Monday, 28 February 2011

here we go...

(picture removed at Craske's request)

some people have been messaging me on facebook, and one who claims to be Heidi Craske and who looks like this has sent me this:


It appears you are publicly putting my name on your ‘blog’ site yep, got it from the Reading Evening Post and implying that I’m of a racist nature who me? never said anything of the sort, and if I did I would use correct grammar. This is totally untrue so now you have a platform here to deny what was implied in the Post and the Daily Mail, congratulations, those organs would not give you that much and unfair life is not fair I think you will find. Since the article hit the Daily Mail on Monday my whole life has been turned upside down diddums. The false allegations that are being made will have a serious effect on my children, myself, and my career when I qualify as a barrister maybe you should have thought of that before going to the press. There are also many things in your blog which are incorrect tell me what they are and I will correct them if necessary, and it amazes me in this day and age, why people are allowed to publicly libel people without checking all the facts on the contrary, libel laws exist in the UK (where I do not live). I have already commenced legal proceedings against the different media forms, who have published my name in relation to these comments am I going to get a letter from m'learned friends then?  Please, I'm feeling left out here.
I ask you to please think about the consequences your blogs are having on myself and my family why?  I don't give a stuff about you or your family, any more than you do about me and mine, and remove them as soon as possible no. Imagine how you would feel if something which was so totally wrong about you made it to the national press for everyone to see. I know exactly what that is like, it has happened to me on numerous occasions
Kind Regards and to you too, have a nice day

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Sudhana Singh

is a person I have never knowingly met. She originates I believe from South Africa, and is of Indian heritage. Until the autumn of last year she had had a successful teaching career, and was the head teacher of Moorlands Primary School in Tilehurst, west Reading. Some parents did not like her style it seems, and soon there was a playground campaign by parents to get her removed. A small but vocal group. Not representative of the parent body. They got up a petition seeking her removal. It does not appear to have contained any specific allegations, merely to have stated that parents were "unhappy" with Ms Singh. This petition was submitted first of all to the Reading Evening Post, and then to the governing body of the school. That body appears to have realised that if there is a petition then there must be an issue (they were right). What should they have done next? In my view they should have contacted the lead signatory of the petition and asked that person, along with anyone else who had signed the petition and wished to attend, to come and make their allegations to the governing body. Then, having heard those allegations in detail (which the petition does not give) they should have asked Ms Singh to appear before them to answer the allegations. They did not do this. Instead they referred the whole matter to Reading Borough Council for an independent inquiry. That inquiry has not yet reported so far as I am aware. But Ms Singh has thereby been denied, so far, the opportunity to put her case. In the meantime she has been sent home on full pay, and thus deprived of her job.

A parent who reportedly played a leading role in the petition, Heidi Craske, was reported as having said that she did not think "that Indian woman" should be "in charge of our children". A person who played a leading role in the petition reportedly called a parent, Kes Williams, who supported Ms Singh, a "Paki-lover". That person, who may or may not have been Heidi Craske,later said that a fake email account had been set up in her name and that she had never said such things. However the report I read indicated that the person, who may or may not have been Ms Craske, made the offending remarks verbally and not by email.

Whatever the truth of the above, and if I am factually incorrect please tell me how and I will publish it, a very serious question arises. Natural justice demands that if allegations are made the person against whom they are made should be heard. Ms Singh has not been so heard. This is presumably why she has brought an employment tribunal case, and she is being represented in this by a member of the Bindmans partnership. That partnership does not mess about. I do not imagine that Ms Singh is of independently wealthy means,though of course I could be wrong about that. If I am not then the action is being brought on a no win no fee basis. Which means Bindmans think they will win.

I have no reason to believe Malcolm Powers, the chair of the governing body of that school,now and at the time the decision was taken to take the unsubstantiated petition seriously and not to hear Ms Singh, was a local authority appointee to the governing body. Although he may have been. He is more likely to have been appointed as a parent governor. However he gained access to that body, he became the chair of it, and as such the person ultimately accountable for its decisions. And the decision for which he is accountable, namely to kick the petition away to an independent inquiry and to deny Ms Singh the opportunity to be heard, may cost Reading Borough Council a deal of money if Ms
Singh wins her tribunal case. In practice local authorities prefer to settle these cases out of court to avoid prohibitive increases in their insurance premiums. Whether Reading Borough Council does this or not remains to be seen.

