Tuesday, 31 May 2011

get ready for the future, it is murder

Here is Kirsten Bayes' take on the future in Reading under Labour administration:

The Council becomes a giant provider of social care, with the red flag flying over a post-apocalyptic landscape of traffic jams, graffiti, and piles of waste, while gangs of yobs run yelping through the darkened streets, watched over by apparatchiks with clip-boards. Basically the previous Labour plan.

Monday, 30 May 2011

there's going to be outrage on the left

and what is below was published in the Guardian, so the Jew-hating welfare-dependent classes (tuition fees dontchakno) will all have seen it.  And they will be outraged, won't they?  Anyone?  Anyone?  (sound of tumbleweed)

Taliban gunmen have killed the headteacher of a girls’ school near the Afghan capital after he ignored warnings to stop teaching girls, government officials have said.

Khan Mohammad, the head of the Porak girls’ school in Logar province, was shot dead near his home on Tuesday, said Deen Mohammad Darwish, a spokesman for the Logar governor.
“He was killed because he wanted to run the school,” Darwish said.
Mateen Jafar, the education director in Logar, about an hour’s drive from the capital, Kabul, said Mohammad had received several death threats from the Taliban warning him not to teach girls.
Jafar said Mohammad’s son was wounded in the attack.
Education for women was banned by the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001 as un-Islamic. There are periodic attacks against schoolgirls, their teachers and school buildings.
Women have won back some rights, including education and the right to vote, since the Taliban were toppled after the US-led invasion of late 2001.
(Hat tip: Terry Glavin)

update: it happens in Tower Hamlets too

barely literate

have reinstated Mr Howarth's "blog" on my blogroll, see right under the title of Barely Literate Geordie Loser (factual, I think you will agree) following its being quoted approvingly by Tony Jones and others.  He doesn't have anything useful or intelligent to say about politics or anything else, but read him and you will get a useful insight into what makes Reading Labour tick these days (shouting and bullying and no discernible policy agenda).

Friday, 27 May 2011

blind boy grunt

think what you like, say what you like, here are 70 reasons why. I don't agree with all of them, and you don't have to enjoy listening to him to agree with at least some of them.  Oh, you did know that Blind Boy Grunt is one of the many names Mr Dylan has used, hein?  And did I mention we have tickets to see him play in Hamburg in late June?  Where I have wanted to go ever since the Beatles played there when I was in primary school.  Only went up on his website a day or two ago but I have had tickets for weeks, and have booked the Deutsche Bahn Inter City Nightliner train, so there.  Not that I'm excited or anything. 

Unlike some of my readers, I can remember the late 60s and early 70s, when I was young and foolish, and I remember how the media used to say, when a new Dylan album was coming out "What is he going to do next?" When the Rolling Stones were bringing out a new one they said "Can they still do it?"

I don't like lists, but the best Dylan songs, some of them the best songs ever, in no particular order and definitely not exhaustive:
Visions of Johanna
Desolation Row
Like A Rolling Stone
Gates of Eden
currently listening a lot to Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (from Together Through Life)
oh, too many more to mention

some of the best lines
"Something is happening, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?"
"If for just one minute you could stand inside my shoes, you'd know what a drag it is to see you"
"Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule"
"Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were fighting in the captain's tower, while calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen throw flowers" (that's really two lines, I know)
"Yonder stands your orphan with his gun, crying like a fire in the sun" (that's really two as well)

which songs are those from? (no googling allowed, they came out of my head so they can come out of yours)

and give me some of your favourite lines, maybe like "Here's your throat back, thanks for the loan" and I'll come back with some more.

Happy 70th birthday Bob

my summer project is to digitise all my music so EVERYTHING will be on my iPod.  I will be selling some 60s and 70s vinyl after that, but not my precious ones like my mono Sergeant Pepper, bought with my birthday money the week it came out and with my name on it in a 13-year-old's handwriting.  So if there's anything you fancy...

got the bastard

just saying.  There are probably people over at Comment is Free saying Srebrenica never happened and it was all a story got up by Bush'n'Blair.  Due process now peeps, along with Ratko Mladic's bessie mate Radovan Karadzic.  Let Serbia be Serbia.  You and your cohort turned it evil for a while, but there's hardly anyone left who thinks you a hero, and Serbia, and Bosnia Srpska, deserve to have the chance to heal and to let go. The twentieth century started on a bridge in Sarajevo.  Let it be over, and soon. And Major and Hurd, in government at the time, how do you sleep at night?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

close down teh internetz!

I found this post by Michael Ezra on Harry's Place.  I thought it merited reposting, and thank him for reading the Guardian so I don't have to.  I was going to fisk it, but it's nearly lunchtime and I'm hungry, so fisking will be minimal...

The Guardian has published an article on its website by Richard Hillgrove. He argues that “Facebook and Twitter must be reeled in” and that “they are going to have to introduce a delay mechanism so that content can be checked before it goes up.” He goes on to say that there needs to be “some sort of international arbitration set up, which the Americans would need to be involved in, and quickly.” US constitution amendments on freedom of speech mean such a thing impossible, dingbat

What he is effectively arguing for is that every Tweet, every Facebook status update, or comment below someone else’s status update, a wall post comment, or a comment on a picture, is checked by a suitably qualified person at Facebook and Twitter to ensure that it is in compliance with the law. can I have that job, like now?
It seems that Hillgrove is arguing, in all seriousness, for this to be done. It is the most ridiculous thing that I have heard or seen anyone mention on the business of super injunctions scandals. What amazes me further is why the Guardian published this piffle. doesn't amaze me.

btw didn't Mr Salter have a bill to close down the internet?  Oh.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

dear dear Tony - but where's Melanie?

outgoing government ministers often leave a letter for their successor, sometimes saying "ha ha all the money's gone lol" or similar.  Outgoing deputy leader of Reading Borough council Kirsten Bayes has left this for her putative successor:
In Government there is a tradition that outgoing ministers leave a letter for their successors. Light hearted, hopefully kindly meant, they are the sharing of thoughts between people who share the bond of knowing what it is like to carry a big job in public service.
We don't have that tradition in Reading's government: maybe we should start it. If we did, I might write something like this.
Dear Tony
Congratulations on becoming, once again, Deputy Leader of the Council. Well done, and welcome to your new office. Enjoy the panoramic views of, well welcome to your new office. Enjoy the panoramic views of, well, the back of the Police Station.

