Getting in the mood

So…

This, the 423rd Post, marks the third anniversary of muh li’l bogl! Happy birthday, BogPo. Three today.

I’m normally an October person, but obviously The Boglington Post (formerly themindbogls – I haven’t found out yet how you can formally change the name) was born under a different star. I’ve checked, and this is what the egregious haruspex, Mr Russell Grant, has to say on the subject:

Pisces
You’re in a good mood, so take advantage of it.

So, okay, er… I’m not really used to being in a good mood, Russell, you’ll have to enlighten me.

Libra is never in a good mood, we tend to be swimming around in champagne, always purchasing fine art and about to meet the person of our dreams or land that dream job, both of which sound like daunting prospects; that is, when we are not being urged to be a little more cautious with our money.

Clearly Pisces, the sign of the Fish, leads a more carefree existence, whistling a little tune as it goes about its finny business through the increasingly acidic, warming waterways of life. Lucky Pisces.

The morning however began on a note of tragedy, with news that yet another free-thinking writer has died, hacked to death in Bangladesh by a machete-wielding mob of credulous medieval village cretins. Avijit Roy, a secular blogger and author who had joint US citizenship, and his wife had probably foolishly accepted an invitation to attend a book fair in Dhaka, where they were dragged from a rickshaw taxi and Mr Roy, 40, butchered in the street. Rafida Roy is recovering in hospital.

I am more than ever convinced that civilization is heading back to the Dark Ages. Except that, during what classicist historians mourning the death of Rome used to fancifully call the European Dark Age, it was a period of intense enlightenment in the Islamic world. A light that a tiny cabal of power-hungry gangsters drunk on their capacity for self-promoting ultraviolence and religious hypocrisy, supported ideologically by a teeming horde of directionless, disempowered nobodies, are anxious should be extinguished wherever it is found.

I wonder if Avijit Roy was in a good mood when he set out.

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Money, the new sex

It appears that, where our modern-day politicians are concerned, money is the new sex.

Fifty-two years ago, in 1963, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War (we called a spade a spade in them days, none of yer cissy Defence euphemisms) was forced to resign after admitting to a brief dalliance two years earlier with a 19-year-old ‘model’, Christine Keeler. The issue was less that he was using prostitutes, than that another of her regulars was reportedly one Colonel Yevgeny Ivanov, a ‘naval attaché’ at the Soviet Embassy in London. It was the height of the Cold War, which in 1962 would turn almost terminally hot with the Cuban missile crisis.

Things took a nastier turn when ‘The Establishment’, that nebulous cronysphere of influential upper-class connections, scapegoated society ostoeopath, Stephen Ward, who had introduced Keeler to Profumo at a wild party given by Lord Astor at his riverside stately home, Cliveden. Facing prosecution for living on immoral earnings – pimping – Ward took an overdose.

Ward’s involvement was clearly sexed-up, both to deflect prurient public interest in members of the ruling class indulging in sexual orgies, and to draw attention away from the possibility that the British government might have been penetrated at a high level by Soviet intelligence – which, of course, it had been.

Thus, thanks in part to the launch that year of Private Eye magazine by a group of young graduates, members of the ironically named Establishment Club, 1963 became a year in which ‘Tory sleaze’ was the topical theme, as it is once again today – and the start of the British media’s satire boom. Today’s politicians, however, are beyond satire.

As if on cue, Keeler’s friend and former cohort, Mandy Rice-Davies died this December. Rice-Davies has gone down in legal history for the defiant reply she gave at Ward’s trial, when confronted under cross-examination with Astor’s denial of involvement: ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ And once again, senior former ministers are under the spotlight.

This morning came the resignation of the Chairman of the Parliamentary oversight committee on Intelligence and Security, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, KCMG, QC, MP. Sir Malcolm, whom I have previously described on this blog as ‘Britain’s second most pompous man’ (leaving endless room for suggestions as to who might be first), has been brought low; not by sexual incontinence, but by what he has shockingly described as his ‘entitlement’ to grab as much cash as he can, while in office.

