Happy Birthday to me

Buongiorno, bonjour, guten morgen, bom dia, bore da! There, I run out of languages.

So also, hip hooray, kalloo-kallay…. the sun has got his hat on, spring is sprung and so forth, what?

Yes, here we are arrived at my 300th Post, on 27th February – the second anniversary of this, muh li’l bogl. The numbers are in alignment, the climax simultaneous, the Gods propitiated. And I bet you’re heartily sick of it by now.

Never mind, we keep going. Another year, another 150 scintillating examples to Follow of Uncle Bogler’s Wit and Wisdom.

What else is there?

The target culture

I have three minutes to get this Post posted.

It’s 11.57 pm on 26 February, and I’m rushing to hit my 300th Post on 27th, the second anniversary of this, my bogl. It’s a target I set myself two weeks ago, when I realised I could. (I’m a bit OCD about things like not stepping on cracks and counting the bars in Coltrane’s solos.)

But what to say?

I know, I’ll admit that I’m cheating. I posted the first line last night, at 11.57. Then I published it, and now I’m editing it at 00.03. I go back and edit all my Posts, all the time. You’re never too late to catch up.

My bad. But hey, politicians and clinical staff and administrators and teachers and everyone else with targets to hit has to do it too. Pretending you’ve hit them is what targets are for, right?

See you in the morning!

– Uncle Bogler

Terms and conditions apply

Good-oh, it’s Bin-bag Day.

Scrimping and saving, the Council has decreed that Bin-bag Day comes around once a fortnight in our neck of the woods. Confusingly, Recycling Bag Day still happens every Tuesday, early. You need to get that Recycling bag out by about 8 a.m. or back it comes for another week sitting in the area outside the kitchen, filling with rainwater that trails through the house. I carefully wash all the recyclates, mostly plastics packaging that formerly held bloody dogmeat, but it still stinks.

Now, Black Bin-bags contain rotting stuff and should technically go more frequently than Recycling bags that don’t. Recycling bags can wait. But the Council wants to push people into creating less putrefying rubbish and recycling more – although they won’t take glass, which is crazy. So they make you live with your putrefying rubbish for longer, in the hope that you’ll get the message and stop throwing so much stuff away.

Thus, Black Bin-bag Day happens only every other week, which is fine in winter but not hygienic in summer. I try not to fill more than one bag a week, as I live on my own with Hunzi and Scat and we shouldn’t generate that much garbage. Somehow it mounts up, and I miss a day and have to wait another two weeks. So my kitchen area can contain bags of rotting stuff that is a month past its collection date.

I’m hopeless at appointments, I missed the optician last week, having asked them to be sure to remind me nearer the time. They texted dutifully, and phoned, and still I took Hunzi out for our seaside walk and at some point checked the time and realised I should have been at the opticians an hour earlier. Ho hum. And I spent half an hour this morning trying to recall the word Dioxins. It’s just come back to me. But I’m surprisingly impressive at remembering which week is Black Bin-bag Day week. I rarely miss, only sometimes.

A lot of students live around here, easily confused little tousle-headed creatures who often put the wrong bags out on the wrong days. The pavement is very narrow, probably illegally narrow since they widened the road to allow lorries bigger than my house to thunder by, refilling the shelves of the town with cakes and fizzy drinks and Cathedral City cheese, refilling fuel tanks at petrol stations, hauling hundreds of silently shivering sheep in triple-decker, double-trailers to the slaughter. So an uncollected Bin-bag is a tripping hazard.

But it’s more than that, isn’t it?

It’s so great, living in a society where stuff you no longer want, if you ever did, can just be made to disappear. You put it away in a bin lined with a Black Bag, you remember to put out the bag once a fortnight, you come home from walking the dog and it’s gone. Who knows where? Who even thinks about it?

The fact is, the world is peppered with big holes in the ground where this stuff ends up. Millions and billions of black plastic bags, squashed down by big diggers, full of worn-out pairs of socks, dud radio batteries and lightbulbs, junkmail circulars and non-recyclable paper egg cartons, scrapings from the catfood bowl and last night’s uneaten portions of dinner, eggshells, apple-cores and potato peelings, trainers you can’t bear the smell of, orange peel, unidentifiable matter scraped off the bottom of the vegetable tray, freezer-bags full of something-or-other you planned to eat another time, rusted kitchen implements and more….

And all this stuff in bags is slowly rotting, composting down together, and the diggers come along when the hole in the ground is so full they can’t squash any more in, and push the earth respectfully back over the top, so we can forget about what’s down there, softly exhaling greenhouse gases and ozone-layer-killers – methane, CO2, dioxins, chlorides – leaching toxic heavy metals – cadmium, lead, mercury – and oestrogen-mimicking phthalates into the groundwater, practically forever.

