Everyone back where you came from

Well, there was I, thinking it’s Thursday and what am I going to Post about today, given my new sitting-room rug hasn’t arrived yet and li’l Hunzi has got his legs crossed waiting, and hurrah! Overnight, Akismet has put forward two new Comments for me to approve.

Both seem to be on the same theme, that of removing all the black people to somewhere unspecified.

 

Okay, so today Monica Wells and Kelly Matos have emailed me a second time, to tell me all black people are rapists.

What does that make you, silly little worthless baboon-women?

And why do these crude messages not count as Spam, Akismet? Any more and I will take down my site, Word-fucking-Press. I WILL NOT APPROVE RACIST SHIT ON THE BOGLINGTON PRESS.

THANK YOU.

 

I am reminded by one of the messages that the black people living next door are criminals. Actually, the black people living next door moved away last October and the black people living next door are now most definitely white, I’ve checked.

But judging by the aroma drifting from time to time over the garden fence they are definitely criminals. Smoking that stuff ain’t legal, I’m told. And the white couple on the other side are from Birmingham. ‘Nuff said.

The black people living next door might have been criminals for all I know, especially the daughters aged 8 and 9, and the overpolite teenage boy. The mum I’m not sure about either, I’ve seen her sneaking about the university campus with a rucksack filled with books she was probably stealing from the library to sell on the black market. They were suspiciously shy and neatly turned-out, hardly ever speaking in their black criminal argot other than to threaten me with a Good Morning, and the only sound you ever heard was the boy practising his scales on the saxophone; surely a crime against music. The kids snuck off to school every day, the girls’ black hair done up in illicit braids, the boy in a pair of shiny shoes he must have shoplifted during a riot; the whole gang fled to church every Sunday, a definitive sign of guilt-ridden consciences.

And then one dark night, or maybe it was day, they did a bunk. I’ve reported them to the authorities, of course.

Now, why Akismet, the WordPress spammeister who claims to have otherwise protected me from almost five thousand Spam messages over the past four years, should imagine I might be happy to read the kind of purulent racist bile that would kill a Komodo dragon, let alone Approve it for publication on this, muh sainted bogl, is one of life’s enduring mysteries. Indeed, it is a question I frequently pose, that is never answered.

No, the problem I wish to identify is that there seems to be no way of reporting to WordPress when some foul-smelling gas-bubble from the undredged, anoxic bottom of life’s slimy pond has burst over my life’s work.

I’m assuming WordPress don’t give a shit what anyone says, as long as they get the advertising revenue. They still won’t let us single-space, the criminals.

 

Pots, kettles

A destructive row has erupted within the Labour party over accusations that too many Labour supporters are ‘anti-Semitic’ and the party leadership is in meltdown not doing anything about it.

Anyone except the media would think there was an election coming up next week. On Holocaust Memorial Day, too.

The row has spilled over into a violent verbal assault by the combative self-publicising Labour MP John Mann in the foyer of Westminster Hall  on the outspoken former very leftwing head of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone. Mr Livingstone, who was trying to give a telephone interview to a radio station at the time, sought sanctuary in a disabled toilet, pursued by Mr Mann, with consequent weird radiophonic sound effects like two dinosaurs in rut.

Mr Livingstone has defended the position of Naz Shah, a Labour MP and until this week parliamentary private secretary to Labour’s shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. Ms Shah has now been suspended from the party over a stupid tweet two years ago, for which she has already fulsomely apologised. Mr Mann is accusing Mr Livingstone of being a ‘Nazi apologist’. Mr Livingstone has made some very curious remarks. But is the beasting of Ms Shah evidence in turn of anti-Islamism? And do we make the mistake of being too clearly defined by the past?

Ms Shah, who was not an MP at the time, retweeted a tweet she had received, a photo showing the State of Israel superimposed on a map of the USA over a cretinous suggestion that it could be relocated there. Ms Shah, a Muslim, humorously appended the words ‘problem solved!’  Now widely suspected of wanting to forcibly expatriate all Jews to America, she has been accused of the worst crime of all: being an ‘anti-Semite’. Her real crime was being naive. You can’t get away with using humour in politics these days. Words are meant to be twisted.

Who has inflated this non-story to discomfit Mr Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader? Why, none but our old friend, ‘Citizen Dave’ Cameron.

Mr Cameron has recently been embarrassed by accusations of living off, as it were, the amoral earnings of his stockbroker father, who ran his investment trust as if it were an offshore company to avoid paying tax in the UK.

What better, then, but to stir up hatred of the Labour party during Prime Minister’s Questions, by castigating Mr Corbyn for failing to expel this ‘disgusting’ tendency from his completely eclectic, secular party? Mr Corbyn didn’t help, when he paraphrased the apocryphal quote famously attributed to his predecessor, Jim Callaghan: ‘Crisis? What crisis?’. (Let’s be frank, Jeremy is a bit of a walking PR disaster.)

Mr Livingstone has apparently tied his own shoelaces together. The party was wrong to suspend his protege, Ms Shah, he argued. There was a big difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. (I’m not sure Ms Shah was expressing either point of view, I think she probably just thought there was some ironic humour in the idea of moving Israel, where a lot of American Jews are settlers involved in a disputatious land-grab in Palestinian East Jerusalem, to America, where the pro-Israeli lobby is all-powerful.) Hitler, he had explained without much forethought on a morning radio show, had even supported the Zionists before going mad and trying to exterminate the Jews instead. (He stands by this interpretation.)

That was when Mr Mann, who found the claim offensive and unbelievable, repeatedly shouted the words ‘Rewriting history! What about Mein Kampf?’ (which I doubt he has read) and accused Mr Livingstone of having Nazi sympathies; a totally inexplicable accusation as Mr Livingstone is known by all and sundry as a lifelong Socialist holding anti-racist principles to the point of tiresome obsession; the very reason he has been so supportive of the Palestinian cause, as he believes them to be victims of Israeli racism.

So who was right?

Some years ago I edited an anniversary collection of writings from History Today by fifty eminent historians, chosen by Professor Frank Furedi. Among them, Hugh Trevor-Roper (the ‘expert’ on prewar Germany, who was famously bamboozled by the fake ‘Hitler Diaries’) had contributed an essay I found compelling,  investigating a link between the early National Socialist party and German Zionists; both of whom found it in their interest to promote the emigration of German Jews to Palestine.

Persuaded at least of the possibility of this unlikely collaboration, to find out more I’ve just been online to the website of the authoritative-sounding Institute for Historical Revision, and a dissertation-length article by its editor, Mark Weber, complete with an imposing list of citations.

Mr Weber quotes numerous sources and makes a compelling case that German Zionists, in their zeal to create a Jewish homeland, collaborated extensively with the Nazis, who ploughed millions of dollars into a project between 1934 and 1938 to persuade as many Jews as possible to emigrate to Palestine – although they didn’t cling for long to the idea of a Jewish State they thought might become their enemy.

Most Jews, however, refused to go, believing themselves to be good Germans; a naive faith that sealed their death warrants.

Indeed, Weber argues that many Nazi functionaries actually admired the German Zionist Jews for their sturdy independence (unlike the rapacious bankers, or the riff-raff of the eastern stetls); encouraged settler training camps, and were willing to assist them with their campaign to create a separate state, to the extent of helping to build factories to create employment for Jewish settlers in Palestine.

He argues, perhaps a tad less convincingly, that anti-Jewish laws from 1935 onwards were designed not to oppress, but more to offer Jews essentially a two-state, apartheid solution within Germany while they were contemplating the prospect of mass migration to the Holy Land. Kristallnacht, which he skirts around, gives this view the lie. (Sounds more like bullshit, but that’s history. Ed.)

Weber fingers the former Israeli PM Yitzak Shamir as a member of the ultra-nationalist Stern Gang, an underground terror organisation that, he says, went so far as to propose a military alliance with Germany against the British, who were also opposed (but for other reasons) to a Jewish state in Palestine. There is written evidence, a letter signed by Stern himself, he claims. (There’s always a ‘letter’ somewhere.) The Germans didn’t respond.

Hitler, he suggests, was uncomfortable with the accommodation with Zionism, but went along with it, until becoming impatient with the slow progress of this voluntary ‘ethnic cleansing’ and on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the conquest of Russia, he ordered the ‘final solution’ in 1941; as one would.

Wow. This all seemed like dynamite until I read-up next on the Institute for Historical Revision.

It seems it’s been branded along with its maverick editor by dozens of respectable academics as being about the biggest bunch of lying, anti-Semitic, flakey racist historians northward of the Ku Klux Klan – in fact the IHR went out of business in 2002 citing lack of staff and funding. Weber himself attended the notoriously racist University of Illinois and is said to be a huge Holocaust-denier, something he denies. He only questions the claimed extent of the Holocaust, he says, the ‘six million’ – although he was forced to stump up a $50k reward after a survivor of Auschwitz proved conclusively there had indeed been gas chambers there, which (along with his friend, David Irving) he doubted.

So, has ‘Red Ken’ been led up the garden path by anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi revisionist historians? Or are the ferocious attacks on Mr Weber and his institute – hence, on Mr Livingstone – further evidence of the worldwide Zionist PR machine, that seeks to close down all and any debate about the increasingly repressive tactics of the Israeli government by promoting the worst possible account of the Jewish experience in wartime Germany, bitterly attacking as racist anyone who does not go along with their narrative? Making it virtually impossible for politicians and academics to enjoy the freedom even to discuss the historic circumstances of the Holocaust and the subsequent foundation and strategic development of Israel, without accusations of anti-Jewish, racial and religious bias.

Is historical revisionism actually anti-Semitism? And is anti-Zionism (a political movement) evidence of racism? After all, they are just words; loose definitions of one form of Jew-hating or another. Israel was supposedly founded as a secular, not an exclusively Jewish state. Is the Israeli government actually Zionist? Or has it been hijacked by religious fanatics on the right? Is there a difference? Should we allow the Left to promote a view that is by no means confined to non-Jews, that Israeli suppression of the aboriginal Palestinian population has gone too far? Or the opposite, that to accuse Tel Aviv of crimes against humanity is in fact veiled anti-Semitism, fear and loathing of the Jew that aligns its critics with Hitler, as Lord Levy, a former Labour party treasurer, has today alleged?

