Monday, 29 October 2012

about as pure as a cribhouse whore

people put links up on blogs, Twitter, wherever, and write things like "This is interesting", and I think, "I'll read that in a bit",  And then I don't get round to it, and Twitter has moved on to other topics.  So here I'm reproducing a post from Language Log  about English - which is the language correcting which I make my living (see what I did there?).  Thanks to all.  I think all the correct hat-tips are in there.
Kory Stamper at harm·less drudg·ery responds to a correspondent who is sincerely troubled by the illogic of irregardless ("No Logic in 'Etymological': A Response I Actually Sent",  10/24/2012):
English is a little bit like a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the goddamned light sockets. We put it in nice clothes and tell it to make friends, and it comes home covered in mud, with its underwear on its head and someone else’s socks on its feet. We ask it to clean up or to take out the garbage, and instead it hollers at us that we don’t run its life, man. Then it stomps off to its room to listen to The Smiths in the dark.
Everything we’ve done to and for English is for its own good, we tell it (angrily, as it slouches in its chair and writes “irregardless” all over itself in ballpoint pen). This is to help you grow into a language people will respect! Are you listening to me? Why aren’t you listening to me??
Like  well-adjusted children eventually do, English lives its own life. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like one of the Classical languages (I bet Latindoesn’t sneak German in through its bedroom window, does it?). We can threaten, cajole, wheedle, beg, yell, throw tantrums, and start learning French instead. But no matter what we do, we will never really be the boss of it. And that, frankly, is what makes it so beautiful.
Of course, language peevers' claims about logic, etymological or otherwise, are oftenillogical. And peeving is often more like adolescent arrogance than adult wisdom. But Kory's presentation of the "language as a wayward child" metaphor is still an instant classic, rivaling James D. Nicoll's 1990 "English as inveterate lexical criminal" metaphor:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
[via John McIntyre at You Don't Say]

Saturday, 27 October 2012

two girls

those two girls
this picture has gone everywhere in the last couple of days, and I think it's great.  I especially love some of the faces in the background.   This happened in France, at a rally against equal marriage, and the two girls, age 17 and 19, happened to be walking by.  I've just seen them interviewed on TV. They did it to make a gesture, they said, because they thought the people at the rally were motivated by hate, and they wanted to do something that was the opposite of hate.  They're not lesbian, not  that that matters here.  They were roundly abused by people attending the rally, they said, and called disgusting, and worse.  I love them.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Savile, the stars, and young flesh

Plenty has been said about the late Jimmy Savile, the BBC and who knew what when.  Much hypocrisy has been engaged in.  But it's really quite simple.  Savile liked young flesh, when he could get it.  Anyone who knew him personally knew that.  I worked at the BBC from 1984 to 1997, nowhere near the Jim'll Fix It studios, ,and I heard the rumours.  I heard that there always had to be a chaperone present when Savile and girls in their early teens were in the studio.  Well, shouldn't there always have been?  I modelled a bit when I was a child, and there was always a chaperone there.  My son acted and modelled as a child, and there was always a chaperone there.  The chaperones had to be there because everyone knew what men might do to children who had no-one there to protect them. Savile cultivated an utterly eccentric image and bawled his catchphrases so that nobody could see his real face.  It's that simple.

Savile wasn't a paedophile.  No more was Wilfrid Brambell, who was known to be similarly inclined (and who cultivated the image of a leering, dirty old man because - that was what he was.  Clever.)  Those two just liked them young.  Young, but post puberty.  Gary Glitter, now, I think he likes them younger than that.  He went to South-East Asia, where the girls look younger than they do in the West, and where puberty happens later.  And he emerged on to the scene a bit later, when there was less tolerance of such behaviour, so he is now disgraced, as Savile and Brambell were not in their lifetimes. Jonathan King, of course, did not get away with it.  He went to prison in 2001.  But he liked boys, not girls.

I was a teenager from 1967 to 1974.  I was groped, fondled and molested many times.  It happened routinely.  A friend of  your father's giving you a lift home, a man on a bus, a hand up your skirt in a crowded place, nothing out of the ordinary there. I didn't like it, but I learned to deal with it, and I don't consider myself to have been abused. It didn't happen to me so much after I was about 15 - I looked more like a grown woman by then.  And besides, I was going out with boys by then.  Which was a whole other minefield.  You had to let them do enough so you weren't a prick-tease, and not enough to get you called easy.  How glad I am those days are (more or less) gone.  My daughter has been able to have easy friendships with boys in a way that I rarely could back then.  If you were friendly with a boy people assumed it was sexual.  Not any more.