Sorry the heating is still broken, it might get ugly this winter. I do have a heater I would have left you - I don't need it, as my home is toasty warm - but for reasons outlined at the end of this letter, I am taking it with me.
OK, some things to mention. Sorry they are about money but hey, best you get used to that, starting right now. Things have changed a little since you last did the job.
1. Debt and liabilities
Sorry to say the debt you left behind when you left office last year - some £200m at the last count - is still on the Council's books. We had a run at it, but it's bad and the trend is not looking good. I was talking to some of the folks in one of the Council's secondary schools last month and they need a new building, and I mean right now. That's another £10m right there. You'll need a whole bunch of primary school classrooms that should have been there two or three years ago - add a few more million. Housing estates in need of major redevelopment, a new swimming pool, and as for the roads...well, you get the picture. Actually the museum could use a few of those now I think of it.
There was also that stuff about equal pay issues for staff, you know, the thing that blew up half a dozen years ago? What was the slogan? "A fair days work for a fair day's pay"? Good idea that. Somebody should create organisations that campaign for that, really. Could be a thing. Anyway, the good news is that we fixed it as soon as we came into office - bad news is that the back pay claims are a three million pound liability I would say (and so would your Director of Resources). And it is likely to be a gift that keeps on giving.
And probably no capital directive will be forthcoming, which means it will be a revenue item, coming straight out of front line spending sometime soon. On which subject...
2. Revenue and income
The Council is going to spend about the same this coming year as it did last year. To do this we had to find some £20m of savings/income in one year due to, as some wag put it, "the disastrous state of the public finances as a result of catastrophic Labour mismanagement". One might say. We spoke to the Government about it, but they told us that your guys had given all the available cash to the bankers. Something about £400m a day on debt, and a roof not being repaired when the sun was shining? Must have been some roof.
Still, over the year, they found a bit of cash - half a billion or more - for the new station and rail works, tens of millions more for Dee Park, and a few more millions to pay for some new Council houses for folks with care needs.
You're going to have to find savings, and additional funds of the same order, and will need to start work on it today. It will be what you do all year, early morning to late at night.
The Conservatives and ourselves did it without closing a Surestart Centre, or a library, or a day-care centre. Let's hope you can do the same.
But hey, if you do bust your budget and go to Government for some more cash, I am sure they will be only too willing to help you out. I am sure they won't mention public money being spent on consultancy or full-time Union officials or taxi marshals or on politically-compromised charities, not at all. It'll be fine.
Given all those cuts you listed in your leaflets that you were so angry about, no doubt you will find the money to instantly reverse them too, to the cheers of the assembled populace who elected you thinking that you would. Which brings us to...
3. Slush funds and stuff
Bad news on the slush funds and stuff - sorry, budget line item accruals and reserve allocations - I think we found them all, took the savings and used them to stop all the cuts in front line services we could. Yes, checking the spreadsheets, we did, pretty much. Clever chap that David Stevens, I have always said so, and our Lead Councillors? Sharp as tacks. No more tens of thousands going onto the reserves to be reversed for a pre-election gimmick, no more "project seed funding" with no project plan or person attached to them, (nice one that), no more taking things like replacing a boiler and making it a capital item, against which one could borrow.
There's going to be no more secret Santa: if you spend the money in one place, you will have to take it from another and the people you take it from will notice. And may want to make a noise.
Which leads us nicely into...
4. The Campaign
Thanks for all the leaflets during the election, which made for enjoyable reading. Everyone loves the little glossy calendar thing by the way: I've been telling my nieces not to draw horns on the picture of your new councillor's head, but what are you going to do?
As you will see now you have the papers, most of what your guys said was either exaggerated or fictional. "You can't trust Labour" as I always say. Well done for fooling some of the people some of the time.
But the whispering campaign against our LGBT candidates? That was just horrible, nobody does stuff like that any more.
So, sticks and stones and all that, but I'm afraid I am keeping my heater. Enjoy your time in office.
All the best,

where's Melanie? where are the Post's news values?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

jobs for the boys (mostly)

Reading Labour Party stitched up made nominations last night for lead councillors for the council it hopes to be in control of, without a democratic mandate (again), this time tomorrow.  This is on their Facebook page, which has for some reason blocked me from commenting, the killjoys.  Fatboy Hartley is down, removed from Education and given "Service Delivery and Improvement" (hollow laugh), a little swan song before he stands down ahead of well-deserved defeat next May.  Education goes to Ennis, who could hardly do worse than Hartley, though he struggles without Mr Salter to tell him what to do.  Gittings, decent bloke I always thought, gets Environment, and Orton Community Care.  Ruhemann remains firmly on the back benches.  Tory Tickner gets "Community Engagement and Health" whatever that means, kow-towing to the Taleban usually.  Page gets Transport, the girl for the golden (Reading) West Rachel Eden gets Housing as a platform for her parliamentary campaign, and Marian Livingston Culture and Sport.  So that's that sorted then.

Which of those seats is being kept warm for Tony Jones for next year?

I am starting to receive putative manifestos for the elected mayor of Reading who will be brought into being if Labour retake the council tomorrow.  The mayoralty as it is now is likely to have been discredited by the expected support of Gul Khan for himself to serve another term, rather than his previously pledged support for his current deputy, Jenny Rynn (Cons), so they might just as well. However I suspect you boys are being a bit previous and ought to calm down.  Though I must say I like the notion of a mayor's "Team of All The Talents" - a very interesting lineup has been suggested to me.

What larks.  Must go now, lashings of ginger beer await.

Monday, 23 May 2011

mission accomplished

today the last British troops leave Iraq.  Iraq is a functioning and fairly stable democracy.  Which is more than can be said of Belgium.  What's not to like?  Read the excellent Julie on this.

Mayor Khan

here is an extract from the Reading Greens' press release:


TITLE: Greens won't perpetuate Con-Dem coalition
Greens say that none of their discussions with the other main parties have led to totally satisfactory outcomes and that they will not be joining in any coalition.
A consequence of this decision is that they will not be offering their support to either side in the coming contest over the positions of mayor and council leader.
With the Greens withholding support from both sides, the arithmetic of the new council make-up opens the door to the formation of a minority Labour administration.
Greens say that the only alternative would have been to provide active support for Con-Dem nominees, and that an alliance with the architects of public service cuts was simply a step too far.

So that's that then.  A minority Labour administration for another year, following which they hope to take two or three seats from the LibDems and get a majority.  Thanks Greens, bring on the brown envelopes.  Next step an elected mayor, and we know who THAT'S going to be, don't we children?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Reading Spotlight

has been removed it seems.  Pity.  Did he jump or was he pushed?  If the latter, why?

Sue me.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

have read several Murakami, all sadly in English translation as I am no longer up to reading Japanese fiction in the original.  But this one is translated by the excellent Jay Rubin, who is one of the (very few) translators I would wish to be.  I thought I had read this already (it was first published in English translation in 2000) but I had not.  It is one of those books, maybe like Catcher In The Rye, that you hear so much about you think you have read it even though you have not.  Like that book it is about very young people, though there the resemblance ends.  And regular readers know my issues with reading in translation.  I felt as though I knew Murakami though, as my Japanese teacher in 1979-80 when I was living in that country had known him at university, and he told me they had talked about the song "Norwegian Wood".  The book is named for the song, although it is not about the song, and barely references it, and I feel privileged to have known about the conversations about the song before the book (I suppose) had even been written.  Because my Japanese teacher of the time, whom I will not name but who is an eminent financial consultant these days, seven years older than me and one of the most charismatic and fascinating characters it has ever been my good fortune to meet (I suspect he is portrayed in the book) told me Murakami's understanding of the song and asked me if he was correct.  And he was not. Those who know the song (and who does not?) will have a view about what happened at the end.  You know the line, "So, I lit a fire, isn't it good, Norwegian wood".  I know what I believe happened next.  You?

Even the title in Japanese uses the word "mori" for "wood", and "mori", if my limited command of Japanese does not play me false, means a small forest or a large copse, anyway a group of trees.  Which is NOT what is meant by "wood" in the song.  Hein?  But enough about the song.

