EU referendum: there is no debate worth having

What the Brexit campaigners, most of them fanatical Thatcherites who feel they’ve been out of power too long, mean by ‘bringing back our sovereignty’ is not your sovereignty and mine, but theirs!

Do we want to leave the EU?

I don’t know if anyone else is equally dismayed by the atrocious grandstanding and generally agricultural level of debate over Cameron’s folly, mostly driven by the ‘Leave’ campaign, but I can’t stand it any longer. Who is speaking out with any passion for Britain’s destiny in Europe? It’s not all about the economy, stupid!

Too many migrants, it’s unmanageable

That’s right, Brexiters, play the immigration card. It’s the oldest trick in the political campaigning book, going back to ancient Athens. Make sure everyone feels miserable, unhappy enough that hordes of less-deserving foreigners are somehow getting more favourable treatment than they are, and they’ll follow you through the gates of Hell.

Britain benefits from the free movement of labour. It’s what’s driving what little economic growth we have.  The Government does not keep records of EU citizens coming and going, so the figure of ‘330,000’ net migrants last year is only guesswork: it includes possibly 160,000 non-EU citizens, lots of Philippino nurses and temporary Chinese students who could be refused entry if we so wished.

But we have lost control of our borders! Nigel Farage says so!

It’s funny, but my name suggests that my ancestors probably arrived with the Vikings, 60 generations ago. I was born here, I live here, I’m white, nominally CofE, 66 years of age. I don’t travel often, but whenever I leave or re-enter Britain, even only from France, I’m required to show my passport and boarding pass at least three times, in and out, to a man with a computer and a fishy stare; and to declare my citizenship and right of entry beforehand to EasyJet’s ticketing people, or to Brittany sodding Ferries, although it’s none of their business.

My car is invariably searched, even on the way out. I sometimes sit on the plane thinking, if I were an illegal immigrant, how on earth would I get into Britain without risking my life under a container lorry, or freezing in the wheelbay of this very aircraft? And given that I have to declare my right to work with every job application, provide several layers of identification to open a bank account, and offer-up my ex-wife’s National Insurance number just to qualify for the State pension, having first registered for a Gateway card, how the hell would I remain here undetected? You have to admire those people. Benefit tourism? Don’t make me laugh! It took me seven weeks of answering persistent, detailed, forensic questions just to get a couple of months’ worth of Pension Credit out of the DWP.

If we have genuinely ‘lost control of our borders’, as the Brexiters’ nonsense meme goes, there wouldn’t be twelve thousand fit young workers from the Magreb and genuine war refugees from Syria and Iraq, whose desire to make a contribution is being wasted, rotting in unofficial camps along the French coast, unable to get in to Britain, would there? It’s absurd, xenophobic paranoia. As I write, retired admirals are being wheeled out to demand more naval patrols in the Channel. Why? Because of one rubber dinghy and a handful of Albanian illegals…? For pity’s sake, we’re missing the point: they were caught!

Anyway, Britons have a fine maritime tradition of smuggling-in whatever will pay the rent.

People should stay in their own countries

EU citizens are not ‘migrants’, they have a right to live and work anywhere in the EU freely without visas, just as we do in their countries. They might stay a few months, a couple of years, or just come here on business, we don’t know. Some may stay permanently, and why not? My Viking forebears did. Should I have remained in London, where I was born, rather than becoming an ‘economic migrant’ in more affordable Wales? Should grownups not have any right to choose where they prefer to live?

And if you imagine they’re all East Europeans, or Portuguese sprout-pickers, they’re not. There are about 400 thousand French citizens living in Britain, just as there are 400 thousand Britons living in France. Many of them work in the City, or run large businesses. It’s meaningless to play the numbers game. And without East Europeans those houses we need, that high-speed railway, are never going to get built.

What about all the illegal immigrants?

Membership of the EU does not affect illegal immigration in any way, they are totally unrelated issues.

Of course there are ‘illegals’, there are in every country. They’re not in the majority, we’re not being ‘swamped’ by them, they can’t claim benefits so have to work in the grey economy, which rich people find useful. Asylum-seekers – 30,000 of them are trapped in a nightmarish legal system that has no money to process their applications – are another category.  Not ‘illegals’, they are here because they imagine they are protected from persecution by the United Nations charter on refugees, of whom there are around 100 million in the world. They’re not allowed to work, and their generous ‘benefits’ actually consist of £35 worth of food and clothing vouchers a week, and a bunk in a hostel. That’s if they’re not banged-up in Yarl’s Wood, Teresa May’s equivalent of Belsen-Bergen.

Undesirability is not always the prerogative of the poor, as anyone living in Central London, where a seldom-occupied apartment can cost some refugee central-African dictator £30 million, will tell you.

We don’t need all these people, we have enough problems of our own

The fastest-growing sector of the population is the Over-80s. Ten million are over 65, 20 million described as ‘inactive’. We need to replace retired and inactive people in the workforce and we don’t have nearly enough younger native workers to do that, or to care for the elderly. Too many of our own graduates are under-qualified. Without its 150,000 ‘inworkers’ the NHS would collapse. Well, it is anyway, but you know what I mean.

If we vote to leave, or if there is only a marginal majority in favour of staying in, the likelihood is of a coup being mounted against Cameron by Europhobes in the Tory party. Those seizing power will be the ones who favour more privatisation in the public sector. More privatised, contracted-out social services provided on cheap ‘best value’ terms must mean more immigrants, not fewer. You are being lied to again.

Migrants are taking British jobs

Migrants are not ‘taking our jobs’, they are driving our fragile economic growth, cleaning our offices. They work, pay tax, rent homes, buy food. Their willingness to work for lower wages makes companies more profitable, so they can employ more people. Unemployment is at its lowest level for a decade, yet there are still plenty of jobs to be filled. There are not enough native British applicants for many types of work. At the bottom end of the pay scale, Britons don’t apply for the jobs – at the upper end, we don’t produce graduates with the right qualifications. (We should fund higher-level degrees, but we don’t.) Migration is creating more employment, not less.

And if we leave the EU, migrants will have to fill the jobs in other EU countries now being done by British expatriates… So in that sense they will be taking ‘British jobs’!

Migrants are driving down wages

It’s not migrants who are ‘driving down wages’, it’s employers who choose how much or little to pay, and shareholders who profit!

Plus, of course, new technology: the automation of workflows and the outsourcing of manufacturing, call-handling, data processing and IT jobs to countries with lower standards of living. These huge changes are causing wage stagflation all over the western world, even now in China – not just in Britain. I see ads recruiting for the same job I had in the late 1980s, still offering the same salary. It’s doubtful if we shall ever again see middle-earner incomes rising the way they did in the 1980s, while white-collar ‘knowledge’ jobs are fast disappearing. That’s not the fault of the EU. Even if those jobs can be repatriated without lowering wages still further, they have already been replaced by smart systems.

We haven’t got room for them all

Britain is not an ‘overcrowded little island’!

Yes, there are too many cars on the road (45 million!) and not enough houses, as you can see from the train window. What you don’t see, other than in city centres or on commuter lines or at football matches, is crowds.* Whole swathes of Britain outside the cities are chronically underpopulated: schools and pubs are closing, communities dying. The EU has poured billions of Euros into places like mid-Wales, an Objective One economic region, to little effect: there has been almost no resulting inward investment of value-creating jobs or improved infrastructure. The population of my county of Ceredigion has increased by only ten thousand since the 1891 census! There is plenty of room for more people if we choose to use it sensibly. The reason we don’t build more houses is because we like rising house prices. It’s what many of us are living on.

We’d be better off making deals with other countries

Maybe, nobody knows. But why abandon one set of known trading partners for another unknown set, apparently just for the hell of it?

If there was a rational proposal on the table to create a new, more profitable trading bloc with Britain at its centre, then maybe we could consider it. But there isn’t! After 40 years in Europe we will be starting out all 0ver again. The Brexit camp have offered not one single shred of evidence that the experiment can work, that profitable new trading alliances can be formed before Britain sinks beneath the Atlantic waves.

Their entire case is based on centuries-old anti-European prejudice, and a mad belief in British racial superiority.