And what of the white American settlers’ treatment of their aboriginal minority, the British treatment of its vassal subjects in the Empire? How clean are our hands of accusations of genocide? How comfortable does that make us feel about criticising (more often not) Israeli domestic policy? How far should we go back in time to demand apologies and reparations for historic wrongs – to the Roman empire, maybe, Julius Caesar’s ruthless ethnic cleansing of Gaul? Are such ‘rearrangements’ of ethnic populations not the done-and-dusted accompaniment to centuries of intolerance and greed for land and resources, that have left us geopolitically where we are today? Is it not unhelpful for special-interest groups to consider themselves to be nothing but victims of history; a belief that traps them forever in the past?

In my view, the whole furore is utterly childish. If it was wrong of Germany to wall Jews up in European cities and use overwhelming punitive force against them when their young men revolted, then without rewriting history, how can it not be equally wrong to wall Palestinians up in parts of Israel and rain down sophisticated weaponry on their women and children when their young men rebel against the ongoing seizure of their homes and farms by settlers in defiance of UN resolutions? It is not good enough to present Palestinian resistance and the rise of Hamas as inexplicable acts of terrorism and anti-Semitism, unconnected to the historic occupation. Is that an anti-Semitic thing to write?

Many Israelis and diaspora Jews feel deep discomfort about it too, but their voices are not listened to in the Knesset. And many of them feel that non-Jews should keep out of it, as they too are being branded as ‘anti-Semitic’ by Jews to the right of them. To me, the moral position is clear: if Palestinian terrorism is wrong, then so too must have been the Zionist terrorism and political assassinations in the 1940s, that eventually pushed the war-weary British mandate into shamefaced accession to their demands, armed as they were with an unanswerable moral case that, post-Gaza, is now looking increasingly tarnished. But if Palestinian intransigence, the tropes of Hamas’ propaganda, is racism, what is Israeli intransigence, imposing their State by force, to be called?

It’s a convoluted moral argument. In reality it has nothing to do with race. Anti-Jewish feeling is more often rooted in economics than in religion. Calling people names is not helping to heal this seemingly incurable wound.

Closing down discussion is evidentially increasing anti-Semitic feeling across Europe, exacerbated by the usual popular response to the current climate of economic adversity to blame ‘alien’ minorities. Those who perceive anti-Semitism as being on the rise should perhaps look at the wider perspective: anti-Everything is on the rise. But to seize party political advantage from one silly young woman’s momentary lapse of taste by making her out to be some kind of Untouchable whose vile racist views have infected the entire Labour movement is pretty low politics.

Then, I detest Conservatives, as you know. Especially Labour ones.

 

Burnt umbrage

Fuckety-fucksticks.

For the third time this week, while engrossed in the polemical literary endeavour above, I have burned my lovely dinner: a steak-and-kiddly pud.

I am totally incapable of holding two objectives in my head simultaneously*. I need a partner, or at least an attractive kitchen timer, to prompt me with news of the passage of time. I certainly have no idea how to set the programme on my elderly cooker, without light and strong glasses I can’t read the legends beneath the little buttons. It’s why I thought a new one might help.

To bogl, then, or to cook?

As I write, I am crunching my way disconsolately through a hardened silo of suetcrust pastry, in the mix of which I have forgotten to put salt, my one remaining molar splintering on little hard knobbly chunks of meat, blackened carrot and dehydrated mushrooms, knowing that before retiring for the night I shall have to forestall my incipient heartburn with copious draughts of Gaviscon.

Hunzi, who has gone on a diet, eyes my plate wolfishly.

Little does he know.

*I’m seriously worried. A new report linking increased depression in the over-50s with early onset Alzheimer’s fails to take note of something I did this morning. Next to my bed is a table with, on it, a lamp and a radio. Both were switched on when I got up. Getting dressed, I went back around the bed and switched off the radio, before going back to put on my socks. A few moments later, realising I had left the lamp on, I went to switch that off and instead, switched the radio back on.

What am I like, eh?

What?

 

Who the hell are you?

As if the furore over anti-Semitism in the supposedly secular Labour party, and is it the same as anti-Zionism or merely a vague irritation with pushy people, isn’t enough to be going on with, the politics of ‘identity’ is fast becoming another tangled web with which to ensnare us all in what we thought was our own language.

(Forty years ago you were allowed to point out without being accused of being a Nazi, or merely a facetious imbecile, that the Palestinian Arabs are also a Semitic people with a two-and-a-half thousand-year history of occupation of Galilee/Judaea. They predate Islam by a thousand years.  Come on Ziobots, have a go at me for that, why not?)

Having been treated to video coverage of the attractively transgendered Caitlin Jenner, the burly Olympian formerly known as Bruce, ceremonially visiting the Ladies’ powder room in New York’s Trump Tower to test The Donald’s assertion that he supports voluntary self-identification and mixed ablutions, we learn today that April was BBC Identity Month.

Sorry I missed it.

Once upon a time, I seem to remember, it was all so simple: men were men, and women weren’t. You stood up to pee, or you sat down. (I have to try both, these days.)

No longer. It appears we are free to select which degree of bifurcated humanity we represent, and to demand that we be treated accordingly with unique respect. Not content with Trump toiletry, some transgendered people are even demanding their own segregated facilities. One envisages an endless line of toilets stretching down every corridor, each designated with a different little stick figure indicating which self-defining group may enter therein without causing social offence, moral outrage and general consternation.

Apart from the ‘straight/gay’ divide, now so old-hat, a bizarre article on the BBC website today ‘identifies’ at least fifty shades of grey between hormone-fuelled, red-blooded heterosexuals and pathetic old, post-sexual jazz lovers like me. Some categories merely refer to how you go about managing relationships:

  • Sexual
  • Asexual (‘aces’)
  • Grey asexual, or ‘grey-ace’
  • Demisexual (doesn’t mean you only fancy Ms Moore…)
  • Bisexual
  • Polyamorous (polys)

And so on. (Autosexual doesn’t get a look in, sadly. Wankers demand recognition!)

Other finely nuanced ‘identities’ are more to do with where you feel you’d like other people to agree you fit on the gender spectrum; how comfortable you are in your male or female skin, in your mom’s high heels.

Yet more are concerned with race and religion (one story concerns the persecution of a gay ultra-Orthodox Jew… take your pick) and the divisive perceptions those create. As with race and skin colour, disability, too, has grown its own vocabulary and social hierarchy, bidding for recognition as a separate spectrum of ‘identities’.

That’s if there is anyone left standing outside any of these self-declared republics to confer the respect and/or recognition they demand. (See, the use of the word ‘they’ labels me as a colonialist, or worse….) What did John Donne write about it, that ‘No man is an island’? Well, some of us are incontinent, ha- ha, frowny face.

Then, of course, there are the manifold ‘identities’ conferred on hapless humans by class and birthplace.

Apparently more of us are feeling more international than ever, ‘global citizens’ or, at least, African, American or European or, an increasingly confident group, Asian. If we have become more middle-class, more of us are feeling ‘squeezed’. And the religious minorities – ‘Pastafarians’ celebrated their first legally sanctioned wedding just recently, with spaghetti cake, having been officially recognised somewhere.

Finally, there are the various classes of victimhood, endlessly setting up dedicated charities – silos for people ‘like themselves’ – demanding more costly public inquiries and being trotted out on chat shows, prisoners – many of them – of their past. We are rapidly acquiring too, a new set of persons known as the ‘victims of victimhood’; former public servants and others forced to fall on their swords because of their too-human failings in office.*

That’s an awful lot of toilets we’re going to need.

My thought is that we shall eventually arrive at a point where there are so many minutely categorised ‘micro-identities’ out there, we’ll suddenly realise we’re indistinguishably all the same – which is where we started out, a big messy jumble of crapulous baboons who’ve been at the fermented fruit again.

Let’s keep calm and remember, people – discrimination is the highest form of recognition.

 

*I have learned today that ‘victimology’ is now a formally recognised branch of the social sciences, and a module in the Law degree. I am beginning to feel like a persecuted minority of one, myself.

 

Pointing the finger

The big story this Bank Holiday weekend, however, is ‘Fingergate’.

You might not be a fan of the game of snooker, in which case you’ll need to be told that this has been World Championship fortnight at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield.

So, last night it’s the semi-final, the last of four sessions over two days in a tense best-of-33-frames match between current world no. 1, Mark Selby from Leicester, and the unfancied Marco Fu from Hong Kong. It’s finely balanced:  12 frames apiece. In the 25th frame, Fu is trailing slightly by 12 points to 7, 128 points on the table still to play for, and Selby has hit a ‘safety’ shot that has left the white cue ball touching one of a tightly-packed cluster of reds. (Potting one red at a time, scoring 1 point, enables you to play for a higher-value ‘colour’ ball. Now read on…)

If the cue ball is touching another ball, the rule is you cannot attempt to score from it: he has to hit the cue ball away from the red without moving it. Fu has difficulty bridging his cue (that’s the pointy stick, that you poke the ball with)  over the reds, to get the angle he needs on the white. His hand is at its maximum extension, resting on spread fingers. He strikes the cue ball cleanly away, but as he does so, in pulling back he accidentally touches one of the reds with his index finger.

Now, strictly speaking, it’s a foul stroke. You’re not allowed to touch any of the balls with your finger, just like at school, thereby possibly improving the lie of the table. Although it remains exactly where it was, the red ball has rocked slightly, a trembling movement visible to the TV camera, which is tight-in close,  but not to the referee, who does not call the foul.

Snooker being a game invented after dinner between English gentlemen in large country houses (you may have noticed the referee, with his black-tie,  white gloves and deferential attitude, forever polishing the cue ball, is really the butler), an honest player would have put his hand up and nobly confessed that he has just committed a faux-pas.

Fu doesn’t.

Controversy soon rages in the commentary position, and between the studio experts: two players with, between them, thirteen world championship titles. Could Marco possibly in a hundred years, a professional player, not have realised what he had done? Maybe in the heat of battle… but… shaking of heads… it was all most irregular. The words foreigner, Chinese, what can you expect? were left hanging in the air, unsaid.

Now, I have part-time work twice a year, for a total of five weeks. It pays for my jazz hobby. I work as an invigilator in the exam rooms of my local university. Part of my job is to discourage – and, in the last resort, to catch – cheats. I feel a bit of a hypocrite, because in my time I might have done a bit of ducking and diving myself, principally to keep our children alive. So I have an ambivalent attitude towards cheating. I only report the most blatant or incompetent of cheats, for their own good. Nothing will happen to them anyway, the university needs the fees.