The book probably references the first line of the song "I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me" - it is about a young man of twenty, who is not close to his family but who has a great friend, Kizuki, who kills himself at the age of seventeen.  Kizuki's childhood sweetheart, Naoko, becomes very sad, perhaps always has been, anyway she does not get over the death.  And the protagonist loves Naoko.  And spends quite a lot of time with her.  "And so the two of us kept walking the streets of Tokyo, Naoko searching for words in space". (p. 29).

A lot of nothing happens in this book.  The author is clearly referencing his own youth - the main events happen in 1969-70, when Murakami was about that age - and those of us who are past our youth know that nothing much happens when you are young, but you think all of it is hugely important.

A lot of death happens in this book.  Especially by suicide.  Japan is a country with no Christian heritage or culture, and thus no stigma about suicide (or abortion for that matter).  But surely the effect of a suicide on those close to the person must be something like this: "...died that night, and ever since then a cold, stiffening wind had come between me and the world" (p. 79).  One theme is mental illness.  Here is a way it is described: "She just looked at me.  Her eyes were absolutely flat.  I had never seen them that way before.  It was as if they had been painted on cardboard." (p. 156).  Someone I know well suffers from depression which is disabling at times.  That person's eyes go exactly like that at those times.

There are a lot of flowers, too.  Sometimes Murakami consciously links them with human death, as when he compares the scent of cherry blossoms to the smell of rotting flesh.  But, to me heartbreakingly, they are elsewhere too, as when he is thinking, his character mentions "a small jar of anemones stood by the window".

I think often about rain in books.  I grew up after all in (fairly) rainy England, and I live now in eastern France in the Rhine valley, where it rains a lot, mostly in spring (steady heavy rain from leaden skies) and in summer (oppressive heat followed by spectacular thunderstorms and torrential rain, on a five-day cycle), but I have also lived in Japan, where it rains quite a lot too, but differently.  The rain in Japan comes in spring and summer too (autumn and winter are mostly dry, I think October is the nicest month, with fairly warm days, cool nights and sunny blue skies).  Japan has a rainy season in June ("tsuyu"), which is the tail end of the Asian monsoon.  Here is something  Murakami says about rain: "You knew it was raining only because of the ripples on puddles and the sound of dripping from the eaves" (p. 163).  That I have only seen in Japan.  Rain so soft you only know it is there because of the ripples.

This book is written in American English, in this translation.  But none the worse for that.  Japan is not in Europe, after all.

I made sure to read this book because it has now been filmed, and is currently showing here, and I hope to see it very soon indeed.  Its title in French (why do they DO this?) is "La ballade de l'Impossible".

well here goes...

The Times (£) informs us today that some bloke called Mulcaire on the News of the World, which it helpfully points out to us has the same parent company as itself, was instructed by a Very Senior NOTW executive to hack Jude Law's phone. That executive must surely have been the flame-haired temptress (takes one to know one, Becks) Rebekah Wade - hein?

Have also said this on Twitter btw. Someone tweeted today that suing Twitter for saying Ryan Giggs shagged whoever it was is a bit like suing the Royal Mail for something someone wrote on a postcard.

Sue me.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

oh yeah? pull the other one

this is from the blog of Rachel Eden,the docile girly the boys are pushing for Reading West, but has appeared in a number of places, and sets out the Labour Group's "priorities" for the minority administration it expects to form.  A little light fisking is in order, it's a bit long but stay with me if you can...

I can confirm that the Labour group believes we have an electoral mandate to form a minority administration after winning 9 out of 15 seats and the largest vote share. It's not the easy option but it is the right thing to do to stand up for Reading. Bollocks.  Get a majority and then you have an electoral mandate.

