Friday, 30 August 2013

I don't give a stuff

about the effect of last night's vote on Cameron or Miliband. But Assad now sees himself as invincible. Happy now? Enough dead children for you yet? We have to rely on Barry O to save the people of Syria. Doomed.

For some light relief, in a gallows-humour kind of way, here is the vile Galloway doing what he does best:

Thursday, 29 August 2013

will the real John Howarth...

he's in the USA, he tells us, so it's not easy to write a post on his blog. What, don't they have teh internetz over there? Srsly? He's going to have to do better if he wants to travel between the South-East of England, Brussels and Strasbourg on a regular basis. They talk foreign in some of those places too. You can't feed coins into a call-box to file your copy any more. Did you know the 1980s were over, John? Ah.

Apparently things are very bad in Syria, he tells us. But he's with Ed Miliband. Who said he'd back the Government today and then changed his mind. So which position does Mr H back? Air strikes are a bad thing, he says. But the Syrian people need peace. Sometimes when bombs fall civilians get killed, he informs us illuminatingly. Hmm, with insights like these, let's stand down the whole cohort of advisers to the leaders of the free world. Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, positively Salteresque. That got Salter sacked from the only quasi-government position he held in 13 years as an MP despite 13 years of grovelling and toadying for one. Not an example for you to follow, John.

This is pitiful stuff. How would you vote if you were in the Commons John? Like Salter did on Iraq in 2003, trumpeting that he was against the war and then abstaining? A rebel in Reading and a weasel in Westminster? We expect better from our MEPs. Some of them are quite sophisticated politicians who, you know, know stuff about stuff and talk foreign lingos and read books with no pictures in them and everything. Press releases copied out by the Reading Evening Post - this is not the politics of Europe, Mr Howarth.

Could do better. Must try harder. Pitiful.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Robert Fisk is a charlatan

well, we all knew that anyway. I made the mistake early this morning of clicking on a link in a tweet, thus opening the horrid prospect of an article in some LibDem-front rag or other by the sainted Fisk. He says that there should be no strikes on Syria, because al-Qaeda are against Assad too. Excuse me, is that logic? Or gibberish? You decide. Children have been gassed, but some Hezbollah chappies were gassed too, somewhere else, but with the same gas, so it's er, OK to gas the children? Apparently some Very Bad Things are happening in Iran (although Fisk is on record as saying that's just fine and Iran should be Left Alone to carry on stringing up gay people - to give him more time to make up anti-Israel rants, I suppose). When is this mendacious ideologue going to be given the boot? From everywhere?

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

the hand-wringing has to stop

says Tony Blair in The Times today (£). He is writing about Syria of course. Although the window of opportunity to achieve peace, stop the killing and prevent the various murderous death-lovers from dividing up the territory has long closed, largely because Barack Obama has been a TOTAL PUSSY, the line-ups of child body bags are embarrassing even him. Barack Obama is the leader of the free world. That phrase is rather unfashionable these days, but it is still true - perhaps more so, as during the Cold War, when half of Europe was under dictatorship, those dictatorships, while they locked up dissidents, told the world they were freedom-loving democrats. The likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, and worse, say no such thing. Osama bin Laden once said "We love death" and he spoke the truth. Tony Blair spoke of hand-wringing, but I haven't seen much of it. Indifference, yes. Hand-wringing is coming from people like me, I suppose, and I am powerless here. I have tried to test this notion on a few occasions recently, by raising the subject of the terrible slaughter in Syria with people who do not identify as political or interested in world affairs, and with whom I do not usually discuss such things. Without exception there has been a brief pause and then a change of subject. Almost pathological. What is going on here? It seems to indicate that a lot of people shut out what they know is happening, because, I suppose, they don't want to think about it, or feel guilty for doing and saying nothing. But they don't appear to articulate that to themselves. People who do articulate such things, often Americans, have been saying things like "This is not our war" - but even they have shut up a bit lately.

The excellent Terry Glavin puts it excellently:

"If NATO had leapt to this tremendous opportunity at the outset, Al Qaida's affiliates in Syria would have been smashed, Hezbollah would have been smashed, Assad would be gone and "the west" would have its best friend in the so-called Arab world, a new and embryonic democracy besides. Instead, more than 100,000 Syrians dead, Assad still in power and gassing his own people, Tehran is laughing at the U.S., Russia is ascendant, America is a laughing stock. A lovely new world, isn't it. "The tide of war is receding," as Obama likes to say."

The leadership of my adopted country of France, while it is f***ing up big time on retirement and the economy (another story) is saying, and in some cases doing, the right things internationally. Big up Francois Hollande. I might even card up for the Parti Socialiste again if this carries on. The UK is making the right noises. Even Angela Merkel has now said she would countenance action. Get in there. Do it now. The slaughter in Syria shames us all.

Monday, 26 August 2013

after the revolution

some 54 years after the Cuban revolution in fact. Yoani Sanchez is a blogger I admire greatly. She is braver than anyone I have ever met. She may be the only blogger who is changing the course of history and certainly changing people's awareness of her home country Cuba. This is a great post, about her grandmother and about the new elite.

Saturday, 24 August 2013


is a book by the late Roger Deakin, who I believe was one of the founders of Friends of the Earth, an organisation I hold these days in deepest contempt, but which did have its moments in the early days, and I supported it then. I loved this book, experienced and written in the 1990s, and will return to it, reading it by episodes rather than straight through as I did this time. You can see it here. "A Swimmer's Journey through Britain", he calls it, but it isn't really that. It's about swimming, a bit, and about England and its history, quite a lot, and about forgotten and hidden places people don't know are there as they thunder past on the motorway nearby, quite a lot. It's also inspired by the masterpiece of a film 'The Swimmer', which in its turn was based on a story by John Cheever (whom I must read, clearly). Swim in the wild and forgotten places - there will always be officials trying to stop you - or just go and find them. But don't leave much of a footprint.

ethics and language

well, you know, it's never too late to try and get a bit of eddication, broaden the mind and all that. I found this very interesting reading, and will ponder further. Any clever-clogs out there like to read it and give me some comments?

Friday, 23 August 2013

campaigning in between

stolen from John Howarth's Facebook page
here Mr Howarth puffs himself campaigning in Woodley, a suburb of Reading which would never describe itself as such. He mentions in passing Matt Rodda, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Reading East, and Rodda may be in this picture somewhere. Good to see the excellent and indefatigable Woodley Labour campaigner Roger Hayes in the picture though. Campaigning in the suburbs brings its own issues with it. Most important is identity. Woodley of course had a Labour MP for eight years, and in that time Reading Labour refused to go near the place, sneering at it at meetings. We had great fun once stitching up the Reading Labour boys with a motion on local authority boundaries, promoting bringing Woodley into Reading. We marched them up the hill to cries of outrage, then we withdrew the motion, which we had planned to do all along. Martin Salter clapped Roger Hayes on the shoulder patronisingly and said "Well done Roger". That Roger (a) kept a straight face (b) didn't punch Salter is a measure of the qualities of the man. Now Mr Howarth has set foot in Woodley, and I hope he treats the place with respect, as he should any place he is seeking to represent. If he does get elected his time in Strasbourg will be a living hell. I can promise him that.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Best Blessings of Existence 50

in which the Gridchester chronicle reaches a denouement.

Analysts of 20th century British politics consider The Church Hall Riot to be a classic example of how a single unexpected event can change the course of history.

The candidate question and answer session in an obscure Gridchester church hall confirmed the Tories in power for another decade and set Borthwick Prosser upon an upward trajectory that would take him to a Cabinet post as Secretary of State for Transport.

The Party Leader (and Brian Pelleroe) retired.

The hall erupted as soon as Brian gave a clumsy assent to Paul’s interpretation of the Cummings question. Furious residents of the Nye Estate surged forward exocet-style, and Prosser seized the microphone from an incredulous Vicar Bottomley.

And THIS, friends (jabbing at Brian with his finger) is the alternative to the stability and harmony of Conservative government!

THIS MAN has today said in public what his Party bosses say in private!

They say that decent people on modest incomes live in such squalor that they have introduced into Gridchester a PLAGUE of the very VERMIN that he is paid to exterminate in his day job!!


She did not think that the Nye contingent seemed stigmatised; nor did they appear especially decent.

