Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Robert A. Caro, "The Passage of Power", Part Two

I need to tell you about the rest of this book.  At the time JFK was killed there was an executive logjam, as bills were piled up to prevent a civil rights bill from passing - which LBJ had warned JFK about.  JFK had had the eloquence and promise on this, but LBJ, despite the "taint of magnolias" would now have to be the one to deliver on it.  On the plane, with JFK's body and LBJ on it, LBJ now had to make those decisions.  And when Bobby Kennedy met the plane he ran past LBJ, so as not to have to recognise him as President.

The Kennedy administration had, in October 1963, recommended stepping up the training of the Vietnamese army, so that American military personnel could be withdrawn, and assessed that this could be done by late 1965.  Robert McNamara had said, "We need to get out of Vietnam, and this is a way of doing it".  But then there was a coup in South Vietnam, and the National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) was contradictory in its message: it retained the withdrawal pledge, but its soundbite was that the Vietnam conflict was a war against communism, and a war that had to be won, and that it remained "the central objective of the United States isn South Vietnam, to assist the people and government to win".

LBJ was, you could say, populist, or maybe foolhardy, telling Martin Luther King he would "support them all" - Kennedy's policies, which MLK had described as "great... p;regressive".  LBJ told liberals he was going to reform the system, and conservatives that he was going to preserve it as it was.  A great political line he gave to a state governor whose support he needed: "You came to see me when I was sick.  I don't forget that.  Now you let me know if there's anything I need to know out there.  I'm going to depend on you."  While JFK's body was still in the East Room, on the Saturday after he was killed, Arthur Schlesinger, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, hosted a restaurant lunch, in a Washington restaurant with senior economists among others, to discuss the possibility of denying LBJ the nomination at the 1964 Democratic Convention, by running a ticket of Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.  So that is what LBJ was up against.

LBJ had an interesting and quite compelling use of language.  He referred, on the night of JFK's funeral, to Jackie "holding his skull in her lap" - Caro calls him a great storyteller, and he is right to do so.

In the illustrations to the book, photographs mostly, all the politicians look overweight, unhealthy and tired.  LBJ,although older than many, towards the end of this book, looks relatively fresh.  Only RFK, in those pictures, is good-looking.

When lBJ made his inaugural address it had to be typed in large type  Because LBJ was in his late fifties, and most people that age need glasses to read.  He started, "All I have, I would have given gladly not to be standing here today".  And almost straight in after that, urging that "Civil rights be written in the books of law".  The southern senators sat silent.  Previous Majority  Leader Reston had written, "President Kennedy had a way of seeing all sides of a question.  President Johnson has a way of concentrating on his own side of a question."  Johnson had a gift for political phrasemaking: To Republicans: "I am the only President you have: If you would have me fail, then you fail, for this country fails."

There is more in this book, and it is a stupendous insight into a brilliant politician, and into the exercise of power.

the complications of modern life

I bought my mother a Kindle.  And she likes it, and reads on it.  But she has no Amazon account, and refuses to go on line (mysterious) so the Kindle is still mine.  Upside of that: she can read books I already own.  Downside: I live in France, my brother lives in the US, my mother lives in the UK.  Neither my brother nor I has a payment card with a UK billing address, I do not have a US one, and he does not have a French one.  You can see what's coming, can't you?  I am only allowed to shop on amazon.fr or amazon.com, and am not allowed to buy digital products from the latter.  My brother is not allowed to buy digital products from the former.  Neither of us can do so from amazon.co.uk.  So the only way we have found for him to get my mother a Kindle book is for him to send me a gift certificate, which I can use to buy myself a (physical) product from amazon.com, in compensation for ME buying mother the book.  Which is from him.  And in fact I have to buy it for myself and put it on her Kindle. There may be something I am not getting here.  Maybe.  Whatever happened to globalisation?  I was all in favour of that, and am still waiting for it to happen. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

William Boyd, Waiting for Sunrise

Here is his latest, and I was pleased to pre-order it, had been a bit Kindle-focused so took a while to get round to it, as it was in hardback.  Anyway, have now read it, and frankly was disappointed.  He is such a great story teller, and here was not really telling much of a story at all.  OK, here is a chap in Vienna, psychoanalysis blah blah, First World War blah blah, affair with strange girl blah blah, so what blah blah.  Nice enough writing, but his writing is not so nice as to excuse the fact that there is no real story there.  The actual plot, such as it is, is made so obscure and opaque (who is Andromeda?) (what happened on Hampstead Heath?) - oh look there's a Zeppelin! that interest is lost quite quickly.  Profound gloom.  There are not many writers I pre-order.  Maybe I'll leave it a bit and have another look.

Friday, 27 July 2012

I wish I had heard the bells

ringing for the Olympics this morning.  That made me sad.  I shall be watching the opening ceremony tonight, though probably not all of it.  I really do not understand the endless negativity about it from Brits I have heard.  Isn't it good to showcase London?  Isn't it good that many thousands of people are being employed in east London for this event?  Isn't it good, just after a British sporting hero has won a world-renowned title, the first Brit ever to do so, that top-class British athletes will be performing to the world, on their home ground?  Apparently not.  Someone said to me the other day that the Olympics were crap because they had enabled developers to come in and build luxury apartments that ordinary east London people could not afford to live in.  Well, so they undoubtedly have - building on land that wasn't being used for all that much.  And if there were no Games then those same developers would have been all ready and willing to build decent low-cost housing with affordable rents for those ordinary people to live in, wouldn't they?  Wouldn't they?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

what the Guardian doesn't want you to read

they've refused to publish this statement, so I will.  I got it from ITV, so who is the Filth hiding it from?

something missing here, surely

the full list of charges following Operation Weeting on phone hacking is handily produced for us by Guido.  But something is missing.  The individuals or groups of individuals whose phones were allegedly hacked are listed, but Mr Salter's name is not there!  And he identified himself as a target just a few short weeks ago, as we read in the Reading Chronicle (so it must be true)!  What can have gone wrong?  There must be a separate operation going on just in respect of the hacking of Salter's phone, don't you think?  Which will report in due course and will result in serious criminal charges.  Bound to happen.  Do I detect a note of scepticism in your resonse, dear reader?  Careful now.  Because if you are right, and there is no police operation going on in respect of the alleged hacking of Salter's phone, then Salter was either lying or deluded when he said he had been a target of News International, and that of course cannot be the case.  Can it?  And the Chronicle published a story which was a lie, and if they did not know then that it was a lie they do now.  So they'll publish a retraction, won't they?  Won't they? *sound of tumbleweed*

Monday, 23 July 2012

did he say sorry?

M. Hollande, the President of the French Republic, speaking on the 70th anniversary of the round-up of 13,000 Jews from Paris and its suburbs, to die in the camps, that is.  The answer is, no, he did not.  He said this:

 La vérité, c'est que le crime fut commis en France, par la France. " La France, et non pas l'" autorité de fait dite "gouvernement de l'Etat français" ", comme il était de tradition de qualifier le régime de Vichy jusqu'à ce que M. Chirac, le 16 juillet 1995, ne rompe avec la périphrase officielle utilisée depuis la guerre en déclarant que " la France, ce jour-là, accomplissait l'irréparable ",

So, he acknowledged the resonsibility of "France" and not that of the Vichy government, for a part of the Holocaust, and also paid a kind of tribute to Jacques Chirac*, the first to acknowledge the responsibility of "France", on the same anniversary in 1995.  The atrocity is known as "Vel d'Hiv" after its location, the former Velodrome d'Hiver (Winter Velodrome) in Paris - no French person will speak or write a word in full if it can be abbreviated.

Norm has posted on this today, too.

It seems a good and dignified way to acknowledge that historical responsibility.