Labour has increased it's Howarthian orthography alert! position as the largest party but we are still a seat away from being able to take control. We are currently in discussions with the other groups, including as has been reported in the press with the Green party councillors. completely pointless to have discussions with no result Jo Lovelock and Tony Page have written a public letter to the Green councillors which both states our position and answers specific questions that they have raised. The text is below (it's long!):
Dear Rob and Melanie,
Labour Group Priorities for 2011/12.
Thank you for meeting with Tony Page and myself v. poor use of pronouns, we are not working in a call-centre here  last Thursday, 12th May. You asked us what our view was about the political situation the council finds itself in and about our priorities for the coming year were we the English subjunctive is becoming archaic but I'll let you off this time to form an administration. You also told us which issues are important to you.
With regard to the political situation in Reading we made it clear that as we had won 9 of the 15 seats and had increased our position as the largest Party we felt we have a mandate to seek to form an administration, albeit a minority one. Bollocks, see above. We also feel that the Conservative-led coalition has been rejected by Reading’s voters Also bollocks, see above and they do not have a right to continue in office. they have the right to continue to do what they choose with the group which has been elected, it is the people who speak  Obviously you now have a choice of either propping up supporting a minority Labour administration or propping up the Tory-led one and all that would imply for the people of Reading.
In terms of Labour’s priorities, we listed some last week and Labour’s full manifesto is available on Labour Party website (www.readinglabour.org.uk). To summarise the main commitments, they are as follows:
Radically re-organise no hyphen please, we are not in 1956 the Council and its services to deliver savings and protect people in need. you had 23 years to do that Labour will protect and improve services by giving local communities and service-users more influence over them. Instead of top-down control from the town hall, we will promote initiatives that hand more power to local people guided by the cooperative values of fairness, accountability and responsibility. what does this mean? there is at least one comma missing, to say nothing of the lack of intellectual coherence and, excuse me, content
Stand up for those least able to care for themselves. imperative now?  who is being addressed here? Labour will work to re-invent superfluous hyphen alert the system of community care with the involvement of the retired, those approaching retirement and the families whose loved ones receive care. Labour will suspend the cuts to community care and undertake a full
review of the service to ensure no elderly person is left without support they need.  reviews don't ensure anything, actions do
Involve the public more effectively and ensure that all voices in Reading are heard equally, by building new structures for involving the public: structures don't ensure anything, actions might properly representative service user panels, social networking groups, the council is already on Facebook isn't it?  If not let's transform Reading by starting a Facebook page! traditional survey methods and in some cases local referenda to make sure everyone’s voice counts equally in Reading. this is truly desperate stuff; there is a simple way to ask the people to express their views.  it's called an election.
Help local schools to do even better by working with local schools to raise standards, doing what exactly? continuing to export Reading children to other boroughs and the private sector? continuing to take action so what action is the Labour group taking in opposition now? that makes it easier for schools to work together on an area-by-area basis, pool resources, get better value for money and produce better results, and take legal advice on how to challenge Wokingham Council’s intention to exclude Reading children from Maiden Erlegh School. Basher's commitment, that he said had been agreed by the Labour Group, was to take immediate legal action against Wokingham.  Why are you backsliding on that now?
Use the Council’s watchdog powers to stand up for the NHS. We will use these powers to hold the NHS to account in the interests of patients and will involve the public in doing so. We will resist the breaking up and privatisation of our NHS services by the Conservative-led government how?  You are in opposition and Reading has two Tory MPs, something you campaigned for in Reading East and will use the influence of the Council to protect local, publicly provided and accountable health services.
Review the Green Bin fiasco introduced by the Conservative-led Council.  and do what?  you had 23 years to introduce a sustainable waste management policy and dragged your feet the whole time
Stand up for a cleaner Reading by making clean streets the Council’s priority, dealing with graffiti and looking after our parks and public spaces. the council is already doing this, so your policy is no change then?
Ensure that voluntary groups are recognised for the good work they are undertaking in the town, give them a badge? and that they are treated fairly and transparently when looking for funding from the Council. only if they use those funds to work for the Reading Labour Party We will ensure they can plan effectively for the future. how? this is meaningless guff
We also discussed the budget problems facing the Council, now we're back in the past tense, rendering the "also" redundant and the whole intellectually even less coherent which will be compounded next year by the further cuts imposed by the Tory-led coalition government. how do you know what is going to be in the next Queen's Speech? I have asked the Chief Executive for a full briefing on the scale of the budget gap predicted for next year, which we would be happy to share with you. await the full text with bated breath - prediction is we'll wait a long time. However is certainly our intention to use any channels we can to lobby the Government at all levels what, through the Reading East MP you campaigned for?to get a better deal for Reading’s residents and to involve residents in deciding priorities in the difficult financial situation we will inherit.
We discussed the position of the Mayor and made it clear that we had a Labour nomination. I don't think this has been made public - who is the putative nomination? You are well aware of the political implications of that and how your actions during the year would be perceived, particularly at important meetings such as the budget meeting, if there were to be a Conservative Mayor. yep, well spotted, that is why the Mayor must be a Conservative - the Mayor should not be a political pawn, ask Gul Khan I know you are being told that the Mayor is somehow “non political”. I would point out that there is a difference between
the ceremonial occasions and the chairing of a Council meeting, where all mayors vote with their own Political Group unless the majority party has such a large majority that it is unnecessary. A lie.  Mayors vote as they choose and if they choose and should never be whipped. Whenever a Council is finely balanced the position of the mayor inevitably becomes highly political a lie and we have had a contested vote on the position of Mayor in the past when Reading has been under No Overall Control. that was entirely different and was a piece of spite against Fred Pugh, you bunch of lying scum If you support a Conservative Mayor you will in effect be making it very difficult for us to be certain of implementing some of the policies we will bring forward, many of which you say you support. that is why you must do it, Greens
With all policies, as has been our best practice for many years, we would fully involve ward councillors in the decisions on these issues as they develop as well as ensuring full public consultation. bollocks.  you never did it when you were in control before so you won't start nowI remember meetings where it was firmly said by the leadership that ward councillors must be kept right out of the picture until the decisions were made and it was too late However, we firmly believe there must be a transparent process with criteria in place, which decide which communities should benefit from Council schemes and to explain this clearly to the public. this sentence grammatically so incoherent as to be effectively meaningless
It seemed to us following our discussion but how did it seem DURING the discussion? that we do share many priorities and commitments. On the specific issues you raised at the meeting:
Green Bin Collection – as set out above we would take early action to review the decision and promote the original scheme more widely. There would be an early report to cabinet on this. you've pledged no action, just a report
RCRE – as set out above we have been appalled by the way in which the Tories and Libs have treated RCRE and other voluntary sector groups. why were you even discussing RCRE? Specifically, I wrote to the Chair of RCRE in April promising a bribe to call a halt to the grants process if we were in a position to do so and hold urgent talks about how to ensure that Reading’s strategic approach to community cohesion provides opportunities for RCRE to continue to have a role. You may have received a call from officers regarding the grants process in recent days. I have asked, given the uncertainty over the control of the council, that the grants process be put on hold so that if there is a new administration we can have an urgent meeting to discuss the future of RCRE and those other organisations who have been denied an opportunity to bid for funds. Officers were intending to tell all group leaders that it is their intention to halt the process pending the AGM of the Council and so I would hope you have had a call to confirm that. you've got no idea what is going on, have you?
Community Care – As above our manifesto on eligibility criteria says that, "Labour will suspend the cuts to community care and undertake a full review of the service to ensure no elderly person is left without support they need." Also, I believe that you are aware of the legal requirement to go out to consultation again and then go to full Council for a policy change if the Council wants to go back to the position before the Coalition changed the policy. Therefore, if we form an administration we will bring a report hurray! to the June Cabinet, which sets up a new support/preventative scheme and outlines a new policy way forward. another report!  hip hip hurray!  Listen up Greens, loadsa luvly REPORTS coming your way!
A package of services will be agreed for all people currently on Greater Moderate and no-one will have their service changed until all have been assessed and an alternative policy/package agreed. A full report hurray! on this will go
to Cabinet in July. In outline on this, a package of measures to support people currently on greater moderate will be agreed, as will support for new people coming into the system. We can talk further in more detail on this if you wish; the alternative is to let the Coalition continue with their cuts. no specifics.  what is currently being cut that would be uncut under your control?Bus Pass Concessions – As you will recall from our election literature, this is a priority for a Labour administration. Labour is committed to reinstating the bus pass concessions for people with disabilities and their carers/escorts, so that they can travel before 9.30a.m. If finances permit we would like to reinstate it for all senior citizens too, what happened to Labour's commitment to free bus passes for all pensioners? the one there was all the scaremongering about?  Oh.  the minute we get to specifics you recoil from commitment. but the cost may be prohibitive in the near future.  What do we want?  Incremental change!  When do we want it?  As resources allow!  Hardly the municipal road to socialism, is it?
Ø Kennetmouth – Labour’s long-standing commitment to the protection of Kennetmouth remains absolute, Kennetmouth is not in Reading borough. and was reiterated in a major policy resolution we put through Council in June 2008. Any developments in East Reading are subject to that imperative.
Ø Third Thames Bridge – Labour has opposed the building of a Third Thames Crossing as a motorway link between the M40 and the A329. some of the time However, we believe that a third bridge, properly managed, controlled and integrated with the movements on Caversham and Reading Bridges could deliver major traffic reductions and significant environmental improvements on key radial routes such as the London and Wokingham Roads. Salter campaigned against this and you said nothing A project of this significance would require kicking into the long grass a full environmental assessment including assessing the impact on the Thames and the Kennet. Should there ever be any funding to take the proposal forward, which seems very unlikely in the foreseeable future, we would be asking for a full assessment of the impact on the environment, both in terms of advantages of reducing through traffic and any detriment to the area near the bridge. Of course the siting of any bridge would be within Wokingham and Oxforshire’s spelling! council areas, which underlines the need to work closely with both those Local Authorities as any final decision on this would rest with them if the current Local authority boundaries remain the same. We do not expect there to be any further work on this in the near future, but were that to change we would certainly want to ensure there would be full environmental studies and public engagement before reaching any decisions. how to say the same non-thing at least three times in one paragraph
Ø Cross Town Route – Labour was instrumental in defeating the original Berkshire County Council plans those were turned down by then Environment Secretary John Gummer, Conservative, the Reading Labour Group was in favour and I have a copy of an agreement to that effect between Reading and Berkshire councils signed by Cllr Page and then Cllr Salter we remain totally opposed to any car-based highway scheme that would threaten the environment of
Kennetmouth, the listed horseshoe bridge and King’s Meadow. the Labour Group has been in FAVOUR of all this since 1991, this is documented We are willing to consider, subject to full local public consultation, a new dual carriageway light rail or guided bus link to Reading Station from the existing parking areas of  Thames Valley Park provided that could be implemented without adverse impact on Kennetmouth. Again we do not expect funding to be available for this in the foreseeable future, but were that to change we would want a full environmental assessment as well as public consultation.
Using funding from a Renewable Energy Feed for Greener Warmer Safer - As you know the central government funding for this has ended. If this scheme is to continue we will need to find a creative way to fund it. Pity really, we've had to stop creaming off these funds for our own little projects We will explore with officers the possibility of increasing taxes using a tariff to fund the Greener Warmer Safer scheme. As Newtown had already been identified for the scheme I cannot see a reason why this would change, however, a process based on the principles of fairness and transparency must be established when we are able to take this forward. don't you dare put this in a Green leaflet in Park because we're not going to do anything
Food Waste Recycling – we are committed to the principle of this, but we're not going to do anything about it in case you Greens claim credit when we have investigated its introduction in the past, including through Environment Scrutiny, it has proved to be highly expensive. In the current financial climate, although we will look again at the costs, we may not to be able to implement such a scheme until it becomes financially viable.
Maiden Erlegh School – the Labour Party has made a manifesto commitment not to seek a new school in east Reading counsel’s opinion regarding a legal challenge to Wokingham Council. Basher told us the commitment was to TAKE legal action, he lied and so are you doing
It would be our intention to instruct officers to get that advice as quickly as
possible and take a report hurray! to cabinet as soon as possible.
Newtown Residents’ Parking – In the recent elections, Labour campaigned for a full consultation on a Resident’s apostrophe alert, we are not a greengrocer Parking scheme for eastern Newtown and it would be our intention to deliver on that pledge and give priority to consultation with residents based on an early report to Traffic Management Advisory Panel (TMAP), which would clearly set out all the pros and cons of any scheme. Reading Labour's transport policy is entirely petrol-headed and there is nothing there the Greens could or should support
20mph zones – It is our intention to promote the extension of 20mph zones in suitable residential areas of Reading, including Park Ward, subject to full public consultation, support from local residents and emergency services and adequate funding. We would seek advice on whether this could best be progressed on a town-wide basis or on an area basis. We would again envisage an initial report huzzah! to TMAP.
Cemetery Junction Area Study - within the current LTP schemes we intend to review priorities including item 26, which relates to Cemetery Junction and the A4 Study. We intend to bring forward a revised list not a report this time, a different kind of bit of paper to the Cabinet or a Council meeting. As has been the case in previous studies, this could but probably won't include looking at the de-cluttering of areas like the Wokingham Road shops.
Managing the East Reading Cemetery – you asked if the gate at the eastern end of the cemetery could be opened, at least during daylight hours, to allow residents the option of walking through the cemetery as an alternative to using pavements by the busy main roads.
We are suggesting that you bugger off we might broaden that to look at a cemetery management plan, which could include opening the gate, but would also ensure that the preservation of wildlife and the overall management of the area could
be improved. Obviously the wishes of relatives of people buried in the cemetery would need to be taken into account and we would also need to consult the police, with their use of the Arch and from a safety perspective.
I believe I have covered all the issues you raised last week and would be happy to clarify any points before you meet with your colleagues again. I have marked this letter as a draft in case there is a need for further written clarification, another report, yippee! which would be helpful before your meeting. Tony Page and I will be happy to discuss our proposals in more detail when we meet at 5.00 on Tuesday 17th May. I have booked Committee room 5 again for our meeting.