The EU makes the big trade agreements we can benefit from, and provides us with a huge market for our goods and services. The largest single national investor in Britain is Germany. France and Spain are also major creators of jobs and wealth in the UK. Why? Because they like our openness and relaxed labour laws. They like that we have top-level research skills and a flexible workforce. They like that we are a gateway to other world markets. And they like that we are in the same economic bloc as themselves, even though we insist on driving on the wrong side of the road. Americans and Chinese, on the other hand, treat us as inferiors.

The Americans and Chinese will not welcome us as competitors with open arms; neither will ‘the Commonwealth’, former colonial countries that mostly hate our guts. What have we got to offer them, other than tax-haven status, that they can’t buy cheaper from Singapore or Seoul? This idea that Britain can be a ‘great power’ again in world trade is a fantasy dreamed up by Empire loyalists, who want to put the clock back to the 1950s. (I grew up in the 1950s, I remember rationing….) Britain’s power derived historically from the Navy and our colonies. Both are long gone.

British businesses are drowning in EU ‘red-tape’

This is at the heart of the EU debate: we like to be members of the club but we don’t like having to follow the rules of the club. Rules our government has played a part in creating!

Imagine if you joined a golf club, and kept on demanding loudly that the Committee should make those tricky little holes bigger – fairways shorter, and a free bar!  Like farmers, business owners are always moaning about something or other. It’s part of the drive to want to be successful, but should we take too much notice?

British businesses are free to operate within the same set of rules as any other country in the EU, a valuable and still largely untapped market of 500 million consumers. They are also subject to British company law, which is burdensome enough. What Europe does is try to create a level playing field – anti-trust, ensuring fair competition; consumer protection, and safe labour laws. Just recently, for instance, the EU has forced mobile phone companies to phase out their unfair roaming charges, and stopped a giant merger that would have been bad for UK subscribers. Is that ‘oppression’? It might be seen that way, if you were a telecoms business.

Of course businesses are allowed to trade in the outside world, but they do it from within the EU, not just from Britain. You would find, if you were trading in America, India or China, they have rules and tariffs and red-tape there too. And above the EU there are global trade rules everyone has to follow, for instance the World Trade Organisation’s. Should we resign from those too, trade with Mars, maybe?

What you might consider less fair is the way US courts support arrogant and aggressive American business interests worldwide; imposing huge fines on British and European companies and even extraditing individual managers for trial, that don’t toe their anti-competitive line.

We don’t want to get dragged down by the Euro crisis

If the Euro is in ‘crisis’, then perhaps some clever economist can explain why its value has remained so remarkably stable against the pound when averaged over the past five years? Or is there also a Sterling crisis at the same time? We should be told, since the value of any currency depends on the confidence of international investors. Yes, the way German bankers have treated Greece is shameful, despicable. Should we not remain in a position to say so?

EU membership costs £350 million a week we could be spending on hospitals

We are not ‘paying for nothing’, or uniquely hard done-by – the money is actually buying us a share of the leadership in European markets and institutions, whose joint decisions affect us whether we are in or out. Are membership fees not normal in any club? Otherwise, who pays to keep the lights on in the office, the roof repaired, the cleaner paid, biscuits in the staffroom and paper in the toilets? Can the ‘fifth richest nation on earth’ really not afford it?

We may send ‘£350 million to Brussels every week’, as an average it’s possible, although former PM, Sir John Major disputes it. Then we get half of it back again in the rebate; while agricultural subsidies and regional development grants also help to return £10 billion our way. All 28 EU members pay to belong according to a formula based on their GNP; they do it because they consider they benefit from being in the EU!

It’s not ‘giving money away, that could be spent on hospitals’, that’s just emotional blackmail and completely ridiculous. The NHS is a separate budget.

And don’t imagine if we leave the EU, that our government, which is very happy to raise £105 billion a year from VAT, a Common Market tax originally intended only to raise money to pay membership subscriptions, but which has now caught on worldwide, would build a single new hospital without private US corporate investment. (The problem is not hospitals, it’s staff.)

Britain can look after its own security (with the help of the Yanks)

… Or that the government won’t chuck £60 billion at renewing our Trident nuclear fleet, an obsolete military doctrine dating from the last century. The Russians are laughing at us!

Nor as far as I know is the EU planning to raise its own permanent defence force, to ‘undermine NATO’, as has been claimed. Designed to fight the Cold War NATO is, frankly, no longer fit for purpose, increasingly meddling in politics; and if the EU is considering combining its national defence forces and direction, it is only doing what the Americans want us to do, which is to stand up for ourselves and shoulder more of our share of the burden of policing conflicts around our borders.

Britain cannot do that alone: we have cut our Army to only 80,000 personnel and our Navy to just 19 ships. At the moment, we are sharing an aircraft carrier with the French. The Americans are laughing at us!

We don’t want to be ruled by Brussels, we want our sovereignty back

We are not ‘ruled by Brussels’! There are British commissioners and thousands of British civil servants and politicians working in Brussels and Strasbourg, who are an integral part of the decision-making process. The complexity of unpicking our membership is mind-boggling. It’s not a question of ‘should we join or should we stay out?’ as the Brexiters try to pretend, we’ve been an integral part of the Union for more than forty years. That’s going to be one expensive, messy divorce.

What the Brexit campaigners, most of them fanatical Thatcherites who feel they’ve been out of power too long, mean by ‘bringing back our sovereignty’ is not your sovereignty and  mine, but theirs! This whole referendum business is not about ‘who rules Britain?’ from a sovereignty point of view: it’s not about Parliament, or ‘our cherished independence’, it’s about which Conservative Party rules Britain: the moderate, centrist party or the free-market, neo-liberal faction on the right.

Like Napoleon and Hitler, the EU wants a united Europe

Excuse me, but is M. Jean-Claude Juncker about to invade Poland?

Boris Johnson is a clever man playing with hyperbole on British popular suspicion of all things European, and our tiresome fixation on the Second World War. But his real intention is to run Britain himself. He wants to be Prime Minister. He doesn’t belong to either faction, really; or even to the Conservatives: Boris is a one-man faction, a one-man party! Can you trust anything he says?

And what is wrong with a united Europe anyway? Better surely than a disunited Europe, especially with Russia rattling its sabre again; US global influence waning, and China on the rise.

Closer economic and political union is always presented without any argument as a Bad Thing. It’s something we’ve all come to believe: another meme. Has anyone ever explained why it’s so bad? All European countries have a historic sense of nationhood, but you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice that in order to co-operate: our Britishness is not irrevocably bound up with our political institutions – which, incidentally, Mrs Thatcher did more than anyone to dismantle. Federalism has worked pretty well for the United States of America – yet the 50 states still retain their individuality and sense of pride.

I’ve heard it said, it’s impossible to unify countries as far apart geographically and culturally as Portugal and Lithuania. Well, the Romans managed it, and they didn’t have Eurovision. And if you are instinctively opposed to federalism, have you looked at the British model lately? The ‘United Kingdom’ nowadays has become a confederation of quasi-autonomous statelets, with devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, maybe soon England, under the benevolent paternalism of a central tax-raising government….

We want to make our own laws

We do! Our laws are not exclusively ‘made in Brussels’! The British parliament debates and approves EU legislation, that affects other countries as well as our own. We can challenge, adapt or veto it; and we can make our own laws: the Blair government alone is said to have introduced more than three thousand. Often when they are unpopular we pretend they are EU laws!

European law is not especially ‘oppressive’. Much of it protects consumers’ and workers’ rights, guaranteeing product quality and workplace safety, standardisation and performance. That in turn creates business stability, annoying though the ‘red-tape’ must be. (I don’t know, my little business never had a problem with it, and we worked with partner agencies all over Europe and beyond.)

Clean beaches are one outcome of EU environmental legislation, hopefully clean air in our cities will be next. If we leave the EU, who will hold Prime Minister Johnson’s feet to the fire over carbon reductions? (yes, joke!)

What about the Court of Human Rights, not letting us send terrorists back?

The European Court of Human Rights, that seems so to inflame the editor of the Daily Mail, is not even an EU institution. The Tories who support Brexit also support withdrawal from the Court and want to create their own Bill of Rights that will leave ordinary people with fewer protections than before, merely because they have sometimes been embarrassed that their more Draconian measures don’t pass muster with rational human beings. In fact, more decisions of the European Court go in favour of British court rulings than against. British judges sit in the Court: it’s not all a foreign plot.

