Sunday, 30 October 2011

Philip Gould - The Unfinished Revolution

It was fashionable in my time in Reading for Philip Gould to be sneered at in Labour circles.  I was never quite sure why, but never countered it, either.  And so I never discovered what he had to say, and what he was about.  The foreword to this book was written by Tony Blair, who says very simply (p. XII) "the notion we lost over Iraq and light financial regulation fits uneasily with the election of a Tory governments committed to both".  He goes on "We did lose touch" (p. XIII) "not with our roots but with a public whose anxieties over tax, spending, immigration and crime were precisely the opposite of those on the left criticising New Labour".  "To begin with " (p, XXIV) "opposition has a certain appeal.  After you learn its tricks - especially how to clamber aboard bandwagons and accelerate them - it can even have the illusion of actual power.  You can set the agenda, have the rune of the media, put the government on the ropes - at least from time to time - and generally have a good time of it.  But it always is an illusion of power, not the real thing.  After a time it palls, and then, if you are serious about politics, it grates and irritates."

Now to Gould (p. 10): "have you known the dreadful, repetitive tedium of manual work, not just for the university holidays but for life".  He is from Woking, not privileged, a background that is not mine.  All the forces which formed the Labour Party (p. 24): "Fabianism, trade unionism, religion and a defensive working-class culture - blended to produce a party intrinsically resistant to change."  "Labour was born" (p. 26) "from the quiet courage of generations of people who wanted the world to be a better, different place." Also p. 26 Gwyn Williams is quoted: "The irony of Wilson... was that he appeared modern, but was in no sense a moderniser, which made him a frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful politician".

Gould says (p. 64) "We wanted to focus on television; ensure brilliant, memorable pictures; provide stories that fed into every stage of the news cycle; concentrate on the leave and a small coup of campaigners, and plan the campaign round the discipline of a tightly controlled daily grid.  This is how the 1987 general election was fought and it is essentially how Labour has fought every national election since."

Gould can be mean, as here about the late Michael Foot (p. 78): "The best way to address the public (talking here about the party in 1987) was to don a donkey jacket and harangue the party faithful at rallies"/  Also in 1987 (p. 83): "only 7 per cent voted Conservative, because they always had done". Why might that be, Phil, hein?

Gould also says (p. 92) that New Labour was his own idea.

However, he does start to make some sense (p. 141) on the 1992 election: "They still suffer from that one internecine act.  everywhere, that is how parties suffer,  they do that."  And "He (Neil Kinnock) is the rock on which the election triumph of 1997 was built."

Gould used to be known as our party's pollster extraordinaire, although I never much saw the result of his polls.  This is probably a take on his excellence in the sphere - the ills were not aimed at the likes of me, as I was already a committed labour supporter.  Around 1990 he reminds us, a technique called "people metering" was u see to test audience response to individuals.  "TB always sent the dial up."  Gould remembers thinking "Blair was good, but not that good.  He seemed to be able to connect with the public in a way that transcended rational explanation.  It was a response qualitatively different from that to any other politician" (p. 180).  He quotes TB (p. 210) as saying "I will never compromise.  I would rather be beaten and leave politics than bend to the party.  I am going to take the party on."

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

a chapter from the book of the season

a chapter from the new book of political counterfactuals "Prime Minister Boris and other things that never happened" (get yours now, click on right) has been posted by Iain Dale.  It is also written by a former Labour MP, but there the resemblance to mine very much ends.

now here's a top wheeze

the lovely Hopi Sen has posted on whips and rebellions, and I reproduce part of his post here as follows:

Here’s my suggestion: Abolish the Chief Whip, and introduce a Parliamentary Maitre’D instead.

I don’t mean abandon parliamentary discpline, or abandoning the Three line whip, but changing the way Government approach discipline. The role of the Whips office at the moment is confined to arranging parliamentary business and ensuring people turn up and vote the right way. There’s little or no attempt to manage the general happiness of individual MPs, or of understanding when or how they might be allowed off the leash in order to impress the punters.
If the whips were abolished, and a PM created a ”Parliamentary Affairs Department”, a powerful PM could fold in the Leader of the House and Whips office with parts of the Cabinet office, and by giving the job to one of the big beasts of the government, not an anonymous fixer, they’d create a department whose job it was to ensure that all other departments were alive to the concerns of the backbenches. Ideally, that big beast would be a leader loyalist – whoever had managed their leadership campaign, say, so someone known to have the Leaders’ ear.

Excellent notion.  I remember a number of conversations with parliamentary colleagues from about 1999 onwards on these lines - the whips never took a human resources role, and I suspect some breakdowns, slides into alcoholism, and even early deaths, might have been averted if the whips had engaged in rather less psychological torture and rather more of a pastoral role.  Srsly folks.  In My Day we were (almost) never at risk of losing a vote, not even in the Iraq debate in March 2003, it is clear now, so all the more reason I fancy.  But no.

the Filth is at it again

the irrepressible Hugh Muir (who?) in the Filth (some call it the Guardian Diary, most are not so kind) refers to ten questions about Liam Fox sent to No. 10 by Jim Murphy MP (the sight of whom in skin-tight white satin shorts, emerging from the Commons gym at 3 am during an all-night sitting to quell the antics of.. but that will do for another day).  Here is what he says, fisking in red of course mine.

We must look again at Liam Fox, says Labour via 10 unanswered questions sent to No 10 at the weekend. What was the rightwinger up to? Who was paying so he could be shadowed by his mysterious friend Adam Werritty? And as the inquiry continues, someone might wonder how he had the brass neck to whinge on in parliament about the iniquities of the "vindictive" media, knowing full well that he himself had been involved in spreading stories about another figure in the public eye; stories which, unlike those written about him, weren't even true. For many in Reading still recall how in 2005, the same Dr Fox, then Tory deputy chair, featured in a libel case that arose after he and two parliamentary hopefuls accused the then Labour MP, Martin Salter, of improper conduct and corruption Reading had two Labour MPs in 2005.  One of them was me.  One of the "parliamentary hopefuls" was Rob Wilson, elected in 2005 as Conservative MP for Reading East and comfortably re-elected in 2010. . Dr Fox was the first MP to be sued by a fellow MP in more than 100 years. Except he wasn't sued.  This is a lie.  Put about by Mr Salter.  And dutifully copied out by the Guardian.  Which ought to know better but does not.All the accusations were proved false, This is a lie.  No proof was furnished.  The allegations were denied by the then leader of Reading Borough Council, David Sutton. who was lying  One of the allegations made, that Mr Salter threatened Mr Sutton with removal from his position if he did not ensure that the outcome of certain planning applications was in accordance with Mr Salter's wishes, was in fact false.  The threat was made, and the demand for the fixing of planning applications was also made: both of them were witnessed by me and others, but they were not linked.  But in any case no proof of falsehood was ever furnished, because there is none.  Hugh Muir you are publishing lies.  Not for the first time, Guardian. The other allegations made, about bullying, corruption and improper conduct, were all true. and having made it to the high court the trio were forced to back down, with £60,000 spent on lawyers and £15,000 gifted to Salter in damages. Instead of gifting the damages payment to an appropriate charity Mr S. went on holiday to Sri Lanka.  Was that vindictive? You decide. But it wasn't nice, was it?

Evidence for the allegations made was supplied by me. And I said publicly at the time that it had been. Before m'learned friends got involved I had spoken once, briefly on  the telephone with Mr Fox.  I had supplied, of my own volition, some documents to Mr Wilson and had had several conversations with him. As background, a member of my staff had in 2002 issued a formal grievance warning against me which he said he would withdraw if I no longer required him to attend liaison meetings with Reading Borough Council.  These meetings were also attended by Mr Salter, and the member of staff concerned refused any longer to witness, in his words, "attempts to twist the planning process" by Mr Salter.  Mr Sutton was given a copy of that letter at the time.  I asked Mr Sutton for MP-council liaison meetings to be held separately, i.e. that I could meet council leadership and officers without Mr Salter, and he informed me by email that there could be no liaison meetings without Mr Salter's attendance.  I therefore attended no further such meetings, after 2002.  I repeated all this subsequently on this blog and my previous one.  No-one has ever tried to sue me on this.  Why not?

