Ah, tweet mystery of life

Life can seem arbitrarily unfair, can’t it?

Last week, police in South London arrested a man who had tweeted to his one, barely sensate follower, news of a conversation he had had in the street. More of a confrontation, actually.

He had apparently importuned a woman wearing, one supposes, a hijab or chador, possibly even a burka or niqab, or maybe bearing a large neon sign on her head saying ‘I am a Muslim’, and daringly demanded to know what she thought of the attacks in Brussels. Her reply seemed to him to be unacceptably indifferent, and he tweeted so, describing it as ‘mealy-mouthed’.

Stupid, rude of him certainly, as the poor woman could have had nothing to do with the attacks in Brussels and her non-committal reply might have been calculated to avoid giving further offence or to deflect a possibly violent action on her verbal assailant’s part. But try as one might, I cannot see how this tweet constituted a ‘race-hate crime’, for which the man was held in custody overnight while his collected works were being ransacked by the digital squad.

I’m pretty mealy-mouthed at times. Then, I’m a bogler, not a tweeter.

We were all upset about Brussels, and the population is deeply divided about hosting so many new people of a completely different culture and faith background; among whom exists a very small minority bent on bringing mayhem to our streets. That is not to say we don’t have a few of those ourselves.

Persionally, I am neutral on the subject, believing that people ought by and large to be allowed to come and go as they please, provided they cause no other offence. However, it is infantile to pretend that this division does not exist.

Now, as far as I am aware, no journalists have been arrested for importuning Muslims in the street and asking them how they reacted to the atrocity.

At one stage, several BBC news programmes had their expensive presenters tumbling over one another, hovering nervously among the crowds peacefully protesting the outrage in the square in front of the city hall in Brussels, cutting away whenever words ran out to a squad of reporters roaming the seething alleyways of Molenbeek, stopping anyone who could string together two words of English and desperately asking them how they felt.

Many of those being vox-popped were visibly Muslims.

Not one journalist was arrested for a race-hate crime. So we must assume the sin was all in the tweeting.

Tweet ye not, controversial opinion-holders. Or face the wrath.

 

A techno-cretin writes

Congrats!

I have just successfully connected this, muh li’l laptop, to my new BT Home Broadband service, for which purpose a box arrived with commendable efficiency yesterday containing my new ‘BT home hub’, to replace the new Netgear ‘hub’ I acquired only last month, that will cease working henceforth.

(I wondered in passing why everything on my new ‘hub’ couldn’t have been designed to work with anything on my old ‘hub’, saving waste. The dongly thing, for instance, looks identical but is subtly unco-operative. Even the power-supply has been designed so as not to plug-in to anything other than the new ‘hub’, while all the phone and network connections are upside-down. It seemed like professional jealousy on the part of BT’s design baboons.)

I had been persuaded weeks ago (it takes weeks) to change my old service provider by my son, who had become bored with (yes: it’s ‘bored with’, not ‘bored of’, quasi-literate speech-monkeys please note) my frequent complaints that I could not watch TV on catch-up, as I generally do (being rather slow on the uptake) without spending many frustrating hours waiting for that little pink circlet to stop whizzing round while the system caught up with the flood of digital bitty things that wouldn’t all squeeze down the bit of frayed string I had been provided with for years at vast expense by EE, the garlic-chewing French entity formerly known as Orange.

Delivered mostly by tiny pulses of light, my new BT Broadband service seems dizzyingly fast*. Things happen before you have even thought of them. TV pictures are clear for the first time, I am not going blind after all! All is crisp, crunchy, exciting.

No doubt I shall soon become inured to it. I may even have to convert to Windows 10, just to keep the adrenalin level up. But in the meantime, here I am, look, Posting early this week!

Now I must think of many things to write.

 

*Four days later, I am gently fizzing. Instead of the pink whizzer, the picture keeps freezing. People continue speaking, music plays, but for several seconds at a time their screen faces are not moving. This happens about once every two minutes. I might as well be watching TV on Skype.

(Postscriptum: try watching golf under these conditions. Does the little ball go down the hole? Wait five seconds to find out…)

What trickery is this?

 

Deutsches Leben 1

“Und dann kommt die Fruhling. Die Sonne scheint. Das Wetter wird warm. Die Vogeln* singen in die Baume’ (or something atmospheric like that).

Those are, by and large, the majority of the words I know in German, a language I studied for about a year whilst at school and have rarely had to rely on again. That would have been, ooh, 1965?

For the uninitiated, they hail the arrival of Spring; and form to the best of my recollection the opening sentences of Deutsches Leben 1, our form textbook. (Leben meaning ‘everyday life’).

The words literally ‘spring’ to mind every year at the start of April, especially if the sun is indeed shining and the weather getting warmer, as it is outside today. They are among many things I astonish older people with, by remembering from so long, long ago. (I have also just recovered the evocative opening line of a poem by Goethe: ‘O, sag mir wo die Zitronen blumen.’ Now read on…)

My very elderly stepfather suffers, as I have previously bogld, from dementia. He is being cared for at home by a seemingly kind and devoted Ethiopian lady. Her one defect is that she has not known him for very long, and can only talk of the near-present, of which he recalls nothing after a few moments. Nor could anyone not born to the purple or raised on PG Wodehouse possibly have any true comprehension of the bizarre eccentricities of the minor English aristocracy and its country-house, Etonian upbringing.

He is tragically aware of his condition, but unable to affect the accelerating process of mental degeneration.

Visiting him over Easter, I spoke to him of shared experiences from my teenage years, of people we knew in common and places we had visited, the stories I remembered him telling then of other people and places he had known in years before we knew him. Astonished at the depth of my recall, he eagerly took up the theme, lighting up at the memory of his student days in Paris and walking holidays in Spain, the country house parties and fast cars, the houseboat he kept on the Thames (I needed to remind him where), the long-dead chain of dogs by whose many brief lives we measure our own; his succession of crooked business partners.

For such people, the past is not another country: as we eat up future time like worms burrowing through soil, it is the only present there is. Any cod-philosopher who writes popular books telling us we all need to live in the Now is an idiot. There is no Now, only an accumulated past, with its fleeting certitudes and fragmentary happenings that continue to bob up like mines out of the cruel sea of our bygone lives.

For some odd neurological reason, I can remember my old prep-school teachers probably more fluently than the names of acquaintances whose faces I dimly recognise in the supermarket, yet whom I cannot place. I have no idea when or where I know them from; only a few words exchanged or facts I have learned about them ‘spring’ to mind. Though I remember childhood dreams, yet I grope for common words and am obliged to look-up half-remembered names and dates, Google fast becoming the Zimmer-frame of my mind.

By the time I have got to the end of a paragraph, I have lost the beginning: given up reading. Product instructions have become incomprehensible: I approach every task arse-backwards, unpicking my mistakes as I go. Technology is not so much inoperable, as unfathomable. Not that I can’t press a button, I only can’t remember why I need to.

The memory is like an atrophying muscle. Use it or lose it seems a good motto.

 

* Yes, I know. There are bewilderingly no umlauts in WordPress’ Special Characters fount.

 

My manic DIY phase reaches the living-room

The gas-fitter has condemned my cosy imitation coal-effect gas fire, that I inherited with the house.

To be more accurate, he has condemned the useless old chimney into which it vented its noxious by-products of combustion, which his smoke-bomb detector has shown are filling the upstairs of the little cottage, and leaking out through the roof-tiles.

He wrenches out the fire and terminates its life by cutting off the gas pipe.

I had called him in because, in my current mood of modernising zeal, I had taken a fancy to one of B&Q’s closing-down-sale-bargain glass-fronted wall-hung gas fires, 30% off, to replace the elderly brass-trimmed Valor, whose black stovepaint was wearing unattractively, and wanted advice about the right type to order and getting it fitted.

Serves me right.

Now what am I to do on a cold winter’s evening in front of the tiny TV set I bought for the dog-sitter last year, and which now enables me to watch rugby matches on ITV that I can’t get on the big set in The Little House, that has no aerial for receiving commercial programmes through the æther? Where now is the reassuring focal point of the room, to welcome and warm the ghosts of my past?