They looked triumphant and were exhibiting the type of violent behaviour that would, in other circumstances (kicking chairs; overthrowing the candidates’ table) have ensured a night in the cells.

In addition, she was sure that some, if not most of them, were acting under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Angry voices charged Brian with deliberately targeting them during the course of the campaign; visiting repeatedly for the sole purpose of reporting them to the Council on trumped up public health charges and entering their names in secret files.

Prosser appeared to be conducting them in a parody of Last Night at the Proms and it was only when Vicar Bottomley fell to the floor and disappeared beneath a jumble of disorderly limbs, that somebody called the police.

It was a relief to go to work the next day; although she had barely slept after a furious row with Paul that had woken up the children and distressed the dog.
She accused him of sabotaging Brian’s campaign for the purpose of destroying her credibility with the Party and depriving her of the only friends she had managed to make in this God-forsaken hell-hole.

Of course it did not stop there.

By the time Vanessa came downstairs, crying

I can’t sleep because you’re KILLING MY DADDY!

she had treated her husband to the entire canon of grief screamed at full volume; her ruined career; his horrible father; the vile patronage of Gillian; her breadline existence while St Nicola and her brats lived in luxury; the pathetic fawning of the Nuttalls and his infidelity with that Hunt bitch.

When Paul countered, nastily with

How does it feel to be dumped for a pregnant teenager?

she threw the alarm clock.

He threw his boots.

When Paul scooped Vanessa up and left the room with the piece de resistance

St Nicola? This type of behaviour is tantamount to child abuse.

she did not reply but sat alone in the darkness.

Lynne was in Toronto, living it up. She was in Binley, living in hell. Tomorrow, she would crawl, grovel – do whatever it took to patch things up and carry on.


Tonight, she was simply too tired…

Philip Twill’s exclusive in The Gridchester Post did not remain exclusive to either his paper or Gridchester.

Within the space of a day, the streets, shops and pubs were crawling with journalists from national outlets; attempting to exploit a story that had transformed the course of a pedestrian General Election campaign.

The Party Leader made a statement disowning Brian as a naïve and inexperienced candidate whose aberrant views were in no way representative of either the thinking or the programme of the Party.

He attempted to dismiss the unfortunate comment as being of little relevance, but his assertion that

Gridchester North is not a seat we would expect to win in a landslide

opened up a further seam of misery.

Robbie Nantwich interviewed a number of MPs defending small majorities, including Derek Kingsmill from Lowerbridge.

The events of the past few days had clearly affected Derek who looked more than usually puffy and anxious.

No, he said,

Of course the Leader had not said that the feelings and opinions of the people in Gridchester were not important. Of course they were just as crucial and VALID as those of the residents of Lowerbridge …

Similarly, the Leader had not meant that any old idiot with dangerous views was welcome to stand in seats like Gridchester. No, not at all.

And as for what the entire debacle revealed about the Party’s methods of selecting candidates – well, it wasn’t his place to say, really, was it? They generally did very well and picked first-rate candidates, absolutely everywhere...

The Crier’s front page the next day lead with:


She and the girls were sitting in the living room of Gail Pitt’s small terraced house, eating Twiglets and drinking a second bottle of Sancerre.

During the campaign, they had abandoned their weekly Malmsey Head evenings; firstly because of election work and now to avoid the undercover journalists who had infiltrated every single hostelry in Gridchester.

The second bottle had been purchased in an attempt to comfort a distraught Sylvia, who was alternately sniffing and sobbing after a bruising encounter with Lisbet Pelleroe.

Since the Church Hall Riot, three days ago, Brian had been holed up in his home bunker; cowering behind curtains whilst the flower of journalism staked out his garden. Lisbet had not felt impelled to placate them with refreshments and the advice from the Party’s National Office had been to remain under cover.

However, Sylvia (who had not seen Brian since he had been unceremoniously escorted from the meeting by two uniformed constables), had telephoned his home incessantly and on receiving no reply, had turned up on the doorstep, braving notebooks and cameras, armed with a steak and kidney casserole.

Lisbet Pelleroe’s elderly mother, who had not been privy to the Party’s advice to keep exits and entrances closed, opened the front door and was virtually crushed by a stampede of journalists and photographers who surged into the hall, knocking the casserole to the floor.

The sight of photographers taking pictures of steak, kidney and gravy seeping into her new Axminster carpet and treading it into the pile was too much for Lisbet who turned on Sylvia and screamed:

Get out and leave my bloody husband alone!

This was bad enough, but what was worse was the ensuing array of headlines and photographs in the press which were all variants of:


Sylvia was inconsolable. Quite apart from her distress at the behaviour of Lisbet and humiliation at the hands of the press, there was the issue of Shaun.

I told him that nothing had gone on, but he said that was worse than if it had!

she wailed.

He said that everyone at work was laughing at him because his wife fancied the Rodent Officer who didn’t fancy her back – and all the mums on the school run are talking about me. I want to die; we’ll have to sell the house – and how will I cope as a single parent?

I hate Brian Pelleroe! I wish he was dead!

She suspected that Sylvia was not the only person or group of people (including the Party Leader) to be cherishing murderous thoughts about Brian Pelleroe, but as she refilled Sylvia’s glass, she reflected that the love triangle issue had come in handy.

The Pelleroe affair had developed a life of its own and the fact that her husband had lit the touch paper at the meeting had gone largely unnoticed.

Things at home settled down; after a fashion.

She and Paul circled each other for a day or so, like wary jungle beasts, watched fretfully by Vanessa – and then resumed their normal behaviour.

She had no illusions about her marriage or her husband; she had weighed them in the balance and found both wanting. But they had children, a house and a dog, so she put up, shut up, cooked, cleaned and had sex as usual.

Women of her generation and Sylvia’s did not want to be alone, so they worked at their marriages until such time as their marriages did not work and they were dumped anyway.

That time was not yet.

The day before the Election saw the Pelleroe affair at last departing the front pages of the papers and acquiring a quieter berth towards the middle sections.

Opinion polls that had seen the Party assuming third place behind the Liberals, perked up, after an uproar following the death of a child who had received the wrong dosage of medication during a tonsils and adenoids operation in Newcastle.

Brian Pelleroe had ventured out of his house into an empty garden and the Gridchester comrades decided to meet in the tap room at The Duke (after an Eve of Poll leaflet drop) to see the closing edition of Election Round Up; the BBC’s authoritative pundit programme.

She sat with Hazel and Gail, keeping her distance from the Beeches and Vince O’Reilly, who had made some nasty comments about Paul at the height of the Pelleroe affair.

A subdued Sylvia had wedged herself between Shaun and Martin Sweet, keeping as much space between herself and the Pelleroes as it was possible to achieve without actually sitting in another bar.

Brian just looked ill.

And now, said presenter, Gilbert Daventry, who enjoyed the type of seniority and prestige that Robbie Nantwich was yet to achieve:

in a final twist to one of the most EXTRAORDINARY election campaigns in living memory, we have an exclusive interview with the woman who should have been a candidate in Gridchester North; the woman who was spurned by a vengeful Party in favour of a man who says that poor people are responsible for infestations of rats; the man who has stigmatised a huge swathe of decent people living and working in Britain today.

I give you the lady herself : Clare Butcher!

The room was silent and all eyes were mesmerised by the Medusa-like figure of their former Treasurer relating in the ringing tones that had once been used to harangue the candidate of a County Council by-election for financial profligacy, how she had sacrificed years of her life working for the Party to the detriment of her marriage, only to be deprived of the right to stand for selection because of the crimes of her husband.

She, Clare, had taught at Sunday school and was a member of Vicar Bottomley’s flock who had personally organised the successful Party Band Aid Knitting Programme.

Her application was founded on excellent work, strong principles and absolute financial probity, but she had been rejected without the courtesy of an explanation.

It was for that reason that tonight she felt it the mission of a lifetime in politics to urge the people of Gridchester and elsewhere to vote Conservative.

There was more; an interview with an ebullient Borthwick Prosser who appeared beneath a poster emblazoned with the Tory slogan: CONSERVATIVE: COMPETENCE WITH COMPASSION; and a shot of the Party Leader running into an alleyway to escape a shower of eggs and tomatoes - but she was not paying attention.

She was thinking about Clare Butcher.

