Dear reader, show yourself

I have detected an unusual pattern of usage. Someone is reading this, muh bogl!

According to Kissmekwik, the WordPress spammeister, over the past two weeks there have been a number of curious nocturnal incursions into the secretive world of The Boglington Post offices, here in Boglington-on-Sea. Someone has left their dabs all over this one, guv. Broken glass, bloody footprints, saliva samples – the lot.

We have not ruled out a political motive behind what the world’s press are already calling ‘Boglgate’.

Apart from the usual flock of Followers craning their necks to read hoary old Pages like How to Live in a Stately Home (answer: get a job in one) and Whatever You Do is Fine With Me (a metaphysical speculation on predestination – see, I could have been a rapper, if I knew what one was), these my latest homepage Posts have each attracted one viewing every day this past week.

Until the last few days, no-one at all has bothered reading my Posts, of which there are now over 350, all quite good. It is as if I don’t exist in the world (a subject you will find covered in various Posts, passim. At least, you would if you read them).

In other words, someone is stalking me, reading everything I am currently writing, but spookily saying nothing.

Reveal yourself! Step forward from the shadows, mystery Reader!

But beware, I keep a baseball bat by the bed for just such occasions.

(It has occurred to me that it might be me. I love reading my own stuff, don’t you?)

The endless game

A contributor to a well-known news comment thread appends a long list of civilian airliners that have been shot-down by military action, both deliberately and (possibly) accidentally, in all parts of the world since 1974.

(I have rePosted it under Pages – 1,000 words or less).

It is a depressing toll. And, if you were to add all the lethal attacks on civil aircraft by quasi-military groups and State-licensed agents and, possibly, even corporate interests, either in the air or on the ground; plus any whose loss remains unexplained, yet – owing to details of the passenger manifest or the political state of the region in which they were lost, or from which they came – can most easily be ascribed to hostile acts, I am sure it would mount into the hundreds.

We can conclude then that flying is dangerous.

Not all such flights may be entirely innocent. Some appear to be the result of civil aircraft flying over contested airspace. A Korean Airlines Boeing 747, the ominously listed Flight 007, was shot down by Russian fighter planes in September 1983 after apparently diverting far beyond its normal course and overflying several highly secret military installations. This diversion was put down to pilot error, but normal curiosity would suggest the hand of the CIA.

The list did not go back as far as the 1963 assassination of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold, whose light plane was destroyed by a South African bomb*; or the suspicious death in a mid-air explosion of the Polish commander, Wladek Sikorsky, after a summit meeting in 1943, off the coast of Gibraltar. Conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the buck might stop with Winston Churchill.

Nor did it include Pan Am Flight 101, brought down over the village of Lockerbie, in Scotland – where a further eleven people were killed on the ground. Never fully explained, the incident was wrapped-up with the gaoling of Abdul al-Megrahi, a medium-level Libyan intelligence agent, on flimsy evidence connecting him possibly with an item of clothing found in a suitcase thought to have contained the bomb. The increasingly deranged Libyan leader, Gadaffi later agreed to pay compensation but admitted no liability.

The best explanation is that it was a contract killing carried out by Libya on behalf of the government of Iran, in revenge for the accidental downing of an Iranian civil airbus over the Gulf by a trigger-happy missile operative on board the carrier, USS Vincennes. It was also reported that several US embassy ‘officials’ due to fly on 101 had withdrawn at the last minute, leaving their seats to be taken by a number of young students. This suggests the appalling possibility that the US government at some level may have assented to the attack. But the trail is now cold.

Whatever the reasons, or non-reasons, for these atrocities – and the perpetrators must realise that their actions make travel less safe for them as well as us – they bring home the truth that we live in two parallel universes, that occasionally collide with disastrous effect.

Literally over the heads of most of us, there is a game going on. Anyone is entitled to opt-in, or opt-out, but at their own risk. It’s called warfare, and Humanity has been playing this same game for tens of thousands of years. The weaponry may have grown more sophisticated, but the participants haven’t. Nor do the rules ever change: might is right. What’s yours is mine. My enemy’s enemy is my friend.

Periodicity in History studies is a category error. You cannot simply parcel-up wars into convenient blocs: The Wars of the Roses. The Franco-Prussian Wars. The First World War. The Cold War. All wars are connected, indivisibly. While the campaigns themselves may start and finish on the hour, and you can trace the first shot, and the last; the precedents and causes, the arming and the disarming, the statistics of the dead and the social outcomes, the treaties and defensive pacts and documents of surrender, the technological developments, History offers us no clear beginnings or ends.

