Cause for optimism in 2014: Uncle Bogler’s cheery old Review of the Year

Let me depress you.

According to some UN agency that has carried out a survey across 67 countries, people are more optimistic now than at any time in the past decade.

This is despite the fact that many respondents must have lived through 2013. Possibly, like General Sharon, they have been in a medically induced coma. So here is Uncle Bogler’s roundup of 50 things that happened last year:

  1. Today: In the wake of fresh sectarian riots, rival Catholic and Protestant politicians in Northern Ireland fail to decide whose flags should be flown on which days from Belfast City Hall. After several months of debating this vitally important matter, US mediation fails to break the deadlock.
  2. Seven-times Formula One champion, winner of over 70 Grands Prix, possibly the greatest motor racing driver in history, 44-year-old Michael Schumacher is fighting for his life in a Grenoble hospital after falling over and bashing his head on a rock while leisure skiing in the genteel resort of Meribel. He was wearing a safety helmet. You have been warned
  3. In Spain, over 50% of males under 25 are unemployed. Bonus fact: 10% of people under 25 in Britain surveyed by The Prince’s Trust say they have contemplated suicide. 30% felt there was little point in living.
  4. Hundreds of desperate economic migrants and refugees fleeing horrifying violence from Africa and the Middle East have died in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. The front-line islands of Malta and Lampedusa are overwhelmed. Little help is forthcoming from the EU despite calls to tackle the problem.
  5. Possibly 10,000 people have been massacred on tribal lines by rival militias supporting the elected President and rebel Vice-President of the potentially oil-rich state of South Sudan, which only came into being in 2011 after 20 years of bloody civil war with the north. 180,000 refugees internally displaced in makeshift camps have no food and little fresh water.
  6. Nelson Mandela, symbol of hope for millions in South Africa, dies at 94. At his memorial ceremony, a madman is hired by ANC organisers to sign President Zuma’s address for the deaf. The President of the USA and the Prime Minister of Britain are captured on TV taking a ‘selfie’ on a mobile phone with the attractive, blonde Prime Minister of Denmark, while Michelle Obama looks away in disgust.
  7. The word ‘selfie’ (meaning a photograph one has taken of oneself) enters the English dictionary.
  8. Ten million refugees flee the civil war in Syria, either internally displaced or in precarious, freezing camps across the Lebanese, Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi borders. Utterly dismal failure of the international community to step in and help builds only trouble for the future. Too many atrocities to list here.
  9. The Syrian army murders thousands of civilians with chemical weapons. Despite having warned him not to do this, US and Britain back down from launching a punitive attack on President Assad after he agrees international experts can destroy 1,000 tonnes of Sarin nerve agent he has stockpiled, enough to kill six million people. Experts decide to dump the poison off the coast of Cyprus.
  10. Increasingly isolationist and bitterly divided US Congress repeatedly fails to agree Presidential budgets and programmes. Already underpaid public service employees go two weeks without pay. 30 million poor Americans go without proper healthcare.
  11. True extent of US global electronic surveillance through operation PRISM is revealed by self-exiled whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Google, other search engines and social networks have been used to spy on literally everyone. World leaders’ phones have been tapped. Only the security service seems surprised.
  12. Nearly naked, ex-Disney poster child and teeny pop diva Miley Cyrus wiggles her cutey little ass suggestively against the writhing groin of a black dancer in a promotional video. Goes viral, leads to the invention of the etymologically meaningless word ‘twerking’.
  13. Twerking enters the dictionary along with ‘selfie’. Death of the English language is announced.
  14. Growing tensions in the South China Sea, ostensibly over ownership of a few small, uninhabited islands and their coastal fishing grounds, revives fears of Chinese reprisal for 70-year-old Japanese war atrocities. The annual visit by Japanese Prime Minister Abe to a shrine to Japanese war dead results in the abandonment of proposed talks.
  15. Diplomatic tension grows between UK and Spain over construction of an artificial reef outside the harbour of long-contested Gibraltar peninsula, upsetting the one Spanish fisherman who claims rights there. Extra border checks ordered by Spain detain fuming commuters up to six hours a day. The EU rules in favour.
  16. 350,000 British families are reportedly relying on free food banks this Christmas. Britain has the seventh largest economy in the world (it’s slipped a bit lately). The number of City of London bankers earning salaries in excess of £1 million a year now exceeds 2,000.
  17. Sectarian tensions and violence continue to escalate in Iraq, on the verge of becoming a failed state. Some estimates of civilian deaths since the invasion of 2003 now exceed one million. 132k seems more accurate.  1 January, city of Fallujah falls to al-Qaeda forces.
  18. Much-vaunted England batting line-up collapses in total humiliation in the Ashes cricket test series in Australia (no, seriously, this is important). For the fourth match in succession, England’s bowlers fail to make a dent, fielders fumble many catching opportunities; Aussies crow.  Star bowler Graeme Swann quits the game and flies home. Coach Andy Flower says he still has much to contribute and plans to stay on, regardless. One more match to go…
  19. Following retirement in 2013 of the Titanic figure of manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, under Arsène Wenger rivals Arsenal go top of the Premiership league, Man. United sink slowly from view…
  20. Islamic al-Shabab insurgents seek to impose sharia states in Algeria, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Central African Republic. Supported by the African Union, French troops are drawn into a spiralling neocolonial war in the southern Sahel, hailed as the new front in the ‘War on Terror’.
  21. Continuing US drone strikes in northern Pakistan create tension, preventing possibly constructive talks with Taliban leadership. Most NATO troops on course for withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, raising fears of rapid collapse of Karzai government and ending of rights for women. Cameron hails job done, after 12 years of war.
  22. A 75% wealth tax is introduced in France.
  23. Payment for sex, also in France, is criminalised (surely the final blow to traditional French culture?).
  24. Fragile democracy experiment in Egypt ends after weeks of demonstrations with the arrest and show trial of autocratic elected president Morsi and the reimposition of military dictatorship. Over 200 Muslim Brotherhood party leaders are killed or imprisoned. The US suspends some military aid.
  25. ‘Arab Spring’ countries Tunisia and Libya on the verge of sectarian meltdown, awash with Western-supplied weapons. Random Islamist militias imposing unilateral rule on parts of both countries, making them ungovernable. BP gas field targeted by al-Shabab hostage-takers retaken by Algerian special forces. 39 killed. US ambassador assassinated in Benghazi.
