This way madness

Is it possible, I wonder, for someone to have Munchausen’s Syndrome linked to merely seeming a bit odd?

In other words, can a person act selfconsciously in a deliberately eccentric way, perhaps because the idea of behaving as if they have a mild mental disorder makes them feel more at home in a disordered world?

Yes [ ]  No [ ] What? [ ]  (tick)

You see, I’ve observed in the mirror that I have classic Obsessive-Compulsive habits.

I can’t remember having had any when younger, except for obsessively doodling a little squiggly sunrise motif in the margins of my Latin exercise book, but I seem to have adopted several over the years. Yet they don’t really feel natural to me. I watch myself with a faint sense of unease, thinking I would never have dreamed of behaving like this thirty years ago.

Hence the question: as well as physical symptoms, can Munchausen’s also describe feigning imaginary mental illness? Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder something people can acquire later in life? Or am I just pretending I’ve got it to make myself feel better, to attract sympathy, to seem more interesting, to fill-in the spare time God has cursed me with? Or is it the wine?

We need to know.

As well as, or perhaps because of, having to drink exactly one bottle every night; while straining not to Post my 500th Post until 27 February, the anniversary of the founding of the BogPo; putting on my socks in the right order, carefully counting my strides along the section of footpath made from uniformly five-yards-long slabs of concrete, so that I don’t step on the joins, for a good few years I’ve made a fetish of straightening pictures on walls and tidying unruly piles of leaflets in shops and banks.

Sorting things found on tabletops and counters: pens, pencils, rulers, dictionaries, erasers, so that everything lines up nicely, each category having its own place, creating geometric shapes and harmonious mathematical proportion in relation to the other items; then mischievously disarranging just one, maybe placing a pen at a jaunty angle to the others, to prove to any passing interested parties that a modicum of anarchic creativity still lurks within this frighteningly well-ordered mind

Only, I am the interested party. Everyone else just thinks I’m a bit mad.

An invigilator at the university, I’ve genuinely experienced in a crowded examination hall, a strange effect. With:

…things put back in their place, so; a gap of exactly one inch between the orderly piles of spare yellow, orange, green and blue answer books, of graph paper and Optical Character Recognition sheets; the blue attendance slips all neatly aligned, stacked, regimented; the little sticky tabs and treasury tags back in their boxes or neatly piled; no spare yesterday’s question papers and the torn envelopes they came in, no attendance sheets and instructions to invigilators for making announcements in Welsh, no paper cups, no helpful information about reporting Unacceptable Academic Practice, no dated photofit pictures scattered about showing how to spot last year’s illicit Smart watch, all tidied away, nothing littering the floor…

all this artful symmetry seems to engender an extraordinary feeling of order and Zen-like calm even in the biggest room, the one seating 377 reluctant biologists, where there was previously head-scratching tension and fret; radiating benignly throughout the space to impose a discipline thoroughly conducive to profound and silent meditation over complex questions of business or criminal law, physics, sport psychology – French literature.

I imagine the exam-room attendants who come to clear up after the invigilators have gone gazing spellbound at my neat tabletops, shaking their heads admiringly. That Bogler, they murmur to one another in their peculiar private language. He’s a stickler for tidyness!

Only I’m not. I have to work hard at making the bed every morning with its cushions arranged, just so; doing the washing-up: the glasses, the dishes, the cutlery, the pans, in the same carefully worked-out, ergonomic routine every time.

And then today, I notice with some irritation that I am having the exact same unhealthy ‘brunch’ I have eaten every day for at least the past month at my kitchen table at about 12.45 p.m.: two rashers of bacon, two eggs easy-over, two sliced mushrooms – all lightly fried in rapeseed oil (the one they now think doesn’t kill you), with a double-tablespoonful of baked beans, heated-up in the same old baked-bean heating-up pan; followed by a small, strong black coffee.

And I recall that this morning has been unusual, because I have gone downstairs before putting on the double-thick layer of socks that I need to wear to make my oversize Wellingtons fit better, no-one, not even the French, makes Wellingtons in half-sizes; a normal pair inside a heavier woollen gauge. I put them on like this every day, first the right, then the left, while Hunzi dives under my feet, rolling his eyes and making heavy grunting noises, and sticks his big doggy ass in the air, he gets some kind of sexual kick from being involved with me putting on my socks.

Talk about OC Dawg!

Instead, I remember I have new socks, and go downstairs to the fridge to fetch them, taking care on the way to step on the cat. She loves me to pretend to step on her, writhing and clawing the stair carpet, purring and squeaking and wiggling her little ass in the air. What is wrong with these creatures?

I’d finally plucked up courage yesterday and bought a twin-pack of thicker, outdoor socks that don’t have holes in, that I haven’t darned before. They’re great, but here I go again. Am I just saying about that OCD thing to appear more way-out, more fashionable? Do I really think my sock-buying habits are so interesting as to deserve mention in this, muh bogl?

It beats obsessively insulting a bunch of Tories, I suppose.

 

A low blow, but one maybe needing to be delivered

David ‘schweinsteiger’ Cameron has today agreed with Save the Children that we should, er, save more children. But not the few Syrian orphans dangerously alone and trapped in the Calais Swamp, only 32 miles away by train, oh no. That would only encourager les autres to come and throw themselves on our razor wire. So we’re sending them some extra blankets instead.

If anyone should know about children facing death… it’s this sneering, heartless, not-quite upper-class oaf some of you inexplicably elected.

 

Should auld acquaintance

My 87 year-old stepfather has undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. Undiagnosed, because he smartly fools the doctors. Though it is obvious to anyone who knows him, the doctors don’t know him. He can still pass the tests.

I went carol singing with the choir this Christmas around the old folks’ homes hereabouts, where some of the inmates have late-stage Alzheimer’s and were constantly having to be fetched back from wherever they had wandered off to by their amazingly patient carers, their minds a complete blank. Sometimes they can get violent. Husks, I described them as.

It’s scary seeing these empty husks, like Science Fiction, where an alien lifeform has sucked out everyone’s brain. Will I end up here, like this? Probably not, the cash-strapped local authority is closing-down the homes.

My stepfather hasn’t reached that stage. But he will ask you the same question over and over again. He asks you: ‘And w-w-what are your movements this afternoon?’ And you tell him, ‘I’m staying here this evening but I am going home tomorrow’. Five minutes pass, before he suddenly says, ‘And w-w-what are your movements this afternoon?’

And you tell him again. And then you ask him, ‘And have they finished decorating your flat yet?’ And he shakes his once great leonine head in puzzlement and tells you he doesn’t know, he can’t remember what it looks like. But he was there less than an hour ago.

So I can tell from experience the difference between someone being totally out of it, or just getting a bit daffy in their old age. My stepfather’s punishment from God is that he’s conscious of his plight; he knows he’s fast losing his never very focussed mind and can’t do a damned thing about it. It’s all slipping away. But as long as he can fool the doctors….