So, that was the culture.  Savile got away with it because men in positions of power could.  Savile protected himself by focusing on young girls who were vulnerable, who did not have parents around protecting them.  The BBC isn't particularly at fault here.  It's wrong to single it out when everywhere was the same.  All that has happened is that conduct like this is now disapproved of.  Rightly.  To prey upon young girls who are not yet used to their own sexuality, who are susceptible, as all young girls are, to flattery and being told they are attractive, is despicable.  But when men could routinely get away with it, they did it.  Not just TV stars  Not just Jimmy Savile.  Ordinary men everywhere.  Men like your dad, behaving despicably.  And the girls, if they got more than a passing grope, were silly little sluts who deserved what they got.

Young flesh is still a commodity, around the world.  It shouldn't be, but it is.

I would only say that preying upon young girls is not paedophilia.  Abusing children is different from, and worse than, what Savile did.  And there is a danger, in this situation in which the BBC is tying itself in knots, of forgetting that.  Human sexuality is not simple.  But knowing what is right and what is wrong is simple.  Though never easy.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

hair shirts are being worn, it seems

you can read here some tut-tuttery about MPs travelling first class.  Apparently, these days they shouldn't.  Or only if it is cheaper than standard class.  Which of course it can be, sometimes.  Sig other and I benefited from first class travel from Derbyshire to London in September while on holiday, because we booked well in advance.  When I was an MP I always travelled first class between London and the constituency in Reading, a short journey, because I could.  We had travel warrants to use for that purpose.  My journey was more civilised that way, not because of the quieter carriages and more comfortable seats, but because people knew my face and buttonholed me on a regular basis.  Seems to me that MPs could be organised, book in advance and pay the upgrade themselves to go first class.  I would.  But leave the tut-tuttery.  Those journos get expenses (and fiddle them on a regular basis) and would hate it if anyone looked at that.  There were, and may still be, expenses fiddles which are far worse, and more expensive to the taxpayer, than first class travel.  Such as Mr Salter claiming 1000 pounds a month between 1997 and 2001 for rent on a London property he did not have.  Which is criminal fraud.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

she's blogging now

my attention has been drawn, as they say, to a new blog being written by a Labour councillor for Church ward in Reading.  You can read it here, and marvel at the Howarthian spelling and punctuation errors.  Which councillor?  Oh you know the one, she was elected with the help of a racist dog-whistle.
dog-whistle girl

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Best Blessings of Existence 36

Emma B. makes a welcome return.

In which testosterone is vanquished - for now.

She wound down the car window and flicked ash from her cigarette. A faded hotel sign marked the end of a journey.


As delegate, it had been her task to make the arrangements: three nights’ bed and breakfast; evening meal optional.  It had been an exciting prospect – in theory. 
In practice; the Party begrudged the price of a bus ticket, and her suggestion of pilfering the Deposit Account to finance half decent accommodation, met deaf ears and blind eyes. 

The Deposit Account was Frankenstein’s Creature; fed and watered by its wardress; Treasurer Clare Butcher.

It stood at £8,000 and was regularly plumped by proceeds from the monthly meat raffle; a ‘workplace scratch card lottery’; takings from forecourt car boot sales outside the Duke and ‘rummage mornings’ in the St John’s Ambulance Hall.
It commandeered the agenda at Constituency meetings and she suspected that, like the Cumaean Sybil, it would hang in perpetuity long after she and the rest of the comrades had dissolved into dust.

The approach of her first meeting had been accompanied by rapidly alternating twinges of apprehension and terror.

Becoming a political activist was a big thing - like having sex; giving birth or entering a nunnery. She had done the first two and marriage to Paul made the third seem desirable. Now she was voluntarily embarking upon a fourth; maybe more terrible than all three combined.

Are you actually going to go to this shindig? Paul had scoffed; sliding his John Lennon specs up and down the bridge of his nose. They’ll have you basket weaving and tin rattling for the poor! I expect they think we’re filthy rich….. Oh really darling!  Doesn’t Mummy look silly, Ness Ness?!!!

She looked silly and she felt silly. She had no idea what you wore when you went to a political meeting and so she had decided to play safe by donning her interview suit; a dated navy ‘two piece’ with a matching patent bag.

Mummy silly! squealed Vanessa, clapping her hands.

Well, I hope you think it’s worth getting Christine in for this. Wouldn’t you rather watch that film? And if you’re not going to watch it, why on earth did you get it out? It all costs money.. 

Paul’s tone was querulous. It was darts night at The Duke and he naturally expected her to babysit.

After the Tuffnall dinner, she had made a point of name-checking her forthcoming political meeting; slipping it into conversation at every opportunity and sacrificing her weekly dose of Dallas in favour of a current affairs programme.

All too often, Realpolitik concentrated upon the doings of the new MPs with Derek Kingsmill invariably one of their number.
He was completely unprepossessing; she could not imagine why he was such a fixture – although she later understood that these were the very qualities that made him indispensable to Party bosses.

One week there he would be, ankles crossed on the interview sofa; examining his fingernails; denouncing nuclear weapons and their advocates as contemptible in every respect.
Next week he would remark en passant, that really, there was something to be said for maintaining a nuclear arsenal as an international bargaining chip.  

