Thursday, 21 August 2014

Desert Island Discs in Yorkshire

Yes I know, posting your desert island discs is frivolous and shallow, but hey, I'm on holiday.  In Yorkshire, since you ask, for the walking, to help mend my leg. It's so cold for August I've had to buy warm clothes, even though I knew the summer clothes I would wear in Alsace would not do in Leeds. The tracks are in no particular order.

1. The Moody Blues, 'Nights in White Satin''. Tune of my teenage years, and I have never tired of it. One of the great swooning ballads of all time.

2. The Rolling Stones, 'Paint It Black'. It's not the greatest thing they have ever done, but I think it is the clearest and the most powerful. Most pop songs, rock anthems etc are not about death, or not entirely, even the girl-group tragedy ones (see below), but this one is.

3. The Hollies, 'Bus Stop'. A near-perfect pop song, with the then-great voice of Graham Nash.

4. The Shangri-Las, 'Remember'. The best of the girl groups. 'Rock Dreams', back in the day, called them "three schoolgirls in black leather". I love the pauses in this. I will never get tired of it as long as I live.

And now, moving a little nearer the present day:

5. Stromae, "Formidable". He sings only in French. The most famous Belgian. All human life is there. And every line is simple, as Brel was. "Tu etais formidable, j'etais fort minable".

Back again to the past:

6. Jacques Brel, "Amsterdam". A dead famous Belgian. He of course also sang only in French, but nobody asked about that then. A perfect chanson. "Comme des oriflammes, le long des berges mornes."

7. The Beatles, "Strawberry Fields For Ever". For the nonsense of it, though I suspect John Lennon took the words a little more seriously than I do.

8. Tom Lehrer, "The Periodic Table". Just because. No one else could.

A bit old, all these. And yet I like a lot of today's modern beat combos. I'm sure these favourites will change over time, but that is what I would take if I had to go today.

Book? To Kill A Mockingbird. (Tussle between that and Wuthering Heights, but the latter has too much property in it, which wouldn't really do on a desert island.)

Luxury item: Tussle between a supply of Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream and pen and notebook to write with. The latter wins, by a whisker.

The one record I'd choose of them all? Difficult, but it's the Brel.

Just a bit of fun. You? Love to hear it.

An artificial water war

David Aaronovitch, writing in today's Times (£) expresses concern at recent statements and lobbying by the Angling Trust and (allegedly) other organisations promoting angling. Their stance, he writes, is that other river users, and specifically canoeists, are damaging the riparian environment for anglers. This may of course be true, though it does seem to me that it is not canoeists who leave tangled lines on riverbanks which cause injury and death to water birds and other animals. I therefore took the opportunity to cast a cursory look at the document Aaronovitch refers to, namely 'Conflict on the Riverbank', published late last year by the Angling Trust. My attention was drawn to these words:

Angling Trust National Campaigns Coordinator Martin Salter said:
"The Angling Trust has been challenging the claims being made by militant canoeists that they should have
a right paddle up every river, stream or brook in Britain irrespective of ownership or the impact this has on wildlife or other people's enjoyment. The rights of navigation are clear in law and there are thousands of miles of navigable rivers and waterways to which canoeists have legal access. We also have well worked voluntary access agreements in place which allow canoeing on some rivers such as the Dart and the upper Wye at times of high water when fishing will not be affected.

"They should have a right paddle"? Who edits this stuff? John Howarth?

Be that as it may,there are voluntary agreements in place in respect of various of the rivers of England which aim to secure harmonious use of the rivers by various users - walkers, including dog walkers, cyclists, anglers, canoeists, and, oh I don't know, hang-gliders and aficionados of naked riverbank yoga for all I know. So it's surely possible for everyone to play nicely together. And as Aaronovitch points out, even if canoeists do damage the experience of fish-torturing that anglers enjoy, those canoeists have precisely zero influence on the leisure experience of walkers, runners, cyclists and (probably) naked riverbank yogis. So this is anglers trashing canoeists. Now I am neither an angler nor a canoeist, but I am a user of the riverside, as an occasional walker and cyclist there, and in the past few months I  have become a gardener on a riverside plot in my home country of France (where the rules are a bit different - let's not go there). I see canoeists and anglers apparently happily coexisting on my local rivers.