  26. Some progress is finally made in US nuclear negotiations with Iran after election of moderate president Rouhani and constructive interventions by Secretary of State, John Kerry. Immediately condemned by Iran’s radical clerics and Revolutionary Guard.  Condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. And condemned by the US Republican senate. Does no-one want peace?
  27. A ‘two-state solution’ to the Palestinian question is now semi-officially dead in the water, but talks resume and limp on. Israel releases some prisoners, approves more illegal settlements in the West Bank.
  28. A meteor the size of a bus airbursts over the city of Chelyabinsk in Siberia with the force of several Hiroshima bombs, reminding us that Mankind does not have an unlimited lease on the planet. Over 1,000 people sustain injuries from flying glass as windows implode in the pressure-wave. Amazingly, no-one is killed.
  29. Scot, Andy Murray wins Wimbledon Men’s title, first Brit for 70 years – flunks at Flushing Meadow, then goes off for back-surgery and is knocked-out in third round of Dubai Open.
  30. Another royal baby joins the queue for the British throne. This one is – hey, he’s third in line! And they call him George. (We were hoping for Prince Duwayne). Hospital nurse, Jacinta Saldanha, commits suicide after falling for Australian DJ’s hoax call asking for report on Duchess of Cambridge’s condition.
  31. Tony Abbott is re-elected to the role of lowbrow, foul-mouthed, climate-change-denying, anti-immigrant, ‘drown the refugees’, Ocker Prime Minister of Australia, after deposing not-much-nicer colleague, PM Julia Gillard, in misogynistic palace coup. Australia suffers new heatwave, followed by floods. Regains the Ashes, 5-0.
  32. North Korea has a new beloved eternal leader, Kim Jong-un. Fat boy immediately threatens to nuke America and later has his favourite uncle fed to hungry dogs after a show trial lasting four minutes.
  33. The months-long standoff between Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Erdogan and millions of anti-corruption, pro-democracy demonstrators is split by a developing coalition of forces under ‘moderate Islamist’ reactionary, Fetullah Gulen (70). EU suspends membership negotiations yet again. Will ‘progressive’ Turkey become the new Iran in 2014? Or will the military intervene, as in Egypt?
  34. Murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, off-duty soldier publicly hacked to death in a south London street by two dimwitted Afro-British ‘converts’ claiming to be soldiers of Islam, is declared by UK Government as ‘threat to national security’ and triggers wave of anti-Muslim attacks, mosque-burnings, etc. Abuse of prisoners by the British military in Afghanistan is now officially known as ‘challenging direct’.
  35. Failure of UK Government to take action to control the expected new wave of east European immigration in January and/or to suppress scare stories about numbers and intentions to sponge on benefits raises fears of anti-immigrant backlash whipped-up by rightwing press. Romanian passengers arriving at Heathrow on January 1st turn out to be workers returning after the Christmas break.
  36. Faced with threats from Putin to cut gas supplies, Ukraine’s President Yanukovitch ignores mass demonstrations by pro-western supporters for closer integration with the EU and does a deal instead to boost economic ties with resurgent global power, Russia.  Fears grow of Ukraine being split in two.
  37. Financed by western ‘ally’ Saudi Arabia, Sunni al-Qaeda militias intervening in the civil war in Syria create ‘third force’, causing break-up of the moderate forces opposed to President Assad and the establishment of a brutal sharia state-within-a-state in the east of the country, that threatens to spill over into Jordan.
  38. Iranian-backed Shi’a Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon join the Government side. Over 200 British Muslims are now fighting (and dying) in Syria. The tangle of pro- and anti-western alliances and factional in-fighting is so complicated that no-one can see how to end it.
  39. Islamist, Caucasian-separatist suicide bombers begin to target the Sochi winter olympics, with outrages perpetrated against civilians in Volgograd. 32 die in two days. Putin orders ‘maximum security’.
  40. Sleaze update: overweight, middle-aged Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, remains in post, more popular than ever, after being videoed apparently smoking crack cocaine while drunk.
  41. Overweight, middle-aged chairman of the UK’s Co-Operative bank, Methodist minister Paul Flowers, is videoed in a sting operation, buying £300-worth of cocaine. It emerges that the bank did no ‘due diligence’ checks when appointing a chairman with no prior banking experience. The ‘ethical’ bank runs out of money and is rescued by not-very-ethical hedge funds.
  42. Overweight, middle-aged Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is revealed to have fathered a secret love-child.
  43. UK TV’s ‘Domestic Goddess’ Nigella Lawson, forced to testify against herself as a witness in a court case, admits she used cocaine and allowed her kids to smoke dope. Ex-husband, 70-year-old millionaire art collector Charles Saatchi, testifies his wife was so addled, she gave away £685,000 to her two Italian maids without noticing. The Grillo sisters are acquitted of embezzlement charges.
  44. Not overweight, former UK Europe minister Denis McShane is gaoled for six months for faking expense receipts – a trick he presumably learned in the 1970s as ‘Father of the Chapel’ (shopsteward) of the London Radio branch of the National Union of Journalists. (Yes, I was there…)
  45. Two former Murdoch redtop editors, both sometime ‘friends’ of Prime Minister David Cameron, go on trial accused of phone-tapping, perjury and bribing policemen.
  46. In Zimbabwe, despotic 86-year-old former communist lawyer and father of the nation, Robert Mugabe is ‘re-elected’ by an overwhelming majority.
  47. Canada, Denmark and Russia at loggerheads over rights to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, now ice-free in summer for the first (recorded) time. 30 Greenpeace anti-Arctic-oil-drilling protesters thrown in gaol by the Russians, accused of piracy, are later released by President Putin as a goodwill gesture; it’s said, to throw off criticism of his human rights record in advance of the Sochi games. Drilling, however, resumes.
  48. A succession of the most extreme weather events yet recorded causes misery around the world. Hurricane Sandy inundates New York. The three-year Texas drought intensifies. Typhoon Hayan obliterates vast swathes of the Philippines, leaving two million homeless. Towns in the US bible-belt are swallowed whole by mile-wide tornadoes. Snow blankets Middle East, Vietnam. Parts of Canada are brought to a halt by a rare ice-storm. Britain has heatwave then is battered by repeated, unusually deep Atlantic depressions.
  49. Nigella’s father, formerly overweight Chancellor Lord Lawson, who presided over devastating 1980s economic recession, continues publicly to deny climate change. US scientists privately admit their 2-deg. forecasts are sanitised for political consumption: it’s unlikely warming can now be kept below a planet-killing 6-deg. by 2150.
  50. Beer-swilling, fag-smoking, climate-change-denying leader of populist anti-immigration, anti-EU, put-the-clock-back-to-1954, saloon-bar-bores party UKIP, Nigel ‘The Joker’ Farage, calls on the British government to reverse its policy of refusing to admit Syrian refugees.