How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?
And if the party says it is not four but five, then how many?

She watched Derek’s master class in the art of the political somersault with mounting feelings of incredulity and distaste. It was despicable – surely he would be exposed and denounced? Of course he was not, and as she made methodical notes in a loose-leafed ring-binder, she sensed that she was becoming au fait with matters of greater import than the trade deficit.

Now, however, the prospect of an evening of vicarious pleasure with  Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice seemed deliciously inviting – or at any rate, preferable to a shot in the dark courtesy of the St John’s Ambulance Hall. She was quite simply, scared witless and was tempted to feign a sudden headache but the door opened; Christine stepped in and she was compelled to step out. 

To go we know not where…

When Paul returned, she had arranged herself upon the Habitat corner chair; eating a caramel from a box of Black Magic.  She sported her Dietrich-style lounging pyjamas; purchased at an exorbitant cost from the new Next shop and sipped nonchalantly from a glass of Bailey’s.  The effect, she hoped, was stylish, confident; in control, and it was lost on Paul, who was mentally replaying the final darts match. One of the regulars had failed to turn up and the replacement had been unfortunate.
He was pissed as a parrot – a total bloody write off. And when we left he did a Technicolor yawn in the car park….

And how was your meeting? (in a tone both insouciant and insulting).
Darling, what on EARTH is the matter? You’re wriggling on that chair as if you’ve got piles!

Excellent, she retorted; ignoring the barb and deciding that lounging pyjamas were all very well for Marlene Dietrich but decidedly out of place on a Habitat corner seat, reduced in the sale.  You’d better see how Christine’s fixed for Thursday evenings - if you’re continuing with the darts?  

It had been worth it to see her husband’s habitual expression; self satisfaction mingled with wry amusement, morphing into bewilderment and something approaching vexation.

If only he knew. He did not know – and she was not going to tell him - how hateful her evening had been

The St John’s Ambulance Hall was not a hall but a hut, opposite the disused outdoor swimming complex. Its unique selling point as a meeting place was that it was cheap and lacked all creature comforts including heating.  She had opened the door upon a depressing scene; eight people of disparate age sitting on wire-backed chairs; arms folded and feet lightly stamping. They were watching a portable television set and nobody smiled or spoke as she slid into the only available chair and became one of them.

The black and white picture flickered in and out of focus. 

A man in a trilby hat bearing a remarkable similarity to ITV’s Reginald Molehusband was climbing stairs inside a faux tower block, itself as inauthentic as the kerb which Molehusband’s vehicle habitually scaled during the commercial break between Coronation Street and World in Action.  He stopped at the top, cleared his throat and turned to camera, displaying a clipboard. 

The dos and don’ts of canvassing.

As far as she could ascertain; the aim was singular: not to engage the unsuspecting house or flat holder in conversation about anything in general and politics in particular. She stole a glance at the cagoules (who had come to grief at the first hurdle when they had knocked on her door during the General Election campaign) but they were opening cans of lager and did not appear to be listening. 

The aim of the exercise was to identify the vote. 

Once this objective had been achieved, the canvasser’s next goal was to extricate him or herself as quickly as possible from the doorstep situation whilst simultaneously closing gates to avoid the entrance or escape of marauding animals.
Under no circumstances whatsoever was the canvasser to enter the premises and should not accept tea, coffee or comestibles from the occupants.

As a public relations exercise, it was not people–friendly, and was doubtless a contributory factor to the appalling General Election result.

Well, said a large middle aged man whom she could vaguely recall  I expect that’s given us all food for thought. And (addressing her in a tone of forced jollity) we have a new member.

He looked familiar because he had stood in her kitchen only three weeks ago – in his professional capacity as the Gridchester Borough Council Rodent Officer. 

She had arrived home from the usual trials at GC to find Vanessa fractious and Christine tense.  Steeling herself for the worst; Christine giving notice and the prospect of finding a half competent replacement; her equilibrium had been rocked by reports of a black shape attached to a tail scurrying behind the fridge.
 Paul had scoffed at her fear that the legendary infestation at Wellington Parade
(A deliciously nasty story, culminating in a whiskery rat positively preening itself at Sandra Milford) was about to be replayed in the scullery at Binley. He had purchased a set of wooden traps but when the body count (of mice) showed no sign of abating  and disposal assumed its place in morning routine alongside putting out the empties ) she had called in the  professionals.

Brian Pelleroe appeared decidedly under-dressed in tonight’s mustard- and sludge sartorial choices of fisherman’s jersey and corduroy trousers, but it was hard to dismiss his previous incarnation in top to toe protective clothing plus facemask and rubber over-shoes. It was also well nigh impossible to forget his encomium on domestic cleanliness; or detestable gloat when he had brandished a gloved finger, fresh from its foray behind the fridge, encrusted with crumbs, fluff and something black and sticky     

They like DIRT; had been his parting shot, after priming her kitchen with poison.

