Saturday, 30 June 2012

Caruso and the Red Flag

the Mail tells us (in the person of Quentin Letts) that the Parliamentary Labour Party had a "slap-up feed" in the Strangers' Dining Room at the Commons the other day, and that the Red Flag was sung, led by Stephen "Caruso" Pound, a man I hold in great affection, and that Red Ed joined in.  So that's all right then.  Never happened in My Day.  Not that many people went to most meetings of the PLP.

What larks.

football, high and low

Mario Balotelli and his foster mother
when I was growing up football was for boys and men  However, slightly unusually, my mother, who is coming up to 84, borders on the fanatical in her support of Manchester United, and watches it all on TV.  That team has always left me cold.  My old home team is Luton Town (sad, I know, not fair) and my London team is the great, the magnificent Tottenham Hotspur.  Although I have never lived in north London and have no plans to, and I am not Jewish.  It's still allowed.  I support England.  Of course I do.  And although the anthem played is the wrong one (at the cricket they, correctly, sing "Jerusalem", I am told), I sing it.  I sang it when England played France (we were in an "Irish" pub in Strasbourg, where all the staff are French).  Loudly.  The Marseillaise (written in Strasbourg, who knew?) was sung much more loudly, by many more people.  Word perfect.  And the tune is great.  But French fans do not sing.  Not at the match, and not in the pub, other than the national anthem.  At the match they chant.  But rarely do they sing.  They should learn to do so.
"Italy's pride"

To the real topic of this post - Mario Balotelli.  It is banal to say that a footballer has "caught the imagination of a generation".  I can remember the late George Best, I even met him once (girls, I would soooo have gone there), and he did that.  I have seen quite a bit of Mario (ooh er missus) in recent times, as sig other is a Manchester City supporter.  Mario is eccentric, talented, a bon viveur and a man with a great heart.  Oh, and he can score goals too.  What is not to like?

Hope for the future: in the Italy of today it is a great step forward that the media (think about the ownership of most of it) headline a player of Mario's ethnicity (born in Palermo to Ghanaian immigrant parents) as "Italy's pride".

Fear for the future: as Mario rushes to embrace Silvia Balotelli, the woman who brought him up (top picture), he has already been condemned by far-right groups because he is black.  But now we learn that his foster-mother is Jewish, giving those hate groups another reason to hate Mario.  Mario allegedly told team-mates that the visit they all made to Auschwitz made him think of a box of letters kept by Silvia from her own family's history.  And he sat down on the train tracks there and was quiet for a long while.

We can't have THAT, now, can we, haters?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Reading East - the battle begins

he's behind you, Mr Hunt!
A rather mysterious piece on Tony Jones' blog a little while ago, using the picture to the left, for which he does not credit anyone other than to say the pic was taken at the Leveson inquiry, so I credit only Mr Jones.  In what is otherwise a naked bid for selection for Reading East  considered analysis of the politics of Reading East, Mr Jones informs us that it is quite possible for Labour to go from third to first place in Reading East (how did they get from first to third, Mr Jones?  That attic again!) so long as there is a "strong local candidate" - "strong" being of course code for "male".  What is odd is the picture above.  why would a PPS not be behind his Minister?  And what is wrong with referring to the Leveson inquiry (of which more in a future

Labour candidate for Reading East 2010
post) especially as Mr Salter claims (untruthfully) to have given evidence to it, and the Chronicle Arsewipe has copied out the lies?  Be careful Tony, this could all go horribly wrong.  And if or when it does, you won't want the you-know-what all over your face, now will you?

