Thursday, 30 June 2011

why I, that am not shap'd for sportive tricks

Richard III.  Obviously.  A play for anyone in politics, and a story for anyone in spin.  The Old Vic has a new production, with Kevin Spacey as Crookback.  I am a fan of Kevin Spacey, but you wouldn't think he had the face  for King Richard, would you?  Laurence Olivier famously made himself grotesque for the part on the stage, with a false nose.  I am sorry that I never saw Antony Sher in the role in the 1980s, who picked up on the phrase "a bottled spider" and played it like that, I am told.  The best Richard I have ever seen was Ian McKellen in the film by Loncraine.  But I have not seen many.  I have been a bit funny about the play ever since I did it for O-level.  The part that is hardest to understand is that of the lady Anne, who loathes Richard but in the space of one scene is persuaded to marry him.  The McKellen film convinces by playing Anne as a junkie.  The film is set in a fascist state and is utterly chilling.  But there are many ways to play Richard.  Very often the character's physical appearance is extreme in some way, but not always.  I would like to see my son, who is a professional actor, play him - he has no physical oddities other than being very tall. I would like to see him (Richard not my son) played by a woman.

Richard's name became a hissing and a byword down the centuries, in large part because of Shakespeare's play.  There have been attempts to redress this, with limited success.  Many people if asked would say that Richard was a wicked man who smothered the two little princes in the tower.  Josephine Tey is very interesting on this.
McKellen as Richard

Spacey as Richard

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

they hid it away

Here is what His Master's Voice had to say about the forthcoming exposure of Labour's corrupt ways with developer money in Reading:

hidden away, not exactly a splash headline, and only published the night before the meeting at which this is going to become public anyway. Well, that is the way of Her Majesty's Evening Post. They haven't even reported Mr Salter's precipitous return to Reading, perhaps because, as someone suggested on this very blog, he has come back suddenly from Australia not to seek publicity but to work on keeping something OUT of the media, that may even be linked to his sudden and unexpected resignation from Reading Borough Council all those years ago.

Note Zim One Lovelock's remark, that there is "no evidence" of any wrongdoing on Reading Labour's part. That right Josephine? Why so jittery then? Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, hein?


this from Basher McKenzie before the local election:

The Parents’ Group is considering options around legal action, I am campaigning with Councillor Jon Hartley to make sure that my Party commits itself to persuing legal action against Wokingham Borough Council in its manifesto for the May elections if Labour takes control of Reading Council in May.

and now?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

in a shock development today

I have alerted readers to various broadcasts and media appearances by Mr Salter in the Australian media of late on the topic of angling.  Well, either he has cut them short and jumped on a plane sharpish, or they were recorded some time ago and only broadcast recently, because Mr Salter was seen at the weekend at Reading station, striding, my correspondent tells me, purposefully towards the car park entrance.

What can this mean?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

he does like to be beside the seaside

Mr Salter facing both ways at once on marine parks, which he voted for in the UK and is campaigning against in Australia.  An unalloyed pleasure I am sure you will agree.  Don't know who posted this but they are very keen for as many people as possible around the world to see it, so please do not disappoint them.

a vote is a voice

well, in French to vote is "voter" but a vote is not "une vote" but "une voix" or the same word as for "voice".  so in that sense voting is speech.  Discuss.  Norm is worth a read on this topic.  When we vote we know what we are doing, don't we?  We know that if, for the sake of argument, we voted LibDem, never dreaming that they would go into coalition with the Tories, we can't go back a week later and say we got it wrong.  We know that, hein?  What do we really think we are doing when we vote?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

that's them told then

the West Australian has this:

A top adviser to former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has held up WA as a shining example of good fisheries management and denounced the push to set up marine parks as fundamentally flawed.

Martin Salter, who was parliamentary spokesman for fisheries under Britain's previous Labour government, yesterday slammed as spurious the science used by conservationists to lock up big areas of ocean as no-take zones.
In Perth for a series of lectures on the issue, Mr Salter said fisheries management in WA such as seasonal closures and bag and size limits were more effective at preserving fish stocks than imposing marine sanctuaries.
It comes as the Gillard Government finalises plans to establish a network of marine parks in Federal waters between the Abrolhos Islands and Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
Mr Salter's claims were challenged by environmentalists, who seized on a report painting a bleak picture of the world's oceans to suggest marine conservation measures were not going far enough.
A panel of 27 scientists, working for the International Program on the State of the Ocean and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, warned marine species were at risk of extinction. Their report said the world's seas were degenerating faster than expected because of several factors, including climate warming and seawater acidification.
Conservation Council of WA marine co-ordinator Tim Nicol said WA had a "relatively" strong record of managing fish stocks but drastic cuts to dhufish and rock lobster catch limits in recent years were evidence the system was failing.
He said Mr Salter's arguments attacking marine parks were part of a "smear campaign" by fishing groups against proved science which was aimed at safeguarding their interests.
However, Mr Salter said no-take zones were a punitive measure on recreational anglers and would not be needed in WA.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

pensions, bill

Here is what Age Uk (whose clarity of expression I like) has to say about the Pensions Bill in the UK Parliament:

What does this mean in practice? Around 330,000 women born between December 1953 and October 1954 will see their State Pension Age increased by eighteen months or longer. Those worst affected are the 30,000 or so women born between 6 March and 5 April, who will see their State Pension Age increase by a full two years. These women will be eligible to receive their State Pensions in March 2020 – meaning that a two-year increase will be introduced with less than nine years’ notice if the Bill passes unamended later this year. This makes it more difficult for women to plan for their retirements, particularly as the women affected have already seen their pension age increase from 60 under previous legislation.