You won’t find vermin in a clean house…..

And now there he stood and there she sat; inwardly sympathising with the animals chemically rotting under her floorboards as a result of his skill.

Bound to be confusing at first he had said, returning to the agenda.
But you’ll soon get the hang of it….

As she retrieved her bag from the car boot where it was wedged next to Brian’s rucksack and the tan leather holdall of Hazel and Martin Sweet (the cagoules) she supposed she had got the hang of it.

Well, of course it’s exciting! she had bragged to her parents who were holding the fort at Binley so that Paul could continue his visits to The Duke.

(He works so hard dear, it’ll be no trouble)

Her mother had been perplexed nonetheless; why would she wish to spend a weekend away from Paul and Vanessa?

Good question.

Rockley-on-Sea had no redeeming features. It was a tired and charmless coastal resort in the North West, with a shingle beach and a shabby pier.
Union bosses and middle-ranking MPs had made reservations at the Conference hotel; The Pavilion Palace a four star establishment that had seen better days.
The likes of herself, Brian and the Sweets took pot luck with Wimbury-style boarding houses and the Party Leader remained purely for the duration of his speech before decamping to London in his Rover SD1. Her appointment as delegate, like her membership of the Constituency Central Committee, had been in default of other applicants. The pattern was depressingly familiar.
A vacancy would occur; nominations would be requested; none would be forthcoming; then somebody (usually staff nurse Gail Pitt) would say;

Well, I do think we ought to be sending SOMEBODY (to the Committee/Conference/Benefits Workshop etc) …. I’d really love to go, but it clashes with Vic’s fishing club and it’s Daisy’s night at Brownies... Then somebody else (possibly retired fitter, Fred Hoy) would chip in;

It should be a youngster! The Party needs new blood!

As the youngest by a decade; she was ‘elected’ unopposed and soon boasted  a political CV full of sound and fury; signifying nothing because the  Election fiasco had prompted a majority of  comrades to bale out  in favour of football; feeling the burn with Jane Fonda’s Workout or  TV dinners and Trivial Pursuit.

She became Vice Chair of this and Secretary of that; different committees; same faces and always meeting in The St John’s Ambulance Hall (Thursdays) and the back room of The Duke (Tuesdays). The Duke was warmer, but a congenial temperature was offset by the deeply uncongenial task of running the meat raffle.

One for a pound and four for a fiver provided an entrée into a lottery for lamb, beef or chicken.

The road to Downing Street is paved with chipolatas Paul had laughed when she ran the gauntlet of the public bar; fleeing a drunken Fatty who had won the breakfast pack and was waggling a chipolata in the region of his groin.

I thought persuasion was your thing, said Lynne; her voice over the telephone tinged with boredom  (Barbecues in St Johns Wood had little in common with breakfast packs in Binley, and the sausages were better.)

And why is it all about food?

It wasn’t about politics – or not as she understood it.  But maybe food was political – and a tool in female subjugation, whether implicit   (Jane Fonda’s Workout; the F Plan diet) or explicit (the Party’s Christmas Catalogue).The contents of the Catalogue were drearily predictable; replica miners’ lamps; a biography of the former Leader (remaindered in shops); seasonal greetings cards featuring the Tory Prime Minister channelling Scrooge – and a new line in kitchenware.

Now this, Treasurer Claire Butcher had asserted, is a winner – and I think we can leave it with the Women’s Section. We get a percentage on sales – and everything goes to the Deposit Account.

The gaping maw of the Deposit Account; money going in, never coming out.

I’m not sure…she had ventured hesitantly, that we should be promoting these…

Clare Butcher was a shapeless individual of middle years with a pepper’n salt feather cut and the hint of a double chin, who favoured ankle-flapping drawstring trousers in dishcloth greens and greys. She worked in the Accounts Division of the Peacock Heating Company, where her husband Ron, a burly man with springy ginger hair, was an engineer. They ruled the Central Committee and applied a permanent dampener to political campaigning.  And they controlled the purse strings. 

Oh? offered Clare, placing her beer glass on the table.
And why is that?

I just don’t think, she persisted, that we ought to be selling tea towels and rubber gloves featuring pictures of Emmeline Pankhurst or bread boards with line drawings of the Match Girls. It’s not the right image and I think we should complain.

Clare Butcher inclined her head:

I know you’ve only been a member for a short time, but I’m sure you’ll understand eventually that the suffragettes and Match Girls hold a very special place in our hearts. They represent women’s struggle; and we honour that sacrifice today. In everything that we do. We wouldn’t be HERE if it wasn’t for them!

She was tempted to retort that if the heroines of history had merely paved the way to The Duke and the meat raffle then the struggle had been fruitless – but ploughed on:

That’s not the point though, is it?
I think it sends out the message that a woman’s place is in the kitchen - and I don’t think that we should continue with the Women’s Section Tupperware parties either…

The Pavlovian outcry was orchestrated by a sanctimonious Clare who had much in common with the Chudleigh matrons. 