the Labour parliamentary candidate for Reading East

is going to be a GIRL, says my little poll, which closed some days ago.  by a wide margin.  Tony Jones and Martin Salter nowhere, Tony Page worse than nowhere. The corrupt little clique at the heart of the party will not hear of a GIRL of course.  But every party member has a vote, last time I looked,  and I also hear that there are some people with sense, of a younger generation, active in the party, hence the victory in Caversham.  If true, good news.  So - which GIRL?  The boys already have their candidate, Rachel Eden in Reading West.  Can they lock someone in Singleton-White's attic this time?  Can they run a puppet in both constituencies?  You tell me.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

the Lady speaks

Aung San Suu Kyi of course, accepting her Nobel Peace Prize at last.  She has never been involved in acts of violence, or in promoting or supporting them (unlike her late father Aung San) and that is why, I think, she is revered as she is.  Though being beautiful helps.  And after all, Nelson Mandela has become a latter-day saint, and he was involved in what would now be called terrorist violence -which is why Amnesty International never supported him.  Anyway, the Lady has said "Please use your liberty to support ours", and I hope that it is that message which has given her the respect she receives (almost) worldwide.  Her receiving the Prize was an expression of the oneness of humanity - no more "faraway countries of which we know little" and "we cannot be the world's policeman" and similar tosh.  But she was awarded it a long time ago.  I hope that the Prize may still be awarded with the ideal of the oneness of humanity at heart, and that crassness like awarding it to Barack Obama be forgotten and not repeated.

I saw the film "The Lady", with Michelle Yeoh, and I thought it was good.  Filmed I think mostly in Thailand.  One day I shall go to Burma.

DLT fan

Suu Kyi has spoken of the comfort she received from the BBC World Service during her years under house arrest.  She has also said that she particularly enjoyed a programme, which was broadcast regularly for a number of years, called "A Jolly Good Show".  It was presented by Dave Lee Travis, who has now had the opportunity to meet Suu Kyi and to kiss her hand.  There has been some derision about this, but it is misplaced.  DLT was a very good broadcaster - he never talked over records or had silly catchphrases.  All he did was call himself "the hairy monster from 200 miles up the M1" and later "the hairy cornflake", and why shouldn't he?  DLT is well known for not having a sense of humour.  I wouldn't know - that is often said about people who don't enjoy being bullied and publicly derided - but it is not compulsory.  I wish DLT, and Aung San Suu Kyi, everything they wish for themselves.
Suu Kyi fan

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Solace, Belinda McKeon

Belinda McKeon
New Irish writing.  Perhaps. This is Belinda McKeon, who wrote Solace, a beautiful and affecting first novel (she has written plays).  It is about grief, and separation, and the failure of two generations to understand each other or to give each other comfort (solace) at a time of grief.  It's about Ireland too, set in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, just as boom turns to bust.  I haven't been able to do much else but read it for the past few days. Oddly, I read it straight after finishing "Lionel Asbo" by Martin Amis, which is about England.  Both books feature a failure of family members who love each other to communicate, a baby girl, and a Terrible Thing that happens.  Though there the resemblance ends.  I suppose, as plots go, it is as much star-crossed lovers as anything.  It is also the leaving of the land for the city, and the old for the new.  But no-one in the book is a cliche.  And for those like me who are not Irish and who have scarcely been there or been much around Irish people, it was like having a bath in the language.  This book took me in, shook me up and dumped me down again, slightly tearful and a little more Irish than I was.  Read it.

Friday, 15 June 2012

a girl in Reading East?

my little poll has shown some remarkable developments in the last day or two.  From looking like a two-horse race between Martin Salter and Tony Jones, just as Salter pulled ahead the GIRL tendency surged into the lead, from nowhere,  VERY interesting.  Have there been unforeseen changes in Reading Labour?  I think we should be told.  Last time a GIRL was selected from a non-all-female shortlist - well, we know what happened.  The seat was won from the Tories and held at the next election with an increased majority.  Never again, they said.  We're not having THAT.  Have they come to their senses now, hein?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Lionel Asbo, Martin Amis