The former Treasurer, she of the flapping trousers and shapeless pepper'n’salt hair style had now broadcast to the nation sporting a youthful brunette pixie cut atop a fitted sapphire-blue -acket with shoulder pads.

Clare looked like Alexis Carrington in Dynasty! she said.

There was a pause and then Lester Beech rose, walked the length of the room and pushed his weak chin up close. She could see his acne scars.

Well, I’ve heard it all now! he yelled, looking at his support group of our Chantelle and our Darren:

Who does she think she IS?!

First she wants to scupper this Party by selecting a criminal and then her bloody husband finishes the job by pole-axing the General Election!

Wake up and smell the coffee love - and while you’re at it why don’t you walk out of that door?

We don’t want YOUR SORT round here!

Gail laid a restraining hand on her shoulder, whispering

Ignore him, he’s drunk

but a line had been crossed.

How dare this vile, ignorant, vulgar man who stank of fags and beer speak to her like this? The Nye estate was too good for him!

I don’t think, she said, collecting her bag and moving towards the door

that we want YOUR SORT anywhere, unless it’s in a prison cell for handling stolen goods!
And if Brian wants some rats to exterminate I suggest that he starts with YOU!

Beech lunged but she was out of the room; out of the pub, into the street and running.
It was over, and so was Election ‘87. She would not go to the Count.

A fortnight later, she sat with Hazel in the Coffee Cabin, where they were taking a break from an exhausting morning at the summer sales.

She was pleased with her grey velvet jeans; she had been stalking them for the past two months in Benetton; monitoring as they inched down in price, until at half the original mark up, she had swooped. They were slightly too tight, but this (taking a bite) would be the last of the Penguin biscuits!

I’m starting the High Fibre diet tomorrow, she announced.

Hazel smiled weakly, looking askance at her purchases, within their Evans the Outsize bag. She had tried everything from Weightwatchers to yoga and was convinced that her resolutely size 18 figure (tucking into a custard slice) was due to her glands.

They mulled over the fall out from the Election.

The result was much the same as in 1983.

The Party Leader had gone before he was pushed; Derek Kingsmill’s majority was now a slender 278; Norris Farmer had taken early retirement; Brian had lost his deposit and resigned his membership.

Although at least we haven’t got to console Sylvia; she really hates him now, observed Hazel.

The real winner was, of course, Clare Butcher, who had been inundated with requests to sell her story and had used the proceeds of a string of interviews to move house. She was already being touted as a strong contender for a Tory seat next time.

Lester Beech had been reported to the Sectional Team over his car-boot wares and his membership was suspended, pending enquiries. She was relieved that his drunken attack had been universally reviled, including his comments about Paul.

Your husband’s just shy, anyone can see that, Hazel had soothed.

Anyone could have said that – after all, he was just trying to EXPLAIN to Brian wasn’t he? And everybody hates the Beeches; Lester is a thug and she’s no better than she should be. Gail says she saw her coming out of the Clap Clinic at the hospital! Might even be on the game!

Hazel’s belief in Paul’s innate niceness was still the prevailing opinion- although perhaps it took someone not nice like Lester Beech to guess at the truth.

In any case, things had returned to an even keel and Paul had taken on some private pupils from the Convent

so that we can have a holiday, Sweetie.

They picked up their packages, left the café and she thought about Clare who was minus a husband, but plus a new look, new house and maybe a new career.

If Clare Butcher could do it ….

She dismissed the idea as preposterous but reflected as they drove off in the green Renault that the ancestor of every action is a thought.

She had always rated Emerson…

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

bucket list

is a concept I only heard of recently. Various people close to me have achieved something on theirs in recent times, for example my sister has been to a greyhound race (last week) and sig other has seen Manchester City play at the Ettihad (last night). So what is on my bucket list? Some things have been there for ages, and some have appeared only since I heard of the concept.
See the Northern Lights.
Swim with dolphins (yes I know that's naff, but I've wanted to do it for ages).
Swim the Hellespont.
Stand on that place,  you know, "silent upon a peak in Darien".
Go to a Wimbledon final. With good seats.
Meet Leonard Cohen. Just for a second will do. I'm not greedy.
Cruise the Baltic and Scandinavia.
See the tango danced in Buenos Aires.
See the Earth from Space.
Present Newsnight. (That's the one I KNOW will never happen.)

Israel-Palestine untruths

I do read the Daily Telegraph quite often on line, for its international affairs coverage. However, its Middle East correspondent, Robert Tait, who ought to know what he is talking about, wrote this:

the fate of almost five million Arab refugees expelled to neighbouring countries during Israel’s 1948 war of independence,

which is a complete untruth. About 711,000 Arab people became refugees following 1948, which is less than the number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries between 1948 and 1970 (about 850,000). Not all of those who became refugees were "expelled" from anywhere. 

Lies and the lying liars, hein? But let's be kind and say that Mr Tait just didn't know, and got it wrong, and now that it has been pointed out he, and the Telegraph, will - oh, never mind.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

cherchez la femme

among the Labour South-East Region candidates for the European elections, and you'll have a job to find the top one on the list, one Anneliese Dodds. Here is the erstwhile Honourable Member for Reading East West, Mr Salter, extolling the virtues of - you guessed it - No. 2 on the list, one J. Howarth, prop. Public Impact Ltd (remember "Your Better Off With Labour"?). Does he mention the candidate chosen by Party members to be at the head of the team, namely Anneliese Dodds? He does not.

Oh and editorial-type peeps, don't bother making any more late-night well-refreshed threats to me for using your material. I don't give a stuff. It's the public prints.

In further delights, Mr Salter is billed as keynote speaker at a fund-raising fish'n'chip supper. It's actually in Reading West, so we hope he can find his way there from his usual haunts in the East. It's meant as a fund-raiser. Andrew Smith MP is also to be a speaker, but apparently he is the support act for Mr S. Why? The mystery deepens... Fish'n'chips provided by the Deep Blue emporium of that ilk in Whitley, south Reading. Fine, but... the event billing calls it "Blue Deep". In details of how to pay for admission it says or alternatively you can via cheque.Do we detect the hand of Mr Howarth? I think we do.

lies and the lying liars

I have mentioned before that I read a weekly magazine called Telerama, which is a kind of upmarket Radio Times. It is a TV guide, yes, but also a cultural guide to the week, and has articles on themes which are of varying interest. This being France, it has a depressing tendency to commission articles from philosophers who tell us how we think. Anyway, this week's theme is lying, and very interesting it was. I turned the pages to do a double take when I came upon a big picture of - Chris Huhne. Of whom nobody much  has heard in France, but that story caused a small stir when reported here. This was because all he had done was acquire some speeding points (in France you start with maximum points and then they get deducted for things like speeding) and would only have had to pay a fine. Everywhere else in Europe, said Telerama, this would be a trivial matter which would bother no one. But Les Anglais cannot tolerate such a thing. Their public schools teach them the art of "la dissimulation" and understatement, so they do not have to lie. There's some truth in this, of course, but it's also true that British people tend to think that politicians lie, and in fact they mostly do not. People in politics cannot afford to lie, because of the consequences if they get caught. Myself, I found it simply easier to tell the truth, then you never have to remember to keep your story straight. Disappointingly, the article quoted the misguided John Le Carre, who has said that the important thing in British society is not to get caught. Which, of course, it is not. And then the article trotted out the "Tony Blair lied on Iraq" line as if it were true. That particular canard has never become the truth, despite the best efforts of the Guardian and others, because, er, it's not true.

Best Blessings of Existence 49

in which Emma B speaks of rats, and of what was always going to happen

Brian Pelleroe was selected to fight the Party’s corner in Gridchester North at the 1987 General Election. Sixty seven people turned up to a dingy Little Theatre auditorium on a wet Saturday afternoon in February to question the candidates and cast their votes.

The venue had seen better days but was never short of custom. When an indifferent travelling repertory company was not using it as the base for a summer comedy (The Importance of Being Earnest or Absurd Person Singular) it was an automatic choice for school Speech Days.

At General Elections, it became a whistle-stop in Week Three of the Tory Prime Minister’s nationwide tour when its pillars, seats and balconies were festooned with Union Jack paraphernalia.

Now it presented au naturel; save for a Party banner, hastily rigged up and draped over a podium on the stage.