My 90 year-old mother doesn’t have it; nor by all accounts did my late, 83 year-old father, although his arteries were well furred-up.  My mother will tell me the same stories over, but that’s only because I visit her twice a year. Otherwise she’s as sharp as a kitchen knife. You can forgive her forgetting a few details.

So I’m hoping from a genetics point of view I’m not going to get the Big A anytime soon. But after trekking out to my garden studio for the umpteenth time without the door key, forgetting I always lock the damned door, and schlepping back to the house again to fetch it in the teeming rain, I’m not so sure.

I was telling a friend at choir on Tuesday that I’d been practising two new songs all afternoon. ‘What are they?’ she asked, although I knew she wouldn’t know them because I sing jazz songs at home, not choir songs (a community choir song = three lines of untranslatable Kyrzgystani lyrics chanted over crunchy, ever-so ethnic harmonies, repeat until you hyperventilate). Nobody much knows jazz songs now, except other jazz singers, we’re the only ones who listen to each other.

And I had to confess that, although I’d spent four hours playing through the Dianne Reeves tracks on repeat, singing over her amazing voice again and again with my amazing voice, following precisely her vocalisation, her phrasing; downloading the lyrics, dreaming of sending her an MP3 of my amazing performance and she’s like, wow, this old white guy is really amazing, and she invites me over to duet with her and I am famous at last; writing down the melody on the piano and trying to work out some guitar chords, and what the hell key the songs are written in,

by the evening I can’t remember even the titles of the two songs, let alone the words or the notes, to tell my friend about.

Nothing whatever comes to mind.

And I want to cry.

 

The end of the tunnel

We stopped off, Hunzi and I, on our walk around the industrial estate, to visit a wonderful new shop that has appeared in the bowels of a large shed otherwise dedicated to a not-very successful-looking campervan conversion business, selling everything anyone could need to grow plants indoors.

I shall refrain from making the obvious suggestion as to what plants, exactly, might benefit from the use of this technology. I wouldn’t know.

I had a specific aim in mind, which was to nurse Avi, my lovely Avocado tree, back to health.

Two summers ago, I popped Avi out in the garden, thinking she would benefit from the fresh air and sunlight. To my great disappointment some of her leaves got scorched by the wind, while she seemed to have suffered an infestation of those tiny, green, leaf-boring caterpillars that cunningly become invisible in daylight.

So ever since, I have kept her indoors, in the south-facing window of my garden studio.

Here, she has been unhappy. The expensive double-glazing advertises itself as UV-resistant, cutting out what I believe to be a rather essential component of the photosynthetic process; while the oil-filled radiator I heat the studio with is unpredictable – by which I mean I usually forget either to switch it on or to switch it off, or to set the temperature correctly, depending on the air temperature outside – and sometimes creates an unhealthy fug. I should probably go back to the shop and buy a thermostat.

Last year I repotted Avi, as she had grown to about four feet in height and was starting to put out dainty baby branches. I bought the biggest ceramics pot I could afford, and filled it with a mixture of peat-free compost and the loamy, sooty soil salvaged from operations to level the ground where the studio sits. The pot is now so heavy, and I’ve got so old and knackered, I can no longer move it; so there she sits.

But poor Avi had grown energetically in the three years since she was just a little stone, and was seriously pot-bound. Getting her out of her old home proved difficult. I didn’t want to break it, as Avi has a little half-sister, Caddie, coming along nicely on the living-room windowsill, who will be moving up a class in the summer term. So we had to settle for some rather drastic root damage, and now she looks droopy and her leaves are papery and pale; still bearing the brown marks and curled edges of the previous summer’s damage.

Now, the sun is making strenuous efforts to peer through the wall-to-wall haze after a morning of strong winds and intermittent rain here, on the edge of Storm Gertrude, a 100 mph monster which has sent 50-foot North Atlantic waves crashing once again into Scotland’s west coast islands. But for the past three months it has felt as if we were living through Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, under a thick blanket of brown, radioactive rain-bearing cloud that never seems to lift.

Let alone missing her daily UV, Avi has really been getting no light at all, and her little topknot of growth was stalled. She’d been growing straight and true, but her growing tip has become twisted, its little coronet of baby leaves stunted and futile. Nothing in her demeanour seemed to change for months, she was looking depressed and I feared for her survival.

So, despite it meant getting a tad overdrawn it was worth investing £42 on an enormous, full-spectrum daylight bulb, on the recommendation of the sagacious man in the shop. Seldom have I met anyone so interminably dedicated to the task of problem-solving vegetation issues. I hooked it up in the window, next to Avi, about a week ago, and have tried to remember to switch it on every day for the necessary twelve hours; I have yet to understand the instructions for programming the timer switch he also sold me.

And Alleluya, already she’s sprouting new growth, her tip has put on another inch and the tightly clenched baby leaves are unfurling their shiny new faces to the (fake) sunlight. Hope springs eternal in my studio.

Who knows, it might even be doing my SAD some good too, to be sitting here bathed in simulated daylight, while outside the world is enveloped in perpetual, rain-sodden gloom. Why, I could even imagine us all together in Portugal: Hunzi, Scat the Cat, Avi, Caddie, me and Gibella, my pretty young Gibson guitar.

But no-one is buying my little house.

Whose given name, incidentally, is ‘Lezah’.

I only found out she wasn’t just ‘Number One’ when the first utility bill arrived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In, out, shake it all about – and an Obituary for Infinity

Two conservative Sir Michaels on the Today programme, spouting the usual pernicious clichéd tosh about the EU and its oppressive bureaucracy, Caine (I’m 82, you know) and former Dark Knight, Howard.

Unfortunately coinciding with French PM Manny Valls warning that the sheer numbers of refugees still pouring over the southern borders are threatening to destroy the European project, and a German political pig demanding that Greece should spend whatever the Prussian bankers have left them on more efficient border controls.

Sometimes it’s best to switch off.

Mornings like this are nudging the opinion polls ever upwards in favour of Brexit. The more moderate Outers are increasingly relying on Schweinsteiger failing to get any really significant agreement on benefit changes and border controls to press their case. The British position is all we care about.

I have long argued that it has been Britain’s refusal to engage fully and co-operatively with the EU that is partly responsible for the current situation. Britain has historically been the balancing force in a revolving triad with France and Germany at the heart of European power, but we seem happy to sacrifice that position and to destabilise the entire continent for totally selfish reasons.

The refugee influx is a genuine crisis affecting the whole of Europe, in which we are stubbornly playing no part. The Eurozone, to which we also refuse to belong, is constantly said to be in crisis, although the value of the Euro has remained remarkably stable throughout the past three years since the ‘crisis’ began, while formerly buoyant Sterling is currently falling sharply against it. Is the pound in crisis? We should be told.

The Out campaign is significantly being driven by an egregious cabal of semi-accountable, power-hungry politicians with allegiances to dodgy, mid-Atlantic foundations, and UKIP empire-loyalists who would prefer to be ‘big fish’ in a very small pond than put up with straight bananas and messy human rights. What they mean by ‘sovereignty’ is their right as a class to govern us in perpetuity. They have the benefit of forty years of relentless anti-European propaganda in the rightwing press to back them up.