well, I am going to take issue with most of the reviewers, like this one, who are disappointed in this book.  The Guardian, of course, loathes it, and Amis, but then they always have, because he and his writing reject their easy, and stupid, certainties.  But I in my turn was disappointed with UK reviewers, who use phrases like "satirical sideswipe at the underclass", and one says that the class of people portrayed is so easy to send up that Amis is shooting fish in a barrel.  None of them have understood this book.  As far as I can tell only Dickens has been able to do what Amis has done here, which is create characters from what might be called the underclass, but certainly is a criminal subset of class, to which he does not belong, and make them human.  I wept for Lionel.  The characters, especially the eponymous Lionel, are the opposite of caricature.  They are human.  There are several nods to Dickens here, including calling the school "Squeers Free".  Of course, the background that the dead-tree press reviewers in the UK have is, well, Posher Than Mine.  I don't think they've met anyone who talks like Lionel does.  And Amis has got certain rhythms of white London speech,  The words roll and tumble over you - London has a "white-van sky".  Of course it all goes too far.  That is what has always been so splendid about Amis.  The "good" characters (Desmond and Dawn) as in Dickens, are ciphers.  But Desmond, at the start of the book, is having sex with his own grandmother.  Dickens never went that far.  But think about it - he went a long way towards it.

There are a few odd and wrong things in this book.  There is a Lottery win.  But it is mentioned, only in passing, and not important to the story, that you "post in" your lottery coupon.  Eh?  The glamour model "Threnody" (I laughed out loud at that) has her hair pulled back tightly and bunned, which is a Croydon face-lift, as any fule kno.  But Amis calls it a "council-house face-lift" - surely no-one has ever said that, nor ever will.  Don't Big Famous Writers like him have Editors who pick these things up?  But the editors went to Oxbridge themselves, so... I believe Oxford and Cambridge graduates do not have such a thing as a 2.2 degree, so they have no call to talk about a Bishop Desmond, as was done in my young days - but is it still, now, in the twenty-first century?  Not sure.  And if it is, does it need to be explained?

Pitbulls, of course there are pitbulls.  I have never read anything about pitbulls other than in the pages of a tabloid newspaper.  I read a certain bit, towards the end of the book, on the tram on the way home today and was gibbering with terror. No spoilers from me though.

Some reviewers have been snooty about detail.  The grandmother (who, they remind us, is only 39 at the start of the book, in shocked and sneering tones) does the Telegraph cryptic crossword.  Oh no, they tell us, someone like that would never have the Telegraph.  Oh yes they would.  Eccentric, yes, it would be, in those circles, but it happens.  In that respect I was reminded of my own mother, a clever girl from a working-class family (Respectable not Rough), who read The Times from quite an early age, to mystified or (behind her back) sneering reaction.

Mostly, I laughed.  Out loud, and often.  And I won't forget Lionel.  This book may not describe to us the state of England, as it front cover would have us believe it does, but it tells us a lot about England.

One more from the reviewers, this one David Annand in the Telegraph: "Longstanding Amis admirers are, I think, slightly perplexed at the odd duality of his late work".  There you are.  Posh and meaningless at the same time.

I haven't read all of Amis.  The first one I read was "Money" and that gave you the state of England, or some part of it, in the 1980s, all right.  I thought "The Rachel Papers" was misogynist.  Teenage boys still read it I am told.  There you are then.  I thought "London Fields" was a near masterpiece.  "House of Meetings" was like Solzhenitsyn with humanity and proper characters.  "The Pregnant Widow" was also misogynist, I thought, and was a load of pretentious old arse.  I sold my (hardback) copy.

Amis apparently read Katie Price's books as research for this book.  And said he enjoyed them.  Good for him.  One of the increasingly gormless reviewers describes the "Threnody" character as "like Jordan with brains".  What gave that person the idea that Jordan was stupid?  Whatever else she might be,she is not that.