I've sent the no doubt delightful Mr Muir at the Guardian a link to this post for his comments.

Monday, 24 October 2011


I have never been to Libya.  The closest I have been to knowing something about that country is that a friend spent her childhood there before the coup that brought  Gaddafy to power, and another friend, with whom I worked in Latvia, went on to work in Libya c couple of jobs later.  Both of them had things to tell me  about the country, thanks Sarah and Calum.  But I have been following events there with huge interest, as i am sure most people have.  What has happened there is momentous.  A civl war sparked by the growing resistance of the people to dictatorship, ending with the unseating of that dictatorship with the help of European forces, especially those of France.  A war, not in Europe but near its southern edges.

I have been puzzled though by the fact that over recent months, whenever I have talked with family members in the UK they have not mentioned these and similar events.  Not once.  None of them.  Are people really not interested when a war is being fought?  Not even a faraway war.  Libya has Mediterranean beaches, and I hope to have a holiday on them before I die.  The UK media report these events extensively, and my family in the UK presumably see that coverage.  Can readers tell me why no-one mentions these things?

I have mentioned these matters from time to time. Tthe only response I had, to a mention of the sight of the dead Gaddafy, which i posted on Facebook the other day, was from a relative I don't know at all well, my cousin's son, whatever relation that makes him to me, who said he wasn't upset by the pictures because he was glad the dictator was gone.  Pretty much my sentiments too.

When I visited my mother in the UK last year she reminisced about "the war" as people of her generation and a slightly older one call the Second World War.  Interestingly, too.  She was evacuated to Sussex from London at the age of 12,with her sister.  Later her family was bombed out of their home in Peckham and rehoused in Eastcote, west London, which is how I came to be born in that part of London.  As part of that conversation I happened to say that war in Europe did not end with the defeat of Hitler.  The Cold War kept a kind of peace in Europe for more than 40 years, then after its end in the 1980s there was a new war in Europe in the 90s, with millions dead and the longest siege in history, in Sarajevo.  I had to remind my mother that that war had even happened.  She did a kind of wave of the hand that I have seen before, as if to wave away the knowledge, because it "didn't really count".  She even said to me that the war in former Yugoslavia was "not the same" as the Second World War.  No, of course it wasn't, no-one said it was, which makes the remark interesting.  But how, when Europe is a smaller place than it was in the 1940s (when Czechoslovakia was "a faraway country of which we know little" rather than a place you could go to for your stag weekend) can people who are not ignorant, who read the news and who think about what is going on in the world, at least from time to time, be so unaware that there was a major war in Europe less than 20 years ago?  And not wish to think about that, but to wave away the knowledge that it happened?  This is not to criticise my mother: I believe a great many people think like this.  I did not give the war in Europe enough thought myself when it was happening.  I am not sure why not.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

things that never happened

like Prime Minister Boris - oh wait that hasn't happened YET.  Anyway, one chapter of this was written by MOI and it is all good.  Enjoy it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 21

in which Emma B. sees a chance of escape.  Will she take it?

Those who marry or die are initially interesting – and then they are not.
The Baronial Hall returned to normal; the guests returned to Dorlich and life entered the slipstream.
At Chudleigh, the summer term concluded with a last hoorah; the Headmaster’s Garden Party and the Old Boys' Cricket Match.

At Oak’s Haven it would finish with the Probationary Review - the official verdict on her first year of teaching and she approached it with the relish of a condemned prisoner awaiting a rope. This statutory progress report on classroom management; departmental teamwork and lesson content was a passport to a guaranteed job – or a career change. She expected few surprises – but was forced to admit that her effort with the examination classes was not matched by endeavour with the junior forms.

Her colleague, Danielle Simpson, was an indefatigable originator of wall displays, magical islands and adventure trails; she preferred Chaucer and would lobby for a timetable to play to her strengths.

Next year.

The Review was next week and hung round her neck like the albatross.

Paul by contrast, was de-mob happy and marked his end of term with a five hour session in The Falcon. He appeared to have begun as he meant to go on but announced an unexpected intention to visit some antiquarian bookshops in the outlying villages in a quest for first editions of Wyndham Lewis; Richard Jeffries and Henry Williamson. As far as she knew, there was not a single second hand bookshop within a fifty mile radius of Necker’s Gorge and so waved him off, glad to be spared the prospect of a fortnight’s consumption in the Nag’s Farm Barn. He came and went infrequently, replete with the joys of country pub lunches, but his trips appeared to have been spectacularly unrewarding. At the end of two weeks he had purchased not a single book: All snapped up by serious collectors. Vultures!
and had been reduced to frequenting male outfitters where he had bought two dress shirts, a crimson velvet jacket and a black, pinstriped, narrow-lapelled suit.
He had also acquired a copy of Guilty; the current chart-topper by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb and took to humming A Woman in Love in place of the opening bars of Le sacre du printemps.

The music was awful – but when she had steeled herself to inspect the clothes, her influence was evident. Handsome is as handsome does – but is never displayed to optimum effect in flapping flares and threadbare collars.

The night before her Probationary Review, Paul telephoned to say that he had checked into a motel: Bloody carburettor – had to be towed the length of the motorway! AA took six hours to come out! and she seized her opportunity; depositing the flares, ten shirts and the worst of the knitwear in the trash can. He was making an effort and deserved encouragement.
The Probationary Review was good.

She had passed in all categories, excelling with the Sixth Form - and shortcomings with the juniors would be resolved by team teaching with Danielle Simpson.

Andrew Penn had been invited to an Open Day at Dorlich – a direct consequence of her chat with Professor Newbolt at Lionel’s wedding - and she accepted an invitation to edit the School Magazine. End of term drinks in the staffroom now became a thoroughly merited celebration. She arrived home later than usual – adoring the world and even the Truscotts. Paul was not there; the drawers were ajar and his side of the wardrobe was empty. There were no signs of burglary; he had obviously executed a forensic sartorial cull in response to her bold initiative with the flares and shirts. He must be wearing the new suit – for a surprise dinner at The Compleat Snapper or its exorbitant new competitor, Vesuvian Nights.

She showered, changed and replaced Barbra Streisand with Blondie.

Let the party begin!

An hour later, it hadn’t - and euphoria had been succeeded by a simmering rage directed at the Truscsotts or Percy or whoever else was detaining her husband in The Falcon, The Bear or the Trade Winds wine bar.
He was easily led - and it was about time he was led by her – to a well earned break in the Seychelles – or even a day trip to Dieppe! Anything – everything – except drudgery in Dorlich or purgatory at Picks Norton courtesy of Donald and Gillian.

The telephone rang and she sprang into action, smoothing her skirt and patting her hair.


Hello – I’m not in Dorlich.

This was too much. Necker’s Gorge. On her last day. Unforgivable!

I shan’t be back.

Drunk. Again. Well she’d go out. Alone. On the town!

I’m with somebody.

She heard herself say, slowly Frances Hunt?


The phone clicked and the world went dead.

An indefinite time later, she sniffed burning and discovered a cigarette hole in the hem of her skirt; an upturned ashtray at her feet and an empty bottle of Chablis.
The table lamp had been upended and Debbie Harry was singing Call Me from somewhere in the corner.

She walked to the stereo; removed the Blondie album; replaced it with Barbra Streisand and pulled the needle across the disc before lifting it from the turntable, stamping on it and snapping it in two. She placed both pieces under the carpet in the bedroom.