All there is, filled with ancient soot and nesting materials, deeply attractive to cats, is an ugly hole in the wall.

And it doesn’t even dispense cash. Quite the opposite, it is asking to be fed copious portions.

So, having ordered online a pleasingly retro electric fire, the ‘Bauhaus’ model with 100% efficiency and 3d digital ‘electriflame’ effect, personally signed by Walter Gropius – probably not – I take to contemplating its eventual arrival and easy installation.

Retrieving the tape measure, I find to my dismay that the hole in the wall is one centimetre too narrow, and one centimetre too low, and in places not deep enough, to accommodate the back-box of my new fire, on which I have outlain £300.

Not but which, it is also 3 centimetres off the centreline between the two legs of the fire surround, which are in turn irremovably buried in a ghastly tiled concrete ‘hearth’ that I was also hoping to get rid of, by dint of covering it up with nicer tiles – i.e. not black and shiny.

So I need to enlarge the hole, and move it a bit to the right. Okay, I can chop out bricks on one side and somehow fill-in on the other side and plaster it over and put tiles around it and no-one will ever notice.

Until the DIY gremlin strikes again.

Preventing all this from happening, is a substantial concrete or slate lintel placed just where I shall need to cut-in to the brickwork above the hole to accommodate the extra height.

It is now a question of either demolishing the wall or lowering the floor.

I reach for a Trade directory. Sigh. Just getting a price out of them is going to take weeks, the complacent baboons. You have to ask three times, they don’t trust that you are being serious the first two times. And then I won’t get a bill until some far-off day by which they imagine I shall have forgotten what they said originally, together with a High Court writ distraining my possessions.

I was perfectly happy to take my chances with the noxious gases, to be frank.

Death in one’s sleep seems entirely preferable.

 

Spam fritters

Arkayla the WordPress Spammeister tells me s/he has protected me from the horrors of reading 4,833 Spam messages to date.

That is almost ten per Post, a gratifying response to my efforts.

Whilst I might be grateful to be spared the ordeal of having to cope with these mostly inarticulate and strangely nonsensical  communications – I am judging them by the few that have penetrated the digital screen of care – I have wondered from time to time why certain obviously Spam-like texts are being fed to me as genuine Comments, inviting my Approval, apparently without quibble or question.

They are, specifically, very long and garbled treatises on the subject of personal finance; a subject which, as the world’s richest man, I obviously know very little about. I should of course be grateful to learn how best to invest what is left of my State pension after today’s increase in Council Tax, but even I can see that, were I to do so on the advice of whoever is sending me this meaningless gibberish, I should end my days in the workhouse.

Following on the question of why Arkangel is allowing these badly drafted treatises to slip easily through the Spam filter when they are so clearly of no personal relevance or interest to anyone, is the question: WHO is sending me this load of auld bollocks in the first place – and, more importantly, WHY?

There is no attempt at all being made to solicit a response, to sell me anything, to promote some worthy commercial service or risk-laden capital venture. It is purely, supposedly, cost-free information for my benefit.

I am abysmally ignorant of the ways of Spammers, though of course grateful for any attention to this, muh li’l bogl, from whatever quarter. It may be that by the mere act of looking at these uninvited Comments that aren’t Comments, I am giving away useful data, transmitting to my computer a disease or making some secret, possibly arrestable, commitment to an unseen cause. It may just be that whoever is writing to me in this importunate fashion is in need of friendship and counselling, particularly on the matter of English syntax.

I have no way of telling.

All I can do in the absence of any rational explanations as to why: a) I am being allowed to receive these messages at all, b) which planet they are coming from, and c) what they purport, is to sign off with my usual valediction:

Fuck off, crapulous and impertinent teenage baboons. I am not listening. I have stopped my crying eyes with wax.

 

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It’s the 13th century, with shopping

“No side in a war has ever surrendered on grounds that too many innocent people were dying”

– Sterling Pound, ©2016

 

In the wake of the Brussels atrocity the smoke had barely cleared and many of the victims had not yet been identified before the Eurosceptics were jumping on the bandwagon to blame the entire European project, with added immigrants – and the le Pens and Wilders had started banging on again about ‘de-Islamicising’ the continent – and, I suppose it had to be, Adele, who has used her immense celebrity to say something or other.

You will not be surprised to learn that in my view, it is not too much Europe that is killing innocent citizens, it is too little. It is not the ambitious policy of open borders that has led to IS cadres moving around freely – they would do that anyway, possibly more successfully because clandestinely –  but the witholding of co-operation between the various State organisations responsible for internal security in the member countries, whose national independence and hierarchies are still too jealously guarded.

It is not ideological Islam that is blowing up trains and airports, it is people with nothing to lose. Le Pen and Wilders both, and Merkel and the other leaders who have risen to condemn the outrages, seem conveniently to be ignoring (others aren’t, notably French Prime Minister Valls) that we are in a declared state of war with the terrorists, and should not sound so surprised every time this happens. From that point of view, their actions are legitimised by our actions. We bomb them, they bomb us. We kill their civilians collaterally, they kill ours. It’s what happens in wars. No country nowadays sends an army into the field to fight another army, it’s too expensive. Armies are only for rattling sabres, for keeping young men off the streets.

And the more adventurous the IS becomes, the more their underground network of resisters grows, shielding their principal actors from detection. Perversely, the immigrant populations of France, Belgium and who knows where else are coming to see themselves as the ones living under enemy occupation.

IS has arisen as a proto-State precisely because we let it. Our failure to deal comprehensively with its forerunners, notably al Qaeda – our colonial obsession with regime change – our too-frequent ignoring of tribal relationships and religious divisions in the Middle East – our rapacious energy policy over the past hundred years – our political incompetence in regard to Syria – our failure to engage the hopes and aspirations of millions of young Muslims in their parents’ adopted countries. These and many other historical factors including, yes, recrudescent militant Islam – together with the corruption and cynicism of our Middle Eastern clients, which we tolerate, and their failure, by and large, to raise their societies up; the incontinence of the global arms trade, have created a Hydra over which we have no control.

So either we have to take the bully by the horns and win the bombing war as quickly and decisively as possible: putting in overwhelming force on the ground, hunting down and eradicating every last one of the beardy little bastards and their deranged, fascist ideology; and then try somehow to winkle-out their established pan-European networks (IS knows no borders either) – or we have to use our centuries-worth of political, diplomatic and commercial acumen to find another way out of the mess. The longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be to do either.

My bet is that in under ten years, if we do not act more decisively and with unity we shall have to accept that there is a de facto rogue nation state, a North Korea in former Syria/Iraq, whose geographical reach extends to the borders of Israel, India and the former Soviet Republics; but whose ideological extremism extends to the interior of Bradford and Leeds, with whom we shall be forced to do business or fight an eternal war. It’s the thirteenth century, with shopping.

IS is hitting back currently because they are losing. Losing territory, losing leaders, while their ability to finance jihad is bit-by-bit being cut off. To some extent persuading your most fanatical adherents to blow themselves up for the cause is a self-defeating tactic. But their ability to play the PKK off against Erdogan’s government by bombing civilians in Turkey and blaming the Kurds, on whom the West is relying to combat IS on the ground; while seeming free to strike at soft targets anywhere in Europe, driving the deeply divisive refugee crisis and sucking in Russia, is successfully entangling all the West’s main lines of defence against the expansion of the so-called caliphate.

As they appear to understand multi-player global strategy far better than we do, with our anachronistic idea of bipolarity, they may not be losing for long.

You don’t win a war without paying a price on both sides. The random slaughter of defenceless commuters and children in playgrounds will eventually come to be considered a price worth paying, no doubt. It always does. The question is, at what point does it become intolerable?

And I’m afraid the answer is, never. No side in a war has ever surrendered on the grounds that too many innocent people were dying. The longer a war goes on, the more ‘evil’ the enemy becomes, the more willing the leaders are to fight to the last man, woman and child. They will only make peace when it is in their strategic interest, or they run out of bullets.

 

Trumping the GOP

An interesting analysis of The Donald by BBC World News’ Katty Kay has him marked down as the working man’s Democrat: socially soft-left on abortion, unemployment benefit and Medicare, uninterested in ‘abroad’*, but sound on immigrants, blacks and journalists. Keep ’em out! Send ’em home! String ’em along!