Lies and the lying liars, hein?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

seems spot on to me

this is what Was has to say on the putative Labour-Green coalition in Reading (which is unlikely to happen)

Labour simply cannot afford to give the Greens anything that can be put on a leaflet in Park ward as a Green policy win no matter how small which means that unless they insist on a formal and publicly available document listing in detail what has been promised by Labour in return for power, they will find that once in charge any promises made will not get a veggie sausage to show for it.

Why? Labour are terrified of losing their totemic ward of Park completely to the Greens. Sure Jon Hartley will come up with some bogus reason why he will be stepping down to dodge personal embarrassment but Labour will fight like rats in a sack to avoid losing Martin Salter's heartland ward. It means there can be no Green initiatives that can be put to the electorate.

the identity of the accuser

the woman in the DSK case that is, is known, though she has not been publicly named.  French media are all over it.  Apparently she is legally in the US though not a citizen, and originates from Guinea.  She is thus francophone. There are various Guinea associations active in France, in the US and elsewhere, some of which are well connected politically in France.  Just saying...

In related news today, the New York Post has that the woman lives in a building in the Bronx which is exclusively for the use of people with HIV/AIDS.  She has a 15-year-old daughter.  So no breach of privacy, there, and the usual unrivalled commitment to protection of victims and alleged victims, hein?

In any event, the woman is at an undisclosed location to protect her from the media.  Forget al-Qaeda, huh?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

you looking for action dear?

how cheap will he sell himself?  there are two Green councillors, but the other one is left out of the picture, she is just a GURL after all.  is Mr White in the Discreet Professional Services or the Round the Back of Kings Cross league?


Only in France could a creature like BHL (Bernard-Henri Levy) exist, pictured left.  He is a philosopher of some kind, very often pops up to share his words of wisdom with us on the media, is excruciatingly vain, is married to pop princess Ariane Dombasle, who is much younger than him, and is right most of the time.  Allegedly he had some words in Sarko's shell-like, and the latter promptly got stiffened sinews on Libya.  Anyway, he has defended DSK, saying rightly that he is innocent but is being treated as guilty.  One remark he makes in this context is this one, written yesterday:
J’en veux, ce matin, au juge américain qui, en le livrant à la foule des chasseurs d’images qui attendaient devant le commissariat de Harlem, a fait semblant de penser qu’il était un justiciable comme un autre.
This morning I hate the American judge who threw him to the hordes of image-hunters outside the Harlem courthouse, as if he was someone before the courts just like anyone else. (my translation)
That quote has aroused much ire in the comments and elsewhere, from people who say "Of course DSK is subject to the same justice as anyone else".  Of course, indeed, he is.  But this is not the point of what BHL is saying.  He does not say that it is the justice which should vary - calling DSK "un justiciable" is the opposite of that.  He says that DSK is not "comme un autre".  And he is not.  "Anyone else" would not have hordes of paparazzi outside the courthouse.  And the judge should have taken that into account.  In the interests of justice and due process.  That is what BHL means.  I notice that the "guilty" votes are beginning to surge on my little poll.  This may be because we have all seen DSK in the dock, unshaven, handcuffed, looking, in fact, like a guilty man.
This is shameful treatment ahead of due process.  And you, liberal chatterers, especially the French ones, have you thought that this, whatever happened in that hotel on Saturday and whatever the outcome of the process, has almost certainly given us another Sarko term as president of France.  To say nothing of a boost for Marine Le Pen.  Hein?

Happy now?

All Parti Socialiste branches are voting on Thursday on the party's report, essentially the backbone of its manifesto for next year's presidential election. Citizen's primaries will be held in October.

 Doesn't seem much point now.