At last, some cause for optimism in 2014!


Someone else’s review of 2013 reminds me that I forgot to include the death of Ding-dong The Witch. 30-year Cabinet papers from 1984 reveal that she and her imported American hit-man Ian McGregor did in fact plot the death of the mining industry, six months in advance of the terrible, year-long strike that sealed its fate – an accusation she publicly denied.

Taking the measure of Christmas

A solitary Christmas card arrives by fourth post, bearing a kind message from one of my ex-sisters-in-law. At last, my mantelpiece breaks its duck: I had been thinking of going out and buying some cards to put up around the room – doing a ‘shelfie’, perhaps?

As the letter-flap flipped, I was coincidentally musing (while bathroom-bound) on a thought concerning the Christian religion. I don’t think people generally notice that, while the majority do not (by definition) believe that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and returned from the dead, although many do, most of the world seems quite happy to operate on a calendrical system that takes as its starting point, the supposed date of this unusual individual’s birth.

Right-on archaeologists have recently adopted the ecumenical euphemism ‘Common Era’ to define the period of, as of next Wednesday, 2013 years that counts as post-Birth and used to be known as AD – ‘Anno Domini’, the Year of the Lord. Time prior to AD was called BC, or ‘Before Christ’, and even people who do not worship Christ as the Son of God (I have never understood quite what that phrase actually means, if anything?) went along with the system for many years.

BC is now called ‘BCE’, or ‘Before Common Era’. What no-one has explained, to me at least, is what is meant by ‘Common Era’? Common to whom, given that the turning-point remains a matter of religious doctrine? Not, surely, to Buddhists, whose non-Christian belief system dates from approximately 500 years BC, or to Muslims, whose religion was dictated to the Prophet by an angel in 625 AD, and who privately amongst themselves deduct the difference when referring to the current year?

And what of the Church of Scientology, now sanctified by order of the UK Supreme Court? Surely they date their puerile Sci-Fichobabble from the night the Blessed L. Ron decided to invent a new religion as a literary joke?