In fact, she reflected; inching past anonymous knees en route to her seat; apart from geographical location; accent and income, there was little to distinguish them. 
Now that two hours of unimpeded boredom stood between her and the homeward journey it was time to admit that her political journey had been a parochial dead end.

She had known it from the outset – or at least from the dying throes of her first meeting in the St Johns’ Ambulance hut.  All she had got the hang of after nearly a year of unparalleled tedium  was that local politics was the excuse used by an especially dreary and mean-spirited bunch to exit the house and enter the pub.

The Duke did very nicely from the hire of its back room, but the welfare of local people benefited not a jot. She had suggested a benefits campaign and a survey of public transport users, following the decommissioning of a popular bus. To no avail.

She had written a letter to The Gridchester Telegraph about vandalism in the children’s play park –only to be informed by a patronising Pelleroe that all contact with the media must be approved by the Chair.

The comrades were not comradely and she had now spent the equivalent of a mini break in a dire hole; eating unspeakable food and sharing a less than clean boarding house toilet with people she disliked and who despised her.

She had missed Dallas and The Jewel in the Crown primarily for the purpose of vexing Paul who paddled serenely on the lake of her feelings like an insensitive Canada goose. Time to admit defeat.

And they called us lesbians and urinated in the milk because we wouldn’t take the notes – well why should we? And then they tried to get us thrown off the Parliamentary list - and I don’t see why a lift to a life skills course means sex on demand for the driver and …

She was interested in spite of herself, by the outrageous tale. The speaker, Faith Tantridge representing Hambury Wells, and another woman, had paid over the odds to attend a life skills course, run by a trade union consortium in London. On arrival, they had rejected the assumption by a male participant that the women should act as secretaries. 

Testosterone had fuelled aggression later that day, when her friend Sheridan had rebuffed a sexual advance by the same man and the two of them had then been subjected to ritual humiliation of such a vicious and extreme nature that they had abandoned the course in mid session.

The men had refused to apologise     

Right of reply!!! bellowed a fat man (who had been dozing on the front row) following his crotch onto the stage. 

No - SORRY, SISTER (elbowing the sobbing female delegate and snatching the microphone) Chair’s right of reply!

I have NEVER in all my years of coming to Conference, had to listen to such a load of DRIVEL! The BROTHERS this SISTER has abused aren’t here and can’t defend themselves. It’s the coward’s way!

If WIMMIN can’t stand the political heat; they should get back to the kitchen and COOK their Husbands’ DINNERS instead of wasting Conference time on muck like this!!

Shut up, love, and GO HOME!!

She had missed her chance in the transport debate but now her legs carried her up; past the knees, down the aisle and onto the stage. She was wearing jeans and a black leather jacket; the Ulrika Meinhof look. She did not care about her looks; Paul; Vanessa; Lynne; Chudleigh; Frances Hunt; Chester Chase; Truscotts; Tuffnalls; Butchers and Pelleroes.

Women, she cried don’t need ‘life courses’ because they are the lifeblood of this Party. They take the notes; make the cakes; run the crèches; massage the egos and sometimes OTHER PARTS of the men! 

They raffle the meat; sell the Tupperware; book the rooms; sit at the polling station and deliver the leaflets.  And if they were taking the floor at Westminster, instead of scrubbing it in Binley – then we’d be in Downing Street not Drayton Street, wasting our time at the seaside!

The legs propelled her off the stage; down the aisle to the door and then she heard the roar and the stamping from the people standing; smiling; clapping and cheering.

She was going home, but she had come home and was not for turning.

Not again.  Not now. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

red chairs in Sarajevo

Picture: BBC
It was twenty years ago today, as the song goes.  Well, it was 20 years ago that the war started in Bosnia as part of the break-up of Yugoslavia.  11,541 people are known to have been killed.  The longest siege in history, a war and atrocities in Europe.  This was never supposed to happen, but it did.  Bosnia has its problems, and is not yet a united country, but Sarajevo these days is a peaceful and dignified city.  Today the people of Sarajevo are remembering their dead, as Radovan Karadzic goes on trial in The Hague.  Red chairs have been placed in the street in the centre of Sarajevo, one for each person killed, and people have been putting flowers on the chairs.  The anti-interventionists who comment here - was all this really nothing to do with "us"?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

the annus mirabilis

of the rock album was 1971, says David Hepworth on his blog here .  I know boys like lists, and I don't, much, but it is worth remembering how much great stuff in the form of albums was put out that year.  Some names on the list make me reach for the iTunes Store - Dory Previn, John Prine, Grin.  This was mostly music made by war babies.  We boomers did glam and punk, I guess.  Anyway, look at the list and see if you are reminded or inspired by anything on it.  I was.  I haven't thought in terms of albums for some time now, I just download tracks I want, or listen on Spotify, and I dislike CDs, always have - they just take up space and you have to go to IKEA and buy lots of Billy bookshelves to put them on.  Our sitting room would be quite big if it was not for significant other's CD shelves taking up the whole of one wall.