There are some in France who see it more clearly though:

Monday, 16 May 2011


watching, on a loop on every French channel it seems, the clip of DSK being led handcuffed to a car, looking five years older and a stone lighter, as people tend to do in these situations, reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday with a group of friends, from several countries and various backgrounds.  Three of us (me, an American who had previously worked in politics, and a Swiss academic) were firmly of the opinion that there had been a set-up, no matter what actually happened in that hotel room. For political reasons.  A fourth, (Canadian, a man of the cloth) was surprised we thought so, and thought everyone should refrain from comment until more was known.  Two others (British, Guardianista political views) accepted the media reports uncritically and viewed him as guilty.  Hmmm.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

moving frontiers and the German fort

yesterday we visited Fort Mutzig, a fort built by the Germans (it was in Germany at the time) mostly in the 1890s, against the French.  It was used in battle precisely once, early in the First World War, and drove the French to retreat, at the cost of some considerable life.  It contains much state-of-the-art equipment (for the time) including for example a bread oven designed to feed some hundreds daily (the ration for soldiers at that time was 750 grams of bread a day, and not much else, there is forensic evidence that they were hungry much of the time).  The bread oven was made in Hamburg and designed to be used on board ship, so it could bake efficiently and withstand vibration at the same time.  All the equipment was underground, which was where the soldiers lived.  There are proper crapper toilets, which most of the soldiers would not have seen before, much less had in their homes in the Rhineland villages.  Anyway, the fort is enormous, unobtrusive above ground, cost many millions in the money of that time, and was almost not used at all.  Because it was in the wrong place.  Just like the Maginot Line was, not too far away and also in this region of France.  All in all it was an interesting visit and I learned from it in more than one way.  In particular, while the tour group I was with was trailing along an underground tunnel, I thought I heard English being spoken in another group. Tourism in this region is conducted in French and German.  British people do not come here (they would like it if they did) and so it is rare to hear English spoken.  Our tour guide spoke only French to us, though she could speak German and we heard her do so.  Anyway, I was right in thinking I had heard English spoken.  Another member of the group asked about it too, and was told there was a small group of Australians touring at the same time, family members or descendants of one or more Australians who had volunteered during the First World War and had served in Europe, possibly in this very region, nobody could be sure.  The tour guide then remarked that Australians and British people had been noted at that time and later for their willingness, and indeed enthusiasm, for volunteering to go to war, something which was unthinkable (she said) for most French and Germans, certainly from this region, and she mentioned Belgium too in this context.  I had to speak up at this point.  I have never been tempted to volunteer to go to war, though I entirely understand the motivation of those who do, and I consider myself privileged not to have been obliged to fight or otherwise contribute to a war effort for my country.  It has given me the luxury to pursue other interests.

That remark by the tour guide, who did not know I was English until I spoke up, struck a chord which had not been struck in me before.  Why would British people volunteer to fight when French and Germans did not want to?  The guide said something along the lines of "That war did not affect the British to begin with, so why did they want to get involved?"  Family members of mine, cousins of my grandfather on my mother's side, had indeed volunteered in the First World War, and not all of them came back - they were teenage boys when they volunteered - and they thought they were fighting for their country, even though their country had not been invaded, and did not have land frontiers to defend as France, Germany and Belgium did.  I said that young British men volunteered in that war because they wanted to save England (they would have put it that way) from the threat of war and conquest elsewhere in Europe.  This was not understood by the other members of the group  They appeared to think that fighting in a war was something you were forced to do and which always had bad consequences.

I do not discuss the merits of the First World War here, or indeed its causes, there have been and will be historians to do that, for the benefit of all of us.  That was one war.  There have been others since, including in Europe since 1945 (will no-one remember the siege of Sarajevo?), and there will be British volunteers - remember the Falklands?  There is an outlook in British, maybe I mean English, minds that says that where our people, whatever that means, are threatened, we must fight, or we will all be threatened.  French and German people do not think this way.  Discuss.

spoiler? smear? guilty?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF and potential Socialist candidate for President of France in 2012, was arrested last night just before the plane he was on took off from New York for Paris. A chambermaid at the hotel he had been in in New York earlier had accused him of attempted rape, sodomy and kidnapping.  The police were inclined enough to believe her to arrest him.  He will go before a judge today.  If found guilty he cannot of course be a candidate, and there are many who say he is the only credible Socialist who could give France a Socialist president for the second time in the history of the Fifth Republic, since Mitterrand did it in 1981.  If not, many will say, no smoke without fire.  If this is a set-up (he left the hotel in a hurry, without his mobile phone and some other personal things) it is a daring one.  The people who surround French presidents have been known to engage in smear and set-up and sting before, but this... the Socialist line is, naturally enough, let us see the outcome of this before any statements are made.  Sarko's people are, also naturally enough, saying nothing whatever.  DSK, as he is known here, is of course more than a French politician of the Left.  He is an internationally known mover in the world's economy, which is part of the reason why he would be such a credible candidate.  Up to now the Sarko line against him has been "What does he know about France?  He lives in Washington".  They have something else to play with now.  Where did it come from?  DSK's human weakness and the syndrome, common to many politicians, of engaging in risky behaviour, or something more sinister altogether?

Friday, 13 May 2011

they slapped his wrist

David Laws that is, for fiddling his expenses to the tune we hear of about ninety grand, some of which, but not all, he has paid back. But others, including David Chaytor, who was a colleague with whom I was on good terms, have gone to prison, after months of hell for them and their families. So what is the difference? oh. Apparently David Laws is a fab bloke who ought to be in Cabinet. Maybe so. I wouldn't know. David Chaytor had the talents to be in Cabinet too. But he is in prison and David Laws is not. Some things are just hard to understand. When the law does not seem to apply to everyone equally, that's when I find the world, or some parts of it, very hard to figure out.

Blogger has had an outage, readers may know, and while I can now post again they are still in the process of restoring posts from the last 36 hours or so. So you can relax, nothing sinister is going on.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

the rats are the heroes

I saw this picture and a post  by Dr Sima Barnathia on the Independent blogs.  The animal is a giant African pouched rat, and as you can see because there is a human in the picture too, it is a lot larger than rattus norvegicus, the sewer rat of Europe, ever gets, despite popular myth ("as big as cats" - no, they never are).  Like all rats, these are intelligent, have no objection to social interaction with humans, and can be trained to carry out quite sophisticated tasks for food reward. These African rats make minefields safe.  Yes, really.  They can be trained to locate the mines by scent (all rats have a very acute sense of smell) and are too light to set the mines off.  Although each rat takes about nine months to train, they live for about eight years (the Norway rat lives three at most) and reproduce prolifically - training starts at six weeks, so they are not expensive.  As regular readers know, I have kept Norway rats as pets for many years, but have had none since coming to live in France, for no particular reason.  Time (a) to welcome a couple of rats into my life again (two because they are social animals, same gender for obvious reasons, males are more docile and friendly than females) and (b) to find out if there is a charity or foundation that supports this work (the blog post doesn't link to anything) - if there is I would like to support it.