Nor have I quite grasped the necessity for scholars to date all events to times either before or after the miracle birth of the Saviour? What is wrong with dating past events from before lunch today? Or perhaps setting some other arbitrary fulcrum for Time’s lever? Weights, lengths and distances seem to be reified by lumps and rods of metal preserved in various, usually French, institutions; longitude begins at Greenwich, currencies are valued in terms of the US dollar, time by the decay of isotopes, and we happily go along with it, rather than insisting on all measurements being stated in Biblical cubits, talents, candles, the movements of stars or the weights of angels.

Whatever, Christian or n0, the vast majority of people in the world set their watches and depart from airports and agree to meet and marry each other, sit down to feasts, lie down for fasts and hold elections at dates and times that are based on the Gregorian calendar. It says quite a lot about humanity, that we do at least see eye to eye on some issues, even if we differ on the fundamentals.

Perhaps that is the message of Christmas.

So, what can you cook?

A very nice lady for whom I hope to work, spotting a possible loophole in my otherwise watertight CV, asked me the other day: ‘So, what can you cook?’

Assiduous Followers of this, muh p’tit bogl, and those who make lists and suchlike, will dimly recall me Posting similarly a few months ago, a Post called ‘So, what do you do?’, in which I pointed out that it is not so difficult to do most things, provided one’s experience and interest has one fitted for them; and if not, that one might easily learn. My theme is, therefore, returning to that of the Impossibly Broad Question, that one has difficulty in answering succinctly, given the myriad possibilities.

Going for a job interview, you should always be prepared for the Impossibly Broad Question. Obviously, you will be asked ‘So, why do you want to work for Blenkinsop & Sons?’, and it is pretty well impossible to think of anything on the spur of the moment, other than (with a rising inflection, indicative of panic): ‘To feed my children?’ This lame answer is guaranteed to get you rejected out of hand. The smart course is to protest: ‘Oh, but I don’t!’ (with a falling, suggestive inflection – do not actually wink at the interviewer, whatever you do), and then go on to explain that it would be more a labour of love than mere work….

My mother never ceases to remind me that I am supposed to have answered, offhand: ‘Actually, I don’t!’ when asked much the same question by the Very Revd Harry Williams, the notoriously homosexual Master of Trinity, at my viva for the Cambridge entrance. (Who knew he was a friend of Aunt Marigold’s?  And that my floundering inadequacies would be reported back to the family?) Whatever I really did say, I wasn’t offered a place.

I should like to point out in my defence that I was only 16 years old at the time, being somewhat precocious. And I don’t think I actually said it, I recall only making the more serious admission that I had never read anything by Jane Austen. English Literature in those days ended at T for Thackeray, regarding EM Forster and DH Lawrence as being so ultra-modern as to be beneath contempt. I hadn’t read them much either, preferring the even more outré modern Europeans, such as Sartre, Camus, Günther Grass and Herman Hesse; while Arnold Wright, the headmaster, had me figured for a vicar and plied me with incomprehensible texts by Teilhard de Chardin, Tillich and Bonhoeffer.

Why, oh why, didn’t I apply to cookery school instead?

I started learning to cook at about the same age. The food at my expensive Top 5 public-school was appalling, overcooked and served in minuscule quantities apparently based on WW11 rationing. Fortunately, there was a gas-ring in the bootroom, for thawing-out the polish, and I acquired a small pan and began heating stuff up as an alternative to an early death. At home in the holidays I had a proper kitchen to play with, where I soon invented one of my ‘chef d’oeuvres’, the crab and avocado soufflé.

Since then, I have gone on to cook all sorts of things: I don’t know where to start listing everything. Boiled eggs, éstouffade de boeuf, pear and treacle tart with almond custard*, Hungarian goulash, lamb korma, leek and potato soup, mushrooms on toast, filet mignon and chips, pan-fried duck breasts with warm rocket, kleftiko, salade Niçoise, risottos, lasagna, delicious omelettes, runny mayonnaise… bread, cakes, pastry… meringues, ices…. Where do you start? And, more importantly, finish?

Should I mention my equally adventurous casserole of chicken with fennel and banana? My steak and kidney pudding with oysters in Guinness (stolen from Rules restaurant)? My salmon and vegetable compôte poached in the microwave? My delicious salad of salami with strawberries? I’ve been cooking for almost 50 years. I know what a roux is, a déglacée sauce, a decoction, a reduction… beurres, blanches et noires. I’ve even been known to visit a supermarket once or twice.**

And in the old days, I knew quite a bit about wine. That was before the incredible deluge of wines from so many countries other than France made knowing quite a bit about wine almost impossible even for the experts. That, and not ever having enough money to buy better than a £5 bottle of Morrison’s Merlot (Chilean, I think).

True, I’ve not done much cooking lately. I’m more your one-pan-Sam nowadays. Living on your own for five years, commercial services less in demand, you learn to just chop everything up together, whatever’s in the fridge that isn’t actually mouldering, and stick it in the microwave, wrapped in clingfilm for extra tastiness, eating it straight from the dish. A can of squashed tomatoes and some grated mousetrap turn the leftovers into a tasty pasta sauce. Or heat-up ready meals: some of them aren’t bad, although you generally have to buy two to get a single serving and the rice they bulk them out with tastes like cardboard box.