While from an economics point of view, how good is it that we are quite happy to go along with the idea that we were persuaded we needed to buy all this stuff we no longer have a use for if we ever did in the first place by the very people who made it, people who compete ferociously on behalf of their institutional shareholders and the global cyberspatial money-recycling machine to monopolise its production and supply, its privatised collection and disposal – and then remain helpfully on hand to lend us the ‘credit’ to buy it when our wages run out halfway through the month, at now only 29.9 per cent annual interest free for six months – terms and conditions apply?

Our sons and daughters even die or have their arms and legs and faces blown off in order to defend the principle that we should impose this brilliantly original system on other people’s sons and daughters in faraway countries, of which we know little (except that they don’t have enough holes in the ground yet).

I’m not sure that the stench is entirely coming from the kitchen area, to be honest.

On the nature of popular unrest

Like you, I’ve been following the evenements in Ukraine on the news with concern. Principally, concern about the news.

The idea that Ukraine is split between the pro-Russian east and the pro-EU west has been downplayed as a gross oversimplification by countless expert contributors, but it continues to be the principal message conveyed in the headlines. Now with Sochi out of the way, we are clearly being prepped for a possible Russian intervention, whether one is pending or no. Ambassadors are flying everywhere, rumours of troop movements abound, warnings are issued, sanctions threatened; the old tensions are being ratcheted up once again.

And how convenient that we have the ghastly tropes of the First World War to call on, in the hundredth anniversary year.

Now, clearly there is a potentially useful role for Ukraine in the EU but with affiliations to Moscow. as the perfect counterbalance to the useful role Britain plays in the EU, with its links to Washington. We don’t have to have another eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the military establishments; or even a war, though I sense the two sides are spoiling for one, now we’ve all lost Afghanistan. The old faultlines that opened up in Europe in 1914 are no longer there. It’s not the same scenario as before: there is no power vacuum for any one nation to exploit militarily. No-one in Europe is surely dumb enough to try invading Russia again: it is not in Russia’s nature to invade Europe, except to guarantee its own borders.

There is something old-fashioned and romantic, almost comforting, then, about students manning barricades. Except when it happens in your own streets, as it did around north London and in some other cities in 2012. The riots then were contained, principally by the horror they engendered in a public unused to such things. The very diversity of British culture militated against a concerted attack on the State. The media chose to portray the riots from the point of view of the criminal damage and looting that went on, rather than framing the events in political terms. The measured response of the police and the government was not to shoot the looters, but over 2,000 of those who took part were later identified from CCTV footage and gaoled. We hear very little about them; or about the simultaneous Occupy movement, that crumbled beneath the soft-power offensive of the media, when its essential lack of leadership and purpose were brutally exposed.

The authorities in other countries never seem to learn the many lessons of history: opening fire on unarmed demonstrators is invariably counter-productive, when you can bathe them instead in ultimately teeth-drawing publicity. Yet we see it happen time after time. Protests result in stalemate, until one side or the other starts shooting. Autocrats seem never to understand that bloodshed is a necessary precursor to shifting the balance of public opinion against them. Once the shooting starts, the fear they have spent years inculcating is set aside. Increasingly, as in Thailand or Syria, children seem to be bearing the brunt of the sniper attacks. This deliberately repugnant policy will, of course, come back to haunt the authorities. They cannot win like this.

I’m curious, too, about the targets of these protests – which have been erupting like a rash all over the world. I have blogged before on how the Arab Spring and the various coloured revolutions since the Berlin Wall fell down all have in common, the rise of the educated urban middle-class demanding a voice; and a desperate yearning to be free of patermalistic governance that unites the shopkeepers of Tunis and the Tea Party soccer-moms of middle America. The drivers of these movements are a complicated but volatile mix of motivations, but always to do with the rise of modernity.

Yet these revolutions seem too often to result in bringing to power yet more slab-faced, monosyllabic gorillas in badly fitting suits, or expensively dressed, peroxided gangsters’ molls, the ambitious but seldom competent ex-wives of dead presidents. What is this yearning people have for ‘strong leadership’ and a superstitious desire just to touch the hem of the garments of nationalistic arrogance?

Here in the West, we have been through these upheavals before, and have arrived at a more confident place where we have ‘representative democracy’, which is code for desirably weak leadership. Our last strong leader, dear old Winston brought the tanks out onto the streets of Glasgow when confronted with union unrest, and was cheerfully gassing the Kurds long before Saddam did. But after World War Two, despite his pivotal role in the victory, British voters had the good sense (and the opportunity afforded by our representative democracy) to kick the old bugger downstairs. We were with Harold Acton on that one: power corrupts.