Can readers help?

before we were three

this piece in Psychology Today, rather spookily illustrated with a picture of a staircase, was brought to my attention by Norm, for which thanks.  It indicates that while most of us remember hardly anything from before we were about three, young children have memories that go back further, but they lose the ability to recall those memories as they get older.  This appears not to be the same syndrome as in older adults,  whose memory changes too, but for short-term events, and it also appears not to be to do with the ability to put memory into words.  I always thought it was, and that I couldn't remember much other than certain visual images from before that age because I didn't know the words for those events at the time, but apparently I was wrong.  A recurrent nightmare I have had, of soft walls pressing in on me and making me feel I am suffocating, is I believe a memory of my own birth, and recurs as a nightmare because that is the only way my brain can process it.  And, which concurs with the Psychology today piece, I used to have this nightmare A Lot when I was a child, and the frequency of it has steadily diminished over the years.  It is several years since I have had it at all.  I am not alone in having that kind of (bad) dream, others have told me of very similar dreams.  It occurs to me to wonder if those born by Caesarian section have that dream.  And to mention in passing that babies born by Caesarian are much prettier (perfectly round heads and flawless skin) than others are.  Just musing...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

oooh get him

handbags at dawn or what

should not really be intruding on private grief but it was too much fun not to.

btw Nowtas, commenting on the impugned story in HMV, says this re Cllr Swaine: I’m not sure why people are knocking him for defending himself, fairness, democracy, transparency and public funds. His hard work in local politics is being forgotten, and if he is being squeezed out of it, perhaps it is for the better. He is doing a grand job of exposing the cretins left within it whilst they, rather foolishly so far, leave him to his own devices. Why, he’s like a young Jane Griffiths.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

the man who wasn't there

as Cllr Graeme Hoskin was nicknamed, still is for all I know.  Stalking horse for the leadership of the Labour Group.  Trashed.  Zim One Lovelock reckons she is forming a minority administration.  Ah yes.  So there is going to be legal action against Wokingham council over Maiden Erlegh catchment?  Basher promised it, so it must be true.  Eh Josie?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

and finally...

Cllr Page thought he would add a quirky touch to election campaigning by decorating his garden accordingly: what fun

Reading elections 2011 speaking for themselves

listen to all those lovely people, and know that only one of them has said anything about forming an administration.  But also remember that Cumpsty is right when he says the Tories have shown they can work with partners from other parties.  Remember too that Rob White has shown this too over the past year.  The Greens have a history of selling themselves cheap - they should go into a rainbow coalition with the Tories and LibDems,  the price of which would be a Green in Cabinet - and then get Reading working again.  No more sweetheart deals, clean government, openness and transparency.  What do  you say?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Reading Borough elections

not clear that Labour can take control of Reading, though they are now the largest party.  The Green mostly voted with them, and his new colleague (who trashed Basher hahahahahahahaha yippee!) will probably do as she is told and do the same.  Will it be a Labour/Green coalition with Was holding the balance of power?  Oh joy.  Srsly though peeps, the stables had only just started to be cleaned - the corrupt little clique must not be allowed back.  If they are, the cover-ups and corruption will continue.  Jan Gavin is their stooge, and so is Kelly Edwards.  So is John Ennis.  Maskell, the horrid fat man, interestingly, is not.  His daughter Sarah Hacker is too boring for anyone to bother with.  Any politician who will tweet that she is back to normal now her Dad has won the election and is going to McDonald's for lunch... anyway, the text message from Salter and Sutton, which I am reliably informed is genuine and not a Tory spoiler, should serve as a warning.  They have not gone away.

Basher trashed, bye bye

sorry Cllr Hussain not re-elected, but here it is:




EASTWOOD, Melanie (Green)

VOTES: 1,585

HUSSAIN, Wazir (Conservative, incumbent)

VOTES: 732

MCKENZIE, Richard Mark (arsehole)

VOTES: 1,213

SWAGER, Hoyte Paul Arnoud (LibDem)

VOTES: 123






wtf first of many

Cllr Richard Willis reproduces a spoiler text message sent inter alia to Conservative activists:

Message from Martin Salter & David Sutton to all our friends in the Pakistani community: You all know how hard we have worked for the community for more than 25 years. Now we specially ask you to come out & Vote Labour in these important elections on Thursday. With our best wishes, Martin & David.”

This is a Tory ploy.  Isn't it?  Tell me it is, please...

my work is done

Bashmash has now been taken down.  Most of you thought his preferred hymn was "Fight The Good Fight".  I think he is an Old Testament kind of chap, all that smiting.  Anyway, the most embarrassing thing he has done is to shout "Wokingham scum" in a public place at the chair of the Reading East Conservatives, you think.  Well, the people of Park have spoken.  We do not yet know what they have said.  But a bottle of the sparkling stuff will be consumed this evening anyway, because there is something about a LibDem wipeout that just does the heart good.  Oh and as for Scotland, saw it off, tow it out into the North Sea and let them try and live on the dwindling remains of the oil without their massive subsidies from the English taxpayer .

Thursday, 5 May 2011

'No one is crying', says Princess Beatrice's hat designer | People in the News | People | The First Post

'No one is crying', says Princess Beatrice's hat designer | People in the News | People | The First Post

vote today

in most of the UK that is.  Lambeth council seem to have forgotten to send us ballot papers for the AV referendum as overseas voters, not like they had anything else to do as there is no other poll in London.  Thanks to Cllr Mark Bennett for his help with this, though we alerted him too late for him actually to get us ballot papers in time.  Grrr and double grrr.  Am not leaving this one alone.  I cannot vote here in France in anything except the municipal and European elections, so I feel very disenfranchised at the moment. So do vote if you can.  I vote Labour, pretty much, though in recent years I have been known to vote otherwise on certain occasions.  Here I vote Parti Socialiste.  On AV I would have voted Yes.  Not that that matters now.  If you are in Reading (and I do have quite a large number of visitors to my site from Reading, cannot imagine why) then you will know, I hope, that even Labourlist does not have Reading as likely to return to Labour control.  I hope rather fervently that it does not.  Because the cleaning of the stables of corruption has only just begun, and that cleansing needs to be complete first.  The corrupt little clique at the heart of the Labour Group has become desperate, and while it would like the deranged violent bully Basher McKenzie and the malicious misogynist stooge Jan Gavin to be added to its number, because they fit very well with its totalitarian vision, and Basher in particular could be a useful idiot, Reading would not benefit thereby.  Councillors in Park ward, Labour until recently, have not been interested in the ward, John Howarth and Jon Hartley in particular consistently refused to knock doors there, and Cllr Wazir Hussain is a decent and hard-working councillor who deserves to be re-elected.  So you know how to vote.  Bash Basher out of Park.  Say Goodbye to Gavin.

You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


well, possibly.  Here is Cllr Willis' take on on the local election campaign as it draws to a close (thanks for the mensh Richard).  I would say that he is right to note the lack of substance in Labour's campaign, and of course the lack of truth in most of it, and I am not surprised to be told that John Howarth has been brought back to "advise on campaigning".  Interesting to note that the Labour Group had a whip-round to pay for the campaign (leaflets free I suppose, as usual), and amusing to see Tony Jones (good to see you briefly in King's Road Reading on 9th April Tony) described as the "Comical Ali" of Reading politics.  We'll see.  It is quite likely that Reading Labour thought they would walk it and that they are not doing so.  Quite a few years ago they made the mistake of starting to believe their own propaganda.