Malcolm Powers is a former employee of Berkshire County Council, having studied geology at Reading University. He left the County Council to work in the constituency office of Jane Griffiths MP (me) in early 1998, and left that employ, on amicable terms, in late 1999. He then worked for the Labour Party, and currently is its regional director for the south-east region, based in Reading. He was a Labour councillor for Battle ward in Reading for a number of years and most recently was a Labour candidate for Church ward in Reading (not elected). He has Labour credentials going back a number of years and it is unlikely to have escaped the then controlling Labour group on Reading Borough Council, when Malcolm Powers became a member and then the chair of the governing body of Moorlands Primary School, that he was one of their own. Indeed, in 2002 Malcolm Powers was press officer of Reading Labour Party, and thus responsible for its public pronouncements.

What does Reading Labour have to do with this decision, which has ousted a head teacher from her job following an apparently racist campaign by some parents, and which may cost Reading Borough Council a great deal of money, and what are they going to do about playground racism?

I only ask.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

racism in the playground

His Master's Voice (so it must be true) has this report of the start of an employment tribunal process by the head of Moorlands Primary School in west Reading.  I posted on this previously, because while I do not know the school or any of the teachers there I was puzzled by the coverage of issues raised by anonymous parents, who were not happy with the head teacher. All that was reported was the parents' unhappiness, with no specific complaints. Following my post (the head teacher is called Sudhana Singh) I got a torrent of racist comment - one parent acknowledges having used racist language and reportedly has apologised for starting the petition - however the governors took the petition seriously and the head was pushed out of her job.  The racist comment I got was anonymous, and I have no way of knowing whether it came from Moorlands parents.  But who else would have bothered?  Anyway, the chair of the school governing body has declined to comment on issues involving individuals.  However he bears the responsibility for the original decision, last summer, to take the petition seriously despite the lack of specific issues in it, and thus to remove the head teacher from her post. He is called Malcolm Powers, and is South-East Regional Director of the Labour Party and a former Labour councillor in Reading.  Racism in your school, Malcolm?  I certainly hope not.

Monday, 21 February 2011

a local resident?

Basher informs us he has been out in east Reading, and is pictured with "local residents".  There is only one person in the picture apart from Basher himself, and she is holding a clipboard, which most people do not do in their own neighbourhood.  The person pictured does indeed live in the area, I believe, and she is called Helen Kayes.  She was a Labour councillor quite some years ago, and was described at the time by Martin Salter as "crap".  She is married to Peter Kayes, a self-hating Jew who was a Labour councillor in Redlands a few years ago, until the Labour councillors there were blown into oblivion in the wake of the electoral fraud supported by the then chair of Reading Labour Party Stuart Singleton-White.  Just so we know...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

turning the guns on their own

in Bahrain, after several days of protests, live fire has been used against the people.  In Libya now, over 80 dead as the same thing happens.  In Bahrain the king offers talks with the opposition, the people are not impressed.  In Libya there seems not to be any opposition, such as there was went into exile long ago.  This is, increasingly, 1989 in Europe.  The Arab dictators have had their day.  The people will not stand for it any longer.  In Egypt and in Tunisia this did not happen.  The people were not fired upon, and ultimately the dictators had to go.  Gaddafi (left, much less fanciable than he used to be) has seen this, as have the rulers in Algeria, Yemen and probably elsewhere.  A friend has just come back from holiday in Morocco, and when asked if anything was happening there said "Absolutely not.  The place is a police state." True enough.  And what happens in those countries does not tend to kick off, or be visible, in the resort areas.  I have always rather fancied a holiday in Libya myself, maybe I will go sooner than I expected to.  In the meantime, Muammar, stop killing your people.  There are more of them than there are of  you and your cohorts.

When I was young we used to try and visit the places with leadership we approved of.  We would not have dreamed of going to apartheid South Africa for instance.  Though we would go to the USSR, which was considered cool, but that is another story.  But in those days more than half of Europe was under dictatorship, including Spain, Portugal and Greece.  Most of Latin America too.  The fascists had the best weather, as we used to say.  In those days travel was in real terms much more expensive more difficult and thus less accessible to ordinary people.  I did not leave the UK untilI was 16, and then to Spain, and I spent the summer in Germany when I was 17 - for someone from my background I was considered well travelled.  My own children are 29 and 34 and have travelled much more than that, but it never occurred to me to send them for language summers in their teens, as is very often done now (I know, I have taught them),  We know the world these days, because we have visited it.  Or so we think.  I have had holidays in both Tunisia and Egypt, but the young men I see in the streets here in France, whose parents came from Tunisia but who themselves have never left France, know far more than I do.  Which of us has the clearer perspective?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