Call me old-fashioned, but this is a big manufactured fuss about nothing.  Those of us who fall into this demographic (self, born 17 April 1954), like every other person with a UK National Insurance number and work record, whatever their age, needs 30 years of qualifying work to be able to receive a full state pension when they retire.  This will be 140 GB pounds a week, we are told.  Whatever the amount, people in the UK only need to have worked for 30 years to receive it (here in France it is 41) and both I and sig other (who is nine years younger than me) qualified for a full state pension quite a long time ago.  Because we worked.  That's what you do.  Unless you have someone like a rich partner who will support you in luxury.  Which is not most people.

How are these women losing out?  Nobody is taking their pension away from them, if they have qualified for it, either by, er, going to work, or by having a rich partner who pays in for them.  They will still get it.  They will just get it later if it is the state pension.  This "losing out" nonsense supposes that a woman who lives to say 84 (and which of us knows our appointed day) if she has retired at 66 instead of 60, which is likely to be the case for the demographic I belong to (personally I plan for at least 70) will in her lifetime claim less money from the State in state pension than if she had retired earlier.  Well, der.  She will still get the same amount every week.  She will just not get it for so many weeks.  Anyone would think that evil government ministers were climbing through windows to take the pension cash from the crabbed fingers of frail elderly women.  Except, think on.  This is baby boomers we are talking about.  Most of us have not retired.  We do Pilates and take younger lovers and go scuba diving and inline skating.  and, importantly, we go to work.  We fought for this, many of us.  We fought for equal pay and for the right to work alongside men.  We did not want to stay at home like our mothers had, and anyway the economic realities from the 1970s on meant that a one-income family with children living in comfort was a distant dream for most.

Of course I understand that many women take time out from the workplace to care for children.  I would have liked to do some of that myself when I was younger, except that I was the breadwinner of my family, so I went to work.  But get over yourselves.  No-one is taking your pension away.  In fact you are being given a better one.  You will just get it later.  What makes you think you have the right to possibly 50 years in retirement?  And who are you, and who are we, to say to young people in the workplace, that they have to support us for the last 50 years of our lives?  Not me.  I may retire at 70.  I hope not earlier.  But after I have I shall be economically active.

Just watch me.

Us baby boomer girls are not ready to go gentle into that good night.

Monday, 20 June 2011

vote for the mayor

elected mayors are rather the thing these days it seems.  I have changed my mind on them, I used to think that concentration of that much power in one hand was a recipe for cronyism and corruption, but now that I have seen, as in Reading over the years of Labour control, that cronyism and corruption flourish very well without an elected mayor, it seems good for transparency.  Especially when there is no overall political control, in which case unelected officers run the show.  No, elected mayors are probably a good thing.  Sion Simon thinks so too.  He thinks there is a democratic case for them, and he is running for mayor of Birmingham to prove his point.  He and I were colleagues in Parliament, and while he was capable of making a dick of himself, and did so from time to time, he is an honest man.  There has been talk for some time of an elected mayor in Reading.  The coalition did not have enough time to do anything about it, so it will be the Labour administration that does it.  They have more incentive, as their candidate is Martin Salter (make no mistake about that, hopefuls), who is returning from Australia for the purpose, to ensure that Reading remains a pocket Labour fiefdom now that the party is in opposition for a generation.  There is already a promising independent candidate limbering up in the wings (calm down, it isn't me).

What fun we shall have.  Btw I am going to Australia myself in November, for a long-ish holiday, expecting (and hoping) that Mr S will be back in the UK by then.  Twas I who predicted that he would stand down before the 2010 election and go to Australia, and that prediction went so far and so fast that he was asked the question by a Reading taxi driver and had to issue a denial.

What larks.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

happy Father's Day

Not something I thought I would ever say. Largely because my actual father died more than 35 years ago, much too young, 45, he was. But also because I and my family have never gone in for Mother's Day and Father's Day and so on. Still and all, my (adult) children do of course have a father, who is living, and, more importantly to me, my granddaughter, who will be four this year, has a father, who is not only living but who is with his family and works very hard. So, happy Father's Day Andrew (my granddaughter's father and he does not know I am
posting this) and may you have the rewards that fatherhood brings. I suspect they are a little hard to discern sometimes, but thank you anyway. I know Eliza gets a lot more from you than red curly hair and left-handedness.