No wonder traditional Republicans fear and loathe Trump. He’s outboxed them, cunningly identifying and capturing the working-class Republican vote, those disaffected blue-collar workers who for some bizarre reason have always voted Republican – turkeys for Thanksgiving – and have therefore gotten left behind: their precarious jobs, diminishing pay and bedrock, beer-drinking, moose-hunting values subverted by the Smart revolution, environmentalists and wine bars – their cherished arsenals under threat.

Archie Bunker may soon be putting his steel-capped Caterpillars up on the desk in the Oval Office, dreaming of a first-strike on Pyongyang. But to identify Trump as the working-class hero de nos jours is just bizarre, id’n it? A man who inherited $200 million from his dad and makes his dough as a rapacious property speculator? Just because you have a face like an angry mole-rat carved from Spam, a hairpiece spun by fairies out of dime-store nylon, and talk dumb like someone who never got past fourth grade doesn’t automatically make you working-class.

Attributed originally to a C17th French religious reformer, Jacques Abbadie, and later to that other self-made mythical Common Man, Abe Lincoln, it certainly seems you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time. But I don’t suppose we can hope that Trump ever sets foot in a theatre.

 

*Trump is today (Monday 28th) quoted as warning his poor, terrified boobies that Europe is too dangerous to visit, because of what happened in Brussels.

Other factoids indicate that the USA has four times the number of traffic fatalities than the UK per head of population, and over 30 thousand gunshot fatalities, as compared to precisely 44 in the UK last year. No-one was killed by terrorists inside the UK in 2015. Traffic fatalities in Spain were slightly higher, I cannot even be bothered to lookup the number of gunshot fatalities and no-one in Spain was killed by terrorists last year, or in Bulgaria, or Italy, blah blah.

(Other countries are available.)

From a terrorism point of view, as well as traffic fatalities (the number-one killer of tourists worldwide) Europe was far more dangerous in the 1970s than it is now.

They say ignorance kills.

 

 

Irony in the bowl

“A man has been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred after allegedly posting a tweet in response to the Brussels attacks. The tweet read: “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said ‘Nothing to do with me’. A mealy mouthed reply.”

“Police confirmed a 46-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday night in Croydon. He remains in custody at a south London police station.”

-BBC News

Hearteningly, a flurry of tweets, if that’s the right metaphor, has greeted the story of this Pinteresque exchange, with people confronting imaginary Irish women to ‘explain’ Bono and housewives to ‘explain’ shredless marmalade.

I can’t help commenting, at the risk of being sent to prison for decades, that theirs is probably the more hopeful approach to race relations, while the police appear to have gone mad. Do Muslims not eat porridge?

Far, far worse are the vile slurs and incitements to violence among the sofa-dwelling Commentariat on Yahoo! News and such sites, who are never arrested.

No doubt someone can ‘explain’ it.

 

Who’s an ugly android, then?

After only a few hours of online interaction with tweeting members of the public, Tay, a Microsoft experiment at persuading a programme with Artificial Intelligence to discover for itself how to communicate with humans, has learned to swear, make racist jokes and support genocide.

Naturally, Microsoft’s kneejerk reaction (as they do most days to my li’l laptop without even asking) was to precipitately yank Tay offline for a spot of ‘reconfiguration’; something that must now pass for political re-education in the AI world.

I’m not sure whether to congratulate MS for designing a machine with the intellectual capacity of a parrot – they have to start somewhere – or to despair of the human race entirely.

One or the other.

 

Surely one can do no right?

I stopped for two minutes across from the butcher in town to pick up a leg of Easter lamb.

Before I had even got out of the car, after struggling to parallel-park while a stream of impatient motorists built up behind, a woman shop assistant who had popped out for a smoke, having nothing better to do, was complaining that my back offside wheel was stationed two inches outside the white line and thus I was preventing other drivers from using the road.

As white lines are specified by deeply conservative town planners, any visually impaired person could still have driven several buses past my car, at high speed. Meanwhile, the Land-Rover behind me was parked with both wheels a foot outside the line.

It’s something we do.

But you have to applaud the public spiritedness of the Boglington-on-Sea retail community: their willingness to take responsibility for other people’s lives in the service of the town’s noted civic pride; their ceaseless quest for the moral high-ground, their healthy detestation of shoppers (see Posts passim).

Toodle pip!

(Uncle Bogler is away over Easter. Any complaints should be addressed somewhere, I forget where.)

 

 

 

 

The man who shouted at ducks, and other stories

Okay, I will say it, I always suspected Duncan-Smith was uncomfortable with his role as Cutfinder-General in the sphere of social benefits.

He is not really a Bad Man, he has just been too compliant in the face of his loss of the Tory leadership and his naive belief in the power of austerity to restore prosperity. (It is clear to some of us that the two are mutually contradictory.)

Or maybe he just needed the job.

He has now resigned his post as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, writing a steamy two-page letter to Dave Cameron, over more cuts announced in the annual budget statement by Gideon ‘George’ Osborne, the Chancellor, to the supplementary living allowance (PIP) that enables 350,000 disabled people to get up and go to work in the morning.

Bravo.

And bollocks.

The former Tory leader is a huge ‘Leaver’ knob when it comes to Europe. Gideon is a fervent ‘Remainer’. Here he is, the minister whose department has been struggling not to admit that 2,300 disabled people its contractors have pronounced fit for work have died within six weeks of being assessed; the minister who brought in the hated ‘bedroom tax’, ramming a stake in the ground three months ahead of the In-Out referendum. He has found a point of principle that will cost him nothing but make the Chancellor look like Ted Bundy.

We all know that Osborne likes to announce bad news and then court popularity by retracting his more unpopular measures. As a result, he is nowhere near balancing the budget, something he has been promising to do for the past six years by 2020 – the date of the next General Election.

But the disability living allowance (now known PIP, I forget what it stands for)  is not going to be cut, and even Gideon knows it, massive heartless brutaliser of the underclass though he appears to be. (In fact, by the following morning he had already retracted it. Most of his social benefit cuts have ended up costing more, anyway.) The opposition even from within Tory ranks has been overwhelming.

Duncan-Smith, who has not himself been astoundingly successful when it comes to benefit reform, but who has for six years apparently wholeheartedly supported the notion in cabinet that ‘Arbeit macht frei’, enthusiastically driving the halt and the lame into low-paid McJobs with whips and scourges, is now making compassion for the poor a point of political principle.

Perhaps it’s got something to do with the canonisation last week of Mother Teresa.

Thus, he has cunningly undermined the man whom everyone imagined was in direct line of succession for Cameron’s job, in the way that Gordon Brown was the favoured son of Tony Blair. The ploy may fail, as Duncan-Smith is probably the most unpopular minister in history and nobody outside the bubble, frankly, gives a fuck if he stays or dies.

There is certainly no chance of him returning to lead the party, but with Osborne out of the way, and hence Cameron discredited by association, there is every chance of another Eurosceptic Tory cunt stepping into the breach when the leadership comes up for grabs post-referendum at the party conference in September.

And the idea that even Eurosceptics have principles (Sunday a.m. and after an appearance on Andrew Marr, Duncan-Smith is being rebranded as The Great Reformer… Jesus!) could just help to swing it for the Leavers.

They don’t, of course. But who’s to know?

And if you think politics is boring enough, you should try DIY…

 

If you want something doing, don’t do it

I’ve been up to my neck in DIY an’ shit for the past, it seems like forever. Is it only three weeks since I started buying up B&Q’s remaining stocks of real budget-level wood-laminated flooring, chickened-out and paid a man money to lay it for me?

So is it really only five days since I scratched my new real-wood-laminated floor to buggery, wrestling my enormous old upright fridge-freezer out through the living room under two abnormally low doors, rotating it 90 deg. on one sharp corner through the stupid tiny hallway, sliding it beneath the jutting handle of the non-standard, narrow front door, having sold it for the same money I was having to pay the floor man extra for laying more floor in the hallway only the previous week, his idea, now permanently ruined?