Another Brexit meme, our ‘inability to deport EU criminals’, is also a bit of a red-herring. ‘Criminals’ is a very broad term, covering anything from TV licence avoidance and failing to pay parking fines, to murder. It’s so easy to convince people that ‘criminals’ who weren’t born in Britain – we do breed ‘criminals’ of our own, you know – are somehow more dangerous and reprehensible just because of being ‘foreign’. And if they aren’t permanently resident in the UK they are deported, given the limitations of our criminal justice system, starved of funding. The EU is not stopping us from deporting ‘criminals’, the law says we can send them back to serve their sentences in their country of origin. It’s not the fault of the EU if we don’t have the manpower and resources to carry out idealistic policies.

We could be more like Norway, with all of the benefits and none of the hassles

The ‘Norwegian model’ some think we can adopt is not what it seems. Norway’s is a tiny economy with a population only a little larger than Wales’, yet it has amassed vast sovereign wealth from not squandering its oil revenues. They still have to pay to belong to the EFTA and are subject to EU trade rules but without having a voice in Brussels. They also have a popular belief that immigration is a problem. Another ‘associate’, Switzerland survives on tourism and money-laundering. Now that sounds more like the British model!

The EU wants countries like Turkey to join, meaning more useless scroungers

Brexiters have raised the awful spectre of Turkey joining the EU and millions of illiterate, scrounging Turks clamouring to enter Britain. Where is their evidence?

Firstly, this poisonous idea of ‘swarms’ of migrants is nonsense. If there are jobs available, working people move from poorer areas to richer areas to fill them. If there is no work, they go elsewhere. If they come as tourists, they spend their Euros and go home. The German ‘economic miracle’ of the 1960s was made possible only by tens of thousands of invited Turkish ‘guest workers’. Many stayed, which suggests that any Turkish migrants are more likely to go to Germany where they are already well established.

Turkey is not a primitive country! It enjoyed an economic boom in the early 2000s, becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Now, with an Islamising President who imprisons anyone who criticises him, is not a fan of women’s equality and who has recently reignited the internal civil war against the Kurds, our allies in the fight against the IS, and with their booming economy stalled – there is no way Turkey should qualify under EU membership rules for many years to come, albeit Turkey is a member of NATO.

Of course, if we leave the EU but somehow retain our right to free movement, we will not be able to veto Turkey’s entry and then have the problem of dealing with Turkish migration, about which we will be able to do nothing…. Which might embarrass the Prime Minister-in-waiting, Boris Johnson, whose eminent grandfather Ali Kemal Bey was Turkish, and a Liberal-Democrat to boot.

Turkey is another Brexiters’ immigration meme, supposed to scare you.

We can go on enjoying full privileges in Europe because we’re British

Yeah, right…. Two million Over-65 Brits are living out their retirement in the sun, freely as EU citizens. How many will be sent back for not having the right paperwork? If they opt to take out citizenship they’re going to have to brush-up their language skills…. Where will they be housed? Who will pay for them, care for them, if they can’t sell their properties abroad, can’t work and don’t qualify for local authority support?

And will I be allowed to buy my retirement home in Alicante next year without a means-tested residence permit and points in a quota system? It’ll be a licence for the Spanish authorities to print money. As holidaymakers, will we have to queue at regional airports with the other aliens, while EU citizens are waved through the Green channel? Will we be limited to bringing back only six bottles of wine and 200 cigarettes without paying hefty customs duty, as we were before we joined the EU? Who will be the ‘migrants’ then? Do you think they love us, drunken, ugly, brawling, sexually incontinent, uncultured slobs that we are?

Nobody knows, no country has left the EU before. There are no rules to cover it. We don’t know where we shall stand if we leave. We may no longer be citizens of Europe, only of ‘fortress UK’, stuck with Nigel Farage braying on in triumph for ever. But at least our passports will be blue again….

(And the EU supports our claim to Gibraltar… but if we leave?)

Surely all those trustworthy Brexit politicians (and Sir Beefy Botham) can’t be wrong, we’ll be better off out?

For the last 40 years the British public has been subjected to a relentless barrage of anti-European propaganda in some sections of the press. Powerful corporate interests want us out. Why? Certainly not to make you better off! As Joseph Goebbels put it, if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. No wonder so many people are confused and suspicious.

Vote to Leave, and we shall be swapping an inefficient but well-intentioned centrist meritocracy for a more rapacious, hard-edged global capitalism, from which there will be no protection. Make what you will of that, it’s not speculation, it’s about the only fact in this article. Why is the Chancellor making nice to huge American technology corporations that don’t pay tax on their UK profits; while the French, for instance, have clobbered them for £billions?

Life will not somehow magically get better for us if we pull out now. How would it? The Brexiters cannot say how, they just shout ‘rubbish!’ and complain bitterly when anyone, however expert, is allowed to put an alternative point of view, however carefully researched. Their spokespeople have totally swamped the media for months, not allowing any pro-European views to be heard. The BBC is terrified of them, if they get into power they might eviscerate the Corporation and hand the spoils to the Murdoch dynasty. Democrats? Hardly!

Massively overburdened with domestic debt, with a still-precarious banking sector and only fragile economic growth, 0.3%, outside Europe we will be subject to a whirling gale of global influences – the whole world economy is on the brink of recession. The USA, China, India are not going to help us, why would they? They have their own problems: US debt is now $14 TRILLION (ten times the UK’s) and the Chinese economy is faltering. It’s probably worse than they are pretending. We would get caught up and ground between these two mutually indebted giants.

We have done as well as we could inside the EU, nothing suggests we would have done better not joining in the first place. Perhaps if we had not been such half-hearted members, always whining and demanding special treatment, to our national shame, we might have done even better.

And who will trust our word ever again?

But it’s silly for Mr Cameron to say there could be another war!

It’s unlikely there will be another war between the major powers in Europe. But history teaches us that the danger of destabilising the already shaky-looking political consensus is a risk not worth taking. Many of the old pre-1914 faultlines are re-emerging.

Partly made worse by the refugee crisis and the war in Syria, that has provided an excuse for fear of foreigners to spill over, extreme nationalism is on the rise, both inside and beyond Europe.

It is a historical truth that whenever Britain has adopted a policy of isolation from Europe, things have gone badly wrong across the Channel. For centuries we have held the balance of power there. A vote to leave is a vote to hand over our power in Europe to others.

US and Chinese trade barriers are going up, even as Europe battles to amend the TTIP, the so-called ‘free-trade’ treaty that will give giant US corporations unlimited rights over UK government contract procurement and leave developing nations potentially destitute. It’s a treaty our Brexiters are panting to sign up to.

No-one knows what a Trump presidency might bring. If we leave, we can’t influence events only 30 miles away, let alone in Washington and Beijing. If the Union falls apart as a result, smaller countries – Malta, Cyprus, the Baltic nations – will suffer.

Don’t be deluded by phoney patriotic sentiments and empty rhetoric about ‘sovereignty’: we have sovereignty aplenty, and within a larger, more important sphere of influence than just ‘our borders’.

This referendum is not about who wants to be ‘ruled’ by Brussels, it’s about the overweening ambitions of a handful of politicians exploiting your fear of losing your national identity: that’s not going to happen!

Don’t imagine it doesn’t matter. Your decision will affect the future history of these islands for generations to come.

I could go on, but let me just sum it up in one sentence:

“I don’t want to be a second-class citizen in Europe.”

Do you?


*Just for fun, I’ve worked out the following.

If four people can stand shoulder-to-shoulder on 1 square metre of land, and there are 1 million square meters in a square kilometre, and the area of the landmass of the United Kingdom is 243,610 square kilometres, you could have 974.4 billion people standing on the UK; or, 128 times the current population of the entire world.

As it is, the population of the UK is only 63 million, so stop worrying.

You’ve got 3,9oo square metres of space, all to yourself.


Trains and bots and planes

Gag of the Day:

“Hey, if we have a Johnson in 10 Downing Street and a Trump in the White House, that’s a dick and a fart, right?”


The tracks of my tears

Owing to a 43 per cent increase in passenger traffic, Britain’s railway network is groaning at the seams. The problem being that the network cannot safely accommodate enough trains, all running at the same time.