Friday, 17 June 2011

twas ever thus

Was informs us as follows

Donations to the Reading East and Reading West CLP on the Electoral Commission web site shows that in March £3,000 was donated by an unincorporated association that lists its address as:
Civic Centre
Yes, the Reading  Labour Group really does think that it owns the Council.

but this is hardly news, is it?  Reading Labour Party's affairs have been run from the Civic for many years, with free use of rooms, photocopying, computers, officers' time, all at the service of the party.  And not only the Civic.  Countless media stunts have been on council premises and supported by the council's media operations.  The lid began to be lifted on this during Labour's brief period in opposition.  Perhaps this is why they couldn't wait until what is a very likely victory over a LibDem or three next year, providing them with an actual majority, because they feared the long arm of the law.  Perhaps.  But a councillor in opposition can do a lot, and find out a lot, if they have the will and the courage to do it.  But beware.  From 2000 to 2004 any letter or email I wrote to a council officer, or indeed councillor, was copied to then Cllr Sutton as leader, and some of those found their way into media briefings.

Ah well.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

oh those Germans 2

Sig other bought a book recently (in the UK in April, I think it was the third one of those "3 for 2" in Waterstones), called 'Germania' by Simon Winder.  I had not heard of it before, and found it hugely entertaining.  It begins as an amusing canter through Germany and the Germans.  He writes pretty well, though sometimes, editor-like, I question his use of tenses "a step forward for Christianity that was to be a leitmotif for shaping the German experience at least for a further seven centuries".  I'm not even sure what you call that use of tenses.  He does it all the time.  You get used to it.  He makes some points which seem obvious, once you have been presented with them.  The Third Reich was directly devoted to plunder and land-grab, as all its medieval predecessors were.  And yet Germany is big.  Why did they keep needing more room?  And why did they never make a capital city, a London, Paris or Rome?  I was entertained by his narrative of the vast numbers of Electors and Margraves and Landgraves, some of whom were called "The Bald" or "The Fat", one of whom was married to a Spanish princess called "Joanna The Mad".  Fab.  And there is lots about how Germany missed out on just about everything, with Sweden taking over the Baltic trading empire, the Netherlands getting stronger and richer and more maritime, and never really being German, though the Germans thought they were (ask a present-day Dutch person) and those pesky Alps standing between the merchants of the German plains and the warm South.

There are some cool discoveries to be made in this book.  Such as to encounter the author's total keenness on municipal museums in German towns, the more boring the better.  He notes that the embarrassing fairly recent past has been de-emphasised in these places in favour of pre-history, and that all curators make Stone Age reconstructions from skeletons look like West German university lecturers of the early 1970s.

I had never heard of the German painter and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, who went to the new Dutch colony of Surinam in 1699 (p. 191) and did coloured drawings of its wildlife.  It is to her that the phrase "bird-eating spiders" is to be attributed; there is no evidence other than her drawings that South American tarantulas, which the writer calls "teddy bears on mescaline" ever actually ate birds.  An arachnophobe, I had to turn the page.  I should at least have been glad there were no pictures.

The writer is a big fan (p. 222) of the best Habsburg of them all, Maria Theresa.  He calls her "a teenager battling for her inheritance, surrounded by the faithless wolves who had promised her father they would protect her".  After all, he notes, Maria Theresa does hold on to her inheritance, Vienna becomes a great city, and the Empire gets fixed in the heart of Western civilisation.  Now there is a woman whose story might repay a modern retelling.

Simon Winder writes like an editor, and oddly two of his favourite words (editors always have favourite words) are "headachy" and "babyish".

There is some slightly odd editing, one could almost fancy that it had been outsourced to India or somewhere: on p. 253 the phrase "piece of resistance" appears - wtf?

The German attempt at having an African colonial empire in the early 20th century had a savage and bloody aftermath, meted out mostly by Germans.  But they were not alone in this (p. 360).  Everywhere (p. 361) "a truly poisonous technological and moral atmosphere seems to have driven Europeans mad... there was a sort of frenzy of violence, bolstered by a contemptible religious and patriotic high-mindedness... This telegraph, gunboat and machinegun hysteria that racked so many places in the run-up to the First World War formed a generalised nadir, a sickness which would end up being turned on Europe itself."  Well,that's what he says about it anyway.

And, er, "the motor that ruined European culture (p. 382) "was not the overbearing might of Germany but its relative marginality."  Discuss.

He makes a splendid point, in the context of the free port of Hamburg, its experience to be applied to a wider Germany: "weights and measures, pulleys, ladders, cranes, stevedores, hooks, dollies, hessian - these should have been the basis for Germany's future rather than troop trains and siege artillery."  More please.

Some little-known facts, at least little known by me: a "Soviet Republic of Bavaria" was declared in 1919.  Who knew? (p. 398)  And that Bratislava used to be called Pressburg.  And he reminds us about the Fritz Lang film "Woman in the Moon", vg.

