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A race to the bottom


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.


  • 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?






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