Turning to a bookcase, she drew out the ten volumes of The Collected Works of Thomas De Quincey. This set, bound in green leather with decorative gold tooling, was a present from Nicola to Paul on the occasion of their wedding and it had accompanied him to Conyham Crescent along with the wheel-backed chair. She selected a page towards the centre of each book and ripped it from top to bottom before returning the volume to its place on the shelf.

There was a pain in her chest and no wine in the fridge and it was dark.

A bell rang from somewhere followed by a dull banging.

She peered out of the window at a shape in the porch before opening the door upon – Chester Chase.

The sight of this grotesque emissary of Chudleigh resulted in an involuntary nauseous spasm and she dabbed at her mouth with a tissue whilst emitting noises to the effect that

Paul. Was not. At home.

He knew that and before she could demur, had walked into her lounge, sat down in the wheel-backed chair and opened a bag to reveal a two-litre bottle of cheap white wine. Her legs carried her into the kitchen and out again with two glasses and a corkscrew. He got up and requested directions to The little boys’ room; she pointed and he disappeared.

She sat by the window. It was raining outside. Inside, the silence was broken by the sound of loud urinating coming from the bathroom. He returned to the wheel-backed chair. She opened the wine; poured a glass and drank it and then another.

Chester Chase was wearing an off - white seersucker suit with a paisley cravat and tan moccasin-style shoes. As she regarded him from her seat at the window, it occurred to her that during the twelve month duration of their acquaintance, including four soirees chez Chase; three Boarding House Suppers; Founder’s Day drinks and the recent Headmaster’s Garden Party, he had barely acknowledged her existence – aiming the odd Hi there or Ciao in the direction of one of her shoulders.

Now he appeared to be saying rather a lot – which was a good thing because her tongue was not working.

She had been telephoned by Paul at an unspecified time earlier that evening and had neither left the house nor made calls.

She was vaguely aware that she would have to speak to somebody at some point about what she had been told but could see – despite the effects of almost a litre of wine -- that it was unlikely to be Chester Chase, or Dorian Chase – or anybody remotely connected with Chudleigh.

The fact that Chester Chase was sitting in the wheel-backed chair and easing a foot out of a moccasin as if preparing to call for his slippers was disconcerting. She had to ask herself how he had got there…….

As the only other person in the apartment was herself ----- then she must have let him in!! So that was the answer to that!

But it was not an answer to the question of why he was there in the first place.
Or why he seemed to know everything about something she had only been told about earlier in the evening before she had started to rip up books, stamp on records and burn holes in her clothes.

He was now leaning towards her, spreading and flexing his legs, with his hands cupping his crotch – either guarding it from attack or offering it up for inspection. In either case, it was safe from her - she really hoped that he understood that – but it was dominating the room and hedging her in. His hand slipped to the side of the chair; located a bottle and poured some of the contents into the second glass. She refilled her own.

He was speaking again - saying that Paul had asked him to call round; that she would be on her own and might need some company. As it so happened – she was in luck – because Dorian had flown out to Boston that afternoon to address the the Annual Henry James Convention; would be gone for at least a week and the children were staying with their cousins. So he was at the service of a damsel in distress and it went without saying that he had always found her to be a tremendously attractive lady………..

In fact – wretched dog that Paul undoubtedly was – there was no escaping it – he did have a way with the women!

Nicola – God Bless Her – was quite a siren if you liked that sort of smouldering Modigliani-style woman and although he wouldn’t be making himself very popular in this apartment, you had to admit that Frances Hunt was a bit of a Grace Kelly with her hats and her heels!

But he liked to think (refilling his glass) that he was a bit of a dog himself! With more than a few tricks up his sleeve – or somewhere else!! and Dorian had no complaints! Which was why she’d fled the country - for a rest!!

Wine or no wine, she would have had to be a deaf and dumb hermit beyond the reach of civilisation, to mistake the meaning of that and she did not mistake it. The question was – and it was big question – but then Chester Chase was a big man – what to do about it?

The facts as far as she could ascertain them, were these:

It was extremely late and dark and she was alone

She did not know who to call and if she did, who would come out at this time?

And if they did, how would they behave?

It was bad enough coping with one unwanted caller, let alone two. Or more.

She did not have a weapon to hand – except a corkscrew – and did not want blood and mess on top of the spilled wine and cigarette burns.

She was very – if not - extremely – drunk and this fact was affecting how she regarded – and would deal with – all of the above.


He must have asked a question because he had the look of an expectant puppy awaiting a treat. Except that he did not look like one of those delightful blond and cuddly Labradors who were always prancing around in toilet paper on the television. He looked like a slobbery old bulldog with bloodshot eyes and jiggling teats.

She was consumed with fury.

This horrible, ugly, man had arrived – not at her invitation – at her home, at an unspecified hour of the night; had sat in her lounge; used her toilet and subjected her to a monologue - without noticing or caring that she had not uttered one word in reply.

He was now proposing to use another facility in this apartment – her body – again without invitation – and was beginning to assume a slightly resentful aspect – as if she had stolen the last cake on the tray – or the last slice of prawn quiche on the platter.

Such behaviour was insupportable and she did not support it.

Summoning the reserves of determination and concentration that had seen her emerge from the spoils of examinations with eleven O levels; three Grade A A levels; two Special Papers with Distinction and two degrees she rose from her seat, propelled herself in the direction of Chester Chase and gesticulated towards a door.

He skipped through it – no doubt anticipating the treasures of the boudoir and found himself on the pavement in the rain with neither a coat nor an umbrella.

She shut the door and locked it and sank to the floor – with the words


invading her ears like the squeal of a stuck pig.

She was twenty five; Paul was thirty and France Hunt was forty three.

She had been married for thirteen months, three weeks and two days.

She slept where she was on the floor.  

there's nothing so ex as an...

mention Mr Howarth twice in two days, whatever are we coming to?  The person on the left of the picture is the ex-wife of Mr Howarth, and has not, as you can see, worn very well.  A great friend of mine from college days acted for Mr H in his divorce.  I'm sure it all went wonderfully well.

Oh and His Master's Voice, who published this picture on their website, this is fair comment.  You do a Sally Stevens of the Reading Chronicle on me and try any late-night threats, well refreshed or not, and I might get just a little exasperated.  What I will not do is take this picture down.  Got that?  Good.  Next?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Very seldom do I find myself in agreement with the barely literate John Howarth (prop., Public Impact Ltd, doughty campaigner for Tory victories in Reading), but here I am, more or less.  I'm a keen traveller, will probably die not having been to enough of the world.  In recent years most of my travel has been within Europe.  However, at the end of this month sig other and I are flying to Australia for a long-awaited visit of four weeks.  So, long haul.  Mr Howarth has views about the airport experience in the UK, and he is not far wrong.  We, however, are flying from Paris to Sydney via Shanghai.  I have changed planes in Paris (Charles de Gaulle, never called that by French people, to whom it is known as Roissy) twice in my life, and both times my luggage didn't come with me.  Also, airport staff are rude and unpleasant.  But it is Paris, so what would you expect?

It is a peculiarly British trope, not just to complain but to say, almost with pride, that the (in this case airport) experience in Britain is the worst in the world.  Er, in the case of airports, no it is not.  For a gloomy, depressing environment and no staff available who know anything about anything I give you Zvartnots airport, Yerevan, Armenia (my luggage got lost there too).  For bad smells and no refreshments I give you Male, Maldives.  For disgusting toilets try Seoul, Korea (but that was in the 1980s).  For rude, thuggish behaviour and excessive and ineffective security, try Kyiv, Ukraine.  My personal favourites are Stuttgart, Germany, and Riga, Latvia.  However, all the above are small airports, and with the probable exception of Stuttgart are not world travel hubs.  Stuttgart seems to take all Germans on holiday.  Rimini, Kos, Antalya, you get the picture.