Anyway Aaronovitch's piece (he declares an interest as a sometime canoeist but is fairly even-handed on the whole) is helpful in drawing the nation's attention to this piece of meretricious bollocks.
The rights of navigation are in fact not very clear in respect of a great many rivers and other water bodies in England. Where they are they tend to favour canoeists, as Mr Salter knows, perhaps because canoeists have no effect on the wildlife ecology, as Mr Salter should also know. Banning canoeists from rivers, including school groups and children's holiday clubs, would be SUCH a popular cause in an election year, hein?
And "We" have well worked agreements? Who's "we"? This is a manufactured and artificial conflict. Mr Salter has form on this, going back to his time as Labour MP for  Reading West, and before. First it was "Trash the Cormorants!" (He urged mass culls of cormorants by shooting, attracting the ire of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, among others). Then it was "Trash the Otters!" (Little Tarka Must Die!) and, at least as worryingly, it was "Trash the East Europeans!" (who apparently don't torment fish for pleasure as True Englishmen do, but often fish just for some dinner (perfectly legal on most English rivers most of the time)). Leaving aside the question of how he could tell when it had been East Europeans doing Bad Things (did the fish report that a Nasty Polish Man Did It And Ran Away?), this last attracted the enthusiastic agreement of Joe ("Send 'em Back!") Baker of the Reading  Anglers' Association,  so I think we know whose vote was wanted there.

As the election approaches, what do the candidates where you live think about banning canoeists, otters, cormorants and East Europeans from the rivers?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Rob Wilson, 'Eye of the Storm'

A long and tedious period of recovery following an accident in early February this year has curtailed my activity somewhat, but I am mending and back. A sick bed gives plenty of time for reading. Even more, it gives the opportunity to read the new books as soon as they come out. I do tend to try and do this anyway, rather than leaving them on a reading pile until everyone has forgotten why they might have been interested in the first place.  Dickens and Austen, by contrast, won't mind if it thus takes me a bit longer to finish reading them.

I do take an interest in the career of Rob Wilson, elected for the constituency of Reading East in the Conservative interest in 2005, and representing that constituency to this day. That is largely, but not entirely, because he was my successor as MP for that constituency. He has written a couple of interesting books, and this is one of them. People at the centre of events seem to be willing to talk to him. This book is about political scandals, and those at the centre of them, hence its title. For those readers who don't remember what the scandals were all about, be assured, it doesn't really matter.

Andrew Mitchell, who was innocent of what he was accused of ("Plebgate", anyone?) handled his scandal much less well than did Chris Huhne, who was entirely guilty. Probably because MItchell really did not imagine, to begin with, that accusations could simply be made up out of nothing. Well, yes they can, Andrew, and that is why most people still have some vague notion that you spat in the face of a serving police officer, or some other such poor creature. Whereas Chris Huhne, who was guilty of perverting the course of justice and went to prison for it, has been more or less forgotten, and if he is remembered no one is quite sure what if anything he did wrong. Mostly when people say there is a conspiracy against them they are not believed, as Mitchell wasn't. But sometimes it's true.

On the Jeremy Hunt affair, who seemed to me, as an outsider to all this, like a scandal that never was, Wilson cites a senior Tory as saying that the subsequent Labour motion, on which the LibDems abstained, although they were and are in government, was "typical LibDems - a high moral tone and low politics". Wilson describes Hunt's political survival as "a testament to his temperament and his resilience". It is the psychology of those in the eye of these storms that is beginning to emerge as interesting here. Those who can compartmentalise, and those who can stand outside their own emotions, seem to survive best.

Some language issues with the book ("steely" is rather too much of a favourite word); use of cliches ("little did he know": surely only used ironically these days?) and some iffy use of modals (a linguist writes).

Note that Jacqui Smith would not have been done over if it had not been for a malicious neighbour in London. This is how it always happens. "Officials took the unusual step of removing all the newspapers from Smith's sight" - hah! Porn films, we all remember. But I never claimed for any of this stuff, only rent. Why did these people do it? We got paid enough to buy all the DVDs we wanted. Smith said, allegedly, that sometimes when she meets people she thinks "Where were you when I needed help?" What did you expect, Jacks? For Smith "throughout the difficult period, her sister Sara would look after her in London, and would cook for her after work". Oh really? Where are the tears for the rest of us, who had no such creature to look after us?

He's a big fan of Stewart Jackson, the Tory MP for Peterborough since 2005, clearly. I've never been able to afford a house with a swimming pool. Others. John Swallow. Phil Jeffery. Nadhim Zahawi, quoted on his expenses scandal, "For two and a half weeks everything stopped." Really? I had this stuff for seven years. Very nearly non stop.

Charles Clarke, he says "made little attempt to reach out to backbenchers". I think that's wrong. He did. What he didn't do was call that in when the time came. Why not? He had more history in the party, and in various left groupings from NUS times on, than most did.

When you are at the eye of the storm, most of your friends will turn against you. Your family will undoubtedly turn its back on you. Your spouse won't, unless there were pre-existing problems. That's just how it is. This book doesn't analyse all that, but the psychology of scandal is ripe for a book. And this one will be part of its source.