I’ve even learned to shallow-fry steak or fish, and chips, together in the same pan: saves washing-up. It’s all in the timing. You pick up these little wrinkles, along with the other ones. And I spend more of my tiny budget on the minimals, faithful Hunzi and the ever-stuffing Cat, than I do on myself.

Not including the wine, of course.


*This I named Rebecca Pie, having invented it on the spur of the moment in honour of quite a plain-looking but sweet-natured young American student, who booked a room at the mansion one weekend. She had in tow an  enviably gorgeous, if rather dim, young man; so that I was moved to cook a romantic dinner for two.

**Walking with Dogs just now prompted me to recall another culinary triumph, the galantine I made one Christmas in Harrow. It involved, as I recall, stuffing a turkey with a goose, the goose with a chicken and the chicken with a pheasant. All had to be completely boned-out first, and it took about six hours. A good excuse to get slowly sozzled, but it sort-of reeked of unnatural sex and, although it was good to eat, a talking-point and great to be able to carve something without bones when mildly drunk, the following year I think I made something simpler.

Prophylaxis: the best medicine

A scientist interviewed on the radio yesterday is looking into producing condoms from graphene, the new wonder material. A sturdy condom can apparently be produced from graphene that is only a few atoms thick, giving new levels of sensitivity combined with improved unbreakability.

Graphene is also electrically conductive, and is already coming into use for making screens for mobile phones. It is predicted that soon there will be bendy mobile phones made from graphene, that you can roll-up or crush, as I would very much like to do with my overdesigned HTC smartphone.

So one imagines it should be possible to manufacture a condom on which you can find a date, call and send texts about it to your mates, and that will tell you where you are, where your nearest tube station is and what STD you have when you wake up the next morning. You could also watch a porno on it! How cool would that be!

I bought a ‘cheap car’ back in May, a black Golf TDi that I have already bogled about as in daylight it turned out to be a bit of a rustbucket-and-mobile-ashtray combination. The chief problem I have had with it, apart from having to have a complete new doorsill welded on, and the dying alternator, maybe also the hole in the radiator, has been the self-deflating tyres. All summer, especially on hot days, I would arrive at the car, only to find that one or more of the tyres was flat. Yet they weren’t punctured; it was a problem with the alloy wheel rims not making a proper seal.

The tyres were new in June, only a couple of hundred miles ago as I never go anywhere now, other than to the supermarket a mile away, or to the beach. But I have already had to replace two of them as they got damaged from running them flat. At £90 each, replacing tyres is an expensive hobby. So the last time I was groaning at the tyre shop man about the expense of buying new tyres every time I had to drive on a flat tyre to the nearest garage with a working airline, he suggested I might buy a footpump, just to put in enough air to avoid damaging the tyre by running it flat.

This prophylactic solution has worked brilliantly. Since I bought the footpump, I have not had a single flat tyre.

Insurance, too, has kept me alive for a number of years beyond my sell-by date. When my ex-wife and I took out a mortgage in 2001, we were persuaded to insure our joint lives for the value of the mortgage. If one of us died, the other would be sure the mortgage would be paid off. It was a great deal, although I hoped secretly it wouldn’t be me.

The premiums of £50 a month seemed extraordinarily reasonable, given that I was already 51. They seemed less reasonable when we divided our joint lives into single ones and my ex-wife suggested I should go on paying the premiums for both of us, especially as she had the house and I had to move into a cold, damp, unfurnished apartment in the shady back of a deserted country mansion and work long hours.

Nevertheless and despite being paid a minuscule salary for looking after the mansion, its environs and guests, I continued to insure our separate lives, and look, here I still am, ten years later, alive and 64 years of age. That insurance sure works!

Of course, I stopped paying the premiums when she sold the house last year, as after the age of 60 I wasn’t covered anyway, but the prophylactic effect of laying out those more-than six thousand pounds hasn’t worn off yet. Six thousand quid seems like an absolute bargain, to keep a person alive this long.

Yes, prophylaxis is indeed the best medicine. And condoms that can use GPS to tell me where I am, and who I was, and what horse won the Derby in 1973…. well, the future is looking rosy.

Living in two worlds

Sammy Davis Jr recorded an album years ago with just the solo accompaniment of Brazilian guitarist, Laurindo Almeida. One of the songs on that lovely album is called ‘Two different worlds’.  I am reminded of the song when, in search of an address in Central London, I curiously glance into the windows of passing estate agencies, of which there seems to be a plethora in the posher areas, and observe the houses and apartments on offer.

Why curious? Because I used to live there!

I live today in a nice, comfortable little house, as I have occasionally mentioned in these Posts, in the outskirts of a seaside town, 210 miles from London. My ambition this year has been to sell my house and buy a place abroad. The highest offer I had for my house was £150,000, but when the building society valued it at only £147,500 the buyer couldn’t make up the difference and dropped out. I’ve seen fewer than a dozen prospective buyers all year. The agent says I should get £600 a month if I prefer to rent it out. It’s a bit below the national average property value, but not atypical.