My recent travels in Europe have been more by train than by air (why fly if you don't need to?  It doesn't really take longer by train when you add in the time getting to and waiting at the airport) and not all in the EU.  One of my favourite moments was in a sleeping car last year on what is still called Yugoslav National Railways at 5 am, when burly Serbian border guards (all border guards are burly, I think there's a law) burst in and poked their weapons into sleeping sig other's face, demanding that I wake him up (not as easy as you'd think) so they could be sure I wasn't accompanying a corpse. Anyway, in the EU and other places (Norway - also a favourite though would be nice if it were a bit cheaper - Switzerland etc) I travel carrying my British passport but almost never needing to show it.  Until I get to the UK, when I have to join a queue with a bunch of Foreigners.  Which of course I am these days, too.  And not being in Schengen has been SO effective in reducing illegal immigration to the UK, hein?

Well, I will update on the Australia journey and experience when the time comes.  Am especially looking forward to crossing to Tasmania by sea.  And am glad to be out of gloomy Alsace in November.  The trees are spectacular now, but will soon be bare.  In Australia it will be spring, moving into summer.  It has been so odd not to be mugging up useful phrases in the language when preparing for travel.  What do you mean they speak English there?  Croatian, Greek, Mandarin and Vietnamese too I am told.  To say nothing of the many languages of the first inhabitants.

When we get back I plan to start the process of sig other and I applying for French citizenship.  In July next year we will have lived here for five years, it's time to do it.  We want the vote.  And both of us can now pass the language test.  I am looking forward to standing under the tricolore and pledging allegiance to Liberte Egalite Fraternite.  Things I thought I'd never do...

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Best Blessings of Existence 20

In which Emma B notes that the curtain is raised.

It is difficult buying clothes for your own wedding – let alone the nuptials of others – and well-nigh impossible when the principals are Lionel Kerridge and Araminta Bellwether.  What Araminta would wear for an occasion when Hymen’s saffron robe would be put on for us, was anybody’s guess and, in the circumstances, it was best not to.

A trip to Laura Ashley was called for and resulted in the purchase of a full-length sage green velvet dress with a dropped and fitted waist; delicate buttons at the wrist and a scooped neckline that was graceful rather than vulgar.  She added a simple silver chain and a pair of the most exquisite little white ankle boots with granny heels and side buttons - from the famed ‘green boots’ boutique next door to Bunter’s.  The overall effect was medieval – and quite charming.  Paul had insisted on driving and they arrived at The Henry Mercer College in good time. They crossed the second Quad, weaving their way past wisteria and the gargoyles on the drainpipe at the entrance of the Baronial Hall.  It was two-thirds full and she began to get her bearings.  She noticed a portrait of her favourite Prime Minister amongst the alumni gracing the walls – and recognised Mr Proudie at the far end of the Hall, next to a portrait of Elizabeth 1st and a large and unlovely hog roast.

The guests were an ill-matched assortment of academics; representatives from the fringes of publishing, literature and media (she fancied she recognised Granville Colyear, Presenter of the new arts programme Gallery Glimpses), ex students (was that Romaine Hince from the M. Lit course?) and the finest from The Falcon, The Trade Winds wine bar, Bunter’s, The Bear and The Bat and Belfry.  In such circumstances, mingling was out of the question and they didn’t.

Paul, who had been particularly sullen on the journey, now perked up, courtesy of a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and a sudden hush heralded the entrance of the bridal party; the newly weds; Lionel’s maiden aunt; Percy, Frances and Major Bellwether - who was equipped with regimental medals and a full complement of arms and legs.  The new Mrs Kerridge clasped her husband’s arm. Araminta was dressed in knee-length red satin with a matching bolero.

She glanced with quiet satisfaction at her own sage green velvet, took a glass of Sancerre and suppressed a sudden desire to throw the contents over the black shift and picture hat of Frances Hunt.  She walked up to Mr Proudie and the hog roast.  She had not seen her old palaeography tutor since completing the MA, but he beckoned enthusiastically and helped her to a platter of pork with a Cotswold honey dressing.

They were joined by Romaine Hince who had just been accepted for a PHD conversion at Oxford.

Romaine, a Little Dorrit clone who had never ventured a toe over the threshold of 14a Wellington Parade, had seemed destined for drudgery as a University librarian.

Her performance in the Dickens and Imprisonment seminars had been pedestrian – unlike her own tour de force, praised for its imaginative economy by Dr Kelleher Greene.  But now Romaine in her drab grey kilt would taste the fruits of Oxford whilst she served time in an educational equivalent of The Marshalsea, teaching The Chrysalids to the second CSE set….

Something was very wrong……

Paul joined them, balancing a field mushroom and puff pastry triangle alongside a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.  He had searched in vain for an absent Aiden Cleghorn and began a spirited disquisition on the joys of schoolmastering at Chudleigh, punctuated by references to Veda Plumb; Basil Bunting; Grigor Ryvensky and numerous other luminaries from the parking lots of literature.

Professor Newbolt cleared her throat:

Chudleigh – ah yes – well, you have my sympathies. It must be tremendously frustrating coping with an institutional requirement to cram and over-prepare. We really find, nowadays, that the most exciting young people come from the maintained sector where they are allowed to develop their own understanding rather than regurgitate the predilections of their teachers.

Visions of the Oxbridge set; the wheel-backed chair and the spare bedroom came deliciously to mind as Dr Kelleher Greene took up the theme, citing the case of Nathaniel Bilbie who had disrupted the Shelley tutorial cycle, spouting complete garbage about the Ode to the West Wind and undermining everybody else.  But his writing was derivative and he had narrowly escaped a Third.  She remembered Bilbie – an odious jerk on the fringes of the Wellington Parade set who had made a crude pass at her in Freshers' week. He wore a necklace of sharks’ teeth and had been apprehended by the Vice Chancellor after frolicking in the Senate Fountain post Finals, wearing pink crotchless panties and a green sombrero.

It was a fitting end to an inglorious career and she shot a gleeful glance at Paul but he had wandered off.

Pork, chicken supreme and bouef en croute were succeeded by tarte au citron; almond ratafia biscuits; stilton and fruits.

She nibbled a fig but did not feel hungry – and neither did anyone else, judging from the discarded plates littered with mounds of half eaten food, some and some not, garnished with cigarette butts.  This was not the case with the drink however, and devotees of Bunters and The Falcon were exhibiting the effects of unlimited alcohol at Lionel’s expense.  Boisterousness was beginning to shade into belligerence and she noticed that Aunt Sarah and Major Bellwether were avoiding this grouping, unlike Araminta who was at the centre of a type of drinking game involving the launch of a garter in the direction of the podium as Percy started to speak.

Frances was nowhere in sight.

In retrospect, she felt that the speech merited is own memorial – as a testimony to the liberal education and intellectual freedoms championed by Cambridge.  Whether or not it was appropriate as a wedding oration was an entirely different matter…. Percy began with a toast to the bride, a compliment to Major Bellwether for having sired such a treasure and encomiums to the groom, the college and the catering which was all as it should be.  Waiters distributed glasses of champagne.

Then with a nod to the scholarship of the groom and many of the guests, the Best Man commended the state of marriage itself:

as seen by our greatest writers.

A murmur of approval met Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediment
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds

and Francis Bacon’s A man finds himself seven years older the day after his marriage garnered a rueful laugh from Lionel.

But William Faulkner

Apparently, men can be cured of drugs, drink, gambling, biting his nails and picking his nose but not of marrying

met a chillier reception and she noticed that Araminta’s smile had a fixed quality as Percy quoted from Oscar Wilde

Twenty years of romance makes a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage makes her something like a public building…

But the conclusion, from the wedding of the Knight in The Wife of Bath’s Tale:

I seye ther nas no jape ne feeste at al;
Ther nas but hevynese and much sorwe
For prively he wedde hir on a morwe
And all day after hidde hym as an owle
So wo was hym his wyf looked so fowle……..

produced a profound silence – after which everybody discovered that, delightful as it had been, time’s winged chariot beckoned and it was really time to leave…..