And we have seen how absolute power corrupts absolutely. When the Iron Lady began to go rusty, she too got kicked out, and by her own troops. We can do that, because in 1648 the executioner struck off the head of King Charles 1, by order of the Parliament. It was an important precedent – as was the decapitation of Louis XVI in 1793, and the shooting of Tsar Nicholas at Ekaterinburg in 1917. Those events marked the end of our tribal society and the beginnings of a new kind of distributed decision-making (although in Russia it went badly wrong as criminal elements then wrested power from the ignorant and confused masses).

I am struggling for something that connects the recent revolutions around the globe, and it seems to me there is some mileage in the idea that the longer societies have had representative democracy, the further back in history they threw off autocratic governance, the less prone they are now to violent change. Tribal societies and theocracies on the other hand have only limited opportunities to change their leaders; and a psychological inability to function without a ‘supreme leader’ who embodies their shared values. Thus they shift continuously between feelings of empowerment and disempowerment, until the oscillations become too chaotic and revolution breaks out. It’s a theory, at least.

Despite the Restoration of the English monarchy twelve years later, which was followed in 1688 by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ (in fact, a Dutch invasion) which finally established the idea of representative monarchy, that act of regicide was a sign that the British people would let the corruption of office go only so far. Our current crop of politicians may well be out for what they can get, but it’s not very much. We could take to the streets tomorrow, pitch tents in Trafalgar Square*, but we wouldn’t find that Mr Cameron has been secretly diverting £billions of State funds to building a grotesque, tasteless Xanadu for himself, somewhere in the purview of the Heythrop hunt.

When he goes, a British Prime Minister doesn’t even get a taxpayer-funded private library to his name. Just the Bible and the works of Shakespeare…

*I remember a time when many old London streets were still paved with cobblestones; useful ammunition in a riot. Was it purely a noise-reduction measure that, since the events of 1968, the whole city has been tarmacked over?

My Committee of Discarnate Entities

The national property specialists and mortgage companies keep releasing figures that show house prices on an inexorable upward swing again, and we’re constantly hearing in the news about the shortage of housing, and the shortage of properties on the market, and how there’s help from the Government to buy a house with a guarantee for your mortgage and so on. And there’s that relentless pressure in the town for short-term accommodation, that is eating up all the available properties, except mine. Sterling is good against the Euro… There couldn’t be a more compelling time to sell a house and retire abroad.

My Committee of Discarnate Entities

I have to conclude, therefore, that there is a metaphysical reason why my little house refuses to be sold after, now 19 months on the market. As Sherlock Holmes might indeed have said, once you have eliminated all the possibilities, only the improbable remains. An Invisible Hand is preventing me from retiring abroad, for who knows what specific end. Quite likely, it is preventing me from doing something silly, keeping me from danger, or insisting that it has put me here for a Higher Purpose as-yet unrealised, and wants me to stay put.*

I have detected its presence many times in the past. Its actions are usually providential: three times in the past 20 years I have been about to become homeless – workless and scrabbling under the cushions for loose change – only for Something to Turn Up at the eleventh hour. Many other times, I have found myself growing angry and frustrated at being unable to achieve an earthly ambition, only to realise much later that, had I been allowed to do so, I would have been putting myself in a very much worse situation. And then the Right Thing has come along, sort-of. It just took time to knit-up all the stringiness together. (You can tell this is becoming religious, by the increasing use of capital letters…)

I call it, jokingly, my Committee of Discarnate Entities. Sometimes I feel they are not really in touch with the situation down here, the prices of stuff and suchlike. They don’t seem to understand my need for an income of some sort; my desire for ever-more expensive guitars. And I wish just once in a while they would explain what the Hell is going on, because I never get copied-in on the minutes of the meetings. They operate on a strict Need to Know basis.

One thing I have learned about them, whenever they do indulge my little desires and fantasies, it’s usually to teach me a big lesson.

I can’t wait to see what this one is about.

*Very much Post-scriptum…

My bent had been on retiring to Portugal and living cheaply on rough red wine, artisan bread, olive oil and ripe tomatoes. I was even looking at spectacularly affordable houses. But, as this article speculates, it seemed I was being prevented by obdurate forces that simply refused to let me sell up here, despite my earnest imprecations.

Well, gentle reader, in case you have found your way back to this Post, you may not believe in discarnate entities – angels – but here is living proof.

Barely two years after I wrote this piece, a majority of dumbfucks were persuaded by a cabal of obvious crooks and charlatans to vote Britain out of the European Union. That disastrous and historically blundering decision has left the residential status of expatriates in critical doubt, both in the UK and abroad. I might well have lost everything.

To rub the point in, last month there was a massive forest fire, the result of months of drought and unbearably high temperatures, in which many people were killed. The fire consumed tens of thousands of acres and destroyed homes in and around the very same villages in central Portugal where I had been intending to buy a house.


