Look out, you’re being Followed! #2

Is this the most isolated person not actually in solitary?

In line with my policy of not doing that stiff-upper-lip British thing of never admitting to anyone that you have a problem, even under torture, I’d like to tell you about my problem.

It’s a policy that sometimes pays off, in that someone gets to hear about your problem and steps in with practical help and advice.

You see, ancient as I am, I have this even more ancient mother….

We’re both grown up and can take responsibility for our own lives. Thanks to my boarding-school era, we’re friendly, not close. We’re separated geographically, and by the 32 years of my two marriages. We call one another every three months or so and I visit whenever I can find the money, the energy and an opportunity. It’s three or four times a year, anyway. Always at Christmas.

My visits are usually characterised by watching daytime TV together, cooking meals I don’t need to eat and drinking too much. Ninety-one years old, far from ‘liking a drop’ my mother is hard at it from ten in the morning, and I’m too polite not to join her. She also smokes heavily, which means that after two days I return home kippered, and the next day starts with coughing up grey phlegm.

Drinking and smoking are my mother’s pain-management regime. She takes about twenty pills a day for various conditions, but none of it helps and I remind her that my father had to do the same until one day he thought ‘fuck it!’ and threw them away and did okay for another ten years, he and his furred-up arteries lived to be 83.

My mother has conditions of the elderly. Having been an Equity card-carrying actress all her life, she used to keep herself supple like a dancer. Those exercises can come back to bite you in old age; the tendons in her feet have contracted so she has difficulty walking without support. Her spine is crumbling: she has osteoporosis, and spondylitis causing her vertebrae to compact and press painfully on her sciatic nerves. She’s a cancer survivor, although it wasn’t a bad one, and has an undefined heart condition I think of as disillusionment.

A notably beautiful woman in her day, she made films that included one cult movie after which she became a black gay icon in Brixton, not being either black or gay; did TV plays, and was a shoo-in for Lady MacB at the Old Vic, but sadly never an A-lister; possibly because at the point when success beckoned, she decided to look after me.

And still not bad. It’s a shame she can no longer visit the hairdresser; I’m not sure there is one locally anymore. Getting her hair done and looking nice is important to a woman, even at 91. But a trip to the West End and a £100 price tag have put it out of the question. So she’s had to go for that grey and witchy look.

But she’s tough-minded and independent. Okay, she tells me the same things over and again, but not because she’s losing it; her life is so circumscribed now, she doesn’t have new experiences to replace the memories. She’s sharply opinionated, and sometimes although I think I am the least politically correct animal, she will appall me with a sudden remark about someone or something she disapproves of, in ways which nowadays you’re not supposed to. It surprises both of us when she takes after her mother like that.

I’ve long known her age and mobility issues would one day become a problem that whisky and Chesterfields and old episodes of Miss Marple wouldn’t be enough to fix. That day has come, and I simply have no answers; no power or knowledge to fix anything.

Because my mother lives on her own, in a cluttered, second-floor, two-storey walk-up flat, up five flights of concrete steps she can no longer tackle unaided, in the middle of London. It’s the area where she has lived at least since I was born, around and about the borough of Kensington; until she remarried and settled where she is, over fifty years ago.

The only person she sees from week to week is a cleaner, a slightly dimwitted African lady who doesn’t clean – I find three-months-old food in the fridge – but can at least help with shopping, and bringing up the post from downstairs.My mother has to pay her £10 an hour; it’s more than I earned from editing books. And she’s not on the Internet; no Broadband, doesn’t have a laptop to keep her in touch.

Social Services seems to be aware of my mother, at least, although they’re not doing anything much about her situation. So, as I said, I don’t like to be around her too much or they might decide there’s someone taking care of business, which I’m not – I can’t at this distance – and pull back even the minimal help she gets now

Besides, I’ve lost touch with the city of my birth. After thirty-five years away I have no idea where anything is anymore. Where would you buy anything, there are no big supermarkets handy, no DIY stores – Harrod’s? Let alone solicitors, doctors, removal men, storage facilities… undertakers. I need to ask staff to help just buying an underground train ticket, I don’t have an Oyster card or even a contactless payment card!

It’s all changed.

Being close to the top people’s clubs and classy department stores, handy for the West End theatres, the royal parks and not too far from Parliament, the City and the admin buildings of Whitehall, the area went through a new gentrification – parts of it having been gentrified in the 1930s – in the 1970s; so that even the old stable-boys’ and servants’ quarters became pricey, ‘des. res.’ mews cottages and apartments. It was a villagey sort of area, I remember, where artists and writers and businessmen and politicians and people with country houses and a pad in town mixed together amicably. And there were small shops, a butcher’s on the corner. My stepfather’s sisters rented or owned several properties there. It had a familiar feel.

But long gone. Nothing compares to today, with quite ordinary – though luxuriously appointed – two-bedroom flats fetching crazy prices in the many £millions; endless redevelopment. Bought as investment commodities, those places aren’t even lived-in. The little shops I knew are gone, new ones coming and going with dizzying rapidity; pavement cafes like a street in Beirut, many Arabs sitting out enjoying their nargilehs, Arabic music blaring out late into the night.

Could anywhere as expensive look so cheap?

At night the area away from the main drag is like a ghost town. Few lights are on above basement level, and the backstreets are empty but for bored chauffeurs hanging around, lined up in their blacked-out SUVs waiting for the Kuwaiti princelings to leave the restaurants, private clubs and brothels in the early hours. Many of the little cottages have been bought by Russians; bristling with satellite dishes, there’s no-one to watch the screens.

A ‘statutory tenant’, meaning her rent is capped by the local authority, and with a tenancy for life, my mother’s landlords refused to carry out any repairs and maintenance, or even to install heating and insulation, for thirty years; until the flat deteriorated into an actual slum, with mould on the walls and in the bathroom, worn-out carpets, rainwater spurting in around the window-frames. Parts of the electricity circuit weren’t working, my mother relying on a handheld LED light to go to the bathroom at night.

Trapped in the wealthiest borough of the wealthiest city on the planet, unable to leave her flat without help, my mother has no money to change anything; and nothing changes, except the slowfast drip of time.

How come?

In 1985, my mother found some incriminating photographs in the bureau whose nature even I will not go into here, and divorced her second husband of twenty years. Although his family owned a C15th manor house with its own village, mysteriously he had no income and no assets; until she took him to the High Court and broke his family Trust fund.

She was awarded a one-off lifetime settlement. Having no idea about investment, she sought his advice (peculiarly they remained friends, he liked to be verbally abused) and was introduced to his syndicate at the world-famous insurance brokerage, Lloyd’s of London, in which my stepfather had been a sleeping financial investor, known as a Name, for many years.

Some of you may guess what’s coming.

My belief is that she was corruptly induced to become a Name. Totally ignorant of the workings of the insurance market, my mother was told, probably truthfully, that Lloyd’s syndicates had never declared a loss in the 200-year history of the company.

The fact was that while ‘Those lovely young men in red braces’, the Underwriters were serenading her over an agreeable lunch in the City, they knew that coming down the line imminently was a loss grossing $6 billion, that they were not capitalized to meet; many of the existing Names having mysteriously resigned.

Under the unique ‘three-year’ rule whereby Lloyd’s were not obliged to file accounts annually as other businesses are, they were able to hide the loss from the up-and-coming punters with a few bob earned from new soft-growth areas like the media, showbiz, advertising, design and architecture; people in my mother’s position, who were at the time being persuaded to invest their newfound wealth in Lloyd’s: a surefire vehicle offering high returns and prestigious dinners in the City.

I have bogled on this before: how for years, in my understanding, Underwriters had been bundling up and selling on to one another (‘reinsuring’) for fat commissions, loss-making policies in the US market – many of them taken out on workers in the West Virginia rustbelt mining industries who had contracted asbestosis, mesotheliomas and other occupational diseases, on whose behalf (or their surviving relatives’) the unions had been winning class actions.

And how, fearing a collapse of confidence in the City of London, despite numbering a good few Names in their own ranks, the government of the day had overruled calls for an independent inquiry, and instead allowed Lloyd’s to investigate itself, with totally predictable results. After which, the old Names returned and took up the business again of making their fortunes, oblivious to the suffering they had caused.

Many people, including my mother, were bankrupted. And when my grandmother died three years later, the principle of Unlimited Liability which Names have to accept in exchange for bigger dividends, meant that Lloyd’s took her house as well, leaving my mother destitute, clinging on to her ex-husband’s flat and with no legal redress.

Having been a Name for only 18 months, having never made an Underwriting decision in her life, having received only one small dividend payout, without the necessary capital to declare my mother had to resign, and so could not ultimately get back in the game or even claim the limited compensation available, for which you had to have remained a member. She had been fleeced of over half a million pounds, and never recovered.

Flat busted

Eventually, about six years ago the local authority housing officer stepped in and forced my mother’s landlords to make repairs. Central heating, double-glazing, properly certified electrics, everything was done cheaply and perfunctorily, in the ugliest and most practical way; really just to protect their investment in the building. The leaking roof was covered over; the roof garden my landscape-artist stepfather had made, that was causing some of the problems, removed.

Nevertheless it was done; and some security aids were added after my then 85-year-old mother, who was still working until she had a fall and broke her arm, pursued a burglar out and down into the street, yelling at the top of her considerable theatrical lungs.

And then the adjacent building was bought by developers.

For three years my mother lived with the noise, the dust and vibration, the cracks in the wall and the accidental cutting-off of her gas and TV. The hammering and drilling and pile-driving went on seven days a week as the builders dug down two floors to make a pool and a media room. The flats that eventually arose on the site were on sale for £12 to £18 million each.

Last year her landlord died, leaving the building to his children, who quickly decided to sell it. In August this year, she had a letter from a company introducing themselves as the new owners. A check on the web shows that they ‘specialise in tenanted properties and protected tenancies’; managing the rents before getting the tenants out and selling the buildings on.