But Lionel Asbo.  You are the man.

the new communism

communism is becoming popular again in Europe, it seems.  Alan Johnson wrote this in World Affairs. Read it.

smash the imperialist intervention in Afghanistan!

as many a keffiyah-wearing protester in a Western capital would say.  And many in Kabul too would agree with him.  You will see here an intelligent piece by the Canadian Lauryn Oates (who knows whereof she speaks re Afghanistan I think you will find) from the Calgary Herald, about the Afghan Parliament's decision on the US-Afghan strategic partnership in late May, and on others' reaction to it.  Posters and flyers appeared in Kabul urging this partnership agreement to be trashed.  But - those posters were quickly defaced and torn down, not by Afghan government goons, but by young people on the streets.  The strategic partnership was voted on and supported by 191 of the 200 MPs, and then ratified by the Senate in early June.  To the tune of denunciations of interference in Afghan affairs.  By Iran.  Which was the source of those flyers and leaflets, and of agitation in Kabul and elsewhere.

In other news, polio has been eradicated in India.  Some time ago in fact.  In Pakistan, jihadis are denouncing vaccination.  Go figure.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Reading East Labour: the campaign hots up

Mr Salter was all over Radio 4 yesterday and the day before, being described as Speaker Bercow's campaign manager, and generally touting himself as the political operator you cannot afford to be without.  The Reading boys supported Rob Wilson to win Reading East for the Tories in 2005.  In 2010 they ignored him (as they ignored their Labour candidate of the time, who was locked in Stuart Singleton-White's attic).  In 2015 they will be dying to trash him.  That is why Salter is all over it.  He is informing them that only he can beat the Tory in Reading East.  Seems a pity not to let Tony Jones have a chance at a parliamentary seat, rather late in life, admittedly, but why not?  I do not think they can win it from Wilson anyway.  And what about the younger fellows?

super size me

Boris Johnson (for it is he) writes here that Mayor Bloomberg in New York has banned the sale of giant-sized paper cups for soft drinks, as an anti-obesity measure.  Coca-Cola, apparently, is pissed off.  But this stuff really works.  I was idly looking at shops here in Strasbourg on Saturday, and I noticed a range of children's lunchboxes.  Packed lunches are actually rather rare in France, but they do exist, and are increasing in popularity.  Those lunchboxes were tiny. And French children, and adults, are quite slim for the most part. Every now and again the French media get in a froth about obesity (which is increasing) and they inevitably show those pictures on TV of the bottom halves of people walking along the street.  I always think when I see them, "But those people aren't really fat at all!"  It's relative.  But most people eat and drink whatever is put in front of them, and then stop.  Not long ago I broke my favourite wine glass, and have been using another one, which is quite a lot smaller (I bought it in France).  Yesterday I found myself thinking "There's a lot more left in that bottle than I thought there was."  I had drunk less of it, without noticing, because my glass was smaller.  Now for dinner on smaller plates...

Reading East Labour

my little poll (right) is showing a stand-off between Tony Jones and Martin Salter for Labour candidate for Reading East.  I am a little surprised that Mr Salter is in the running, you'd think he wouldn't want to go back, although I suppose having pretended to represent Reading East for so long he would like actually to do so.  I reckon Tony Jones thought it was his for the taking.  But both of them are, how to put this, past their first youth.  Nothing wrong with starting a new job in your 60s, I intend to do precisely that when I retire from the one I am currently doing - but younger people may well be interested in the role as a career move.  My personal view is that Mr Salter will not go for it, because he knows that Rob Wilson may be expected to hold the seat, however unpopular the coalition is.  But we'll see.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

am I English?

here I am shamelessly plundering the Normster (Norman Geras), who is (a) much cleverer than I am and (b) not English (he was born in what was then Rhodesia).  He notes that various politicians and others (Hilary Benn, Ed Miliband) have been urging us to be proud of being English.  One of them is a quarter American and the other of east European Jewish heritage I believe, and they are both English.  So what, I hear you cry, and so, to some extent, do I.  Norm also notes that others (Dan Hodges, for example, of whom I am rather a fan) take issue with this, and say that while they themselves are English there is no particular marker that they can identify for their Englishness.  I am not surprised that I am more inclined to ponder my own Englishness now that i have lived for almost five years outside England, and, worse still, in the land of the old enemy, France.  I wonder if Norm ponders on his identity as an African.  If he does, he doesn't do it publicly.  And I share the difficulty in finding a marker for my (or anyone else's) Englishness. The first time I ran a training workshop for a multi-national group of lawyers I was gently told off by the training supervisor who observed it: she said "You started on time, as the English do, but that meant that most of them missed the beginning".  A difficult one for me, that.  Norm takes issue with the "no marker for Englishness" brigade as follows:  Their case seems to be one of these three:

(1) no national identity of any kind is coherent or real;
(2) national identity is coherent and real for all other putative cases (being Brazilian, being French etc) except Englishness;
(3) national identities are real for some putative cases but not for others, and Englishness falls into the latter category.
and he demolishes those three premises very effectively.  But where does that leave us?  One of my grandfathers was Welsh and the other Scottish.  The Celtic part of my heritage is real to me.  But I was born in England, as both my parents were, and grew up and lived most of my life there.  I will probably not die there, but that is not the important bit.

What I suppose I believe is that there is no one marker for Englishness.  I'll support England against France tomorrow.  In a pub, which is in my view the proper place to watch football.  I drink Proper Tea.  When I was asked to serve tea recently at a tea party I was congratulated on my assuredness in handling teapots.  "But I've been doing it all my life!" I said.  My earliest memories are of my grandmother pouring tea.  I still put hot water in the pot first, and then throw it away,  as she did,  even if I am using (whisper it not) tea bags.  But there are plenty of English people who never do any of this.

I am sorry that St. George's Day parades are such a rarity.  I think Jerusalem should be the English anthem because , not despite of the fact that, it is an old socialist hymn.  When my granddaughter is my age she will have some memories (I hope) of me and things I did.  They will be part of her own marker of identity.  But maybe not of Englishness.

imprisoned for information

Hossein Roneghi Maleki
this man is serving a 16-year prison sentence for creating proxies to help those opposed to the regime in Iran have access to information on the internet.  As Harry's Place reminds us, the "green" protests died down rather after his arrest, because the opposition was fuelled by information and contact with the outside world.  Those outside Iran who have contact with Iran, who go there, who take its money (George Galloway) are better placed than most to call for the release of this man.  Anyone?  Anyone? (sound of tumbleweed).
When will the illiberal-minded, in the West as well as in totalitarian regimes like that in Iran, learn that you can't shut down knowledge, or information.  Even in the darkest days of Soviet terror, even in the gulags, well before there was the internet, there were clandestine leaflets and newsletters.  There may even be such things in North Korea today.  In Cuba people find ways to speak, and to read, and to be heard (step forward, Yoani Sanchez).  The mullahs can lock up one man, but they can't stop it.  Their days are numbered.

There have been disgracefully illiberal attempts in the West too, to close down the internet.  Laughable, I know,but such eminent figures as Jack Straw (whom I admire) have lent their name to such things, including the Dangerous Pictures act (remember that?), promoted by Martin Salter, which criminalises the depiction on line of acts which would be perfectly legal if actually depicted on film in a cinema.  Because we must Shut Down Teh Internetz.  It's easy to be flippant about such things when you live in a country where there is, more or less, free speech and freedom of information.  Nobody is going to put me in prison and threaten my family, whatever I say.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Kennedy assassination - at last the truth

Well, maybe.  Marbury points us to some work on this.  We have all seen the film (no, not the Oliver Stone one, silly), we know where Lee Harvey Oswald was, and we see the President hit a third time, apparently from the other direction.  From this sprang a thousand conspiracy theories.  The third bullet was, allegedly, fired by a security team member who panicked, and was the one which actually killed the President.  Could be  could be.  The mystery deepens...