A number of times in my life I have had conversations with people who said they were lonely.  They never said they were lonely now, at the moment they were speaking to me, oh no, they were never lonely now.  That is much too hard to admit to.  To be lonely and to admit to it is to say to others that you have no friends, nowhere to go, or at least no-one to go there with - and that must mean there is something wrong with you, mustn't it?  Everyone has someone to go to places with.  When people go to the pub after work they go either with people or because they know other people who know them will be there.  People don't go to the theatre on their own, and only very exceptionally to concerts (does no-one else like the music you like?How sad/uncool/dysfunctional are you?), the cinema maybe, just occasionally.  Even the cinema is only really OK if it's not in the evening, or not the late evening,and if the film is an ancient classic, preferably part of a season, and preferably not in English.  The Coen Brothers' latest in a multiplex at eight on a Saturday evening on your own is not OK, but something from the 1930s by Ernst Lubitsch at four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon is.

People tell you they were lonely before.  They were living on their own in a part of town no-one they knew lived, and it was hard to get to, so they moved, and when you say
"But that was such a nice flat you had" they say something like "Yes, but I got lonely", and
you think, "Maybe, but I went to see you there, and we talked for hours, and you never told me you were lonely" because no-one can tell you they are lonely now.  We cannot admit it.  And yet we will happily admit that we are designed to live in groups.  We are.  A hamster is a solitary creature and wants no company.  If you try to keep two hamsters in the same cage they may fight, and will visibly feel intruded upon.  A rat is a creature that lives in a group.  It is cruel to keep just one rat, unless you are willing to interact with it for several hours a day, and not many people over the age of eleven or so have the time for that.  A cat walks alone, but will tolerate other cats sometimes.  A dog looks for its pack, and if it lives with humans they become its pack and its work too.  Border collies, bred to round up sheep, do this to humans if they live in a human family, especially one with children.  I have seen a border collie at a four-year-old's birthday party work for two hours, completely non-aggressively - no child was frightened - until eight or nine children had been corralled in a corner of the room.  They played in that corner apparently quite happily, patrolled by the dog and headed off by it, belly to the floor and eyes hypnotic, if any of them showed signs of moving into the middle of the room.  I have seen a rather less functional border collie show signs of panic, when its human family had guests for dinner and on occasion one of the guests, not previously known to the dog and only accepted because its human family accepted them, left the room to go to the loo.  The dog found itself locked out of the bathroom, and behaved like a lovesick teenage boy, whining and shuffling and panting outside the door, until the stray human emerged.

Humans live in groups, except when we don't, and we live in couples or alone.  We need the group which is ours, which is why most humans who live in groups which are not theirs are unhappy most of he time.  Military barracks, boarding schools and student halls of residence are all examples of this.

This is not anthropology - go to an anthropologist if you want that - it is a musing on loneliness.  Not on solitude.  Many humans in developed societies live alone, and most of them, especially when they are old, would rather not do so.  For most of us there is only one time in our lives when we actively seek out solitude, and that is in adolescence, when we go to our rooms.  There we might be sad, lovelorn, horny, dreamy, creative, stupid, sleepy, but we are probably not lonely.  When we leave that room and go to school we may be very lonely indeed, because at that age we are looking for new groups of our own, and we may not readily find them, or the groups we want to join may not accept us.

I have never really been lonely.  I have also reached the age I am almost never having lived alone.  I do not think these two things are connected.  I think loneliness comes from not finding your group, your family, not from not living with anyone else.  There is a line which comes I think from Germaine Greer "Many a housewife listening to her husband's breathing in bed is lonelier than the spinster in her rented room" - this far down the years we think, well yes, like der, of course.  But no, no of course about it.  I do not get lonely.  Many people do.  Many people, especially old people, spend much of their lives feeling lonely, even if they have been such people as to be mean-spirited and crabby and ignorant and censorious and filled with hatred, so that no-one much has ever wanted their company.  They loathe just about everyone they know and see, and they both fear and loathe those they know only from the media.  How alone, and how lonely, is an old person whose life partner has Alzheimer's and who cares for them every day but is not known by them?  I don't know.  I do know that someone should ask them.   Someone should go and talk to them and ask them how they feel from time to time, and not be offended if they are rebuffed.  Because they probably will be.