Rifkind, a former Defence and Foreign Secretary under Thatcher, has seemingly been caught on a hidden camera in a sting operation mounted by the Daily Telegraph and TV Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, slouching back in a chair in a sleazy-looking office, bigging himself up to some bogus Chinese business people, demanding fees of up to £8,000 a day to act as a prospective fixer.

Let me say straight away, that what he was proposing is not, in fact, illegal; nor is anything he has actually done. Having said that, there is nothing much one can add to take away from the ghastliness of the whole affair.

I could add that he was not alone. The same sordid little sting operation caught the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, former Labour Home Secretary, former Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, former Justice Secretary, The Rt Hon John ‘Jack’ Straw QC, MP. Up to ten other senior politicians found excuses not to be lured into the media’s web of deceit, but Straw too appears to have fallen for the stench of filthy foreign lucre.

His excuse was that he is leaving Parliament at the election in May, as a humble backbencher; and was simply exercising his right to fix himself up with a career thereafter as a £5,000 a day consultant; operating, as he graphically expressed it, ‘under the radar’ – by which he meant, he explained on the Today programme yesterday, that it is often better to have a quiet word in private with influential contacts than it is to campaign openly for your commercial interests.

There is an old maxim about ‘holes’ and ‘digging’ that springs to mind.

Rifkind’s kneejerk protestation that ‘scurrilous accusations’ had been made against him, over behaviour that is evidentially out there in the public domain; his hopefully disarming admission that what he did was ‘ill-judged’ (he would say that, wouldn’t he?), accompanied by grovelling self-referral to the House Committee on Privileges, and his pompous claim to have an ‘entitlement’ to screw huge fees out of the commercial sector for making representations on behalf of private clients, maybe possibly even while in office (which would be against the rules – paid advocacy is banned), all fall apart completely when one considers the security implications.

In addition to being the paid representative of the well-heeled voters of Kensington, this man is, or was, the Chair of a busy parliamentary committee having oversight of all Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies at a time of high controversy over their surveillance methods and possibly criminal involvement with CIA black ops. As such, he may be privy to operational secrets that are so top-secret they can never be revealed. The head honchos at GCHQ, MI5, MI6 – pick a number – all have to explain their actions to him.

Yet he is ‘entitled’, or so he believes, to lower himself into a potentially compromised position, being interviewed by some random Chinese woman as the prospective part-time employee of a fictitious company supposedly registered in the jurisdiction of a foreign power which, while not strictly speaking hostile, is known to be operating covert espionage activities against this country, its allies and its industries – a company which he has not even vetted for security before allowing himself to be enticed into preliminary negotiations with them to pay him large sums of money for ‘access’.

Had he instinctively used his influence to ask the security service to look into it before getting into the taxi, he might have discovered within a few seconds that the company was merely a fictitious front created by the Telegraph, the newspaper notoriously responsible for its relentless exposé of the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal, and an investigative TV programme known for its crafty sting operations. Luckily for him – it might have been a real company, and a front for the Chinese intelligence agencies. He wouldn’t have known.

Instead, he seems to have been blinded by the lure of money. And he is already quite a wealthy man, by most standards (except, perhaps, his); his position and influence extend to the chairmanships of international committees on global security, non-executive directorships.

It is surely right, therefore, that he has stepped down as Chair of the Intelligence committee, as his judgement must now be in serious question. As must his claim, also caught on camera, that his parliamentary work allows him masses of spare time to promote the interests of private clients, quote: ‘I’m self-employed’…. And what of loyalty to us, his actual employers? Not really a Conservative preoccupation, sadly.

Middle-aged politicians fucking young women is nothing new. It keeps them looking and feeling youthful, as the septuagenarian Berlusconi will happily attest. Politicians exploiting their former office, their influence and their connections to feather their nests in the private sector, too, is a time-honoured tradition. Clinton, Blair have become multi-millionaires off the backs of their respective electorates.