There is only one, endless war.

Like a grand palace, room after room interconnects, with few passages between. Its location may shift, this way and that; its causes may be more or less distinct, its participants change and have their allegiances, their reasons for joining in; whole civilisations may wax and wane on the basis of their success at conquest and oppression, their defences against the barbarians and the efficiency or brutality of their armies and generals (it is equally a category error to imagine civilisations as being distinct entities in History, nevertheless we soldier on…), but war itself never ends; only morphing into new wars, different brutalities.

This war is for many a parallel universe of adventure and excitement, of dynastic rivalries and intrigues, of the exercise of power and the testing of sinews, the trial of nerve and resolve. But for those who choose not to participate in the game, it is an eternal misery, that in too many parts of the world becomes indistinguishable from any other way of life.

When the two universes intersect, as they did for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last July 18, as they have done for the children of Gaza, who are even now being inducted into the war without end, we are all reduced to one shameful creature. Man.

* Maybe a white separatist Rhodesian bomb. It’s complicated.

 

Annual leave

Do you sometimes feel like an invisible force is preventing you from getting on with your life? I know I do.

I have bogled before about my little house, that has been ‘on the market’ as they say for over 22 months, and how I have not had a single enquiry from any possibly interested buyer since last October.

The bored couple filling time over a rainy bank holiday, the buy-to-let speculator, the people who would really rather rent, or who are dreaming of an acre of land and a cow but were persuaded anyway just to have a look at a micro-house with a suntrap patio on the edge of town; the curious neighbours – all have fled the stage, leaving only a forlorn signboard, the thunderous traffic and an owner grown weary with keeping on top of the housework, just in case.

And it’s coming up August – the worst time of year for job-hunting – too.

It was in 2008 that I first realised my employers hated me and were plotting to make me redundant just as soon as they could.

This period of grace was going to depend on their finding the necessary five million gold splonders to restore the house and bring it up to the standard they had been told by a cunning but strangely ignorant ‘consultant’ would qualify hugely profitably for five-star status as a dreary and snobbish provincial hotel; a venture I told them would most probably bankrupt them within eighteen months*. This was about the length of time the other two dreary and snobbish provincial hotels in the area usually lasted between periods in administration.

But the owners weren’t of a mind to listen to the old caretaker.

So, I started registering with the dreary and snobbish domestic recruitment agencies that infest the posher areas of central London, sifting the CVs of Philippino maids for the consideration of oligarchs and screeching Saudi bitch-princesses. Agencies I imagine being run by an embrittled Sloane Ranger in a Hermès scarf, her second husband – perhaps a silver-coiffed individual whose demeanour suggests that he failed the exam required to become an undertaker – and staffed by brutal Australian temps so stupefied by nail varnish that they can’t get anyone’s name right, open an email or manage to file two CVs in alphabetical order.

Naturally, they demand the very highest standards from their candidates.

No-one recruits in August, any more than they do at Christmas. You don’t want to pay someone who’s going to turn up on Monday and then take two weeks off, starting Tuesday, do you.

We once hired a print buyer who came with an eye-smacking reference from a grand employer we had actually heard of, only to inform us the day before she was due to start that she had prebooked a five-weeks’ tour of Australia with her boyfriend, and wouldn’t be in just yet…. If we hadn’t desperately needed a print buyer at that moment, we wouldn’t have advertised. It was an awkward situation, but we were forever undone by decency.

So, when she did eventually come up from down-under, tanned and deeply relaxed, we discovered that, having only ever worked for the famous company before, she had no buying skills and simply bought print at whatever optimistic price the printer quoted, instead of hammering the bastard into the ground. It reduced our already tiny profit margin to below zero. I hope you’re reading this, Donna, you fat little….

Anyway, sorry… I get flashbacks. I need to remind myself it was twenty years ago.

So, as I am rapidly exhausting my minuscule savings and the Inland Revenue is at least one month overdue rebating me the tax I shouldn’t have had to pay on my pathetic earnings last year**, presumably because they are professionally incredulous that anyone can live on so little, and I have no work guaranteed before next January, I’ve been desperately trawling the interweb thing looking for paid opportunities for domestic caretakers and gardeners who blog – which is basically what I do.