There are not many sounds that make me feel better than that of my husband's breathing in bed.  Even when he snores.  Well, maybe not quite all the time when he does that.  I often wake up, when he has either been out and I have not, or stayed up reading or watching a film and I have not, and it is two or three in the morning and I am just glad to hear him breathing next to me.  But that is because I am glad he is there.  The doors to the flats in our building are big and old and heavy (and the building service charge is outrageous, but that is another matter) and most of them have had the original glass door panes covered or blocked, and there is usually a peephole so you can see who is at your door.  Our hall is very long and has no natural light.  It has those recessed lights at intervals along it, and because there is no daylight the hall light is on whenever someone is in, no matter what time of day or year it is.  So when I get to our door, having stowed my bike and said "bonsoir" to anyone who is going in or out of the building as I arrive, I am always glad to see the light in the peephole.  It lights me up.  That is because I am glad he is there.

But he is not there, for weeks at a time sometimes, and I am not lonely, although I wish he was there.  I have always gone to the cinema by myself quite often, and still do.  When I was young, if there was a party I never minded going by myself.  I can do solitude.  I had an omelette and a salad and a glass of wine in a cafe tonight, by myself.  I don't really know what loneliness is like.

looking fierce

at New York Fashion Week.  Wasn't he just?

the king says sorry

the king of Bahrain that is.  He's trying to keep up with the game as the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt did not, and as the leadership in Algeria, Libya and Yemen are also currently trying to do.  He says he is sorry the police shot a demonstrator dead yesterday.  That demonstrator's funeral has been held, peacefully it would appear (I rely on Al-Jazeera for this stuff), with no police on the ground but helicopters overhead.  The king says there will be reforms.  He refers to media freedom (which does not exist in that tiny kingdom) and, vaguely, to internet access - do people in Bahrain have it?  I bet the king does.  But the people are in a square in Manama.

In other news, Barry O. gets some cojones, and speaks contemptuously about the leadership of Iran pretending to support the uprising in Egypt, but when people demonstrate in Iran shooting them dead.

Power to the people.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

the first Mrs Wilcox

Howards End.  E.M. Forster.  Another I have just re-read after quite a few years, thanks to the Gutenberg Project and free e-book downloads.  Written in 1910 and seeming newer than that, like all great English novels it is about class and money.  Like almost all English novels, great or not, it is about houses and property.  Howards End is the name of a house.  For anyone who has not read it (or seen the 1990s film with Emma Thompson) it is about two sisters and a brother who have money and who are cultured and interested in issues of the day (Theosophy is mentioned at one stage), their interaction over a number of years with the Wilcox family, the father of which has made money, and with the Bast couple, who have no money at all.  The real poor however make no appearance at all in this book.  Forster is on record as saying that the poor live in "the abyss".  The Schlegel sisters  (half German and hence slightly outside the class system, as their English aunt often muses) talk about money almost all the time, usually to congratulate themselves on the fact that they have it, and so can spend their time with books and music and dinner-party discussions.  Mr Wilcox does not talk about money, but does talk about property, and about business, rather a lot.  He has a saintly wife who dies.  Howards End belonged to her and she wanted the Schlegels to have it.   Leonard Bast talks not about property but about books.  He is patronised and sneered at by both sisters, one of whom has his child, a plot shift you really don't see coming, and is killed by books when a bookcase falls on his head.  But the three households keep coming together, some of them have affairs with each other, some of them marry each other, and there is a great deal of house-hunting and furniture-moving and discussion of chiffoniers and marble-topped tables and picture frames.  There's quite a bit of gender politics too, which is largely what makes the book seem new, and which is still fresh today.  I suppose Forster was writing about England, represented by the house, Howards End, and in a way by the saintly first Mrs Wilcox, who is descended from the yeomanry of England.  In the end the solid money-maker Mr Wilcox breaks down and needs to be looked after, one of his sons goes to prison, and the Schlegel sisters frolic in the sunlit meadows of Howards End, safe in the knowledge that their money protects them from offices and bailiffs, and from the lonely death of Leonard Bast among the books.

I am not charitable towards this book, and the characters in it, because they are all deeply unpleasant and unattractive, with the possible exception of Mrs Bast, an uneducated rather overweight woman who has a past, if not a present, as a bit of a slapper, and who likes a drink a bit too much.  But it is one of the greatest things ever written about England.  "Only connect" says Margaret Schlegel, who connects with nobody.  "Concentrate", says Mr Wilcox, who becomes vague.  He knew what he was on about, did old E.M.