Consequently Network Rail, the company that owns the infrastructure on which franchised operators run their cattle-truck services, is asking the government for money to digitise the still partly mid- 20th-century mechanical signalling system so more trains can be squeezed onto the tracks.

As any desperate commuter kno, fares have gone up every year on average by an allowable three per cent above the rate of inflation; one of the conditions under which the formerly State-owned network was broken up and sold off piecemeal in 1993.

The reason given for the above-inflation increases?

To provide money to invest in the railways.

Network Rail bosses in line for £5 million ‘double your money’ bonuses … (18 Jul 2013)


Beating our breasts

I have in a cupboard somewhere a pot of Gorilla Glue. In a drawer is a roll of Gorilla Tape. It’s a reliably sticky brand. Four-year-old Baby Gregg joins ‘Canoe Man’, John Darwin, so-named after he staged his own death to claim the insurance by faking a canoeing accident, as the child now forever known to the British tabloid press as ‘Gorilla Boy’, following his adventures at Cincinnatti Zoo.

Gorilla Boy somehow slipped his parents’ attention and crawled into the moat of the gorilla enclosure, where, as we now know, a 17-year-old, critically endangered silverback Eastern Lowland gorilla called Harambe took a parental interest in him. Staff say Harambe dragged the boy up and down in the water for ten minutes, possibly playing with him until help arrived, which it didn’t, then standing over him protectively, before a decision was taken to shoot him dead – the gorilla (one of a few hundred left in the world) that is, not the boy (one of 7.4 billion humans), who is recovering uninjured.

As with Cecil the Lion, 300,000 people have signed a petition expressing outrage, demanding punishment and reparations from the boy’s parents. The only phone video of part of the incident seemed to suggest that the 400 lb gorilla did not harm, and appeared to have no intention of harming the boy. However, hysterically screaming bystanders might have tipped Harambe over into panic, and who knew what might have happened then?

The media immediately flashed back to 1986 and an incident at Gerald Durrell’s notoriously unsafe Jersey Zoo (Gerald didn’t give two hoots for humans) when a gorilla male protected an unconscious child, stroking his back gently until keepers arrived. After that, the ape became a star, even appearing on a postage stamp. The Director of Cincinnatti Zoo has made a number of highly reasonable justifications for their decision to kill the animal, however; notably that while young gorillas are designed to withstand tough love, human kids are more breakable.

Any suggestion that shooting suspects on sight is a peculiarly American preoccupation is, of course, unworthy. Police are investigating.

What do I think? It’s a tragedy, of course. Why did the Director of Cincinnatti Zoo not accept immediate responsibility for failing in his duty of care, both to the animals and to the public? No doubt an inquiry will establish how the kid got into the 20-year-old enclosure. No doubt too, lawyers will soon be rattling his cage. How – and why – the gorilla got there is more problematic.

Despite their close genetic relationship with us, gorillas are being hunted in Rwanda for bushmeat, and for body-part souvenirs, sold, often, to Chinese and US tourists. If they can only be saved by being specially bred and put on show as exhibits in badly run old zoos, where they have to be executed if they become a potential danger to the gawking public, maybe it’s better and more dignified to let them go into extinction in the wild.

We won’t be far behind.

When he grows up, I hope Baby Gregg (we don’t know his full name) comes to understand his unwitting responsibility for the death of this magnificent creature. I’d like to think of him becoming someone who works tirelessly for conservation, not just another fat slob slinging burgers, or working in a bank.


Purple passage

For only the second time ever, Dr Henry Heimlich has reportedly performed his own manouver (manoeuvre?) to save a person from choking to death.

The inventor of the famous method of forcing air from the lungs to expel chunks of food jammed in the trachaea now lives in an old folks’ home, where he sprang into action yesterday, beating off members of staff to rescue a fellow resident in the dining room who was trying unsuccessfully to swallow a piece of cheese.

Estimates suggest that over 100,00o people in the USA alone have been saved by Dr Heimlich’s famous ‘manouver’, whether they needed to be or not.

I wonder, what are the chances of retiring to an old folks’ home where you will subsequently have your life saved by the very man who invented an effective method of saving life, in the precise circumstances in which yours needed saving?

It would be like waking up with a sore throat and paralysis, to happily find that your elderly gardener is in fact Dr Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine. Or having your house burgled by the local chief of police.

And what are the chances that at the age of 96, you will for only the second, and possibly final, time in your career have the opportunity to demonstrate for yourself that your life’s work works?

Honestly, it’s enough to make anyone believe in Intelligent Design.


Just what the hell is going on?

President Trump’s famously bewildered rhetoric regarding the unwelcome tendency of foreign Muslims to visit Disneyland applies more than ever to the passing-on of weirdly obscure notes to The Boglington Post via the virtual gatekeeper known as ‘Akismet’, whose job is supposedlyto weed-out Spam messages sent to boglers bogling on this, the WordPress platform.

Virtually all such notes in my case quote their inspiration as a piece I Posted over four years ago, called ‘How to Live in a Stately Home’. While the detail of the messages changes, the format and the syntax are always recognisably similar, the relevance to living in stately homes questionable, and the URLs or whatever they are called, the IPs, are compound and probably untraceable via poxy servers. I suspect no human hand is involved.

Here is the latest example, received this morning (I have truncated the address to avoid the possibility of people contacting it and picking up some nasty disease such as botfly larvae, which have to be dug out of your anus):

Outstanding piece. I was happy to find this since I was also born in the big apple. furthermore, thank you for heading to Daytona Beach and aiding me to better have an understanding of grilling and cooking food. This assisted me with my entrance to University of georgia. Looking forward to seeing you in our apartment and catch up with our ping pong game.

Jere Saum

Now, readers of this, muh bogl, may not be aware, although I think I have mentioned it, that while I have some family roots in the USA, I have never actually been there. I was not born like a caterpillar in the ‘big apple’, but in the Great Wen; I have never visited Florida’s famous Daytona Beach (although I have shares in BP); I know as much as the next man about burning dinners; I know no-one at the University of georgia; I have never been to anyone’s ‘apartment’, nor have I played ping-pong, or ‘whiff-waff’ as Boris Johnson calls it, since I was 15 years old.

But I might have done all those things in the creative mind of a computer program, a bot that could have been set in motion to generate these messages automatically . Add them all together, and you might be looking at a virtual version, a kind of online romance, of… me!

The questions come thick and fast: who is this ‘Jere Saum’, what does he or she want of me? Why is he or she sending me messages about wholly non-existent connections between us? What has it got to do with Iran? What is the mysterious secret behind all these fake Comments, all written in pretty much the same surreal, non-sequiturial style, that could conceivably only have come from the algorithmic pen of a computer?

And how do these messages in particular manage to get past Akismet’s magic Net of Spam, that has already prevented me from seeing five thousand others; many of which might indeed have been welcome and valuable Comments, albeit some possibly abusive and murderous, with a wide-eyed offer to add them to my Posts as if they were genuine – which, quite obviously, they are not?

Naurally, I welcome Mr or Ms Saum’s view that the piece is ‘outstanding’. ‘How to Live in a Stately Home’ is still the most frequently visited of all my Posts, despite my attempts to get readers to come on board with the other 516 ‘outstanding’ articles I have published to date in this, frankly pretty thankless, pursuit.

I occasionally Post requests for money, but none arrives. If I had just two dollars for every Spam message in Akismet’s bulging sack, I could visit Disneyland before I die. Not being a Muslim, I reckon I’d stand a pretty good chance of getting in, despite being an elderly, single, white, bearded atheist in a cardigan and sandals, travelling on his own.


This Strange World

Char Wars

‘A vegan cafe in Tbilisi has appealed for public solidarity after being invaded by alleged ultra-nationalists wielding grilled meat and sausages.

‘More than a dozen men stormed into the Kiwi cafe in the Georgian capital on Sunday evening, the cafe said, shouting and throwing meat at patrons. A brawl erupted but the attackers fled before police arrived.’ (BBC News, 31 May)

(Have you tried throwing Kiwi fruit back at them? Wimps! Ed.)


When you gotta go…

‘A freedom-of-information request by the BBC has revealed that at least 1,782 public toilets have closed in the last decade, with some councils now offering none.’ (BBC News, 31 May.) NHS advice: ‘People suffering from urinary incontinence can undergo “bladder training”‘ – and should avoid drinking irritants such as alcohol or caffeine.