I’ve even extended my normally narrow criteria, which are that I need to find somebody wealthy but not TOO wealthy, if you know what I mean – no pop divas, footballers or oligarchs, no Saudis – somewhere that accepts cute little sheepdogs, maybe even scary singing cats – and definitely no shooting estates. But, encouraged by the unseasonally warm and sunny summer weather, I’ve dropped my previous insistence on somewhere abroad in favour of extending my search to some of the more agreeable areas of the British Isles. And do you know what?

Yes, my applications are being totally ignored.

And in the intervening six years, despite having ten years of relevant qualifying experience under my belt, and a raft of other impressive attributes – few domestic caretakers, I suspect, having been at school with the Prince of Wales – despite ‘keeping an eye on’ their dreary and snobbish websites and marvelling at the way they manage to go on advertising improbably wonderful nannying jobs in Chelyabinsk or – worse – Monaco, that must have been filled months or years since, if they ever existed – despite being registered at one time or other with no fewer than seventeen of these impressively high-minded institutions, they have between them succeeded in obtaining for me only ONE interview with an actual employer.

It was, to be fair, the only job interview I have ever obtained through a recruiting agency of any kind, in forty-five years of working in industries where you need to keep one step ahead of your current employer, your CV ‘out there’, in case you need to book passage in a hurry on a more seaworthy ship. And, fifteen months on, I still have no idea if I got the job or not, neither the pecunious lady client nor the agency having had the good manners to let me know.

So why am I so exercised about being unable to apply for one situation in particular, that I found online last week, that looked pretty doable, albeit for only £14k a year, in an agreeable location known to me, while the agency simply ignores my anguished emails and updated CV with (none-too) recent reassuring photo?

Because, I think, of the accumulated tonnage of casual discourtesy and disdain with which one’s efforts to find useful work have been treated down the decades, despite one’s seniority and qualifications, in the world of arrogant and incompetent, semi-illiterate commission-serfs who make up the recruitment ‘profession’.

Or perhaps because of the invisible forces that are clearly at work, guiding me to some other manifest destiny beyond my ken.

Or perhaps indeed, as you have observed, because I am heartily sick of the lot of them.

I’m worried it may be starting to show?

 

* I am happy to admit I was wrong. I have not noticed anyone actually staying there, the carpark (they bulldozed my rose garden to enlarge it) is normally deserted; friends who have eaten there say the food is passable but they were the only ones in the restaurant. The owners either have bottomless pockets or are incurably romantic. But they have stuck it for two and a half years.

** A fabulous coincidence, I wrote to the Inland Revenue yesterday, begging for my money back, and guess what? That’s right, my regional tax office is going on a three-day strike tomorrow. Something about staff shortages causing delays in processing assessments… I can’t even laugh anymore, honestly. Somebody shoot me.

Postscriptum

This has been my 350th Post to this, muh li’l bogl. Well done me.

 

The Untouchable Mr Putin

Two Russia analysts on BBC radio this morning concurred: after so many years walled-up in the Kremlin, bathed in the asses’ milk of absolute power, surrounded and advised only by a small coterie of likeminded former KGB colleagues, Mr Putin is out-of-touch, delusional, poorly informed about what is going on in the world, a victim of his own propaganda, not – for an intelligence man – particularly intelligent and, quite probably, dangerously mad (and a closet gay… no, they didn’t say that) to boot.

Well, and well.

The problem for Mr Putin in Ukraine, since the downing of Flight MH17, has been that if he gives way to strident demands from the USA to use his influence on the pro-Russian separatist rebel leaders to co-operate with the international investigation, he will a) have to submit to the findings of the investigation, which may go against Russia; and b) let it be known that he does have influence over the separatists, which up to now he has denied.

The fact is that he most probably does not know how the plane came to be shot down, any more than the West does; but that he privately shares the West’s suspicions.

Consequently he is having to play a difficult hand. I suspect that he has been genuinely taken aback by the shooting-down of the civil airliner last week with almost 300 people on board. It was not part of the plan, and it has embarrassed him. The plan was to use the minimum of Russian cross-border involvement to stir-up the revolt in Eastern Ukraine. The downing of Flight MH17, whose passengers came from so many outraged countries, probably through the incompetence of a semi-trained rebel operative, has raised the stakes. Thus far, the supply of heavy weapons, money and training to the rebels has come from mysterious origins, seemingly with no clear trail leading back to Moscow. To intercede with the separatists in the combat zone is to admit that the sophisticated BUK mobile anti-aircraft missile launcher probably used in the attack – we still don’t really know – was one of his.