You better read this.  Despite what I say.  

journalism's finest

secondary modern boy from the Kent coalfields Andy Murrill, ed. His Master's Voice (Reading Evening Post) has excelled himself this time.  Here is a "story" about the resignation of Cllr Warren Swaine from the coalition front bench.  It happened last week, was reported then, and nothing has happened since to warrant a new story.  But they have repeated the story anyway, just adding in some further allegations of racism they didn't print the first time.  Why, Mr Murrill?  Who told you to do this?  It is hardly a secret in Reading political circles that it was the Labour group calling for Swaine's head on a charger, and it is clear that it was the Labour group boys who briefed HMV and demanded and got a second story. The interesting thing is why.  Nothing to do with Swaine's remarks, whether they were racist or not (IMHO Chuka Umunna MP actually is a vacuous muppet), but to do with his blog, which has done more than most recently to expose corruption at the heart of the Labour group.  Der, silly boys.  If Swaine is front bench in the coalition administration he is bound by collective responsibility.  If he is a backbencher he can say what he likes.  They should, as one senior figure in Reading politics wrote to me the other day, be very afraid.

Monday, 14 February 2011

"a clarification" - wtf? when are they going to be stopped?

the pro-Hamas Guardian managed to quote the former foreign minister of Israel, Tzipi Livni, who was talking about Palestinian attitudes and perceptions of Israeli government actions, in such a way that views she attributed to some Palestinian leaders appeared to be being expressed as her own, and/or those of the Israeli government.  As a former sub I can tell you that while this occasionally happens in the best regulated, staffed and managed editorial operations, it is really difficult to do by accident. They have published a disgraceful clarification, which goes like this (colour emphasis mine):

A quote by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister, within a panel that formed part of the Palestine papers, was cut in a way that may have given a misleading impression. The quote appeared as:

“The Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”
To clarify, the full quote is:
“I understand the sentiments of the Palestinians when they see the settlements being built. The meaning from the Palestinian perspective is that Israel takes more land, that the Palestinian state will be impossible, the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.” (What they said … 24 January, page 4.)

One commenter on the post on Harry's Place (click link) says the Guardian piece is a hit-job on Israel and the Palestinian Authority, intended to be helpful to Hamas.  I think this is right, and consistent with the Guardian's editorial policy for some years now.  Its coverage of Israel is worse than unbalanced, it is not only racist but, apparently quite deliberately, feeds a thousand hate sites around the world.

Can the Guardian not be stopped? 
Should it be?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

the missing men

People disappear all the time, most but not all of them young, most of them single, and many of them are never seen or heard from again.  Samy Haikel, a young man from Strasbourg whom I did not know, disappeared after a night out on 7th January.  Yesterday a body, identifiably his by the clothing and jewellery, was found in the river Ill by a canoe club group.  Here there has been huge publicity, his father appeared regularly on local TV and radio, flyers were put up all over town, and there has been a great deal of concern.  Nationally though, nothing.  Two blonde little girls were killed by their father, and there was huge publicity.  A girl was murdered on a train and the President of the Republic got involved, kicking off a judges' strike (this is France),  When a woman or girl goes missing, especially if she is blonde and attractive, everyone wants to know.  When a man disappears, no-one outside his immediate community seems to care.  I don't have an answer to this, I only ask the question why.  All people prefer looking at pictures of  women to pictures of men, that is why newspapers of all persuasions and politics publish so many of them.  But that is not the whole story, surely?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

no mullahs here, ta very much

some of those who helped overthrow the Mubarak dictatorship believe that Iranian elements have tried to muscle in and make the revolution Islamist.  Maybe that's true.  Gene at Harry's Place posts rather interestingly on the topic.  One of those quoted in Egypt is aghast at the notion that any new regime should exclude Egypt's Coptic Christians, who are I think about 10% of the population, which is heartening to read, and which is of course what an Islamist regime would do.  And worse, probably.  Gene also sees grounds for optimism about the US administration, thinking recent events have shown them to be proactive rather than reactive.  I am not so sure.  Two or three speeches don't make a change of em;hasis.  It's the speeches you don't notice at the time, but which build a new ideology, that make the difference, as we saw with Tony Blair.  Though that was another story.

Moral clarity.  That is what governments need.  If the Obama administration has acquired some very good.  If not I hope it will.