Hold those figures in your head, and hold on to your hat…

In 1967, I left home and went to live with some old school chums in a shared flat above William Hill’s bookmaker’s at Moravian Corner, on Chelsea’s fashionable Kings Road. There were three of us sharing – a core group, as various other more or less savoury characters, girlfriends, etc. would pass through. And the entire rent of the two-storey apartment was £12 a week, of which my share was £4. This came out of the allowance of £8 a week I had from a Trust fund my grandmother set up to pay my school fees. I lived on the rest.

In 1970, with no more school fees to pay, the Trustees allowed me the £7,200 I needed to buy a tiny, two-bedroom workman’s cottage in Ealing, northwest London, then wound itself up. I sold the house three years later for £10,000, and my then-wife and I moved to a bigger house she had inherited in Harrow. It was sold in 1985 for £112,000 – the highest price any house had reached in that street before. Things were on the move. With five bedrooms and a large garden backing onto a recreation ground, I hate to think what it would fetch now.

A four-bed house in the London street I was looking for sold ten years ago for £550,000. This year, similar houses in the same street seem to be selling for £3.5 MILLION: a six-hundred per cent increase in ten years. The average rental of these houses is nearly twenty thousand pounds a month…. The figures take my breath away. The street is only a few minutes’ walk from Moravian Corner, where I lived comfortably only 45 years ago on income of £8 a week.

You can almost hear my gums gnashing. Pint of beer, one and threepence! Cinema ticket, one and nine!

As a child, I lived in the 1950s and 60s with my mother in a tiny flat over the garage of a mews house off the Gloucester Road. The house had been bought by my grandmother ostensibly to stable her husband’s two Mercedes cars – they lived not far away. But secretly, she had bought the house for the flat, because she could see that my parents’ marriage was looking shaky and her husband had forbidden her to support my father, who had run away from home and school during the war to become a very junior actor with Tyrone Guthrie’s prototype National Theatre. A typical weekly wage for an actor in repertory theatre in the 1950s was £2.50. Last year, walking past a central London estate agent, I glanced in the window and saw our old mews flat was for rent, at £1,600 A WEEK.

How seriously are the government and economists taking this really startling disparity between values in London and the rest of Britain? It must reflect not only the increasing demand for a limited supply of Central London housing, supported by a fantastic increase in wages for a small section of the community – and a high level of immigration by wealthy foreigners, their embassies and corporate employees – but also runaway inflation in the capital, an astonishing decline in the value of money within a highly localised economy completely out of step with the rest of the country. And the process is accelerating all the time.

How much does a person have to earn, to rent a small house for £5,000 a week? And live well on the balance? It seems economically unsustainable.

Two different worlds, coexisting not only in time, but in sociopolitical space. And no indication as yet of when or where they might collide.

Tsk. What’s it all coming to?

Through the looking glass

I don’t know if I have told you this story before, but something has reminded me of it.

Many years ago, on the 22nd of February 1972 to be exact, I married a lovely woman called Tricia. A freelance journalist, Tricia was the oldest of four children born to a Catholic couple who had settled in North London in 1946 after immigrating from the west coast of Ireland. The youngest of the four children, her baby sister, was called Christine. Hold on to those facts!

I was a journalist also, working in radio news. One of my colleagues in 1973 was Joan T., who was not someone I knew very well as we worked in separate departments. Occasionally a man I took (correctly) to be her husband would come to the newsroom to collect her. I never had any conversations with him, nor even knew his name., which was, I later discovered, Jonathan W.

Quite independently of one another, both Joan T. and Tricia went on to become television reporters: one working for ITN, the other for Thames TV. In 1985, Tricia and I separated. Two months later, having left London, I hired a young woman as my assistant – I was by this time working in an advertising agency – and after a few more months we started an affair and eventually were married.

My new wife’s name was Krystyna, and she was the youngest of four children born to a Catholic couple who had settled just outside London, having arrived from the west coast of Ireland in 1946. Krystyna was known to her family as Krysia.

Where Tricia’s family was Irish, Krysia’s parents were Polish. So did that break the chain of coincidence? No. They had arrived in Britain as refugees and, there being no places available at a British university, had done their teaching degrees at the University of Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, from where they returned to Britain.

It was as if some kind of prophecy had been fulfilled: almost as if a correction had been made.

Entirely unknown to me, because I still had no connection with them, Jonathan W.and Joan T. had separated from each other at about the same time as I separated from Tricia. And, shortly before Krystyna and I were married, Jonathan W. married… Krystyna’s second older sister, Anna. By a complete coincidence, they had met when Jonathan had hired Anna as his assistant.

Then, ten years later, in 1996, tragically, both Tricia and Joan T. died, from cancer, in the same month.

You may believe in novelettish coincidence; you may believe in Divine providence; you may dismiss my narrative as simply obsessive-compulsive pattern-recognition – but I remain convinced that the Universe is nought but a complex tangle of knotted string, looping through Time over and under and around the back of itself, like a Cat’s Cradle, until it reaches the point where you can’t extract your fingers!