This book has a scarily long bibliography, and also an index, also vg.  I often think that the usefulness of the bibliography and index of a book are in inverse proportion to its readability.  But maybe that's just lil' ol' barely-middlebrow me.

Anyway, have a read if you are half-way interested.  Genau.

oh those Germans

I live, as I have said, about five kilometres from the west bank of the Rhine, which here forms the border between France and Germany, and local people here speak Alsatian, which (whisper it not) is a dialect of German, and so can speak German if they choose to.  Far fewer people in Strasbourg speak Alsatian than do in the villages, but that is the way of cities - people come to them from other places.  You do not hear much north African Arabic in the villages, but you hear plenty in Strasbourg.  That said, when I go into my local bakery on a Saturday or Sunday morning, whenever an elderly person comes in they speak to the staff not in French but in Alsatian, and are answered in that language.  However, I was once in there when a person who seemed to my ears to be a native speaker of German, and who clearly had no French, spoke to the staff in German, and they claimed not to understand, and refused to answer her.  She however was of Chinese or Vietnamese appearance, and I did not like what was said about her after she left, in French, by the staff of the shop.

Cultural differences.  Although I am on sick leave until my broken rib mends (which it is doing successfully, thanks for asking) walking is good for me, and also not difficult to do, so I permitted myself last Monday, a public holiday here, to join others on an outing to the vineyards of Zellenberg, Haut-Rhin, south of here.  Those present were from France (Alsace), France (other), Algeria, Pakistan, England (long-term resident in Germany), Canada (of Armenian descent), Canada (of Scottish descent), USA (southern, allegedly Scottish ancestry), Italy, England (us), England (southern, married to French, elderly), er I think that was it.  We all brought our own picnics, and I was very struck by the different picnics we brought.  All those with Brit heritage (including the Pakistani family) had sandwiches in foil, with salad or fruit (we had ham sandwiches and cherry tomatoes) and maybe something sweet (we had Bakewell slice made by yours truly), drinks being provided by the venue.  This did not include the Brit married to the Algerian, which couple created a Middle Eastern-looking feast, assembled from jars and little boxes, and shared with nobody.  The French had gone to a lot of trouble, and though the invitation was "bring your own lunch", not "pot luck" or "bring to share, they were constantly handing round little dishes of things like hard-boiled eggs and (this was the Alsatians) pretzels (called "bretzel" here).  And, of course, cheese.  Not much in the vegetable line.  Nobody else handed anything round. The Italian brought mozzarella and parma ham, not with the intent of creating an Italian feast (these things are readily available in Strasbourg), but just because that is what she likes to eat.  The north Americans brought what was probably the tastiest stuff.  They had Tupperware boxes.  Oh boy, did they have Tupperware boxes.  Bean salads, potato salad. rolled ham, little sandwiches, more than their number could possibly eat.  They didn't hand it round, they just sort of waved it at people and told them to take some.  Our hosts at the vineyards were blond and plump and cheerful, and not German (Alsatians are terribly offended if you think them German) and not only passionate about the wine they grow but hugely (to me) old-fashioned, in that it was all about the land, which was in the family.  The vineyards were run by two brothers and a sister, and clearly all had married with a view to the land holdings and the future of "le terroir".  One had a totally organic enterprise, the others partly so.  It was good to leave the city for a few hours, and to think about where we are.  Not in France other than politically, and not in Germany.  This has been the reality for Alsace for centuries.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

a barely literate Geordie saves the Labour Party

well, it wanted saving under the miserable leadership of Mr Ed. Mr Howarth (for it is he) has shared his latest wisdom with us, and I will share it with you, and ... well, you know what I am going to do with it, don't you, hein?

