes, we have had the best of everything, but why shouldn't we?  And some of us at least have been trying to make the world better.  With a bit of help from the war babies just before us, we gave the world the most fabulous pop music there has ever been.  And a whole swathe of socially liberal legislation.  And we're not finished yet.  

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life (4) John on permanent nights

John lived upstairs from us and he worked permanent nights.  The landlord kept his rent down in return for a bit of handyman help, not that much handiwork was ever done, and for rent collection.  John used to do these things in the late afternoon when he woke up, so if you wanted to do something you didn't want John to know about you did it in the mornings,  and you made sure you did it quietly.  John took his duties very seriously.  He was a trusty.  John had no teeth in the front of his mouth.  I suppose John was about thirty-five.  His personal life, if he had one, was a mystery.  It was generally thought that if you worked permanent nights your personal life must be in some way shabby or damaged.  This was what people who worked in factories said.  And at that time in my life, the start of my twenties, I worked in factories, and lived with people who did.  But despite what people said, I thought there was something louchely attractive about permanent
nights.  Night shifts screwed you up, that much was true, no good for the digestion and in the summer you couldn't sleep, too light and too noisy, but the main problem was the changeover.  Some of the factories had a thing called "double back", where if you were on a week of nights you worked the Thursday night and then, instead of having to work the Friday night and have most of Saturday gone because you were asleep and then stay up half the night Saturday and sleep in till Sunday afternoon and not be able to sleep Sunday night and be a write-off for your morning shift on Monday and take till about Wednesday to recover, instead of all that you caught about three hours' sleep on Friday morning and then worked an evening shift and got to the pub for last orders on Friday night, like normal people do.  The best changeover was mornings to evenings, when you finished on Friday afternoon and didn't start again till Monday afternoon.  But it was the
changeovers themselves that did you in.  And if you worked permanent nights you never had that.  They said it was the changeovers that gave a lot of the older men heart attacks.  Permanent nights, I reasoned, you had no changeover, so you would generally feel better, and in winter you stood a chance of seeing daylight because you could be up and out before four in the afternoon.  And you still had the weekends.  There was no such thing as permanent mornings or permanent evenings.  There was only permanent nights or changeovers.  No-one knew why.  And hardly anyone did permanent nights.  But really I was looking for routine not romance.  As I always have been.

This was West Country workers' life in the 1970s.  There was the chocolate (Fry's) in Keynsham; the tobacco (Wills') in Bristol; there was a lot of light engineering around Bath then, and we lived in Bath and I was a visitor in that life for a year or two.  I learned to work, living that life, and I have never forgotten how, and I learned from John-on-permanent-nights that not everyone lived in a Nice Family - I had got to the age of 21 without ever realising that, having always thought that if people, or even families, weren't Nice then it was an Exception, or at worst that the family was A Bit Rough.  In John-on-permanent-nights-with-no-teeth I saw a lonely man, who dealt with his loneliness through routine.  His routine was his work - when I worked nights myself in later years I understood how important your colleagues, and the small rituals of working life, like the rest-room and the kettle and the chocolate machine, are when you can't pop to Marks
and Spencers at lunchtime because it's four o'clock in the morning.  Part of John's routine lay in the other things he did, like collect the rent from some of the tenants and engage in some quiet little scams that might have involved transactions in small-scale dodgy merchandise, but mainly it was his work.  This started me thinking about work.  

Around this time I read Robert Tressell's 'The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists for the first time.  Set among painters and decorators in Hastings at the turn of the twentieth century, it is the only portrayal of manual working life I have ever read that was real, and that was still real in the 1970s.  I was a factory worker, and then I was the pregnant wife of a factory worker, and there was no money.  In the 1970s consumer electrical goods were expensive.  To be sure of waking up in time for your shift you had to have an alarm clock.  No using your mobile as an alarm (which is what I do now) because there were no mobiles.  If you had no alarm clock, or yours had stopped working, and you were a manual labourer, a new one at the cheaper end of the scale would cost you about £3, when you might not be earning much more than £20 take home in  a week.  If you were a working-class man, and sometimes if you were not, you had probably made an early marriage,
and had a child, or more than one, or one on the way, and a wife who was more or less dependent on you, and that alarm clock was hard to get.  Children's clothes were expensive, there were no £2 T-shirts then - when my granddaughter was born in 2007 I made a fool of myself buying piles of little cotton T-shirts and dresses and leggings for her.  Nobody wanted them, they could buy them easily themselves, though they would have quite liked the deposit on a flat.  I had taken that fear, of not being able to provide, very deep inside, so that it was still there 30 years later.