Not one German soldier was involved in the Vel d'Hiv.

*Hugely admired by local librarian and former politician Dictatorship Dave Sutton

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Robert A. Caro, "The Passage of Power", Part One

the fourth in Caro's masterly series on the years of Lyndon Johnson, a character I thought did not much interest me until I started reading these books a few years ago.  This one is perhaps the most readable of the four (he tells us there is another in preparation) and covers a very short period, that of the transition from Kennedy to Johnson and the early part of Johnson's Presidency.  It is informed by LBJ's hatred of Robert Kennedy, something which was known about in political circles at the time but is explored psychologically most interestingly here.  And made me wonder how it would have developed later, if RFK had lived.  "To watch Lyndon Johnson during the transition is to see political genius in action" - and so it was.  I was too young at the time to understand, but fairly un-political people in the UK were agog with interest in American politics, as they have almost never been since - I remember the adult conversations around me.  Johnson's background - his father going broke, and his family having to walk past shops that would no longer give them credit - made him terrified of failure.  So he said he wouldn't run for the 1960 presidential nomination - because if he didn't run, he couldn't fail.  And then he changed his mind.  Politics was no stranger to fraud,then as now - in Johnson's 1948 Texas Senate race, very late, after polls had closed, 200 new votes were found for Johnson.  All had written their names in the same ink and the same handwriting, and had voted in alphabetical order.  The selection by JFK of LBJ as running mate caused a storm among northern liberals, but one journalist, Doris Fleeson, had it right when she wrote that the choice was "a decision to win the election".  There is a parallel with the UK and recent times too obvious to go into here.

During JFK's brief Presidency LBJ kept silent, mostly, as vice-presidents must.  He was also routinely humiliated and sneered at.  LBJ, the briefer and leaker, did none of this during the Kennedy years.  He never criticised the President, and would not allow anyone else to do so in his hearing.  The Kennedys and their acolytes laughed at LBJ's clothes, his accent and his manners, and LBJ knew they were doing it.  We learn that it was LBJ who told the media that the Cuban missile crisis had erupted.  Johnson's remark on what to do about it was, "All I know is that when I was a boy in Texas, and you were walking along the road when a rattlesnake reared up ready to strike, the only thing to do was take a stick and chop its head off."  We  know of course that that is not what happened in 1962.

A great speech LBJ made, and which has been forgotten until now, is worth quoting from: "One hundred years ago, the slave was freed ... one hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.  The Negro today asks justice.  We do not answer him - we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil - when we reply to the Negro by asking, 'Patience' ... to ask for patience from the Negro is to ask him to give more of what he has already given enough ...the Negro says, 'Now'.  Others say 'Never'.  The voice of responsible Americans - the voices of those who died here and the great man (Lincoln) who spoke here - their voice says, 'Together'.  There is no other way."

A big story which might have destroyed LBJ, to do with a man named Bobby Baker, an associate who later went to prison, and a possible source of LBJ's wealth, was brewing in November 1963.  In those days of much slower-boiling news stories it was building up as November went on.  The headlines on 22 November 1963 were full of LBJ's waning star, and that he was being snubbed by the President's people.

For chapters on end Jackie seems to be wearing the bloodstained pink suit - but a lot was going on, including LBJ being sworn in on board Air Force One.  Jackie was drinking a Scotch at the time, we are told.  The first one she had ever drunk.  And she did not like it.  Lady Bird Johnson had a wonderful, dignified, Southern turn of phrase when asked when the Johnsons would be moving into the executive mansion in the White house, "I would to God I could serve Mrs Kennedy's comfort.  I can at least serve her convenience."

More soon.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

the capital of Israel?

apparently (I can't bear to look) the Guardian thinks Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel.  The BBC has decided that it will not say what the capital of Israel is.  And there is fury and hatred on various comments pages.  But the facts are these: the State of Israel was created by the UN.  Tel Aviv was the capital of it for approximately the first twelve months of its existence.  Israel then declared Jerusalem to be its capital.  Which it is.  Because every sovereign state has the right to decide what its capital city is.  Whatever anyone else might think about the merits or actions of that state.  It's not even true that all the embassies are in Tel Aviv.  Costa Rica's, for example, is in Jerusalem.  El Salvador's was until quite recently.  It is stated US policy that the US embassy should be in Jerusalem - although State Department officials have done precisely nothing about moving the embassy there.  But hey, haters, let's keep on pretending, hein?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Leveson and Watson

Last month I wrote to Tom Watson MP, following the publication of a "story" in the Reading Chronicle which made me aware that he had submitted evidence to the Leveson Inquiry which referred to me by name, and which was untrue.  I sent the letter by registered mail.  I have not received a reply.  The text is below:

Tom Watson MP
House of Commons
London W1A 0AA

Dear Tom Watson

Leveson Inquiry

I refer to the evidence uploaded to the Leveson Inquiry website on 22 May 2012, and specifically to the part of that evidence submitted to you by Martin Salter and which referred to me by name (see below).

"After a turbulent relationship with her local party my neighbouring MP Jane Griffiths was eventually deselected on 22nd February 2004.  The following Sunday she gave an angry interview to the Mail on Sunday and tried to smear me and others in a series of wholly false and ridiculous allegations.  My solicitors Bindmans managed to have my name removed..."

I have written to the Inquiry (copy enclosed) formally requesting that this part of that evidence be removed from the transcript of the Inquiry, for the reasons that it is both untrue in its reference to myself and irrelevant to the Inquiry. Its irrelevance is in fact confirmed by its author, Martin Salter, in a comment he submitted to a story about the giving of that evidence published in the Reading Chronicle (copy enclosed). In fact it was on having my attention drawn to the Reading Chronicle story that I first became aware of the existence of this evidence submitted to the Inquiry by yourself.

I am formally requesting you to remove the part of the materials submitted to you by Martin Salter which refer to me from your evidence to the Inquiry. I hope you will agree to do this, so that I need not consider any further action.

At no time was I approached by any of the parties or informed that my name was going to be submitted in evidence to the Inquiry. This appears to me to be at the very least discourteous, if not actually in bad faith, the more so as we are former colleagues in the House, but the usual courtesies should surely apply to everyone if they are to be meaningful.

Finally, the Reading Chronicle story quotes Martin Salter as saying that you had approached former MPs for evidence of phone hacking or any other criminal or wrongful behaviour on the part of News International employees. I was not so approached, nor were a number of other former MPs with whom I am in touch. I should be grateful for the names of those you approached, as I think we could have a useful conversation on certain matters. If the names are not to be supplied, an indication of how many former MPs you approached would also be helpful.

I can be contacted as above, and look forward to hearing from you.

Jane Griffiths

At the time of writing this post that evidence submitted by Tom Watson MP has not been withdrawn, and I have received no communication from him.  I have now made my own submission to the inquiry, which had not originally been my intention.  It is factual. 

I now have to consider my position and any future action.

Basher bashed, he says

the delightful Basher McKenzie shares with us here some musings on his favourite theme - violence.  Apparently the potholes left in local roads by his neglectful Labour council are giving his "undercarriage" - he also uses the word "bollocks" - a bashing.  That's both trivial and more information than any of us needed, Basher.  Now, if you've got nothing better to do (we know you can't get a job), why don't you go out and punch a pensioner?