This is the first of a series of articles I intend to publish, day job permitting, on ‘Refounding Labour’ - the consultation process led by Peter Hain. Contribute here. If you click on this link it offers you the opportunity to click on a heart icon to show that you love the Labour Party.
When I was young I backed the mandatory re-selection of Labour MPs because I was against ‘jobs for life’. So you were a Bennite then.  In the 90s I backed extending the franchise beyond delegates because greater involvement of members is better. We were in the same party then and I don't remember you doing any such thing, the opposite if anything.  Now the crisis in politics crisis?  what crisis?  as someone probably never said demands we go further - it is time for Labour to hold ‘primaries’. now that in Reading at least there is NO chance of Labour MPs actually being elected, thanks in part to your own work
If there is one thing that hacks me off big time it is watching Labour lag behind the Conservatives on the extension of democracy and involvement. why have you consistently been so keen on it then? How dare we, the people’s party, argue to exclude the people from decisions? Before the last election the Conservatives experimented with the notion of ‘primaries’. It was limited, rather successful and I expect their members hated it. on the contrary, I am told the members rather liked it, after initial suspicion.
When Labour selected candidates for the 2010 election it had about 170,000 members. At the 2005 election there were 9.5 million Labour voter. Put another way, in the average constituency there were 270 Labour members and just over 15,000 Labour voters. So for every Labour member there are 56 Labour voters. 1.7% of the Labour vote (0.38% of the electorate) could, of course, constitute a representative sample - but we all know in this case it doesn’t.
This doesn’t mean that Labour members are necessarily out of tune with the Labour electorate, but it does make it more likely that they will be, at least from time to time. yeah, yeah, and?
None of this would matter so much if the current selection system delivered the goods. Sadly it hasn’t, it doesn’t and it won’t. Two Labour MPs in Reading, for eight and thirteen years, no that was crap, what we want is OPPOSITION The constituencies with which I am most closely involved are a great example. For reasons too obscure to contemplate a string of ill prepared, implausible or downright dysfunctional candidates have been inflicted on the electorate at general elections since the 1970s. Name names please.  The last time Reading elected a Labour MP before 1997 was in 1966, John Lee, whom you personally snubbed when he came in 1997 to offer to help, and again in 2001. The plausible candidates have been a very small minority indeed. Names please.I don’t think myself superior to any other member in this sad affair what's sad about electing Labour MPs, twice in one constituency and three times in the other?  Oh.- I voted internally for some, though not all, of these losers, losers - -ah I see you mean the ones that DIDN'T get elected, hein? campaigned externally for most of them and voted Labour even when it meant convincing myself that I was really voting for something broader. If I could put it all down to local circumstance such as? that might make me feel better, but in a former role I supervised many more and have dealt with many hundreds of candidates. Not every selection is bad, not every selection is irrational but enough are seriously wanting for the matter to need attention.
Moreover, Labour’s selections are open to manipulation, distortion, large scale abuse, infiltration, sectarianism and downright corruption now we're getting somewhere as well as having proved male dominated to the point where special measures were required to give women a fair chance. overheard in your office "no more cunts, unless they make us" Nobody set out for this to be the case. There was no grand conspiracy. The selectorate is simply too narrow to avoid what is a natural trend where power is at stake. There are supposed to be safeguards - we are not even supposed to have a discussion about the merits of candidates, huh yet people are corralled and told who to vote for left right and centre by you and your mates. Artificial safeguards don’t work - the best safeguard is the broadest possible why were you against it, at a time when the party was actually electing people in Reading?
Labour can make a major step back to winning the trust of the wider electorate by trusting its own electorate. You don't trust the GC delegates never mind the wider people, that's why decisions are made away from the party membership The final selection of Labour candidates has to become the prerogative of Labour supporters at large rather than the self-appointed 1.7%. But the very thought strikes horror into the hearts of many Labour activists including you for many years who would argue passionately against such a move. Decent people though they are don't make me laugh, bunch of bullying corrupt scumbags who would sell their granny for a council seat, their arguments are bogus. They go like this:
Why should I bother to pay my subs if I don’t get to choose the candidates?
Why indeed, were it true that in a wider selection franchise Labour members would have no greater influence over the selection of a candidate than the average Labour voter? But it isn’t true. Labour members would continue to have a significant say, in particular by collectively controlling the shortlist. ah I see, make sure your mates are on it A credible procedure would require and sic affirmative vote among the membership above an agreed threshold to allow a nomination to go forward. To the wider electorate. Labour members and agreed criteria would protect the gender and ethnic mix of shortlists on the contrary, the wider electorate have a broader view in general and do not expect Labour candidates to be white males who go to the correct dinner parties and read the Guardian, ,and those who are Labour supporters expect their candidates to be those capable of winning, not as in Reading East in 2005 a convicted sex offender or as in Reading in 2010, one kept locked in the attic and prevented from meeting the electorate and the other an embarrassing dingbat , the affirmative threshold and a qualification process would ensure quality criteria.blah blah, he goes on like this for paragraphs more
What do you mean ‘prevent’, what’s new? Labour’s machine politicians have been able to use and abuse the current system and whatever route is adopted there will be still be opportunities, but it cannot be impossible to build into the system checks and balances that ensure those who stand for selection are part of the broad church. more or less meaningless.  Explain.
There is no great clamour for among Labour voters to be part of choosing our candidates, and, no, I’ve not heard it down the gym or in the gastro pub either. see what I mean?  He just doesn't get it.  But I do regularly hear vitriol spouted about ‘politicians’. Much of it is nonsense and some of it dangerous nonsense, but it understandable.Peblah blah blah, there he goes again, condemning a system he has spent what are probably the best years of his life fighting to create and to perpetuate The way to ensure diversity if by trusting our electorate. An effective woman has more chance of succeeding without the hindrance of a male dominated structure. what bollocks.  effective women succeed despite existing, structures, always have, always will. Ethnic minority candidates would emerge because the electorate has shown it will back them. well, yes.  care to comment on the fact that of the five (count 'em) five Reading Labour ethnic minority councillors elected in the last twenty years two have been hounded out of the party and a third has left it in disgust Quality can be assured by requiring potential candidate to complete and pass a training requirement he goes on like this highly repetitively and ungrammatically for a bunch more paragraphs .what IS socialism if it is not a majoritarian political strategy based on persuasion and consent? ooh yes.  Discuss.
I personally heard on a daily basis from the mid-1990s until I left Reading in 2005 Mr Howarth's vituperative briefings to the local and national media against Labour candidates, yours truly but others too.  He has made a career out of this stuff.  Why the mea culpa now?  The only Labour candidate I have ever known him to support was Martin Salter, and the two of THEM had a close and complicated FINANCIAL relationship that was very little to do with politics, and which was evidenced by Mr Salter pimping Mr Howarth's company, Public Impact, around the Commons, using parliamentary facilities to do so.
And he is submitting this stuff to Peter Hain to help in the renewal of the party?  The best way Mr Howarth can help is to bugger right off, somewhere a long way away.  How about Australia John?  Go and help your mate Martin campaign for the Blood Sports Party over there?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