The programme of events offered little to startle and amaze.
Austin Cox, perhaps surmising that he was unlikely to get a second chance to redeem his unfortunate 1983 result, had withdrawn from the contest and Party members voted on a ratio of roughly two to one, for their Chairman.

The two candidates were underwhelming; their relative strengths and weaknesses finely balanced.

Brian was blessed with an intimate knowledge of Gridchester (perhaps too intimate for the squeamish) but his knowledge of wider policy was limited.
Leonora knew nothing about Gridchester and everything about the radical feminist politics of London boroughs.
She had some support.

Chantelle and Lester Chase imagined that she might encourage her society connections to befriend their wastrel son Darren – but they were fighting a lost cause.

It was always going to be Brian, observed number one fan, Sylvia Mills when her hero triumphed.

And it was.

She had attended the Selection Conference because of her role as Applications Secretary, but spoiled her ballot paper and went straight home, spurning Sylvia’s offer of a celebratory drink.
The house was empty. Paul had taken children and dog to the park and she fussed around in the kitchen, mincing lamb in the Kenwood and dicing carrots for a shepherd’s pie. She had nobody to talk to about the performance in the Little Theatre and her husband’s jaunty comment on his return:

So who won – the Duchess or the Rat Catcher?

was not intended to start a conversation.

Rat Catcher, she replied, dishing up the dinner.

She did not add that she had voted for Clare Butcher.

Over the next few months, her enthusiasm for Party activity waned, and
encounters with the girls became tense.

Evenings at The Malmsey Head or watching a video chez Sweet were not the acme of social entertainment, but they were fun and she looked forward to them. Now, the atmosphere was soured because Hazel, Gail and Sylvia were on one side of the Butcher divide and she was on the other.

I just don’t get it! Hazel had said, voicing the collective view.

You KNOW how awful the Butchers are – Ron’s a criminal; we’ve had week after week of bad publicity and it’s not as if you owe Clare any favours!
If Ron hadn’t made off with the Deposit Account, she’d have hung you out to dry over Laceybrook!

There was more of the same from Sylvia, overlain with added barbs about disloyalty to Brian. Gail as usual, was quiet, but her nods and sniffs were eloquent.

She had tried.

It was not that she liked Clare – in fact she remained extremely critical about the way that the Butchers had trampled over what passed for democracy to preserve a vice-like grip on the Party.

But Clare, unlike Ron, had been convicted of nothing and to keep her off a shortlist because of the crimes and misdemeanours of her errant husband was unfair and despicable.

Clare Butcher had suffered discrimination in her professional ambition because she had the misfortune to have married the wrong man and if this was to set a precedent for ALL women who had picked a less than perfect husband….

She was unwilling to pursue that train of thought to its logical conclusion, but the gulf was insurmountable. It was best to leave it.
Life minus the intrigues and distractions of the Grichester Party continued as normal – at least for the rest of her family.

Vanessa was now a firmly established member of the Reception Class at school; the proud owner of a My Little Pony lunch box and best friend to a burgeoning number of small girls. Richard’s name was on a waiting list for playgroup, and terry training pants rather than disposable nappies were now the predominant fixture in his wardrobe.

Paul had a full social diary. If he was not carousing in The Duke with Fatty’s gang he was attending Schoolmasters’ Convention representing Independent Day Schools. John Nuttall was openly acknowledged as his closest colleague and she had to endure many evenings en famille; either slaving in her own kitchen, or eating burnt offerings from Kathryn’s.
In May, The Family Court’s decision to award Nicola an increase in maintenance, sounded the death knell to holiday plans, but Lynne’s postcard was the clincher.

Lynne had been seconded on a year’s contract to Toronto as a senior advisor on city-wide climate change measures. A spacious bay and gable house in Little Italy was part of the package and the nightlife was incredible.

The General Election was set for June.

She was back on board.

Initial indicators were promising. Lester Beech had offered to manage campaign finances (as a small businessman) but she was delighted that his itchy palm was firmly rejected in preference to Gail Pitt’s safe pair of hands.

After all, she said, stacking election leaflets into piles of fifty

the only difference between him and Ron Butcher is that Butcher got caught.

She was sitting with the girls at Sylvia’s kitchen table, surrounded by leaflets, A4 boxes and the Tornadoes, Sylvia’s less than placid offspring. Christine was babysitting which was fortunate because when she had taken Sylvia at her word:

Bring the kids – they can play with mine

it ended in tears and a dash to Accident and Emergency after Ida had poked Richard’s eye with a pencil.

Paul was vicious; accusing her of child neglect if not outright abuse and it was easier not to retort that all and any accidents would have been avoided if just for once, he had shared the burden of childcare.

The campaign in Gridchester was a haphazard affair, unlike the machine politics powering Derek Kingsmill’s battle in Lowerbridge. Shadow Cabinet Ministers visiting factories, nurseries and council estates with Derek in their wake were constantly popping up in The Gridchester Post and she had stopped watching the regional television news because the constant presence of Derek in her lounge was distasteful.

Her enjoyment of national programmes was soured for the same reason.

If it was not Derek, musing on the responsibility of defending a little red island in a sea of blue it was Robbie Nantwich treating the great and good to his ironic delivery and lip curls and sometimes Robbie Nantwich interviewing Derek.

For once she was happy to acquiesce when Paul assaulted her ears with the latest Bartok album.

Anything was preferable to Derek.

As expected, Norris Farmer and his Sectional Team colleagues left Gridchester well alone. Honour had been satisfied by the selection of a candidate and they neither knew nor cared about the fate of that candidate.

The various stages of the campaign proceeded in their accustomed fashion.
Leaflet delivery was better than expected, but, as usual, there was a shortage of canvassers. Party members were unwilling to risk life and limb by knocking on the doors of strangers in such a hopeless cause.

And I do think, said Sylvia waspishly, opening a litre bottle of supermarket chardonnay,

that Lisbet should set an example. People WANT to know that the candidate is a nice rounded person with a family, just like theirs. She’s never there. Poor Brian has to go round all on his own.

Gail coughed, the unspoken sign between the rest of them that Sylvia was yet again indulging in her favourite pursuit; obsessing about Brian and bad-mouthing his wife.

It was as unfair as blaming Clare Butcher for the crimes of the Peacock Heating Thief – and where were these ideal families to be found except in a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel?

She became part of Brian’s select (small) canvassing team and found the experience intensely depressing.

Hazel and Martin had been shocked when (as The Cagoules) they had turned up on her doorstep in 1983, because she had arraigned them, when all she was supposed to do was to speak one of two words when asked which way she would vote.

The same weakness bedevilled her as a canvasser.

She wanted to talk to people and it felt unspeakably rude to throw metaphorical cold water in the friendly faces of the few who were pleased to see them.

We don’t care what they think; we need to know how they’ll vote, instructed Martin, in long-suffering tones – but she was a lost cause and in the absence of others, would have to do.

From time to time, they met the Tory team (or squadron) headed by their captain, candidate Borthwick Prosser.

Prosser was what her father would have termed an oik; all slicked back hair and Aramis aftershave; loud striped shirts, patterned braces and gold plated cufflinks.
He and his glossy posse swept, in Hermes, down the streets like a plague of marauding locusts, armed to the hilt with clipboards, badges and leaflets taunting I SPY REDS UNDER THE BEDS whenever they happened to collide with Brian’s team.

Hazel was right; he was detestable – but she could also see that he was effective in a way that Brian was not.

Starting with matters sartorial…

Unlike retiring MP, Hedley Mount, Prosser was not a client of Saville Row and in comparison with the elegant MP (whose wardrobe channelled that of HRH the Prince of Wales); his style might be deemed vulgar.

But Brian had no style at all.

Come rain or shine, he sported his lucky canvassing coat; an unfortunate cross between a donkey jacket and quilted Gannex in a depressing sludge colour.
Similarly, his speciality fisherman’s jerseys, trousers best known as slacks with sag at the seat and knee and footwear akin to hiking boots were not designed to inspire confidence.

Worst of all, in place of Aramis was the ever present and overpowering odour arising from the chemicals he worked with as a Rodent Officer.

Requiring a 46-year-old man to ditch the habits of a lifetime and invest in a total makeover was obviously a step too far – but she did think he could do something about the smell.