The people in the flat downstairs have moved out, the owners of the commercial premises on the ground floor have been given a short, five-year lease. A defenceless 91-year-old woman has been left, stranded on her own at nights and at weekends, unable to negotiate the many stairs even to collect her post. The rent that the government is paying on her behalf is one-tenth probably of the rent the owners could be getting privately, but there’s been no offer to encourage her to leave.

I’ve made frantic enquiries about getting her out, rehousing her; she says she’s ready to go, hopefully somewhere there might be people around she can talk to, but there’s a Catch-22 in the proper sense of it.

We don’t have any money. If she is evicted, the local authority is obliged to rehouse her. They have no accommodation suitable for a 91-year-old woman with mobility issues. But she’s not being evicted, as a protected tenant she can’t legally be evicted; not while the Government is still paying her rent. So, if she were to leave of her own accord the authority is not obliged to rehouse her.

In any case, to find even a bedsit in the area, where she depends on several hospitals and her GP, would be unaffordable for the austerity-driven Department of Work and Pensions. If she does leave, she loses her rent cap. And the average rent in her borough is over £3k a month.

My own local authority is not obliged to do anything. She doesn’t live in the county, and in any case they have no accommodation available; nor do the housing associations, whose waiting lists stretch into years. Going carol-singing, I have seen some of the local accommodation for the elderly, and I’m glad of that.

My mother doesn’t need nursing, or fulltime care. She can still cook for herself, dress, bathe, put herself to bed. She’s not incontinent and does not have dementia until the fourth or the fifth Scotch of the day. Besides, they wouldn’t let her smoke.

My own tiny cottage will not suffice for both of us; I have looked at the accommodation from all angles and with steep, narrow stairs it’s not an option. A university town, private rented accommodation is at a premium, mostly infested with students and often in disgusting condition.

I sometimes find myself thinking she might not wake up tomorrow; although we wouldn’t know about it for a week or more; the cleaner doesn’t have a key, my mother doesn’t trust her with one. How paramedics would get in in an emergency, I have no idea. It takes my mother five minutes just to get from the kitchen to the door buzzer to let anyone in downstairs. The prognosis is hopeless, the problems insoluble.

What to do with all the junk, her stuff, the relentless, fifty-year accumulation of clothes and books and medicines and face-cream jars; the furniture, the unsaleable ‘antiques’? I’m no spring chicken. Who would help us get all of that out, down five flights of steps, out to the inaccessible parking, without charging a fortune; and where would it all go then?

What do people do in these family situations, your own slide into lonely old age staring you in the face? How on earth do you fix a problem like my mother?

Can it even be fixed?

 

2. A bonfire of the insanities

Does anybody else have the same thing? Like, the same weird experience all the time?

Like, when someone starts to Follow your bogl, only they are totally the most least likely of all people in the world surprisingly to agree with anything you like, write?

(I’m writing this Post in the vernacular, by the way. I figure that if I inject the word ‘like’ enough times, this, muh bogl will become virile on account of the dentistry of keywords. Right? I’m a businessman, I know words.)

So, last week, I found my bogl was being Followed by a woman who writes eloquently and poetically on the most exquisitely designed and fragrant web pages about her recovery from anorexia, which she attributes to the loving agency of Jesus.

(If you’re Following this, by the way, you may want to skip a day.)

Odd to find her here, as I’d just Published an excoriatingly anti-religious piece about the filthy murder of yet another open-minded human being by credulous Islamic baboons whose righteous anger was inspired because, a secular blogger, he’d ‘insulted God’ by reposting an innocuous cartoon on Facebook for the purpose of discussion.

I suggested that perhaps it was up to God to decide for Himself if He felt insulted, and to do something about it; not up to those medieval cretins to blasphemously take His name in vain.

So my general position on the subject of religions must have been quite clear.

As it happens, I welcome anyone to my li’l Church. It’s great to be reaching out to at least 35 people around the world, lost and lonely folks in need of intellectual guidance. Here is some:

It has probably not occurred to many Christians that the Ruler of an expanding universe of a septillion suns – 10 to the power of 24, an immensity your Church tried to deny for centuries –  is unlikely to care about you personally, your state of health, let alone count the hairs on your head. Even the Rulers of earthly kingdoms can’t do that, however micro-managerial they are.

Jesus unfortunately lets plenty of tragic young women die with anorexia, they don’t recover; and millions of children die every year from diseases of malnutrition and drinking filthy water, which is why I think the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes is a bit of a myth, but people can believe whatever they want to believe so long as they don’t point a gun at me and tell me I have to believe it too.

Perhaps all those millions of young women and children gentle Jesus lets die every year from hunger around the world just didn’t pray enough, to the right God, using the right words? Perhaps He doesn’t love them as much as He loves you?

The cultural history of the world is littered with abandoned Gods, all of them almighty in their day, but who ultimately didn’t deliver when it came to people’s happiness, security and prosperity. Why should this one be any different?

And it’s a bit of an insult, isn’t it, to those thousands of decent people who’ve dedicated their lives to finding more reliably replicable cures for Humanity’s mental and physical infirmities, deliverance from suffering that doesn’t depend on which God you worship or your personal special relationship with Jesus, to say no, you’re wasting your time, Jesus loves me and will fix me good if I just pray right?

Because nine times out of ten He doesn’t. How right you must be. (But of course! He’s ineffable! ‘He moves in mysterious ways!’ Well, I’m sorry, you can’t have your cake and eat it: going from the ridiculous to the sublime, as it were. We can’t simultaneously both know and not know the mind of God unless either He is a psychopath, or we are.)

Anyway, changing the subject, my newest Follower, No. 35 (after nearly five years of agonising mental effort and typing) is a gym instructor! (Should I say Personal Fitness Coach? I never know.)

That’s right. All his (or her? Haven’t worked it out yet) Posts that I have briefly browsed on are about the joys of doing gym the right way.

Now, I’m not against gym. It’s just that I haven’t myself vaulted a horse or pumped iron for decades. In fact, I will walk extra blocks to avoid the sight and smell of a gym. The only exercise I take is walking Hunzi twice a day for an hour, singing the praises of Charlie Parker, and typing of course.

But I did mention a few Posts ago that one of the many, many sports I had tried and failed at in my life was gym.

ouhahouahaouaha… (Maybe I’ll just use a different colour for flashbacks from now on instead of that theramin-type noise, what say you, ol’ buddy?)

Sergeant Harry Rusbridger….

…was the gym instructor at my prep school. He had a firm belief that a boy’s fitness level was equated to his ability to inflate his chest with air. (That was in the days before the Clean Air Act, the air everywhere in postwar Britain was tinged with toxic Sulphur Dioxide from burning brown coal.)

He seldom failed to remind me with pride and fondness that my Uncle Richard, who had preceded me by a few years, had the biggest chest expansion he had ever celebrated in a pupil (we were ten years old!).

Under Harry’s brisk and soldierly instruction, we concentrated on shallow chest breathing, to the ruination of my subsequent singing career, in order to push our puny rib cages into some semblance of a military pout.

Sergeant Harry would go around, solemnly measuring our chests with a tape-measure on the out-breath, and then the in-breath, exclaiming over the difference: ‘Four inches!  Uncle Richard could manage four inches! Keep breathing, laddy! Chest out, bum in, that’s the way!’

The fact that I was asthmatic had not occurred even to the school doctor, who would sign me off to the sanatorium with unstoppable coughing bouts regularly twice a term with a prescription for three days’ bed-rest, plenty of cod-liver oil and thinly diluted concentrated orange-juice for my ‘weak chest’.

To be fair, I got a lot of reading done.

And I was considered too delicate for games; until, in my last summer, an outbreak of mumps carried off half the First Eleven, and I got my break as a cricketer; scoring five runs, and taking three wickets in my maiden appearance against hated rivals, Twyford.

But I always worried about the deep hollow in my breastbone, where the ribs join on, that indicated the opposite of the proud, puffed-out, hearty chestedness that was clearly so desirable in a real ten-year-old Man fit to rule an Empire.

Had my character also failed to expand in the prescribed manner? Judging by this bogl, dear Followers, and its inanities, I fear the answer is yes.

 

The Outing of Uncle Bogler

OMG! The BogPo has had 32 views in the last 24 hours! An enormous blue spike has suddenly appeared on the graph.

It’s not the record (47) but considering the average is only one, it’s a red-letter day alright.

How come?

Well, I can’t work out from the stats if it’s 32 different people each reading one, or one obsessive insomniac clicking through 32 Posts.

That would be great except that my output rivals Chilcot, and to read 120 thousand of the Bogler’s well-chosen words in a single night (at 4000 a pop) would be the equivalent of my own many nights spent clicking through Christopher Hitchens’ and his acolyte, Sam Harris’ fascinating clips on YouTube into the early hours, when I totter off to bed singing God’s praises.

What’s changed?

Maybe it’s got something to do with the other night, when I decided, sod it, I’m not spending another evening morosely pressing buttons, Uncle Bogler is venturing OUT for a change!

The choice consisted of wandering the streets between the intermittent heavy showers, heading for a dying pub for an overpriced glass of cheap supermarket wine, or spending a tenner on a Comedy Club evening at the University. (It was fantastic, actually, two really good standups.)

There, I bumped into one of my Followers, who soon began singing my praises to her mates.

Is that what’s happened? That BogPo has finally gone virile through word of mouth, as I have always imagined it might have to, given that I go in for no SEO?

Anyway, here’s a Classified Ad:

WANTED: Teenager.

I’ve just acquired a tablet thing, device; another birthday present to myself, and there’s no instructions in the instruction booklet telling you how to switch it on. It doesn’t actually appear to be doing anything, let alone the stuff I needed it to do.

I managed to put it on charge, after working out that the curiously squashed-together points on the mains plug all cleverly slide apart, but all it does is show me a picture of an old-fashioned U2 battery, from which I assume but can’t be certain it’s in charging mode.

All I am aware of is the Health& Safety advice that it’s designed to explode if you leave it plugged in for ‘too long’, however long that is.