Sometimes I think, so what? It’s their life. If they can’t pass an exam without cheating, what sort of success are they going to have under professional scrutiny in their chosen career? (Most businesses need people who know how to cheat creatively.) How much information do you need to smuggle into the exam room, to make any sort of difference to your results? Writing the odd formula or a name up your arm isn’t really going to help: if you knew enough to write it down, you know it already! Like a Chinese student I once caught, you need to bring the whole essay in with you (unfortunately, in his case the essay wasn’t the answer to the question.)

Then, the examination system itself is a kind of cheating. It loads the dice against candidates who might be brilliant, but who are forgetful or just not good at exams. It relieves academics of the responsibility to ensure that all their students are elevated to the same level of knowledge. And it’s a totally artificial situation you will never encounter again in your life: we have these things called personal computers nowadays.

So when you leave university, life becomes morally less certain. I once had to take a local knowledge test as part of an application to work for BBC News. I was alone in the room, sitting at a computer on which I was answering questions to the best of my knowledge. Having only recently moved to the area, I didn’t know the answers to some of the questions. Afterwards, checking my score, the news editor asked me incredulously, why hadn’t I just Googled the answers? For being honest, I didn’t get the job. And I had once been a news editor myself.

Back at the Crucible, we had a situation where a player has accidentally touched a ball with a wayward finger, and technically it’s a foul. You’re supposed to keep your fingers under control. But because the rules don’t allow him to score directly from the shot, and there were no other reds he could hit, he could have gained no possible advantage from  merely touching the ball. Touching it has not enabled Marco to play a better shot, as he touched it only after he played the shot. The red ball has trembled, but not moved. It’s still in exactly the same position it was before he touched it. Touching the red ball has not altered the chances of his opponent either: it’s the new position of the white cue ball that matters. If anything, moving the red ball would have benefited Selby, giving him an easier shot. Besides, it was an accident.

Should Fu have done the decent thing? Serving what purpose, other than to chalk-up a small gesture of chivalry in an otherwise ruthless fight to the death?

Ironically, by admitting to the foul Fu would have changed the run of play, which might then have turned to his advantage. He would have been docked four points, but at that early stage of the frame it mattered less. Selby would have had to replace the white ball on the baulk line instead of being able to play his shot from where it lay. (alternatively, he could have asked Fu to replay the shot.) Fu might have obtained some psychological advantage from the warm audience applause and approving commentary that would have greeted his honourable admission. By keeping quiet, to what extent do we think that his mildly dishonourable decision to fib, taken in the heat of the moment, might have preyed on the challenger’s mind for the rest of the frame?

But he kept quiet.

Inscrutably.

Selby goes on to win the frame anyway – and, eventually, the nailbiting semi – and at last, the championship. One up for the decent folks, you might say.

Until you look at the world beyond that unforgiving exam room, that microcosmos that is the Crucible theatre, Sheffield, in World Snooker Championship fortnight.

Take the distasteful actions of ‘billionaire retailer’, Sir Philip and Lady Green, for example; the former owners of the ageing, once-loved British Home Stores retail chain, that has collapsed with the expected loss of up to eleven thousand jobs and a £500 million hole in the pension fund. The deficit, equivalent to several schools and hospitals, will have to be made up by the Government’s pensions emergency fund; while (£580 million richer) the Greeds, as they are now known, having sold the chain for £1 to some random bloke who turns out to have been been bankrupted three times, but who is nevertheless reported to have taken out a £1.5 million loan* shortly before the business went into administration, bask on their $100 million superyacht in Monte Carlo, sticking two fingers up at the world.

Ransacking a business you own,  letting a bunch of idiots drive it into the ground and expecting the taxpayer to pick up the pieces while you party with supermodels in your sunlit tax haven is not, as I understand it, against the rules of the game; in fact it’s pretty well compulsory in business. It’s not as if they touched the ball, or anything.

Now that’s what I’d call ‘Fingergate’.

 

*All figures from memory. See, I’m cynically cheating too.

 

Trump, Trump, Trump, the boys are marching…

Okay, oops, sorry, he’s won. I take it all back, whatever I said.

Let me just say now, for the record, that no finer man e’er existed; no sounder mind, no nobler spirit, no truer friend, no more handsome visage, no loftier ambition or greater soul, no more apposite candidate for Leader of the Free World,  no tinier hands, no finer-spun angel hair.

Come, build us your towers, your rolling fairways. Come, cut us your famous deals. Put up your walls, your trade barriers, your punishment blocks for women, your transgender toilets and transit camps for evil Muslims. Come, laugh in the faces of  disability and womanhood, Great Manager of Huge Enterprises. Introduce us to your connections.

Make America grate again.

Of thee I sing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dwarfism in plants

“Wanted beautiful women with personality, acting abilities, nice skin for their age with positive wrinkles.”

– Angel Stages casting website, Garnier Face Care campaign

 

I so sometimes feel my wrinkles are lacking in positivity. Don’t you?

You glance at yourself warily in the mirror while you’re strimming those fashionably empty bits in and around your beard, and gradually they make their unwelcome presence felt: those drooping, half-formed so-called ‘laughter lines’ set in a purulent, greenery-yallery zone around the eyes, pungent with blackheads; lines that deepen in a sinister way when you grimace; the hastily packed eye-luggage; that annoying, asymmetrical half-wrinkle on one side of your expanding brow, that you got from raising one querulous eyebrow too many times over the years, and you wish your wrinkles could be more articulate, more persuasive – reassuringly assertive – brisker and more businesslike.

You’d like a perfect set of wrinkles, wouldn’t you, that would bowl any casting director over, and instead age has given you this negative assortment of vaguely displeasing, ill-matched tracks and traces, blurred borderlines betraying a lifetime’s thoughtless and selfish overindulgence in poor skincare, coffee and late nights with red wine in front of a screen radiant with negative ions.

You perhaps feel that your wrinkles are writing a story about someone whose life has not brought them much success, family, happiness and modest prosperity; someone without gracious good manners, unwholesome indeed, who doesn’t put their best face forward, but who retreats from healthy relationships and social interaction; someone who seldom entertains or has a presence on social media. The first person you’d automatically think of to make redundant when business times are hard. Someone down-in-the-mouth, a verbal opportunist who has experienced none of those courageous exploits of derring-do, that come to etch some lucky people’s faces with a permanent portrait of heroic survival against the odds.

Someone whose brow lacks nobility.

Someone not virtuous or deserving enough to be a fit role model for Laboratoires Garnier in their crusade against negative wrinkles.

I’ve only recently acquired these uninspiring crevices myself, mainly as a result of obtaining new glasses that enable me to see better close-up. The trouble is, I’m so physically superhuman, so well-endowed genetically, that opticians tell me my deteriorating eyesight – I’m practically blind by my standards – is still better than most people’s.

Oh, I can pick a target off a hilltop three miles away and count the bars on a fence, the crows on a wire, the sheep in a field. I can read the bottom line, with effort, and the 2-point print paragraph on the card is eventually hauled into focus under the brightest of lights. I can even just about see to drive. But it’s no use if you don’t know what you are looking at.

You see, you don’t have to have bad eyesight to be blind, you just need the disconnect between the seeing eye and the brain’s ability to make sense of anything. The older I get, the less involved I appear to be in what I’m seeing.

I’ve seen it all before. And I still don’t recognise it.

And now I’ve got breakfast marmalade all over the keys, and my swollen, red eyes (there’s a thing going around, apparently)  are watering so copiously I can’t see what I’m typing, and I can feel more wrinkles appearing, especially where you get that wattled turkey-skin around your armpits, on your upper arms where formerly was smooth muscle, when you lean forward – surely the most disturbing sign of physical degeneracy I’ve noticed since my manboobs passed the pencil test.

It’s all falling apart, drawing to an unsatisfactory close; an inconclusion. The memory is going, the male function flagging. I feel old, M. Garnier, and believe me, it’s got nothing to do with the wrinkles. It’s nothing you can fix with a fancy jar of overpriced emulsion. These are the wrinkles of a man prone to too much self-loathing and wastage, too addicted to failure and rejection letters – too cowardly to let go of what’s around him.

Positively wrinkled, in fact.

 

This world is your world

Hey everybody, I’ve just had an email alert to a job opening at my local university.

It’s for a security guard.

Or, as they are henceforth to be known, ‘Campus Life Manager’.

Beam me up, Scotty.

 

Dwarfism in plants

Fatsia fatshedera ‘Japonica’.

It’s one of those scientific nomenclatures I’ll always remember, whatever else I forget.

Like ‘Chronic Ossifying Pachymeningitis’, from which Chloe, our German Shepherd suffered in the 1970s and had to be put to sleep.

And the similarly degenerative ‘Chronic Ankylosing Spondylitis’ which is slowly and painfully crippling my 90-year-old mother, who can’t be put to sleep.

Or ‘Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia’, which means my prostate gland is the size of an orange, I’m to all intents and purposes impotent and I sometimes piss my pants while trying in vain to find a convenient bush or latrine. That’s if I can go at all.

Why I can remember these and other obscure Latinate technical terms from years gone by and not your name for five minutes, I have no idea. I forget.

Anyway, we’ll just call them Fatsias for now. And I’ve got two of them, and they’ve turned out to be self-dwarfing, which is quite interesting, no?

Let’s expand on that.

You’ll remember, I expect, from Posts passim, that I used to be the old Caretaker (and everything) of a dilapidated ‘stately home’ in the Welsh countryside, which the owner, an accountant by religion, could not resist demanding (he didn’t have to live there) that I run singlehandedly as an appalling ‘guest house’ for people just dying to sleep for £100 a night with the bed bugs on a semen-stained and lumpy vintage mattress.

At some stage, a statutory notice from the Environment Agency to stop flushing the toilets was affecting our weddings business, such as it was. So the owner agreed with a heavy heart to spend £60,000 on having the whole place dug up to lay new sewage pipes and install two huge concrete tanks under the lawn, to process the ordure.

The bidding contractor was an affable individual colloquially known as ‘Barry the Shit’.