Tressell's Hastings (Tressell himself was a South African and was writing as a visitor) was peopled by workers who could be sacked without benefit of tribunal at an employer's whim, and too little has changed since.  One of his characters is desperately worried about losing his job, and is likely to do so if he is ever late for work again.  His shift starts at seven o'clock in the morning.  He has no alarm clock.  At intervals during the night he gets up, leaves the house and walks to the High Street to look at the time on the clocks in a shop window.  It is winter and dark.  Each time he does this he is more tired than the last.  The final time, he walks on slow feet to the shop window.  It is exactly seven o'clock.

We were visitors, I suppose, to that life, though it was those wages that kept us, our parents did not have money and would not have given us any if they had.  And Bath was beautiful.  The sun shone every day on the golden stone (it was 1976).  We had a ground-floor flat with a little brook running across its path, and a patch of scrubby parkland in front.  On one of our last days there I sat at the window with the baby.  The glass was old, and distorted what you saw through it slightly,  so that moving figures seemed to undulate and blur.  The others were throwing a frisbee, and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells was playing.  The others couldn't hear it, but the music in my ears made the same shapes in the landscape in my head as the others did as they crossed and recrossed the sunny grass.  Then we left, and John stayed behind, on permanent nights.  

Sent from my iPad

Friday, 6 August 2010

there's an awful lot of...

Brazil - could do better.  Joy Napier at the Henry Jackson Society blog The Scoop has posted this in response to Iran's rejection of Brazil's offer of asylum to the Iranian woman Sakineh Ashtiani, who is under sentence of death by stoning for adultery.  She is quite right to be severely critical of Lula's adoption of cultural relativist rhetoric as a get-out, especially given Brazil's powerful position in the world economy, but hey, cut the guy some slack - at least he tried.  Better than what we have seen from some powerful nations which ought to know better.  Oh and note the use of the subjunctive in the last sentence.

In response to Iran’s rejection, Lula said, "I've learned as a head of state to respect the laws of all nations. If Iran is willing to discuss this matter, we would take great pleasure in talking about this woman's case, but each country has its laws, its religion and we have to, whether we agree with it or not, learn to respect that." Lula’s resort to the rhetoric of cultural relativism in the face of atrocity, is yet another sad example of the failure of those in key positions of power to prevent the type of state-sponsored persecution that runs rampant in rogue states such as Iran. The history of Brazil has been marked by the persecution of vulnerable minorities – from the colonial enslavement and mistreatment of its African population to the severe marginalisation of its indigenous minorities. Brazil is in an invaluable position of power at the forefront of the developing world - it is a leader in Western Hemisphere emerging markets and boasts the world’s eighth largest economy. Surely Brazil, a country dedicated to universal democratic and humanitarian ideals, must recognize the danger of its complicity with Iran’s absolute disregard of the rights of women. As Lula prepares for his inevitable departure from office this October, we can only hope that his successor grasp the grave importance of taking a firm stance on Brazil’s leading role in the world as a champion global human rights.

we all love Simon Heffer

oh yes we do, we do, hat-tip Nick Cohen for the email from the Heffster, reproduced below, as an editor I believe it is my professional duty to bring this missive to a wider public.  Nick hat-tips Jim Pickard at the FT, which permits me to let readers know that the (free) FT app for the iPad is just splendid, what fun I am having.

Dear Colleagues

We must make sure we stick to the rules on how to describe people, because to stray from consistency causes confusion. The suspect in the Wikileaks case is an American soldier called Private Brad Manning. He is also known as Specialist Brad Manning. We should stick to the familiar, and refer to him at all times (until he is convicted of anything) as Pte Manning. We have started to call him Mr Manning; which, as he is not a civilian, is just plain wrong. The only exception is with officers (usually of the rank of Lt-General or above) who have also been knighted; in which case they should be called (for example) General Sir David Richards at first mention, and then may be either Gen Richards or Sir David. Many of our readers are or have been in the services and have great attention to detail on matters of rank. Since they know at once when we get it wrong, we need to have that attention to detail too.