When is it ever pointed out to the readers, for instance, that the rubbishy Daily Express and Daily Star, both of which are screaming at us to get out, are owned by former pornographer, Richard Desmond, a major donor to UKIP? While the Sun, the Times are Murdoch papers – he’s anti-Europe because EU competition laws cramp his monopolistic habits; and the Telegraph is owned by the Barclay twins, reclusive billionaires holed up like Bond villains in a fortress on the island of Sark. God knows what they think of Europe in moments of contemplation over their private interests. Only the Mirror and the Guardian have the occasional good word to say about the EU, and few people read the Guardian.

Someone needs to spell it out to the British public: good manners alone ought to dictate that now is not the time to be making selfish and unco-operative demands on the rest of Europe that they should focus on Little Britain and our endless whibbling moans about ‘migrants’ (they are not ‘migrants’, the Treaty of Rome guarantees the right of all EU citizens to live and work anywhere within the EU, that’s the whole point!)

It should occur to someone, surely, that we have the lowest rate of unemployment in the EU, 5.1%, but also the largest pool of job vacancies, at a time when EU workers are here in very big numbers. How do you reconcile that, other than by accepting that far from taking ‘our jobs’, other Europeans are taking up the slack, helping to drive our growing economy?

Agreed, the EU expanded too rapidly, absorbing some not-very nice Eastern European countries who don’t share our values. It has major structural problems it is trying to deal with. There’s an economic gulf between the Catholic south and the Protestant north (in fact, I have a theory that the countries that brought about the Eurozone crisis were all until relatively recently under either political or religious dictatorships, or a combination of the two evils.)

There is some sympathy with the British position, but you sense their impatience. After lecturing everyone else on the need to do something about the refugee crisis, the tiresome and pompous Mr Cameron, for personal and domestic political reasons, driven by fear of further splitting his party, is only making things worse by insisting on pressing an irrelevant agenda in Brussels at this critical time. A vote for Brexit will surely be the final straw: I don’t see how the European project can survive that too. (And what would it mean for the Irish, out on a limb?)

Then where do we go, with neofascism in the ascendant everywhere, a huge and unpopular reserve of unsettled North African and Mid-eastern migrants swilling around, chronic economic stagnation and Russian imperial ambitions on the march once again? Britain will not survive the coming implosion of Europe, any more than it did trying to preserve its isolationist stance in 1914.

Brexit will go down in history as an act of monumental, suicidal stupidity.

 

Postscriptum

“Around £350 million of EU funds are being invested in Wales over the next five years to raise skills and drive productivity in workplaces, enabling more people to progress in their careers and achieve higher earnings.

“This new EU investment will boost the prospects of hundreds of people working in South West Wales, and is excellent news for the region’s business community and another positive example of the benefits of UK membership of the European Union.”

– Welsh finance minister, Jane Hutt. 14 January, 2016

 

Playing the long game

Two reports have emerged, neither of which’s conclusions is very surprising, giving two very negative impressions of the management of large organisations.

One concerns the Russian State-sponsored murder of British citizen and MI6 intelligence agent, Alexander Litvinenko. The evidence that he was clumsily murdered by two incompetent FSB hitmen toting a mess of radioactive Polonium 210 from Moscow to London, leaving a trail of lethal slime everywhere they went, seems unassailable. The Russians and Mr Lugovoi, now an untouchable member of the Duma, have of course angrily dismissed the inquiry findings, without reading the 390-odd pages, as evidence of the classic British sense of humour. Lying, and lying big, is the Kremlin’s default setting.

Maybe they don’t have closed-circuit TV cameras in Moscow, but we do in London. We watched you, FSB hitmen Lugovoi and Kovtun, entering and leaving the scene of the crime, taking Polonium ‘tea’ with the victim. The teapot was radioactive. Your hotel rooms were radioactive. The football stadium you visited was radioactive. Your aircraft seats were radioactive. You were probably  radioactive yourselves. No-one else could have done it. British secret services, whom you accuse of conducting a black op (motive? Thought not), do not have access to Polonium 210, whose specific signature was probably traced to Russian laboratories (much of the evidence was heard in secret). It was a very odd murder weapon to choose, unless the aim was to inflict the maximum suffering.

However… the question of who ordered it is less adroitly handled, in my view (he said weakly), by judge, Sir Robert Owen.

The conclusions of his report have been known and expected for years – this happened in 2006, and the suspects were fingered almost immediately. But to use the word ‘probably’ in relation to his final conclusion, that the murder was ‘probably’ ordered by Putin himself, gives us nothing. Better to have left it out.

Of course it ‘probably’ was, but there is no evidence, only supposition based on the ‘probability’ that so many high-ups in the Kremlin, all Putin cronies and former KGB, would have had to be involved in plotting it, getting hold of a controlled substance, that Putin himself must have known. Putin hated defector Litvinenko, so much that he ordered his face to be put on the targets used by recruits on the firing range. Litvinenko hated former colleague Putin: the Russian President was a paedophile, he said, and a big crook who had stolen his country.

And that leads us to the inevitable question, so what?

Intelligence agencies eliminate their States’ opponents all the time, wherever they are. This was quite likely to have been a Russian Mafia contract, Litvinenko was said to have taken part in MI6 joint ops against them in Spain, but again so what? It’s what they do.

Israel’s Mossad security service notoriously takes out Palestinian opponents abroad. Former PLO man and Palestinian prime minister, Yasser Arafat was also probably killed by Polonium poisoning.  France sank the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand with the loss of two crew. Bulgaria assassinated BBC spy, Georgi Markov, with a poison pellet fired from an umbrella on London Bridge. The USA regularly orders lethal drone strikes against individuals suspected of terrorism in Syria, Yemen and Somalia; they executed Osama bin Laden under the noses of Pakistan’s security forces. Britain ‘suicides’ its independent scientists and elderly rose-growers threatening to expose flaws in its intelligence on WMD. South African security assassinated the head of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, and the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme. No-one believes Boris Berezovsky, billionaire business rival and vocal opponent of Putin, really hanged himself in his Sunningdale garage because he was depressed, do they?

It’s all allowed, under the rules of the long game.

 

Lord Saville’s Crime

The official report into disc-jockey, ‘Sir’ Jimmy Saville’s activities at the BBC has yet to be published, but no-one seems surprised that ‘a draft’ has been leaked, as it is taking so long.

Saville’s reprehensible behaviour towards young girls, many of them picked-up while he was hosting Top of the Pops, or slimed over in his campervan during Radio 1 roadshows, appears to have resulted in some 81 reported instances of rape and sexual molestation on BBC premises in the 1960s and 70s, probably the tip of the iceberg. Though the report is now being hurriedly redrafted, Dame Janet Smith may have lamely concluded that no-one in authority knew anything, no-one said anything and no-one is to blame, so overawed was everyone – even Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles – by Jimmy’s Big Celebrity Cigar.