Still watching an episode of The West Wing at home every so often, we are working our way through them from start to finish.  What strikes me now is actually the lack of moral clarity in the Bartlet administration.  They were not bad people and it was not a bad administration, but at times last night I wanted to ask "What are you for?"  And yes of course it was fictional, but at this perspective it tells us quite a lot about the politics of the 1990s.  When we really had never had it so good.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Egypt reconstructs

It starts here and now.  It must.  With an interim government and free elections.  I was told eight years ago that the "Arab street" would never stand for the overthrow of its own tyrants, and that Iraq should be left alone because the Arabs had different values and "the West" should not impose theirs on them. But as the people of Egypt drive Mubarak out of power, and the people of Gaza dance for joy (it is Egypt that blockades Gaza, as we are very rarely reminded), here is the Arab street telling the rest of the world in no uncertain terms what it believes in and what it wants.  This has been a revolution we could watch in new ways, compared with even the recent past - we could watch Tahrir Square live at home, without waiting for the BBC news bulletins, and this afternoon I have had Al-Jazeera live on my iPad while I am working.

Egypt will reconstruct.  There will be disappointments and disillusion, but there will be progress, and there will be a move to democracy.  Of that I am as certain as I can be.  Good.  Now, where next? 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

votes for prisoners

a lot of nonsense is being spouted in some of the British media on this topic, being debated in the Commons as I write.  Individuals can bring applications to the European Court of Human Rights, but those applications are only admissible if all domestic legal avenues have been exhausted.  In fact the issue of votes for prisoners has been before the House before, in 2005 as a private member's bill, at which time it was supported by Ken Clarke, former Tory Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, and Simon Hughes for the LibDems, among many others, including the Prison Reform Trust. An event to promote the bill was presided over by Hurd and Hughes in the Commons. The bill was ultimately withdrawn, not because of any pressure from the then Government whips, but because of irresponsible antics by some Tory election candidates.  In fact there is no proposal, nor any need under the European Convention of Human Rights and the Court's judgment, for any government to give all prisoners the right to vote no matter what their offence.  The Court has ruled that the right to vote may not be removed from all prisoners regardless of their offence.

is it because I is a blogger?

Basher McKenzie has this:

So now we know, there is a cost for everything. If you publish abuse, racist cant and libel about your opponents it will catch up with you. Swaine is disgraced and will have to start again to rebuild his tarnished reputation. The rest of Reading's political bloggers should take note

Stopped beating your wife Basher?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

what was she thinking of and what did he say?

Was has made some remarks. He made them on Twitter, last week, while he was watching BBC Question Time. Little Dunky has gone a bit over the top about them, and may face legal action as a result. But otherwise, silence, for the past 24 hours. Until now. When Redlands Labour chooses to comment, in the person of one J. Gavin. She describes his remarks as racist. No-one else in Reading Labour does so. If they think he has used racist language let them say so and take the appropriate measures. Or let them support J. Gavin in her own choice of remarks. Anyone? Anyone? *sound of tumbleweed*

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

bloody hell

Meryl Streep.  Hat-tip Ezra at Harry's Place.

Cyprus and oil

thanks to The Scoop for posting this a few days ago, have only just picked it up.  Yes, oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean, and Cyprus and Israel have reached an agreement on exploitation.  They will need other partners to make it happen of course, and a Texan oil company seems to be involved, time will tell.  Turkey has been trying to put a stop to it, natch.  Won't work.  This could transform the economy of the region.  Cyprus itself is not a poor country, in the EU and the eurozone; plenty of Russian money comes in as Russians buy villas.  But a resource on this scale could make Cyprus a key player in the eastern Mediterranean, where it is geographically in any case.  I have to declare an interest as I love Cyprus with a great passion, and have spent a number of holidays there, including the last two New Years.  If I ever retire that is where I shall go.  Cyprus has everything it needs except water.  But if you have oil you can get everything else.  Oh and peeps - stop developing golf resorts on Cyprus.  Golf courses need green grass, and green grass needs rain.  There is a reason why Cypriots don't have lawns.  In six years of going to Cyprus, always in winter or spring, it has rained for precisely one day.

le discours d'un roi

is the French title of the film "The King's Speech" which significant other and I saw on Sunday afternoon.  To those readers who cannot read French, it must be awful for you.  To those who can, how would you translate the French title back?  O-level French would give you "The Speech of a King", I suppose.  Mais le O-level French est un passeport a nowhere.  Anyway, it must be clear by now that "le discours" is "speech" in the sense of "making a speech", which of course is only part of the meaning of that title.  And yet it is probably good enough as a translation, although it has only half the meaning of the original, because it contains within it a key idea from the film, namely that the then Duke of York, "Bertie", was quite happy in his personal and private life, he had learned to live with his speech impediment since childhood, and it was only when it began to be intimated to him that because of his brother's unsuitable antics it was quite possible that he would be King one day, and therefore would have to speak in public, that he agreed to get some help for his stammer. 