Monday, 16 July 2012

His Master's voice subs - a new triumph

here is a headline of theirs:

"Reading Heathrow rail-link benefits can't be underestimated"

I don't think that's quite what they meant, hein?
but still, it's in the Reading Evening Post, so it must be true.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

In Other Worlds

is the title of a book of essays by Margaret Atwood on science fiction and other literature which is set in worlds not our own.  She cites some books, and some writers, of which I know little or nothing, but is always interesting.  A writer called McKibben, who wrote a book called "Enough", of which I know nothing other than what Atwood has written about it here, said, apparently, that because a thing has been invented does not mean that you have to use it.  "McKibben offers as exempla the atomic bomb; the Japanese samurai rejection of guns; the Chinese abandonment of advanced sea power; and the Amish, who examine each new technology and accept or reject it according to social and spiritual criteria."  Atwood approves of what McKibben wants, but ends this chapter with "Perhaps we should leave well enough alone", always a dangerous notion, I feel.  Atwood's take on "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is very different from mine.  She doesn't even mention the torture, other than the rats, and the rats are not the point.  It wasn't the rats, nor was it the threat of them, which broke Winston Smith.  I don't think it was even the betrayal of Julia - who betrayed him, too, and went blithely on her way - it was seeing what had been done to others, and that there was no hope, no way out.  Atwood sees the final essay on Newspeak, written in plain English, apparently well after the events described in the book, as a message of hope - that the regime did not last, and that the human spirit survives.  I hope she is right.  I saw it more as a kind of Hays Code adjunct.  She says the section at the end of "The Handmaid's Tale", which treats the regime portrayed in the book as an episode in American history, owes much to the Newspeak essay.  I am sure she is right, I hadn't noticed the influence at the time, but i remember being hugely relieved that the essay told us that the regime did pass away.  To this day I get chills at the notion that a regime like that really could exist - and of course it does, in much of Afghanistan and in parts of the Middle East.  Atwood wrote "The Handmaid's Tale" in 1984, or at least it was published then, so perhaps at the time she was not thinking about the politics of the Middle East. but I am, now.

Atwood is wrong in her conclusion to this essay.  She says that the 2001 attacks opened up the prospect of two contradictory dystopias, because "state surveillance is back with a vengeance", the other dystopia being open markets, which seems to mean that the communist dream (in China) creates armies of exploited workers to make cheap consumer goods for us all to enjoy.  She makes the mistake here of being dismayed about "state surveillance" in "free" places like north America, and of completely ignoring the ideology behind 9/11 and similar - and how can the author of "The Handmaid's Tale" do this?  Afghan women?  But she can also be very funny.  Humans as viewed by aliens, in most science fiction, have a "cavern" or a "prong".  Hilarious.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Best Blessings of Existence 33

Emma B. has been occupied with other duties recently, but she is back now to delight us further.  In which, fireworks, gussets, an inexplicable phone call, and psychological torture by the Chief Whip.

At the still small point of the turning world …..there the dance is.

Forty-eight hours after her return from Westminster and the announcement of the Government reshuffle; she did not feel like dancing. Nothing had happened in The Sceptre Room to damage her personally and she had not damaged herself. She had mislaid neither handbag nor knickers; it had been Heather Lydgate’s gusset on show to the world and not hers.

She had not disported herself like a hoyden (those were the days and Ben Bex Oliver should have been the man).
And yet …..

Turning to Ponia’s Picks; The Crier’s Guide to the Re-shuffle; she experienced a stomach twinge from days past; the never forgotten no-nonsense announcement combined with the chimes of Big Ben, that it was 5pm, Thursday at Westminster – the worst time of the week.

Over the years her PA, Ida, contrived to arrange the diary so that this spot of time found her at Bill Committee; Backbench Committee; entertaining constituents or speaking in the Chamber. Anything to forbid her the office between 4.30 -5.30pm when she would be beyond the control of man or beast.

Five pm Thursday, was the slot when the Chief Whip’s Assistant, ( deputising for Blind Pew), would commence the weekly ‘ring-round’; the terrifying summons to ‘make yourself available’ at a given time to be presented with charges as yet undisclosed, from accusers yet to be specified. At 5 30 pm, regardless of whether she or Gissy had been dealt the black spot or avoided its deadly stain; repairing to the Regular Suite ( Westminster’s Admiral Benbow ) for the purposes of commiseration or celebration, completed the process.

It was a rite of passage familiar to all and mentioned by none.
It was always the same…

Chief Whip’s Assistant: Hello – am I speaking to XMP?

MP’s PA: Oh (laughing cheerily; sipping a decaff) I’m afraid she’s just popped out! (with finger on lips and glaring at MP who has refused, despite blandishments, to vacate the office ).

No – I’m afraid I don’t know - I suspect she may have pulled up stumps for the day; she was planning to spend a few hours in the library working on the Corporation Tax…..

No – yes – Tuesday – was that eleven? Eleven thirty? Right you are! And can I tell her what it’s about?

No, I see, – of course not – he’ll tell her himself. Yes, yes, of course. I’ll pass the message on (replacing receiver).

Well – (rueful smile at MP, by now the whitest shade of pale; rooting around for cigarette and ‘saucer - as – ashtray’; the office being a smoke-free zone)
as I expect you gathered, that was Terrence Gale’s office. He wants to see you on Tuesday.

(phone rings)

Hello – yes it is. Who is that please? Gissy? Oh yes. Where?
(puts hand over phone). Gissy Wicks for you – and can you meet her now before the vote, in The Regular Suite?

But Ida was speaking to thin air. She had already left.

Ten minutes later, they would be hunched at a corner table gripping (large) glasses of Sancerre and grimacing at the Chamber Monitoring Screen beside the bar:

Time for one more I think … Cornish has only just started to wind up …

Oh – definitely! (Gissy - lighting up; flicking ash dextrously onto the green Pugin carpet). I am so thoroughly pissed off about this – now no bloody weekend; eating fags; throwing up --- and I can’t think what the FUCK it’s about! And Gale – you know he enjoys this? WANKER!!! Last time, he kept me waiting outside his office while he chatted to an intern about his Christmas card list and when I finally got in I was pissing myself. Almost. And it was that bastard Ralph again! He’d phoned the Whips’ Office bleating that I’d missed the last four Party meetings in a row and that two Grove Ward pensioners said I’d been ‘abrasive’ at the ‘coffee ‘n cakes’.

It was reliably and unvaryingly grotesque; a Whips’ nark was tasked to tip off the press and it would surface in a Diary to be used by Constituency Party enemies so the whole miserable cycle would begin again. With a phone call on Thursday.

Of course, it must have been worse for Gissy with the backdrop of the Polaris affair. Gale must have adored making her squirm – although not in the way he had originally intended.
How loathsome it all was; what a wretched job in fact and why oh why hadn’t she used her talents on something else? She could have been an actress; an academic; a journalist – and of course it was all Paul’s fault because if she hadn’t met him she would have done all of that, probably ALL AT ONCE and she was just getting into the mental swing of coulda been a contender when the phone rang.

She closed the, as yet, unread Crier and picked up the receiver:

Yes – yes it is. Oh ---hello – Terrence!

Terry’ please! I think we’ve known each other long enough for that?

After twenty years without so much as sharing a tension-free tea with the Chief Whip, the idea of venturing anything as intimate as abbreviated Christian names was unthinkable – and slightly obscene. ‘Terrence’ felt like a liberty too far; she was sure that for preference, it would have been ‘Mr Gale’, if not ‘Sir’ with a curtsey.

She breathed deeply, aware of a hand tremor.
How truly ridiculous!

She had lost her seat nearly ten years ago; Macey Cline was the new Fengrove candidate; Gale in role as Tin Pot General could neither help her nor harm her….

And yet…. (lighting a half-smoked and therefore serviceable cigarette and smoothing her skirt)

Yes – ‘Terry’ of course! (girlish half chuckle) – how can I help you?

There was a slight but unmistakable pause – Gale knew his power. She conjured him up in his wood-panelled office; shirt-sleeves rolled; leg looped over chair arm. Tapping a desk leg with a brogue.