Are the Chinooks circling over your villa, comrades?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

getting worse at things

we live in an ageing society, we are told.  People are getting older.  Well, everyone is getting older, until death stops that process.  And we know that life-expectancy figures are meaningless.  Life expectancy was about 40 in medieval times, we read, and we know that people did not, generally speaking, reach the age of 40 and promptly keel over.  No, children died of disease, and so did adults of any age.  Women died in childbirth and of complications thereof.  Men died in wars and other kinds of fighting, and in accidents.   This is why the two categories of people who did not do any childbirth or fighting, and who did not usually mingle with other people that much to catch diseases from them, namely nuns and philosophers, usually lived to very great ages, then as now.  So life-expectancy figures don't mean that much, and I'll leave the actuarial stuff to, well, actuaries.  But getting older is noticeable.  Not just things like the menopause, that women experience between the ages of approximately 45 and 55 (52 in my case), which is for most of us rather welcome, but more subtle things.  Creakiness when, for instance, crawling under a table to pick up something that has rolled into a corner.  Pinch the skin on your arm and it takes longer to go back to its previous state than it used to.  A kind of physical rigidity.  That personally I try to combat with Pilates and swimming, though I know it will immobilise me in the end if I live long enough.

Not many years ago I used to say "If I had known when I was 18 what I know now I could have conquered the world."  And so I could have.  But I did not.  And now I know a lot of things, and have seen a lot of people do a lot of things, and have learned some things from all of that.  But because I have lived now for quite a long time, much of what I have learned was learned a long time ago.  And that is what matters.  Not that we have learned things, which may or may not be useful to us, but that we continue to learn things.  About 25 years ago someone tried to teach me about floppy disks, and I couldn't learn it.  Now I don't need to know about floppy disks, so it doesn't matter.  But the Microsoft program I need to use at work requires knowledge from me that I must have, and so I have needed to learn something new.  Without enjoying it.

When I was at school I worked harder, and spent more time, like most people do, on the subjects that interested me and at which I was thought to be "good" - languages mostly, but it could have been anything.  People who were not thought to be "good" at anything understandably gave as little of their time and energy to school as possible.  Education isn't done quite like that any more, but the effect remains.  So a lot of the time I was doing things I was good at, or felt that I was, and I got praise from other people, usually teachers.  Other kids found praise or respect elsewhere than in the classroom, but we all, or nearly all, found it somewhere.  When I was 12 I probably spent about 80 per cent of my time doing things at which I was fairly competent.  By the time I was that age my brother had begun to trash me regularly at table tennis, so I just stopped playing.  Why play if you are rubbish at it?  I reasoned.

At work I gravitated, as we mostly do, to aspects of what was required of me that I had some aptitude for.  Bosses preferred this too.  Of course they did.  But as time went on aptitude became less of a factor and necessity more of one.  We got "computerised", as they used to call it, at my then workplace in 1990. Before then I had never sent an email.  There wasn't really anyone to send one to, even if I had known how.  And although home computers existed by then they were expensive and did not really do anything, other than gaming, that you couldn't do with things you already had at home.  Come the internet, a few years later, and boy did I see the point of computers.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  You didn't have a choice.  You had to use a computer whether or not you were "good at it" - and some were not.  Since then I have spent more and more of my time doing things, using technology, dealing with appliances, with what seems to me a decreasing level of competence.  I no longer have the choice not to do these things, as I could choose not to play table tennis when I was 12.

But look around you at people older than yourself, whatever age you are now.  You will observe that as new possibilities emerge - smartphones, say, or those Dyson hand-dryers in the newer public loos - older people often express concern, criticism, negativity, or just simply refuse to use them.  This is not just about technology, though it it is more obvious with technology because changes are more rapid and obvious.  Textile technology for instance changes the fabrics we wear, but we don't notice it much, and  the main adjustment we have to make is in the washing programmes we use - and some older people have difficulty with that too.

This is a natural tendency.  If I don't try to learn how to use that new smartphone or hand-dryer then I'll carry on being competent at the things I do.  But the downside is that I won't be able to use a smartphone or a hand-dryer.  In the future I might be afraid to go into a public loo because I don't understand the hand-dryers.  A few years ago there was a saying "When your landline rings it's always your mother" - because your friends ring your mobile, right?  But now nobody much rings anybody.  They text or instant message.  Most people don't answer their mobile if they don't know who's calling.  I don't have an answerphone on my home landline because there's no point.  If I'm home I'll answer it, and if I'm out and my mother needs to speak to me urgently she can call my mobile.  I use email for communication for preference, but my children, the younger to be 30 this year, use Facebook and that is how I contact them when I need to.  If I had refused to use Facebook (unthinkable) I would have been cut off from a key means of communication with my children and with many others, not all of them younger than me.

So, I have to learn all these things.  And that means I spend a lot more of my time being incompetent than I used to.  I changed from PC to Mac at home less than two years ago, and I had to learn that.  My iPad, version 1, acquired last year, came with no instruction book.  It took me a while to work out how to use it, and I am still an incompetent user compared with a 12-year-old I saw recently using an iPad for the first time.  But the alternative to (relative) incompetence is isolation and rigidity.  I am learning to use my inline skates.  If I fall badly I will probably hurt myself more, and take longer to recover, than a younger person would.  But that is not a reason not to skate.

Incompetence is the price of staying alive.  In all ways.  And it is the price of fun.  I am an incompetent inline skater, and I may never be competent in the eyes of the average teenage boy.  But skating is fun.  You can go fast, with the wind in your hair, and yet you are on your own two feet.  By the end of this summer I shall be doing that.

We baby boomers are only just beginning to retire from work.  I plan to retire at 70 from paid work, if they will let me work that long and if I stay healthy.  But although being incompetent is no fun, I'll try and have fun for some of the time during the next 13 years.  Because none of us knows our allotted day.

Mayday musing

They do Mayday properly in France,.  Everything closes, including public transport (the only day of the year on which there are no buses, trains or trams) and in every town and just about every village a lot of people turn out to demonstrate for the workers.  People also give lily of the valley to the people they love (I bought myself some this morning, fnar fnar) the scent of which makes me want to burst into tears.  I cycled to church this morning because the trams are not running, and at every crossroads there were people holding out sprigs of muguet (the aforementioned scented spring flower) to sell to passers by.  This is the first time Mayday has fallen on a Sunday in a very long time.  Here in France we do not have bank holidays as such - the holiday is taken on the day on which it falls, and it it falls at the weekend then no day off for nine-to-fivers like me, chiz.  8th May is a holiday too, VE Day, a bit rich when you think of France's contribution to that victory over fascism.  We are about 5 km from the German border here, and on 8th May the roads are clogged with French cars heading for Germany (where, strangely, VE Day is not a public holiday) to go shopping.  Not this year.  Shops in Germany are closed on Sundays, as they are in France.  Why, is another matter.  It is now legal in France, and under some circumstances in Germany, for most shops to open on Sundays.  But they don't.  In France bakers and florists open on Sunday mornings, so that you can buy bread and cakes for breakfast and dessert, and flowers to give to whichever relative you are visiting at lunchtime.  The patisseries open about 6 am, peak time being about 0930, when the better ones have long queues.  Sig other is playing cricket in Germany this afternoon, and will have to cycle there, which will probably give him more exercise than an afternoon of cricket will - even here tea is taken rather seriously by the cricketing fraternity.