Nobody really understands what stammering is, and why it happens.  Typically it starts in early childhood, at around three, when most children are fairly new to being fluent talkers.  My granddaughter is this age, and when I saw her in December I monitored her quite closely for signs of stammering.  None.  She is a fluent talker, and last time she spoke to me on the telephone her mother tried to get her to pass the phone over.  "No",  she said.  "I've still got a lot of words to say."  My son stammered a little at that age, and when I took advice I was told "He'll grow out of it", which fortunately he did.  My son talked early, and has rarely shut up since.  The reason for mentioning all this is that stammering appears to be heritable.  I stammered myself at the same age, although I don't remember doing so, and similarly grew out of it.  But later, when I changed schools at the age of ten, I stammered again.  A teacher helped me through it.  The most efficacious technique he showed me was to touch my ears so as to close them partially to sound, and to pretend it was someone else talking and not me.  That worked most of the time.  The film showed the same technique being used on the Duke - he was made to wear headphones with music playing through them so he could not hear his own voice.  It is not hard to see that changing schools, especially when you are a year younger than your classmates, might kick off a speech problem that had existed before.  It is not hard to see that a speech problem you have learned to live fairly comfortably with might become a disabling difficulty when you are pushed into a public role you did not wish for.  I stammered again, later, when I was nineteen and went to France for a long summer being an au pair - but only when I spoke French.  The family I worked for were very kind and tolerant, for which I have always been grateful.  I have never stammered since.  But the fact that I did stammer then contributed I suspect to the difficulty I had when I came to live in France four years ago in becoming fluent in French.  Overcome now.  My father stammered all his life, fortunately not seriously enough for it to be an impediment to interaction with others - he was a talkative, entertaining raconteur to the end of his life, and of his family members the most talkative are his elder daughter, me, who has been a broadcaster and a politician, and his grandson, my son, who is an actor, and both of us inherited the stammer.  Go figure.

I know what stammering feels like.  It is not about breath control, though breathing exercises help.  It feels as though the diaphragm has turned into an iron bar, and that the words you want to say are banging against it from underneath and can't get through.  And the fear, of having to say words which are difficult, doesn't help either.  Colin Firth showed that in the movements of his face.  It was all I could do not to burst into tears as I watched.  I don't stammer any more, but if you ever have it is always there, waiting in the shadows behind your words.

The coronation of Elizabeth was some months before I was born, so I know George VI only from bits of old film.  Last night I called my mother to ask her what he really sounded like in his radio speeches, and what people thought about him.  She said his speeches were halting and hesitant, and although he was known to stammer, and people sympathised with him for it, he never stammered in his speeches.  People didn't know though that he had his Australian speech therapist with him all the time when he made his radio speeches.

The film is also about having no choice.  Colin Firth as the King says this several times.  His elder brother made a choice, but Bertie could not choose.  The two brothers were both kings, one uncrowned, and one made the choice to walk away from the crown.  The other had no voice and had to find a voice so he could wear the crown he had never wanted.  What a great story.

Go and see the film, and ponder on the nature of discourse.  Great frocks too.

Monday, 7 February 2011

down tools

magistrates picketing - ahead of a national strike called for Thursday and Friday.  Only in France...?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