She will get stick for it from the Commons Home Affairs Committee, but in a way she is right.

Saville was notorious in the business. Indeed, his exploits were discussed widely and almost admiringly by colleagues. His ability to ‘pull’ adolescent girls was something the disc jockeys I worked with (I was a radio newsman in the 1970s – I never met Saville, by the way) seemed quite envious of. The word ‘paedophile’ had no currency then: no-one was talking about having sex with actual children, or raping babies, but over a pint in the saloon bar, nubile teenage girls around the official age of consent were considered desirable and fair game. Even so, the BBC was a gentleman’s club, where it would have been considered the height of bad manners to accuse anyone of anything, you know, like that….

I’m willing to bet, too, that there are hundreds of middle-aged women out there who will be prompted to recall that they set out knowingly at a young age from their boring suburban estate homes, away from uncomprehending parents and dreary schools pushing pointless qualifications, to weekend festivals and TV studios to sample a more exotic world of celebrity – who were quite happy to allow themselves to be fucked in the backs of Transit vans by rock musicians they’d seen gyrating on TV, or by smoothly stellar TV presenters now debauched, wrinkled and gaga. Does it still go on? Probably not – the times they have a-changed.

An American girlfriend told me in 1970 that her younger sister had been ‘collecting’ jazz musicians from the age of 13.

Now, okay, it’s illegal and much to be frowned on, though nobody died. But let’s not kid ourselves: there was no age of innocence that we can all be teleported back to. There’s a New Puritanism abroad in the land, that says it’s okay to pretend, to dress-up, even to watch; but not to ask too persistently, or to actually do (or to ever have done) anything… like that, yourself. It’s okay to sexualise children through fashion and pop music and social media confessionals, but not to let them experiment with actual sex.

We live in a schizophrenic age, with 40+ channels of pornography on Sky TV and any variety of exploitative sexual imagery involving literally millions of willing and unwilling participants and victims available online in our living-rooms with two clicks of a mouse. Yet we’ve become curiously prudish, demanding a new kind of morality policing that thinks it’s not only acceptable but obligatory to send twenty officers piling in to spend seven hours searching the retirement apartment of the 91-year-old former head of the British Army and his dying wife for non-existent evidence of decades-old debauchery.

Just as Litvinenko was an unfortunate casualty in a centuries-old clandestine war in which he was a willing participant, so it is difficult in my experience to believe that all of Saville’s crimes weren’t just him playing the game others in his position were also playing at the time, doing it in plain sight for the thrill of getting away with it, testing his male power time after time – not only over his random targets, but over his disbelieving employers and supporters too. What he did was evil and monstrous: the kiddies in hospital, the corpses in the morgue, the self-aggrandising bullying that closed down discussion and made liars of his accusers – he was one sick individual, to be sure.

But I doubt that Dame Janet’s report is going to dare to point out that, however much they may regret it now, celebrity-chasing teenage girls weren’t really all ‘victims’ of sexual abuse; except in the sense that in 2016 we feel we have to protect 14 and 15-year-old girls from their own sexual desires and fantasies, which their elders were in denial of then; encouraging people to make victims of their younger selves, whilst our culture becomes ever more sexualised.

Celebrity itself makes victims of all those deluded people who crave a slice of it and are willing to do anything, however regrettable, to be touched by it; celebrities themselves are flattered and fawned on until some of the weaker ones become narcissistic, self-regarding demigods, liable to test-out their earthly powers in ways mere mortals shouldn’t approve of.

It’s nothing new. You’ll find it all foreshadowed in the mythology of the Greeks.

 

The answer’s a lemon

Astonishingly, a report has emerged after five years in the stewing, that, in 2011, an eight-year-old child in Wales may have died, apparently from scurvy – the disease caused by vitamin-C deficiency, that sailors used to get before fruit was discovered.

The dangerous fact that he was home-educated has excited the media. Local authorities are being excoriated for failing to monitor these ‘invisible’ forgotten children, tragically falling ‘below the radar’. Politicians are calling for a change in the law to allow social workers to bust home educators and drag their dying children into care.

Bad cases make bad laws. Blaming home-educators in general for the alleged  vitamin deficiencies of one dysfunctional family is ludicrous overreaction. But home education has long been a subject of trepidation, in much the same way as home birth is. Surely, all right-minded folk argue with deeply furrowed brows, even though they might not countenance State control of the motor industry or the railways, State institutions are the right, the best, the safest, the only places in which to bear and educate ‘our’ children, no?

Rubbish.

Not a lot of local authority monitoring went on at my expensive top-10 public school either. The overcooked scraps and slop they fed us wouldn’t have left a single vitamin alive. There was no fruit in Britain in those days, fruit was for bats. I lived on chips, Coke and Bluebird toffees from the tuckshop until I was covered in boils, but I survived somehow.

In my experience, home-edders in Wild-West Wales are all vegetarian or even vegan, so the kid will have been stuffed with home-grown leeks and lentils, along with the dangerously revolutionary ideas. It seems peculiar then that scurvy, a vanishingly rare and extremely painful condition in which the muscle fibers progressively break-down, was diagnosed at all.

Perhaps it had nothing to do with his education, which has not previously been known to be a health risk? Perhaps it was a straightforward case of parental neglect combined with local authority underfunding? The parents certainly challenge the findings of the report. There might even be genetic disorders with which children can’t process vitamin-C adequately, I don’t know.

It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if there isn’t a rash of cases of rickets in Wales this year. We’ve had only two days of sunshine in the past three months to give us the vitamin-D we all crave. (And look, it’s raining again.)

Besides, if you want a doctor’s appointment here, you now have to make an appointment to phone for an appointment, that will then be a minimum three weeks away. That’s a net a lot of people are likely to slip through. I know I have.

Hwyl fawr!

 

Warts and all

I’ve noticed with fascination that facial warts seem to be overtaking dodgy beards as this year’s fashion accessory. Almost every person who appears on television seems to have at least one. I’ve been counting them.

A prominent wartista is the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg. I’m fixated on the one above her right eyelid, that mars her otherwise flawless High Definition maquillage. Her colleague, newsreader Sophie Rayworth is a great beauty, also mildly disfigured by several inadvertent outgrowths. All the otherwise glamorous women swanning through RAI’s top cop show, Inspector Montalbano, are studded with them – sarcomas sprouting all over too, from the Italian sunshine. Lemmy, the great singer and bass player from Mötörhead, who died at the beginning of the year, had gigantic facial warts that didn’t seem to bother him at all. I found them pretty disturbing, to be honest.

A check on the webinet reveals three important details. One, forty percent of people have facial warts. Two, they are caused by, among other things,  the Human Papilloma Virus, which has also been implicated in ovarian cancer. Women especially should avoid licking people’s faces. Other causes are said to include nervous stress, which might explain the media connection.

And three, they are easily removed. If he had not been such a Puritan, Oliver Cromwell could have had a very different history.