Also this, muh mainframe, has started acting up. Last Tuesday I cranked it into gear, only to find all the settings had unset themselves in the night while it was switched off (it’s got a switch!) and I couldn’t remember how I’d set them up in the first place, which thingys I’d pushed, my music files were all refusing to open and I cried.*

One of my earlier suggestions Theresa May has not taken up as party policy was that we could bring back National Service, creating an army not of reluctant squaddies but of tech-savvy proxy servers with head-tufts, who could go around showing ageing dimwits such as your Uncle Bogler how to switch their Smarts on and download files that mysteriously won’t open, and whatever apps are.

Hitherto I’ve relied on the resident boy, but he’s off somewhere doing a Master’s degree  in how to run World War Three and hopes not to have to come back.

Now I’m £150 lighter, and completely helpless in the face of ironic minimalist design.

 

*My tears gave way to rage, when I learned that, like Santa Claus, Microsoft beanbags had circled the earth in one night, strategically ‘updating’ their dodgy Windows 10 software as a 1st anniversary ‘present’; and had fucked with everyone’s settings in the process.

I feel, frankly, violated by these unaccountable techno-cretins; and I want my fucking music files back, they’re all I’ve got. So far, no-one can tell me how to do it. What, do I have to load all 50 CDs over again? Cunts. (Can’t Undo Nighttime Transgressions, Sorry).

 

 

 

 

 

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So you’d like to be a Politician?

Let’s all vote for Aunt Mildred

By: Chief Political Correspondent, ©2016 Laura Facebook. @Laurasweeplace

 

It starts at home, the desire.

Your Dad wants to kick all the foreigners out and put asylum seekers in concentration camps. Your Mum wants to hang TV licence-dodgers but thinks asylum seekers should get a fair crack of the whip. They both think social security benefits should be abolished. But they agree, HS2 is an expensive white elephant, and we should spend the money on bringing back National Service rather than on treating sick people in the NHS, who’ve brought their misfortunes on themselves

And there you are, deeply ashamed of your parents and having furious rows over the breakfast table that end with you storming off to your room and turning Rage Against the Machine’s latest free download up to 11.

At school, you’re bright and articulate, so they make you the House debating captain. You win a debate: This House Thinks Nelson Mandela Was the Greatest Human Being That Ever Lived! Clutching your three A-levels, off you go to University, where you join one of the student party political affiliates (not the Union – nobody is seen dead nowadays joining the Students’ Union) and the Debating Soc., where you meet Kevin, the love of your life.

Of course, you can’t join the Anarchists, or the Nationalists – their speakers have been deplatformed for having scary thoughts.

You’re doing a degree in Politics, or Economics, maybe English or History, in which case you’ll spend the next three years reading dozens of books and churning through online resources, writing gauche and poorly planned essays, attending lectures from top academics who’ve published actual books, suffering acute shyness through three hours of seminars a week; going on ‘boot camps’, arguing endlessly in pubs and taking part in debates.

At the end of your first and second years, you’ll be examined on your knowledge of the sources using your embryonic critical faculties; and in your final year, among myriad more essays, write an underresearched 12,000-word dissertation on the roots of women’s suffrage in C19th Bradford, and get a First.

In the long vac, you work as a volunteer at your local constituency association. You may be handing out flyers, making tea, delivering leaflets, stuffing envelopes, making tea, sending out emails and tweets, making tea, monitoring what’s trending. You may get to go around as a bag-carrier for the local MP on the stump, banging on doors and hearing why your MP is the biggest crook in Britain and the Bangladeshi family next door puts glass in the recycling.

So, there you are, a Politics graduate with a £50,000 debt to pay off. You could go on to do your Master’s degree, maybe study abroad for a year; that’ll be another £25,000 to find, but it’s vital experience in so many ways – or you could apply among thousands of others for an internship, working for a real politician at Westminster.

Say you manage to bag one. You’ll now be close to the Big Beasts of the political jungle – or maybe just a junior shadow minister or a humble backbencher. They all have sweaty, sweary offices of varying sizes in hard-to-find parts of the Palace, smelling like public-school of boiled cabbage and jockstraps, or spilling over into surrounding buildings.

You won’t be being paid, although you get travel and lunch expenses (might as well start as you mean to go on!), so you’ll live in a squat, a skip or somewhere while you learn the ropes: opening the post, making tea, stuffing envelopes (dutiful MPs do reply to those half-arsed online petitions by writing patiently back to serial protesters who get as far as adding their postcodes), answering phones, making tea and generally absorbing the febrile atmosphere of cut-and-thrust politics.

After six months of this, enlivened by the odd glimpse of Theresa May’s leopardskin Jimmy Choos clopping censorially down the corridor, leaving only a frown hanging in the air, the next step is to become a researcher.

This is what the Brightside website (‘the essential guide to careers, education and student life’) has to say about that: http://www.brightknowledge.org/knowledge-bank/social-sciences/careers-in-social-sciences/career-profile-parliamentary-researcher

Parliamentary researchers work for MPs. As the name suggests, a lot of their work involves research on a variety of topics, but they also:

  • write speeches, briefings and press releases
  • deal with letters from constituents
  • organize and attend meetings
  • monitor parliamentary business
  • manage other staff

Researchers spend most of their time in Westminster, but there will be some travel involved. They might sometimes have to work in the MP’s constituency, as well as attending party conferences, which take place in Autumn and Spring.

Researchers are also likely to have to work into the evening some of the time, since parliament sits as late as 10.30pm on Mondays.

From here, the brightest young stars may, having proved themselves capable and – more importantly – sound on party policy, be proposed by the organisers for the chance to stand for election, usually in an unwinnable constituency. Thus ‘listed’, they have to go through a rigorous selection process, run by a difficult clique of elderly local committee members.

Opportunities to stand for election for one of the established parties are rare – you may be stepping into a dead man’s shoes, or the sitting MP will have been encouraged to retire in advance of a General Election.You may be passed over for selection in favour of a completely useless man.

On the other hand, thanks to our archaic ‘first past the post’ voting, unless you are Boris Johnson there is little or nothing to be gained in a two-and-a-half party system from standing for any other party.

After two, three, five attempts, often in different parts of the country, if you’ve done as well as can be expected you may find yourself being nominated for a ‘safe seat’, one you really ought to be able to win (were it not for the minor difficulty that it’s not your party’s turn to get voted in and on top of the national swing away from you there’s a protest vote for UKIP in your constituency, that wipes out your majority before you’ve even opened your mouth to speak and lets your rival in!)

But at last, the Returning Officer announces that you’ve made it to Parliament, and the media circus enfolds you. Despite your years of making tea, it’s still all a mystery to be unravelled: alliances to be forged, tearooms and bars to be negotiated, people to be avoided or courted, obscure rules of etiquette to be obeyed, a maiden speech to be drafted, invitations to appear on Newsnight resisted. ‘Sitting as late as 10.30 on Mondays’ turns into sitting until 3 a.m. the rest of the week.

Although it’s expressly ruled out in the Bible, as a sitting MP you’ll be serving two masters: your constituents, and the Chief Whip. You now face five years perched on the floor of a crowded InterCity Virgin Pendolino train, toggling between your local constituency in some shuttered-up northern town, where you’ll be expected to live and educate your kids, if possible; and your overpriced bedsit in Pimlico, where you can’t be sure if you’re allowed to claim your TV on expenses or be crucified in the press. Your life reduced to the size of a laptop computer, you invest in a second mobile phone.

That expensive political education, when you were expected to think for yourself, now goes out of the window as you are brusquely shoved through the voting lobby in service of whatever half-baked policy the Cabinet Office has panicked-up in response to the latest headline in the Daily Mail. And your entire first year’s salary just neatly covers that student debt. But, you have your own office; your own intern: expenses! It’s just that it’s in the cellar and overrun with mice.

Your next step up the greasy pole is to become a PPS, a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a minister, or shadow minister. This is generally the route to becoming one yourself, eventually. Luckily, while reshuffles aren’t common, turnover among ministers is brisk, owing to the precarious nature of the business; rather like being the England football manager.

Your travel horizons now broaden out, as you’ll get to go on junkets to promote trade with Kyrgzystan and other places you’d never thought of visiting; you’ll still need to deal with the problem of glass in the neighbours’ recycling when you get back, while at the same time advising your minister on what to do about President Putin invading Poland. (This is where the degree comes in handy.)

Now you are a Minister of the Crown; your salary has increased to a princely £120 thousand a year, about one eightieth of the average salary of a FTSE-100 CEO who gets to go home at weekends. But you will be strongly advised by the readers of the Daily Mail not to accept it, as you are not really worthy of their hard-earned tax money at least until you have slashed the Disability Attendance Allowance to zero and forced some of the dead back to work.

Yes, your parents have become your constituents!

Promotion to one of the top offices means you have finally made it – Secretary of State, a team of smarmy, treacherous ministers under you, surreptitiously leaking to the press those Tweets you sent four years ago saying the new leader was a useless cretin and you thought Trident was an outdated military concept and a total waste of money, and now wish you hadn’t.

A top office can very soon lead on to top honours: a knighthood, the House of Lords (standing-room only) – membership of the Privy Council. And a lucrative revolving-door job to look forward to afterwards as a one-day-a-week consultant for Glaxo SmithKline or BAe will make up for some of the frustrations and disappointments with a decent honorarium.

The actual Prime Ministership however is out of your grasp, unless he has made a complete tit of himself by holding a hasty referendum on a complex issue nobody understands, but everyone thinks they do, and loses. Your colleagues are all variously flapping around looking immensely useless and/or culpable for the disaster; several have tripped over onto their swords, so it’s you who are dragged from hiding behind a curtain by the Praetorian Guard.

And there you stand, the PM at last, naked as the day you were born, hugging your Inner Intern at a hastily-erected lectern outside Number 10, trying desperately to think of anything to say that will unite the nation, end immigration at a stroke and frighten Mr Putin all at the same time.

Meanwhile, the press is more interested in speculating about what will happen to the Number 10 cat after the change of owner. Cats mean clickbait!

And the next day, as you book your trip to Washington to be instructed by the POTUS on your foreign and defence policies and not to oppose opening your domestic market to rapacious US corporations, you’ll still be expected to be on top of the vexed issue of glass in the neighbours’ recycling.