It isn’t as if it’s that antiseptic carbolic smell, she whispered to the girls when Sylvia was out of the room

It’s got a hint of raw sewage and every time I’m on a doorstep with Brian, I’m wondering if people have noticed --- it’s downright anti social turning up and STINKING at the voters like that….

Hazel and Gail agreed; but as the prospect of broaching matters of personal hygiene with the candidate was out of the question, suggested addressing the matter by wearing extra strong perfume.

It was a solution – of sorts.

Of equal concern was Brian’s canvassing strategy.

He had won the selection on the grounds of

Knowing every inch of Gridchester like the back of my hand

but he knew some areas better than others; including a large run-down estate on the edge of the city. The Nye Estate, built cheaply and hastily at the beginning of the 60s, was home to petty criminals, one-parent families, the jobless and work-shy – and was fertile ground for social workers police officers and, as Brian had discovered in a professional capacity, rats.

The run-down houses and junk-filled gardens bestrewn with refuse were unlikely to contain Borthwick voters; Brian was right about that.

But she felt that he was wrong to assume that such an estate might be packed to the gills with Pelleroe fans – after all, why would people who had been visited by Brian as Chief Rodent Officer to eliminate the vermin that their lifestyle had encouraged wish to elect him as their MP?

The majority of people on the Nye Estate were unlikely to vote at all, and it would be more worthwhile to visit the professional households in the Fleetwood Triangle who were worried about the cost of living and the decline of the NHS.

Brian, however, backed by Sylvia and the Vince O’Reilly trade union gang, knew better and the candidate spent his entire campaign revisiting the sites of previous infestations and setting up work for the future, although not of a parliamentary kind..

The last week of the campaign kicked off with a live candidate question and answer session in St Francis and All Saints church hall.

Paul, who had watched her efforts from the sidelines, decided to accompany her and Christine was engaged to babysit.

His presence was something of a relief.

There had been knowing looks and whispers in some quarters about the fact that her husband did not join her at Party events and she fancied that she had caught the name Dickon Cleave on the lips of enemies such as the Beeches after she had dared to stand up for Clare Butcher.

It was satisfying to sit in the front row next to Lisbet Pelleroe and her own well- dressed husband. Paul had not changed out of his work suit and she was wearing a new red dress from Benetton.

They were a smart couple.

The hall was packed; largely by supporters of the candidates. Members of the public had submitted questions in advance and debate then widened, with impromptu supplementary queries from the floor, fielded by Vicar Bottomley.

Radio Gridchester was recording the session with links to national broadcasts and Philip Twill from The Gridchester Post was the duty reporter. It was all rather exciting.

Brian versus Prosser was not such a one-sided contest as she had expected. Any Pelleroe weaknesses on national issues paled into insignificance beside the gross ignorance of Hayley Jones the Liberal candidate who began every answer with

As a wife and mother…

Also, Borthwick Prosser, to the unbiased eye, could be described as overly cocky.
Brian stood no chance of winning, but he might pick up a few more votes than Austin Cox in ’83 – which would be a good return for all the thankless work.

She looked at her watch. Time for one or at the most two, more questions.

Could I ask, offered a pompous voice coming from behind her

the candidates to say a little about nature and nurture?
From an environmental point of view?

Is it only possible to promote recycling, composting and bottle banks, for example in affluent areas? How can we ensure that the green message is universal and universally observed?

She looked over her shoulder at the speaker; the unmistakeable and seasoned Ernest Cummings, Tory Agent for the region, who had been present at the count for the Laceybrook by-election.

It was a trick question – and Prosser was well-prepared, judging by the ease in which he launched into a spiel about all things environmental and nothing of specific relevance.

Brian cleared his throat and paused.

I’m not quite sure, he faltered, what is the point of Mr Cummings’ question?

It’s simple! shouted Paul merrily.

He means, are poor people more likely to have their homes infested with rats?!

Well, yes, if you…. began Brian, but his words were drowned by the riot and in the interests of safety, he was removed by the police.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

two hundred and twenty-three

picture: Time
that figure ring a bell? It's how many were killed in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam fifteen years ago last week, in al-Qaeda attacks on US diplomatic facilities. US diplomats may have been the target, but most of those killed were Africans, and many others were permanently maimed. So it goes, with terror. Perhaps the memory of this was overshadowed by the 9/11 atrocity three years later. Certainly, those who gloated after 9/11, Guardianistas all, had nothing to say about 7/8 (as it has never been called). For myself, I am probably still trying to recover from the shock of ostensibly well-intentioned people on the left glorying in slaughter and terror, as has been happening since 9/11. I have always been an interventionist, without always realising it. Intervention saved Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge in 1979 - it was done though by the "wrong" people (the Vietnamese). Intervention in Afghanistan the same year gave education and a measure of equality to a generation. I was a strong supporter of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and I think subsequent events have shown me to be right. But that got me called a tankie. Well, yes, probably. Anyway, let's remember those 223 people who were killed by the death-lovers, and those who still mourn them.

Anyone? Anyone?

*sound of tumbleweed*

Best Blessings of Existence 48

In which the song remains the same.

The role of Applications Secretary was less onerous that she had feared, because Gridchester North proved to be predictably unappealing to ambitious Party hopefuls.

The seat had been advertised locally, regionally and in national communications, but her letterbox was of interest to no one but Splosh, who enjoyed impersonating a Rottweiler at a set time on a daily basis.

In vain she explained that the family dog was a softie with ideas above his station, but the postman was not to be dissuaded and took to leaving his wares in a neat pile on the doorstep.

It did not contain a wealth of applications for Gridchester North.

With two days before shut-down, only three intrepid individuals had thrown their hats into the ring.

The first, as expected, was the 1983 candidate, Austin Cox. Cox was a perfectly acceptable and respectable barrister; specialising in company law with chambers in London.

In his mid sixties, he was a solid Party man (and donor) who had no wish to leave a lucrative career for the ignominious life of a backbencher.

He was however keen to do his bit, by flying the Party flag in an unwinnable seat.

Rhiannon Knight was his polar opposite.

Aged 26, she was really Lady Rhiannon Knight, but studying at the LSE had led her to sacrifice a life of privilege (excepting, of course, her monthly parental allowance and Trust Fund) for dedication to the struggle.

She now served on one of the London loony left bodies and had persuaded the Education Authority to proscribe the teaching of the novels of DH Lawrence and Conrad on grounds of overt racist and sexist content.

The third applicant was Brian Pelleroe.

It was an underwhelming list; a ringing endorsement of Norris Farmer’s pessimism.

The stage was therefore set for a brief Selection Committee meeting to shortlist all applicants and determine arrangements for a Hustings Conference when party members would have the opportunity of listening to and voting for, the candidates of their choice.

The candidate who obtained 50% of the vote plus one would be duly anointed as the Party’s champion in Gridchester North.

The Selection Committee meeting was convened and Christine had been booked to babysit from 8.30pm onwards because it was her wedding anniversary.

Paul had secured a table for two at the trendy fish restaurant overlooking the Floribunda Gardens in Gridchester and she was looking forward to it.

The Secret Shell with its funky décor and crashing wave sound effects was expensive; usually beyond their budget, but worth every penny. The Dover sole was superb and she had never tasted such exquisite skate outside France.

Also, she and Paul had survived their rocky patch and were now sailing in much calmer marital waters.

Since the Nuttalls’ party sounded the last hurrah for the Fairway sixth form play, home life had been remarkably harmonious.

Paul’s initiative in reporting the peculiar telephone calls to the supplier had borne fruit and they were spending more time together as a family.Once again, a romantic break a deux was on the cards, and the heavy silver bracelet that she had received from her husband as an anniversary gift was both unexpected and tasteful

He had even thought to arrange a hand-made card from Vanessa and a bunch of flowers from Richard!

But as she picked out a becoming black cotton shift dress (acceptable for the meeting and yet smart enough for the restaurant) she had a sense of foreboding that for once, was nothing to do with her husband.

Paul had made the children their favourite tea; peanut butter sandwiches followed by chocolate Angel Delight, and had officiated at Richard’s bath time: successfully, judging from the laughter floating down the stairs.

She had no complaints on that score.

Her unease was due to a last-minute application for the Gridchester North seat that she wished had got lost in the post.