Thus disfigured, why wouldn’t you have them removed, then? Possibly out of commitment to diversity? Surely not. Retaining your warts is political correctness gone mad. Get rid of the little buggers now!

According to webthing noskinproblems dot com, the best method is to apply a facemask for 40 minutes twice a day, made with chopped onion, garlic and a little vinegar (avoiding the eyes).

Simples.

And who needs friends? Huckleberry Finn, I seem to remember, used his own semen.

 

No brainer

Speaking of frightful plagues, the latest threat to Humanity following Ebola is the Zika virus.

Found in a common type of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that inhabits a large swathe right around the globe from approximately the latitude of the Southern Mediterranean down to that of South Africa, the effects of a bite range from none at all, to a mild rash and fever, to the production of babies with deformed brains (although the latter connection is purely conjecture).

Luckily the virus hasn’t yet spread to the whole swathe, being mainly found in South and Central America and the Caribbean, but there’s no cure, no vaccine, and the WHO is worried.

Women in Columbia are being sternly advised not to get pregnant before the end of July, to avoid the mosquito season. Pregnant women are being warned to stay away from the Rio Olympics later this year. It’s quite serious, 4,000 children have been born in Brazil with tiny heads.

And you still think there’s a God.

Pip pip!

 

The Infinite, manqué

Professor Hawking, in his brain-frying 2016 Reith Lectures, advises us that a black hole is a singularity, where the writ of Einsteinian space-time no longer runs and everything, including probably probability, is infinite.

Our universe, of course, was born from just such a singularity.

Professor Brian Cox was discussing so-called ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ this afternoon on his humoresque BBC science show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, with various experts; one of whom mentioned a theory that one day, a black hole could create a new universe.

If so, then this monkey wonders if they aren’t doing it all the time, and whether ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, that make up the 96% of the observable universe that we can’t see, aren’t just the gravitational effects we detect from those unseen universes? (In which case, my prediction that we shall soon have ‘dark time’ as well looks like something you’d have a flutter on down at Ladbroke’s.)

As long ago as 1976, dark time indeed, I wrote a short SF story in which a character explains that black holes are the air-conditioning units of the universe, sucking up all the messy old gas clouds and dust and spare stars, and ejecting them into other space-time continuums as new universes, or white holes.

(Dark time would ensure that we don’t see them because there is no ‘now’ in dark time for us to see them in; only ‘some other time’.

But it was never published, so I can’t prove what a clever monkey I could have turned out to be, had I persevered beyond my twelve-times table instead of bunking off school for a pint and a smoke.

Not in this universe, anyway.

 

Obituary column

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!

Stop all the clocks…

“Unilever, the multinational firm behind brands including Magnum and Cornetto, is to make all its ice creams aimed at adults smaller.”

(BBC News quoting The Grocer magazine)

This has got to be the worst news of the week. The month. The millennium.

The hell with Syrian refugees, Trump, Putin, snowstorms and Google’s tax arrangements. This is political correctness, not just gone mad but in a state of genocidal psychotic frenzy.

Oh yes, Unilever (didn’t you use to make soap powder? Is there a connection?), we all love to make ‘healthier choices’, don’t we, you sanctimonious little corporate creeps.

Fuck you and your weaselly PR department. Did you ask us? Huh? Did we say to you, oh, yes please Lord Leverhulme, please give us ‘healthier choices’? You’re not giving us a choice at all, assholes, just pointless little itty-bitty bite-sized ice-creams, where magnificent self-indulgence used to be the sole rationale for making the purchase.

No, we guzzled fucking tons and tons of your wonderfully empowering, chocolatey product every summer, despite the frequent price hikes; we rejoiced at the silliness of Ben & Jerry’s recipes, and now you slap us in the face with this.

But there’s worse, much worse. For our own good…

They’re stopping making… I can scarcely get the words out of my brain, which is flooded with tears.

Stopping…

Making…

Magnum Infinity.

Suddenly the sun has fallen from the sky. (Probably – it’s overcast again.) Darkness descends on the human race. The barbarians are streaming in triumph through the gates of Rome.

Suddenly I don’t care anymore.

It is finished.

 

 

 

Not such a super position?

Several hundred thousand refugees, many of them doubtless women and children, have been blamed for mysogynistic attacks by roving gangs in Cologne over New Year’s.

Subsequently, other complaints of violent sexist attacks in public, including rapes, intimidation and theft, have come to light in other German cities. In no cases did the police try to intervene, or report anything other than the usual boisterousness associated with large-scale public celebrations; apparently for fear of seeming politically incorrect.

The city-centre attacks were followed by anti-migrant demonstrations by right-wing parties.

Then, reports emerged from Sweden of similar attacks on women by ‘migrants’ in Stockholm during pop festivals over the past two years, supposedly sanitised events artificially created by grownups (as you would expect from the anal Swedes) to keep young people off the streets. (Frankly you would have to drag me to one in chains.) A few days later, equally anal Switzerland and Denmark voted to confiscate assets owned by Syrian asylum-seekers over and above a very basic limit, to force them to compensate their wealthy taxpayers for the cost of providing sanctuary as required by the United Nations.

In the wake of these undoubtedly distressing incidents and their even more distressing aftermath, perhaps you should visit the link below, in  which a BBC regional reporter reporting on mysogynistic intimidation by gangs of young working-class white men is abused while actually reporting on camera.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-34368882

Then ask yourself: why would new immigrants untainted by local politics be stupid enough to flout the law in countries they hope will accept them as citizens? and two, why do young white men in Nottingham share the apparently mysogynistic values of young muslim men arriving in Germany? and three, why not listen to the testimonies of women violated by ‘demonstrators’ in Tahrir Square, Cairo and other so-called Arab Spring protest centres? and four, why not review the reports of unspeakably violent rapes in India.

Why not then conclude that there is something much more sinister going on against the growing equality of women than just crude racist propaganda and bullish demands for reparations from pathetic refugees arriving in Europe, who are not being allowed to work to pay their way, yet who are seen as potential cash-cows for Eurotrash governments pandering to their fascist minorities?

 

Speaking of which

What is it with Cameron?

Our embarrassing Prime Minister just loves jetting around the world, lecturing other leaders on what he (and by extension, Britain) finds ‘unacceptable’ about the latest manifestation of their sovereign right to behave pretty much as they see fit.

And now he is writing articles in the Torygraph demanding that Pakistani women in particular should be deprived of their spousal residence visas, rounded-up in the Yarlswood concentration camp for women, removed from their families and deported, if they don’t learn to speak English quickish, and chop-chop.

Why, are the Tories having trouble communicating with their domestic servants?

He says nothing about monoglot French women, or Spanish women, or Polish women, or Lithuanian women – or indeed men. He says nothing either, about the tens of thousands of British pensioners permanently soaking up the sun in the Algarve, who can’t muster a word of Portuguese.