As part of the eventual restitution of the overturned areas around the house, I persuaded Barry at modest cost to pave the access behind the kitchen, so that suppliers would no longer have to force their way through the dense thicket of briers growing out of the muck and detritus of decades of neglect, to deliver their comestibles via the tradesmen’s entrance.

I also thought it might be nice to have it as recreational space for catering staff to go out and smoke their cigarettes, rather than continue to run the risk of setting light to the important Grade One-listed building, described with ghoulish relish by local fire-station chief officer Evans as ‘a death-trap’ into which the law of corporate manslaughter would not allow him to send rescuers in the event of the inevitable, virtually instanteous conflagration.

Anyway, to enhance the standing-out smoking experience I acquired two Fatsia plants, potentially large architectural shrubs which I potted on into 10-inch pots and set out nicely next to the oil tank, hoping it would eventually be obscured, at least in part, by the characteristically large and shiny, palmate leaves of the Fatsia.

Not to be confused with fatwas, Fatsias are most common in London basement gardens, as they tolerate poor, shady conditions. Few places were shadier than the courtyard behind the kitchen, where the sun never penetrated owing to the steep and overgrown high bank into which the house had been thrust at the back. They are really quite boring plants, but have the advantage of being relatively cheap to buy. And every so often, probably imagining they are dying, they put out large panicles of dreary-looking white flowers, that turn to alien seed pods in the Autumn.

Anyway, during my last three years in that place the premises were increasingly occupied by building subcontractors employed in restoring the house, in the crudest possible sense (‘blitzing’ is the more appropriate word), uprating all the services whose glaring inadequacies had focussed my life for so long. (Can you imagine, a 14-room hotel with only two working telephones, one of them reserved for the owners who didn’t live there? ADSL download speeds measured in single kilobytes? Too little water pressure to work the showers?)

So, as they churned and ground and hammered and wrenched and sawed and chiselled their way through the protected historic architecture, somewhere had to be found to process all the offensive old junk-store furniture and worm-eaten skirting-boards and rotten window-frames and 1940s brickwork and pipes and plasterboard and gash timber and obsolete bathroom fittings, the dangerous electric wiring and semen-stained mattresses that were being ripped out wholesale to make way for a fully Health and Safety certified, Laura-Ashleyfied pastiche of a dreary 1970s provincial hotel, on an urgent time-based contract.

So for want of anywhere more accessible, they chucked it all outside on the paved recreational area I had insisted we create, beside the oil tank behind the kitchen, as no-one had the time to collect it and take it to the municipal dump, and the place was anyway no longer in use, except by me, and being only the old Caretaker I didn’t count.

On top of the two Fatsias.

So, before leaving forever I dug by hand through the pile of rubble, as if in the aftermath of an earthquake,  and rescued them only barely alive, and brought them over to the tiny cottage that had miraculously been acquired for me by my Committee of Discarnate Entities on a thundering main road in the outskirts of a humdrum provincial town, shortly before I was declared redundant as regards fulfilling any further useful purpose and thereby lost at one stroke, both my living and my home for the past nearly seven years.

But the tiny gardens had been landscaped by the previous owner, and her contractor had filled the raised brick beds and neatly covered them with a rubberised membrane with three inches of gravel on top, to suppress all but the weeds now growing vigorously there. So the Fatsia twins remained in their pots as there was nowhere deep enough to plant them out. In the Eternal sunshine of the south-facing front garden.

And there they have stayed for four years; until I noticed that, instead of adopting a flourishing, not to say exuberant habit of huge, shiny palmate foliage, they have retreated to the tops of their long, ghost-grey stems and are just barely keeping going with this coronet of tiny, pleading fingers; miniaturised versions of the real thing.

Faced with frequent drought conditions, in too-small pots and in full sunlight, which they hate, they have adopted a self-dwarfing habit.

And I know exactly how they feel.

 

Oh no, you can’t possibly have that here

Two weeks ago my energy level was high.

As was my optimism that the Universe could at last deliver the home of my dreams.

A home fully furnished with a coffee table, and a cooker.

Obviously, although I often dream about houses I have lived in before, but subtly altered and with extensive gardens, or facing the full fury of the ocean, I would never in my life have actually dreamed of living in a tiny cottage on a thundering main road in the outskirts of a humdrum provincial town in a glorious part of the country inhabited by misanthropic, pugnacious trolls (as the great Jeremy Claxon once so memorably described the natives here) who have made it their life’s mission to turn the historic chips on their shoulders into soap-boxes, from upon which to berate the English invader with moral instruction concerning their behavioural rectitude.

No, I’m talking about the inside, fools!

I have spent hours, nights even, trawling the internet hopefully for likely candidates to complete my wish-list of new stuff. The principle that ‘books do furnish a room’ is, of course, old hat; virtual emporia being more the thing nowadays. You can get anything online, so they say.

At long last, two weeks ago I bookmarked an attractive and practical-looking, under-counter double-oven made by the slightly prestigious Stoves company,  on John Lewis dot co. Priced at £458, in Stainless Steel, it was £40 cheaper than anywhere else, clean-lined and sculpturally attractive. It was all budgeted for, but the matching hob was not quite right… so I determined to keep looking for a better hob, and that created a delay into which doubt crept.

Something else was preventing me from pushing the Checkout button, a nagging sense that while my old cooker still bore any signs of life beneath its inch-thick coating of grease, sliding like a Greenland glacier at 5 km a year onto my newly tiled floor, I should stay my hand and microwave as often as possible.

So then, as I have bogld already, it became evident that the empty space between my new Poppy-red sofa that is due for delivery next week and the far wall ought, in some fidgety, dissatisfied sense, to contain… a coffee table.

This would be a lesser, more immediately affordable and rapidly deliverable purchase, I reasoned, that would nevertheless meet my pressing need to spend the budget on something.

The lack of a coffee table, I had begun to fear, might well influence the next generation of prospective purchaser of my tiny cottage; as previously had my telling lack of a sofa. Who, I asked myself, does not nowadays own a High-Street imitation Italian designer sofa, who does not also own a complementary conversation piece, perhaps a low and unusually shaped table on which a coffee cup might be placed next to an outsized book about Mondrian, that would otherwise have to rest on top of a handy loudspeaker cabinet?

Flicking night after night through hundreds of designs ranging from a plank on three sticks to a curvaceous post-modernist masterpiece worthy of the drawing-board of the late Dame Zaha Hadid, and priced accordingly, I began to despair. Although I had begun to narrow it down, nothing seemed to fit the bill: the right colour, shape, material, texture, dimensionality, period-style and ‘statement-feel’ to suit both my tiny sitting-room and my boundless imagination seemed not to exist.

And then last night, dear Spammers, I saw it!

With a thrill of recognition, I saw my new coffee table in a thumbnail vignette, one of the ‘if you like that you might like one of these’ suggestions you find at the bottom of the page, and immediately clicked to bring it into full view. It was perfect! And at only £299.99, under three hundred pounds!

Unfortunately, it had a notice next to it: ‘Out of stock’. But encouragingly, another note gave the 8th of June as the date by which new stock might well be forthcoming, and invited me to register an interest, which I gladly did: six weeks away, the wait seemed a price worth paying to get just the perfect coffee table my room, my sofa, my dream-house, my personality craved.

It more than made up for the notice I had found earlier in the evening on the page of the John Lewis website I had bookmarked, regretting that the Stoves under-counter double-oven cooker I had so nearly bought was already and would henceforth forever be discontinued. Rotten luck.

But you can imagine my shock this morning when, on opening my emails, I found a message from the other retailer, Messrs Wayfair dot co, informing me that my perfect coffee table was and would be no longer available either, and perhaps I would like to consider one of these appallingly ugly alternatives for my purchasing pleasure?

It was probably just as well, since my ‘budget’ lay now in ruins.

In the intervening days, an urgent demand had arrived from a debt recovery service located at some uninspiring address on a trackless northern  industrial estate (you have to feel sorry for them), in pursuit of a large sum of money which the Inland Revenue, they said, had told them I owe.

For the past nine years, the Tax Credits office had been persistently refusing to consider the evidence I sent them regarding the many egregious errors in their calculation of a massive overpayment for which they have already accepted blame, on the facetious grounds that it was too late to appeal; to which my answer was, well, ‘it would be, wouldn’t it?’.

Now, faced with a desperate scramble to plug the embarrassing gulf in the Chancellor’s fiscal ambitions, unable to prise loose the tenacious grip on their untaxed trillion-dollar profits notoriously exerted by global US technology corporations, it seems the men and women (not forgetting transgenders) of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are coming after the Little Guys: underperforming, reclusive style-mavens like me, cutting their losses and selling our aged debts on to the highest bidder.

There was an option on offer to pay the repo men a fiver a month or something, but I had become so outraged at the injustice of the case, and am so prone to cutting off my own nose to spite somebody else’s face, that I furiously scribbled a cheque for the full amount without thinking it through, and sent it forthwith by recorded delivery, leaving myself twelve-hundred quids’ worth of amusing ’50s retro-style furnishings short of a dream home.

It’s one thing to refuse for nine years to pay Her Majesty money you don’t owe her, another entirely to ignore a rapacious debt-ogre who might shortly send burly mesomorphs over to distrain your new sofa, that hasn’t yet been delivered (but for which you have already bought the matching cushions); your personal coffee table, your pristine under-counter cooker, that will now never arrive.

It’s just damned bad luck, really. Bubbles always burst.

I can see I’m going to have to sell the car, again.

 

Postscriptum

But no! Look! I’ve been allowed to find my coffee table elsewhere. It’s in stock! You really can buy anything online after all!

So I’ve gone ahead and ordered it. And it’s only £30.01 more expensive!

But taking the online survey with its Prize Draw will surely save me £100, I feel so lucky today.

Post-postscriptum

Until the next day, that is, when I learn the table is also out of stock at the next store- after I have paid for it – and, indeed, everywhere else you look it is there only in virtuality. The small rural Welsh manufacturer, I discover, is promising to resupply all the stores simultaneously on 8th June.

I don’t think so, somehow.

Two breezeblocks and a bit of chipboard should do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, farewell then

Poor Victoria Wood.

No sooner had Britain’s best-loved and most multi-talented female comedian passed away surprisingly from cancer at the ridiculous age of 62, who knew?, than the artist posthumously known as Prince has popped his platinum discs at the age of 57, during a bout of “‘flu”.