(In other words, the peeing public can just piss-off. What about elderly gentlemen with oversize prostates, eh? Fuck you. Ed.)


Globalisation news

German national airline Lufthansa is stopping flights to and from Caracas because Venezuela has become too poor to support its operations there.

The other reason given is that because of the plunging value of the Bolivar, Lufthansa is unable to expatriate any of the money it makes from ticket sales in Venezuela back to Germany.

Fresh assessment

Following his declaration that he would happily talk to their God, Kim Jong-un, about withdrawing US forces currently protecting one of America’s key trading allies and a democratic bulwark against Chinese expansionism, South Korea, from invasion, an influential North Korean ‘journalist’ has welcomed Donald Trump’s candidacy for the White House, calling him wise and sensible.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is dismissed as merely ‘dull’.

So that’s the Trump vs the Frump.




Have we reached the tipping point?

“According to the United Nations, world population reached 7 billion on October 31, 2011.”

  • Worldometers info


Hi! Howya doin’? Oh well, okay, fuck you, buddy!!!

You may be wondering why it is that the world and your neighbours appear to have become peculiarly restive in the years since the banking collapse of 2007/8?

After all, there has been no major war – if you discount the absurd ‘war on terror’, that is more a neurosis than a war, yet which is used as a common pretext for extrajudicial murder by the military-industrial possessors of the best technology.

Looking at the globe, as I do from time to time, indeed there appear to be almost no active large-scale conflicts of any kind at the moment: only the horrible civil war in Syria, plus the ISIS insurgency, that drags on.  (Thirty years ago, I started to write a story called The Game Without Rules, where the major powers set aside a part of the globe for unlimited warfare so that we could have peace everywhere else. Only I couldn’t get past that bit.) Elsewhere now, it is pretty much just rumblings.

Yes, we see plenty of armed tension, looming disagreements, territorial squabbles, small-scale insurgencies and kidnappings justified on grounds of tribal, religious or sexual primacy: the disintegration of civil society almost everywhere, from the tear-gassing of refugees on the Macedonian border, to the racial abuse of football players by neofascist groups in Germany and Russia, to the drugs trade, to the barely suppressed violence at rallies in support of the controversial US presidential candidate, Trump, to the wasting of cities in Chechnya, to the widespread viral hate campaigns carried on the internet, the drugtaking in sport.

Are we really just fed up with finagling politicians, grotesque wealth inequality and the perception that things aren’t getting better for us as a class, thanks to women’s rights, equality, immigration, austerity, whatever? Or is there some deeper psychology at work, to suppress our joy that there might be 52 different varieties of coffee on the suprmarket shelf, where thirty years ago there were two; or that we are living 15 years longer?

(I think I can be forgiven for my increasing annoyance at my neighbours, a droopy young couple who simply refuse to get their overflowing toilet cistern fixed, or at least have a go at fixing it themselves, even though the waste of water must be costing them £2 a day…. And now I have damp in my kitchen wall….)

You must indeed have experienced multiple minor incivilities on a day to day basis on your phone, on the road, in the street, at your school or in the workplace, personal or racial abuse, and feel that the number of incidences is forever rising. You may see things on the TV that you believe could happen, although they have not happened to you (or anyone you know). You may, as I am, be irked by breaches of normal good manners, salesmen on the phone addressing you by your given name and asking how you are today? as if it was any of their goddamn business. Or you might take internet bullying so badly, you are on the point of committing suicide. (Stop! Just switch the stupid thing off! Throw it away! I have…)

Kindly note the standfirst to this piece. We are now at 7.4 billion and counting. Is that maybe just one too many?

Everyone seems to hate everyone else. We are seeing the rise of new politicians as potentially noxious in their way as Hitler, Franco or Stalin. A neofascist almost made it to the presidency of Austria last week. Hungary and Poland, Ottoman Turkey, are in the grip of ultra-nationalist forces. Thailand has fallen under the spell of a brutal military junta, not that the sex-tourists have noticed. Benevolent socialist regimes in South America are once more being ousted by corrupt landowners and business interests. Putin is playing the nationalist card daily to ratchet up his personal ratings. Marine Le Pen is leading in some French polls. Boris Johnson is playing a dangerous game, flirting with extreme nationalism in ‘safe’ old Britain, where social and racial tensions are rising. Even the extreme Left is making a comeback. The disastrous old, pre-1914 faultlines in Europe, Russia, Sino-Japan are re-emerging.

And as millions of people flee northwards, away from war, climate change, poverty, economic and sexual exploitation and shitty governance, to imagined prosperity, they meet only suspicion, hostility, razor-wire and racial hatred. Sadly, it does not occur to them that the teeming populations of the north are not all like their colonial masters, but subordinate wage-serfs ourselves.

As WB Yeats put it, ‘Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold.’

The ‘Brexit’ campaign to force Britain out of the European Union is a perfect example. It is in all respects a rightwing coup attempt, mounted by a loose coalition of ultra-conservative politicians who feel their class have been out of power for too long, who have sensed that the unpopular austerity that has followed the financial crisis of 2007/8 has given them an  opportunity to focus public fear and suspicion of ‘incomers’ on the old centrist consensus, now seemingly discredited and broken.

What a telling thought. It’s the ‘incomers’ that are destabilising our civilization, sullying our historic purity! As are the failings of institutions such as the EU, NATO, the Police, NHS, social security or the child support units of local authorities, unable to prevent violent abuse of young children by parents; and the organised sexual abuse of minors, mostly by people of a different colour and culture.

Low-level violence against ‘The Other’ simmers everywhere you look. And no wonder.

In the early 1960s, US ethologist John B Calhoun conducted a famous series of experiments in which he showed that overpopulation was the prime cause of social breakdown in rats and mice. Having first established ‘Utopian’ colonies of rodents, kept perfectly in balance with enough food, drink and sex, he began to introduce additional individuals, with catastrophic effects. See if you can spot the similarities with our own, increasingly disordered human societies:

“Many [female rats] were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behaviour disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep.”

The social organization of the animals showed equal disruption:

“The common source of these disturbances became most dramatically apparent in the populations of our first series of experiments, in which we observed the development of what we called a behavioural sink. … As many as 60 of the 80 rats in each experimental population would assemble in one pen during periods of feeding. Individual rats would rarely eat except in the company of other rats. As a result extreme population densities developed in the pen adopted for eating, leaving the others with sparse populations.

And then absorb the following, random report:

“Explosive growth in London’s East End boroughs will bring the capital’s population to nearly 10 million within eight years, according to official government projections, while towns in the north-east and north-west of England will see their populations fall.

  • Guardian report, 25 May.

“In (Calhoun’s) most famous experiment in the series, “Universe 25”, population peaked at 2,200 mice and thereafter exhibited a variety of abnormal, often destructive behaviours. By the 600th day, the population was on its way to extinction.” (my emboldening)

  • Wikipedia entry: ‘Behavioural Sink’ (See also under: ‘John B Calhoun’)

“The United Nations estimates (global population) will increase to 11.2 billion in the year 2100.”

  • Wikipedia

I’m not so sure it will. Not if we can help it!


Excuses, excuses

Sorry, sorry. I know, I haven’t Posted to this, muh bogl, for over a week.

Nearly two.

I’ve been working! I have regular work, twice a year. It pays for my jazz boot-camp in France in July.

And when I’m not working, I’m walking Hunzi, who has a real emotional problem with me leaving him for a few hours a day – in the morning, or in the afternoon.

I generally get back at lunchtime, but if my morning shift overruns we’re in trouble. Although he never tears up the carpet, and such (although he did find my dinner the other day, on the kitchen counter, through a cardboard box and a vacuum-sealed microwaveable polybag. The little ratbag.)  He’s just very… unhappy without me.

I can scarcely bear to imagine how I am going to feel one day without him. But that’s life: a fair exchange. You get five dogs’ worth of them before you die, the poor little buggers get 14 years of one of you.

So, in fact he has more walks when I’m working than when I’m not. He’s not stupid, he knows. These creatures have evolved hyper-skills in emotionally blackmailing us.

And, ooh look. It’s light outside, still at 20.59 (a minute to nine). Maybe we can squeeze another mile or two in, along the cinder path that leads to the exurban space that passes for our local park, and maybe even round the sewage works? There’s nothing on TV, except this rubbish.