Time was when you had a hammer, some nails, a screwdriver and a saw. Maybe a dab of glue. Nowadays, the marketing monkeys have cleverly turned every tool into a ‘system’. Nothing fits with anything else, unless it’s in the ‘system’. I’ve lost count of the number of different cross-head ‘Posidriv’ screwdriver bits I’ve had to buy, before getting at least a part-match with the dozens of different screw heads you find in your box of random screws, so you can properly tighten them with your handy power-driver before the battery flattens and the heads are ground smooth to uselessness.

All I know is, it’s taken days off my life just to put together a cupboard and a worktop around my new fridge and freezer.

This of course required first building a false wall, as the early 20th-century builders of muh li’l cottage had failed to bring a setsquare along with the sandwiches and the walls wander off in all directions. A simple request to an electrician to put in a power socket then led to an estimate of ‘at least’ £300 plus VAT as he insists that the house electrics must be certified, and that requires updating and upgrading the fusebox to a posh new ‘consumer unit’ (I’m sure it’s got a set of initials but I can’t remember what). I then had to wait two weeks from the agreed date until his staff had all had the ‘flu, before I could get on with my alcove.

Next, I had to get the lad over to help me hang the wall-cupboard carcass. a) It’s heavy, and b) the system of wall-brackets and hooks designed by industrial-design baboons to fix it to the wall has been so ineptly managed that the hooks cannot engage with the brackets unless you mount the brackets on two little pieces of wood to ensure they project far enough out to take the hooks, which are protected by the cupboard surround from having any proximity with the wall.

My attempts to finish the false wall off with some tiles to match the other tiles in the kitchen have foundered on the matter of finding tiles the same shape and size (square, 100 ml) and colour (off-white) since no-one catalogues off-white, 100 ml-square tiles any longer, they have gone out of fashion. 10 ml x 20 ml brilliant white oblong tiles set in a staggered pattern like in a public toilet are de rigueur for kitchen designers at present; while I would not recommend UniBond Fix ‘n’ Grout readymix stuff to fix anything reliably to anything else, although it’s permanently stuck to my fingernails.

As for the cupboard… well, I got that in B&Q’s closing-down sale. I thought I was buying a bog-standard, self-assembly 1000 ml by 720 ml, two-shelf carcass unit made from white Melamine-coated chipboard. No worries there. But it needed a pair of doors to match the other cupboards already in the kitchen. These, in the required style, B&Q does not sell.

Magnet sells cupboard doors in the required style and off-white colour, only the manufacturer has subtly altered the sizes of the doors, so the 500 ml-wide ones that used to fit as a pair with the 1000 ml x 720 ml cupboard now don’t, as the height has been changed from 720 ml to 704 ml, thus obliging you to buy their unique new 1000 ml x 704 ml-size carcass unit instead of the one you got in B&Q. No wonder they’re closing down.

Howden’s Joinery sells cupboard doors that nearly match, not the same but good enough. So out of sheer frustration and at eyewatering expense I acquired a pair: actually, not a pair. I wanted a glass-fronted cabinet effect, but at £77 plus VAT per glass door (three times the price of the carcass unit) I could afford only one. The other, solid door was only £25 plus VAT, so I now have a non-matching pair of doors for £120, plus £10 each for a pair of knobs I had to buy, as no-one now stocks the same cupboard-door handles as in the rest of the kitchen.

The matching solid door turned out to be 2 mm thinner in profile than the glass door.

Not but which, the pre-drilled holes for the door hinges don’t match-up to the pre-drilled holes for the hinges on the B&Q carcass unit. Nor do the hinges I acquired with the carcass unit match to the pre-drilled holes in the doors. A minor problem, soon remedied – until I realised that what were stated clearly on the box to be 500 ml-wide doors are, in fact, only 495 ml, leaving a one-centimetre (10 ml) gap down the middle, where the doors don’t meet.

Having re-drilled the holes it’s too late to take them back.

I had better not get started on the difficulties of finding white goods in red (‘A fantastic range of colours’ turns out to mean white, ivory, or woodgrain-effect); or of finding any paint that dries to the same colour as is shown on the colour chart.

If you want something doing, as the saying goes, just don’t even think of doing it.

What you have there is fine, honestly.

 

The man who shouted at ducks

Some new people have moved into the house next-door-but-one.

They have a small dog that sometimes barks inoffensively in the garden – probably at my little cat, I don’t know.

And the woman goes crazy, screaming at it to be quiet, to shut up, to get in, to do as it’s told, as if it has human understanding; as if she is somehow personally shamed by its perfectly normal behaviour.

Having patently failed to train her little dog to do the simplest things, like love her so much he would rather die than not come to her when she calls, she is certifiably annoying me. As I sit bothered and fretful in my little garden room, Hunzi coiled adoringly (and silently) at my feet, I wish she would simply evaporate into thin air, get help from a good psychiatrist, acquire the entire boxed set of Barbara Woodhouse dog training videos – fuck off back to wherever she came from – ruin somebody else’s morning.

Until I remember the ducks.

I’m ashamed to say it, but I used to scream at the ducks.

It was for their own good. Every night on the farm, it was my job to round-up the ducks and push them back into their shit-filled old hen house; ducks being perhaps the least discriminate and continent shitters of the bird kingdom. The hills around were stiff with foxes and as dusk fell and the ducks continued happily to forage around the yard, out in the fields and hedgerows, down by the pond, you could hear them salivating for miles around.

I like to coin expressions. One my better coinages goes: ‘You can’t push a pig.’ Meaning, that pigs are wayward and sturdy animals that cannot be persuaded by force to move in the direction you want them to go. But their natural hunger and curiosity enables them to be led easily by the promise of a bucket of pignuts, even to their doom.

This principle applies to humans, mainly – but also, pertinently, to your common or garden duck.

A duck will not under any circumstances, no matter how loudly you scream at it, go in its house until the last vestige of light has faded from the land, by which time it has likely become supper.

I chased those ducks round and around that damned duck house for an hour every tormentuous bloody night for years, sobbing and pleading with them, screaming threats and imprecations, beating my breast and cursing the day I and they were ever born, to no avail. I asked God and all the lesser Gods, my Committee of Discarnate Entities, why, why me Lord? Why were ducks and humans born so stupid as to live in the countryside?

And round and round they would waddle, simply refusing to go in until it was too dark to see. A duck might sometimes briefly concede the point, only to pop straight back out again as soon as you were chasing its fellows around the back. Nope, it would say in Mandarin, not dark enough, sorry. And round we would go.

I have a thing about faceplates. You know, the fronts of  switches and power sockets. They are held on by special pointless screws that engage with holes in lugs protruding from their metal back-boxes. Only they don’t. Because you can’t see behind the faceplate to where the hole in the lug actually is, it can take half an hour of frustrating poking and prodding to finally engage the enormous screw with the tiny hole and get it to turn easily enough to actually tighten. Then you have to do the same the other side, only with the faceplate in position you can’t even get a glimpse round the edge to see where that damned lughole has migrated to. (And the screws are never the right length, always being too long to hold the faceplate to the wall or too short to reach the lugs. Trust me.)

Sometimes I scream at faceplates.

Well, it was like that, getting those little feathery fuckers to engage with the pop-hole to the safety of their bleak, stinking sanctuary. Why, oh why, will nobody and no creature on this entire crazed planet act logically, in its own best interests?

Why is that demented bloody woman out in the garden again, screaming at a little dog for no reason other than that she is frustrated she has no control over its perfectly normal behaviour?

Over her own life?

 

Our island story

Looking around the cavernous space that is my kitchen with its new floor, its shiny new alcove complete with strangely half-glass-fronted cupboard over, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to fill a part of that unused space with one of those fashionable island units, that used to be known as the kitchen table?

So I’ve just Googled ‘kitchen island’.

Some of those islands cost over five thousand pounds.

Tax havens, presumably.

 

 

Warning: Contains moderate violence, childish abuse

A headline in the Daily Mirror today quotes arch-Tory CUNT (Conservative & Unionist? No Thanks!) and huge landowner, the former agriculture minister Owen Paterson, as proposing that British pensioners should take the place of Romanian and other EU workers as seasonal fruit-pickers, on less-than minimum wage.