Cometh the hour


According to the historical record, I started this, my bogl, on 27 February, 2012. Noticing recently that I had cranked out my 291st Post, I thought it would be fun to celebrate two years in the business by simultaneously posting my 300th Post on 27 February. I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive about numerical coincidences, as you may have noticed.

That meant rationing my output to one Post every two days. Or so I thought. But the math doesn’t add up. Three hundred into 730 days is one Post every 2.43 days. So in fact, to meet my target I needed to speed up!

It’s now been five days since my last Post. I have fallen behind. I don’t know what to do. I can’t think of anything to write about.

Then, I’m acutely conscious of my bogl having become more serious than I ever wanted it to be. I feel I am letting my loyal boglers – Followers, Commenters, Likers and Spammers – down. Certain faintly humorous characters, references and threads have not been heard of for months. My sense of malicious amusement has gone out of the window and I am writing boringly instead about social issues. Or the weather. Or about my sales problem. Which is that I am trying to sell lots of stuff and no-one is buying it. There I go again.

How interesting is that?

I wish I could help. But I can’t.

Behaviour unbecoming to a Lady

My, but we’ve been having some weather lately.

Even so, I was mildly shocked to see that a reader poll in The Lady magazine is running two-to-one in favour of diverting Britain’s overseas aid budget to mopping-up the floods.

What are they thinking?

It seems that two-thirds of our richest ten per cent that contributes the fragrant ones who take… er, The Lady magazine, many of them claiming no doubt to be churchgoing Christians, think that the world’s poorest people should be made to pay for the folly of those in the world’s sixth largest economy who have built their agreeably expensive homes next to the river Thames at Weybridge or Datchet.

You may ask how I know what readers of a magazine called The Lady are thinking? It is because they employ household servants; and, as long as they aren’t reading this, muh li’l bogl, which seems likely, they could be employing me: as I have lately eked out a precarious living as a gardener/handyman, housekeeper/cook, hospitality manager and caretaker for private homeowners; including nearly seven years in sole charge of a historic house with 14 bedrooms for the two adults and a child who otherwise occupied it for three weeks a year (but would not consider my creative suggestion that the rest of the year we could house homeless asylum-seekers in the spare rooms). I can wield a sandbag with the best.

So I am, not unexpectedly, in need of employment.

In the back-end of The Lady, as it were, are to be found the majority of Wanted ads for people like – or kind-of like – me. Ads, that is, that have not been placed by the beguilingly stupid and snooty recruitment consultants in the field; some fifteen posh London agencies staffed by supercilious interns (all-girl), who between them have only once in four years had the sagacity to commend me to their clients as being worth an (unsuccessful) interview. (If you think my use of the word ‘stupid’ suggests a certain vindictiveness, I suggest you visit their web sites first. Take a designer sickbag.)

It embarrassed even the well-heeled delegates in Davos last month to learn that the richest one-per cent of sweating, shitting, arse-scratching humans have collared 85 per cent of all the wealth in the world. My modest proposal is that we should ask them to chip-in just nought-point-one per cent of their income for February to pay the Environment Agency to dredge all the rivers and ditches on the Somerset levels, before robbing the last ten per cent of other humans who earn less than three dollars a day stitching designer labels onto their kids’ trainers while the building falls down around their ears.

I am almost tired of pointing out to silly bloggers that, of every one hundred pounds generated in the British economy, we send less than 70 pence abroad, most of it through accredited agencies. We do it partly out of compassion, but largely because we can easily afford it: it ensures an eventual financial return for British exporters and could perhaps enhance our domestic security and prestige. Far more overseas aid still is contributed through the remittances of foreign domestic servants employed to work 80-plus hours a week on sub-minimum wages for readers of The Lady magazine, yet who somehow manage selflessly to support their families back home.

The Lady magazine is edited by Rachel Johnson, sister of the larky Boris, mayor of London – the wealthiest city, ever probably, on the face of the earth. Perhaps she could point out to her fashionable clientele that there really is no moral equivalence between someone sloshing about in a few inches of Thames in their designer wellies, on the phone to their insurers to have some clever little van-men round to replace their Poggenpohl kitchens; and a family of nine huddled for months and years under a plastic sheet beside a broken road running through a community that has been obliterated by tsunami, typhoon, earthquake or raping child-militias sponsored by diamond dealers.

She could point out, too, that extreme weather events like Typhoon Haian, which killed ten thousand and rendered another two million prospective Philippino housemaids and gardeners homeless last year, are more than likely the result of the wealth, warmth and comfort we in the North have engineered for ourselves over the past 250 years.

Occasionally, it cannot but be good for us to be reminded by Mother Nature that ‘We are all in this together’.