It has not entirely escaped my notice too, that where astrophysicists are excitedly looking for the dark matter and energy that they recently realised have to make up about 97 per cent of the Universe that we still cannot see, despite the light from a billion trillion stars, it was St Paul who wrote to the Corinthians some time ago: For now we see, as through a glass, darkly.

The Beach Puzzle – a metaphysical speculation

Four old companions are discussing philosophy (or some such nonsense) on a beach.

As they talk, one after another, each sees the other three being borne out to sea on the tide, until only they are left standing, alone on the otherwise deserted beach.

All four have the same experience, of seeing their three companions floating away and being lost to sight, until only they themselves are left on the beach.

Yet there is only one beach.

So the four philosophers have to ask themselves in turn: were we many, or are we one?

– Uncle Bogler

The cult of the individual pursued

Poor Mayor Boris Johnson. Been in trouble again, arguing the benefits of greed and inequality at a Margaret Thatcher Memorial Blowout last week. No-one spotted he was being half ironic.

Today we learn that some foreign poll has placed Britain 26th on the league table of academic achievement, and we’re fretting again. Why is our kids so stoopid? Must be the fualt of them teechers… Why can’t we be more like the Koreans, with their 24-hour school day?

Actually, I’m quite old and bored with these arguments. It’s been going on since I were a lad. I had a fabulously privileged upbringing with an account at Harrods and a Top 5 public-school education. Today I’m wearing a woolly hat and scarf, sitting with the lights off in a workman’s cottage sandwiched between a council estate and a thunderous main road in the outskirts of an architecturally challenged small town on the windy Welsh coast, staring in horrified fascination at the dwindling remains of my savings and wondering how to survive until I can collect my State pension.

Some disconnect there?

Despite having spent four years at supposedly one of the best independent schools in the country, and with a couple of good A-levels and a pass grade in Economics by the age of 16, my privilege didn’t get me to university. Thanks to my 98% in Latin and 86% in ancient Greek and other goodish results at Common Entrance, when I arrived at the school in the notorious winter of 1962/3 I found myself thrust into the top form of the top stream, two years ahead of my cohort. I was still only 12 years old, I was waving, and then I drowned.

To tell the truth, I was in emotional turmoil. My parents were going through a messy divorce and you had no counselling in those days. Relentlessly pursued for sex by older boys, I found myself in a world of ludicrous ‘privileges’ and bizarre made-up rules, forced to get up at 6 am, cold bath in summer, fumble with collar-studs, lesson before breakfast, banged-up with two other boys in a study for ‘prep’ in the evening, organised games every day, half-starved on appalling food and half-frozen to death. Worse was the sheer boredom.

Sure, some boys I knew then must have wound-up as generals, schoolmasters or high court judges; most would have become provincial solicitors, shopkeepers or owners of SMEs; I finished up as a domestic servant. Not so bad, eh? My seven years of working as a caretaker were spent mostly in a 20-room country mansion recently acquired by a man whose mum and dad had a barrow in an East London street market. Barely schooled, he owned over 300 companies worldwide. A lesson there, surely?

Stuck – by total contrast – in a tiny, underresourced rural Welsh comprehensive, forced to accommodate to an outlandish language and militantly nationalistic subculture, where the careers adviser would routinely suggest either the army or hairdressing as the pinnacle of aspiration, both my kids did better than me. My daughter graduated last year, the boy is still at university.

The point is, I think, that generalisations make bad practice. The PISA report is talking about tested academic performance by subject area, and (I now think) there is no correlation at all between academic performance at secondary level, and subsequent personal success or national GDP improvement.

What a pupil can achieve now in a test is no guarantee of future progress or the improbability of it. After all, I was supposedly as clever as a bagfull of monkeys. To gauge the state of a country’s educational establishment, you need to look at individual outcomes, ten or even twenty years down the line. It is a fact, or rather two facts, that around 90 out of the top 100 most successful UK entrepreneurs don’t have university degrees; while Britain far outstrips better performing countries like Norway, Finland, Singapore and Korea when it comes to individual performance in the key creative fields of science, maths, literature, music and design.

It seems counterintuitive. Is this the result of greed and inequality? I believe, yes. But not necessarily for the same reasons as BoJo. Greed and inequality are not good things in themselves: but they make for more exciting times.

The most successful countries in terms of the test results are all countries where the society is flatter than in class-ridden old Britain. But which country has the greatest number of Nobel laureates, patents filed, world-changing inventions, Top 20 chart hits worldwide, successful transfers of TV comedy shows and stage musicals, global movie- star-names, innovative architects, car and fashion designers working at the top level for the leading international brands, company start-ups, advanced motor engineering labs, victorious military engagements, world-renowned research institutions, medical advances, financial service providers, etc., etc.?

One Nokia, Proton or Daewoo doth not an innovative national culture make.

I believe that highly stratified societies generate more creative energy. But that is not to support inequality, only to celebrate difference.