If there is a pandemic of ‘flu lethal enough to carry off a celebrity as wealthy and prominent as the little Prince, who must surely have had the entire global medical community at his behest, we are all in trouble.

As, clearly, most ordinary Americans are; at the mercy of a medical system as archaic and insane as their judiciary.

Fifty-seven, however, is one of those unpropitious, grey ages at which most of us wish we did not have to arrive. It is better to be 60, believe me, than 57. There is nothing youthful, sexy or promising about 57.

While I don’t think I have heard an entire Prince track from opening chord to coda, being just the wrong side of the right age, nevertheless I can see how important he was to the world of popular musicke. And judging by the encomia of his fellow celebs, he was a total groove; once putting on an arena concert with his band in a suburban living-room in the grimy north of the UK.

Respect.

It seems like celebrities are dropping dead at a rate not seen since the BBC website ran an article by a statistician two days ago, poo-pooing the idea that celebrities were dying in unnatural numbers this year.

Of course, it’s a generational thing. The 1960s and 70s produced an unnaturally large postwar crop of actors, musicians and comedians by the standards of previous generations, whose talents were exposed in greater numbers owing to the geometric expansion in entertainment channels in the West.

Unsurprisingly, many of them are in their 60s, 70s and 80s and are dying off within the statistical norms of people of their age. Celebrities, let us never forget, are normal people, only different. Perpetual, nevertheless they aren’t immortal.

And in some ways I am comforted. I have never understood why my first wife, a TV reporter and presenter, could not have been saved from cancer by virtue of being better connected with the medical establishment than yer ordinary Jane Bloggs. You’d think celebrity would provide some protection, some extra ‘two-year warranty’, some presentiment of immortality, but it doesn’t.

It’s in yer genes.

So there is our dear Queen, being upstaged on her 90th birthday by a mere Prince.

Ironic, or what?

 

 

Each man kills the thing he loves

(First piece: Jazz alert)

I weep with joy.

Well, actually I don’t. I’m weeping because my optician tells me I have ‘dry eye’ and should drink more water. Yes, wine and coffee contain water, but both are diuretics and I am robbing my eyes of much-needed lubrication while pissing frequently in the garden.

The rest of the time I can’t see where I’m going.

I was proposing to go along with this diagnosis until, while I was signing up to another £300 pair of specs I probably won’t ever wear, I overheard him say exactly the same thing to the next customer as she was leaving. There’s a lot of it about.

No, why I am particularly emotional ce soir is because I have fortuitously stumbled across a video recording of one of the great jazz concerts, Chet Baker Live in Tokyo, 1987.

A year later, he would be dead.

I hadn’t found it before. You might pay $300 for an audio CD, outrageous as you can also pay £45, which I did, throwing caution to the winds and buying a version without sexy graphics, only to discover it on YouTube, not just as an audio download but as a living, breathing video recording.

Internet, or what? And where the hell do these people get this stuff? Thank God they do.

A trip to the Amazon produces that it is only available as an NTSC DVD  (Never Twice the Same Color). We poor boobies in Europe with our higher technical PAL standard can only be allowed to watch in lousy American technical quality. Never mind, YouTube is our friend!

Joy, especially as within minutes of acquiring it two years ago, the outrageously expensive Live in Tokyo audio CD I bought was already buggered, the great track – Elvis Costello and Marianne McPartland’s ‘Almost Blue’ – had become unplayable and wouldn’t even upload to my laptop media player.

Arborway. Surely one of the great West Coast anthems of the jazz era. That’s if any musclebound, blond-rinsed skateboarder on the West Coast appreciated jazz, fuckin’ Beach Boys, Jan ‘n’ Dean fanatics. It’s just a bit of water, get real.

Probably because he was white, and recorded a lot of slushy commercial stuff, on which he often sang in a high-pitched  girlie voice attractive to the ladies, former choirboy (!) Baker remains arguably one of the most under-regarded jazz musicians of the 1950s and ’60s; although he has many fans. To my ear, he was a better technical trumpet player than Miles Davis; although far less influential.

He dropped in and out of the scene over the years,  sometimes in gaol, and then after losing his all-important front teeth in what he said was an intimidatory attack by a drug pusher and friends, to whom he owed money. (One of his many wives is on record that he only fell downstairs while leaving a club.) And here, live in Tokyo, is the visual as well as the aural evidence of how months of retraining enabled him to play through uncertain dentures; although his singing voice is wavery and his recollection of lyrics suspect.

What made Chet such a great jazz musician?

  • Two spells of duty in an army band gave him impeccable rhythm (he could read music but didn’t know chord theory)
  • Time spent jamming with Charlie Parker, and Gerry Mulligan’s quartet
  • Huge chick-pulling ability
  • Industrial quantities of heroin
  • Immense ‘cool’
  • A mysterious death.

Baker died, falling from a second-storey window at 3 a.m. in a hotel in Amsterdam. Impressed by the quantity of heroin and cocaine in his blood, also found in the room, despite dark rumours the coroner wisely recorded a verdict of accidental death.

 

Each man kills the thing he loves

The famous refrain from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol echoes in my failing mind. I am a murderer.

I don’t think I’ve been this desolate, almost suicidal, for a long while. Poor Cadi, my beautiful little avocado tree, is dead.

I killed her with neglect.

I am so self-obsessed and thoughtless and crapulous, it hurts.

There was a need, you see, to remove her from the living-room windowsill to a place of safety while I was redecorating. So I carefully chose a quiet upstairs window, in my bedroom. Behind a curtain I seldom, if ever, bother to draw, as I use the room to sleep in mostly.

Every two or three days I would give her a glass of water. Eighteen months it had taken to germinate the avocado stone, before it split open and a little root began growing down into the slimy green, nutritious depths of the crab-paste jar. A few more weeks went by, and then a questing shoot emerged from the top into the light, putting out tiny leaves.

My little tree was born!

For a year she grew, putting out leaf after beautiful, big leaf, until she was over a foot tall, taller, filtering the sunlight exquisitely through her pale-green lanceolate foliage. I loved very much to watch her. And then at Easter I had to go away for a few days. I made sure to give her an extra watering beforehand.

And after I got back, as I busied myself with creating small pockets of beauty around my little house, wrestling with all the complex organisational problems of flooring and tiling, electrics and carpentry, the financial and quantity calculations, the frequent trips to B&Q for more of this and that, the idiotic emails I drunkenly sent to suppliers when I stupidly couldn’t work out how to switch the damn thing on – I completely forgot she was there.

Death by drought must be deeply painful, leaves crinkling up, your cells gasping for water, the intensifying Spring sunlight now your enemy, struggling to transpire, your systems closing down to try to conserve what moisture remains, until there is none left. Help never comes. Hope gradually dies.

Three weeks went by, until one morning I remembered I had forgotten lately to water another plant, my late friend Lou’s Money tree that I never had the chance to return to her. Semi-succulent, Money trees (Crassula ovata) can survive for months without water. But avocados can’t. Watering Lou’s little tree, that I almost killed two years ago leaving it out on the terrace to be bitten by an unexpected early frost, I suddenly remembered – Cadi!

I raced upstairs, frantically filling and refilling my toothbrush-glass and pouring draught after draught of water into her dried-out compost, too late. For several days I hoped for a revival, as her little crown still showed signs of vitality though her lower leaves drooped and rustled like paper and slowly turned brown. And then even the crown shrivelled up, and she was gone.

You cannot conceive, dear Spammers, Followers, Likers and others, the depth of my self-repugnance when things like this are let happen. I have hated myself since childhood, useless, baboon-shaped, organisationally-challenged incompetent that I am. Friendships, relationships, family, jobs, houses, cars, money – the endless jetsam of stuff and people I have lost or broken or carelessly thrown away extends bobbing like empty bottles to the horizon as I continue even into my late 60s to crash through this one-and-only life like a blind rhinoceros on a bender.

And each man kills the thing he loves… Especially himself.

I am so, so sorry.

 

Sofa, so good

So, I’ve finally ordered a sofa. A red one.

I’m not sure it’s such a good idea, a red sofa. Bright red; poppy red. And two red cushions with ’60s deco-ish, big white buttons.

I’ve been redecorating: neutral greys and beiges, a natural timber floor – punctuated by sudden violent outbursts of red. One more, a red sofa, could be a statement too far, I don’t know.

Red isn’t even a colour I particularly like. It’s just the vibrant immediacy of it, reflecting my bursts of anger at all sorts of things that annoy me these days; plus the fact that I’m not very good with colourways. I’ve noticed, too, that opportunistic panels of red seem to be in vogue with the BBC News set designers.

So that’s what I’ve done. It’s always best to do something, whatever it is.

Anyway, it was about three years ago that the couple came to look at my little house, that is still on the market and nobody comes to look anymore. And clustered in the sitting-room, the woman asked me suspiciously, where is my sofa?

Having a sofa is apparently de rigueur nowadays. I blame the sofa shops, with their intensive promotional TV advertising campaigns over Xmas and Bank Holidays, everything priced at ‘ninety-nine, ninety-nine’ and pay nothing for four years (until you throw it away still owing them £999.99 and recklessly order another one. It’s how they get you, people!)

I’ve paid for mine.

The implied criticism of my sad, sociopathic lifestyle has lived with me ever since.

Not wanting to admit that I didn’t have a sofa only because you couldn’t force it through my extra-narrow front door and turn it in the extra-narrow hallway to prise it into the sitting-room – it took me half an hour just to get my armchair in, and ripped the wallpaper (I had to run round the back of the house, climb over a wall and through the garden to get to the other end of the chair after it got stuck) – I made up some humoresque rejoinder about having only one bottom to sit on.

And if you think about it, what is the gain from having two seats side-by-side – cheek by jowl, as it were – next to each other like that? Unless you have a lot of visitors all at once or you are very good friends, only one person is ever going to sit on it at any one time. So an armchair plus my swivelling old leather Eames chair just in case is a perfectly adequate solution as far as I’m concerned. Anything more is a waste.

Anyway, the woman’s wounding remark finally got to me and on Friday night while mildly drunk, I ordered a cheap red sofa from Argos, that with its removable Ercol-style legs removed, just might fit through the door with a couple of experienced delivery blokes to hand – a “push-me-pull-you” crew.