Bring the ball, dad!


Critics Corner

“This is a great blog. A fantastic read.”

  • Winnie Kubiak (Spammer)

I couldn’t agree more, Winnie. Wouldn’t you like to read the rest of it?


EU referendum blues

I can’t.

I just  can’t write another word about the shockingly poor EU referendum ‘debate’. I’ve said all I have to say: I don’t want to be a second-class citizen in Europe, and that’s that. I especially don’t want to be trapped on a small island with these fuckwits in charge.

Hundreds of history perfessers have written to The Times todey to say they agree with me: Britain has held the ring in Europe since the C16th. If the major pan-European institution is now the EU, we need more than ever to be inside it. Whenever we have stood outside Europe, sniffing loudly on the sidelines, carnage has ensued.

So, go on you Tory cunts (Conservative and Unionist National Treasures).

Tell me I’m talking “rubbish”.

That’s about the level of debate you have managed to dredge up so far, you intellectually lazy, power-hungry, ‘born to rule’ entitlement-baboons. Gove, Grayling, Duncan Smith, ‘Dr’ Fox, the dimly illuminated Bertie Wooster-alike Ree-Smogg; the homophobic misogynist, Bone. Not forgetting the ubiquitous braying pub-bore and dodgy used-car salesman, Farage. (God, how I miss Spitting Image.)

Has it occurred to any of you vapid changelings with weirdly shaped heads that there’s a reason why we’ve had moderate, centrist governments for all these years?

It’s because we don’t want your sort lording it over us in government.

It’s because we don’t want to rename the Spring Bank Holiday ‘Margaret Fucking Thatcher Day’.

It’s because we don’t want you disposing of our human rights, workplace and equality legislation as you think fit.

Now fuck off. Leave if you want to, but just go. Quietly. With respect for our island story – the future, not the past.


The price of freedom

Dashing hither and yon, the Italian Navy has plucked four thousand, four hundred ‘migrants’ in a single day from the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean. Not a few have drowned, some victims of their own silliness in capsizing their boats rushing athwart decks to greet their saviours; others abandoning slowly sinking, unseaworthy vessels, a deliberate provocation by the traffickers to the countries of the North to come and rescue their clients.

It has to be observed that the vast majority of them appear to be young men of Maghrebian appearance. This is entirely because the genuine Syrian refugees who filled our screens with their dead children and disposable dinghies last summer while crossing in their tens of thousands to Greece are being turned back by the Turks after a squalid deal was done to capitulate to the tyrant, Erdogan; and we are asking no questions as to their fate.

When reserves of compassion are low, we feel, do we not, that our limited resources of accommodation and aid ought to be reserved for the families fleeing the war without end in Syria, a war we might have prevented; or perhaps, the men of Afghanistan who face death at the hands of the Taleb for ‘consorting with the enemy’, i.e. us, as military interpreters; or the Nepalese Gurkhas who have served with the British army for generations, whose country was devastated by the earthquake just over a year ago.

But the tens of thousands of workless, hopeless young men of the Maghreb and the Sahel, who are only doing what Norman Tebbit’s father did, getting on their bikes and looking for work? Benefit-sucking, Muslim scum – probably IS infiltrators, to boot.

It is easy and a temptation to divide the world’s refugees into the deserving and undeserving poor. To do so, we need to turn our backs on history: we created their countries much as they are today: virtually uninhabitable, wartorn, corrupt, economic basket-cases, we looted them of their limited resources for four hundred years, invested nothing and left them with power vacuums to be filled by kleptocratic nationalist demagogues whom we continued to support until the stench of corruption, incompetence and brutality began to offend even our rhino-hided sensibilities.

We created the post-colonial deficit, that these kids have inherited. Do we really owe them nothing?

One can easily imagine that the level of desperation to get to wealthy Europe becomes amplified in the crossing of deserts and seas, at the mercy of slavers, robbers and rapists. From my own position of comfort in well-watered West Wales, I can see all too clearly the pathos implicit in these people’s faith in the opportunities we must surely afford them to find work; new lives, since I myself have been actively looking for a permanent post since 2008 and have had only three interviews.

Many people I know with PhDs are in the same boat, as it were. Over a hundred of the supposedly well-paid senior academics in our universities have today issued a blanket resignation from their duties as examiners. It’s not a strike, as such, but a declaration of common principle.

At a time when low-wattage, cost-cutting Vice-Chancellors have been greedily stuffing their own mouths with cash, to the tune of an average 6.6% more per annum, the academic staff have been offered 1.1% and told to like it. Their salaries have decreased in real terms by 14% since the crash of 2008. Their tenure is insecure, their contracts adverse; teaching hours are being handed to unpaid postgraduate students. Our universities, as so our police, the military, the NHS, social services, housing, are in crisis. As a veteran of the deregulatory Broadcasting Act of 1972, I recognise the signs.

Once the systemic inefficiencies have been identified and redefined by HR department weasels, austerity produces little but ash.

The French have got it right again. As I Post, the streets of Paris and other cities are burning, tear-gas once more hangs in the boulevards and pavement cafes. The sans-culottes are rioting: how dare a Socialist government try to abolish their cherished 35-hour week, and make it possible for their hated employers to sack them? The petrol pumps run dry; one by one, the power stations, ports and railways shut down.

Do these economic migrants, poor sods, understand what they are getting themselves into?

Perhaps they should be told.







EU revision

It casts an interesting sidelight on which are the most hated countries in Europe.

Britain pretty much invented modern pop music  – a sweeping claim, it must be admitted, but you might know in what sense I mean it. It was a long time before the rest of Europe caught up and began to churn out stuff that we Brits on our holidays could nod and say, hmmmn, not bad, to. For decades, French pop music was an oxymoron; while it took a technological revolution to make German electronica niche listening.

Today, the Eurovision Song Contest embraces a vast range of cultures, obscure former Soviet and Balkan mini-statelets, rutted feudal demesnes. Even Israel and Australia now join in, but by and large the output has become homogenous. Where maybe only ten years ago you’d still get the odd no-hoper of a nationalistic, costumed folk tableau straight from the Ministry of Tourism, you now get wall-to-wall national takes on Britpop, with all the associated tropes of gyration and grimace. (Please, girls, stop doing that bendy thing with your knees, it’s demeaning.)

Eurovision is a huge, camp riot of a festival, complete with what seem to me to be staggeringly wonderful and expensive laser lighting effects, a CGI-generated audience and breathless, gibbering presenters reading off cue cards. Last night’s jamboree was climaxed in weirdness for me by the inclusion of a bizarre sketch featuring two of our own, most nationally treasured old theatrical queens, Sirs Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen, sitting companionably on a sofa in front of an invisible TV and grumbling (along with most of us) about how awful and tedious the show was, like the grouchy Muppets, Statler and Waldorf.

(Actually, I may have dreamt that bit.)

Instructively, the show was presented from Stockholm, largely in English. English, of one sort or another, is the common language of the Eurovision Community. And there’s the rub. That’s because it’s the language of pop music too. But the real English never win.

The competition was won by a gravelly-voiced mezzo from wartorn Ukraine, enrobed like a Greek tragedienne – the song a lugubrious dirge with a stirring backbeat about the ethnic cleansing of the Tatar population of Crimea in 1944, under the guns of Stalin’s Red Army. The performance, with its obvious reference to Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, came close to rudeness: one doesn’t talk politics in Eurovisionland. The Russian entry, a firm favourite to win, came only third, behind a South Korean immigrant representing Australia; a tiny, fragile creature with a bellowing voice. Russia, of course, is now complaining bitterly about a political fix: it does not bode well.

Britain’s entry came nowhere, slightly above Germany.

Now, the German entry was probably rightly savaged for its heavy-handed satire on the occasion: a child-woman dressed as a Minnie Mouse doll singing a feebly comic number, pregnant with that selfconscious jocosity the Germans produce whenever they are accused of not having a national sense of humour. But for the first time in years, the British entry wasn’t half bad: a decently well-written song, competently performed if somewhat obscurely presented in front of a montage of national cultural icons (cf. the London Olympics) and without the overblown pyrotechnics of the rest.