She walked through the door of the St John’s Ambulance hut to find Norris Farmer preparing to chair the Selection meeting.

He had no interest in Gridchester North or its candidate and every reason to hope that the short-listing process would be a rubber-stamping affair. Short of condoning a convicted criminal, he would have approved any candidate currently resident in the United Kingdom who was literate and numerate. A name on the ballot paper was required; a name would be supplied. Job done.

Far more worrying was the situation in Lowerbridge, where the troublesome Red Heart sect had infiltrated the local Party and was threatening to unseat Derek Kingsmill.

In fact, there was a potentially explosive Party meeting in Lowerbridge later that evening, and his presence was essential to head off a vote of No Confidence in the MP.

Time wasted on Gridchester was time stolen from Lowerbridge and his peremptory clicking noises signalled that comrades should come to attention.

As she took the vacant seat between Hazel and Martin Sweet, she noticed that the usual suspects had been augmented by two less familiar faces. She had met Lester and Chantelle Beech at one of Maureen Booth’s fundraising events.

Maureen was the widow of Melvin; a miner and staunch trade unionist, one of the Grichester party’s folk heroes and a former constituency official.

Prior to her husband’s death from lung cancer, Mrs Booth had been content to stay in the background, offering support at the polling station on election days but had now re-invented herself as a fund-raiser.

Her efforts were not lavish; a fish'n'chip supper here, a quiz evening there – but they paid the bills and the bric-a-brac car boot sale outside The Duke was intended to finance an introductory leaflet for the Gridchester North parliamentary candidate.

Paul had absolutely refused to load the boot of his car with tat and attempt to sell it to Duke regulars like Fatty and Mick, so she joined Hazel and Martin who had loaded their car with half-decent junk from the garage.

The Beeches and their son Darren occupied the slot next to the green Renault and she noticed that their van, emblazoned on the door with the slogan:


followed by contact details of the family electrical business, contained wares of a very specific nature.

Sony stereo systems; Matsushita video recorders and popular films to play on the system that were not yet available for sale or rent, typified the goods on offer, and all appeared to be new rather than second-hand.

Not surprisingly, the crowds surrounding the Beech van ignored the likes of Hazel’s perfectly pleasant willow-pattern china teapot, and after four hours of dogged endurance, it was decided that the tally of precisely £22.65 would have to do.

The Beeches, by contrast, left with an empty van –having disposed of its entire contents in the space of two hours.

It was a surprise to discover at the next Party meeting that the total profit from the car boot sale had been a disappointing £172. 98.
Those video recorders might have had wings the way they were flying out of the van! she observed to Gail who was now deputising as Treasurer for the absent Clare Butcher.

Were they giving them away?

I doubt it very much, replied Gail.

They donated precisely £50 of their takings, saying that the rest of the money covered the costs of ‘Our Darren’ rigging up a sound system and paying the band for the Christmas disco.

It’s all lies – they’ve just used the Party for a car boot slot to flog ‘back of a lorry’ stuff. But what can we do? We’ve only just got over Ron Butcher!

The idea that the Party been exploited by three of its members as cover for the sale of stolen goods was deplorable, and when she was informed that the path of least resistance was chosen because Lester Beech was suspected of having at least one spent conviction for violence and could get nasty, she was simply appalled.

And here were the Beeches, sitting at the right hand of Norris Farmer on the Selection Committee, smirking and winking smugly.

It was detestable.

Norris, who was determined to wind up business as soon as possible, rattled through the section of the Rule Book entitled: The Selection of Parliamentary Candidates, suggested that Gridchester Little Theatre would be an appropriate venue for the Hustings and final vote and proposed that all three candidates be invited to attend on a date to be decided, one month from today.

And that should be all, he pronounced, rising to his feet and no doubt musing that the determination of a candidate shortlist in 12 minutes flat, was something of a personal record.

She looked at her feet and coughed. It was now or never.

There has been, she said, producing a brown A4 envelope

another application. It came before noon on the cut-off day, so it has to be considered – and it’s a woman so that would mean two men and two women in terms of gender balance? (Looking hopefully around the table).

I knew it! shouted Fred Hoy, throwing his cap into the air and glaring triumphantly at Norris Farmer.

I said we were being defeatist! I KNEW that this would be just the right launch pad for a future Prime Minister!
And who (turning to her and smiling)

Is the brave young lady?

She took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes.

Clare Butcher, she replied.

Norris Farmer did not to get to the Lowerbridge meeting and Derek Kingsmill had to beat off a spirited challenge from Red Heart without his assistance.

She did not enjoy an anniversary dinner at The Secret Shell and suspected that the fragile green shoots of marital recovery withered and died when she telephoned her husband from the public bar in The Duke where they had repaired after the meeting to inform him that something had come up and it was totally impossible for her to get away.

She sat beside Hazel and the girls in a corner, sipping wine in her dinner dress and experiencing sensations of utter misery ;wondering (not for the first time ) whether the Party really was an organisation that she wished to belong to, support, or even vote for.

Twenty-three years later, including her eight years as an MP, the question remained the same.

She still wanted an answer.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Olivia Manning, 'The Balkan Trilogy'

This was first published I think in 1960, and recounted a world that was already vanished then. The British Council, English teachers in Romania and Greece. One reviewer, who is an English teacher, said that the profession had just as many "idiots and charlatans" in it then as it does now. This is my short review on Goodreads.

Lovely sharp descriptive writing and a great portrayal of a world which has vanished, set in Romania and Greece before and during the Second World War. But ultimately just a bit pointless. Her nickname was "Olivia Moaning" in literary circles, and reading this you can see why.

Looking at it I was perhaps a little unkind. The descriptive writing is some of the best I have read, and the characters are wonderfully drawn. I was never even slightly bored. Some little things struck me. When the Pringles, the couple at the centre of the book, whose marriage is new but already troubled, have to leave Romania when that country sides with the Nazis, and go to Greece, Harriet, the wife, discovers that the English people in Athens are not the same type as those in Bucharest.
"The English who lived in Bucharest had gone there to work. The English in Athens were clearly of a different order. Encountering for the first time people who lived abroad unoccupied, she was amazed by their inactivity..." But she doesn't have a job herself! She has gone there to accompany her husband. She has absolutely nothing to do, and this is a theme of the book. Autres temps...

The conversation is great too. It reads as though it took place. An English pilot, feted by the Greek crowds, shouts "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!" When asked by one of the Greeks what that means, one of the English replies "It is an old English battle-cry".

And here is a song that appealed to me: (Do others know it?)

A petty bourgeois philistine
He didn't know the party line.
Although his sentiments were right
He was a bloomin' Trotskyite.
Despite great mental perturbation,
Persistent left-wing deviation
Dogged his footsteps till at last
Discouraged by his awful past
And taking it too much to heart he
Went and joined the Labour Party.
The moral of this tale is when in
Doubt consult the works of Lenin.

Well, it amused me.

Guy Deutscher, 'Through the Language Glass'

This is a readable book about language non-linguists would probably like. You could call it popular science. Or  you could just call it readable and enjoyable. Its author reminds us several times that his own first language is not English (I believe it is Hebrew) but it is not translated. Either the author has a perfect command of English, which is highly likely, or he has a brilliant editor (which is also likely). I want people to know about this book, which was first published in 2010 (and which reminds us that the Sapir-Whorf thesis no longer holds good, as I am sure readers are aware). You can get it here.

I can't really do better than publish my short review first posted on Goodreads (a terrific book-sharing app by the way, and no, nobody is paying me to write this stuff, though I'm open to offers), so here it is.

Entertaining and erudite, this book takes you on a gallop through the myths about language and how they have been exploded, and makes you think just a bit differently. I picked it up by chance when I saw on Goodreads that someone I knew was reading it, and I'm very glad I did. Things you thought you knew... I always thought Homer called the sea "wine-dark" because he was blind and didn't know what colours were, because after all the sea can look a number of colours, but dark red is never one of them. But I was wrong. Put simply, Deutscher stands up the controversial notion that language shapes the way we think.