Just wanted to say how VERY nice we ALL thought it was to see you at Derek’s little party – Edith mentioned it to Wendy…. now did you get home safely after that dreadful business with poor Mrs Aspinall? You’ll excuse an old lag his pastoral duties – once a member of my flock and all that!!!

‘Edith’ …. As if Edith Traynor was her friend!

She had first met the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson at a Candidates’ Training course circa 1989. They were lying on their backs, flexing and un-flexing their knees; Head to Head and Toe to Toe…..

The big idea was to equip them with relaxation techniques to re-charge batteries on the campaign trail but the session was not relaxing. In fact, it was a detestably stressful gym-kit contest with comrades like Wendy Kaye channelling Diana at the Harbour Club and Edith Traynor at the other end of the spectrum, reprising Sweaty Betty, puffing and blowing in an orange leotard.

The plump nonentity who stuck like gum to the trainers of a then unelected and unmarried future Prime Minister was unrecognisable as the sleek and sinuous aide who had crafted the persona of Wendy Runcible from the raw and not obviously promising clay of Ms Wendy Kaye.

The price that either woman had paid for Wendy’s tenure at No 10 had long been and would continue to be – the subject of desultory but consistent speculation.
But Gale’s mention of Traynor was as deliberate and purposeful as everything that now typified the Official Spokesperson herself.

They meant business – and business with her.

And I’m so glad that you managed to have that little chat with Mike (continued Terrence) Sylvie – not now!! – Sorry, never a dull moment at No 12 as you know! Now where were – yes, Dawn Grainger! Finally going - and I can’t tell you what a relief…very forgetful; voted with the Tories in the Budget Debate THREE TIMES but what can you do?

Short of contract killing – any attempt at deselection is just not a runner. The comrades in D West adore her - of course, that’s to be applauded – dear old Dawn! But it means that we couldn’t haul her to the knackers – had to sit tight...

BUT - God’s in his heaven!! She’s accepted Wendy’s offer of a kick upstairs – I think her son had something to do with it! He thinks he’ll get the seat! Dream on Billy!! Ha!! ‘The Other Place’ – our very own nursing home!! I know that the changes have lowered the average age, but God – doesn’t it still stink in there – all the widdle pads!! So yes! – DW is up and YOU ARE THAT WOMAN!

Dorlich – perfect!! I’ve booked your hotel at Conference; The Berriman as usual; all you have to do is charm the comrades… It’ll be easy – the line is - YES to re nationalising everything; republic after the demise of Her Maj; mega defence cuts with proceeds straight into benefits - and unions to be consulted on all policies!

And once you’re in, of course you never said any of it and the idiots who said you did are Tory MOLES!!!

A response was neither expected nor requested and the subject was changed.

As Terrence segued with aplomb from the Election; through Welfare to Poole flaunting humble origins by staging a photo shoot at the Pound Shop …she flicked her kitchen blinds. The green wood had cost a fortune in 2001 but was now badly chipped and should be replaced. Should be, but wouldn’t be because she couldn’t afford it.

Her glass dining table; achingly trendy in 1999, was now sporting a hairline crack as was the plaster in the kitchen and third bedroom. It looked like subsidence but wasn’t. It was a standard and minor case of outer wall weakening with a repair tag of £7,000. As £7,000 ( like £700) was out of the question, there it remained; mimicking subsidence and repelling potential buyers – along with a basement needing re-tanking at a very reasonable, but for her, completely prohibitive £16,000…

She couldn’t afford any of it – let alone the ‘quick lick of paint’ to refurbish the bathroom that Fran at the Estate Agent considered advisable ‘to net the price’.

And so there she would remain; year on year and her only reprieve would be via a six- foot box on a mission of no return.

.perhaps seeing Bill brought back bad memories of Mrs C – don’t you think? Terrence had back-tracked to Derek’s party.

She was pressed to affirm that Heather Lydgate Aspinall had been upset by Sandra Milford Cornish who had not been there.

Well, no, I don’t think so…

Unless the thought of Sandra had forced Heather to stuff her face with everything edible, showing a catholic disregard for flavour or texture and washing it down with anything she could get her hands on of an even remotely alcoholic nature.

Does she always drink like this? the Registrar at St Aelfric’s had murmured. Amazing – it’s normally the under-25swho are the hardened booze hounds…Did you tie her up (loosening the pussy bow) and pour it down her throat? (laughing).

Oh I think you’ll find, retorted Terrence, that she was…

And he was off; citing Heather’s quotes in Maurice Cantor’s Desperate HOUSEwife hatchet-job on Sandra. The former Ms Milford had driven her student colleague to a nervous breakdown; paving the way for a lifetime’s servitude at the counter of successive country Chemists’.

No, she said – I don’t think it was like that. I think Cantor got it wrong.

Sandra had, naturally, gloated when Heather’s breakdown had gifted her Darwin Science Prize on a plate - but she had not caused the breakdown. She had not forced Heather to trash her bedroom; to devastate her kitchen and to boycott Finals.
Indeed, judging from Mrs Aspinall’s recent performance, it was likely - even probable, that the events of 37 years ago were the first manifestation of what had since become a deep- seated psychological problem associated with food and drink.
Heather had trashed the kitchen and her own bedroom – what would an analyst make of that?! Would a woman in command of her own psyche have behaved in such a spectacular fashion on her first visit to the House of Commons? And where for that matter, was Mr Aspinall?!!

She did not voice these thoughts, but the Chief Whip was unaccustomed to contradiction:

Hmm, well, Mrs Cornish – bit of a disruptive force - some of your old crew at Dorlich …. Mrs Lambton, Sir Leslie……yourself and dear old Derek – now, now, you really are MUCH too kind – always making allowances for people! It doesn’t do you know! Could be viewed as a FAULT…..
Sylvie – yes, coming! (rueful laugh) I’m so sorry, but I really must fly; Opposition Day Debate and I doubt we’ll get the numbers….have a think about DW ----- of course, Billy Grainger would be a very popular choice and really very smart – excellent candidate; but if you’re serious about a return we MAY be able….. I’ll call you in a week or so….

And he was gone.

What was required now was the haven of The Regular Suite and Gissy as confidante, but in the absence of both, the fridge and a large glass of Chardonnay would suffice.

She did not feel well.

The horrific certainty that Terrence must KNOW about Pants Ahoy and had been making veiled, but purposeful, references to it, had induced the symptoms of an entire menopausal cycle in one go as a hot flush was succeeded by a cold sweat and back again.

Why on earth would Derek tell anybody, least of all, the Government Chief Whip that, thirty seven years ago, he had indulged in drunken and profoundly unsatisfactory, sexual congress with a woman who, many years later, pitched up in the work place as a colleague?

And that the uniquely embarrassing romp had, unbeknownst to the two principles, been conducted in the presence of a third party – who had herself pitched up, many years later as the wife ( now discarded) of a Cabinet colleague?

Or that the said party had advertised the baleful bonk in an article purporting to be about a debate on Barclay’s Bank, couched in incriminating and salacious language, in a student magazine?

She finished her drink without tasting it.

Had Terrence been privy to this excruciating information during the entire course of her Parliamentary career? Had he experienced mental flashes of the pants, so to speak, every time he had reprimanded her for a minor misdemeanour or refused her request to be appointed to a Bill Committee?

She thought not. It was equally discomfiting for Derek, who could scarcely bear to speak to her and who had avoided her as usual, in The Sceptre Room two days ago.
Why had she been invited to the party at all?

Why had Terrence phoned today?

He was not a friend; she had never believed that he esteemed her talents.

But at first he had been pleasant – and helpful. Her office was spacious; she had been one of the first of the new intake to be appointed to a Select Committee. Ralph Egg had written a puffy piece somewhere or other.