Yes, even the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is still a constituency MP, first and foremost.

So, to those angry, disappointed folk on your doorsteps, with your puzzled, thinning grey heads buried in the pages of the Daily Mail; you who like to claim along with Nigel Farage that our politicians have ‘never had a proper job in their lives’; unlike Farage, who, before he forged a career dishonestly drawing a generous salary and even more generous expenses from the very institution he is pledged to destroy, the European parliament, ‘worked’ in a ‘proper job’ as a ‘commodities broker’ (that’s someone who ensures third-world producers go hungry and consumers get fleeced, by rigging prices for his clients, the middlemen, to make their fortunes out of bulk shipping), I pose the question:

Would you rather the surgeon operating on your advanced neuro-blastoma had spent his apprenticeship and twenty or thirty years subsequently as a hod-carrier on a building site, or in a call-centre in Swansea? Is the girl or guy flying you and your kids and a bunch of drunks on a holiday charter to Torremolinos a better pilot for having first trained to fly a desk in the local JobCentrePlus?

So why do you expect your politicians to be, not expert politicians, but the assistant managers of building society branches, or the guy drinking tea who never answers the phone ringing behind the counter in Screwfix, or an Ofsted inspector, or the annoying Special Needs bloke operating the Stop-Go sign at the roadworks you’re stuck at?

Is it because you think ‘democracy’ means ‘rule by the masses’? Because it doesn’t.

Of course politics is a proper job!

UKIP. A shambolic, embryonic non-party born out of a generalised feeling of malcontent, a delusional belief that Aunt Mildred could do a better job of running ‘t country than someone who has spent thirty years actually learning how difficult it really is in the modern era; yes, Mildred’d regain control of our borders alright, she can knit a fence in a day.

Aren’t you possibly being a little silly to think this way?

 

Essay: Can you have ‘too many’ immigrants?

The migration of labour is as much subject to the law of supply and demand as any other area of the economy.

If there are jobs to fill, people will fill them.

If there are not enough native workers to fill jobs, people will be attracted to come from outside; benefiting both the immigrants, and the employers.

If there are not enough suitably qualified native workers, suitably qualified people will be attracted to come from outside, helping to maintain standards.

When there are enough workers to fill the jobs available, and enough suitably qualified people are in work, people will not be attracted to come from outside and will stop coming.

Faced with falling demand for labour, many migrants return to their home countries, or look to other countries where they can migrate to find work. Many native citizens also will be attracted to emigrate, to look for work in other countries.

It is a dynamic, not a static system, that operates as a natural response to economic cycles and local conditions.

In that sense, the idea that you can have ‘too many’ immigrants can only ever be true as a temporary state of surplus. The law of supply and demand in the labour market dictates that immigration must find its own level.

This basic principle has operated throughout the history of human economies.

Formerly, the driving force of migration was the pressure of population on agricultural land and the need to secure resources. The later growth of the production economy has made jobs the main driver of migration.

People will be attracted to areas of the global production economy where wages are higher and opportunities for advancement are greater than in their own countries. The growth of the consumer economy has made higher wages the subsidiary driver of migration.

The arguments put forward by people – many of them immigrants themselves – that there are ‘too many’ immigrants in Britain are based on two fallacies:

  • There must not be enough jobs to go round as there are people unemployed and therefore there is a surplus of immigrants.
  • The labour market is somehow static, so that immigrants who come to work never go home even when there is no demand for their labour.

The market requires a surplus pool of unemployed labour to function effectively. Surplus labour creates flexibility and introduces competition, raising standards.

Immigrants do settle, but we need to distinguish between different categories of migrant: the majority of migrants are transient workers, invited workers, students and tourists. Add to that, a virtually insignificant population of refugees seeking asylum; and a small number, perhaps a few thousand, of ‘illegals’ working in the Grey Economy.

In fact, each of these categories has its own niche in any economy. If there were no need of them, they would not migrate. Most successful countries in the world have a history of mixed immigration of this kind. Countries where there has been relatively little immigration over time are not among the world’s most successful economies.*

There is also a widespread and largely unchallenged belief that migration of labour has the effect of driving down wages for the native population.

This too is a fallacy. Migration is partly driven, as I have said, by the opportunity to earn higher wages in another country. Where migrants have to accept lower wages it is because employers are driving down wages; but they cannot do so to below the level of wages available in the migrants’ home countries or they will suffer a shortage of labour.

There is no evidence that unemployment in the native population is the result of ‘too much’ immigration. While the marginal price advantage enjoyed by immigrant workers may dissuade employers from taking on native workers, other factors such as willingness to do certain jobs and lack of suitably qualified candidates are more significant.

The well-intentioned imposition by Government of minimum wage levels that create a marginal benefit for inworkers has also helped to drive down wages to the minimum, making certain jobs less attractive to native workers with higher marginal costs.

Generally, as with any other area of the economy where the law of supply and demand operates, the price of labour is increased by scarcity and reduced by oversupply.

At the present time, while migrant numbers have increased, wages have also risen – by 2.4% in the year to July; 0.8% faster than the rate of inflation. This indicates that there is no oversupply of labour; in fact, it may be concluded that there are not enough immigrants!

And this is also shown by the continuing increase in the number of job vacancies at a time when unemployment is falling. In fact, unemployment has been continuously falling for the past seven years: another indication that there is no oversupply of labour in the jobs market.

Political attitude

The present position of the Labour party on the issue of immigration is a curious one. There is a split between the Parliamentary party and the rising membership, mainly of younger voters who support the leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn’s position on immigration is that he does not agree there are ‘too many’ immigrants, and does not wish to curb their numbers. In my view, this is the correct position.

How many immigrant workers have arrived, for instance, in Port Talbot, the town on the South Wales coast dominated by a giant steelworks whose future is under threat? Almost certainly none, as there is a closed community, no demand for labour and few possibilities of getting a permanent job. You would not go there.

But how many have arrived in London? That is where plentiful work is to be found; where semi-skilled labourers and service workers are prepared to endure Dickensian living conditions in order to obtain the benefits of marginal gains in income.

So the numbers of immigrants are self-regulating, controlled by the law of supply and demand, by local conditions, and by wages. There is no need for artificial quotas.

Mr Corbyn’s preferred policy is to move Government money into regions where high levels of immigration have put a strain on resources; to mitigate the effects on native populations. It is not a popular position even within his own party.

The parliamentary Labour party probably believes the same, that there are not ‘too many’ immigrants, but holds nonetheless to the view that the popular belief makes them unelectable, as the prevailing fallacy among mostly non-Labour voters in the country, who are in the majority, and whose swing votes are needed for Labour to regain power, is that there are too many immigrants.

They are therefore calling for a curb on immigration, even though they know it will have an adverse effect on the economy.

Why will they not instead try harder to inform the public of the truth? All the evidence points to the fact that migrant workers are in fact driving growth in the economy. Without them, the economy would flatline and many sectors such as health, care of the elderly, construction and transport would simply cease to function.

Economic facts, however, seem to be of little value to the majority of British voters, who find it easier to believe the narrative of sections of the media and of demagogic politicians, that immigrants are having an adverse effect on ‘our way of life’; whatever they mean by that.

What many people refer to is not ‘immigrants’, but ‘foreigners’. Much of the belief that there are ‘too many’ foreigners is emotional rather than factual, and is based on native insularity, protectionist tendencies and a false reading of history.

The media, too, has helped to perpetuate fallacies about immigration through their coverage of the ‘migrant crisis’ affecting parts of Europe and its presentation, often deliberate, as a threat of further excessive numbers of immigrants ‘invading’ Britain; although there is no evidence to date that they are.

Media presentation has helped also to create the myth of Europe as a dangerously dysfunctional entity ‘without borders’, open to all-comers; a manufactured narrative of a threat to Britain of being ‘swamped’ by surplus immigration, that in large part led to the ‘Leave’ vote in the EU referendum.

Everyone is an ‘economic migrant’ in one sense or another; we all locate ourselves where there is most opportunity to work and if possible earn a higher wage!

There may then be surplus immigrants in the sense that migrant workers often settle on a more permanent basis and are joined by economically unproductive relatives.

Settled migrants however will generally only import their relatives – a process quite strictly governed by the rules of the State – when it is economically feasible to support them.

It does not make sense to increase your costs in this way when there is a marginal economic benefit to be gained from repatriating your surplus wages to your relatives in your home country.

The idea that such ‘surplus’ immigrants are eating native taxpayers’ money by claiming benefits for no work is common, and popular. It should therefore be regarded with the greatest suspicion.

There is little evidence for ‘benefit tourism’. Anyone who has ever applied for benefits, whether in- or out-of-work, will know that lengthy, detailed and intrusive means-testing is the norm, creating a net through which very few who are not entitled to claim will pass.

Many people go along with the slogan of anti-immigrant populist politicians, that we have ‘lost control of our borders’. I have blogged previously that this is simple rhetoric. In what sense have we ‘lost control’? Only if you believe the fallacy that there are ‘too many’ immigrants!

It is a self-sustaining myth: the politicians are relying on the popular fallacy that there are ‘too many’ immigrants to make the idea that we have ‘lost control’ seem sensible, when it isn’t even true.

The idea of ‘losing control’ is obviously a powerful meme, playing on people’s natural fears of being ‘swamped’ or overwhelmed by external forces that they may not understand, over which they have no control.

Driven by insecurity and climate-change, so-called ‘economic migrants’ for instance have been moving northwards in great numbers out of the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region to seek work in Europe, and have found themselves mixed with refugees from war and insurrection in the Middle East and Libya. This apparent ‘threat’ to European stability has played into the hands of Eurosceptic populists.

The recent narrow popular vote in favour of leaving the European Union, with its core ‘Freedom of Movement’ charter, seems to have given some irrational elements the idea that they have permission to drive immigrants out of their neighbourhoods by violence. The country’s hostile attitude to immigration has been whipped up by some sections of the press and opportunistic demagogic politicians.