She had not seen Paul for the past hour and circled the groups, hoping that he would be capable of driving. This was a bone of contention because she had wanted to book a hotel room and make a weekend of it. But no; he had been obdurate, resulting in a certain froideur augmented by the absence of the wretched Cleghorn.  And, she reflected, with an ignoble frisson of satisfaction, he had not carried the palm with Professor Newbolt and Dr Kelleher Greene. They had been more interested in the progress of her Sixth Formers than the exploits of the nauseating prodigies of Chudleigh.

This in itself merited an extra glass of champagne and she took one before resuming the search.

He was not in the hall; not in the Quad.

She rounded a corner toward the second staircase and saw that the door to the Porter’s Pantry was slightly ajar. She walked in upon Paul and Frances Hunt, sitting on a table and drinking Merlot.

Why – hello, darling – bottoms up! said Paul, waving a glass.
It was so deathly dreary in there – nobody of any interest, so I bribed the Porter to slip me a couple of cases of this very fine wine!  So when the coast’s clear, we’ll head for the car and you can open the boot!  How was old Percy?  Frances says (smirking) he was scratching the quill and burning the midnight oil.I tend to wing that sort of thing --- glass of the hard stuff and I’m away!

Glass of anything and you’re anybody’s, she thought, noting that Frances Hunt’s lipstick had migrated to her teeth.  They left the room in silence and headed for the car. She selected a Roxy Music cassette and they drove off to the strains of She Sells. Percy’s speech had been really rather good, she thought, but on reflection, he might have included an additional quotation from Wilde:

Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink

This book treats of time after I left the House, which I did in 2005, so while I knew most of the participants in it, I was not there for the events.  The "brink" Darling refers to is the financial crisis of 2008, what led up to it, and what happened during it.  Darling was Chancellor and so ought to know what happened, and it appears that indeed he did.  I have always had time and respect for Alistair, seeing him as an intelligent politician who, crucially, will not be most influenced by the last person who spoke to him, and who does not go in for telling people what they want to hear.  This last makes it interesting that he was trusted and promoted by both Tony and Gordon, though more so by Gordon.  While never emotional, Darling starts right in with the vileness of politics, or more properly of the media's meddling in it: in the acknowledgements he thanks Charlie Falconer for shelter on "one particuarly dark evening".  Those of us who have been in politics know what THAT means.  And he starts straight out by slagging off Gordon.  No messing.  but not personal either.  Civil servants had, he says, identified in early 2007 "a lack of legislation" to deal with the eventuality of a bank failure" (p. 10).  Hmmm.  "Tony... became distracted from domestic affairs at just the time when he still had  a mandate to carry through the reforms needed to improve public services" (p. 11).  "Every building society that had given up mutual ownership to become a public company during the 1980s either failed or was taken over" (p. 18).  The punctuation in this book is a bit dodgy.  I am a professional editor, and it made my eyes water from time to time.  His writing style is easy reading, fairly fluent, very clear, and just a tiny bit dull.  A bit like Alistair himself as a politician perhaps.  I don't know him well enough personally to be able to describe the man.  "By now [late 2007] the Federal Reserve and the ECB had been flooding their systems with cash" (p. 61) - and the UK wasn't.  He blames Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, consistently, right through the book.  Do Chancellors usually fall out with governors of the Bank?  They generally do with prime ministers, that much is historically factual.

Darling gave a Budget speech, and, returning to the Treasury, did the "traditonal round of calls to newspaper and political editors" (p. 61) - this is starting to look a bit old-fashioned in these days of live tweeting speeches in Parliament.

I didn't understand, and Darling does not explain, why increasing personal allowances for basic-rate taxpayers was going to be a political disaster, make the poorest even poorer, and help Labour lose Crewe to the Tories in the by-election which followed the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody (now there was a nasty cow).  P. 90: "the [Japanese] ambassador did say to me that it was believed it was only a matter of time before Japan would be hit by a large earthquake".  Leaving aside the grammar of that sentence, which is forgivable because the ambassador was probably speaking to Darling in good but imperfect English (incidentally when Japanese people say the word "earthquake" in English it is pronounced "arse-quick"), all Japanese ambassadors and government figures have been saying this to all British ministers and VIP visitors to their country since 1868.  And what does "a matter of time" mean?  It is a geological truism.  Japan has earthquakes all the time, and some of them are large ones.  Sharpen up, Alistair.  Darling gives big respect (p. 92) to DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for those with short memories) who, he says, understands the economic needs of smaller nations.  Greece, anyone?

Darling notes "the US president, though the most powerful man in the world, cannot automatically get what he wants at home.  He has to horsetrade.  In contrast, when I effectively wrote a cheque to buy £50bn of bank shares in the UK, I did not even have to get specific parliamentary authority to do so.  We could act overnight." (p. 118).  He notes in this context a little later (p. 188) that at a finance ministers' dinner he attended it emerged he was the only one who was an elected member of a parliament.  Another person there asked him "How can you take the big decisions if you have to think of the voters?".  His reply was "How can you take the big decisions if you don't?"  On saving banks, he appears to blame the US: "...the US had sent a clear signal: it would not step in to save a failed bank:  the markets therefore assumed that if Lehmans was allowed to collapse, the same could happen to other banks" (p. 124).

He is very sound on the irrational nature of the markets, and of the role of confidence in the economy.  He cites a high-street jeweller, in Reading as it happens, who said that he was OK despite the state of the economy, because the economy had been out of the newspapers for the past few days, and so people had more confidence (p.206).  It really is that simple a lot of the time.

Darling becomes very interesting indeed on the beginning of the collapse of the Labour government, which of course happened as soon as Tony left.  Ha, yes it did, everything else is semantics.  "Unless what you have to say has a strong ring of truth, people stop listening." (p. 218).  He is very clear that the old battle lines, and Labour's presentation of itself, were out of date after 2007, and needed to be changed.  "We did not have effective Cabinet government for the thirteen years we were in power.  It is a mistake we should not repeat." (p. 222).

More maliciously yet, Darling did not (p. 277) warn Gordon about the Hoon-Hewitt plot against him, because he was still angry about Gordon's briefings against him.  He says in the epilogue that the Brownite insurrection in the autumn of 2006 was what finally pushed Tony into going in 2007.  I'm not so sure.

Read this book if you care at all about British politics in the early 21st century.  It makes quite an important contribution, largely because it does not take any polemical positions.  It could have been a diatribe against Gordon Brown, and Alistair Darling surely knows more than he has said about Gordon's dysfunctionality, but is all the better for not being that. 

Get the book here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 19

in which Emma B. treats of women past their bloom, and food.

Her first wedding anniversary passed without incident; coinciding with the anniversary of her first year at Oaks Haven. However, wedding anniversaries were not subject to scrutiny by examination or review and it was extremely difficult to assess performance. Sex was satisfactory – although in decline from its zenith – when 24 hours were insufficient to encompass secondary concerns like food and work.

This was understandable. She had neither the resources nor the wardrobe of Fiona Richmond - and put in double time at weekends.

Paul had looks and wit and both went some way to compensate for Chudleigh, Eric, Donald and Gillian, the Truscotts, the Chases and living round the corner from Nicola and the kiddies.

Some way……..

Marriages, like books, could not be judged by their covers.