In the wake of the 2009 revelations, Parliament has, it’s claimed, tightened-up on MPs’ extramural activities and sources of income; the basic £67 thousand a year – around three times the national average wage – being hardly enough to keep body and soul together. Why, in the 1910s MPs’ pay was SIX times the average wage! External lobbyists are obliged to register. Serving ministers are not permitted to hold outside directorships. MPs are not allowed to act as paid lobbyists, or to take cash for asking questions. All outside activities and interests (other than unearned income…) must be declared in the register of members’ interests. Serious corruption is unlikely in Britain.

But this is not an issue about MPs having outside employment, second and even third jobs. That is just a red herring. The scandal of ministers leaving for hugely well-paid sinecures with industries related to their former office continues, unfortunately. What Straw and Rifkind did was not illegal. It was probably not even a breach of privilege, since they hadn’t actually taken the money; only discussed terms, setting-out their stalls, nothing confirmed or approved.

No, what Britain’s ‘hardworking families’ have been treated to is a glaring visual record of influential, overweeningly self-satisfied grandees of the British Establishment, the Queen’s Privy Councillors, qualified barristers, people who have previously pronounced sonorous judgements on other people’s moral turpitude, acting like two spivs on the make: sucking-up to some seedy, anonymous foreign moneybags, touting for possibly shady business, hanging their arses out; then trying to bully and worm their way out of it like naughty children when they get caught.

It’s not a pretty sight. To be honest, it’s pretty fucking nauseating.

 

Reverting to the mean

So, random political gargoyles on all sides of the octagon are spewing Claret-flecked yellow luncheon bile once more at poor Mr Cameron, who has pledged yet again to preserve the few minuscule benefits attached to growing old in Thatcher’s Britain, should he get elected in May.

One such neo-liberal, crypto-fascist Labour turdstrangler was interviewed just now, who recommends that benefits for the over-65s – I refer to extravagances like bus passes, a free eye test every two years and a generous £200 allowance towards the extra cost of heating our mansions in the wintertime – must be means-tested, to save the sixth wealthiest nation from bankruptcy.

I wonder, has he ever been means-tested? Does he in fact know anything of which his spastic  colon speaks? Has he, dare I ask, ever actually worked? For a living?

I don’t mean spending two weeks in the summer hols gaining work ‘experience’ in Daddy’s office. I don’t mean mincing about fetching trays of skinny lattes from Starbucks as an intern in some fashionable London baboon enclosure. I don’t mean spending a couple of years running around after a junior minister as a Parliamentary wank-rag.

I do mean building stuff, fixing things, growing food, saving lives, killing foreigners and/or clearing up shit, probably on minimum wage and without the prospect of a post-ministerial sinecure fixing Government contracts for dodgy Chinese businessmen ‘below the radar’ for five grand a day, plus a big fat occupational pension.

Has he, in short, ever spent two hours on the phone to call-sponges in Carlisle, being hauled maybe five times by different departments through the same bum-numbing 25-page form, delving into every minute detail of his fully accountable existence and those of his partner or spouse, his children and anyone else who might be living at the same address, who could be wrung-out for a bit of extra money – how many rooms/floors does the address have, and how many rooms are there on each floor, and are the rooms in the middle of the house or at the sides, and who is in occupation of the rooms, and when, and has he checked yet for pennies down the back of the sofa?

Thence to spend seven weeks or more sending off further pointless printed ‘evidence’ each week of financial items he has already ‘told us about’, together with years’ worth of bank statements offering ‘proof’ of the amounts and the dates of the month on which they are received? And are the dates the same each month or different, and are the amounts the same or different, and will the amounts and dates be the same or different in the future? And can he prove it?

And then to have the proofs he has submitted, originals of contracts stating clearly that the tiny annuity income he receives is fixed in perpetuity (by statute, so no need to ask) thrown back at him because the dates of the perfectly valid contracts are out of date, according to some arbitrary but unstated dateline dreamed-up by some faceless desk-donkey, tasked with grabbing-back anything?