And now I’m looking around the tiny room, its gorgeous new red-tiled fireplace that I created last week, its crimson rug (“Handmade in India, 100% Acrylic”), imagining it with a poppy-red sofa along one wall (not due for delivery until the 26th), and into my mind unbidden pops another judgmental (and extra-expensive) thought (‘sofa woman’ is now firmly embedded in my nexus of self-inflicted guilt-trips):

Where’s the coffee table, then?

 

Sterile instruments

The in-or-out EU debate that will profoundly affect British history and fortunes for the next seventy years has become stultifyingly boring, bogged down in specious economic arguments and tit-for-tat mudslinging.

It’s as if Prime Minister’s Questions has spilled over into the streets in a tide of beige puke.

I can’t listen to it.

This morning the Chancellor Mr Osborne released a report compiled at vast length and in painstaking detail by Treasury researchers, suggesting we’ll all be 6% worse off – £4.5k a year – after we leave.

The report was immediately ‘balanced’ by Mr Gove, the Justice Secretary (notice, no Economics portfolio) countering that it was all rubbish – just typical scare tactics from the Remain campaign.

Good to see he’s taken the time, done his own research and knows what he’s talking about.

Little wanker.

 

 

 

 

Memo to self: give up

“A squirrel is just a tennis ball that can climb trees.”

  • Hunzi Bogler, 5 3/4

 

We’re constantly being told by Conservatives that everyone must work for the good of the country (‘Arbeit macht frei’, as Ian Duncan-Smith might have put it), except obviously for those wealthy enough to support their families by offshoring their business interests, and to Hell with the country; as David Cameron’s late dad, Ian, certainly did.

(Do I recall Ed Miliband’s father being branded a traitor by the Daily Mail? Maybe not.)

Mr Cameron has this evening fessed up that in 2010, when elected to become PM, he made £30k perfectly legally selling his holdings in daddy’s company, Blairmore Holdings Inc., and paid ‘the relevant tax’ on it. Yes, that’s fine, but the taxable earnings consisted of income and dividends earned, presumably, from his father’s non-UK taxed investments. It didn’t come from flipping burgers in McDonalds. And it was never declared in the MPs register of interests.

Avoiding the obvious joke that you’d imagine a Tory leader would have changed the name to Blair-less, and disregarding the amount involved, which is more than I have earned in a year for most of my life but neverless small beer nowadays, Mr Cameron’s admission is evidence that he participated in a family enterprise that the Panama Papers tell us chose to sequester its profits aggressively from the UK Treasury through a deception that the business was not principally conducted in the UK. He can hardly therefore demand, as he so frequently does, that others pay their full share in the national interest.

Furthermore, there is a hint of surprise in the media that his £300,000 inheritance from his late father fell just short of the level at which death duty becomes payable. There can, I feel sure, be no hint of legal avoidance in the news that shortly afterwards, he received transfers of money totalling £200,000 as ‘gifts’ from his mother – sums which would, had they emanated directly from Mr Ian Cameron’s estate, have taken the PM’s inheritance over the duty threshold.

I have previously alluded to his disastrous lack of judgement. To haver and dissemble for five days before coming out with a more definitive statement of his affairs was a pretty bad call, as he has admitted. There may have been sentimental reasons: no-one likes the thought that their parents may have done questionable things. But it smelled of a cover-up. The fact that he paid £76,000 tax over the period is evidence of honesty, we all knew he was rich and no-one is accusing him of dishonesty, but it is not really the point. The question is on what, and how – and in what spirit – did the principal arise?

Now back to work…

I am perfectly capable of working.  Large, strong, healthy, intelligent, fiercely independent, with a plethora of unexpected skills and experience, I should still be working but for one thing: my birth certificate, which says I was born in 1949: the year Edwin Land sold his first Polaroid camera. I’m the same age as NATO… the same age as the People’s Republic of  China, federal Germany, Indonesia – Jeremy Corbyn.

Oh, and another thing – I keep being made redundant.

It probably explains why I’ve been actively looking for a fulltime job for the past eight years; during which time, despite being registered with a large number of specialised recruitment agencies, answering maybe a hundred want-ads a year (I’m quite picky about who I work for, plus they would have to love my dog), I’ve been granted  only four interviews; three of them obtained by my own efforts.

I do have part-time work, that occupies me five weeks of the year on an hourly rate. I do it reliably and well. I pay tax on the very small earnings. Otherwise, I have the State pension and other little bits of income amounting to about £200 a month. I’m taxed on that too. I can afford to live on it, provided I choose not to travel, play golf or acquire a yacht. But I would rather be earning than sitting at home, drinking cheap supermarket wine, writing this stuff.

To qualify for State pension, men born after 1950 now have to go on working until 66, and then in future years on into their 70s. How are they going to do that, if no-one will hire them?  There is a limit to the number of minimum-wage shelf-stackers and broom-pushers the groceries sector can usefully employ; while many of us ‘Oldies’ are, in fact, rather better than that.

I have tried to remake myself as a musician; a singer. But I seem to be losing heart: success requires opportunity, as well as talent; luck as well as ambition; and I lack the relentless drive, the boundless self-regard and the organisational skills necessary to build a career in showbusiness. Besides, I have not practised for several months.

In January 2012, age 61, I was declared redundant from my fulltime job as general manager of a dilapidated country house, that I had been made to run singlehandedly as a terrible B&B (I was originally hired – and paid – to be the gardener!), on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week (junior doctors please note). Learning long in advance that the axe would inevitably fall on me after the house became a full-blown hotel, in April 2008 I started looking for another, similar kind of job – and I’m still looking.

My CV does attract a few positive responses, but then something happens. Interviews are cancelled at the last minute, job descriptions changed, agencies suddenly clam-up. It can’t be because they have discovered I have a criminal record – I don’t, not even points on my driving licence. My credit score isn’t great, nor is it entirely damning. I don’t have a Facebook account spattered with embarrassing personal photos. Nor – despite years of experience – am I demanding a fat salary. Surely it can’t be because I went to public school? Or that, in the late 70s, I was followed around for a while by Special Branch as a result of something my wife was involved with, as a journalist.

What then seems to be the problem?

Since October 2010, under broader EU equality legislation, the Age Discrimination Act has made it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of age. We are no longer obliged to disclose our age to a prospective employer or recruitment agent, it is improper even to ask.

However, you only have to glance at someone’s CV to see that they’ve done the rounds. It’s not illegal to demand dates for past employments; these would show that you have achieved some seniority, which you could only have done over a sufficient period to indicate your true age. Explanations that you were a boy genius don’t wash; although, naturally, I was.

And in a competitive jobs environment it is incredibly difficult to prove discrimination as the reason for not getting an interview. There is some kind of moral consolation, too, in knowing you’re not going to be a bed-blocker, stopping some younger, more deserving person from getting the job.

I try to get round it by going back 20 years and then becoming vague about what I was doing before, but you have to say something to avoid difficult questions or to indicate enough relevant experience. If, for example, you confess that at one time you were the director or senior manager of a company, it’s natural for a prospective employer to wonder how long it took you to achieve that exalted position; and possibly even to feel threatened by it, or to ask what terrible event happened to suddenly change your career path, what personal failing has led you to sink so far as to apply for a menial domestic role?

It seems unreasonable to assume that, just because someone is 66, they must be broken-down, decrepit and senile; that they might fall asleep or fart embarrassingly in client meetings, take weeks off work for cancer therapy, smell faintly of old pee, discuss the latest models of caravans at the water-cooler, and sport a tweed jacket with leather patches over a Fairisle tank-top, before  haemorrhaging messily in the executive washroom. If that were the case, I should probably feel – even without the benefit of polite rejection emails (or more often being ignored altogether) – that the time had perhaps come to settle into one’s armchair and quietly expire, to be discovered years later by social workers, partly gnawed by cats.

Those symptoms of ageing are more probably the result of finding yourself permanently on the scrapheap than of having spent too many years pointing optimistically at a flipchart. Despite remembering how ancient your grandparents seemed when you were a child, sixty-six is no great age these days. It seems equally natural to expect that, over time, a person will have had their failures as well as their successes, and we shouldn’t hold the odd genocide or fraud against them. It’s all good learning-curve. But I do agree, my electronic communication and social networking skills are falling further behind as I type.

So if you can’t employ us, just have us put down.

For the good of the nation, no less.

 

Plus ça change, moins c’est cher

I’ve just signed another damnable petition from Change dot org.

Yes, I felt sorry for the cleaners at Top Shop stores. Their union reps have just been fired by the Britannia staffing agency, Top Shop’s private contractor, for merely asking on their account that they should be paid the London Minimum Living Wage of £9-something an hour, so as not have to raise hundreds of wide-eyed hungry children on Mr Osborne’s newly introduced Living Wage of £7.20, which is only the old Minimum Wage plus 50p and with a Tory twist, and which goes nowhere in the capital, where average monthly rents are approaching the price I paid to buy my first house.

Only, I get £9.67 an hour for invigilating undergraduate exams twice a year, and I’ve got a degree and my own ballpoint pen. And I’ve been sent want-ads for complicated editorial jobs requiring deep knowledge of languages and technical editing qualifications and several years’ experience, on short-term contract at only £9 an hour. In the last couple of years I’ve turned down an opportunity to work as a freelance photographer (using my own professional equipment) for £8 an hour. I’ve seen ads for KFC workers at £4 an hour, even been passed over for a job as a morning store cleaner myself, on £6.70!

And, while I used to get paid £200 a day as a freelance copywriter in the early 1990s, when last I tried to wrest some business from a prospective client, asking only £12 an hour, he snorted derisively and told me he could get the job done in India for three dollars.

Dear Top Shop cleaners:

Yes, you perform a socially vital service and you deserve to be paid and treated with decency. But the world doesn’t work like that.

We’re all being fucked-over by The Man. It’s not just you.

Now, back to work.

 

Time to stop playing the game

John Humphrys.

I’ve long been foaming at the mouth that this annoying old National Treasure is still fronting BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, after about a hundred years of infuriatingly irrelevant and patronising lines of questioning.

When I worked briefly for the BBC there was a compulsory retirement age of 60. If that sounds ageist, well, sorry. It’s not his age I hold against him, I just wish they would use it like a wrecking-bar to prise him away from the microphone. He’s surely served his time.

I’ll tell you why, shall I?

Take this morning.