Del Kemp had praised her Maiden Speech – in which she had bid for a super hospital pilot in Fengrove with the piece de resistance being a cleverly crafted hint that her Tory predecessor had been personally responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease.

This had led to a barnstorming performance on Mid-week Medley; the popular television magazine - style slot - a mix of anecdote, report and debate.

It was rare for a Backbencher to feature, but she had deputised for Junior Minister, Gretchen Andrew at short notice and had defended Wendy’s proposed cut in free school dinners with a passion that had earned her praise from Terrence at the late vote.

So far, so surprisingly good – and then treading water for eight years; abandoned to the mercies of Edgar Smith and his constituency henchmen and sinking as planned, stone-like, at the election before last.

How did she get from there to here? (here, sitting solo in a dressing gown, drinking wine before midday at a cracked table in an unsellable house with bits and bobs of jobs? ).

Her eye caught a footnote in The Crier, below the, as yet unread, Ponia’s Picks.

Back With a Bang - Wicks Snuffs Out Deselection Threat.

It was a late cut ‘n paste from a News Agency and would certainly be developed in succeeding days - but the good news was that Gissy had seen off the challenge from Valerie Pringle! It had gone to the edge (as usual with Gissy) and the sitting MP had triumphed on the toss of a coin after recorded votes had produced a dead heat between the candidates.

The bad news was that Gissy’s lover, Westminster PC Pete, had celebrated the victory by letting off a few fireworks on the balcony of their apartment; police had been called and Pete was now being ‘investigated’. In a brief statement, Gissy had pronounced herself pleased to have vanquished Pringle and confident that Pete would not face charges.


Paul absconding with a tart called Meriel, two weeks after her election; leaving his trademark slime of devastation had not been an ideal start to a Parliamentary career.
The news had spread quickly; but Westminster was not Chudleigh and at Westminster, Paul was nobody. And he and not she had been the transgressor….

What had Terrence said today? – that she had always made allowances for people and that it could be considered a fault?

She recalled an incident shortly after her television debut; a one to one with Terrence. It was a Whips’ initiative (quickly dropped) of holding appraisal interviews with MPs. Everything had gone well; she had settled in the Chamber and the feed-back from her Select Committee Chair was good.

But if you’ll take a tip, Terrence had whispered as she left the office, you’ll choose your friends carefully…..

Later that evening, she joined Gissy in the Regular Suite as they waited for the Division Bell and final votes on the Second Reading of the Defence Bill.
Gissy was bursting with tales from her first Select Committee trip to Montreal.

Perry Dryesdale; the Shire Counties’ Tory who had opposed the repeal of Section 28 with a speech of the most graphic sexual content ever to be recorded in Hansard, had been spotted by the Committee Clerk, entering a gay lap dancing club! He had begged the Clerk not to inform the Committee Chair (who was related to his wife) and had spent the remainder of the trip confined to his room with a stomach bug.

Successive glasses of wine had turned an amusing anecdote into knicker-wetting hilarity, and as the Monitor boomed forth with Haydon Groat’s concluding remarks on Polaris, Terrence Gale peered round the door to summon the troops to vote.
They greeted him with squeals and whoops. Gissy was practically crying.

He must have thought they were laughing at him…..

She got through the remainder of the day – somehow.

The noxious certainty that her entire Parliamentary career had been pole-axed at the outset because the Chief Whip thought (wrongly) that she had been let into the secret of a friend’s abortive non- sexual encounter with him (before she had met Gissy Wicks) was more unbearable than the persecution she had endured at the hands of Edgar Smith and the local Party beasts; worse even than her defeat and subsequent difficulties in making financial ends meet.

Year on year, she had sat in the office at re-huffle time, listening to Ida’s consolatory homilies:

In my view, it counts more with the voters if you’re a good constituency MP - too many of the Ministers never even visit their own patches!

knowing that she had about as much chance as a flying penguin of placing a flipper upon even the lowest rung of the promotional ladder – and watching the likes of the hapless and ability-challenged Alice Patterson scale the incline from PPS to Junior Minister, to Minister of State to ----Cabinet.

Alice Patterson….

There, staring from the rogues gallery of Ponia’s Picks was a mug shot of Alice – to the right of Haydon Groat and behind Bill Cornish.

Ponia had composed a form sheet about the refreshed Cabinet’s runners'n'riders – the select few predicted to, in the words of Elizabeth Windsor to the Prince of Wales on his marriage to Camilla Parker- Bowles : overcome Becher’s Brook and the Chair and all kinds of other obstacles to attain the Holy Grail of political success.

Ainsley Beadle afforded the motley crew a patina of respectability; the political veteran could have deputised for Betty Kenward of the late lamented Jennifer’s Diary in each and every circumstance - a hurricane, a tsunami or a military coup, bolstered by graded pearls and never a hair astray.
As for Alice, The Crier had chosen the most unflattering image it could find, begging the question – where had they found it and in what circumstances…..?

Patterson, charged by Wendy to lead the new Department of Consumer Affairs, appeared to be executing a cross between a wink and a leer to camera and the black roots of her blonde hair owed more to accident than design.

The deshabillee effect was ill-fitting for Westminster; perfect for Shepherd’s Market; and entirely in keeping with the tone of Ponia’s commentary:

Alice Patterson; Wendy Runcible’s new consumers’ champion, is the first politician to hold a post of this nature since Shirley Williams carried all before her as Minister for Consumer Protection. And MPs say the cap fits!
Spot on!’ commented a Cabinet colleague who wished to remain nameless. ‘No-one knows more about the doctrine of Conspicuous Consumption than Alice!’

Ms Patterson has held the rock- solid seat of Hegworth Central since bursting onto the national scene as a candidate in 2001 after trouncing two former MPs and the Leader of Hegworth District Council at a controversial selection conference. She is a vocal supporter of her geographical neighbour, Chief Whip Terrence Gale and a convivial figure on the Westminster scene.

As she smarted from the back story of her own inglorious career; Alice Patterson’s meteoric rise was abundantly clear:

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

But Alice had not been a fool. She had shown exemplary acuity and must have been showing it with commendable regularity ever since the pre 1997 Election rally at Silvercliffe when she had adorned the lounge of a rented apartment with vomit after consuming copious amounts of Mr Weston’s good wine at a Scottish ceilidh.

She had locked herself in the bathroom alongside the clothes of Terrence Gale, who had vacated the premises without them, following his rebuff in the kitchen at the hands of candidate, Gissy Wicks. .

Gale could not have been certain what, if anything, Alice Patterson knew about the matter and must have moved swiftly to disarm and doubtless, disrobe her, in interests of evading tabloid exposure and preserving his marriage and career. And a safe seat and Cabinet post in return for favours in kind was a price that neither of them minded paying.

So far, so clear, she mused, opening a packet of Mr Kipling’s Cakes, but she was still no wiser about why she had been invited to the Westminster party of a man who had loathed her for 37 years; or why a Chief Whip who had been thrilled to see the back of her – had telephoned, bearing gifts.

But had he?

Terrence Gale had scarcely spoken to her in The Sceptre Room – although now that she thought about it, he had certainly glanced her way more than once.

Of course, her eyes had been blinded by Ben Bex-Oliver…..

Terrence’s call earlier in the day had been a peculiar mixture of effusiveness and evasion – on the one hand seeming to assure her that the candidacy of Dorlich West was hers for the taking - and at the end of the conversation appearing to resile from that position with praise for Billy Grainger and a tepid promise to call again.

In the words of Emma Woodhouse:

It was a jumble without taste or truth. Who could have seen through such thick-headed nonsense?