Meanwhile, others were exchanging the single state for a bicycle made for two, including her Dorlich MA tutor and Percy the law lecturer. Lionel Kerridge was proof positive that still waters run deep. He had taken a senior lectureship at Dorlich in her final undergraduate year, following tenure as a Research Fellow at his old Cambridge College. Dr Kerridge swiftly established a formidable reputation. He had published a highly acclaimed edition of The Pearl and numerous erudite essays in the periodic journal Middle English Notes and Queries. His forthcoming edition of Sidney was eagerly anticipated in academic circles and would enhance the reputation of the Dorlich School of English. In person he was slight, with black hair, a handlebar moustache and John Lennon spectacles. He was not gregarious and was possessed of a biting and acid tongue which he used to upbraid underperforming students – such as Jane Daventry whom he succeeded in dismissing from the course.

The prospect of one to one tutorials with Dr Kerridge was forbidding – and she devoted many hours to preparation in the library, in a desperate attempt to avert the Daventry fate.

The result was a First in the Middle English paper; the Cressey-Lake prize for an essay on Piers Plowman and a place on the postgraduate MA course. A side benefit was a friendship with Lionel Kerridge, which extended to include her new husband.

Paul was impressed by academia and astounded that anyone who had lectured at Cambridge could esteem the intellect of his wife.

Lionel became a name to drop to the Oxbridge set and a guest at the dinner table where he met law lecturer Percy – formerly Sir Galahad in the little matter of Latin translation for the MA extended essay…. Once she realised that Percy was not going to mention the Latin, she welcomed the development. Lionel and Percy were her friends, unlike the Truscotts, the Chases and even Betty and David, for whom she would always be Paul’s second wife.

At first sight, the two men were antithetical. Lionel’s ascetic appearance contrasted with that of Percy, who was quite simply Epicureanism made flesh. He had lectured at Dorlich for many years; unencumbered by the burden of research, and was as familiar a figure in The Bear; The Falcon and The Trade Winds wine bar as he was in the Law Department.

She and Lynne had met him at a party in Adelaide Grove at the end of their first year and had quickly joined the group of female undergraduates whom he wined, dined and introduced to his elderly mother at her elegant residence on the outskirts of the city.

Aged fifty; lacking most of his hair, some of his teeth and topping the scales at eighteen stones, he was sensible enough to recognise himself as more Falstaff than Romeo. The obligatory pass would meet its inevitable rebuff, and be accepted with good grace. Friendships would then continue to the benefit of all concerned.

There had been a couple of hiatuses – such as the first time he had taken Lynne to dinner at the new and achingly trendy fish restaurant, The Compleat Snapper in the most exclusive quarter of Dorlich. The price of a starter was equivalent to a shop assistant’s weekly wage and therefore beyond the reach of penurious students. Lynne had been unbearable – gloating for days and parading in the entire contents of her wardrobe before settling upon a 1930s black satin dress with matching cloche hat and cream net gloves. She had drenched herself in perfume samples and swept off in the passenger seat of Percy’s red TR7 sports car.

Four hours later, she swept back and was unreachable until 5pm the next day. Thirty years later, mention of The Compleat Snapper produced a quick change of subject.

Percy had dressed for the occasion in his inimitable style; straw boater, pink cravat, khaki shorts and black brogues with three quarter length white socks. The ensemble was set off by a black and pink striped jacket and a pink carnation. This was to be expected, and Lynne did expect it, so was untroubled as they were greeted at the door by owner Marcel and ushered to a table in the very middle of the dining room.

Before she could savour being on display in the most expensive restaurant in Dorlich the evening took an irrevocable and indelible turn for the worse. The occupants of 14a, Wellington Parade walked into The Compleat Snapper and sat down – at the adjoining table. This in itself was bad enough.

Lucinda Prynne, Natalie Strich, Robbie De Lay and Hamish Underhill; the beautiful and the damned, trailed their silks; flicked their hair and smoked their drugs during term, whilst riding to hounds in vacation. They did not speak to Lynne – but would certainly speak about her and her eccentric companion – to anyone who cared to listen - at the next convenient opportunity. But when they were joined by Jocasta Sharp and Ben Bex-Oliver, The Compleat Snapper became The Inferno.

Ben Bex-Oliver had been Lynne’s amour de l’objet since his arrival in the midst of a First Year Ovid class in trademark jeans, Texan boots, Disraeli ringlets and fox fur coat. He came with neither text nor apology – but produced such an exquisite translation of The Birth of Bacchus (Metamorphoses: Theban Cycle) that an eventual Starred First was a foregone conclusion. Oh – Hi Maisey! he trilled in Lynne’s direction and a year in the stocks at the mercy of rotting vegetables would have been preferable to the ensuing four hours in The Compleat Snapper.

Oysters and beluga caviar were followed by Dover sole with creamed spinach and a side dish of truffles, accompanied by crème de menthe cocktails and Taittinger champagne. It was perfection incarnate – and the most horrible meal that Lynne had ever tasted, resulting in a subsequent unswerving detestation of champagne and fish of any description. Percy’s attire was grotesque but his behaviour was worse; diving into the kitchen to congratulate the chef at every opportunity; belching after the sole and removing his front plate to administer a toothpick, leaving a gaping hole offset by fangs. Lynne was aware of a gentle titter from the adjoining table and heard the word Dracula.

She had hoped that the sole would conclude the meal, but had been forced to watch Percy ( minus front plate) wolfing a mound of the most disgusting Eton mess with extra cream followed by coffee, petits fours and several large glasses of Armagnac.

When he plucked a rose from the table vase, stuck it at the side of her hat and sang

If you were the only girl in the world

she made her exit, pleading an early tutorial.

Many years later, Lynne encountered the eminent anthropologist, Ben Bex-Oliver at the Attenborough Award ceremony – and was discomfited when he addressed her as Maisey……..

By the time Percy had become a fixture at the Conyham Crescent table, his mother had died, Lynne was in London and his girlfriends were older.

Frances Hunt made her debut at the anniversary party.

Paul had insisted upon salad and quiche ‘at home’ to mark this marital milestone, instead of her preferred treat of a champagne lunch in London. But the Bursar at Chudleigh was re-vamping the wine cellar and Paul had acquired several cases of old stock at a knock-down price.

Makes perfect sense and you love cooking don’t you?

Not especially, but dissent was pointless and she steeled herself to cater for the usual crew; the Truscotts; Betty and David; Marc, Denny and Kay from the BBC; Malcolm the potter; the Chases; Lionel and Percy plus guest.

Contrary to expectations, it was quite a success; the weather was fine; the wine excellent; and the Chases cried off.

She got tipsy with Betty and they discussed Frances Hunt – who was an improvement upon her predecessor, art student Tabitha, who had plundered Percy’s wallet with fixity of purpose before decamping to Hull with his grandmother’s pearl choker.

She was older for a start – forty-three to be precise – and did not require Percy’s largesse as she had money of her own. Quite a lot of it. She had obtained an amicable divorce from her fourth husband, a Circuit Judge, and presided as chatelaine of a converted chapel in Staveley Forest, in the bosom of the Oakshire valley.

Unencumbered by children or gainful employment, she was assiduous on the social scene, playing escort for her ex husband when required. This was the case at the biannual Dorlich Law Society dinner.

Over chateaubriand in a Madeira jus accompanied by Portobello mushrooms and a full bodied Medoc, it transpired that Percy and Judge Desmond had been alumni of the Oxford Coxless Fours, circa 1951. The subsequent pairing of Percy and Frances was therefore eminently fitting, and it seemed that at last he might be preparing to exchange the hurly burly of the chaise longue for the deep, deep peace of the double bed.

Frances was a Princess Margaret manqué with hair styled in a French pleat, sling-back stilettos and a tortoise shell cigarette holder. She was a presence rather than a conversationalist but from her infrequent utterances it emerged that she was part of a country artistic set encompassing Aiden Cleghorn, author of an acclaimed Wednesday Play.

Billy Leaves Home was a breakthrough drama ; rooted in the kitchen sink tradition, yet breaking new ground in its depiction of a serious social issue. It had made stars of its unknown cast – and had hauled the victims of drug addiction out of the shadows, resulting in a dedicated Government strategy and the establishment of the world famous Fix It charity.