Paterson denies the story, which originally appeared in a memoir by David Laws, a discredited Liberal politician who formerly had a ministerial post in the coalition government. Paterson says the cabinet looked at all sorts of ideas to replace the former controlled scheme whereby 20,000 seasonal migrants were allowed in to work as cheap labour on farms, which ended in January 2014 when Bulgaria and Romania became full members of the EU.

Laws describes Paterson’s suggestion as being received in cabinet with stunned silence.

Go ahead, vote to leave the EU.

This is the kind of demented shitbrains you will effectively be voting to become trapped with as the leaders of HM Prison Britain, for the foreseeable future.

Be warned, there are others.

 

Blonde bombshell

The Mayor of London, bless him, Boris Johnson, manages to make the headlines twice a week with his inane comments on Europe. Why anyone thinks his view that leaving the EU would be a ‘win-win’ situation for Britain is actually news, I have no idea. It’s the sort of crass slogan anyone might parrot, wouldn’t they, as a prominent member of the conspiracy of ‘Outers’, unreconstructed rightwing Tories and Empire loyalists for whom ‘regaining our national sovereignty’ is code for them seizing and remaining in power for a generation.

Mr Johnson’s shambolic appearance – those baggy suits, that Donald J Trump memorial hairdo – the Latin quotes and the diffident, semi-apologetic, bumbling air he adopts… make no mistake, behind the myth of ‘BoJo’ as he departs the mayoralty lies a steely ambition.

He only joined the ‘Outers’ because he knows it will gain him many Brownie points with the Eurosceptic tendency of the party, who will welcome him win or lose at September’s party conference with wild approbation and, who knows, a vote for the leadership; especially once Cameron and Osborne have lost the referendum and miserably climbed down in the face of defeat, their fate compounded by disappointing trade and borrowing figures: growth slowing (it already is), and the pound getting rockier, as investors discount the inevitable Brexit.

Meanwhile, I am ashamed to find Mr Blair crawling into bed with me on the EU referendum. He obviously reads this, muh li’l bogl, as he too is now beginning to wonder why it is that the news media have been so entirely unable to find a single spokesperson for the ‘Remain’ campaign who speaks about our historic place and role in Europe with any flair or passion.

But why would they? Few people seem aware, either that there is to be a referendum on 23 June, or even that we are a member of the EU.

During the Napoleonic wars, Hartlepool folk achieved fame, also pity, after stringing-up an escaped monkey, believing it to be a French spy. It had not occurred to them that espionage requires a command of language. The mere fact that it spoke no Hartlepudlian was enough.

Reporting from there, BBC journo Sima Kotecha was yesterday unable to find a single monkey in the streets and cafes with any sort of view, let alone a coherent one, on whether we should stay in the EU or leave. One young person had never heard of the EU. Several other young persons she spoke to hadn’t heard there was to be a referendum and wouldn’t vote anyway as they had no idea what it was about. Except one, a waitress who thinks British people would stand a better chance of getting a job without all them foreigners coming in.

But hang about, hen. Tha’ve gorra job, what are thee on about?

So to point out that there are more people in work and more job vacancies than ever before with no-one to fill them and the lowest unemployment figures for decades and employers desperate to find anyone with a GCSE would cut no ice with her – or with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who finds British xenophobia perfectly acceptable as long as we don’t actually call it racism.

And then there is the antediluvian fogey Jacob Rees-Mogg: a political Young Turk reeking of incense and Victorian principles. He would be funny if he wasn’t.

I question whether Citizen Mogg ought to be allowed to sit on Parliamentary committees, if he is going to tell the Governor of the Bank of England that he, Mr Mogg, knows more about finance than Mr Carney does, and that he should not be allowed to report the findings of the Bank’s economists, that the economy would do less well out of, than in, the EU, because that is expressing an anti-anti-European opinion and he should not be presenting the Bank’s opinions; only facts (in economics? Facts? lol).

Presumably it would not have been an opinion were Mr Carney to have suggested instead that we would be much better off floundering in mid-Atlantic, far from the reek of garlic, while Mogg and his ilk get on with the ruling business for which they were specially bred.

The censorious hypocrisy of these grotesque High-Tory isolationists is, frankly, an insult to democracy.

Only an opinion, mind.

 

Q. Why does The Sun newspaper ‘stand by’ its story that the Queen told Nick Clegg five years ago that she wanted Britain to quit the EU, which both parties have denied?

A. Because they made it up.

 

Going nowhere slowly

Once again I find myself fulminating over the travel trade and its online information services.

Q. Why is it so nearly impossible to book travel arrangements online?

A. Because of the colossal idiocy and general gross insensitivity to human frailty of the travel-industry database design-baboons, possibly.

All the airlines and the flight-finders and the airport websites refuse to give you any flight information, departure times and prices, unless and until you can tell them exactly what day and takeoff and arrival times and from which airport and on what airline or train and stations combination you wish to avail yourself of before you book.

In other words, until you give them the information you are searching for IN ADVANCE of you knowing it!!!

Just pack. Go. What can they do?

 

Postscriptum

By some supreme irony, the Talent website (it used to be called SML Recruitment, until this mad market repositioning idea occurred to the owner over several glasses of well-chilled Chardonnay) has just emailed me, to let me know there is a job going in a well-heeled part of London, for a ‘switched-on PA’.

I’m not sure I think so, to be honest. Judging by my competence with travel arrangements!

 

Obituary corner

Goodbye then Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies, 81 – Mad ‘Max’, Master of the Queen’s Musicke.

You have been described as the ‘wild-child’ of music, although frankly I prefer the old experimental stuff. Your later Scottish airs sound derivative: trite, repetitious and glum. One wonders if perhaps being patronised by Her Majesty forced you to compose that sort of BBC Light Programme fare for her sojourns in the Highlands, nibbling on shortbread biscuits and thrilling to hairy-kneed men tossing cabers.

But it is beginning to look, for the original cohort of  ’60s celebrities, isn’t it, as though the Grim Reaper has acquired a combine harvester.

And thus, farewell too, Keith Emerson (71), late of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, rock ‘n’ roll musicians. Felo de se, at home in Santa Monica; as some people must be.

To be honest, I knew little about you, except you were the keyboards man. A whizz through your discography suggests that as a prog rock band that made its debut single in 1970, despite having worked in Top 40 radio stations I never heard of a single hit record you made; none of the titles in your extensive discography rings any bells, yet somehow your names, sounding like a firm of solicitors, were always there in the background.

Perhaps, as your critics point out, the fact that none of your tracks lasted less than half an hour, while usually paying homage to some C19th classical composer’s best-known work, could have accounted for your lack of chart success.

But success isn’t everything, as I have learned.

Strangers in the night and other stories

I read this morning that, while I drunkenly slumbered, nightowls were out and about photographing a spectacular display of the Northern Lights over, er, northern Britain.

The phenomenon (notice, I know that ‘phenomenon‘ is the singular form of the word – you probably don’t – while ‘phenomena’ is the title of a 2014 film starring Dame Judy Dench) of the Northern Lights is caused by ionisation in the upper atmosphere of particles charged by a massive solar storm.

Solar storms as we know can severely disrupt electronic communications.

This probably explains why, when I powered up my li’l laptop thing just now, instead of the Home Page it opened directly into a small window containing Internet Explorer. I’ve never used Internet Explorer as my browser before, but here is its wee icon, pinned to the taskbar where Firefox should be, instead of over on the far end along with stuff I don’t know about.

Was I really that drunk? No, not really, just a well-chilled bottle of Mr Morrison’s finest unoaked Chilean Chardonnay’s worth.

And I recalled that on a similar damp and rainy morning last week, I came down and raised the lid of my li’l silver Asus with the vanishing keyboard letters, only to find it was running the abhorrent  BBC Breakfast TV show, live. I certainly had not asked it to; the machine is set to go to sleep after 20 minutes, and to shut itself down after an hour. But there was no sound!

And how on many such damp and rainy mornings – there are no longer any other kind – there have been mystery format changes in the night; so that I can close a tab at midnight and when I open it in the morning, the window reappears at a different size, or with a different resolution.