If you find yourself using a word of whose meaning you are unsure, do look it up in the dictionary. When we get a word wrong it is embarrassing. It demeans us as professional writers and shakes our readers’ confidence in us. In recent weeks we have confused endocrinology – the study of the body’s endocrine system – with dendrochronology, which is the study of dating trees. More embarrassing still, we accused the eminent broadcaster Sir David Attenborough of being a naturist – someone who chooses not to wear clothes – when in fact he is a naturalist; and during a story about a coach crash in Paris the nationality of the driver changed from Austrian to Australian. Homogenous and homogeneous are not interchangeable and their respective meanings should be studied in the dictionary. Like embodied and embedded, which we also confused, effecting and affecting and eligibility and legibility, these pairs of words almost come under the heading of homophones, as do prostate and prostrate.  We must take more care and ensure we are using the right word.
Homophones remain abundant and show up the writer and the newspaper or website. We are quality media, and quality media do not make mistakes such as these: “the luck of the drawer”, “through the kitchen sink”, “through up” “dragging their heals” and “slammed on the breaks”, all of which are clichés that might not be worthy of a piece of elegant writing even if spelt correctly. We have also confused Briton and Britain, hanger and hangar, hordes and hoards, peeled and pealed, lightening and lightning, stationery and stationary, principal and principle, peninsula and peninsular, licence and license and, in something of a pile-up, born, borne and bourn. If you are unsure of the meanings of any of these words, look them up before proceeding further.
Many of these mistakes are caused by carelessness and not properly reading back what one has written. We have had an increasing number of literals in recent weeks, both online and in the paper, which suggests the problem is getting worse rather than better. Heads of department have a particular responsibility to ensure that their staff perform to the best professional standards in this respect. We managed to perpetrate one of the worst literals of all recently – pubic for public- which may seem a laughing matter, but is not.
Some Americanisms keep slipping in, usually when we are given agency copy to re-write and do an inadequate job on it. There is no such verb as “impacted”, and other American-style usages of nouns as verbs should be avoided (authored, gifted etc). Maneuver is not spelt that way in Britain. We do not have lawmakers: we might just about have legislators, but better still we have parliament. People do not live in their hometown; they live in their home town, or even better the place where they were born.
Sometimes we do not properly think of the sense of what we are writing. There is a marked difference between the meanings of convince and persuade that is not recognised by some of you. If you are unsure of the distinction, look the words up. We wrote that “too many bomb disposal experts” had died in Afghanistan, which prompted an angry reader to ask what an acceptable number of dead experts would have been. We wrote of “an extraordinary killing spree” and were asked, in similar fashion, what would have constituted an ordinary one. We wrote about someone’s youngest child being her first, which was obviously not the case. Be careful too of the distinction between renting a property and letting it. And readers also asked us how there could, as we reported, be an 18-month long investigation into a crime that was committed only 14 months ago. We need to ensure that our facts, like our arithmetic, add up.
There have also been some grammatical difficulties. The style book (which, in case you have lost your copy, is also online) specifies the distinction between “compared with” and “compared to”, and it may be worth examining. One of our writers began a sentence with the phrase “us single ladies” which suggests we need to brush up on our pronouns. We should always write one in four is, not one in four are, since one is inevitably singular. Bacteria is plural. Put adverbs in a sentence where they make the most logical sense, if you have to use them at all. This will never be by splitting the infinitive, but to write “to go speedily to town” will always be preferable to “to go to town speedily”, or any other such variant. It is different from, not different to. Under age, like under way, should be written as two words. 
Finally, may I mention some factual matters? Ottawa is the capital of Canada. Air Chief Marshal is spelt thus; and Mark Antony thus.

With best wishes

Simon Heffer
Associate Editor

The Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

defining success down

is what Paul Krugman says in the New York Times is being done in the US, so that structural high employment is likely to become acceptable to government.  I fear he is right, and that Barack Obama has not offered leadership on the economy (he does not say this) and that millions of Americans may be consigned to the econmic dustbin.  I fear too that there are influential figures in the new UK government who think the same way.  Read the piece, it is worth it, and tell me what you think.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life (3) Sandra Tooman

It wasn't really Sandra herself who changed my life, but what happened to her and how others reacted to it.  Sandra was a year older than me and we went to the same school, a mixed-sex grammar school in the town of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.  I had gone to the school a year early, at the age of ten (they did that sometimes in those days) so Sandra and I were in the same class.  For one term in the first year we sat next to each other in form group, and she tried to bully me.  She did it by hitting me, hard, on the hands and arms when the teacher was not looking.  I was increasingly afraid to sit down next to her.  I dealt with it by never looking at her, never reacting to the blows and mentally reciting Robert Louis Stevenson poems while they were going on.  So it didn't work.  I hadn't been bullied at primary school, and Sandra was the only one who tried it at the grammar school, though it did happen to me much later, for a sustained period in Reading Labour Party.  But that is another story.