And then to be told in the space of a single letter that he is entitled to receive the benefit, only he is no longer entitled to the benefit as the qualifying date has passed and he must go through the whole process over again, even if the applicant’s circumstances have not changed?

Believe me, that can happen. Somebody made that rule. Yes, they did.

Let’s look at it another way.

Most older people I know (principally, me) contribute massively to the economy, even past retirement age. They pay tax on any income over £10,000 – the State Pension if awarded in full to a male over 65 is only a couple of pounds shy of that figure.

They visit places and buy stuff to keep them going in retirement, like expensive guitars and purple hair rinse, which is why the marketing monkeys have christened them ‘Silver Surfers’.

They are, many of them, actively engaged in the Third Sector, charity work which delivers the vital social services local authorities can no longer afford on the public purse. And many provide valuable caring services at home with no reward.

The point about bus passes is that they get us out of our cars and onto public transport, creating a public financial benefit through helping to keep the transport system going, reducing traffic with its huge social costs, getting us out of our houses and into the shopping centres.

The point about regular eye tests is that if we have not been persuaded to abandon our cars, we are safer drivers; and are less likely to present the NHS at a late stage with cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, requiring expensive surgery and drugs.

The point about the heating allowance is that it provides a very modest grant of additional pension money with which to buy Christmas presents for our grandchildren. (We will already have paid our extortionate heating bills out of our regular pensions and have nothing left to celebrate with.)

Seriously, winter kills an estimated 38 thousand additional people each year, most of them elderly. If adding a couple of hundred pounds to the annual (taxable) pension in a lump sum at a critical time of year can help to keep hospital beds free for emergency cases, it is saving public money.

And the point about keeping us on the move and relatively comfortable and in touch with the world and the life of the mind is that we remain healthier for longer; less prone to dementia (unless we are constantly being means-tested, at which juncture I go ape).

And the point about keeping us happy is that we vote in greater numbers and more Conservatively than the average van-driver who believes that Nigel Farage is an actual human, and the point about pensions is that we’ve paid for them all our working lives, so fuck you.

I rest my case.

Zzznnzzz.

Ploughing a lonely furrow

Be prepared to put effort into achieving your aims. Nothing will seem to come easily now but you are known for your strength of character and gritty determination. Artistic and creative projects will help you relax. Aim to mix with positive people who always look on the bright side. Romance will be lively and exciting. If you are single, someone you meet late in the year will sweep you off your feet. Life will be demanding and so it will be important for you to arrange some spare time to relax and recharge your batteries.

– My Chinese horoscope for 2015 (Ox) (Yahoo! Lifestyle)

 

Well!

I’ve been worrying for a long time now that, like me, Margaret Thatcher was also a Libra/Ox combination baby. Only she was twelve years – a whole cycle – older, and quite a lot madder.

Gritty determination barely begins to describe her. I’m not so sure about me, I’ve been wavering lately. To become Prime Minister or not, appears to be the question. I’ve never been too good at being assertive, people often mistake it for aggression and call Security.

Sir Geoffrey Howe – I met him once – would have walked all over me, and he was described in the Commons as being about as effectual in debate as a dead sheep. Private Eye christened him Mogadon Man, after the popular tranquillising drug. Only, a dead sheep still has a sting in its tail (I’ve kept sheep, their rear-ends often teem with bots). Howe’s seemingly mild-mannered resignation speech kicked off the landslide that eventually buried his boss. That’s how I’ve always like to work, too. Under the radar.

My personal dead-sheep moment came when my prep-school headmaster, Jerry Cornes, called me into his study at the end of my next-to-last term. ‘Since you’ve come top of the sixth form for the past year’, he said, ‘I suppose I shall have to make you Head Boy next term, which is of course your last. But you must realise, you have no leadership qualities whatsoever.’

Had he known I was an Ox, stubborn and determined, Thatcherite in all but political conviction, he might have quailed. But I didn’t know it either. Not then. Nothing is coming easily now. It used to, doors would open, but not during the last twenty years. It’s been a struggle to get anywhere; increasingly so.