Yet I am the only one living here, and I lock The Little House on the Prairie (my garden room)  at night. The only one who has access through the half-open window is Mogwai, my most excellent cat. Surely not?

Do computers secretly watch TV while we sleep? (I have heard this morning, 9 March, of the spectacular conquest of the Go! master, Lee se-Dol, by Google’s DeepMind Alpha program. This historic feat of Artificial Intelligence design will go down in machine history as the night that spelled the end of the dominance of the human race.)

Is GCHQ/NSA reading my thoughts?

Or are there ghosts in the machine?

It’s time we knew.

 

As time goes by

Toothache. Gnyaaa!

I’ve been avoiding going to the dentist for the past four years. A walk through my mouth would be like stumbling through a rocky gorge. Broken cusps, missing crowns, a curious spike where he prepped me for a new crown, only I missed two appointments in a row and couldn’t face going back. The one molar I have left that still makes contact with one below, broken and missing its old filling, that fell out piece by piece; but I could still chew with it.

And my magnificent bridge, spanning six top front teeth with a single porcelain smile. It’s one of the bridge engineering Wonders of the World.

I think the ache is an abscess under one of the old teeth it’s fixed to, I can’t be certain, the pain is quite general and moves around. It would be devastating if I lost my bridge. For a start, it cost £3,000. And for seconds, I would have to give up acting, and being a jazz singer. Fitted with a set of plastic gnashers on a plate, grinning inanely out of a glass by the bed, I would lose the will to live. To be honest, I haven’t got a lot of that left as it is.

My front teeth died long ago. I was 14. I braked stupidly to avoid a car I thought was turning onto the hill in front of me and flew over the handlebars, landing on my face. After that, I had a succession of caps and crowns until, over 40 years later, I bit hungrily into a toasted Pannini in a motorway service station. It had been overcooked to the consistency of hot, gooey ham and cheese oozing between two sheets of plywood, and it drove both my front incisors and their crown posts through into my upper jaw.

Did I sue? No, I didn’t want the poor dumb country girl who was all alone in the cafeteria that night to lose her job. I’m pretty stupid, to be honest. I stumbled out into the car park, clutching my aching face, and drove 80 miles home in misery. Not long after, the service station changed owners and that was the opportunity, gone.

The next day, the dentist extracted the wreckage and fitted me with an emergency pink plastic plate with two absurd little white fangs on the front. I put it in, and promptly threw up. You’ll get used to it, he said. I never did. I threw it away, and for two years kept my edentulous gob firmly shut.

I used the time to campaign to be allowed to have dental implants on the NHS. I got as far as the Health Minister, who wrote me a long and weaselly letter saying why she refused to fund my ‘cosmetic dentistry’. I argued in vain that it was not cosmetic; the NHS Act provides specifically for repairs to teeth lost through trauma. It was complicated, as I lived in one health board area, and my dentist was in another. In the end, my dentist wrote to me to ask me to stop, as he was being bombarded with requests for information.

Look, he said (he’s Polish, you need the accent). I worked in a dental implant surgery for three years. Believe me, you don’t want to go this route. You could end up spending twenty thousand pounds on implants and they still might fail.

And he had worked out this clever piece of engineering instead, and for £3,000 he built the Golden Gate bridge across my smile.

And now it’s hurting.

Why have I never gone back? You know, I bought some resin compound you can use to fill your own teeth when your fillings fall out while you are exploring in the Mato Grosso, and the nearest dentist is a naked man with pliers and a bottle of Arak. I never used it. I was scared that if I filled my hollow molar myself I would sometime have to go back to the dentist and he would be angry with me. Anyway, so much could go wrong working that far back in my mouth. And now I just know they will yank it out, and my eating days will be over. Soup for lunch.

After I missed the second appointment, I just knew I couldn’t go back.

It was the memory of having my face invaded, week after week, driving forty miles and settling on the couch and my mouth filling with clamps and drills and fingers, God-knows what else, the endless x-rays, the stench of burning tooth enamel and polymers, the taste of blood and the pain as he cauterised my gum; carving and filing the old teeth daringly down into tiny, fragile needles (what if one broke?), building-up new ones; testing one version after another for size and fit; having a camera frequently shoved in my mouth, my lips held apart by a clamp, like a chimpanzee grinning, to record in detail the marvellous process, stage by stage.

Building that bridge took four months, until it was finished and he started on the next one, to give me new molars to chew with; and after the first session I missed one appointment, then another.

Of course I had no intention of missing those appointments, it just happened. I knew I couldn’t go back after that; I felt violated. And as time went by, and miraculously everything held, even as my old molars groaned and cracked under the strain of my gluttony, I knew I wouldn’t ever go back. All kinds of things had been going off at that time: my girlfriend dumped me for another woman, my father died, I was facing redundancy, living in increasingly difficult conditions as the house I worked in became a building-site, looking for somewhere else to live, another job… (I still haven’t found one. It’s been eight years.).

I’ve developed a psychological aversion to dentistry.

Until this morning, and I am in a terrible quandary. Living alone, you have no-one to tell you not to be so feckin’ silly. But should I find somewhere new and register? And can I face the looks I will get as they stumble through the arroyo, calling out derisive geological notes about my crumbling and missing boulders to the disbelieving nurse?

Gnyaaaa. Toothache.

Postscriptum

This morning the pain has migrated to my head. Touch wood, the teeth are behaving okay again. I think rather than an abscess, I’ve got some kind of viral infection leading to a generalised neuralgia. Praise be.

Weirdly, I think my head is getting bigger with age. I lie in bed, cradling the side of my head in one hand, and it feels so massive here on the pillow. My hand cannot contain it all. It’s like Mount Rushmore. How will my neck ever bear the weight of it?

 

The end of an ear-a

So, farewell then, Sir George Martin.

You were the first producer, I believe, to make sound recording an integral part of the creative process of making music.

Before you, recording had been only about achieving the best possible sound quality that reflected the performance. After you, recording artists could be as lousy as they liked: as the technological possibilities of multitracking, synthesising and digital effects grew, the studio producer would always pull the rabbit from the hat.

So many have you to be thankful for.

But hasn’t it been an extraordinary year of attrition for the artistic movers and shakers of the 1960s? Gone too this week is the conductor who did so much to popularise the classics, Nicholas de Arnancourt. Chirpy TV conjuror and gameshow host, Paul Daniels has a brain tumour and has gone home to die. Rolling Stones’ bassist, Bill Wyman, has announced that he has prostate cancer. Nancy Reagan has gone to the great Western B-movie lot in the sky.

I find there is some comfort in failure.

 

 

 

Zen and the art of paying a man to do the work

I have to chuckle.

Nestling in my Spam folder over at Yahoo! Central is one offering me the opportunity to train as a plumber, builder, electrician, etc.

I should really have opened that file and acted decisively on it, instead of bulk-deleting all 45 messages. Not only could it save me a fortune, it could make me a wealthy man of leisure.

Right now, I am in need of a plumber to replace my leaking and unattractive kitchen tap, which I think you still call a faucet; the one I tried last week sneered at me and said to call back in three or four weeks, after he has finished plumbing five hundred caravans on the nearby caravan park.

Spring is here.

And if the electrician finally shows up (he’s eight days overdue, no apology or explanation; caravans, probably) to re-channel the wiring behind the false wall I’ve had to build myself, given that the small builder didn’t turn up either (that was last July), so that I can have an extra power-point fitted in my new little kitchen area, about an hour’s work for a certified man, I can finally finish fixing the plasterboard to the sturdy wooden framework I’ve constructed and call in a plasterer to give it a skim coat, which I am lousy at on account of not having had The Training.

And once the wall is skimmed and the plaster dries, maybe by next August while the plasterer is off sunning himself at his holiday home in Barbados, I can get in a man to help me hang the heavy wall cupboard, I can fix on some doors and finally enjoy my newly extended bit of kitchen, all ten square feet and a thousand pounds or so of it.