Anatole Kaletsky, 'Capitalism 4.0'

"Events can move from impossible to inevitable, without ever passing through improbable." This is about capitalism, yes, and it is about the so-called financial crisis of a few years ago; in fact it was written kind of during it. I have long admired Kaletsky's writing in The Times. On the free market, he points out that the freest-market economies in the world are failed states and gangster societies such as Somalia, Congo, and Afghanistan. He gives historical gems, such as the fact that income tax was declared unconstitutional in the US in 1885. He quotes J.K. Galbraith, writing in 1977, "We all agree that pessimism is a mark of superior intellect". This book however is supremely optimistic, and as such a cheering read. He writes interestingly of the "demystification of money" which had already happened by 1990. Once Nixon had removed the US from the gold standard in 1971, every form of money in the world, including the communist world, became "an abstract symbol of confidence in the government that ordered its issue." I had never thought of it like tht before, but it's true. Keynes, he notes, had called dependence on gold "a barbarous relic".

With the (near) end of communism as a system of government, three million people have entered capitalist economies since the late 1980s. That is still playing out. Polonius, remember him from Hamlet "Neither a borrower nor a lender be", blah blah, is described by Kaletsky as "possibly the most misguided character in Shakespeare", which seems about right. But, "not only had the rigorously free-market model of capitalism introduced in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan proved unmanageable and unstable, it also had failed to produce the great leap forward in living standards and productivity claimed by the proponents of deregulation and minimal government." That fundamentalist market system crashed in 2007-09 and is not to be repaired. He also makes the point that essential human needs, such as food, clothing and housing, are left almost entirely to the private sector in just about all societies. (Although not health, but that is another book).

On what actually happened to the banks: liquidity rules were abandoned, especially in the US and Britain. After the crash UK liquidity became similar to that of the eurozone. Governments should regulate for it to stay that way, which would make future crashes a lot less likely. "The risk management of banks is too important to be outsourced to private credit rating agencies". The taxpayer, according to Kaletsky, is the silent partner in banking. The 1980s and 90s saw the victory of capital over labour just about everywhere - except in banking, where the workers looted the capital at the expense of the shareholders (in bonuses and huge salaries). This does not happen in high-end industry such as Microsoft. Wall Street and the City of London are the last bastions of Marxist workers' control.

On the future for China, Kaletsky cites Will Hutton on the need for it to develop the "soft infrastructure of capitalism", by which he means secure propeprty rights, representative government, an independent judiciary, and a business culture that is not solely driven by the desire for instant personal enrichment. He notes that China is commissioning as many coal-fired power stations every two years as Britain has built in its entire history. Economics is more akin to history or psychology than to physics or biology, he says. Yes, I say, also because ordinary people have opinions, that they often think are authoritative, about history and psychology, but rarely about physics and biology.

This is a chronicle of recent developments in capitalism, and is a good read. It is hugely optimistic, and in reasoned fashion. Everyone who is in politics should read it. Economists already have. Highly recommended. I am not an economist, and so I had to make a lot of notes, but the fact that I wanted to, rather than falling asleep over the book, says much for it. Keep at it Anatole. Get the book here, readers.

where's the dagger?

this picture shows the top two candidates on the Labour list for the Euro elections 2014. Notice the slightly odd angle of the shoulder of Mr Howarth and the unrealistically manicured hand draped on Anneliese Dodds' shoulder, It's a fake, peeps, and what house are they outside? The home of - who? Wherever the dagger is now it will
be quivering between the shoulder blades of Ms Dodds the moment she looks like winning the election. They managed to stop her in 2010 by chaining her to the bedpost in Singleton-White's attic. But now?

Thursday, 8 August 2013


I look at, and sometimes contribute to, a couple of sites which are aimed at anglophones who live in France. Some of the threads can be very interesting, and some controversial. Most of the Brit expats in France don't live like I do - they tend to live in houses not apartments and often run gites or have things like fields with horses in them, and they don't live in eastern France, largely because the weather is crap here. People mostly don't fit the UK resident's stereotyped perception of Brits in France, ie non-French-speaking and pining for Waitrose, although those people do exist. Sometimes you get really helpful information, usually to do with the nightmare that is French bureaucracy. Below is an excerpt from a comment that shocked me rather. Fyi: there are no charity shops in France. Emmaus is a charity that collects furniture, clothing and household goods, often when someone has died, and redistributes them at low cost. It is centralised, so you have to travel to them. The FN is the Front National, and I think we all know what that party are about. I'll comment further below, but would be most interested in what especially UK-based readers think.

"...yesterday I happened to be in Emmaus in Pau and saw a Roma Gypsy family begging at the gate - literally everyone looked on them with contempt - everyone watched their every move, even when a young gypsy girl pushed me and made my drink fly in the air ( she pushed into me hard) they then went to take their old threadbare buggy up towards the buggy area and replace it with a newer version - they unnerved everyone, and were thrown out several times. It's on these occasions that you sympathise with the FN - these people have no right to be in our country of residence, they have no moral values and no allegiance towards this wonderful country we live in! They contribute nothing to our social system, and do nothing but terrorise our nation! We have many friends who believe in the National Front in France - I completely understand their stance - is this a racist thing or is it based on morale values... I'll watch this thread with interest!"

Just a few remarks. Beggars, Roma or not, are a common sight in French cities, as they are in other countries. It may well be true that on the occasion described "everyone watched their every move" - how would you feel if that was done to you? I'm not clear about the law on begging in France, they may well have been behaving illegally, or not, I don't know. If they were, why did no-one call the police? In any event, if the people described were EU citizens, as is likely, they almost certainly had the right to be in France. They might even have been born here. Many Roma people work and pay tax, and more would do so if it were not for the prejudice they face, as we see here. They certainly were entitled to go to Emmaus and get a new buggy, which would have cost them a lot less than buying one in a shop. "They have no moral values"  - how does this person know that? And as for "terrorising our nation" - at first I laughed, but really, it's not funny.

It's not so much that these attitudes are present, it is that they are expressed in a fairly public forum - you have to join this site, but you are not vetted in any way, at least I wasn't - without apparent embarrassment.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Best Blessings of Existence 47

She was rather looking forward to the selection of a parliamentary candidate.

Admittedly, from the Party’s perspective, Gridchester North was an atrocious seat and every penny wasted on it would be better spent in defending Derek Kingsmill’s wafer-thin majority in neighbouring Lowerbridge

But received wisdom, handed down the generations like an albatross, was that people should have an opportunity to vote for the Party no matter where they were foolish enough to reside.

Otherwise the Party would be vulnerable to the charge of punishing people on grounds of geographical preference.

A candidate must and would be selected.

Paul was scathing:

For God’s sake, darling, why not pin a rosette on Splosh and have done with it?!

She could see the logic but was not about to admit it. They were sipping rather vinegary white wine chez Nuttall, the venue for the cast party after the week’s run of the Fairway 6th form play.

The Winter’s Tale was an ambitious choice for Fairway Grammar and broke with the tradition of a comedy such as Dighton’s The Happiest Days of Your Life, affording amateur thespians the opportunity to channel Margaret Rutherford or Alistair Sim, - or a musical, in which case Oh What a Lovely War was favourite.

At Oaks’ Haven, she had achieved a modest success with Miller’s The Crucible, but the complexity of a Shakespearian tragedy was an enormous challenge for 17 year old boys; and girls on loan from Fairway Convent.

She did not think that they had risen to it.

The performance had been execrable in every respect; from the garish backdrops courtesy of the Upper 6th Art set, to the mangled verse.

Kathryn Nuttall had assumed the role of Wardrobe Mistress and the skimpy green tunics she had designed for the Bohemia scenes left little to the imagination, especially when the actors bounded around the stage in an impromptu dance that Paul had choreographed for the Sheep Shearers’ Feast.

Diaghilev he was not, and lumpen limbs thrusting back and forth to the insistent rhythm bore no comparison with Nijinsky.

Worst of all, Paul himself had taken the helm, deputising at the last moment for the original Florizel, who had broken his ankle in rehearsal.

She sat in the front row next to John Nuttall, squirming with embarrassment, as her husband, in full three piece suit with fob watch, read from the script whilst cavorting with a nubile, scantily clad Perdita.

When Paul delivered the famous lines:

What you do
Still betters what is done.
When you speak, sweet,
I’d have you do it ever.

There were whistles and shouts of Bravo!

Escape was impossible - and it was also impossible to ignore the fact that Paul had thrown himself into the role with gusto.