So, for home consumption, he has played the nationalist card and is using the State-controlled media to mount a massive disinformation campaign, attempting to throw blame on almost anyone else. He knows no-one outside Russia will ever believe he is innocent, but he can create enough of a smokescreen of blatantly contrarian disinformation to sow the seeds of doubt, especially among his many traditionalist supporters. He does not have to care about Western opinion. The tide of public opinion in Russia has swung behind him, as he has cleverly turned the disaster into an issue of anti-Russian sentiment and threat from the West, against which he knows a significant number of Russians will react with their hearts, rather than their heads. He has made ordinary Russians feel like they are the real victims of this disaster.

On the other hand, he must be relishing the extent to which the West has fallen consistently behind the curve on Ukraine since the start of his destabilisation campaign. This morning’s news is that the rebels have conceded almost everything the West was demanding. The bodies – those 20o or so that could be found scattered amid the alien corn – have been collected, bagged, ticketed, put on board a handy refrigerated train and shipped off to a Government-controlled town, to be handed over to the Dutch authorities, who lost the most citizens. The two ‘black box’ flight recorders that disappeared from the crash site on Day 1 have magically reappeared, and been handed over to the Malaysian air accident investigation team.

And, just as the British warrior PM David Cameron, his eye on the upcoming General Election, is tub-thumping and huffing and puffing in Brussels, demanding more ‘sanctions’ (short of anything that might upset business as usual in the City of London) while the spineless jellyfish who run the rest of the EU are quivering and havering over their pathetic gas supplies and their Russian business contracts, the rebels have declared a ceasefire in the civil war the West had somehow failed to notice was even happening, in a six-mile zone around the crash site, to enable investigations to take place. The fact that the evidence is now so compromised and contaminated as to be virtually useless will not have escaped Mr Putin. While we continue feebly to demand yesterday’s appropriate actions today, he has already conceded the point and moved on.

Thus, it is clear that he has, in a rather clever way, and despite being totally mad, ignorant and out-of-touch, outfoxed everyone. He knows we know, but cannot prove, that he has indeed brought the Kremlin’s influence to bear on the rebels, whom he has clearly been arming; and that as far as public opinion at home is concerned, it doesn’t matter a damn. He has been able to make concessions without being seen to have done so, because his clandestine ex-special forces operatives ARE the rebel leaders; and he knows we know that too, and that, far from condemning him, the Russian people will love him all the more for ‘standing up’ to Western pressure – while the truth is that he has had to give way to it, albeit on his own terms.

These stratagems are not the product of a diseased and delusional mind, and the most dangerous thing is for the West to believe he is not acting rationally. The whole operation since he succeeded in annexing the Crimean peninsula with barely a drop of blood spilled has been run on the principle of total, cynical deniability, that he has brilliantly carried to a whole new level. It is proving an object lesson in crisis management.

As long as the Russian people can have their patriotic indignation button so easily pushed, like the button that launched the rocket that killed 298 innocent civilians, 80 of them children, 33 thousand feet above the battle zone he controls, Mr Putin remains untouchable, either at home or abroad.

 

The law of unintended consequences

I had to look up the meaning of the acronym, MILF.

It seems pretty demeaning to both parties, one hesitates to apply it, but it’s an entirely accurate description of my feelings toward my mother’s friend Melissa. Although she sadly died many years ago, when I was still far too young and newly married to be having such thoughts, Melissa was absolutely the woman I would idealise, now I’m far too old and frequently divorced to be having such thoughts.

Fifty-ish, blonde (not really!), elegant, intelligent, well-travelled, feisty, just a little blowsy in a superattractive kind of way – and pretty definitely up for it, as they say, Melissa was the wealthy widow of a movie director who had ended up on the cutting-room floor. As the mother of sons my own age, both of whom were far more successful than I was being at the time, she seemed perfectly unattainable. But I knew I would have my own Melissa one day, it was just a matter of the right time and circumstances colliding.

I don’t know about you, it’s probably quite common, but I seem to live my life lurching from one desired image to the next. I fix a photograph in my head of where and how I’d like to be someday, and then spend months or even years struggling (and sometimes succeeding) to actualise that image, heedless of either process or consequence. Somehow, I would one day be there, like that, doing whatever, and it was enough to motivate my getting out of bed in the mornings.