In fact, control is already built into the law of supply and demand, which states that immigration must find its own level.

Convincing people of the sense of this counter-emotional economic argument in favour of even higher levels of immigration at a time of rising demand for labour and an ageing native population is vital, both for the sustained growth of the economy and the security of the country.

*Japan may be suggested as a country where there has been little immigration but economic success. This was true up until the 2000s and the rise of the Chinese and Korean economies. But Japanese success was not built on innovation. “For most of the 1990s, Japan was the second richest large economy in the world—richer than Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Italy. It is now poorer than all of those economies except for Italy.”

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2012/08/lost-decades

 

Why the Bad Guys are winning

A four-year-old boy in nursery school draws a crude picture which his mother says is of his father cutting up a cucumber in the kitchen with a large knife. On another page are some abstract scribbles in orange crayon.

What’s this? Asks a kindly nursery assistant in a video clip, brandishing an actual cucumber.

‘A cucurbum’ replies the nervous small one.

OMG! Consternation. Authorities must be informed, police called; the boy is threatened with referral to a de-radicalisation programme; the mother is hauled up for questioning; many agencies are involved, veiled threats are made to take the woman’s children into care.

Oh, sorry, after lengthy explanations, we thought he said ‘a cooker bomb’! #wrysmile. (Only, there’s been no ‘sorry’.) (Guardian report, 29 September)

Weirdly, the picture bore no resemblance whatever to ‘a cooker bomb’. It was all in the frenzied imaginations of a terrorised group of slightly dimwitted nursery assistants and council staff, none of whom to this day believe they did anything wrong, other than to terrify a small child and his family.

After all, they are protecting our streets from four-year-olds armed with garden vine-fruit.

And then there was the primary schoolboy who, when asked in class where he lived, replied ‘A terrorist house’.

Resulting in all hell breaking loose.

Oh, sorry, hours later – you meant a ‘terraced house’! Silly us! #wrysmile.

In all, 19 children below the age of criminal responsibility were referred for questioning to panels empowered to force them to shop their parents and siblings to the plod, and undertake de-radicalisation programmes last year. A tiny number, compared with the unfolding social disaster of these programmes, designed by well-meaning ‘experts’ who don’t really have a clue what to do.

All over the country, teachers are being asked to carry out covert surveillance on the attitudes, speech and behaviour of Muslim pupils; even in class debates, any propensity to test-out ideas or question orthodoxies is being regarded with the utmost fearful suspicion.

Is it any wonder some resentful teenagers are becoming driven in on themselves, ripe for radicalisation? It’s us who’re doing it to them!

Added to sometimes over-authoritarian parenting at home, the nervous ultra-conservatism of the immigrant, this secondary layer of excessive paternalism pushed on them by the State is not offering them any alternative way to develop.

The lunacy of teachers who report small children for totally innocent ‘signs’ that they are being radicalised at home results from the fact that they have themselves been threatened with prison if they fail to report even the slightest mistaken image or phrase encountered in the nursery or the classroom, should anything go wrong. It’s an umbrella programme called ‘Channel’. (What sadist thinks up these sinister names?)

This is totalitarianism beyond anything we have experienced since the Second World War. But it’s not just in the nursery we imagine we can predict future criminal tendencies: psychologists, it’s reported, are expressing profound misgivings over the pseudo-science behind predictive tests linked to adult de-radicalisation programmes in prisons.

It appears the ‘tests’ were produced by prison-service staff on the basis of just twenty random interviews with Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist affiliations (most refused to cooperate), and have never been subjected to peer-review in scientific publications, as they are officially ‘secret’.

Actually, say the psychologists, they are probably just bollocks; like those online tests you take to see if you’re autistic, or compatible – whatever.

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the self-styled ‘paedophilia expert’, Texan ‘Dr’ Joe Sullivan, who makes a living going around the world training police forces in how to spot potential paedophiles in advance of them offending from the clothes they wear, and ‘certain tattoos’.

While not wishing to detract from the seriousness of the endeavour, and the underlying problem, I mean, come on! Of course, you can tell a witch by whether or not they own a cat and if they float when you chuck them in the lake.

This stuff is as bad as the early days of predictive text on your phone; or the voice recognition software that, when I first encountered it fifteen years ago, kept assuming I was hoping to book tickets for a show in ‘Chelmsford’ because it had no reference to the large and agreeable Regency town of ‘Cheltenham’, 100 miles away, where I lived.

It’s baloney!

And all this Stasi-style surveillance, known as the ‘Prevent’ strategy, is seemingly being directed solely at Muslim families desperate to find some point of integration within British society.

What a disastrous failure of the imagination this represents; an inadequate and inappropriate, unresearched response, dependant on poorly trained amateur detectives; a sign of panic and confusion at the top; of an increasingly paranoid and fearful public.

I’m not sure we really are like that, though, are you?

When the bad guys don’t even have to explode a cucumber to sow fear and division, it means they’re winning. We have to be able to do better than this.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/11/nursery-radicalisation-fears-boys-cucumber-drawing-cooker-bomb

 

 

What God thinks

A Jordanian writer charged with offending Islam after allegedly sharing a satirical cartoon on his Facebook page has been killed.

Nahid Hattar, a Christian, was hit by three bullets outside the court in the capital Amman where he was standing trial, state news agency Petra said.

Mr Hattar’s killer was arrested and police are investigating the killing, TV reports said.

The writer was detained in August for 15 days on charges of insulting God.

RePosted from the BBC News website, 25 September

 

Despite some details that make this murder look like a political vendetta disguised as religious intolerance, I am honestly struggling, for once, to find words. “Insulting God”? Surely, only God can decide if He’s been insulted, and if He considers it to be a crime sufficient to be punishable by death?

I’m not religious, I have no evidence of the existence of this God they serve, no desire to worship anything out of the ordinary, but I was educated in high-minded institutions that strove daily to provide a framework for irrational beliefs in weird contradistinction to the rest of the knowledge-based curriculum, so I am very familiar with the liturgy.

This killing is yet one more outrage in the long and dismal history of the suppression of the human intellect – which God specifically gives us – as generations of selfrighteous, murdering liars have sought through cheap conjuring tricks and nonsensical dogma to impose their own rule on the masses, under vicious laws masquerading as moral authority.

Who the hell are those credulous village simpletons to decide they know better than God what is an insult to God, and what He wants them to do about it? Is He, in their exalted view, so completely powerless to do anything about our Earthly affairs Himself, that He requires their personal intervention to rule Mankind? (I assume it’s a He. It usually is in these abuse cases.) If so, how did He make the Flood?

Oh, right. He wrote them a textbook they didn’t know how to read. He was a WRITER! That to my mind makes the murder slightly worse.

I had some Jordanian neighbours pass thr0ugh a year or so ago. They seemed perfectly nice, peaceable, modest people; privately observant religionists, not Pharisees. We got on fine. I’m only glad they didn’t know a writer was living next door, and what was (or was not) in his thoughts.

Claiming to know better than God Himself what God thinks is, surely, an even greater insult to God than re-publishing for the purposes of discussion, an innocuous cartoon about the afterlife (there isn’t one, by the way. Heaven is the light of pure reason, so the clerics won’t be going there. Hell is the eternal damnation the religious like to impose on us in the here and now. It looks a lot like Aleppo.)

It’s in the Bible; it’s probably somewhere in the Koran. It’s quite specific: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Would somebody please explain this very clear definition, this written law of what blasphemy actually is, what God intends it to mean, to those evil Mullahs and their gun-toting baboons, cowardly moral imbeciles who themselves blaspheme continually by taking His name in vain?

So you understand, the Books clearly tell us, blasphemy IS:

  • Vainly claiming to know better than God, what God Himself wants.
  • Opposing the free will God gives us, in order to pursue your own earthly ambitions.
  • Forcing His people to live in ignorance of all but what you say the world is, according to your own disingenuous interpretation of scripture.
  • The rape and stoning of children.
  • ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’: Taking it upon yourself to judge others by the standards of an unknowable God who judges us all.
  • Murdering men, women and children made in His image.

To that list, I should like to add: having no compassion or human understanding in your hearts. (It’s probably in there too.) As St Paul put it (1 Corinthians, 13): ‘Love, hope, charity remain. And the greatest of these is love’. (Curiously, in the King James version, the greatest is charity. Even more apposite in this case.)

You, if anyone does, are the ones who deserve death by your own precepts, you shrivelled old monsters.

Suck on that.

 

The hell with racism, too

My defence of Gandhi’s statues (see previous Bogl) bears re-examination in the light of various websites I have since found, posing the question: Was Gandhi a racist?

First, I should say that Gandhi’s statues are not of themselves racist. They stand in mute testimony to the little vegan whose nonviolent protest marches to the seaside to make salt (the British viceroy had attempted to tax salt, quite rightly as it gives you high blood pressure) helped to remove the Raj from India on the stroke of midnight, 14 August, 1947.

This was undoubtedly a Good Thing, except perhaps for the million who were slaughtered in the subsequent civil war resulting from the attempt to carve out an Islamic republic on India’s northern border, the disastrous result of lobbying, not by Gandhi, but by the separatist, Ali Jinnah.

Apart from that, it appears that the man, Gandhi was in fact a virulent racist. But his statues aren’t!

The problem I have with defining anyone as racist is this. Are you saying people shouldn’t look down on others because we are all equal, or because you believe the others we look down on are superior?

What we now call ‘racism’ is being confused with ‘racialism’, a discredited and absurd pre-DNA pseudo-science propounded by C19th dimwits like Houston Stewart Chamberlain, son-in-law of the notorious anti-Semite and possibly the greatest of all Romantic composers, Richard Wagner, that attempted to rank people of different appearance in a hierarchy of intelligence.

Sometimes you wonder about human evolution, and when it’s going to start?

My unfashionable view is that it’s not what you think or say that matters, it’s what you do. There is no evidence that Gandhi brutalised and slaughtered millions of darker-skinned people he deemed inferior. His ‘racism’ was middle-class; conventionally social, it was about precedence; protocol; system.