What am I listening to now?  Two very different things, and both of them albums.  Sexion d'Assaut, "L'Apogee", if you don't know them they are a high-class rap collective from Paris, seven fellows who know which way is up.  If they weren't francophone they would be big all over the world.  I have a ticket to see them in Strasbourg on 20th October, v. excited.  Naturally enough, because I am (just a little) older than the average demographic of their fans, I paid 10 euros more for my ticket and I have a seat.  Also, Bob Dylan's latest, "Tempest".  I've liked his last three albums very much, classy tight-knit blues.  On the latest one I especially like his song for John Lennon (more than 30 years since John was murdered, just think), "Roll on John".

In 1971 I was seventeen, and it was probably the year in my life when the greatest concentration of important things happened to me.  I had an email conversation with my brother recently about this very thing. A great deal of what and who I am now is because of things that happened that year.  It's only now that I begin to understand them, and the same is true of the music which came out then.  I've written a group of stories, to come out soon, which are loosely based on episodes of my younger life (though, I hasten to point out, they are not about me and the events in them did not happen to me), and I'm rather pleased with them.  I'm nearly always pleased with the stuff I write, which is probably not a good thing.  The first one is set in Berlin in 1971, and is called "Spandau Sweetheart".  The title is a very conscious homage to Haruki Murakami, the laces of whose shoes I am not fit to tie, but I don't try to write like him.  On the final read-through of the stories I realised that they are actually a bit porny.  That's not what I set out to write, but it's what I have written.  And no, I haven't read "Fifty Shades of Grey", and don't intend to.  If you would like to read "Spandau Sweetheart" free, send me a message and I'll send you a pdf.

The Taleban banned music.  An act of great wickedness, though not the wickedest thing that bunch of barbarians has ever done.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Peter Hennessy, Distilling the Frenzy

This book is interesting in that Hennessy is a historian who writes not about the past but about now.  We understand the present by understanding the past, it is said, but this is the other way round – perhaps we can understand something of Britain’s history by looking at where we are now.  That’s the idea, anyway.  And it works, kind of.  He begins with a grand meeting in the very grand Locarno Room of the Foreign Office in 2011, in which William Hague looks at the role of the Foreign Secretary, and, by extension, at Britain’s place in the world.  Almost immediately we are reminded that defence reviews have come and defence reviews have gone, and most of them have been technical documents, many of which have had to be scrapped or revised because of unforeseen world events (the Korean War, Suez, 9/11).  On very few occasions has there been a vision attached.  One of those occasions was the publication under Macmillan in 1959 of a document entitled ‘Future Policy Study’, done in great secrecy and looking forward to what Britain’s place in the world was expected to be up to 1970.  Hennessy rather wistfully hopes for something similar to be created by the present government (he is a cross-bench peer), but does not appear optimistic.  He notes that Britain is a nuclear nation, that no government has wished for it to cease to be so, and inevitably cites Nye Bevan’s “send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber” speech to Labour party conference in 1957 as an example of this.  Not that Labour were in government at the time.  Whatever else Bevan was, as a politician and as a political thinker and strategist (some might argue that he was effectively none of these things) he was committed to the notion that it is governments which do things, and which change things.  Parties in opposition can do nothing.  The first Labour leader to understand that was arguably Tony Blair.  (Which does not appear to be Hennessy’s view: it is mine.)

The Bomb, and versions of it, has exercised parliamentarians, and political thinkers, since 1945.  Every vote on such matters has been controversial, mainly but not always in the the Labour Party.  In 2007 Parliament voted, overwhelmingly, to renew Trident, and a number of Labour MPs who had pledged their anti-nuclear passion to their party General Committees voted for it.*  Let us remember too, as Hennessy helpfully reminds us, that neither the leaderships of the UK nor the UK has wanted France to be the sole nuclear power in Europe.  No.  This book relies quite heavily on Cabinet committee papers and on the briefings of senior civil servants, and as such is a valuable resource.  Hennessy intimates, for instance, that Gordon Brown as Prime Minister told a non-proilferation session of the UN Security Council that the UK would retain “only the absolute minimum” nuclear deterrent capability.  Neither full Cabinet nor the relevant Cabinet committee had been consulted.  He did it on the hoof.

Hennessy’s writing is fluent and readable, which saves the more detail-rich passages from dryness and keeps the reader with him.  There are moments of cliché “the shadow of the Russian Revolution” but there are not many of them.  He indulges himself at moments, such as when he imagines the Sermon on the Mount as it might have been reported by The Times, ending with “Pontius Pilate’s Press Secretary said,’That bit about “blessed are the persecuted” will go down particularly badly in the Centurions’ Mess’”.|  But on the whole he is forgiven for his moments of indulgence.  For me it was worth it, to have set out precisely what duties a Prime Minister has (not many, in fact).