Frances also displayed an unpleasant sense of entitlement and had filched the last piece of prawn quiche; outraging the sensitivities of Philippa and Betty, who had been forced to make do with the less favoured ham and leek.

With the departure of the last guests (the Truscotts as usual), she prepared to discuss the evening with Paul – particularly keen to hear his opinion of Frances Hunt.

He did not appear to have one – but was consumed with the discovery that Aiden Cleghorn was almost a neighbour and had been living within thirty miles of Chudleigh unbeknownst to anybody.

How utterly amazing – I wonder if he could be persuaded to address the Oxbridge set?

She neither knew nor cared. Billy Leaves Home had its merits – quite a lot of them - but what else had Cleghorn written in the last fifteen years? The answer was not a lot.

There had been the sequel – a widely hyped companion piece about the prevalence of incest in rural communities – but it had received poor reviews, as had his published short stories: An Oval Stone.

This collection had as its theme the sexual peccadilloes of a commune in Essaouira. Cleghorn had relied for inspiration upon the fabled exploits of Jimi Hendrix to produce a work both turgid and prurient. It enjoyed a revival thirty years later as the acknowledged literary precursor of His Infinite Variety by Dorian Chase – but it was difficult, not to say impossible, to find anyone who had managed to progress beyond the fourth story. But it was late; she was tired and tomorrow was a work day.

The perfections of Aiden Cleghorn could wait.

The next few weeks progressed in unexceptionable fashion; school examinations came and went as did Wimbledon.

And then with the post, came an invitation to the wedding of Dr Lionel Kerridge and Araminta Bellwether, who would be tying the knot at a private ceremony followed by a reception at the Henry Mercer College, Cambridge. Dress informal.

Thursday at Oaks Haven followed its normal course; double period with Year 7 followed by a free period; Year 10 third CSE set - hard work; lunch; Upper Sixth, Chaucer.


As she discussed the unfortunate marriage contract in The Franklin’s Tale, she could not suppress thoughts of the forthcoming nuptials in Cambridge. Lionel was a brilliant and forensic Chaucerian scholar. His analyses of the flawed and disastrous unions of Dorigen and Arveragus; Januarie and May and Troilus and Criseyde should have armed him against the charms of Araminta Bellwether and a union less propitious than any of the above.

But love - or desperation – proved blind.

Appearances were also deceptive.

Lionel’s physique, manner and intellect suggested that he would encounter a bride in the bowels of the Bodleian rather than the bar at Bunters – but this assumption and its corollary, that he was uninterested in sex, was flawed. Lionel liked women with busts and bottoms and heels and lipstick; the fact that they rarely liked him was irrelevant and did not to deter him from following his instincts. That these had now led him to the embraces of Araminta Bellwether was certainly to be deplored but perhaps, like Troilus, he was fated to pursue The blynde lust the which that may not laste......

Araminta Bellwether was nearer forty than thirty and had lost her bloom. In the course of time the depletions of nature had been replaced by Chanel and Dior, and a permanent flush came courtesy of Sauvignon Blanc.

With regard to the latter she was at least honest, answering all enquiries about the secret of her enviably slender figure with an unflinching

Have you ever met a fat alcoholic?

Araminta did not work, although she was known to reminisce about modelling in Chelsea and assisting Barbara Hulanicki in the Biba rooftop shop during a misspent youth in the sixties. At a certain stage in the evening she would mention her former fiancés: one a permanent resident in the psychiatric unit at The Royal Dorlich Hospital and the other an equally permanent resident in Highgate Cemetery, having gassed himself a week before their wedding.

But then again, she had informed Percy that her Army Officer father had lost his arms and legs in the War and Percy had been forced to respond that he had seen her father only last week, with all of his arms and legs.

So, who could say?

She considered the possibilities as she prepared to meet Paul after his regular game of squash with Roy Truscott. He was sitting in the Falcon with the Truscotts, Frances Hunt and Percy – and initially they failed to see her because they were talking about the wedding. The Truscotts had not been invited and Philppa was peeved; entirely without justification. She had met Lionel once at Conyham Crescent and had completely ignored him whilst fawning over Paul.

Percy had agreed to be Best Man.

He and Frances had arranged to accompany the bridal pair to an eve of wedding supper and he would give the key speech at the reception. Frances gave a vaguely unkind half smirk at the prospect of Percy on a podium in the Mercer Baronial Hall addressing the likes of Mr Proudie, Dr Kelleher Greene and Professor Agnes Newbolt…..

Wearing – what?

It was quite unthinkable, but it would have to be thought about because it was less than three weeks away and she had no idea what to wear herself.

She put the question to Paul at home, whilst eating cottage pie with a green salad.

He did not appear to have heard; rummaged amongst his books and fished out a copy of An Oval Stone. Do you think, he said, that Aiden Cleghorn might be going?

Steve Jobs RIP

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

normal service 3

the issue of the threats made to me about my publication of the Photo of Doom has had a bit of an airing now.  The comments were, I am sure you will agree, helpful.  In sum, it is believed, and I am separately advised, that what I did was publish a photograph which pictured a number of people, all of whom were or should have been aware, or their parents were or should  have been aware, that the photograph was intended for public display; the photograph had indeed been in the public domain for some time when I published it; I published it for the purpose of comment not reportage, for which the photograph was essential; and I acknowledged the source. This is fair dealing and fair comment, and copyright has not been infringed.

the editor-in-chief Sally Stevens, and the assembled reporting staff of that protector of Mr Salter's reputation guardian of public morals  copier of Labour press releases  pile of pulped wood the Reading Chronicle can therefore go f*** themselves.  The photo stays.

the question remains: why is Mr S so upset about a photograph he chose to pose for?  did he subsequently discover that parents were never informed? or what?

here is the email (the first of them) sent to me by Sal S and marked NOT FOR PUBLICATION

Dear Ms Griffiths

A reader has brought to my attention that your political blog uses a photograph from our archive, featuring children, without permission. Please can you remove it immediately.

Sally Stevens

Sally Stevens, Editor In Chief
Berkshire Media Group Ltd

normal service 2

The story continues.  Sally Stevens (for it is she), editor-in-chief, Berkshire Media Group (or something equally prestigious), asks me, quite late last night (congrats Sal on your commitment to your duties) to confirm that I did not acquire the picture I published (she confirmed that the offending item featured Martin Salter and some children) from the Reading Chronicle website, despite the copyright mark on it.  I was happy to confirm that I did not.  (That's three confirms, sorry #stylefascist).  Silence.  Her request that I remove the Photo of Doom from this blog has not been repeated.  If it is I will comply with it.  Of course.

For those (including Sal it appears) who are unfamiliar with today's modern cyberweb doodah, it may be helpful to have the following explanation:

The Photo of Doom was in the dead-tree edition of the Reading Chronicle and was on the public newsstands at the latest by Friday 30th September.  On that day it was not on the Reading Chronicle website at the time I  looked there, about 1100.  Since then it may have appeared there, I have not bothered to look, on the grounds of having a life and work to do.  Were I to delete the P of D from this blog it would not disappear from the cyberweb, but would be cached somewhere, for anyone to find if they knew exactly what to look for.   The blogpost which contained the P of D was also tweeted, and thus appears on the timelines of several hundred people on Twitter.  If any of them retweeted it to other followers, then, who knows, it could be in a million places. This genie is not going back in the bottle.

The question I ask is why anyone is bothered.  Especially why Mr Salter is bothered, given that he originally posed for a picture with some children, something he has been doing several times a week since the 1980s to my knowledge.  Why would he be upset about it now?  Sal S confirms (that word again) that it is essential to get parents' permission before phhotographs of children can be placed in the public domain, and they were so placed, so I have to assume that the correct permissions were in place before the P of D was taken.  I believe schools usually seek a general permission from parents at the start of term, which is probably good enough in the UK (it would not be in France) and if the school in question did this there is nothing for them or the Chronicle to worry about.