travel, writing and a small world

Ben MacIntyre in The Times today (£) writes about travel and writing and writing about travel.  He pins this to the death this week of Patrick Leigh Fermor.  This is a writer I have never read, and had barely heard of until my erstwhile boss, who retired a few months ago but whom I still miss, recommended him to me, especially 'The Woods to the Water' or similar.  Soon, soon. Leigh Fermor walked from the Netherlands to Constantinople in 1933, at the age of 18.  When war broke out some years later he was shacked up with a Romanian countess in Moldavia.  How stylish is that?  Anyway I shall read him. The point MacIntyre was making is that  such a journey would not be done this way today.  After all, Leigh Fermor took a year to walk the distance (which today can be flown in two hours).  MacIntyre points out that a much more modern writer, Paul Theroux, has denounced travel writing that slips into "literary self-indulgence, dishonest complaining, pointless heroics and chronic posturing".  I submit that Theroux is guilty of all these, and that another somewhat more modern writer than Leigh Fermor, namely Colin Thubron, is guilty of none of these, and of nothing worse than of being a bit of a wanker.  However.  MacIntyre manages to contradict himself almost within every sentence.  He says that Leigh Fermor conversed on his travels with shepherds, peasants and nobles, and did so in German, Bulgarian, Greek and Romanian,  Today, he says, "English would suffice".  Oh yeah?  I have been around the Balkans a bit as a tourist, and I promise you it does not.  You can find someone to rent you a room or sell you a drink, yes, in English, but try asking in Moldova or Macedonia about disputed territories and how to get to them and where to get the bus to Village X - well, in Moldova I did it quite successfully in Russian, in Macedonia less so, having no Greek and attempting Macedonian (a Slavic language) by speaking cod Russian without the case endings.  They understood me, pretty much, but communication was not really happening.  MacIntyre says that with the death of Bruce Chatwin in 1989 the genre seemed to lose its way.  I disagree.  I read 'The Songlines' by Chatwin. about Australia,  and it was about Chatwin and not about Australia at all.  Thubron, referred to earlier, spoke Mandarin and Uighur in China, and he needed to, or he would have been robbed and possibly killed.  Pretty much everywhere else along the Silk Road some variant of Turkish will suffice.  So if I ever travel that road it will be Turkish and Chinese I learn (Uighur is also Turkic).

MacIntyre then slips into some bollocks about Barack Obama, who he says has an appeal partly derived from his roots in Kenya, Hawaii and Indonesia as well as Chicago.  Humph.

MacIntyre redeems himself at the end of the piece by quoting the immortal Emily Dickinson

"There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away"

But, but.  At present I am mostly learning Serbian (all over former Yugo this is what they speak, with small variations, whatever they say) and polishing fluency in Russian, passing by with a little light German and Alsatian.  French I have to do.  I am fluent but it is still not fun.  Sig other and I are are discussing our options re Greek, which we require for Cyprus and further afield, although Cyprus is an anglophone nation in part - should we both take Elementary Greek this autumn?  Or just one of us?

A piece of writing I did think was fantastic was also by Bruce Chatwin and is called 'On The Black Hill'.  It is set on the Welsh borders.

Monday, 13 June 2011

silence, ladies and gentlemen of the jury

I gather from various sources that a jury member has tweeted or Facebook messaged a victim or a defendant, doesn't matter which, and has been remonstrated with for having done so. I live now in a country which does not go in for jury trial, but I still believe in the principle of trial by one's peers. The more so since I read recently that there were those who wanted to end trial by jury because most jury members are working class, less able than others to get out of this duty, and thus more likely to be members of the criminal classes, professional people (who of course are never criminals) being able to weasel out. This is the point at which I share the story with which I have already bored most of my acquaintance. Quite a number of years ago my mother did jury service, in Bodmin, Cornwall. In those days counsel could object to up to two jurors without giving a reason (the rules have changed since) and my mother was objected to by defence counsel. Much offended (she was already in the jury box when objected to) she asked a court official why this had happened, and was told that defence counsel usually objected to older women jurors in rape cases, as they tended to convict. I asked my mother if she had seen the defendant at the point she was objected to, and she said "Yes, and he was obviously guilty. I could tell by his face."