Largely obscured by the dramatic lighting and loud instrumentation offstage, the vast bulk of the show’s mid-section consisted of mediocre slush, derivative and unmemorable. It’s been forgotten somewhere along the way that this is a song contest, i.e. a contest of songs – not an ‘X-Factor’-style talent show for febrile popwits or a circus for hyperactive art directors, delirious lighting technicians and cocaine-fuelled r&r men.

Yet all of those Identikit popsters garnered massive supporting votes from the 200 million viewers, that pushed them relentlessly up the board (how I do miss Katie Boyle, the no-nonsense presenter of years gone by. She would take a dim view of the directionless banter and eternitised dramatic hiatuses that predicate the announcement of competition results on TV gameshows and bake-offs nowadays.)

Initially greeted with at least some tepid warmth by the professional judges, the UK’s entry entered its long slide into oblivion as the viewer votes were counted in.

It never occurs to us, or if it does we put it down to our natural superiority, but we are, possibly, the most disliked country in Europe. For that reason alone, while I have long held that Brexit from the European Union will leave us stranded as second-class citizens, queuing for hours at the Aliens’ desks of regional Spanish airports, our cherished institutions at the mercy of power-hungry plotters with curiously shaped heads: Gove, Grayling, Boris Johnson and Duncan Smith, and is to be avoided at any cost, Brexit from the Eurovision Song Contest would at least mark our contempt for the millions of dimly illuminated continentals who don’t recognise real talent when they see and hear it.

After all, we haven’t won in decades; and, as the outreach gets broader – who next, Argentina? North Korea? Kanye West? -, it seems less and less likely that the hated colonialists will ever win again, despite having invented the whole sorry process. Let’s save ourselves the annual ritual humiliation and expense of Eurovision and start again from scratch with our own, home-grown TV contest.

A few kilted folk songs might go down well. Morris dancing. A cake display, possibly.


Cruel Britannia

© Sterling Pound, 2016

Sixty-nine year-old Mr David Shaw owns a business registered in Litchfield, Staffs – near Birmingham. Curiously, he also seems to live there.

Britannia Services Group was founded 22 years ago, since when several internal supply companies within the Group seem to have started and been wound-up.  Only the core business ploughs on. It’s principally involved in hiring out cleaning staff to what Mr Shaw describes on his LinkedIn profile as National Blue Chip Companies (like many not very literate businessmen hoping to impress, he’s prolix with his capital letters).

It’s quite a small business, judged by its listed officers – eight of them – and by its accounts, which are commendably up-to-date. Being so small, it’s not really obliged to publish a lot of information about itself, but it has been relatively generous on that score, and I’ve not had to pay to dig deeper.

With £9 million annual turnover and declared assets of £3.4 million, whatever assets an employment agency may be said to have; a desk, a phone, a waste-paper bin, the company is valued at about £4.4 million. Its value seems to have increased markedly over the past year, we are not told why. It could be a sign, given Mr Shaw’s age, that he is looking for a buyer.

And who could blame him?

Britannia has £100,000 in issued share capital, which is jointly owned by… oh, yes, Mr David Shaw, and a Mr ‘D. Shaw’. Mrs David Shaw, having resigned her directorship not long ago, remains as Company Secretary – a typical ‘husband-and-wife’ nominee arrangement.  Mr David Shaw is now the sole director; a fact that might give some concern to National Blue Chip Companies, who (and I have had painful personal experience of this) like to deal with ‘business partners’ with rather more visible governance and a fallback plan should Mr Shaw, as it were, fall back.

The rest of the listed shareholders, many of them coincidentally also bearing the name of Shaw, are mostly in for £1. They are basically the named officers and a handful of permanent employees. It all looks pretty ramshackle, but unexceptionable in UK Company law. This ‘Nation of shopkeepers’, as Mareschal Ney dismissed us with Gallic contemptuosity, has over four million such little companies beavering away unsung.

Interestingly, Britannia is sitting on a £2 million cash pile, according to the accounts (making it more solvent than its larger namesake, UK plc), with which it would no doubt be nice for Mr and Mrs Shaw to walk away into a happy retirement, but is otherwise pretty unremarkable.

Except that Britannia claims to have between 1,200 and 2,800 employees.

That being the case – office cleaning is an up-and-down business, migrant workers tend to come and go and the numbers are bound to vary – the turnover-per-employee seems to work out at between £3k and £7k a year; not enough to actually pay them.

For that, of course, does not allow for the overhead running costs: rent and rates, heating and lighting, advertising and recruitment costs, telephones and postage, vehicles, executive salaries and bonuses, shareholder dividends, insurance premiums, pensions and National Insurance contributions, ‘holiday pay’ (ha!), corporation tax, auditors’ fees, bank charges, brushes and wipes and binbags, chemicals and capital-fund accumulation… a profit…..

Deduct those normal business costs, and the average worker contracted to Britannia Services Group is worth, basically, fuck-all.

Recognising that fact could explain Mr Shaw’s astonishing intransigence in the face of polite requests from his workers in the London area to be paid the recommended London Living Wage of £9 an hour, instead of the bare new Minimum (‘Living’) Wage of £7 an hour. (I’m ignoring the pennies, it’s late.)

The building in London next-door to where my old mum is clinging on as a ‘protected’ tenant in the face of efforts to redevelop her bizarre collection of porcelain clown masks was recently torn down and rebuilt as three two-bed flats, two of which carry a price tag of £12 million and the other (with two basements to include a pool and a media room) of £18 million.

From this it may easily be seen that the average migrant worker with one child in London is perfectly capable of living on £14k a year, which would  enable them to buy their own flat in only 847 years, provided they ate nothing betweentimes.

Mr Shaw’s response to this modest request was to suspend the two Union representatives, pending charges of destroying his business. And after a ‘committee’ meeting (of one, presumably, with Mrs Company Secretary taking the minutes) he has now sacked one of them, for unspecified reasons.

‘Carolina’ is a single mother from Ecuador. According to Change dot org petitioner Susana Guaman, one of the ‘Top Shop Two’ (I’ll explain in a minute):

“The disciplinary hearing which led to Carolina’s dismissal was held in her absence, without her consent or knowledge, as she was on sick leave suffering from depression and anxiety.

“The allegations against Carolina, on which her dismissal was justified, relate to unspecified conduct and behaviour issues (as is always the case when a company victimises someone) for which not a single piece of evidence was or has been presented to her.”

The women are known as the ‘Top Shop Two’, because one of Mr Shaw’s National Blue Chip Companies is the eponymous retailer, a chain of lower-middle-market, high-street women’s fashionwear retailers. It is Top Shop’s refusal to increase the money they pay to Mr Shaw for the services of his cleaners that, he says, is the reason why he will not tolerate Union interference in his business, upstart third-world single mothers making outrageous demands upon his hard-earned profits.

So, boo to Top Shop, which is a very large, impersonal and – frankly – awful company; and also boo to Mr Shaw, who is clearly a mean, bullying monster who attracts deeply vengeful reviews from former employees.

Except that, I imagine, neither Susana nor Carolina actually understands the precarious state of the game Mr Shaw is playing.

They assume (because I suspect they haven’t looked) that his is a Big Business, that is out to screw them and their colleagues. No more so than most small businesses – I’ve worked for some stinkers. I think I’ve bogled before about Michael L, the agency owner who diverted the entire staff’s annual bonus pool into buying himself a yacht and then palmed us off with a £10 shopping voucher and a Christmas card.

Mr Shaw is trapped in the classic situation of being a minnow swimming in a shark tank, and he very probably wants out. Only by posing behind a magnifying lens can he gain or retain the big account business he desperately needs to keep his company’s valuation up, to attract a lucrative buyer. And he can’t do that if he is being seen to overpay his workers, however much they might deserve better. He cannot afford to lose Top Shop, and he cannot afford to dilute that capital reserve fund, that is buoying up his company’s valuation.

It’s just bad luck that these women (they are mostly women) have signed up in good faith to an employer whose business may not be quite as large and successful as it looks on paper. It’s not  something Shaw can admit to them, if he wants to get them on-side. They have no idea, seemingly, what kind of small family business is employing them; in my rapid estimation, it’s probably not what they imagine.

The best thing they could all do is not turn up for work in the morning – fuck him, he’d lose his National Blue Chip Companies in a week. There are plenty of other agencies they can go to.