John Humphrys was ‘interviewing’ a representative of the junior hospital doctors’ union, the BMA. They’ve been staging a series of short strikes over a new contract that will force them to work at any time they are required to, over seven days of the week, with no extra antisocial hours payment or time off in lieu. This, they say, breaches their right to a family life.

They argue that they already do have to work on seven days of the week; that the new contract (which is being compulsorily imposed in June after many months of stalemate) is poorly thought-out; ideologically motivated by a government that has rashly promised to ensure the NHS operates without any downtime risks – a populist position supported only by controversial ‘evidence’ that hospital death rates rise at weekends.

They fear it endangers patient safety by imposing unlimited hours on their working time and is simply a smokescreen to cover the fact that there aren’t enough doctors in the NHS; something the government hotly denies. The new contract, they warn, will push many more doctors into leaving the NHS for a better work-life balance in other countries.

The news story was that, after yesterday’s walkout, and with a further two-day strike planned later this month without the emergency cover the doctors have hitherto been providing, the Health Secretary Mr Hunt has refused to meet with their representatives again.

Humphrys, who has been getting up at four in the morning all of my adult life, immediately launched into one of his more lurid lines of questioning;  his usual assault with a pig’s bladder, demanding that the union representative should first of all explain to a hypothetical mother, why her child had to die in hospital when its life could have been saved if only the doctors weren’t on strike.

It’s the infantile way he thinks.

From that point on, whatever the doctor tried to say on the subject – for instance, that emergency cover will actually be provided by the senior consultants and nursing staff – Humphrys continued to hammer home the vital question: what will the doctor say to the mother?

The doctor tried patiently to explain that doctors have to speak to bereaved mothers in hospital pretty much every day of the week, whether they are on strike or not.

But what will he say to the mother? Humphrys harrumphed on and on, warming to his tiresome little theme, oblivious of the time passing during which the listeners might be gaining some more useful information; ignoring the obvious point that this grieving Mary was purely his own sentimental invention.

And so eventually the interview ended. We were no further informed than when it had started.

Mr Humphrys so frequently does this: persistently demanding that interviewees must first join him on his Methodist soapbox and make full contrition, to be properly sanctified before they can safely be allowed to explain their position. But will you apologise, Minister? Will you resign? Do you support terrorism?*

Why should they? If it were me being interviewed, I strongly feel that after the fifth time of demanding that I answer some meretricious question aimed only at flattering Humphrys’ sizeable media-ego, I would just tell the tendentious old humbug to fuck off, and hang up the phone on him, let him filibuster and splutter to fill the dead airtime. It’s about time somebody stuck it to him. We’re much too nice in this country.

I have to say, without being at all racist, because that would be a stupid accusation, would it not?, and with the greatest of tenderness, that after fifteen years of exile in Wales, from where Humphrys hails, I am aware of a certain ‘chapel’ hypocrisy, a tubthumping tendency to try to seize and control the moral high ground, however illogical the position; a preachiness that renders all further argument futile.

I’m also sick of him pretending with an invisible wry shake of his wizened-tortoise head not to understand anything about modern science and technology or pop culture. He may believe sincerely that he is asking the questions the listener would like to ask, but if he thinks I would like to ask the questions he asks, then he must think I’m an idiot, or senile.

Even Time must have an ending. Get him off.

 

 

Ghosts of the past return to haunt us

I was looking for a better story to go with the catchy headline of this, muh latest Post, composed last week, and Lo! One has popped into the news.

Eleven million documents relating to tax avoidance schemes operated through a Panamanian law firm by some of the richest and most powerful people in the world, including many past and serving heads of state, have been leaked to a German newspaper.

The breathtaking scale of the leak has meant that Suddeutsche Zeitung has effectively had to spread the joy. Esteemed UK organs such as the BBC’s investigative Panorama programme and The Guardian newspaper have been handed large tranches of the stuff to examine, so that ‘we don’t have to’.

Panic among the wealthy is a fine thing to behold. The company itself has protested it has done nothing illegal, although many of the documents appear to relate to overt money-laundering schemes, not least by some of Putin’s cronies, and consist of correspondence from the company’s own executives.

One such thread amusingly implicates an American financial ‘guru’, who seems to have set up a phoney company to bury $1.8 million dollars and then found that the bank where it was deposited wouldn’t let her withdraw the money because, unfortunately, her identity couldn’t be linked to the account. Hoist on her own petard, her helpful benefactors in Panama City ‘persuaded’ a 90-year-old British man to become a temporary director of the company and sign for the withdrawal.

It seems quite a useful service, helping people access their money, and I’d personally like to volunteer to be one of these ghost directors, as the fees sound most generous and we’d be doing nothing illegal.

Along with others perhaps not wealthy and stupid enough to have been taking advantage of Mossack-Fonseca’s vast array of helpful and virtually untraceable shell companies, such as the leaders of the ruling Communist party in China who have gaoled and even executed thousands of their opponents on ‘corruption’ charges while salting their own fortunes away, President Hollande has welcomed the leak; as has UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. Odd, how leaks relating to possible criminal behaviour by large financial institutions are invariably welcomed by the virtuous and vote-hungry, but (as in the case of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden) the leakers themselves are threatened with condign legal punishments by politicians and ultra-high net worth individuals caught with their pants down.

For instance, here is what Lord Ashcroft’s panic-stricken spokesman, Alan Kilkenny, had to say (courtesy of the BBC News website):

“These allegations are completely untrue, and the events as described never happened. The records upon which you claim to rely for those allegations either do not exist or have been falsified.”

Sure, it’d be a great wheeze to sit around making up eleven million documents, wudn’ it, complete with IP addresses and dates, just to piss-off a wealthy Tory peer and benefactor whose tax affairs have always courted a certain amount of controversy, being as he was until joining the House of Lords a registered citizen of Belize.

Just as well then that Tory PM David Cameron will be hosting an anti-corruption summit next month. Especially as the papers reveal that his own, late father chaired a Mossack-Fonseca-registered investment trust whose stated corporate policy was to avoid paying any tax at all in the UK, and who avoided the interest of HMRC by virtue of holding board meetings in the Bahamas, using ‘bearer share’ holders to shield the real directors, and paying proxies to sign documents.

So much for loyalty to one’s country.

But… all perfectly legal and above-board, old chap. Another snifter?

Meanwhile, as so often happens when abuses on such a scale are revealed – the 2009 revelations about MPs expenses being a case in point –  the entire focus of Establishment reaction to the leak, at least in the UK, is being adroitly shifted away to the ‘fairness’ or otherwise of irritating, but perfectly legal tax avoidance schemes, a complete smokescreen when the story is so obviously not about that.

The former Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, was even heard this morning expressing touching concern for the livelihoods of the ‘inhabitants’ of the British Virgin Islands, where around half the offshore shell companies are registered. By inhabitants, one supposes he means the domestic servants of the wealthy tax exiles who infest the foreshore, should we use our constitutional powers to shut down their cosy, ‘ask-no-questions, tell-no-tales’ banking arrangements.

It’s about the corruption of power: the sanitisation and concealment of ill-gotten gains, the blatant fraud, the illegal diversion of public finances, the undeclared ‘family’ interests, the proxies, the manipulation of shares and markets, the bribery, the busting of international sanctions, by vastly wealthy political and corporate kleptocrats; by organised crime syndicates.

And however ‘legal’ many of the 100 thousand shell companies created by Mossack-Fonseca over forty years might be (laws may vary from country to country) as vehicles for minimising their exposure to harsher tax regimes, surely any genuinely honest corporations involved with this appalling bunch must realise by now that their expensively created brands will be irrevocably tarnished by association?

In one instance at least, behind the cloak of secrecy a Mossack-Fonseca client was quietly helping North Korea to acquire a nuclear arsenal. And their lawyers knew it.

It doesn’t get much worse than that.

 

What might have been

And timely, too, for my headline about ghosts returning to haunt us, that an inquiry has been hastily announced into the lacklustre performance in the field of UK sports anti-doping agency, UKAD.

That quaint old expression about the pot calling the kettle black seems apposite.

Here is the UK government, self-righteously demanding that Russia, Kenya and other dodgy countries should be barred from international competition until they sort out their addiction to performance-enhancing drugs, only for the Sunday Times, a paper not felt to have been much in the forefront of investigative journalism since Murdoch bought it, to produce a wonderful story based on a sting operation against a Harley Street ‘doctor’.

Mark Bonar, who is apparently not licensed to practise medicine in the NHS, was caught on camera boasting that he had prescribed testosterone and other known wake-up pills to more than 150 etiolated British footballers, tennis players, boxers…

Indeed, only bridge players fortified by nothing more illegal than a glass of dry sherry seem to have escaped the attentions of the good doctor, who (having evidently said what he said) is denying having done anything wrong. Top goal-scorer in my fantasy league at 66 years of age, I loved his comment that a 30-year-old footballer surely needs something to help him keep pace with 18-year-old players (I’m kept going on intravenous shots of Merlot).

And it also appears from the story that UKAD may have been told about this two years ago and somehow forgotten to investigate.

Poor Sebastian Coe. If only he had known.

Meanwhile, the Rio Olympics are snorting up on the rails just as Brazil’s government is threatening to implode over President Roussef’s apparent attempts to shield her predecessor, Lula da Silva, from prosecution on corruption charges that might implicate her, while she herself faces impeachment proceedings over her alleged role in the Petrobras (massive bribes for signing-off $billion non-existent construction contracts, etc.) scandal….

Am I the only one here living quietly on the State pension, haunted by nothing more than dreams of what might have been?

 

Oversupply

In our strange world, an oversupply of any commodity ultimately results in cheaper prices for the consumer. Which might be considered a Good Thing, unless the market can be ‘adjusted’ so that giant ships bearing container-loads of that commodity can be diverted to circle the world’s oceans like the Marie Celeste, sometimes for years, never entering port until the price goes up again.

Living as I do in ‘God’s Own Country’ (Wales, not Australia), I sometimes find myself driving through the industrial heart of Port Talbot, the huge steel-making and -rolling town on the coast; past miles of old sheds and smoking stacks and pipes and skeletal towers and stagnant ponds containing God-knows what toxic suspensions, a veritable Mordor; and privately observe that what ultimately has destroyed the community is most probably the motorway that bisects it, which came through long ago (and annoyingly still retains a 50 mph limit).

Motorways are roads to illusory freedoms, optimistic technology bearing us into an unknown future; bypassing the relics of our industrial past.