For the next year or two at school Sandra and I were in the same maths group.  The teacher was Mr Dawson, who was basically a PE teacher who also taught maths.  I don't think they still do it that way these days.  Mr Dawson was, as PE teachers quite often are, a sadist.  Stocky, barrel-chested and blond, he always seemed to be wearing a tracksuit even when he wasn't. My brother, who was taught PE by him, confirms that he bullied the boys physically, treating the weakest ones quite brutally, and that he obviously got off on seeing young boys fight each other.  I don't think he was up to much at maths, we didn't learn much in his classes.  He liked to undermine us, especially the cleverer ones, and Sandra was good at maths.  So when he took the register he always called her "Sandra Threeman".  She hated it.  Sandra came from a family, and from a part of town, where not many went to the grammar school.  No-one from her primary school went up to the grammar school with her, so she had to find new friends.  I did too, because I had left my primary school friends behind me as I had left the school a year early.  Sandra took a while to find friends, because she was tough, hard and unpleasant.  Most people didn't like her much, though from quite early on the boys rumoured that Sandra was "easy".  She was plain, with a square face and straight light-brown hair, but she was at home in her body in a way I took years to be - and the boys noticed that before they understood what they were noticing.

Sandra was clever but she hid it well.  Her friends were mostly outside school, but two years later two girls from her primary school came to the grammar - they had passed a thing they had then called the "thirteen plus".  They were called Rita Scraggs and Jane Pease, and Mr Dawson called them "Scraggy Rita" and "Pea Pod".  Both of them were plainer than Sandra was.  But the three of them had a life my friends and I did not understand, and we speculated about it sometimes - Sandra volunteered outside school with disabled people, and the three of them went to dance halls in Luton.  They all back-combed their hair and used hair spray on it in the cloakrooms at school, which the rest of us did not do, it having gone out of fashion, we thought, though seeing those three do it with confidence sometimes made us wonder.  By the time we were fourteen and fifteen it started to be said about Sandra by other girls, always in a whisper "She's had it off", which is what we called it then.  None of us had.

One morning in March 1969 Sandra was not there in the cloakroom when we arrived at school.  A bit later Rita Scraggs and Jane Pease were called out of assembly, and were not seen again that day.  But before the end of the day we all knew, although this was well before rolling news and the internet - Sandra had been murdered.  She had been hitching on the motorway, on her way back from visiting the disabled man she helped (he confirmed this to the local paper), and had been strangled and her body tied up with string and dumped, naked.  She was fifteen.

For days and weeks we girls would start to say something to each other, and not quite say it.  It was something like "That sort of girl..." but we didn't say it because we knew it wasn't the truth.  Our parents did though.  They didn't even warn us against hitch-hiking (which I did quite a lot of in my late teens), they warned us against being "that sort of girl".  When Sandra Tooman's father was quoted in the local paper as saying they had better keep the murderer locked up (a man called Kenneth Pike had just been charged with the murder) or he would kill him, my mother said Mr Tooman should have stopped his daughter turning into "what she was" (my mother's words - my mother didn't know Sandra or her family) and it was too late now.  I remember the contorted faces of some of my friends' mothers as they spat invective about "girls like that".  The public discourse, if a town in Bedfordshire can be said to have a public discourse, was not about the murder, but about Sandra Tooman's behaviour.  Her fault. 

In my time at that school two pupils had died before Sandra was killed.  One boy, the same age as me, died of leukaemia.  I didn't know him because he had been away ill most of the time.  There was a rather moving special assembly in his memory.  Another boy died, and a solemn announcement was made, but no special assembly was held.  It turned out he had committed suicide.  For Sandra, nothing.  Not even an announcement at assembly.  There were reporting restrictions on the trial, and I have just tried to search, but the Director of Public Prosecutions' archive website says nothing on that case will be released for 80 years.

The killing of Sandra Tooman changed my life, not because I was close to her or even knew her very well - I didn't grieve for her  - but because I learned from it that the protection of society for those who are victims in some way is conditional.  Some people's lives are worth more than other people's.  Except that - no they are not.

If something isn't right, it's wrong.

None of the names have been changed.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life (2) Mr Brooks

You thought Mr Brooks was going to be the name of an inspirational teacher, didn't you?  Anyone with any luck in life has had one of those, and I did, but that teacher was not called Mr Brooks.  No, Mr Brooks is someone (he is quite likely dead by now) who spoke to me perhaps once and whom I saw perhaps three times, but unknowingly he was part of a change in my life whose effects are still there today.