One thing, however, was not open to interpretation.

Until about just over a month ago, she had heard nothing whatsoever from Terrence, Derek or indeed any of her former Parliamentary colleagues –for nearly ten years!!

There were times when they could have made their presence felt – not least in the run – up to the Fengrove Constituency Party’s selection of Macey Cline as her successor.

Spiteful comments about her had abounded on Vlad – the most printable being words to the effect that whatever Cline did, short of being arraigned as a serial killer in the style of Aileen Wuornos; she must be an improvement on the former MP, who had shamed the very initials of the post.

Milder commentary in the same strain had popped up in the papers with not-so veiled references to her notoriety as former drinking companion of Radical Raven, Gissy Wicks with a suggestion that supplies of wine in The Regular Suite lasted much longer now that Gissy was forced to drink on her own instead of forming one of the notorious Parliamentary Glimmer Twins.

Had Gale, Cornish, Beadle, Groat ……indeed any of them , come to her defence?


So what was different now?
Why was a former Parliamentary pariah now being courted by all and sundry?
The weasel blandishments of Mike Stubbs came to mind, not to mention, the carefully calibrated references to Traynor – even Wendy herself?

They were all singing from the same hymn sheet and the selection of hymn had mysteriously coincided with the abandonment of Sandra Milford by her husband Bill Cornish, who had set up home with gay lover, Clifford Morledge.

The phone was ringing – and had been for at least a minute.


She found it hard to concentrate upon what her daughter was saying; the line was bad and to be honest, her mind was buzzing with Westminster ---in the way that it had been when Vanessa had called her at the office, more often than not, about a school matter – or a friendship crisis – or a new pair of trainers ---- during her eight year tenure as the MP for Fengrove.

Vanessa was saying something about Paul and his Will --- and OH GOD -- she had completely forgotten that her daughter had been invited to the reading of the Will of Vanessa’s father who was also her own ex-husband. It was bound to be a horrible and traumatic experience; it was taking place NEXT WEEK; Vanessa was driving down a few days in advance and had been contacted by Nicky Jellicoe ( Nicola) asking if she’d like to meet up?

She attempted to cover for the fact that she had totally forgotten about the approach of what was sure to be the most memorable event of her daughter’s life to date.
And that Vanessa would be exposed to the casual ( and deliberate in Gillian’s case) cruelty of all Paul’s horrible relatives – not to mention the sanctimonious Ursula who, as a six-year-old, had angrily insisted that Tiny Tears did poos as well as wees, whatever the evidence to the contrary.

She had let Vanessa down and stood, for the entire world, like Helen Burns on the stool at Lowood in Jane Eyre with the placard saying Slattern around her neck.

In her case it would have been the Not Good Enough Mother...

Well – I’ll call you when I’m back – if you’re interested….snapped Vanessa and ended the call.

And as she sat at her cracked glass table with Mr Kipling’s Cakes; Ponia’s Picks and a wine glass containing the dregs of her consumed, but untasted, glass of Chardonnay, the church bells of the nearby St Michael and All Souls announced the evening service.

She crept into the wheel-backed chair and remembered the Oxbridge set and Paul ordering her to search for a missing book.

Sweetie – we need the Annotated Donne – didn’t you use it recently?

Not recently…..

Paul; Derek; Terrence; Bill; Vanessa; Lynne; Sandra; Gissy…..

Ask not for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee

Perchance I may think myself better than I am


an erased town

the history of Ukraine has mostly been a sad one.  I have been there twice, both times as election observer, at two of the three elections which took place in 2004.  I was in Kyiv first, observing the election in a village outside the city, and the second time in Odessa, a city I am keen to visit again.  Those elections produced, in the end, the Orange party, which resulted in much misplaced euphoria.  The country's politics has not much improved, if at all, since then.  The memories of that country's communities have been systematically erased over time, and it can seem as though the cemeteries are the most living places there.  But don't read me on this, read Alexander J. Motyl, a writer and blogger i have recently discovered who is of Ukrainian origin himself.  Excellent.

Erased memory is part of the theme of a little collection of stories have written, and which is about to appear.  And indeed it touches upon something that Motyl touches upon in the piece I have linked to, in connection with the 20th-century history of Poland and Ukraine, and the role emigration and memory play in taking that history forward.  Or something like that.  Anyway, more soon on my stories, but do read Motyl.

Friday, 13 July 2012

the Gaza you won't see in the Guardian

inside the prison camp
thanks to CiFWatch for this and other pictures taken inside Gaza.  Which the Guardian will never show because they persist in the lie that Gaza is a "concentration camp".  Here are some families doing their shopping, in a supermarket, with, you know, stuff on the shelves.  Oh and Gaza is ruled by Hamas, who are a bunch of Jew-hating terrorists.  Just saying.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The House magazine

has done a little interview with yours truly, as follows:

Where are

they now?

Jane Griffiths, Labour MP for Reading

East, May 1997 to May 2005

THE House What are you up to now?

I have been working at the European Court

of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France,

since 2007. I was an editor at the BBC

World Service for 13 years before becoming

an MP, so in a way it is my trade. The

Court publishes its judgments in English,

or French, or both, and the judgments are

drafted by lawyers from any of the 47

member countries, so where a judgment

has been written by a lawyer whose first

language is not English it is my job to help

it make sense. It’s fascinating work – and I

can tell you most of what is said by the UK

media about the Court is utter rubbish.

THE House How does it compare to

being an MP?

There’s no comparison. I work office hours,

I do Pilates or go swimming at lunchtime

or have lunch with friends, I have the

evenings to myself for reading, writing, the

cinema (Strasbourg has a great cultural

environment), and most importantly my

life is private. I also like the international,

multi-lingual environment I work in. Being

here makes me realise how insular MPs

mostly are. And I have the opportunity to

speak other languages, which I have always


THE House How did you react to losing

your seat / life after standing-down?

I stood down with some relief. I had been

deselected by Reading Labour Party some

15 months previously, and I enjoyed those

last months as an MP, but by then I was

looking forward to a new phase in my life.

Unlike those who lose their seats, I was

able to prepare to leave Parliament, and in

that I was lucky. It is a pity that for most of

the two terms I served I had to fight against

persecution and bullying from a fellow MP

and some within my local party, but hey,

who said politics was easy?

THE House What do you miss about


Tea in the Pugin Room, the Terrace on

summer evenings, and speaking in the

Chamber. That’s a buzz like no other.

THE House What don’t you miss about


Psychological torture by the Chief Whip. And

I am a morning person, so I don’t miss the


THE House Do you keep in touch with


One or two friends from those days. And I

have made some new friends in politics in

France and the wider Europe.

THE House Did you try/would you like

to come back as an MP?

No, and ABSOLUTELY NOT. Don’t jump into

the same river twice.

Do you still follow politics closely?

Yes, it is in the blood.

in fairness

and following the previous post, here is an open message from the male accuser in the case.  He might have been better advised not to put this message in the public domain, but he has, and I note the ugly dead-trees have been sent it too.  btw I don't know the protagonists here, I picked this up from various Facebook friends and online postings, I just thought the response of the Episcopal bishops to this matter was spot on and should be shared.

Erik Campano, the accuser of Ginger Strickland, has sent the following open letter.

From: campano@gmail.com [mailto:campano@gmail.com] On Behalf Of Erik Campano
Sent: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 7:03 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: Public Message

Bishop Matthews, Bishop Henderson, and Presiding Bishop Katherine
Jefferts-Schori: please note that I see in my inbox that there is another decision from the reference panel, but I will not be opening that email for reasons described below. I wish you all PLEASE only the COMPLETE LOVE of CHRIST OUR LORD -- as I wish everyone.