She fancied, like Leontes in the Sicilia scenes, that there was rather too much paddling of palms going on and was thankful that the performance marked the end rather than the beginning of a process.

At the party in the Nuttalls’ handkerchief garden, there was much jollity and back-slapping with Paul as the hero of the hour, lauded by his Headmaster; Stuart Guinness for putting Fairway on the map.

A reporter from The Gridchester Post; the local paper covering both Gridchester and Fairway, was scurrying amidst cast members, and she noted to her chagrin that it was Philip Twill; the print assassin of Ron Butcher.

She also noted the fact that Perdita (the only cast member who had not changed out of her tunic into something a little more respectable) was chasing Paul round the garden like a Jack Russell.

He’s so patient with her, said Kathryn Nuttall in a tone of intense and barely concealed irritation.

But really, you’d think the nuns would teach her how to behave.
She’s obviously shortened her tunic and when she performed the arabesque, you could see everything she’s got! Although perhaps that was the idea.

The atmosphere was fractious and it was a relief to get home to Binley.

Over the forthcoming days and weeks, the Party embarked upon the candidate selection process for Gridchester North, starting with a visit from the Sectional Team Head, Norris Farmer.

At a special meeting in The Duke, peering frostily over half-mooned spectacles, the fifty-plus, dusty official outlined the process before, in effect, tearing up the Rule Book ( because you’re unlikely to get more than a handful of people interested and it would be better to shortlist them all and have done with it).

There were murmurings of discontent; openly voiced by Fred Hoy who had resumed attendance at meetings:

Well, Norris, I think that’s a bit pessimistic, isn’t it?
We’re hoping for quite a few applications. If everyone had taken that line in 1945 and 1966 we wouldn’t have had the landslides; or our great reforming Governments for working people.

Norris gave a world- weary sigh. During 30 years as a paid Party official, he had heard it all before.

Parties in unwinnable seats accepted that they were unwinnable for 99% of the time and were so lazy and irresponsible that they rarely be-stirred themselves to collect the membership money, to say nothing of organising a fundraising programme.

But as soon as a General Election was in the offing, they suddenly became affronted at being reminded of a status they had formerly accepted; nurtured delusions of victory and in practice, concentrated all their efforts on pestering Tory supporters in the black hole, rather than canvassing in marginal seats like Lowerbridge.

It was why the Party had never enjoyed full consecutive terms of Government and why the Tories were the most successful political party in Europe.

Tonight, he had neither the time nor the inclination to engage.

Well – pigs might fly, he said cheerily and left.

She sat with the girls in The Malmsey Head discussing the forthcoming candidate hustings. As it turned out, Norris, rather than Fred had been prescient; three people had applied for the thankless task of flying the Party flag in Gridchester North, including Party Chairman, Brian Pelleroe.

It’s GOT to be Brian! enthused Sylvia

Otherwise there’s absolutely NO point in fighting the Election! He knows every inch of Gridchester like the back of his hand –what interloper could match that?

She opened a new packet of menthol cigarettes and offered them round.

Of course, there was no point in fighting the Election in Gridchester North. Even if the Party Leader decided to abandon his own enormous majority and don the candidate mantle, the result would be the same.

However, Sylvia had a point. As Chief Rodent Officer for Gridchester District Council, Brian did know every inch of the constituency like the back of his hand and had treated most of it for infestation.
He was especially strong on Public Health and could campaign for an upgrade to the sewerage system, for example.

In the interests of friendship she conceded these points, but was not really concentrating.

She had taken a series of peculiar telephone calls at home: the line always cut out when she picked up the receiver. The warmer weather had ushered in a spate of petty burglaries; including an attack on the video shop near her home.

The assailants, who had terrorised Mr Patel in their black balaclavas, forcing him to drop to his knees and beg for mercy like a dog, did not steal anything and turned out to be truants from the language remedial class at GC.

But it was unnerving.

She did not teach the youths, who were quickly apprehended and had already made their first appearance at Gridchester Magistrates’ Court - but the proximity to her own home and her dog and small children was extremely unpleasant.

Do you think, she asked, inhaling for a change, that we’re being targeted?

Sort of Patels yesterday – us today? Do you think they’re putting down a marker – like a cat spraying?

She rarely spoke about GC or her work there to the girls - there would have been no point of reference - but today recounted an incident from last week when she had reported a boy to the Principal for tormenting a girl in the corridor.

He called her a lezzer – I didn’t know either of them and with that kind of lad, any girl who turns him down must be gay – but she was crying so I reported him.
He was suspended. Could he have got his mates up to this - to teach me a lesson? We’re not ex-directory.

Sylvia sniffed. She wanted to talk about Brian’s campaign and now the evening would over before she had the chance to wax lyrical over the merits of the Gridchester Chairman.

I don’t THINK so…

offered Hazel sagely.

It could be any number of things; a shared line, faulty connection --- oh and what about that after-play party that you went to? The one where they were all running around with no clothes on? What about that?

Had Hazel taken leave of her senses?

How could the Nuttalls’ cast party possibly be related to anonymous telephone calls?

No – you’re not getting it! cried Hazel excitedly.

That reporter was there – Philip Twill! You said he was nosing around! The one who wrote all the Butcher muck!

It’s a set up by The Post! YOUR NAME as Applications Secretary was printed in the paper. All applications to you and the cut off date! He’s trying to intimidate you and trying to scupper the selection! I knew it! It’s a Tory trick! They’re hand in glove with Prosser!

Did he say anything to you at the party? Think back! Did he mention the selection?

No. He hadn’t, and now Hazel was obsessing about her pet topic; the perfidy of Ron Butcher in relation to the evils of the Tory press.

But in the absence of another solution…

Paul arrived home later than usual and the chicken chasseur with button mushrooms and sauté potatoes had seen better days.

Her husband seemed to think so too, because he pushed his meal around the plate with little enthusiasm, rather like Richard when faced with carrots and sprouts.

She had been talking about telephone calls for 10 minutes to an unresponsive audience – Paul was barely listening and left the table to put Petrushka on the record player.

Stravinsky at full volume reminded her of The Rites of Spring

Hazel thought that the calls might be linked to the Nuttall’s party…

The comment was aimed at her husband’s back and Paul swung round angrily.

Oh for God’s sake – what does Hazel Sweet know about the party – or about anything to do with me for that matter? What have you been telling her? She’s an interfering old bag and, frankly I expect Martin has to put a bag over her head or he’d never get it up!

She’s a frustrated old cow and I’m amazed that you’d want to waste a second on what she thinks about anything!

His words were slightly slurred; they had not had wine with dinner and he must have stopped off at The Duke before coming home.

Nothing was said about you, why would it be? she countered.

Paul certainly did look the worse for wear and his forehead was shiny with sweat.

How odd that she had only just noticed it.

She meant the reporter – Philip Twill from The Post. He was interviewing the cast and of course, must have known that I’m your wife. Hazel wondered if he was up to mischief over the candidate selection. My name’s been in the paper three times recently as Applications Secretary.

There was a pause. Paul eased into the wheel - backed chair and took off his jacket.

Was she imagining it, or did he seem more relaxed? The storm had passed.
Of course, the play must have exhausted him. Weeks of rehearsals, all after school and now – nothing!
There was bound to be a winding down process. She should be more sensitive.

Paul gave the ironic smile she knew so well and shook his head.

Stalin’s Granny is a complete fantasist! It’s a fault on the line – I contacted BT about it earlier today – didn’t I say? Quite a few people in this group of streets have complained. It’s sorted now
(with an air of certainty).

But I think you should ask me, darling, before you let them put your name and address in the paper --- any loony could pick it up and take advantage.

She cleared the table and mixed a stiff gin and tonic, feeling slightly silly about the phone calls. She has made a fuss about nothing when Paul had done the sensible thing by reporting it.

Now Hazel would be telling all the comrades that The Post had conspired with Borthwick to sabotage the candidate selection process. Was it too late to call and set the record straight?

Petrushka’s theme reminded her of the Perdita, and Kathryn’s comments about her tunic.

She looked at Paul; happily tapping a boot to the rhythm.

The girl who played Perdita she said, stifling a laugh

Kathryn said she didn’t wear knickers! What do you think?

Paul did not reply.