Is there a copyright issue?  Hard to say.  I know something about copyright law, but even today the law is silent on many aspects of on-line publication by private individuals.  If you, as a private individual, buy a paper copy of a newspaper, that paper becomes your property, to dispose of as you wish.  Including scanning it and emailing it to anyone you please.  Who do with it as they in turn please. It is every individual's responsibility to comply with copyright law, as with other laws.  However, it would take a better lawyer than me (a qualified and expensive one, for preference) to determine whether publication of a picture originally intended for public display, on a US-hosted website, input in France, is actually meaningfully bound by UK copyright law at all.  Or even EU law.

I leave this knotty issue to the best minds of a generation, or failing that the Reading Chronicle's copyright department and Messrs Salter and Howarth, who are having a naked conversation on the subject as I write this.  And conclude by wondering why anyone cares enough to instruct a senior executive of a media conglomerate to send threatening late-night emails to a person in another country.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

normal service has been resumed

No sooner is Mr Salter back in Reading than I begin to receive threatening communications from the Reading dead-tree media. I am sure this is a coincidence. The latest one is entitled NOT FOR PUBLICATION and is in those shouty capitals that make you think the 1990s never went away. So I am not going to share it with you. Not today anyway. Apparently Her Majesty's Reading Chronicle think I have published something Horrid and Beastly, which must be Removed Immediately. But they haven't said what it is! So I can't remove it without further information! Which I have asked for. So we can discuss the required permissions. Which I am sure they have. Oh yes.

Oh joy. Lashings of ginger beer.

getting closer to a proper single market?

I've been looking at this case for a while now.  A Portsmouth pub landlady was taken to court for using a Greek decoder to show sports matches in her pub, which cost her about a quarter of what Sky would have cost, and the public got to see the same games.  Excuse me, but Greece is in the EU, so a British business person should be allowed to buy Greek products if they choose, hein?  Well, it seems the European Court of Justice thinks they should.  Good.  I hope that ruling stands.  I have been thoroughly fed up since coming to live in France in 2007 with the increasing, not diminishing, barriers to cross-border trade.  First I could buy English-language e-books from WH Smith and Waterstones.  Then I couldn't.  Leaving me very little choice in English other than from Amazon (of course).  Then I got an iPad and found it stopped working when I reached the bank of the Rhine, about five kilometres from home, because I do not live in Germany and therefore do not have the credentials to have a German SIM - and of course my French SIM stops working "outre-Rhin" as we say here.  And naturally enough when I visit the UK I have to get my daughter to take out a month's contract for a UK SIM on my behalf.  Then I bought concert tickets from a German website for a concert in, yes, Germany, and found that because I live in France, 5K inside it from Germany, in a place that has been German in recent living memory, the tickets would cost me not 7 euros (steep enough) to have posted to me, but 37.  So I contacted a colleague who lives just over the border in Kehl and he agreed I could use his address to receive the tickets.  And don't even start me on the price of goods.  My favourite John Frieda hair products cost in the UK about half what they do in France, less than that with three-for-two offers, and in Germany, which I can cycle to, about two-thirds. 

Globalisation?  I'm thinking of demonstrating in favour of it.

Oh by the way most of the bananas you can get in my local shops and markets come from Cameroon (former French colony y'see) and are DELICIOUS.  I never saw Cameroon bananas in the UK, not even in the African market in Brixton, where we used to live.


Monday, 3 October 2011


the late Francois, not his nephew Fred, who is currently Culture Minister.  As the presidential race here in France gathers momentum I thought it was worth reminding readers that the man who was correctly nicknamed "Dieu" knocked all the others, then and now, into a cocked hat.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Eyes and heredity

I was inspired to write about eyes by Mr London Street, whose 100 words you can read here.  I'm not trying to write like him, I couldn't and wouldn't try.  Me, I am a storyteller.

I thought, your eyes are the only part of you that you can't ever really see.  With mirrors you can see any other part of you you like.  We've all done it, girls, don't deny it.  This summer I got a verruca, for the first time since I was about 12, and took it out myself, with a sterilised nail file and a mirror.  Easy. Your eyes change focus when you look at something.  Of course they do.  So they change focus when you look at your own eyes in the mirror.  That's why your eyes look wrong if you ever see a photograph of yourself in which your eyes are vacant or unfocused.

My eyes are green.  I read somewhere that green is not a true colour for eyes, that if your eyes look green it is because the iris has a mixture of colours.  Well, maybe. Whatever.  My mother is dark, of Welsh heritage, and has brown eyes.  My brother has eyes the same shape and colour as hers, and although his hair is auburn he is the darkest of the three siblings. Can even suntan if he is careful.  Not me or my sister. My father was a redhead with blue eyes, and so is my sister, and I started out browny auburn with green eyes.  The eyes have stayed the same colour but the hair of course has not.  Why are all European babies born with blue eyes?  Other babies aren't.

My children's father is fair with blue eyes.  My daughter has brown hair with auburn lights, and grey eyes like her paternal grandfather. My son has dark hair which was blond when he was a child, and green eyes like me.  Both of them have their father's eyes in terms of shape. My granddaughter's father is a redhead with blue eyes, and so is my granddaughter.  I was fascinated by Mendel's fruit flies when I was at primary school and was given a book on science for children, which explained why you do not have to have the same colour eyes as either of your parents.

I have never - yet - been shortsighted, so did not need glasses to read until the design fault in humans kicked in when I was in my mid-forties - I got longsighted and couldn't read any more because my arms weren't long enough.  It took a bit longer for me to need glasses in front of a computer screen.  Then, a couple of years ago. I couldn't see properly.  It happened quite quickly.  The left eye worked OK but the right one didn't.  At first I kept thinking I had a dirty mark on my glasses, but that wasn't it.  Every artificial light had a big halo round it, and I kept walking past people I knew because I hadn't seen them.  I started getting blinding headaches late in the day, because the left eye was doing the work of two and was protesting.  If I covered my left eye then people around me were "men like trees walking" and I was seeing "through a glass, darkly".  Anyway, not very surprisingly, it turned out that my diabetic tendencies, inherited from my maternal grandfather (I look exactly like him) had given me a cataract.  I had it fixed last year: it took 15 minutes to replace the lens and was done under local anesthetic, with the doctor and nurse chatting over my head about hospital scandal and colleagues' affairs, presumably to distract me.  In French hospitals they routinely give oxygen, which is apparently also very useful for pain management, and afterwards I was over the top with euphoria for half an hour or more.  Anyone who suffers from depression ought to have oxygen therapy I reckon.  So now I have a silicon lens in my right eye, and carry a card to say I have an implant.  Presumably for the crematorium when the time comes.  My vision in that eye is just about perfect, maybe a little shortsighted, which comes with age.  The ophthalmologist I saw afterwards told me that while the vision in the left eye had deteriorated somewhat, one eye was a little shortsighted and other somewhat longsighted, and they were compensating for each other, which was why I could read comfortably without glasses.  I still can.  Long may that last.  What a piece of work is a man, eh - I am in Quotation City today.  The downside of the new lens is that I need stronger light to read by than I used to, and that because both eyes are working harder than they had to before I tend to get headaches towards the end of the working day.  I never get them at weekends though.

Intraocular lens implant is done routinely for cataract, and is very simple and painless.  In the poorest countries of the world there are blind grandmothers being led around by children because that operation is not available to them.  That would have been me too, probably minus the child to lead me around, if I hadn't lived in a rich country.  But it struck me that lens replacement would be better, and probably cheaper, than laser surgery.  It's certainly less invasive, doesn't hurt at all, and the only after-effect I had was that for a few hours both eyes felt a bit gritty in the way they do when you haven't had enough sleep.

Just a thought, medical establishment...