To all my friends and family that I can find to list right now: please publicize the following note, which I have posted on the website of the New York Post and on my Facebook page.

To the Internet:

I do not feel now as I felt when I made that quote. It was immediately after I received the decision, and it was a hasty reaction. I do NOT think it was in the spirit of spiritual reconciliation that I called for. I do not know how I feel now: but I wish to express something more charitable than that comment to the Episcopal Church.

If I have broken any laws, I ask you to point this out to me and take fair legislation against me. Please do not take any illegal or unethical action against me (or anyone else). I have never believed my actions to be illegal, but I may have been unable to judge that, because I am not a legal expert.

I am going, after I post this note, to seek full psychiatric treatment.

I believe I am unstable.

I have asked my family, after I write and post this note on Facebook and the Post website, to physically restrain me from the Internet for one month, or I have been judged by a psychiatrist stabilized. I ask this of everyone. Actions sometimes have unintended consequences, going to the public with this information has produced horrible consequences that I did not intend, and I cannot control. When I made this decision, I believed it to be ethically true. I do not know now.
THAT DOES NOT mean, however, that I discourage any sexual misconduct survivors, male or female, to come forward publicly.

If anyone can definitely figure out whether I have done anything ethically wrong, I would like you to point this out to me. I expect to be constantly examinating my conscience over the next month. When I have become stable again, I will do everything I possibly can to right, personally, any wrongs I have done.

When I initiated the complaints against Ginger and Bishop Whalon, I believed that action to be ethically correct. I still do. However, please note that by the Canonical process I was required to make the cases AGAINST them. I did the best I could, and I think these cases are reasonable. I always did my utmost to only speak TRUE facts.
However, reasonable people can also make the case FOR them, and I encourage both sides to present the most reasonable cases possible, as seems fit for public dialogue. Ultimately, I do still believe that both of them have violated Title IV of the Episcopal Canons.

Beyond this, I am extremely confused about other questions of right and wrong related to this case.

The Post has copies of these documents. So does, obviously, the Episcopal Church. However, I do not know, legally, if they can be shared fully with you.

There are probably other things I should say here which I do not understand now, and more elegant or less sensationalistic ways of expressing them.

Please repost this letter wherever deemed appropriate.

I wish only GOODNESS and RECONCILIATION for Ginger, Bishop Whalon, the church, and all our brothers and sisters - that is, everyone.

Erik Campano

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

that's the way to do it

an assistant curate of the Episcopal church in New York has been subjected to vile, misogynist and apparently entirely untrue coverage (which I will not reproduce) , after she ended a relationship she was having with a parishioner at her previous church.  She was effectively accused too of being a paedophile, although the man she had had a relationship with, who instigated the media coverage, was an adult.  As assistant curate she is an office holder in the church, and accountable to her bishop, to whom she made full disclosure.  If you are an office holder in an organisation and there is lying shitbag media coverage about you, this (below) is the kind of statement those who are senior in the organisation should make to its members.  Usually, they don't.  Take heed.  Especially those in politics.

July 9, 2012

Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We write to express our unqualified support for the Reverend Ginger Strickland, curate at the Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan, over an inaccurate and misleading article which appeared about her in Sunday's New York Post. The article reports the complaint brought against her by Mr. Erik Campano, a person with whom she had a romantic relationship while working as a lay minister at the non-denominational American Church in Paris. In 2011 she broke off the relationship with Mr. Campano and subsequently moved to New York to begin her employ at Incarnation. He then filed a complaint with this diocese stating that he believed that she had violated the church's policies regarding romantic relationships between clergy and parishioners.

The Episcopal Churches in Europe are under the jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishop, and the investigation of this matter was referred to her offices, where it has been conducted in full accord with established church policy. Our own preliminary investigation, though, showed that Mother Strickland had met every canonical obligation in such a relationship by disclosing her friendship with Mr. Campano to her bishop and superiors, and that there was no canonical breach of church policy.
We have complete confidence in our sister Ginger, as do the rector and congregation at the Church of the Incarnation. She is an able priest of good standing, and a person we believe to be of exemplary character. She did not deserve to have this story reported as it was, and we deeply regret the embarrassment this has caused her. We ask the prayers of this diocese for her and assure you of our complete support for her and her continued ministry in the Diocese of New York.

Read, and learn.

Update: Ginger Strickland has been fully exonerated by a range of church investigations.  Now will the media SHUT UP.

Monday, 9 July 2012

the uninvited guest

there was a bit of a do in Reading a few days ago, for soldiers returning from Afghanistan. A Homecoming Parade, held at Brock Barracks. Very dignified and fitting it was too, I am told by some who were there. Many dignitaries, the Mayor of Reading in pride of position, but many other mayors and important people in the VIP enclosure. And a very good thing too, say I. I do not believe councillors were invited qua councillors unless they had a particular connection to the military.  But what's this?  A swish car hums to a halt, and out leaps Derek Plews, former spinner for the military, and now Head of Communications at Reading Borough Council.  The charming Mrs Plews is at his side!  They hustle their way into the VIP enclosure, prompting some of the more elderly be-chained dignitaries to ask each other, "Who is this bespectacled northern oik?"  The more tuned-in of the dignitaries spot the hunched figure being smuggled in between the two Plews (singly would they each be a Plew?) out of lens-reach of the snapping paparazzi, and once in the enclosure that figure draws itself up to its full height, shakes out its poodle perm in the watery sunlight, and commences a rousing discourse, the returning heroes forgotten.  Yes!  Councillor Josephine Lovelock is amongst us!  Three soldiers faint, but the speech continues.  A veil must, from charity, be drawn over what follows.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

flip flop, flippety flop

Here we have the delightful Janet Gavin, sacked schoolmarm with too much time on her hands, telling us how marvellous a park and ride at Palmer Park would be.  Not just marvellous, but essential.  No other spare land in the borough, she trills.  It must be done, she chirps.  Going to happen, she squeals.

And this is what the even more delightful Basher has to say (at least he can spell "micro" - Jannie-babes seems to think it has no "r" - where is the quality control with these people?  Have they put Howarth in charge of it?)

I am pleased to be able to tell you that RBC has abandoned its attempts to introduce a Micro Park and Ride at Palmer Park and Clayfield Copse in Caversham.

The first signs that the Council was prepared to drop the plan started coming last week, however life is never certain and it was not until it was confirmed could we relax.

Well done everyone who campaigned. I will post more details when I have had time to read the Council papers from yesterdays full Council meeting.

Although he can't do apostrophes, as we see.  My rates are very reasonable, you grammar-challenged folk clearly do need some help.  Park Ward Labour party campaigned, it seems, against this Labour plan.  Which has now disappeared. And never existed.  Meanwhile, Cllr Gavin tweets to inform us that she is in the business-class lounge on her way into exile.