He sugars the pill by arguing that muslim women in Britain would be more empowered if they came out of their kitchens and integrated a bit more. He tells them their husbands are a bunch of unreconstructed, chauvinistic, pig-ignorant peasants, who are keeping them down because of unacceptable patriarchal traditions in the muslim world.

But the main thrust of his argument is that if they could speak the local lingo better, they might spot sooner that their kids are online to Daesh and about to sign up for the special ‘Kalashnikov and forty virgins’ package holiday deal.

And so, using the ‘War on Terror’ as a rather far-fetched excuse,  he’s announced a few million quid extra for English-language evening classes, probably to the complete surprise of the Education Secretary, who has been busily closing down the Further Education colleges in pursuit of the standing ordinance to save money at all costs.

I have previously expressed my personal view that Cameron is a bit of an interfering, blustering, bullying, sneering prig, whose bewilderingly optimistic worldview has been radicalised by his childhood nanny and in fireside chats with his prep-school headmaster.

I hardly need do so again. But I am sick of being hectored on so-called ‘British values’. Who in the world doesn’t want our illusory ‘freedom’ and an occasional opportunity to fuck the Tory party over? It’s why they come here.

 

Under the covers with you

Lovely Likers and Followers of this, muh bogl, may be finding my frequent vituperative attacks on Conservative politicians a trifle unnerving. Let me briefly put them in context.

I don’t know if you’re aware of the many stories in the news recently about women who have found themselves in ghostly relationships with undercover police officers sent to infiltrate gangs of Corbynistas, tree-huggers, dog-lovers and other dangerous traitors? I’ve been following them with interest.

One surfaced only yesterday, a woman who accepted a proposal of marriage from her secret cop, whom she had lived with for two years, not knowing he was leading a double life with a wife and two children living nearby. That’s pretty typical of the eight cases Scotland Yard has already grudgingly apologised for, agreeing that their behaviour does seem a tad exploitative.

I don’t agree!

I figured that if I set up a sufficiently treacherous-sounding organisation like The Boglington Post, and propounded some dangerously democratic views, the fuzz might want to infiltrate me too. Accordingly, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to being picked-up and groomed by an agreeable-looking policewoman going by an assumed name, who just accidentally happens to bump into me with her trolley in Morrison’s one afternoon, and moves into my little house the next day.

We shall of course never fight, as the character she is impersonating would need to remain in a permanent state of submissiveness or her cover would be blown. She would be the perfect wife!

So far, sadly, they seem to be missing a trick down at the nick.

 

www.

The village of Eglwyswrw, pop. 700, lies 40 miles down the coast from here, about three miles outside the historic, small-minded coastal town of Cardigan, on the road to the Irish ferry port of Fishguard.

Perched on the windward side of the beautiful and remote Preseli hills, although of Norman origin Eglwyswrw is one of those communities you might not notice having any distinct identity, being mostly viewed as a late C20th ribbon development. There is a school, chapels, a pub. For all I remember, a convenience store. Without a really juicy murder, the tragic disappearance of a child, a barn fire or a proposed Tesco hypermarket, there would be no chance of its ever appearing on the national news, potentially for a whole week on end.

And yet, that is just what it is doing. It’s the kind of exposure even a PR agency could not hope to dream up.

Eglwyswrw has entered the information age, not because it has more instances of the letter ‘w’ than any other village in Wales, it’s barely a starter in that regard, but because it has rained there every day for the past 82 days.

If it continues raining for the next week, the story goes, it will surpass the previous (uncorroborated) record for continuous rainfall in the British Isles of at least 0.2 cm every day, 89 days, set in 1915 by the equally difficult to pronounce Eallabus, on the island of Islay, off north-west Scotland. This will enhance its status as a tourist attraction. (Sadly, I don’t think they made it – it didn’t rain on Sunday.)

Now, Wales is notorious for rain, stuck as it is on the western edge of the world and having inland hills that force warm, moisture-laden clouds blowing in from the Atlantic to rise rapidly, cool, condense and deposit. But it’s not usually like this.

Living as we do only forty miles north of Eglwyswrw (eglwys in Welsh means a church. The word is also of Norman origin. I’m not sure what the wrw means. Wet?), I’ve been wondering if most of the small communities along the bay of Cardigan, including this larger one, couldn’t equally claim a share of the record? I don’t remember a day and night since the end of October when it hasn’t rained here too, although I did have three days away over Christmas when it rained on me and li’l Hunzi every day in London instead, and so cannot be entirely certain.

Meanwhile we have another hurricane out in the Atlantic. ‘Alex’ has been hailed as the first January hurricane recorded for 88 years, over the Azores. And an antarctic explorer calls the BBC to say it’s only minus 12 C at the South Pole.

The times are indeed out of joint.

PS – Yes, it’s raining here, now, again .

STOP PRESS Major Tim Peake, the ‘first British astronaut’ – apart from the others – has become the first British hero to carry out a space-walk. He popped out at the weekend with an American colleague, whatsisname, to fix the TV aerial or something. Unfortunately it was raining there too, they got water in their space helmets, so they came back in again.

Is there no relief?

PPS –  20 Jan., OM giddy G! We awake this morning to a cloudless blue sky, out of which a strange glowing orb is blazing! After nearly three months of wall-to-wall blanket of grey, with other huge lumps of grey jostling underneath, endless drizzle punctuated by rain and shining, empuddled roadways, this diamond morning is as a benediction that almost commands the lifting of crushed spirits.

Until, that is, yet another kicking-the-can letter arrives from the Student Loans Company, another spirit-crushing punch in the face, demanding to see a ‘week 53′ payslip from my ’employer’ showing my ‘salary’ for 2013/14. Only then, it says, will they be able to assess my income for that year.

I have already explained to them several times since mid-October, at which time they told me they already had all the information they could possibly need, that I didn’t then and don’t now have an employer. There was and is no salary. There aren’t 53 weeks in a year.

Maybe whoever is sending me these shitty letters week after week in order to avoid paying my son his grant before either he is evicted from his housing or he graduates in June should fund themselves a place at university, on a course in basic cognitive skills.

The call-centre woman promises to check with Assessment and phone me back.

I’m still waiting.

 

Ouwhere in the Ouworld?

Another unlikely place in the news today, Ouagadougou is currently in mourning for the 26 victims of another IS-inspired attack by cretinous terrorists blowing themselves, some foreigners and their fellow muslims up in the name of Allah the not-very merciful, before being martyred to death by the police.

Why I bother including what is becoming a commonplace event around the world is in fact nothing to do with geopolitics.

It is simply to speculate on a curious coincidence.

Walking Hunzi yesterday morning in the rain along our local shit-strewn cinder path, the name Ouagadougou suddenly popped into my head. I don’t know why. After a moment or so reflecting on the strangeness of a name with three instances of the ‘ou’ diphthong, like Egwlyswrw (the ‘w’ is pronounced in the same way,’ou’), I vaguely recalled that it was the name of the capital, possibly of some flyblown central African republic. I couldn’t remember which one.