But office cleaning is a brutal, competitive, bog-standard, low-margin business and for a migrant worker, I guess it’s better the arsehole you know. There are very probably many migrant workers who are being screwed down even harder. They’re not going to be able to rely on references to get better work elsewhere. A Union strike would put David Shaw out of business, scupper his retirement plans – kill the goose, manky and flightless though it is.

£7.20 is surely better than deportation?


Political suicide

So, farewell then Dilma Roussef, President of Brazil.

Ms Roussef joins a long line of politicians who have failed to learn the lesson of history, that in South America spending money that rightfully belongs to the landowners and the business elite on projects to help the working poor and indigenous people spells death to your career ambitions. Being a woman doesn’t help either.

Being as they are totally untainted with the stink of corruption, while they cook-up the standard narrative to discredit the President, Brazil is now safely back in the hands of the rich white guys’ party.

Without the expense and inconvenience of an election.

A great system.


Exam nerves

As my many Followers, Likers and Spammers will kno, my sole source of employment – the only work I can get – is as an invigilator of exams at my local university.

It occupies me for five weeks of the year. The rest of the time I’m not sure what I do, to be honest. This, I suppose. And walking Hunzi.

It’s a job for a schizophrenic. Half of you is working as a policeman-cum-security-guard (or ‘Campus Life Manager’, as we must now call them), relentlessly patrolling to detect or preferably forestall cheating, ‘Unacceptable Academic Practice’ as we are learning to call it. Eternally vigilant for suspicious bulges betraying the presence of a mobile phone, we rifle through bags and pencil cases for concealed notes and demand to see what the students’ tattoos are  telling them, that they didn’t already know about astrophysics or sports psychology.

Meanwhile the other half is scooting up and down, helpfully fetching pens and rulers and erasers for dimwits who have turned up with no means of taking the exam, providing tissues to snivellers, being sympathetic to candidates in the throes of a nervous breakdown and explaining kindly to students who should never have been admitted in the first place, how to fold over the corner of their answer book and stick the flap down to conceal their identity from the marker. (I was once called over by a student who asked me what degree she was doing?)

And trying to avoid reading what the early leavers have written. It’s immeasurably dispiriting, knowing that one tried and failed in one’s youth despite having A-levels to get into any of half a dozen universities (probably because it was done on interview in them days and I was a miserable, moody, snooty little git who hadn’t read any of the set books), to read answers that have barely progressed in any literary sense from the fourth form, knowing that the candidate will in all likelihood graduate with a 2:1 on the basis of this ungrammatical, childish claptrap.

(Modest proposal: I’d like to see university lecturers drafted to teach for a year in the sixth-forms of schools, at least two hours a week, on how to go about writing essays of a slightly higher intellectual order than ‘What I did on my holidays’.)

As often happens in these dissertations, a faint whooshing! sound and some eerie music take me back to my own days as a rather elderly undergraduate about to sit the theory test, part of a vocational degree I had stupidly signed up for at my local technical college (as it used to be known: we must probably now call it the University of South Watford) in the hope of meeting girls.

I had worked for some years as a radio announcer. The job often involved unsocial hours, getting up at half-past three in the morning to start work at five. If something went wrong, a newsfeed was down, a line had gone dead or  a colleague failed to show up, you were on your own. And that pitiless old second-hand was ticking round inexorably to the moment when you had to start talking sensibly, bang-on the hour, and finish bang-on the second after talking for exactly 180 seconds. It can seem like an eternity. And if you’re late into the studio, it can be hard talking with your heart in your mouth.

In those days, I used to dream anxiety dreams, that I soon discovered were common in the business. I would dream that some wag had crept into the studio and set fire to my script, so that I had to remember what was written below while I was still reading the bits above, and it was turning to a pile of ashes in my hand. Or, that I had forgotten to write a script, but grabbed an armful of paper off my desk at the last minute and rushed into the studio just as the DJ was introducing the news,  only to find it wasn’t news stories at all but just random letters and bills and supermarket receipts, and I had to start talking NOW…

So there I was, due imminently to turn up for an exam, knowing I was already a complete failure and that I was about to be tested on things I knew nothing about. So I hurriedly whipped through a textbook and scribbled little notes on pieces of paper, odd names and formulae, and secreted them in various places about my person. It wasn’t that I intended to cheat, to rely on notes, to even look at them: the information was of no value. I just needed to be close to some knowledge, to know that I actually had something in case of emergency, to allay my chronic anxiety that something, anything, everything unforeseen must surely go wrong: to guard against the known unknowns.

And even today, on stage and about to sing, despite feeling perfectly confident I judiciously pin the words to a handy music stand, just in case the worst I’ve imagined comes true. And then, of course, I’m looking nervously at the words I would otherwise remember perfectly if they weren’t pinned to the stand and so lose contact with the audience, and sometimes even the pianist.  You hear about really famous actors having to secrete their lines all around the set, little prompts to themselves here and there. It’s all down to what Mel Brooks memorably called ‘High Anxiety’, in his parody of Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ mixed somehow with ‘High Society’ – the link being Grace Kelly. (Funnily enough, I also suffer from acrophobia – fear of heights.)

Unacceptable Academic Practice can, at such times, be seen merely as normal prudence. Not, however, to judge by the Rules of Invigilation, which hold rigidly to the notion that even writing one’s girlfriend’s phone number on one’s wrist before wandering into the exam room is a career-defining crime: nothing written extraneously shall be admitted, regardless of purpose or intention. God knows what the Senate makes of tattoos.

As a boy scout, my motto had been: ‘Be prepared!’ It’s not natural to strip oneself naked to go into the exam room, to abandon commonsense under artificial conditions that will never again occur during one’s working lifetime, to let go of the notes we pin everywhere around us, metaphorically and often literally, to remind ourselves of the important little things we really do know but are afraid we might forget.

I can easily understand, too, how a student can genuinely fear being parted from their phone. Phones have become so central to people’s view of themselves in the world, so necessary to their social survival that it seems an act of cruelty to tear them apart in this way. (Again, if you can program your phone with useful data to pull up in an exam, it’s surely proof that you already know the subject but just fear your ability to recall details under the special pressure of an exam, that will never be repeated in your career.)

New data points to a horrific toll taken on students’ mental health, with ambulances called to over a hundred and thirty suicide attempts last year. This exam pressure surely cannot be right, although the robust side of my character protests that maybe university isn’t for everyone. I know I should probably have drunk or smoked myself to death, had I gone to university. Crowds can be lonely places.

Happily, no-one ever found out about my notelets. I did poorly though not disgracefully in the theory test. I didn’t go on to work in the industry anyway, what I wanted was a complete change of career. If I had, no-one would ever have dreamed of asking me what degree I had obtained! My degree was actually won through submitting a ten thousand-word dissertation of such startling magnificence and mature insight, it scored a 92 per-cent mark – a Distinction.

Of course, I wrote it in a single day. The final day…

Starting work at five a.m. can get to be a habit.


Cometh the hour…

My Man of the Month? (Dramatic pause…) Step forward….

Mr A. Hitler!

Not only has the former Reich’s Chancellor supplied a rather dodgy alibi to Mr Ken Livingstone, erstwhile Mayor of London, after his somewhat ill-judged intervention on behalf of Roz Shah MP, who has been unfairly accused (also in my view) of advocating the forcible removal of Jews from Israel to the USA; he now provides the model of governance for the European Union.

Outgone London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose Trump-like tongue-in-cheek campaign to promote Brexit, Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, so clearly aligns itself with his vainglorious hankering to lead the Conservative party and occupy No 10, has likened Brussels to Hitler, and, indeed, Napoleon – both ‘little men’ who wanted to unite Europe; of course, he concedes, in different ways.

Various spokes on the Remain side have pointed out that Boris is talking out of his considerable Turkish arse, as usual. Herr Juncker has never, so far as we know, tried to invade Poland. Mr Tusk already lives there. And what’s wrong anyway with uniting Europe?

They’re wrong. Invoking Hitler does in fact have a magical effect: the marketing boys at the history publishers I worked for calculated that you could get an automatic 15 per cent increase in sales just by including his name in the title of any book.

So there’s no truth in the story that Boris is publishing his autobiography: “Hitler’s Machiavelli – The Prince Returns”?

Pip pip!