We have always been at war with Eurasia... 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

dog whistle

not racist.  No.
is what is being used by the LibDems here.  The Tory candidate they are fighting is gay, and they use the words "it's a straight fight".  Which of course is perfectly innocent language, hein?  No.  Dog whistle is a very simple thing.  You use plain language about your opponent, and it contains a code word or words which indicate that you are contrasting your party's candidate with the other one by saying that person is gay, or black, or otherwise "other", and your candidate is not.  It could be a number of things.  Typically it is sexuality or race.  Reading Labour has form on this too, as recently as this year's local elections, remember? Reading Labour's white girl is "one of us", unlike the Tory candidate, who was born in Pakistan.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Purse

would be, I suppose, the title in English of this book, Le Porte-Monnaie, by Ali Mansour.  Although if I were translating it I would probably choose another title.  I cannot find that it has been translated into English, but it should be.  If anyone's listening out there, me!  I'll do it!  Ali Mansour is Tunisian, the son of a Tunis docker, and he now lives in Strasbourg.  I read his book because it is the French book our new book group is going to talk about in September.  I had not heard of it, or him, before.  It is a wonderful book.  Set in the Tunisia of Ben-Ali, now mercifully departed, its hero is a wise child, the 12-year-old Souleymane, and its heart is a mystery.  Where did the purse of money come from?  What did Souleymane's mother do when she left him alone?  Why did the police chief play out the cruel piece of theatre he did?  Because he could?  Or for darker reasons?  I could see this as a film - reading it I could smell the spices and harissa and the rain on the pavements.  It is a study in corruption and redemption and revenge.  If you can read French read it immediately.  btw the French is simple - I could read it easily with no dictionary and that is certainly not true of everything I read in French.

consider yourself bound

Norm reproduces the text of a letter to the Jewish Chronicle, to which he is one of the signatories, as follows:

It is a matter of great regret that Lord Sacks has chosen to make a statement in his official capacity opposing the right of gay and lesbian men and women to marry. Even if same-sex marriage is contrary to Jewish law, it does not compromise the position of Orthodox Jews to let others marry as they wish. Lord Sacks has sought to influence how the generality of the population leads its life.
Further, and contrary to the submissions of the Beth Din, the change in the law will not force religious officers to officiate same-sex marriages against their wish. The law will apply only to secular ceremonies of marriage over which, by necessary definition, religious officers do not preside.
Jewish law may prohibit same-sex relations and among those Jews who consider themselves bound by Jewish law it operates as a restraint on how they may otherwise live their lives. But Jewish law can play no part in a modern secular society in restricting the lives of non-Jews - and Jews - who do not accept its restraints. The proper response to the consultation should have been: it is not our proper business to comment. Speaking when silence is required is no virtue.
The letters signatories are: Simone Abel, Lisa Appignanesi, Jeremy Brier, Professor Josh Cohen, Daniel Finkelstein, Stephen Fry, Eve Garrard, Jonny Geller, Professor Norman Geras, Caren Gestetner, Professor Simon Goldhill, Richard Hermer QC, Dr David Hirsh, Julia Hobsbawm, Anthony Julius, James Libson, Karen Mattison, Lord Parry Mitchell, The René Cassin Organisation, Dr Felix Posen, Dinah Rose QC, Clive Sheldon QC, Dina Shiloh, Katy Showman, David Toube, Paul Usiskin.
Seems spot on to me.  If you operate within a theology that binds some of the choices in how you live your life, as Orthodox (and many other) Jews do, then that is your choice,  Of course, if you live in a society in which you are not allowed to choose (Iran and many others) that is a whole different matter.  But no canon law of any faith can or should attempt to regulate the lives of those who are not of that faith, still less the activities of secular state bodies.  If you practise a faith then you accept the restraints it may place upon your activity and behaviour.  My nephew is a member of a Catholic lay order which requires celibacy.  That is one kind of restraint, which he has chosen.  In email conversation with a noted Catholic theologian of my acquaintance (OK, it was my brother) he described himself as "taking very seriously" the disciplines and dictates of the Catholic Church over the centuries.  Nobody made him do that.  Unless, you may say, God made him do it.

My point here is not a theological one.  I am not qualified, nor would I wish, to debate theology.  My point is that the dictates of faith rub up against secular laws quite often in the "free" Western societies, and there is no need for them to.  Faith groups should just leave it alone.  Where there is an established church it gets a bit more problematic, as in England.  But I am against the established church.  And I am, these days, a practising Anglican, and I wish, wish, wish the Anglican Communion would leave it alone too.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Beatrice Mead

Her family name was Johnson, and it was said that her family were connected with a family both rich and louche - the Rollwrights of Ebury Street Westminster.  There was a remembered scene in which two aunts, or maybe older cousins, who had left the family home and who wore make-up and furs (this would be about 1904) and who were said to be actresses, appeared at a family occasion:  there was an altercation, and rings were pulled off and thrown into the fireplace, possibly because of an inheritance.  This memory is as told to me by my grandmother, also Beatrice Mead, who witnessed something like this as a small child.  The elder Beatrice, as has been said, came from a family which had (perhaps) fallen on hard times.  She married a man named Mead, who owned, it was said,  several pubs in south London.  Quite soon they had a son, George, but after that the babies, who arrived annually, turned blue and died within hours of birth. It is likely that Beatrice was blood group rhesus negative, so the first child was rhesus positive and the antibodies in her blood killed the later ones.  At that time nobody knew about this.  A few years later another child was born and survived, named Beatrice too.  She was my maternal grandmother, and was rhesus negative, which is presumably why she survived.  Later, fourteen years later, a sister, Doris, known as Doll, and later still a brother, Fred.

Mr Mead, my great-grandfather, drank away the money and lost the pubs, it was said.  He did not live to a great age.  Beatrice Mead, his widow, known as Gran, became the matriarch of the family, and through the 1920s and 30s, as the men of the family joined the army, came back, lost their jobs, found new ones and lost them again in the Depression, it was to her house they came.  Everyone was taken in, and had a place to stay.  Children slept on window sills and underneath curtains: young men ironed shirts in the sitting-room; cousins formed alliances and told stories on Saturday nights as the men drank light ale and the older ones played cards.  The younger Beatrice, always known as Sissy to her family, married Leonard Thomas, of a Welsh family, whose brothers were lay preachers.  They were my maternal grandparents.  They had four children.  The firstborn, Lenny, died at the age of four from complications of mastitis.  Two years later their first daughter, Patricia, was born, in 1928, followed by Betty in 1930 and Tony in 1936.  All four looked exactly like their father.  Patricia was my mother, born in south London and married to my father, John Griffiths, in north-west London in 1952.  I was born in 1954, my brother Paul in 1955 and my sister Sara in 1959, all of us in South Ruislip, north-west London.

Beatrice Mead the younger (who was Mrs Thomas by then of course), known to us as Granny, lived a walk away when we were small and was often in our house.  We loved her very much.  She had fierce blue eyes and a fighting spirit that she used in defence of her family her whole life - although she could be critical of her grandchildren, no-one else was allowed to be.  She was bemused by the marriage of her youngest and favourite child, Tony, to a Norwegian woman, my Auntie Inger, a laughing blue-eyed Scandinavian, and his departure to live in Norway in 1962, where he remains.  They had one child, Stephen, my youngest cousin, who is the only blond in my maternal family.

Beatrice senior, our Gran, lived with Granny at the time of my earliest memories.  I was afraid of her.  I was her eldest great-grandchild, and so should have been best placed to understand, but I didn't really.  Gran's behaviour was strange.  She growled and muttered.  One time she stood between us cousins and the television we were watching and said "These children and their filthy talk, they've got to get out!"  I knew our talk wasn't filthy, but I didn't know what to say.  The others kept their eyes firmly on the television screen.  In those days nobody talked about dementia.  I remember my father using the words "going senile".    Then, when I was about seven, Granny had a new flat, and she and Grandad were there.  We used to love going to visit them.  We had Christmas there more than once.  Later, Granny came to live with us, after Grandad died.  But Gran died only some years after that, when I was thirteen.  She was ninety-six.  And I found out only recently that, probably soon after the "filthy talk" incident, Gran had been "put away".  Granny went to visit her every week, sometimes accompanied by my mother.  Aunt Doll, her younger daughter, would not go, after the first time, the place was horrible, she said.  And, it seems, it was horrible.

I remember Gran from when I was little, and I remember when she died, when I was thirteen, but I had, and have, no memory of her in the intervening years, the ones when she was put away,  She was at Granny's house, then she wasn't.

I put this to my mother, very recently.

She said, "You children never asked about her."