Sleeping late this morning, I caught the ten o’clock news on the radio, and was delighted to be reminded that Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso; albeit that the information was relayed in unfortunate circumstances. I’m hoping sometime soon to be reminded in turn where that is.

Thus,  my usually wispy thoughts have been excited by an article on the BBC News website about quantum effects.

Chinese researchers are reportedly hoping to use the superposition of entangled pairs of photons to transmit the molecular memory of a bacterium between distant locations, paving the way for some kind of transference of mind instantly from A to B. It sounds less like science fiction than complete bollocks. What does a bacterium remember? The time I defeated that phagocyte in mortal combat? How I gave that snarky human necrotising fasciitis?

Superposition, as any fule kno, is the spooky ability of either of an entangled pair of fundamental particles to appear in two different places at the same time. How they get an entangled pair together in the first place, I’m less certain; maybe one is a police impostor.  How do they know where a random photon might plausibly turn up next? Nay, I beg you, go no further.  The development, it’s said, promises more powerful and efficient quantum computing, just when we need it most.

But I did pause to wonder if thinking of Ouagadougou for no reason on a Friday morning and then hearing on the radio next day that that one city out of thousands in the world had been attacked only hours later – the sort of synchronicity that happens to us all, I imagine, on a daily basis without us being fully aware of it – might have some explanation in the whizzy, wacky Alice-in-Wonderland world of quantum mechanics?

Can we remember things before they happen?

Or are Chinese researchers hacking our thoughts?

We should be told.

 

Obituaries

Where are they now?

Lemmy. Bowie. And today (19 January), Glenn Frey of The Eagles, and Dave Griffin of Mott the Hoople.

It’s not a good time for old rockers in their late 60s, although at a pinch the four of them could form a rather odd crossover glam/country/metal band in heaven, complete with loud or soft vocals, bass, piano, acoustic guitar and drums.

Lucky for me then that I have been completely unsuccessful in music, although I know possibly several hundred guitar chords and still have the voice of an angel. (Of course I share the desire to be worshipped by millions, but I am a bashful and inconsistent performer with a poor memory for lyrics.) Nor did I inhale.

I should with luck therefore make it past the median age for dead rockers, which I hope to attain later this year, of 67.

From the Press Association today:

“High doses of cocaine can cause the brain to eat itself, research suggests.”

Aha.

 

– UB

A race to the bottom

STOP PRESS

Ground Control to You-know-who

So, farewell then, David Bowie (69). International treasure and pop icon.

I guess you changed a lot of people’s lives with your colourful clothes and hair, dramatic songs and multiple stage personalities. You weren’t a great actor or singer, but everyone’s saying what a nice bloke you were, which is good. And you kept the show going, macabrely right to the end. With your last album, released only days ago, I hear you’ve arrived at Death simultaneously with Jazz. That’s the spirit. I’ll have to buy it.

To be honest, I never really ‘got’ the Bowie legend. I was more into Motown at the time. You caught on quickly to new trends and made them your own with a few deft costume and line-up changes. Your music owed a lot to Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Elton John, Kraftwerk. You were intelligent and well-read, a self-made, self-contained man. You always acknowledged that, but still people thought you were an original, a one-off – maybe because we all like dressing-up. And musicians followed your styles.

What was that ‘Ziggy Stardust’ space alien, starman thing? It didn’t seem all that clever or original an idea: pop star, star-man….

But it worked for you. I guess most teenagers feel they must be aliens from another planet at some time or other, or they wouldn’t kill themselves listening to Morrissey. I know I did. Still do. And you got the part as an alien in Nic Roeg’s The Man who Fell to Earth.

And now everyone is joking, oh, so Bowie reinvented his character again, this time as a dead pop star? Along with all the trimmings: the shocked faces, the tears, floral tributes, candlelit vigils… the old albums racing back up the charts.

It’s tasteless, but kind of encouraging.

 

What I’ve been doing

So, we missed last Thursday’s slot. Happily, because I’ve been working! For muney!!

If I wasn’t pacing up and down an exam room, looking alternately fierce and avuncular, supplying spare pens for young baboons who (although supposedly intelligent third-year undergraduates) have brought only one ballpoint, not functioning; rousting out those who might, at a pinch, be rapped over the knuckles for Unacceptable Academic Practice, as we must all now call cheating, then I….

Oh dear, I have lost my way in the syntax. If I wasn’t doing that, as I say, then I was at my ex-wife’s new house for a day, earning a free lunch putting up a cat-fence in the garden, with topographical and structural difficulty, between rainstorms. Happy days.

And then I have been immensely depressed. In fact, I was reduced to actual tears on Thursday evening, to find yet another letter on the hall floor from the Student Loan Company, badgering me for more pointless ‘evidence’ of extreme penury.

Just when you thought there couldn’t be anything else to show them, regarding the same very small amounts, here’s another cruel and timewasting demand to cope with.

I’ve been trying for three months now to persuade these privatised successors of the local Education Authority, with which I never had a problem, of the simple fact that my income for the year 2013/14 fell far short of the threshold above which parents have to make contributions to their children’s university grant.

And like all newly privatised quangos, they’ve been anxious to impress the Treasury with their diligence at kicking cans down the road, hopefully forever.

Their latest wheeze has been to reject an official IRS account of some small investment income I get from the USA, worth in total about £1,800 a year, on grounds that, as the US tax year runs briskly from January to January, as years tend to do, while Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is basically still a Christmassy heap of groaning, hungover baboons until April, when the UK tax year finally cranks into motion, the fund must have somehow accumulated an extra £7,000 in interest and sent it to me secretly during those missing three months.

Yet they have my HMRC consolidated account for the UK year to look at as well. Just a glance at my bank statements, with their empty Credits column month after month, the little OD notes denoting incipient bankruptcy next to each of the steadily mounting Debits, all to Messrs Morrison’s supermarket’s wine department,  might have convinced them, but no. Not as long as there was something, anything even fractionally anomalous, that they could sink their venomous, savings-quota-hungry little fangs into.

This arrant nonsense has gone on and on, week after week, while my poor boy struggles to finance his rent, woo his lovely friend and maintain his rusting motorbike. Is it so much to ask? Oh look, here’s that form again, that they’ve sent back after three weeks for me to mark ‘n/a’ in each of the many non-applicable boxes, instead of merely ignoring them. But surely, would he not have entered the information, were there any to be entered? No, he must be an idiot, who has clearly forgotten the day he received an emergency support grant from the Church!

What made it even more tearfully depressing is that I’d already spent months in the autumn going over and over the same few pathetic scraps of paper with another Government waste-bin of human ambition, the Department of Work and Pensions. They used the selfsame tactic of repeatedly punching me in the face until they finally had to agree on the basis of exactly the same evidence, from the same year as the others, that I was, essentially, a harmless economic basket-case deserving of a paltry (and very temporary) handout.

It all amounts to gross abuse by bureaucracy, but it is the modern way of life in Gideon Osborne’s austerity-ridden Britain.