If Gandhi was a product of his worldview, then so are you. See how your reputation survives the next 100 years.

Good Old Winnie

More interesting still is the reputation of Winston Spencer Churchill.

Churchill’s racism expressed itself in an extreme belief in the virtues of Empire. Any subject peoples were, necessarily, inferior; although not unworthy of respect. If they were not inferior, you would not wish to subject them!

Churchill did his bit to slaughter a few native Africans, Turks, Iraqi Kurds; and to keep India in the Empire. From a young age he knew nothing but colonialist adventurism, possibly his deeds of derring-do being a mask for the later-revealed tendencies of alcoholism and depression. As a military strategist, he was a disaster (luckily Hitler even more so). As a war leader, he was possibly unique.

Was Churchill a racist? Was Gandhi? Yes, undoubtedly, if you like to think that way. They saw the world in terms of rank; caste; difference. And who cares? I’m sick of this stupid game, quite honestly.

Call people whatever the hell you like. We’re all complicated. Grow up.

 

No, but there’s more…

A British Pakistani TV actor is being ‘investigated’ by police for reacting angrily over news of a violent incident in Kashmir, referring to Indians in a private Tweet as ‘bastards’.

It’s a bit rich, given the involvement of Pakistan in so many cross-border incidents in the disputed territory, where a dirty war has been going on for decades. But political naivety isn’t a crime, surely? In an actor?

And ‘bastards’ is surely a pretty tame epithet nowadays.

Besides, while Pakistanis are generally Muslim, and most Indians (I believe?) are Hindu, and there is a legacy of hatred between some communities of those faiths, they are not of separate ‘races’, are they?

It has been held by the Broadcasting pygmies to be racism, however, and Marc Anwar has been fired from his long-running role in the supposedly cutting-edge Northern social soap, Coronation Street, as Indian viewers might be offended to see him and Tweet something rude back.

Some cutting-edge. Some soap.

Meanwhile, the regulator, Ofcom is to launch an ‘investigation’ (well, did she or didn’t she say the words complained of? Why does it take an ‘investigation’ to establish one self-evident fact? It’s either there in the recording, in the script, or it isn’t!) into an episode of Coronation Street after the soap was accused of racism over a comment a character made about her hair.

‘The episode, broadcast in August, saw Eva Price, played by Catherine Tyldesley, visit Audrey’s hair salon, where she remarked: “I have more roots than Kunta Kinte.”

Kunta Kinte was a character from the (William Haley) novel Roots: The Saga Of An American Family’. – BBC

Aside from the obvious point that only about one elderly person in a hundred would recognise where the quote came from, who has been affronted? It was a novel! A TV mini-series, back when. The ‘victim’ of this appalling racist speech has never existed! He was a fictional character!

This crime looks more like plain bad writing than racism.

For what racial insult does the fictional Eva Price offer? None! The feeble joke is about roots, not about whatever seems to have offended somebody, slavery, whatever. The entire thing is a nonsense.

If we cannot have the word ‘roots’ in the language anymore, in case somebody connects it with a fictional work about slavery, we’re in trouble; especially the Gardeners’ Question Time panel. Did I say Trouble? Ohmygod, the poor Irish and their Troubles! Did I say God? Oh, the poor Pope! Whatever will he think? I am so, so sorry…. Did I say sorry? Oh, poor Tony!

Perhaps it’s time someone made a movie about the Barbary Coast pirates and America’s punitive expeditions against them in 1805 and 1812? Yes, there was a lot else going on in both those years, they’re easy to overlook.

That was when an estimated one and a half million Europeans had been kidnapped and sold into fairly brutal slavery by Islamic Berber traders in North Africa. The Romans and the Greeks powered their civilizations for a thousand years, not with electricity or steam, but with slave labour. The Nazis ran their wartime factories and secret underground military installations on starved and brutalised civilian prisoners, Europeans mostly; thousands died.

And there are an estimated 30 million people working in slave labour conditions in the world today: unpaid, indentured, their papers taken away so they can’t get home; or  virtually imprisoned as domestic servants to the wealthy. Children, slaving all day in mud pools up to their necks to extract the rare-earth metals in your phone; women, carrying rocks, bricks, until they drop.

We’ve all been slaves at some time in the not-so distant past. It would be wonderful if those people who go in for special pleading as regards their current status in the light – should one say, the darkness – of the past, could instead focus their rage and hurt on all slaves, everywhere. Otherwise, you see, it looks like you are only interested in you and your reduced condition, your disappointment, and to hell with everyone else’s.

It’s not ‘racist’ to acknowledge that the West African experience was not unique, or that the slave trade was not exclusively the white man’s callous occupation. Besides,’racism’ is not a crime in and of itself. It requires some further action for that. Although I do believe we are getting to the ‘tipping point’ of decadence when it comes to criminalising minor verbal abuse, surely the recognition of difference is innate?

For God’s sake, no-one is defending being beastly to minorities, but let’s get a sense of proportion before the English language ceases to have any meaning at all. There are worse thing going on in the world than calling people rude names.

I submit we are deliberately inflating these minor social nuances into ‘major issues’ because we are helpless in the face of genuine horrors like the deliberate targeting of underground hospitals in Syria by Russian and Syrian Air Force planes using bunker-busting bombs and banned cluster munitions against women and children to keep Assad, a war criminal, torturer and murderer whose day is done, in power.

That is an obscenity. A hate crime. A Pakistani calling an Indian a ‘bastard’ is not. Get real.

 

*I was uncharitable in a previous Post towards Churchill’s grandson, Nick Soames MP. I forget why. Today I feel radiantly disposed towards him.

‘Fatty’ Soames has become ‘Thinny Soames’, noticeably; and in recent interviews he has echoed my own despair and disillusionment that the cretinist tendency has prevailed in the matter of our duty to honour our commitments to European institutions.

If this blimpish, ex-military heir of Superblimp can understand that Britain did not in fact surrender in 1973 to the dark forces of Europeanism, but that our membership of the EU has actually enhanced our sovereignty and encouraged European unity, lessening the threat of more war, there is hope.

Except that now there isn’t.

 

You don’t have to be mad to study here…

“….university counselling services say they are seeing more students arrive with  psychological or mental health conditions.”- Guardian report (see below)

Oh dear, I just dropped my son off at Uni…

 

You don’t have to be mad to study here, but it helps

To take just two of the many examples in today’s Guardian article, UCL – “In 2002, just 9% of students who accessed the service had existing psychological or mental health conditions. Last year it was 53%” (UCL counsellors dealt with over 3000 cases in 2015)

Edinburgh – “…the number of male students approaching support services – including chaplaincy, disability and mental health services – between 2010-11 and 2014-15, more than doubled.”

I need to declare it. No, I just must. It’s time.

Improbable though it may seem, given the size of my head (7 5/8) and my phenomenal literary output, I never went to University. I think if I had done, I probably would not be here now. (That line can go either of two ways…)

It wasn’t because I was thick, just depressed. I sat my A-levels two years before everyone else, at 16 (I got an A, another A, a B2 at Special Level and a First Year Pass – that was in Economics.

Ouahaouahaou, eerie flashback music: it was the first year ever that Economics had its own A-level and the Head forced the seasonally maladjusted Rugby master, ‘Taffy’ Spragg, to have a go at teaching it to us; it’s a miracle I got a mark at all. I only took Economics in the first place because my cellmate, Mitch Davies had a thing for the graphics in the textbook, but it was too expensive at £20 (Samuelson) so we agreed to go halves), and then I quickly passed the Cambridge Entrance exam the same year, I was so desperate to leave.

There then began a dispiriting, two-year nationwide tour of mildly hungover interviews with Eng. Lit. dons, at which I generally ended up confessing that I had no interest whatever in the subject discipline and had not read any of the set books as I preferred to do my own writing….

Admission to almost all Universities in those faroff days was by interview (ee, they was proper Universities then, not fancy technical colleges with degrees in nail science through the medium of slavery studies), and I most definitely had existing psychological or mental health conditions. To put it bluntly, I was a massively depressed teenager with chloracne; a three-piece, button-over suit from Harrod’s, in salt-and-pepper tweed, and a serious passive-aggressive attitude problem.

Of all the fashionable disorders available to us these days, having done the online test and passed with flying colours, I’ve selected Asperger’s as my favourite to explain away the many and various oddities in my younger personality, now rigidified into the solitary, unhappily Brexited old Bogler you see before you, his only friend curled companionably at his feet. Indeed, I’ve never been convinced that this ageing man is an actual person, with an -ality to show for his 67 years (next week).

But you don’t want to hear all that.

I think if I had taken that baggage to University in an era when there wasn’t a massive oversupply of Psychology graduates to coax gibbering students back to sanity, with my paralysing shyness and disdain of joining-in I would have ended up committing suicide, probably by drink or smoking, or by drowning myself in the Cherwell (I expect they’ll have concreted over the river by now, health & safety. With one of those rubberised playground surfaces….)

In point of fact, I’m now thoroughly alarmed at the thought of having persuaded both my children to put themselves through the tertiary education ordeal. Was it to satisfy my own vanity?

I sneer, obviously, at the ‘safe zone’ culture, where students mustn’t be exposed to ideas they might find frightening, be labelled too early in life as men and women, or allowed out after 6 pm; and where the security guards are designated for reassurance as ‘Campus Life Manager’, in case students are prompted by the very word to fear for their security.

But there’s clearly a serious problem with today’s undergraduate intake, a loss of confidence among the young, probably due to reading too many negative messages about body dysmorphia on their pointless social mediaphones; watching Twilight on Instagram.

Or otherwise, it’s down to there being more competing support services, pushing out alarming propaganda posters all over the campus telling students they’re at imminent risk of complete mental disintegration if they don’t seek help now.

UCL’s Head of Student Psychological Services, Catherine McAteer explains it thus: “What’s happening is that students are now coming to university when previously they would not have come.” (I’m not sure anyone gets off lightly as a perceptive commentator in this article, but we’ll plough on.)

So, clearly, the solution is not to go to University in the first place, and everything will be tickety-boo.