The young man I accosted in the car park of B&Q because of his sweetly painted van covered in bright, Spring-like green leaves and a legend promising all kinds of garden work will, I hope, stick to his offer to come over sometime next week and discuss replacing my collapsing garden fence. I do know how to demolish and build fences, of course I do, but this one’s a bit tricky on account of it’s both horizontal and vertical, and definitely a job for two.

And of course, I’m laying my own kitchen floor tiles. It doesn’t look too bad from a distance, but I know they’re uneven and the job has taken me five days already. I still have two rows to go, I haven’t even started grouting, although I dream nightly about it.  I’ve ruined a pair of jeans and my best (only) cashmere sweater, that are all blobby with tile cement, and my fingers have turned black and painfully swollen because I always ignore the safety instructions.

That’s why I had to get an expert in to lay the wood laminate flooring in the living room, if you can call it living. I didn’t trust myself to do that, but now I’ve seen how it’s done I consider myself fully qualified. It’s really just a matter of patience, and a can of spray glue.

And I went round to pay him his money, and he invited me in to show me the beautiful expensive flooring he has put down in his own little home; and his fabulous new kitchen, and his enormous suite of interconnected sofas, his iMax-size TV, his fully computerised home office, and he explained how he got them all on the insurance after his house flooded in 2012, and he showed me where the raging waters had briefly risen to, basically just below skirting-board height, and I sighed wistfully and hoped my house could flood someday too.

Only (dear Buyers) it never does. We just have the same postcode.

 

Keeping up appearances

Walking with Hunzi through the dogshit-strewn exurban space that passes for our local park, along the cycle track over the river and past the cricket ground to the sewage works and back, we seem to have acquired two new characters whom I would cheerfully walk on broken glass to avoid.

I’ve Posted before on the subject of the tiny, taciturn but ineffably smug-looking, woolly-ginger-bearded man, with his mysterious black box and the bicycle whose wheels he is always cleaning in the river; his little tattooed arms, who appears everywhere even at night when I am miles away from his usual haunt.

Tim or Jim, I’ve recently learned from a mutual dog-walker that the mystery box contains only a sandwich.

Then there is Dumpy Man, who pushes his bicycle along, its pannier laden with small items he has scavenged from the Recycling Centre. Sometimes he is in the mood for conversation. ‘Old Mr Mason, he died.’ he avers, emphatically.

Now, a total outsider to this strange community, I have no idea who Mr Mason is, or was, other than that he was a nonagenarian who dealt in scrap metal and lived a few hundred yards along the road from me, in a farmhouse, his former landholdings having disappeared profitably under the ever-expanding town.

‘He fell out of bed. Broke both his hips.’ ‘That sounds painful’, I reply. ‘But it wasn’t what he died of.’ ‘No? What did he die of?’

‘They say it was eating too much chips.’

And now there is Terrified Man, a shy paranoiac with a surprisingly high-pitched voice, wearing a parka under a high-viz jacket and khaki cap. Terrified Man has acquired a cute little puppy, possibly all or part black-Labrador. They have taken to spending their entire lives together in the park. Every time he sees Hunzi and me approaching in the distance, he scoops the happily snouting little creature up in his arms and backs off the path as far as he can go.

This morning I call out to him, I hope reassuringly: ‘it’s alright, he won’t harm you’. I thought, the harm has already been done. I get pretty indignant, to be honest, Hunzi is such a lovely dog who wouldn’t hurt a flea.

And Terrified Man calls back from the distance in his surprisingly high-pitched voice: ‘I lost Sandy!’, and gives me a sad little wave.

I’m not speaking, either, of the nuggety, sunburned man in army camouflage trousers and a hoodie, no stranger I’d imagine to rough sleeping, with whom I exchange grunts on the narrow path today. Especially as he appears to have a chain attached to his nose. What some people will do to keep up appearances.

Worse, though, is the bedraggled, muddy Golden retriever bitch, who waits to ambush us by the sewage works. She hangs out with a little mongrel terrier. I once took him home with us, believing him to be a stray, but he escaped while I was calling the police. He had no collar, no ID, but I was told, it’s okay, he belongs to the man with the house in the woods. Everyone has taken him home.

So that’s alright then.

The old bitch is a different matter. We met her yesterday, just as the groundsman was passing in his little car on the way to the cricket club, where he has been mowing the grass all winter because it’s been too warm. And he calls out: ‘She’s having pups in two months!’ and before I could discover how he knows, I had to go drag Hunzi off her rear end and shout at him to desist.

If I can’t anymore, a satirical little voice nags me, then nobody should!

Anyway, after that she wouldn’t leave him alone, and trailed along mournfully after us. Occasionally she would veer off the path into the underbrush and reappear cunningly ahead of us. I tried screaming at her to go away and waving a little stick. I tried throwing the stick in her direction, but to no avail. I’m not taking that home, I thought, forcing Hunzi along who, with many wistful backward glances, was stopping every now and then to leave her an encouraging p-mail.

And there she is again today, with her tatty old blue collar, her sad eyes, her matted fur, and I make him wear the lead and drag poor li’l Hunzi homeward, cutting short our walk, screaming and muttering foul imprecations, and there is Terrified Man again, ahead of us, clutching his puppy and backing away in terror.

I think I’ve Posted before about shuffling.

It really is the most comforting method of locomotion at our age. It’s like surrendering to gravity, the pull of the earth. And today as I shuffle along in my expensive red tennis shoes covered in blobs of tile cement, weeping silently beneath my old woolly hat, my mouth falls open and my tongue lolls forward and I feel a moment of sheer, moronic pleasure at having absolutely nothing left to prove.

What some people will do to keep up appearances.

 

Love me or leave me

I’ve bogld before that I think Chancellor Gideon ‘George’ Osborne is a pretty sneaky feller.

I noticed a while ago that he often seems to leak stories in advance of big announcements that he’s going to do something really Tory and cuntish, which stirs up a media storm – and then announces that he’s been persuaded to change tack and not do the horrid thing he was badly advised to do, that would force disabled poor people to live in fields and eat grass.

This makes him seem reasonable, human even, a listener not a didact. It offsets his otherworldly manner with a bit of cheap popularity. For he’s a jolly good fellow, sort of thing. And his mate, Dave has unwisely promised to stand down at the next election, obviously never having seen or read King Lear, which will give George a run at the leadership.

And here we are, look, he’s gone and done it again.

For seeming-ever, the money people pay into their company or private pension plan has come off before tax. You pay tax on your earnings, but not on any money you invest in a pension fund. When you finally claim your pension, you pay no tax on the first 25% of it, which you can take out as a lump sum. You only pay tax on the income from the rest; assuming it’s more than the personal tax-free allowance, that is.

Now, this has two effects. First, higher earners can obviously afford to mitigate more tax unfairly by paying more into their pension funds. And secondly, the tax George gets from pension incomes is about one-third of the tax he would get if you paid no tax on your pension income after you claim it, but the money you paid in to the fund was taxed upfront along with the rest of your earnings.

This would get him about £17 billion a year extra almost immediately, helping him to balance those damned elusive books, keep the NHS afloat and order some new submarines by 2020. And with a budget coming up, it seems reasonable to leak the story in advance.

The idea immediately met with a howl of outrage from well-heeled Tories. The Government is already raising the pension age incrementally and many people starting work today will have to go on paying into their pension funds for an extra ten years, during which time the Government will be hitting their contributions for tax. So potential future Tory voters weren’t happy either. Not only that, but the Tories made a specific election manifesto promise not to even think of doing this.

And guess what?

That’s right. Good Ol’ George has already backed down. Hurrah for the Chancellor. Nay, thrice hurrah, for he’s a jolly good fellow, and all that.

 

Q. Can you give me three good reasons why we should remain in the EU?

A. Yes. Ian Duncan-Smith.

 

 

 

 

 

Black binbag day

Perhaps someone will explain to me why it is that so many Britons, including recent immigrants, think that by running away from the EU we can isolate ourselves from the crisis of refugees and others threatening to overwhelm European institutions?

I don’t drink in pubs or travel on buses, so I’m afraid I’m out of touch with informed public opinion on this one.