While our society is highly stratified – the ‘class system’ at work – it is not wealth and privilege that buy success. Quite the opposite. True, the upper echelon all went to schools like mine. So what? Google as I might, I cannot find that any of my cohort has gone on to achieve great things in the 50 years since we were parsing Cicero together (actually, I forget what ‘parsing’ is! But we did a lot of it). Some successful people may have emerged from privileged backgrounds, inheriting seats on boards or doing well in the traditional professions, the military, academia or the law, but many more live on their income from family investments and contribute little to innovation.

And many like me may have subsided genteelly onto the scrapheap, perhaps cushioned by their dwindling Trust funds but essentially economically useless. Privilege makes no difference. Looking at the leading innovators, we tend to find that countries with more stratified societies like Britain do better when their teenagers go through an average, general education of no great distinction, doing neither badly nor spectacularly well.

Coincidentally, there has been quite a number of top British scientists on the radio lately, talking about their careers. All of them were pre-eminent in their field, noted for their discoveries, laden with awards and gongs and prestigious professorships. What struck me about all of them was how they related being only average at school, being educated in the state sector – some had dreadful reports and tales of being told they would never succeed at anything. Several of them had come to science, only after awitching out of Humanities degree courses at university.

Last night I watched an interview on the news with a Korean girl of 15. She starts school at half-past six, finishes at 5 pm then goes straight on to a crammer, where she has more school until 10.30 pm, when she comes home and does homework. She goes to bed at 2 am and gets up at six. Her mother says she is ashamed to have to make her daughter live like this, but it is the only way to succeed in the competitive Korean society.

Western psychologists agree, the average 15-year-old’s healthy mental development depends on getting nine hours’ sleep a night. Adolescence is a time of tremendous changes, and the last thing an adolescent needs is more stress. The child spoke in a flat, exhausted monotone – which is how she will probably spend the rest of her life, working long hours in some low-grade banking job and going home alone to a numbered box-room in a featureless apartment block.

In a society where everyone is on level-pegging, that probably counts as success. In a more stratified society, there is an incentive to obtain more from life, whatever hand it has dealt you. Greed? Inequality? If you believe in those, the natural corollary is to value the criminal urge too! Look, flat societies are more, not less competitive; but for a limited range of jobs, in which opportunities to innovate are few and far between. In a stratified society, there are more options. They are less competitive in that sense, making it easier to stand out. They value individual creative expression over uniform greyness.

Increasingly, though, we are coming to live more like Koreans. North Koreans! Headline-averse politicians with their endless ‘initiatives’, successive meddlesome education secretaries cheerfully ‘learning lessons’ from ghastly, uniformitarian regimes elsewhere are seeing to that. Uniformity is being forced on us by rafts of oppressive new social legislation imposing rules on every aspect of human behaviour; upheld by morally rigid, intrusive policing. It is living by numbers. (Meanwhile I read that 350,000 Britons are dependent on free food banks to get enough to eat. I am in favour of inequality, but it is inexcusable that our politicians haven’t the guts or the nous to deliver a fairer society.)

All, save for the cult of the individual, which we must protect at all costs. Individuals like BoJo, in fact.

Dr Who? Oh, sorry – wrong number!

A propos the possible problems of mistaken identity, referred to in an earlier Post…

I mentioned in passing that when I Googled myself once, I discovered I was a black Baptist minister in Georgia, USA, desperately hoping on his website to overturn a criminal conviction for playing not-nice with the little choirboys and girls.

In reality I am an underemployed white atheist with no convictions whatsoever, living in Wales. My fellow choir members are all well over 50 and, like me, have given up sex as an embarrassing, messy and pointless activity. Although we do sing Georgian three-part harmony – the other Georgia, that is. The one on the Black Sea. So there’s a connection. Sort-of.)

The minister and I share very similar names. Not the same name, but close enough to come top in the Google ranking.

Now, I don’t suppose a prospective employer is seriously going to confuse me with my near-namesake in America. But I noticed soon after mentioning it on my bogl, that I had begun to receive at least six communications a day in my e-mail Spam filter, from dating sites in the USA, specialising in matching-up black singles: one of whom I am quite obviously not. (Nor do I live in the USA.)

How does that happen, then?

Also, the number of marketing messages I get, inviting me to take out a Payday loan, seems to fluctuate quite accurately according to the state of my current account imbalance. Decidedly fishy? Or is it just the time of the month? Do you get more offers, the nearer they assume your payday must be? Only, I don’t have a payday. I’m unemployed. So no cigar, Mr Loan-shark.

Do you maybe notice these connections more when they relate to something that has immediate relevance to you, however tenuous? Or is my bogl leaking into the flogosphere*?

I think we should be told.

*Flogosphere (n): the increasing volume of internet traffic devoted to selling you totally misdirected goods and services**.

**For instance, my son once demanded that I order for him online, as a Christmas present, a deeply self-incriminating training manual for snipers (he is obsessed with military things). For months after, imagined I was some kind of Special Forces operative, and tried to sell me all kinds of instructional literature for more efficient killing…


Hey, my first “two Likes” Post! Progress.