I read that Prime Minister Cameron on a trip to Washington  has ‘had a word’ with Chinese premier Xi Jiping about the dumping of steel on world markets, that has created an oversupply of cheap steel to undercut our best efforts in the West and is threatening the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. The Chinese shrug, while our reporters earnestly explain that in China, they have their own oversupply problems and are themselves cutting back production as their rampant infrastructure-building slows along with the economy.

But not fast enough to save our one remaining strategic heavy industry (not including Adele, of course).

Meanwhile, Mr Xi announces blithely that he is slapping a 34% tariff on imports of the special hi-tech steels we make, as it happens, here in Wales. Although we don’t actually export any to China.

Ironically, and despite the lies told in the Sun newspaper, which blames the EU for the crisis, Britain has been resisting attempts by other EU countries whose steel industries are also threatened by cheap Chinese imports, to impose higher tariffs in retaliation. Mr Osborne doesn’t want to upset the Chinese, whose investment is urgently required to shore-up the British economy and boost our energy supply with nuclear electricity after we vote to leave the EU.

The Chinese have us by the balls; no doubt exacting their patient revenge for the Opium Wars. And meanwhile, in my local town, a huge skeletal structure has been raised in recent months to support new shops and a car park, a giant Meccano set constructed I’m told entirely out of cheap imported Chinese steel girders; an economy measure that, if true, will no doubt enhance the profits of the developers whle costing Welsh jobs without the necessity to book tickets to Panama.

It seems we have ourselves by the balls as well.

Age of steam

I observe too that the images we see of the doomed steelworks on our screens nightly, as futile negotiations continue, plans drawn up and abandoned in the face of complex geopolitical calculations, depict an industrial landscape from before even the turbulent 1970s. What we are shown of Chinese steel-making are rows of white-coated technicians seated at computer screens, while all we see of UK steel-making is grimy, sweating men pouring molten metal by hand out of iron-encrusted ladles into the white-hot maw of the strip mill.

If Chinese steel-making might seem more efficient, that’s probably because it is. Do we need the media to rub it in?

In 2008, British taxpayers had no choice. The Brown government handed a trillion pounds (one thousand, thousand million. That’s 300o Olympic swimming pools full of money) to the banks, and told them to pay themselves bigger bonuses to get it right next time. Without banks, there would be no 39.5% interest charged on store cards and the economy would have collapsed. So we rescued them.

Unlike banking, which is merely a criminal enterprise the government has not yet got round to making illegal*, the steel industry is an industrial dinosaur. Yes, it’s tough on the 40,000 mortgage-payers who will lose their livelihoods when the appropriately named Ta-ta corporation pulls out of UK steel to focus on its more competitive plant around the world, tough on their communities, but hey, that’s progress in a modern, globalising economy.

We’re all in it together, apart from those who are out of it. Saddest of all, is the touching faith of working people in the permanence of work, a job, a wage for life, a pension like their fathers and grandfathers had; their incomprehension of the changing world they live in. When the last Labour government left office and a larky note was found at the Treasury apologising for there being no money, what they didn’t tell us was that it had been stolen.

As for me, I’ve been made redundant five times. Nothing I’ve ever been qualified to do has any commercial value any more. So you can understand my cynicism, can’t you.

 

*As you can probably tell, I’ve just had a letter from the bank letting me know that the interest payable on my savings account will henceforth be 0.20 per cent, i.e. for every £100 I lend them over 12 months they will pay me 20p. Should I wish to borrow £100 for a year, however, I will have to pay them £9.60. Plus the set-up fee, of course.

 

Deliver us from Evil

Speaking of faith, I read there’s a problem with Nigerian village women insisting on giving birth in churches rather than maternity clinics, because it is a time when you need to be closest to God; and, as one woman is quoted as complaining, nobody prays for you in hospital.

Unfortunately, too many are getting rather closer to God than they may have intended, as the mortality rate among women and babies ministered to by unqualified and unequipped pastors acting as midwives is horrifying even the Nigerian government.

I met a party of Nigerians while on a course last year, who had actually brought their own pastor with them so they could hold services anywhere at the drop of a hat. They had presumably heard that Christianity in France was a dead duck. Lovely though they all were, I was frankly alarmed at the psychotic degree of religious fervour they exhibited, bordering on the medieval.

It was perhaps unkind of me to mention it so late into the evening, but in all sincerity I had to point out that Christianity arrived in Nigeria in the C19th as an adjunct to more ruthless means of colonial oppression. In presenting Jesus as a kind of uber-shaman who rose from the dead and flew up into the sky, it was deliberately designed to appeal to simple folk with a deep-seated animistic belief in the supernatural.

The expression ‘water off a duck’s back’ sprang to mind.

Surely, then, the simplest and cheapest solution to the problem if these women won’t let go of their dangerous faith in the obstetrics skills of the Almighty, who is so clearly indifferent to most forms of suffering, would be to equip every maternity unit with a resident pastor?

 

Just the ticket

And still speaking of faith, on Saturday night I was alerted by email to the opening of the booking season for train tickets to my preferred holiday destination at the end of July.

Being mildly pissed, instead of sensibly waiting for a less automated time, imagining that the fare might suddenly leap up on Monday,  I immediately went online to the website of SNCF, the French railway giant, and bought a return ticket  – being also impressed by the very modest price of £85, compared with the £700 I spent faffing about with trains and planes last year, just to penetrate a few miles further south into the Dordogne (see Posts passim).

On checking the automatic no-reply confirmation of my itinerary, I noticed that I, or we; the computer, the calendar and I, had somehow managed to book the return leg on the 31st, instead of the 30th. Drink, tiredness, lateness and an unpleasant attack of conjunctivitis had combined to make the data on the screen all but invisible, and I guess I just overcooked the drop-down menu offering me travel dates, I don’t know.

Rather than having to spend one night in the centre of Le Mans, which (although I have never been there) is probably a bit of a dystopian horror-show, to judge by other French provincial cities, I tried to amend the booking online, only to receive an apologetic note telling me this service is not yet available.

So, first thing this morning, I called the bookings hotline (post-sales department) to alert them to the error; mindful of the possibility that there would be a hefty ‘administration’ fee, despite giving them several months’ notice of my intended travel dates.

Stephen the friendly operative took four minutes of ghastly muzak at 7p a minute plus my normal call charge to convert my 8-digit  booking number into an actual entry on his computer screen. Having confirmed the dates of the booking, he then took another seven minutes to contact the ‘ticket office’ to make sure they hadn’t yet licked the stamp on my application for postal delivery.

It seemed unlikely, given that it was only 09.15 on a Monday morning.

Having confirmed that they couldn’t say if they had yet processed the booking, he told me he would have to call me back. Surprisingly, half an hour later he did, only to tell me about an odd problem that had arisen.

Apparently, the computer wouldn’t let anyone access my file to amend it, and he would have to get his supervisor to find someone in IT who could unlock it and get him in. If there were any further problems, he promised faithfully to let me know about them.

I refrained from suggesting that, this being the French national train operator, it was likely the computer was on strike.

This hopefully minor episode is typical of the forces of Chaos that invest my every attempt to make travel arrangements. It is no wonder I so seldom exit the well-trodden boundaries of my own small community.

But there is something reassuring, is there not, about a giant transport undertaking that, in 2016, cannot even talk to its own computer about such a simple matter as amending a date on an as-yet unprinted document?

Something that gives one faith that the nightmare of progress may be approaching the terminus of expandability.

Postscriptum

So the following Friday the physical tickets arrive, and sure enough the return portion is for the wrong date. Telephoning immediately, I speak to Guiliermo, who issues a new booking number and requests me politely to post the tickets back to Voyages SNCF booking office for a refund and exchange.

In Barcelona.

Note. 25th April. Still waiting.

 

Twisting the coils

I have never personally understood the attractionof wearing one’s hair like a Sulawesian mud-man, in plastered and knotted dreadlocks. It seems terribly uncomfortable and unhygienic and I can’t imagine ever trying to sleep on them.

Rastafarians thoughtfully wear theirs coiled up under a woolly hat, but muh lovely friend Hayley wore hers out and proud; and after tragically splitting with her equally lovely, but prematurely bald partner, went to live on a houseboat with a man whose matching waist-length ‘dreads’ were equally itchy looking.

Notably, both are white and fair-haired. But if they want to celebrate the late, great Bob Marley, why not?

Now the annoying Canadian ‘singer-songwriter’, Mr Justin Bieber (whom I once unkindly dubbed the ‘celebrity foetus’) has attracted a global shitstorm of twittery drivel over his tentative blond ‘dreads’.

And once again, I have been driven to switch off my TV or radio in despair by an interviewee, some silly little girl whose tedious and irrational opinions are so far from what I understand to be normal human responses that I cannot bear to listen to them.

Usually it is the Cheeky Chappie, Mr Nigel Farage, who garners hundreds of hours of free BBC airtime merely by being a loudmouthed arse, who forces me to get out of bed in the morning and flee downstairs to get away from the bombastic braying noise. I once dashed a radio to pieces on a stone floor hoping not to have to listen to any more of Ms Caroline Thomson explaining why her boss, Mr Mark Thompson, then the mealy-mouthed little Director-General of the BBC, had decided to ban a UN charity appeal on behalf of the survivors of another Israeli pogrom in Gaza, but didn’t have the guts to come on himself and tell us why.

In this case, it is a prettily coiffed young journalist drenched in black hair product who has been wheeled in to disapprove of cross-cultural appropriation. Especially of anything black by anyone white. Starting with Evis Presley, although I don’t recall she was even asked about him. And two seconds later she was on to oppression, although she didn’t look very oppressed to me. I don’t recall many young black female journalists guesting on Newsnight twenty years ago. Well done you.

Racist, or what?

If Mr Bieber wants to look a bit of a dick, let him. We know he already is one. Changing hairstyle has nothing to say about anything, other than you are bored with yourself. David Beckham is positively Protean when it comes to interchanging hairstyles and beards. When he grows the blond beard, do we invite Danish men onto the programme to whinge about it?

Just as internet trolls are capable of turning any news item against immigrants, feminists and Muslims, the black race industry will ever twist the narrative like braided coils to try to guilt-trip us all.

Tragically, all that does is trap innocent black youngsters in a perpetually self-reinforcing narrative of victimhood.

Not helpful. Not at all.