I have never done jury service (never been called) but would like the experience one day. Sig
other was called to jury service about five years ago, at the Old Bailey. Neither Twitter nor
Facebook were mainstream then, but people, including sig other, most certainly were on line. It was a murder trial, and the jury received the usual warnings about privacy of
deliberations. Sig other never talked to me about the trial, and I never knowingly saw media reports of it, then or later. I still don't know the name of the defendant. I do know that
the trial was distressing for the jury, and that all have been excused jury service for the
rest of their lives as a result. The point I am making is that the responsibility is a
serious one, and that the existence of Twitter and so on do not change that. It may be more difficult for those who are used to tweeting all their daily concerns (and I do this quite a lot) to keep shtum. But that is what they must do.


Friday, 10 June 2011

Flaubert and the rolling-mill

I was thinking that this summer I would read Madame Bovary again, properly, thinking about how Flaubert uses the words he uses. Just then I happened upon this, from the Paul J. Griffiths blog. This person happens to be my brother, and is of course Much Cleverer Than I Am. All families have these categories into which their members are placed, or fall. The Clever ratings we had were rather unfair to our sister, who is also Much Cleverer Than I Am, but no-one ever said anything about her Clever status when we were growing up. I am the firstborn (first grandchild on both sides, too), and thus exhibit all the firstborn behaviours, but that is another story. I imagine my mother was quite impressed with me when I was born, but when my golden-boy brother arrived, unplanned and too soon afterwards, she would cheerfully have exposed me on a mountainside if she had thought she could get away with it. It followed that my brother and I were brought up together like twins, and that has always suited me just fine. That link never leaves you: even though my brother and I have not lived on the same continent for more than 30 years, it is still there between us.

The younger generation of our family, now aged from early twenties to mid-thirties, have been assigned their categories too, though I am less clear about them as I have been partly responsible I suppose for the assigning. It is clear though that my mother assigned categories to each of her six grandchildren at or soon after their births. One can do no wrong; one is eternally treated as a servant; she continually forgets (not through dementia) the very existence of a third; and if something is done wrong it is, generally speaking, the fault of a fourth. The cousins and siblings don't seem to mind this much: their attitude to it is one of amused tolerance. The following generation has begun to appear: so far there are three of them, aged one, two and three. I do not believe I have put them into categories, at least not yet (it's not something anyone sets out to do), but my own granddaughter, the eldest, is not someone who can do no wrong. She is, at times gloriously, insufferable. She is also a left-handed redhead.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Flaubert. The passage quoted is about what words do to the past, and they play, in Flaubert's words, the role of a "laminoir", a kind of milling machine that smoothes things out and gives them the shape you want. So thanks Paul for the words. If you read the short piece he (my brother not Flaubert) wrote, you will notice that he calls Flaubert a "pagan".  By this he does not mean what most speakers of British English would mean, namely a practiser of pagan rites, midsummer and Beltane and garlandings (you can see a lot of this stuff in the present-day Baltics and Scandinavia) but apparently it is standard North American English for someone who is not a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh.

My brother is a professor at a US university, and like all such has published quite a number of books - he says himself too many for what he has wanted to say, but such is the reality of US academia. I own that I have never read any of them, as I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. But his next one I have on pre-order, not quite sure why.

One of the many good things about an iPad is that when you are lying on your back, the only position in which I am anywhere near comfortable at present, you can still write and go on line.

I am not accustomed to being at home weekday daytimes. It is unnaturally quiet. Today sig other has also been at home for part of the day. When he went out the sales calls started coming in, most of them silent, some of them cutting out in the time it took me to hobble across to the landline phone. Chiz. They stopped of course as soon as he got home again.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

however does she manage it?

this was sent to me by a correspondent who described it as "Rachel Eden spouting out of her other orifice".  Well, I would not presume to comment on that, however do read the piece, it is a guest post by Ms Eden, whom, I repeat, I do not know in person; I know only that she is being pushed as the Labour parliamentary candidate for  Reading West.  Anyway, she posts there on a blog for mummies, yummy or otherwise, and it really is a "however does she manage it"? kind of thing.  And yet, let us deconstruct this a little.  She is a borough councillor, a member of the group which has just taken control of the council as a minority administration.  I was a councillor for ten years on that very council, latterly lead councillor for Arts and Leisure as it was then, and held a number of positions.  Also in Labour control.  So I know at least something about the onerousness of those duties.  For all that time I had a full-time, fairly demanding job outside the council and was the breadwinner of my family.  I went into politics as an elected representative when my younger child was seven, so not a baby - Ms Eden is the mother of a baby girl, I would guess about a year old.  But Ms Eden holds no paid employment outside her council duties, and even though council allowances are considerably more generous than they were in My Day it is not possible to live on them, at least not in Reading, and certainly not to keep a family on them.  So the husband Ms Eden acknowledges is in residence must be supporting the family financially.  For me that would have been an impossible dream.  Ms Eden also refers to her own mother, and to at least one other family member, turning up and babysitting while she attends meetings (I hope she did not claim childcare allowance for those meetings, hein?), something I never had.  She also has a cleaner, ditto for me until much later.