Next year, readers, will be the 50th anniversary of that event.  I was nine when it happened, and remember  the adult conversations about it well, although I didn't understand them.  My parents were not on the right politically, though there were times when they weren't sure where they stood (mostly they voted Labour) but they hated all the Kennedys with a passion.  I have never understood why, especially as at the time the more questionable character issues were not known about because of the different media in those days.  I had better ask my mother while there is still time.

Anyway, next year there will be new books out, films probably, TV programmes, interviews with people who were there, a mini-series about the Doomed Dynasty I should think.  Makes you tired already.

Hey, anybody want to commission me to write something?  I can DO this stuff.

Friday, 8 June 2012

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

blimey, he does go on a bit, doesn't he?  But a great story.  The two "good" characters are both vapid ciphers, but so what.  We have Madame Defarge, we have the abuse of alcohol, we have the French Revolution, with the Terror writ clear, and we find out what it was like to travel in a post-coach in the eighteenth century.  And the bitch-fight between the two strong women, towards the end, is hard to beat.  I loved the bits of back-story, such as that Madame Defarge was from the "fisher-folk" in the west of France, and walked "barefoot on the brown sea-sand" as a girl.  "A far, far better thing", etc etc - I had forgotten that n the book Sydney Carton does not actually say those words - they are written down as something he might have said, had he lived long enough to write them down.  Hmmm...

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Euro Krakdown

a bag of these on your head?
that is what the Sun is rather cleverly calling it, as England fans arrive in Krakow for the start of Euro 2012.  They also cite "a local newspaper" as saying that the police will come down on any England fans who cause trouble, like "a bag of anvils".  Charmed by this expression, I looked further. My command of Polish is minimal, but Google Translate gave me this, "torba z kowadeł" for "bag of anvils".  I then consulted Polish colleagues, none of whom had heard the expression, though they did tell me there are various expressions in Polish involving bricks and hammers for dealing extreme penalties to malfeasors. I found two local newspaper in Krakow, and a search on their sites did not reveal that expression.  But then it is likely to be wrong, as Google Translate does not actually translate anything. Anyone help? 

Monday, 4 June 2012

a national exception - it's DEFINITELY different for girls

The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party has met, and my man on that Committee notes the following, especially that the Organising Committee has met to decide on parliamentary selections - it needs to where there is a proposal that the normal rule should not be followed.  The national rule is that where the last Labour MP was a woman the shortlist should be all women.  This was followed in Reading East in 2010, and the latest decision is to depart from that in several constituencies, including Crewe and Nantwich (the late Gwyneth Dunwoody, anybody?), and - you're ahead of me - Reading East.  My fly on the wall at the NEC, nice chap that he is, must buy him a drink next time we meet, comments in this way:

I thought you would be interested to note that Reading East is selecting from an open shortlist. This goes completely against the Labour Party's national policy - re-affirmed only recently, that where the last Labour MP was a woman, the new parliamentary  candidate should  always be selected form an All Woman shortlist.

Well, yes.  Now, who lobbied them?  And why?

Stampede of interested chaps?

it's different for girls

Readers will remember that I posted some days ago about some nonsense in the Reading Chronicle, dictated to them by Martin Salter.  The headline of their story, that Salter had given evidence to the Leveson inquiry, was a plain lie.  And they knew it was.  But the Chronicle's willingness to publish lies knowing them to be lies is well known in Reading and further afield. However, they took the opportunity to have dictated to them some untruths about yours truly, which Tom Watson MP has chosen to submit to the Leveson inquiry, although they are totally irrelevant to it.  I am taking action in respect of Tom Watson MP and of the Leveson inquiry people separately, as you might expect me to.  In respect of the Chronicle I asked for withdrawal of the untruths in the story and for a reply, to be given equal prominence with the piece of dictation they had previously taken from Martin Salter.  They have refused, and have told me I may write a letter for publication, which must be significantly shorter than the original piece and which will be subject to their editorial control.  I'm not doing that.  I've posted my response as a comment on the on-line version of the story, but if you read the Chronicle only on paper you will see nothing.  You might wonder how many other untruths go uncorrected in that organ.