I cannot personally see a connection between the EU and the conflict in the Middle East, that is driving the mass exodus; other than the attraction of what must seem like a relatively safe haven for desperate families; although with the forced clearances of unofficial migrant camps and the erection of miles of razor-wire across parts of Europe life is becoming a hellish nightmare for them here as well.

I can however see a connection between Britain and the events in Syria, both in terms of Blair’s criminal deceit over Iraq and of Sykes-Picot, the cynical partitioning by the English and French powers that took place following the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish empire in 1916. There was also the failure of British resolve to intervene four years ago over the little matter of Assad’s redlined chemical warfare against his people, ultimately ceding the territory to the Russians and their indiscriminate bombing campaign; an egregious error of foreign policy that will haunt us for generations to come.

Putting all that aside, to date we have taken in about a thousand Syrian refugees seeking asylum, compared with Germany’s three-quarters of a million. It is hardly the loss of control of ‘our borders’ that has become the rallying call of the Tory right. What the cunts are playing on is a generalised belief that there are too many ‘migrants’ arriving in Britain, said to be an ‘overcrowded island’ (although if you get on a train at Penzance and travel all the way to Inverness, avoiding London, I guarantee you might see fifty people on the way.)

These unwanted foreigners include hundreds and thousands of doctors and nurses and hospital cleaners being imported to shore up our sagging health service, that has somehow forgotten for the past fifteen years to train enough personnel to meet the growing demands of a grotesquely unhealthy population, stuffing itself in despair with the kind of cheap crap produced by the global corporations the Tory right wants to have unfettered access to our markets.

And yes, many of them are living in skips (dumpsters) because the Government cannot afford to build more homes.

(Although the Government is apparently able to afford to build ten more super-prisons, garrison the Falklands, bomb Daesh, renew Trident (an obsolete defence concept maintaining the fiction of Britain’s global power), bribe flakey overseas bidders with £billions to build nuclear reactors in neverland, and contemplate an invasion of Libya.)

If the rationale for leaving the EU is to isolate Britain from the infection of migrants and the imminent collapse of the Eurozone, what no-one seems to explain is why so many migrants have become trapped in the French channel ports, unable to get to Britain precisely because we do have control of ‘our borders’ (actually, an island can have only one border, but don’t let that spoil a good Tory meme) – we denied entry to 55,000 people last year – and why the Euro is currently riding high against the pound?

And no-one is asking themselves serious questions about the morality of deserting our European allies at a time of crisis.

Surely the point is that we committed ourselves in 1973 as a leading economy to become an important member of a Union of neighbouring countries, and could therefore be using our considerable influence to help deal with the immediate problems and resolve the longer-term structural weaknesses, instead of just scuttling away like rats at the first sign of trouble?

Thereby rendering ourselves, quite deservingly, to become second-class citizens in Europe; and allowing the laissez-faire corporatist faction on the Tory right to seize power for a generation.

Not for nothing were we christened by the C18th French diplomat, de Ximenez, ‘Perfidious Albion’: General de Gaulle was right to keep us out for as long as he could.

Britain simply cannot be trusted to keep its word on anything, ever again.

It’s a lose-lose-lose situation, if you ask me.

 

Super-Tuesday: black binbag day in Boglington-on-Sea!

Voting for Trump is surely voting for more of the problem, not the solution.

It’s extremely hard to see what this gobby, bullying binbag stuffed with money has to offer America by way of policies and organisational logic to back the flabby rhetoric of his pork-barrel patriotism.

Despite his frequent reiteration of what everyone wants to believe to the contrary, America is still the world’s leading economic, technological and military superpower, but it is bedevilled by lack of investment and social inequities of which greedy carpetbaggers like Trump are the living embodiment.

Trump has not, seemingly, raised a finger to actually help anyone less well-off than himself in his entire, egocentric life. His are the politics of acquisitive bluster. He builds personal statements, money-making propositions, phallic symbols, totems to self-importance – not socially useful infrastructure.

He is a one-man band, not a collaborator; an entrepreneur, not a team-player: America covers 3.8 million square miles, hosting an ethnically, religiously and economically diverse population of 320 million, packing around 300 million guns. It is facing severe environmental pressures and its roads, railways, bridges and dams, its public transportation, are mid-C20th relics at best; while its justice system struggles to leave the C18th. One self-inflated climate-change denier cannot govern it all sensibly alone.

And above all he is lazy: he couldn’t even be bothered to try to get himself elected to represent a constituency of real people for a few years to learn about fixing their real problems, before launching himself as a Presidential candidate on the back of a cretinous TV gameshow and the witless suspicion that ‘something’ is ‘going on’. Anyone less presidential is hard to imagine.

Oh, sorry Sarah.

If supposedly Christian middle-America didn’t share his sour, winner-take-all values they would vote instead for someone more like Bill Gates or even, if his recent pronouncements on philanthropy are to be believed, Mark Zuckerberg: businessmen who between them have accrued nation-sized wealth, yet who are prepared to use it for good*. Guys whose technological inventions and products, for all the huge profits they generate, have been globally beneficial and even epoch-making.

Any self-promoting douche who inherited $200 million to speculate erratically on real-estate can be Donald Trump. I don’t understand why more ordinary Americans cannot see that his own business interests are always going to be paramount and that his aim is to engineer a country for people like himself, the billionaires’ club.

As Britain prepares to pull up the drawbridge and Europe re-divides, with the rise of the ethnic right and the tide of fire-raising xenophobia, the ganging-up against the Franco-German alliance of the former Austro-Hungarian Catholic nations, the expansionism of Russia and the wobbles in the Balkans, America once again risks plunging into isolation and selfish introspection. Even Communism has been making a comeback.

I have argued elsewhere that the world is returning to the uncomfortably familiar tropes of 1914.

Let’s hope we don’t get too far past July before noticing the railway platforms are getting longer.

 

*Mr Zuckerberg has this morning announced that, henceforth, Facebook will pay UK tax on its UK profits from UK advertising sales. This should come to considerably more than the £4,000 he paid last year, after exporting the sales figures to Ireland. Hurrah!

 

In the interests of balance

As a sometime, longago and faraway BBC journalist, in the interests of balance and impartiality to which I swore a dreadful oath I must acknowledge the following account of The Donald, as he is affectionately known, as given on the Today programme, er, today, by the noted former editor of the Daily something-or-other and controversial US TV chatshow host, Mr Piers Morgan.

According to Mr Morgan, who is himself much maligned, there is another side to President Trump.

In private, we hear, he is a kind, gentle, thoughtful, informed, analytical, wise, intelligent, compassionate and fair-minded internationalist. He runs many sound businesses, to which he has appointed competent and spacious individual managers. He is a creative and conciliatory deal-maker. His many large buildings, hotels and golf courses are well designed and agreeably fitted-out for the benefit of all.

He runs a tight ship, of course, and has a comprehensive grasp of the issues. His TV show, a spinoff of BBC TV’s The Apprentice, in which a succession of wannabe future business leaders are hauled in for a grilling by the boss before being ritually humiliated and ‘fired’, until only the prettiest one is left standing, is popular, responsibly managed and professionally presented.

Pray, urges Mr Morgan, do not mistake the combative, outspoken and risqué Donald of the traditionally gritty midWestern hustings for the real article. Of course he will not build a wall out of dead Mexican rapists and expel all the Muslims until someone tells him what the Hell  is going on; he is merely building-up to revealing his feminine side as he battles the Clinton harpie for the keys to the White House. Then watch him cutting dem deals with Mr Putin! Go Donald!

He is, in short, says Mr Morgan, a thoroughly suitable prospect to become the leader of the Free World.

That’s a relief, then.

 

So we do have an energy policy, Minister?

There is, I understand from murmurings on the radio, a suggestion in Government that Britain could henceforth keep the lights flickering by importing surplus geothermal energy from Iceland.

Is that the Iceland in which many of our largest instutions invested their pension funds at unbelievable rates of interest just before the crash of 2007, or the one next door to Lidl on our local shopping park?

We need to know, perhaps before handing over £17 billion of Chinese money to my late energy provider, EDF, to build a nuclear power station in Somerset whose ultimate costs their unions warn could destroy the company.

 

Q. Where will you find the Trump Foundation?

A. Under the Trump Tower.