So, even in my current tranked state (Tramadol, might in future be tempted to use it recreationally, no, just kidding folks) while I recover from a broken rib and the finest medical minds of this part of France try to decide whether I also have pneumothorax and/or a collapsed lung, I can see that Ms Eden has a privileged life and is very far from "however does she manage it?"  Nicola Horlick (remember her?)  she ain't.

Still, I wish Rachel well in her quest for a parliamentary seat.  If she does get elected somewhere, and I strongly suspect it will not be in Reading West, as when she is selected the boys will see to that, if the electorate do not look as though they are minded to, look what they did to Anneliese Dodds, she will find that walks in the park with hubby while mummy babysits, then leisurely lunches with girlfriends, are not the stuff of an MP's life.  No.  There is actual WORK to be done.  Ever done any of that Rache?  Hope so.

Good to have pre-publicity for the campaign, though, I am sure you will agree.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

when does the campaign start?

Yet another edition of the Australian Fishing World, known as Fisho, pings into my inbox, and includes the following:
In addition to barra the lads landed saratoga, mangrove jacks, golden snapper, black jewfish, red-throat sweetlip, Spanish flag, alligator gar, black spot and gold spot cod, tarpon, blue salmon, queenfish, GTs, barracuda, fork tailed catfish, emperor and the inevitable reef sharks. If they had gone wider there were Spanish mackerel as well as tuna to be had, while the rivers and creeks hold good stocks of hard fighting threadfin salmon.
Martin very nearly missed out on his first 'toga when a sea eagle swooped out of the sky just as he hooked up on a surface lure.
He said: "I knew that the upper reaches of Goose Creek would be my only chance of landing this rarest and most frustrating of Aussie fishes before I return to the UK. I had just worked out how to get them to hit my fizzer but was having the usual nightmare trying to set the hooks in their bony gobs when the sky turned black as a 'toga and the eagle collided either side of the lure. Incredibly the fish stayed on and the bird went away hungry!"
A couple of things: don't Australian fish have lovely names?  I particularly liked "red-throat sweetlip" and "black jewfish" - why is the latter called that?  It looks like this, apparently.

Anyway, assiduous readers will have noticed, as I did, that Mr S indicates that his return to the UK is imminent.  Might this explain the Labour Group's unseemly haste to form an administration now, when they could have waited until next  year when they are very likely to take one or more seats from the LibDems?  Because an elected mayor is what they would like to have, so that the town will be their pocket fiefdom no matter what happens in council elections or to the government.  And other parties in Reading are still afraid of Mr S and his bully-boy henchpeople.  Which they should not be.  But why not ask?  A simple question to council will suffice...

Monday, 6 June 2011


is what I am at the moment, a handy French word meaning "not very well". A week ago I was on my inline skates, on which I am less than expert, lost concentration for a moment and fell on my back. Because when you do that your bum hits the ground first, and it is designed to cushion you in precisely these eventualities, I wasn't much hurt other than my pride, but because I was on skates rather than flat-footed the body rolled a little and I smacked my ribcage too, on the right-hand side. Still not too much of a problem, though rather sore and I was not keen to watch any comedy films. Then we went off to Picardy for a short break for the Ascension holiday - sig other carrying my bag - Picardy is a wifi desert even these days, so no posting and not much access - and we were sitting outside a cafe in the sunshine when a man came out and for his own reasons (I blame the parents) sneezed into my face. So I caught a cold. And when you do that you sneeze. And you cough. And when you do that with a bruised ribcage it REALLY hurts. The actual cold symptoms have pretty much gone now, and since I stopped smoking I don't cough much with a cold, vg, but with all that going on yesterday something seemed to sort of pop inside, and from then on it was agonisingly painful just to breathe out. So I saw doc today, who prescribed me some fantastic downer/painkillers, just about managed to stay awake long enough to write this, and am getting skeletal X-ray tomorrow
(called "les radios") in French, to see if I have bust a rib. If not and if matters don't improve in the next two or three days I have got pleurisy and have to be hospitalised. Probably. Oh well. This is the best country to be ill in. Doc took the opportunity to
remind me about mammogram and preventive bowel cancer screening, noting that she assumed my "gynécologue" will have organised the former (I still don't have a gyny, but will have to see one soon just to stop docs nagging me) and my over-50s well-person clinic the latter (true).
All this is insurance based, and also very patient centred. This brings responsibility with it. All my blood test results, X-ray or scan pictures, preventive test results etc are my own
property and have to be kept on file by me. Sig other is younger than me so doesn't get most
of the preventive stuff, but he has still been able to make a very pretty spreadsheet. Imagine. Would this work in the UK? Just asking.
update: it is a broken rib I have, so no hospital vg
further update: but it f***ing hurts chiz