Meanwhile,

  • Millions of unemployed foreigners are arriving on our shores and before their no-longer fashionable shellsuits are dry are being handed houses and benefits and Masters Degrees and pensioned sinecures for life and cars and fresh young English virgins and £50 Amazon vouchers and gold-plated iPhones with 300 free minutes, on no other evidence than the production of someone’s EU passport.
  • Five hundred City bankers trousered over £1 million each in bonuses for 2015, while the Financial Conduct Authority investigation into their greed and criminality has been aborted with no coherent explanation.
  • A certain special football manager has been sacked, reportedly with a contract buyout amounting to £40 million, for no other reason than that his players, some on £300,000 of cocaine a week, thought he was being a bit of a self-aggrandising arsehole and went on a goal strike.

And today, two winners have each been treated to £33 million Lottery money in the biggest ever grab-bag finale to a Camelot publicity stunt, designed to reassure us all that the recent changes to the ticket numbering were not designed to make winning statistically impossible; only to prove that the greed, gullibility and desperation of the average Briton know no bounds.

Something is profoundly wrong somewhere.

I’m even sure what.

 

A race to the bottom

After a week of shuffling in embarrassment, it is finally beginning to occur to one or two liberal-minded herrenvolk that the appallingly misogynistic behaviour of rampaging mobs of young men, said to have been of North African origin, sexually assaulting and robbing random women on the streets of German cities over the New Year, does seem rather a fortuitous coincidence for the resurgent parties of the Right.

Perhaps forgetting that their parents managed in 1990 to absorb the entire population of East Germany into West Germany, lots of younger Germans are dusting off their grandparents’ copies of Mein Kampf, the best-selling cookbook by A. Hitler, which is now being allowed back into the school curriculum, and are railing against the admission of a million asylum-seekers whose main disqualification appears to be that they are foreign.

The other half of the population is trying very hard to be nice to these refugees, most of whom have a genuine reason to be fleeing the post-apocalyptic urban wasteland that is now much of the Middle East, in search not just of a better life, but of any life at all. Perhaps these kind Germans have been reminded of the state in which their own cities were left after WW2, seven million displaced survivors wandering stunned and starving amid the rubble, selling sex for Hershey bars, who were eventually settled somehow. (Perhaps the unkind ones don’t want to be reminded.)

The problem being, that state institutions have been caught off-guard and understandably lack the money, staff and facilities to ensure the smooth and efficient absorption of so many refugees in such a short time; while hundreds of thousands more will soon be on their way. They are perhaps reluctant to put them in camps. It’s a recipe for ethnic conflict on a worrying scale.

Suddenly, into the midst of this hitherto polite controversy erupts an unpleasant demonstration of macho male aggression, seemingly perpetrated by newly arrived young Muslim men, ‘economic migrants’ who have brought their ignorant foreign ways and abusive bad-manners with them, in a most un-Christian display of sexualised violence against defenceless German womanhood.

What a strange coincidence. After all, Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of migrant Muslim workers down the decades to fuel the Wirtschaftswunder, and they’ve never had this problem before, certainly not on such a scale and in such a flagrant way. Why, it could almost have been the old racist trope of the oversexed n-word re-orchestrated to discredit Mrs Merkel and her humane response to the crisis threatening to overwhelm European institutions with a swarm of sexually incontinent brownfaces speaking in barbarian tongues and bowing down to Mecca five times a day. Surely not? Germans would never dream of using such a tactic to demonise an entire ethnic minority. Nor, I feel sure, would the police have just stood by, doing nothing.

Judging by the speeches at a rally yesterday in Cologne, starring the British former leader of the English Defence League, who on the basis of the news clip we heard would in Britain have been arrested for inciting racial hatred, this is now more about exploiting fundamental differences of race and religion for political ends than it is about protesting the bad behaviour of an unwanted horde of unreconstructed wogs (even though their labour is desperately needed, especially the ones with MBAs and medical degrees…).

And thanks to a hideous anti-immigrant publicity campaign in the rightwing press, seizing on every instance of possible criminal behaviour by a microscopic minority of the migratory millions to prove that they’re all fifth-columnists for the IS, ‘send them back!’ is a paranoid rallying cry developing on a broader scale throughout the EU, although there is nowhere to send them back to. (Postscriptum: 27  January, plucky little Belgium has called on the Greeks to, essentially, throw the refugees back into the sea. To think we bailed these miscegenated frittes-eaters out twice.)

Would we tolerate it if they were Jews?

With IS mavericks on the loose; Russian-supported Shi’a Iran and US-backed Sunni Saudi Arabia eyeball to eyeball across the burning corpses of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya; Turkey and Russia affecting mutual disagreeability – not to mention the aggressive, Saudi-funded  Salafist militias brutalising the populations of other failing states in the former Caliphate, economic stagflation everywhere, rock-bottom oil prices and plunging markets, yet another major faultline is opening up across Europe in the complex geomorphology of Armaggeddon.

A race to the bottom between Us and Them.

 

My brother Esau

Delicious, gimlet-eyed, posh TV prof. Lucy Worsley reminds us of how, after Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, returned to Moscow from his 1697 tour of Europe, much of which he spent working as a boat-building apprentice in Deptford, Sarf London, he decided to modernise the aristocracy.

Accordingly, as well as insisting on a European dress code that left Muscovites shivering in the perennial snow, he slapped a tax on beards.

Given the current popularity of enormous shaggy appendages reaching almost to the waist, surprisingly odd-looking among rugby players and cricketers, and the general paranoia surrounding tufty Muslims, it’s unusual that our uniformly smooth-faced Tory government (not counting Theresa May, of course) has yet to think of this scheme as a means both of cleaning-up the nation’s generally hoboish appearance and paying down the national debt.

Were they to, I should have to rethink my own image. I first grew my beard out five years ago, when it looked as though the part of Captain Cat in Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood was up for grabs. It came in handy again this autumn when I was cast as three different pirates in Treasure Island*. Inbetween times, and since, I have simply run the clippers over my whole head once a week using a Number Two comb, fondly imagining how much more actorly I might look with matching short hair and strangely felted, tri-tone, seven-day growth of beard.

My beard is of course a signal to the ladies that I am no longer available as a late-life sex-object. Imagine my delight, therefore, when a certain, quite a lot younger, lady expressed to me privately during our all-too short liaison last summer that she prefers men with beards.

Perhaps I shall keep it after all.  Although it sometimes makes me look like Jeremy Corbyn, far too old and stubborn and depressed and much put-upon by reasonable people, in the right light it’s quite debonair. Or should that be ‘debon-hair? Ha ha face.

Shame nothing else works.

*And we’re doing Peter Pan this year. So I guess I’ll have to keep the fuzz on as I’m clearly doomed to play Hook….

 

Here comes the you-know-what

Good Lord, is that sunshine outside my window?

It was raining when I came out, shame to spoil the perfect rainy weather record – every day since the second of November.

But now, well, I think that’s the sun, it’s hard to remember. Unless it’s another of Kim Jong-un’s crazy stunts. Maybe I should dive under the table?