I blame Tony Blair. He it was who decreed that 50% of young people should benefit from a University education; a noble ambition, but one that has condemned tens of thousands of terrified and insecure young baboons to pursue pointless degrees that will have proved totally counterproductive at improving their life chances.

Animal rights activists will no doubt be reminded of what was known in laboratory circles as the ‘LD-50’ test: a hopefully now discredited Government standard whereby any substance undergoing mandatory safety testing must be administered to the Lethal Dose point where precisely 50% of the subjects have died from it – even if it wasn’t particularly toxic.

Quite like education, then. (Except faith schools, obviously.)

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/23/university-mental-health-services-face-strain-as-demand-rises-50

 

Stuck

It’s possible that the greatest malaise affecting Western civilization is the feeling of ‘stuck-ness’ we’re all experiencing in our daily lives.

I know I am.

Brexit and Trump, those twin Farageisms newly released from the Pandora’s box of global diffusion and general malcontent, are evidence of nothing more than boredom.

What we need is a good war. Which is why the West is stuck in Syria, hoping but not quite daring to push the conflict beyond the point of no return for the whole world. Maybe the US should just say, to hell with Putin, and bomb his base at Latakia? That’ll teach ’em to attack UN aid convoys, the lying little neo-capitalist kleptocrats. And it’d be the least ‘stucky’ thing to do, wouldn’t it. It’d get things moving, all right.

We are tempted, are we not, in our hour of boredom to play Russian roulette with our domestic politics. 2016 is the year in which the hammer falls on the live round, and we inadvertently blow our own brains out rather than face an eternity of thwarted ambition. To stop ourselves feeling second-rate, we’ve voted to become second-class.

At a party conference in the throes of the 1981 recession engineered by Geoffrey Howe, the Conservative chancellor, Mrs Thatcher’s loyal lieutenant and party hit-man, Norman Tebbit described to rapturous applause how his dad, unemployed in that earlier 1930s economic downturn, the Great Depression, had ‘got on his bike and looked for work’; no, he didn’t sit around on the dole, expecting hardworking families to keep him in sale-bargain DFS sofas…dribble-wibble.

How times have changed since the glory days of British cycling.

Millions of hopeful, disenfranchised migrants from the Sahel, for instance, have got into unseaworthy rubber boats, hundreds at a time, heading perilously north to where there may be found work; only to be castigated by Conservatives as a useless tide of feckless, sponging brown dross. Those who survive the machine-guns of Dad’s UKIP Army on the White Cliffs should be sent back where they came from. We’re full up. Except of course the NHS. And Transport for London.

And tens of thousands of young people, driven insane by the weight of parental expectation and their mates sexting, are arriving in droves at their chosen Universities, even as you read this, heading straight for the army of psychiatrists drafted to patch them up and put them back on the degree conveyor. And we castigate them, too, as a bunch of useless, hairy layabouts (what is that thing with the little tufts?) studying pointless subjects like media, leaving with £50,000 debt burdens the taxpayer, no doubt, will have to fund in the end.

I have a theory about this. ‘Economic migrants’ are not stuck. We are. We envy them their freedom, their hopefulness; their energy. Students are not stuck; not yet. They will be, we’ll see to that. For now, they have the freedom to be free, although disturbingly too many aren’t using it, except to protest vacuously at statues.

But one day they’ll be lucky enough to get sticky jobs in the gig-economy; jobs where it’s still marginally cheaper to employ a human than a computer chip. Jobs even a robot wouldn’t do.

And then, without a good war they’ll be just like us.

Stuck.

 

Standing proud

On the subject of statues, having exhausted the vexed topic of Cecil Rhodes, African students are now railing at the cast-bronze memory of the sainted Afro-Indian vegetarian, Mohindas P. Gandhi, also known as The Mahatma.

Can you believe it? Gandhi? The Mother Teresa of, er, India?

The half-starved, half-dressed one-man protest movement widely considered to have been self-denyingly instrumental in freeing billions from the shackles of white imperialism apparently once complained that some impudent Zulu had turfed him out of his seat on a bus, or something like that – Gandhi was brought up and trained as a lawyer in multiracial 1900s South Africa, even then compartmentalised into whites, blacks and browns, where he sat in the latter category.

This evidence of blatant racism against Zulus, far worse than the exploits even of some Imperial blimp like General Sir Redvers Buller VC, whose fine 1905 equestrian statue dominates the city of Exeter, now with a traffic-cone on its head, has led to a campaign to have all Gandhiji’s statues removed from whichever flyblown meridianal campuses they may be detected on. I missed that bit of the story.

Do these low-wattage bulbs not get that, without University quads being festooned with heroic early C20th statues of their colonial oppressors, we would have no memory, knowledge or understanding of WHY the pseudo-science of racialism is now considered to be A Very Bad Thing, and who was responsible for it?

The statues do not serve to act as propaganda for modern neo-colonialism, they have the opposite purpose of reminding us of who it was, exactly, when and what we’ve been fighting against, and for; and should be kept as such. The occasional jape involving traffic-cones is de rigueur. The mute statues prompt us to ask questions, not to declare certainties.

Any fule kno, that the problem of the far-right in Germany has been exacerbated because the story of the Nazi aberration of the 1930s has been so thoroughly deloused over the decades since WW2, that it seems to most people beyond belief that anyone could actually hate Syrian children.

Sanitising the history of the world is not your job, student baboons. We do not require you to do it. You are no better behaving like this than the Taliban, or IS iconoclasts. Take your expensive pieces of paper and go in peace.

 

Confectionery Corner

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

From our Confectionery Correspondent ©2016 Phil McAvity. @thedentist.gum

Baby-killers, Nestlé have just announced that they are naughtily nicking all the sucky-with-chocolate-on, gold-wrapped Toffee Deluxe sweets out of their Quality Street box product offering, and replacing them with some foul, cheap, tooth-binding, air-filled, gone-in-a-moment “honeycomb” experience you apparently requested.

This, they say, to “celebrate” the dubious 70th anniversary of the brand launch. It’s like demanding birthday gifts from someone on their birthday!

‘People thought there were “enough toffee based sweets” in the collection’, the firm told the BBC’s juvenile radio news outlet, Newsbeat. (BBC Report, 24 September)

“People?” What improbable assortment of people, pray? UKIP members? Brexit baboons? Corbyn’s triumphant Momentum supporters? Farage’s radioactive children? Salafists? The FARC? Daily Express readers? Middle-American dimwit Trump voters? Star Trek fans? The Front Nationale? ISIS? Amber Rudd? Investors in Panama? Radio One listeners?

Unlikely. What self-respecting “people” would say there were “enough toffee based sweets” in the box? There are never bloody enough!

According to Nestlé’s global reassurance team, we’ll still be able to buy Toffee Deluxe in their more expensive ‘ignore the health ‘n’ safety warning’ collection. Oh, great. Fucking Swiss, laughing all the way to the bank, as usual.

 

Showbits

What is happening to our planet????

Now it’s Ballboy!! (Writes Showbiz Correspondent, Polly_Wood ©2016. @fuxnews.org)

“TV presenter Zoe Ball and husband DJ Norman Cook – better known as Fatboy Slim – have announced their separation after 18 years together.” – BBC News.

I do not BELIEVE it!! 2016 must surely go down in History as the Year of The End!!! (Among other things. Ed.)

Of course, there is a bit of an age gap thing. She’s still quite sexy for 45, while he looks older than the Editor! (That’s it, you’re fired. Ed.) You can have too much of spinning discs in the living room!! Who gets to choose the playlist at Christmas lunch, eh???

And who remembers The Housemartins anyway? They flew back to Africa or somewhere LONG AGO!!!

But hey #sadface. Stuff happens.

 

 

 

 

 

This week’s latest bogl finds bigotry in the ascendant

Showbiz

STOP PRESS

From our Correspondent ©2016 Polly_Wood@fuxnews.org

OMG!!!, not Brangelina? Surely not yet? THE END ALREADY??? #terrifiedface

(Haven’t I seen this somewhere before? Ed.)

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Up the bum

Forgive me, gentle Spammers, Likers, Followers, Visitors and People No Longer Reading this, muh li’l bogl.

But I have started Posting early this week, owing to a particular circumstance.

Namely that I have, perhaps unwisely, agree to allow my urologist to do a precautionary biopsy on my elderly gentleman’s prostate, and have no idea if such a procedure is survivable in the short term.

Meanwhile, I have encouraging news from The Telegraph, which should know, that 99% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive ten years, whether or not they are receiving treatment for it.

Treatment, normally radiotherapy and excision surgery, makes little difference to the outcome, researchers have unexpectedly found. While it typically leaves patients impotent, bow-legged and dribbling piss into a bag.

No prizes then for guessing where urology as a popular option will be headed in future. But I shan’t draw his attention to it, not beforehand at least.

Postscriptum

Phew.

Audience of six staring at my arse, better than the Edinburgh Fringe. Maybe I should book a venue next year, ‘Just for the Crack!’

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Let us prey

Best Christopher Hitchens Arguments (Part 2). Viewed at: 1hr 30m

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHOo3e2Xlws

As part of her non-mandated education reforms, the Prime Minister, the curiously stork-like Mrs May has announced that ‘faith schools’ in Britain can now freely ignore a previous injunction that they must admit 50% of pupils from local families not of the school’s advertised religious denomination.

Along with her intention to introduce more selective grammar schools, this different and unusual form of selection by parental ‘faith’ is illogically her way of increasing opportunities and reducing social inequality for less well-off children.

Hitchens’ warning is salutary: the barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re in the city.

It goes without saying that, far from increasing their isolation from the mainstream community, faith schools ought instead as a matter of national security and sanity to be closed down and got rid of altogether.

Faith is an individual matter and not a proper basis for learning.

The future must not be entrusted to graduates of urban madrassas setting religious monoculturalism against rational pluralism; typically teaching both childish, atavistic superstition alongside rational scientific inquiry as being of equal merit. They are simply not.