RIP Jim Hanley - reprise

The Reading Evening Post has already had to correct its report of the sad and untimely death of Cllr Jim Hanley, either not having checked the date he was first elected to Reading Borough Council, or letting themselves be briefed by Lovelock. Before things get even more unseemly let me make some suggestions. First, chair and officers of Reading Labour Party, update your website and Facebook page with an appropriate tribute, or at least mention, at the time of writing the only comments from any Reading Labour figure are in the Reading Evening Post (go figure) and even that organ carries many more comments from figures from other parties. Next, give some support to Jim's nearest and dearest - I remember the deaths of Cllrs Lockey and Wild. Maureen Lockey's widower Alan was thrown to the wolves, with predictable results. He should have been cared for. Wilf was a widower when he died, but his family remember. I was in correspondence with his granddaughter fairly recently. Third, wait for the funeral before plotting the succession. Many were disgusted by the meeting held to plot the imposition of a candidate on Church ward when Maureen died, even before her funeral had been held, and by the fact that the party then failed to commemorate her death with a minute's silence. Jim had said he was standing down, so presumably a candidate is in place. Also, Whitley is unlikely to elect a councillor from a party other than Labour, and for that reason its doors do not get knocked very often. It is not a ward I have ever been interested in, because it is in Reading West. However, knock the doors, for the sake of Jim, who cared about Whitley, if you don't care yourselves. Move the writ for a by-election, I suggest Thursday 31st March or 7th April. Easter is late this year. Don't wait. I promise you this is a good idea. Not only will Whitley get worked, but democratic legitimacy will be tested.

You know it makes sense.

Jim Hanley - a good guy

I can only thank Tony Jones from whom I found this out.  I am so very sorry.  I knew Jim Hanley quite well at one time.  I hope those who should remember him post their tributes in the appropriate places.  Jim was one of the very good people.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Friendly printers

M'learned friends have been hearing about this
says Guido. Of course around 10K of that particular friendly printer's dosh is Reading council taxpayers' money

Eh Mr Howarth?

Have a nice evening.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Huckleberry Finn

I first read this book at my grandmother's house, almost at a sitting, when I was about 12.  My brother had been given it.  Boys often were at that time, although even then it was getting on for a century old.  It is a gem. A Great American Novel.  This is confirmed by the fact that there were attempts to ban it almost from the moment it was first published - in England before the US, though only just.  One of the joys it brings is the use of the mostly-now-vanished Missouri vernacular, notably the famous almost-last line, in which Huck vows to "light out for the Territory".  There  are too many linguistic delights to list, though one is "humbug talky-talk" as Huck's description of women pretending to praise each other's cooking.  But it is more than exotic or folksy, it is profound.  The moment when Huck decides to let Jim go free, although he believes that slavery is the natural order of things and he will go to hell for doing anything to undermine it, even though Huck is not a believer, because he was "brung up wicked" - count the contradictions - is a very important one, not just in this book but in literature generally.  This book is better than the same author's 'Tom Sawyer'.  The latter character appears towards the end of the book, and is drawn as a flashy, duplicitous chancer.  He is no better than the fraudulent "king and the duke" who end by being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

At this remove I, and probably most Americans too, have no idea how accurate a depiction of rural 19th-century Missouri life, and even language, it is.  But the casual brutality of idle men in a small Missouri riverside town, who set fire to a stray dog for fun, probably took until the 1980s to become shocking.  It was certainly well into the 20th century before the N-word did so.  I read the book this week on the iFlow app for ebooks, free, from the Gutenberg project, so this edition is not affected by any notions of a new paper edition without the N-word, which I think is nonsense.  The idea is to call N-people "slaves" - but an important  part of the story turns on whether Jim really is free, or a slave.  Another important theme is Huck's changing understanding of what it means to be human, which develops through his relationship with Jim.  Huck decides to help free Jim although the tenets of society are against it and he knows the penalty, but Tom only wants to have an adventure making it happen because he knows that Jim is already free.

'The Catcher In The Rye' owes a lot to this book in my view.  That may be a commonplace of American literary thought.  I wouldn't know.  Read it if you never have.  Read it again if you have.  And remember that lynchings happen in the dark, and are carried out by men in masks.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

the riddle of the Sphinx

is, as P.J. O"Rourke said, "Where'd its nose go?".  Well, Mr Mubarak is is off.  But when?  September, when he has said he will not be a candidate for election?  Or sooner?  The people in Tahrir Square do not seem impressed.  Now I have never been to Egypt, other than a short holiday in November 2005 when I was learning to dive (a skill in which I am still not truly competent but which I still love doing whenever I get the chance, and while my age and health permit me, go down 10 metres and see the pretty fishes); I was in Sharm el Sheikh of course, which I recall as being full of drunk Russians and smiling, helpful Egyptian staff.  And one side of the road, where our hotel was, and which was being irrigated with the help of a desalination plant, was delightful but looked exactly like any resort complex anywhere in the world.  The other side, which had no irrigation, looked like the pictures from the book of Bible stories I had when I was a child.

So, Mr Mubarak, you have said you will die on Egyptian soil.  OK, now soon is that going to be?