Especially as I have absolutely no idea where I’m supposed to be going. I’ve been prospecting for that new job for about six years now, out of work for three, and had only three interviews. Now I’m not sure I can be bothered to find a job. I’ll just stick to artistic projects. Live on my pension.

For, who will look after little Hunzi, while I am trapped in a garishly lit, open-plan office, surrounded by chipboard furniture and a cloud of cheap after-shave, being bullied by panic-stricken supervisors one-eighth my age and told (as if I didn’t already know) every other Monday morning by unproductive Facebook-surfing baboons, that, ooh, look, I’ve had a haircut. (I would put ‘#haircut’, but it would be bluffing. I have no idea what # means.)

I am indeed single. Some people might say singular, I don’t know. I’m pretty difficult, I guess. Traces of Thatcherite obstinacy linger. Do everything my own way. As for romance… I appear not to have a romantic synapse in my alien lizard-brain. So my ex-wives, bless ’em, would assert.

I have forgotten more birthdays, omitted to send more Valentine’s Cards, failed to suggest more weekends away, made more brutally honest evaluations of newly acquired lingerie and found it harder to say the ‘l***’ word, than any large lump of stone they could have brought into the bedroom and left in the corner.

So I think I’ll arrange some spare time. I can start by taking the dog for a walk, then lunch. That all seems pretty demanding. It’s blowing a gale today down on the beach, I could get swept off my feet… I’d better get my mobile and my li’l laptop plugged in before I go.

Charge some batteries, that’s the thing.

Look on the bright side. If I can’t be positive, maybe I should mix with more people who can.

I’ll soon put a stop to that.

Hiatus #2: The problem with p

Thermeay be a short break while I get my keyboard fixed… shouldna cleaned it yesterday.

– UBparty

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of theping back to th

e linLe abovaeter: Okay, things getting better. Just one letter insists on jumpr

eviousOkay, things getting better. Just one annoying letter insists on going back to the ne before, som.etim es taking othwer liettters with it. Darep’n’t use it!

Moral: a dirty keyboard saves time. (see, didn’t use the ‘ !)

Render unto Caesar

It’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and on the radio the Revd Lucy Winkett reminds me I need to decide what to give up to God for the next 40 days.

It used to be that people gave up eating. Largely because there wasn’t anything much around to eat at this time of year. But if Christ could spend 40 days in the wilderness without benefit of a tent, a primus stove and a crate of lager, and be back in time for Easter, the highest and the humblest among us could manage it too.

Nowadays, according to the gospel of the Blessed Lucy, it’s okay to give up tweeting, or texting your mates, or listening to the Today programme. Whatevs, bruvs, it’s the 21st century, Lent-lite, rite? In which case, I might give up carrying a phone around so I don’t have to talk to EE about the wonderful savings I can make on my mobile contract. But friends, colleagues and loved ones have both noted that I tend to leave my phone in the wrong trousers most of the time, so it wouldn’t be such a sacrifice.

So much consumer choice to not consume. So where does that leave me, Lentwise? Well, I don’t have a job to give up, don’t tweet, can’t text, no mates, but I was pleased to receive a letter from the Ministry of Pork and Beans this morning, informing me through gritted teeth that, as of 08 April, my pension is going up by £3 a week. Almost an entire glassful of Merlot! Should I write and say, hold it, guys – I’m giving the three quid up for Lent?

With the letter came one of their curiously downbeat little leaflets, three shades of grey, solemnly informing me that they might have to clawback tax from the money they are kindly giving me. It does seem a little bizarre, to hand someone ten thousand a year from public funds and then have to grab some of it back, when they could just hand you the right amount in the first place.

Then, in that curious sing-song-hopalong pidgin the government has adopted as standard (it doesn’t quite count as ‘plain English’ because, in order for language to communicate clearly, it is not the dogged simplicity with which you construct the sentence, but the need to convey some actual meaning through it, that counts), I am warned I may be fined £50 ‘civil penalty’ if I do not tell the Ministry straight away of any change in my circumstances.