My father always looked for interesting or unconventional holidays for us to take as a family.  He didn't like crowded beaches or places where you might meet a family from the same town as you.  Nowadays he would probably have taken his family to Bratislava or Tirana for their annual holiday, but back then "foreign travel" as it was still called, was too expensive.  My family went abroad on holiday, to Majorca, for the first time in 1970.  I was 16 and too old really, but went with them because I had never been abroad either.  His children didn't protest about this attitude of his, though privately at least two of us would have rather liked crowded beaches and meeting your mates from school.

When I was twelve my father announced that we were going to Sark for our holiday.  None of us had ever heard of it, and my mother had to explain to all her friends, time after time, that Sark was in the Channel Islands, that it was ruled by a Dame, and that no cars were allowed on the island.  We flew to Guernsey and took the small ferry from there.  None of us had flown before, and it was all terrifically exciting.  When exciting things are happening my mother usually develops a health problem, and this time it was agonising pain in the ears.  She got over it quite quickly, which is usual for her too.

We stayed at a hotel called La Sablonnerie , which is still there.  My sister and I were housed in a kind of annexe, away from parents, and although we didn't get on (we never really have) we both liked the feeling of independence that gave us, as if we were living in our own house.  There were cats in the garden, which we let into our room although the hotel management told us not to, and some paperback books for guests to read, ancient and dog-eared, probably left behind by other guests, but crucially they were in our annexe so the parents didn't see them.  There were hibiscus flowers outside our window, and the scent of thyme and, faintly, of drains, thrillingly exotic for a girl from Bedfordshire.

We were at breakfast on the first morning, and my physics teacher, Miss Haynes, walked into the room.  She was on her honeymoon.  She took it quite well, considering.  Most teachers would have their holiday quite spoiled by having to share a small hotel (Sark does not have much in the way of amenities, or buildings of any sort) with a 12-year-old pupil who was not over-keen on physics and was likely to do inappropriate things with bunsen burners given half a chance.  I had referred to that teacher at home as "Ma Haynes" and my parents had imagined a crabbed virago aged about 56, my age now - but she was a lively, attractive twenty-something who perhaps was as happy then and there in Sark as she would ever be in her life.  Teacher's whisky, a popular drink with the adults on that holiday, was promptly dubbed "Ma Haynes", and my father called it that to the end of his life.  All the hotel guests had dinner there, and the adults gathered in the garden for drinks in the evenings, after our generation had been banished to their rooms.  We could hear their voices and the clink of glasses and the click and flare of cigarette lighters (this was 1966) late into the night.

The first night I picked up a book I had never heard of before.  It was Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex", in English translation.  I knew my mother would not approve, whether she knew the book or not, because it had "Sex" in the title.  I read it every night, and stole it at the end of the holiday.  I didn't understand that much of what I read, but I knew that it was important.  It also referred to women's, you know, bits and pieces, as if they were, you know, normal and stuff. For a twelve-year-old this was electrifying.  If you ask most people when they experienced puberty they become jocular and a little embarrassed, but some will tell you that it wasn't an event, but a process.  For girls of course it happens more quickly than it does for boys - at twelve I was a child and at thirteen I was being followed in the street by men and whistled at by lorry drivers - but for most people puberty is not a moment.  It was for me.  It happened that week.  And I don't mean my first period.  That happened months later.

Mr Brooks (you were wondering when I was going to get to him, weren't you?) was a guest in the hotel.  I think he was there alone.  He wore a jacket and tie to dinner, which the other men did not, because they were on holiday.  I remember him as - saturnine might be the word.  Perhaps he was in his forties.  He never smiled.  I looked across the room at him as we were taking our places for dinner on the second night and just for a moment he looked straight at me.  At dinner my parents mentioned him, quietly.  They knew his name (which is how I did) presumably because he had joined them for drinks the evening before.  I think they were a little curious about him, as he was there alone.  I was more than curious.  But I did not know what the feelings I was having were.  This was the first time I had had them.  And they were linked in a way in my head and body with The Second Sex, which had somehow told me I was allowed to be a woman.

As we were finishing our main courses (we children had been heavily briefed, with warnings of savage reprisals for transgression, on how to behave in a hotel dining room, which mostly meant not speaking) a waiter came to the table, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly, with a half-bottle of wine.  It had been sent to us, he said, by Mr Brooks, who was very impressed by how well-behaved we children were.  I was sitting next to my father, and we were facing Mr Brooks, who silently raised his own glass to us.

We were allowed a little of the wine each, as it had been sent to us rather than to our parents.  It made me feel powerful.  I was powerful.  The power of a woman is feared by men.  That is what Simone de Beauvoir said, and that is what Mr Brooks knew, and together they began me as a woman.