There are some fabulous quotes too.  I loved this one, from a letter to The Times from T.S. Eliot’s widow Valerie in 1970:
“Sir – my husband, T.S. Eliot, loved to recount how late one evening he stopped a taxi.  As he got in, the driver said: “You’re T.S. Eliot”.  When asked how he knew, he said ‘Ah, I’ve got na eye for a celebrity.  Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell, and I said to him, “Well, Lord Russell, what’s it all about?”, and, do you know, he couldn’t tell me.” 

* Including, naturally, Martin Salter

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

those lobbyists, what a disgrace

Here is Tim Yeo (hat-tip Guido, obvs) fulminating at Tory conference:

"Conference has become too dominated by lobbyists and special interest groups, and it is driving away those genuinely interested in party matters."

right enough, it seems.  What have we here?  Oh yes, a lobbyist at Tory conf.  Poor old Tim. What he has to put up with.

Anglicans and the Grand Order of Moose

there is a fun piece in Anglicans On Line this week drawing comparisons between the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church,  and the Grand Order of Moose (no, me neither, but I should have), with particular reference to the ability of women to hold office and to the response to ill-doing within the ranks of those bodies.  You can read it here, and while it is amusing in a way, the point it makes is serious.  In particular, it refers to the "angry old men" who (this last is my own view) hate women, and cover their hate with supposed "arguments" against allowing women to hold office.

Just look back a little, you don't have to go far back, and remember that until 1961 female civli servants in the UK had to resign when they married.  Until at least the 1950s most female teachers were unmarried, not because they were dedicated spinsters married to their vocation, but because if they married they very often lost their jobs.  Many of them pretended to be single, and lived covertly with a partner to whom they were not married.  Women were not allowed to be ordained in the Church of England unti lthe 1990s.  There was a furious row at the time, but the Church remained strong, there are a great many women priests, and no lightning bolt came from heaven.  I am no theologian, but it is worth noting that according to the Gospels the first apostle was a woman.  Mary Magdalene.  Look it up.  Apostle to the apostles.

lack of intervention leads not to peace but war

in Syria, of course.  The shameful lack of intervention to stop the slaughter of Syria's people by its government has had regional repercussions which were not hard to foresee.  I speak of course of the Kurdish issue.  Turkey's brutal suppression of its Kurds is well known, and Syria has previously been helpful in this, booting the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) leader Abdullah Ocalan out of Damascus and enabling him to be arrested and extradited to Turkey, where he remains, serving a life sentence which will never be commuted.  But now, as the regime in Syria becomes increasingly savage and desperate, the various Kurdish groupings in the region, most of which do not trust each other or work together, are mobilising, to Turkey's dismay.  There have already been shootings and shellings across the Turkish-Syrian border, and there will be more.  With each Turkish life lost the rattle of the sabres is louder.  But NATO is deaf to it.  Turkey invoked the NATO charter this week, but was more or less ignored.  You can read a good piece by the excellent Michael Weiss here.

NATO's geopolitical reasons for its unwillingness to support its member state, Turkey, are for it to explain.  But it is worth noting that the only place in the wider region where the Kurds live at peace, not much repressed, and with a measure of self-determination, is Iraq.  And it was intervention that gave them that.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

a disgraced lobbyist

some ex-MP and some other bloke
is loitering at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham - touting for what kind of custom exactly?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

a questionable assessment

A certain John Howarth (prop. Public Impact Ltd, remember "Your Better Off With Labour"?) has published, inter alia, what is below, on the subject of the role of his MP, and the man he worked so hard to elect, Rob Wilson (Con, Reading E).  Leaving aside the tiresome grammatical and punctuation errors we have come to expect from Mr Howarth, there are some stunning logical lacunae here, which I leave readers to spot for themselves, knowing that readers of this blog are a fairly clever bunch.  I just wonder aloud here if Mr Howarth has in fact asked his MP these questions, as he is entitled to do, and also whether Mr Howarth has any idea what a Parliamentary Private Secretary actually does, and what that person's role is.  I answer the second question by noting that Mr H's protege and stooge, Martin Salter, made a spectacular balls-up of that role when he briefly had it, and was sacked after five weeks in the job.