I wonder, should I tell them I have a bit of a chesty cough this morning? Or that I have run out of bread for my toast? That the weather here in Boglington has turned overcast? I’m out walking the dog? What do they need to know, and why?

There follows a list of helpful suggestions of things that might be construed as a change in my circumstances; for instance, ‘if your Child Benefit award ends or changes’. I’m 65, for God’s sake! It’s how you get a pension. My kids are older than I am!

…’if a qualifying young person marries or forms a civil partnership’. What earthly relevance this has to my circumstances is not gone into. Qualifying for what? What young person? I have no young persons about my person. I’m not a young person, whatever ‘young’ means in this context. This is the Old Age Pension, not given to young persons as far as I am aware. Is 65 the new young?

Or, for instance, if I ‘go into hospital’, I must inform them immediately ‘on entering and on leaving’. What, ‘hi, I’m just popping in to get my toenails cut. Okay, now I’m back on the train…’ For day surgery, or overnight? Does waiting four hours for the triage nurse in A&E count? Am I obliged to inform the Government immediately of the change in my circumstances if I’ve been hit by a truck and admitted to ICU in a persistent vegetative state?

Why does ‘going into hospital’ affect my pension rights at all? Do they stop your pension to compensate the NHS for the soggy chicken and lettuce sandwich and a cup of lukewarm tea at lunchtime? Would that not conflict somewhat with the notion of a health service free to all at the point of delivery? Or do they increase the pension while you are in, bung you a bit extra out of sympathy? We are not told.

After a page of this, the dimwitted Young Apprentice-scheme bureau-basher who has been tasked with concocting this list of shame gives up in despair. Having run out of petty reasons to bilk you of your pension, he throws the problem back onto you: ‘This list is not exhaustive. You must tell us about changes in your circumstances straight away.

The underlying vacuousness of the advice consists in failing at any point to determine what is the default set of circumstances from which any change must be notified. ‘Yes, hi, how are you doing today? I made toast again for breakfast but I’ve eaten it now. Hunzi had some too.’ But I certainly won’t be giving up my pension for Lent!

As well, the government has been reacting today to a report that says many hardworking people are being ripped-off by the Big 6 energy companies, because we are loyal customers who don’t switch suppliers often enough (Conservatives are not big on loyalty).

I am being ripped-off by my energy supplier, of course. They’re blackmailing me. They told me they had ‘forgotten’ to bill me for my gas, on a fixed tariff that was supposed to provide both gas and electricity, for three years. I now owed them £1039, but  if I agreed to sign up for another two-year fixed contract at twice the previous price, they would reduce the debt to £240. (The figures were made-up, plucked from the air. They bore no relation to my actual energy usage.)

So the reason I don’t switch is because EDF have this gun to my head. But I would not switch my energy supplier in any case. Why would I? I don’t understand what I am paying for, how anything is calculated. I don’t understand how, when you have a fixed tariff, they send you bills for twice the agreed amount and then owe you a refund you never get. I don’t understand why EDF keeps texting and emailing to tell me I can get my energy £50 cheaper elsewhere.  I don’t understand how anyone can say how much I might or might not save by switching, when they haven’t a clue whether my central heating is permanently on or off, how often I fry chips for supper.

It could be my age, but I don’t seem to understand anything anymore. I don’t even want to understand. It’s all absurd: overcomplicated, arbitrary, seemingly pointless and ridiculous. Whenever the government, the bank, EDF tells me I have to deal with these matters I lie on the floor, curl into a ball, stuff my ears with cotton buds and flip my lower lip with my index finger while emitting faint dweebling noises. (For God’s sake, don’t let that put me in hospital!)

I’ll wager too that, whatever the get-you-to-switch price is, you’ll always end up paying the same. It’s swings and roundabouts, smoke and mirrors. I calculate that it’s worth losing the few notional savings that might be gained, in order not to have to give a fuck about it, ever again. It’s only money. Here, have some more. Look, take another £3 a week…

So yes, Revd Lucy, I have decided what to give up to God this Lententide.

Bloody well everything.