For years now I’ve had this idealised image, a framed photo of myself sitting across a breakfast table on a balcony overlooking a sparkling warm sea, sipping coffee; while opposite, wearing a sparkling white towelling robe, sunglasses perched on a strong, blonde head,  long, suntanned legs (an intriguing scar?), carelessly absorbed in a detective thriller, caught just at the moment she raises her gaze with that familiar expression of amused contempt, is my Melissa figure. It’s absurd!

Think of all the billions of points in time: the decisions, the actions, the happenstances and consequentialities necessarily leading up to, surrounding, creating and nurturing that hypothetical scene, on any one of which one has absolutely no influence, each being dependent upon and the consequence of any other, but which must precede the actualisation of such an image. Then the consequential happenstances, actions and decisions leading away from it into an unpredictable and misty future. The moving image, if you will, of the still – all the myriad stuff that’s happening outside the frame in order to define what’s inside it. The meta-narrative. The Borgesian library of interconnecting probabilities.

It’s absurd to imagine the Universe will conspire with you to eventuate whatever you choose to envision as a desired outcome of your longings; that it will somehow deliver the exact inventory of presents you prayed to Santa would be hanging by your bed when you woke on Christmas morning.

But we do. Because it sometimes does.

Many years ago, driving to work, I passed a motorcycle showroom. In the window was this gorgeous, vintage bike: a 500cc silver Sunbeam S8, the only postwar British touring bike to have shaft-drive, like a BMW. Day after day I had to pass that window, until I could stand it no longer. Stopping off, I went in, blindly signed the credit agreement and then called a friend with a bike licence to come over and drive it home for me.

I had actualised my image, of being the owner of that splendid piece of motorcycling history. The Universe had conspired with me to eventuate my desired outcome. What I had forgotten to do was to visualise myself ever actually riding – or paying for – it!

Soon after, I got a job a hundred miles from home. I still didn’t have a licence to drive a bike over 125cc, so I had the friend drive it down for me. Then I bought a shiny red British sports car, whose engine kept seizing up owing to a basic design flaw everyone but me seemed to have known about for years. That and the demands of the job took up all my time, energy and money. The Sunbeam sat in the garage of our rented apartment for a year, occasionally being taken out for a spin by friends and colleagues with bike licences.

Then (as usual) I was fired. I never found out why, although I had upset a few important people by continuing with a journalistic investigation they were uncomfortable with. Fired on a Friday, on the Monday I found my local bank account had been frozen. I returned home to London, the friend riding the bike, me driving the little cheap French car I had taken in exchange for the Triumph TR4A, which the garage proprietor wanted for spares. (A few months later, the rear French coil springs suddenly sprang through into the French luggage compartment and I sold it to a stock-car racer for £12.) Unemployed and broke, with little hope of ever taking the test, rather than seeing it rot in the garden I gave the Sunbeam away to the friend. I still hadn’t finished paying for it.

There’s an old Chinese saying, be careful what you ask for – you might just get it. Modern parlance refers to the law of unintended consequences. Luckily, I have no money. I can’t afford the balcony overlooking the sea; I don’t know any attractive blonde women of a certain age; nor can I realistically envisage one ever wanting to know me. I may never actualise the image, but Followers of this, muh li’l bogl, will know, I have got my house on the market, just in case….

 

Pre-scriptum

Why was I reminded of the name Melissa, after all this time?

It’s a homonym!

I was planning to write, not about Melissa, but about Melisma… a musical term, referring to a passage in which the soloist affects a kind of sliding-around sound, a deliberate imprecision, bending the notes from flat to sharp and back again.

In recent years, especially, female singers of a certain school have been exploiting the melismatic style. One thinks of Maria Carey in particular, and Rihanna. Often, it sounds as if the melisma has been introduced synthetically, by the use of some digital post-recording trickery. To my ears, it is horrible. It puts me in mind of an American teenager whining for more pocket-money.

Unfortunately, the fashion has caught on among the X-Factor set, the sad fantasists prostituting their very tiny talents on reality TV shows in the hope of instant fame and fortune. Even respectable musicians are doing it – I had to switch off this morning, when a quite well-respected singer-songwriter commissioned to write a piece for radio started bending it like Beckham.

Shudder. The world is full of ugliness. Enough with melisma, let’s have more Melissas.