One individual who cannot escape serious questioning on this is Mr Hunt’s PPS, the Reading East MP, Rob Wilson, who happens also to be my MP. I should say I bear Mr Wilson and his family no personal malice, I just usually think he’s profoundly, politically mistaken, prone to vacuous exercises in ‘spin’ and has real questions to answer, namely: did he advise Mr Hunt or was he in fact consulted by the Secretary of State on this matter? If so what scientific evidence was he personally made aware of by Civil Servants and did he express a view to the Secretary of State? Was the whole thing his idea or did the Secretary of State come to him with the notion? Does he, or did he ever agree with his Secretary of State, given what he now knows of the view of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists? Parliament and Mr Wilson’s constituents have the right to ask these questions.
Mr Wilson’s role is a kind of advisor and assistant to Mr Hunt – a role he also held while Mr Hunt was Secretary of State for Culture and Sport, or to some in the media and opposition benches ‘Minister for Murdoch’, so it isn’t as if they have only just met in the month since the re-shuffle. In fact Rob Wilson reportedly rejected a move to the whip’s office to remain Mr Hunt’s Aide de Camp (Reading Chronicle, 5 September 2012). If his advice was not sought either on the substance or the tactics of the announcement how can he remain in his junior role with any degree of self-respect? And if his position is no longer tenable without sacrificing any personal credibility, how can he justify to himself supporting a Secretary of State who has so blatantly neglected his duty to seek and give due weight to appropriate scientific advice.

Friday, 5 October 2012

oh dear what have I done

It seems that this post from a while ago, in which I reproduced certain cartoons published by the French satirical mag Charlie Hebdo, has been found "shocking" by at least one of my French followers and blog readers, who felt that publication might place people at risk.  Whoever thought that was both wrong and risible.  But even if they had been right it still would have been OK to publish the cartoons.  Because freedom of expression  is, er, not negotiable.  Got that?  Even if, especially if, publication causes offence.

Monday, 1 October 2012

kickass list

quite a lot of my readers are boys, and boys love lists, as any fule kno.  I have an iPhone (did I mention that?) and I made a playlist for it which I have called "kickass" because it gets me up and going on my way to work in the mornings, and because the tracks are all, in their different ways, about having and using power.  Here are the tracks, in alphabetical order:

'Alejandro'                                                                                     Lady Gaga
'Amazing'                                                                                       Kanye West
'Angela'                                                                                         Yannick Noah
'Bagpipes From Baghdad'                                                              Eminem
'Barbra Streisand'                                                                          Duck Sauce
'Bombe Humaine'                                                                          Soprano
'Bonkers'                                                                                      Dizzee Rascal
'Changing of the Guards'                                                                Patti Smith
'Cherie Coco'                                                                               Magic System and Soprano
'Deborah'                                                                                     T. Rex
'Dima'                                                                                          Zaho
'Du Style'                                                                                     Jena Lee
'Equivoque'                                                                                  Tunisiano
'Fire'                                                                                           (The Crazy World of)
                                                                                                  Arthur Brown
'Get It On'                                                                                  T. Rex
'Heavy Cross'                                                                             Gossip
'Inch'Allah'                                                                                  Grand Corps Malade/
                                                                                                  Reda Talliani
'Je Realise'                                                                                  Sinik and James Blunt
'Stan'                                                                                          Eminem
'Step Back'                                                                                 Shy'm and Odessa Thornhill
'Te Quiero'                                                                                 Stromae
'Toi + Moi'                                                                                 Gregoire
'Turning Japanese'                                                                       The Vapours
'Virginia Plain'                                                                             Roxy Music
'Welfare Mothers'                                                                       Neil Young
'What A Waste'                                                                          Ian Dury
'White Rabbit'                                                                            Jefferson Airplane
'You Really Got Me'                                                                  The Kinks
'3'                                                                                              Britney Spears

The choices I made surprised me a bit.  I went with how the tracks made me feel - in all cases energised and powerful.  No Bob Dylan, other than in a Patti Smith version.  Not one but two T. Rex.  Britney.  The Stromae 'Te Quiero' is actually about an unhappy relationship, but it's in there.  I may add to this list, though it's too long to listen to all of it on the way to work.  'First We Take Manhattan' by the great Lenny springs to mind.  Readers less familiar with the oeuvre that is French popular music, may I suggest you Spotify some of these, you might like them.  The Ian Dury would have been there anyway, but that track should be immortal for the lines

"I could be a writer with a growing reputation,
I could be the ticket man at Fulham railway station"

What tracks would you put on a playlist to make you go "Fuck yeah! World I'm a gunna kick yo' ass today!" - or similar?

You may guest post your list if you wish - just let me know.

Reading Labour in big trouble

or they should be.  For many years they have illegally used council tax payers' money for party political purposes, leading former MP Martin Salter to say, entirely accurately, "the council delivers my election leaflets".  Council premises have routinely been provided free of charge for party meetings, council resources used to promote candidates for election, council "campaigns" used in furtherance of the internal politics of Reading Labour, planning committees politically whipped - you get the picture.  None of this is new.  But in the age of Twitter and other online media (ffs, Twitter has been going since 2006, get with the programme, people) they've started putting this stuff in writing.  New councillor Richard Davies (Lab, Caversham) might be forgiven for tweeting that a Reading Borough council meeting about school places in east Reading was "our meeting" because of his naivety and inexperience, but the official Twitter feed of Reading and District Labour Party?  My man in the Civic Offices feels that an official complaint may be about to ping into someone's inbox, very soon indeed.