Imposing uncritical, incontrovertible religious observance, mystical rites and unprovable belief systems such as Creationism or (pretty un-)Intelligent Design in schools, other than as subjects purely of academic curiosity and pity, while denying the extent and validity of contemporary knowledge, is evil, tantamount to child abuse.

Children must be taught to question, not to accept as certainty the ‘word of God’ as ‘revealed’ to illiterate desert-dwellers in selectively edited, internally contradictory and poorly translated, 2,000-year-old texts of dubious provenance recovered from caves; and to imagine that such dessicated ravings constitute a blueprint for anything greater than a narrowly prescriptive, ignorant, barbaric and cruel society, hagridden by a power-hungry elite.

Postscriptum

Not for the first time, but again to my atheistic old surprise, I have received a Like for an anti-religious Post from a Christian who believes they have been healed by the power of faith. Eating a bit more probably helped! (smileyface)

Forgive me if I don’t reply properly, your own web site is a marvel, a thing of beauty and proof that Intelligent Design is not the prerogative of  whoever made the Universe, but it’s too complicated for an old dimwit to navigate to the bit where I can thank you without a Flipper account or whatever. Clearly your daughter did not set it up for you on a flying visit and leave you to cope.

Anyway, I’m sure you don’t need my permission to carry on believing whatever you want. But if I could borrow a few of your 6,437 Followers it would be handy, since I appear to be down to zero. (My son says who wants to read a depression memoir mostly about politics, with no pictures?) Just twelve might do the trick….

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The whites of their eyes

Paul Gascoigne, the sometime footballing genius destroyed by alcoholism and prurient media obsession, has been fined £1,000 as an ‘example’ to others considering racism as an occupation.

Gazza’s offence was to make a public remark, calling to a black security guard to smile ‘so I can see you’, during an inadvertent blackout that occurred in the auditorium while he was making one of those personal ‘performing freak’ appearance tours which ruined celebrities are sometimes obliged to go on by agents anxious to ensure they can afford their next meal.

It sounds like it was supposed to be a joke, of the ignorant yet affectionate kind one might not find surprising, coming from a working-class product of the Northeast, a barely educated lad brought up from an early age in the culture of the locker-room. Perhaps we should send him to a re-education camp?

I’m sure though that people must have said worse things about Gazza and his boozing.

Sadly, the victim of this heinous act of racism akin almost to the re-ignition of slavery could not recognise that it is not only black people who can be exploited, perhaps imagining that Gascoigne is still some important and well paid public entity rather than a pathetic old piss-artist, and continued to insist on a prosecution even after the Director of Public Prosecutions had ruled that the case was vexatious and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Mr Nigel ‘skinnydipper’ Farage has been allowed to get away with complaining at a Donald Trump rally in, of all places, Mississippi, that President Obama had the effrontery to ‘talk down’ to the British people when urging us not to vote to leave the EU.

God forbid that uppity n-words should be encouraged to talk down to us superior white folks, even if they are the leader of the free world.

While the president of the Philippines, the deeply unpleasant little thug Rodrigo Duterte, visiting the G20 summit in a curiously deserted Guangjhou, called Mr Obama ‘a son of a whore’, a remark he later tried to withdraw on the grounds that it was an epithet he used frequently to describe other world leaders and he meant nothing by it.

Neither of these hateful, self-publicising racist shitbrains will be forced to answer for their obliquity in a Wolverhampton court, I feel sure.

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No news is better news

On the subject of perverse lawsuits, lawyers for the seven-times world Formula 1 racing champion, Michael Schumacher, who was left in a coma after a skiing accident two years ago, are suing a German magazine, Bunte, for reporting a claim by a member of the Schumacher entourage that the Schu was now able to walk again.

Positive news is, of course, to be frowned on nowadays. Or do I detect the long shadow of the insurance company loss-adjuster creeping across the well-kept lawn?

x

Under the blanket

By our Court Correspondent, ©2016 HughJWhopper @whomeguv.con

Facing a £4 million fine for breaches of Health & Safety, Network Rail told a High Court hearing into the death of 82-year-old Brenda McFarland, run over by a train at a pedestrian railway crossing in Suffolk in August 2011:

“…individual mistakes had been made but the firm had not ignored warnings or been guilty of systemic failings.”

– BBC News report, 21 September 2016

“The Rail Accident Investigation Branch said Network Rail was told warnings of oncoming trains were “not sufficient” prior to the fatal collision…. Recommendations had been made in 2006 and 2008 for sirens to be placed at the level crossing to warn of approaching trains, but were not implemented.

– BBC News report, 19 July 2012

Essay: De Minimis – living on less than the minimum wage

De Minimis

Despite coming from a ‘privileged elite’, as Polly Toynbee of the Guardian might describe the diaspora that passes for my family, although my father wasn’t an eminent academic historian; as the black sheep of the family, having run away and become an actor he’d been ‘cut off without a penny’; the same penny in child support he might otherwise have bunged my mother from time to time; in addition to writing long, breathless, compound sentences in memory of the late Bernard Levin, I have always worked for a living.

Sometimes there wasn’t much work, if any; often it wasn’t much of a living. At times I stumbled into jobs millennial media graduates can only dream about, only to stumble – or be slung – out again. But I kept buggering on. And now essentially retired, at 67 I’m feeling guilty and anxious about doing nothing, living on the State pension; which, contrary to accounts, can be lived on (if you are single, own a tiny cottage in the noisome outskirts of a seaside town and have put in your 30 years and more). In line with the current BBC policy of disclosure, I shall reveal: it is a few pennies under ten grand a year. Read, weep.

Usually I found myself employed by bullying, paranoid obsessives who, while lining their pockets by various accounting fictions, would demand unstinting loyalty and 14-hour days of continuous creative output for a tiny share of the money I was making for them; inbetweentimes I had work ironing people’s underpants, buffing their Agas and digging-out their flowerbeds for £5 an hour, honest toil in companionable silence with myself being preferable to working in an office where the height of discourse was generally: ‘Ooh look, you’ve had a haircut!’.

A current campaign designed to coincide with the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress, that increasingly threadbare annual jamboree of the working man and woman, has highlighted some of the, er, highlights of my own career. Several campaigns, in fact, including those of cleaners, carers and warehouse staff have been launched to show up Victorian employers who pay less than the minimum wage by getting round the regulations in imaginative ways while contributing their ill-gotten gains to UKIP.

You can do the math, but I don’t think you’ll beat my last employer for sub-minimal fiscal ingenuity.

The contract required me to work 37.5 hours a week, managing the estate in exchange for the £13,000 a year they proposed to start me on (that is thirteen, not a typo or the salary for a subeditor working on a regional newspaper, my previous role; that had been a bit less). I was yet 55 years of age, with a soon-to-be ex-wife, a mortgage, a bank loan, two children and sundry livestock to support, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I took the job because it came with a furnished flat. And it was the only one on offer.

My furnished new surroundings consisted, in the living-room, of a cracked faux-leather Chesterfield sofa, chocolate-brown; in the bedroom, a 1950s wooden bedstead with squeaky chainlink springs – no mattress. The tiny galley kitchen comprised a sink unit, with a cupboard underneath. Upstairs, was an acid-green coir carpet; downstairs, bare stone flags.

And that was it, the full complement of ‘furnished’. No curtains, no tables and chairs, no cooker or fridge, no wardrobe, no bedside cabinet, no lights other than of the naked overhead variety. Had there been a TV, owing to the high bank outside the window that let in neither light nor any other form of electromagnetism, it would have got only one channel, in Welsh.

I pointed out these lacunae to my attractive new Chinese employer, who waved vaguely around and said to help myself to whatever I could find – she thought there might be a few old things in the stables. Offering me £40 with which to decorate – the walls were bare, the floor spattered with paint and dried-on lumps of plaster – she got prettily into a taxi and departed for Taipei, leaving me alone in her husband’s newly acquired dream home, a dank and rotting Georgian Gothic mansion in the dripping depths of the countryside; thereafter sometimes forgetting to pay me at all.

It rapidly grew clear that, after I became the sole occupant of the house by day and night (my ‘part-time’ assistant ran off complaining of overwork and was not replaced), there was no one period of 37.5 hours out of 168 in the week that could bear definition as my official working-time.

If a party of hungry Korean tourists arrived at 11 pm having ‘stopped to take a look around Bath’, not a euphemism, I felt obliged to cook them supper. If, while I was walking Rollo, the soppy retriever across the lawn for his last outing at 1 am, two hoodied figures should detach themselves from a dark doorway and flee to a waiting car, who else was going to call the police?

And if the terrifying clamour of the fire alarm were to sound at 4 am, as it sometimes did, it was up to the manager to struggle into his clothes, ignoring the dazed guests milling around in the carpark while he made his way intrepidly through the unlit spaces of the upstairs corridors, avoiding rotted and missing floorboards to search a dozen rubble-strewn rooms for the one defective smoke-detector, and rip it bleeping from its socket.

In the first five years I took one day’s ‘sick leave’, to recover from the previous day’s surgery under general anaesthetic; albeit that I was still at my place of work and thus available to all comers. I took (officially) no holiday at all, although having somehow acquired a willing lady friend thirty miles away I would bunk off three nights a week, racing back at 5 am to prepare breakfasts, uncomfortably aware that my paying guests had had the place (and the fire alarm system) to themselves all night. I think they quite enjoyed it, although some were nervous of the ghosts.

On weekends whenever there was a wedding, never seldom enough, I would work my 37.5 hours in just two days; up at 8 am, bed at 4 am next day and up again at seven to prepare breakfast for the survivors; prise them out at noon, not forgetting to find someone I could stick the bill to, then set about turning the guestrooms round for the B&Bs arriving the same evening. Who, pray, was going to fill-in for me on the other five days?

Amusingly, my employer’s visiting HR toady was always going on at me to take all the time off that I was entitled to. Quite right! They were afraid I might sue. To be fair, after six months he raised my salary to £14k. But there was no answer to the question of who would then be available to evict random members of the public, found wandering around awestruck at the cheap and historically inappropriate 1990s ‘restoration’, the junkshop furnishings. They would coo, ‘Ooh, if I won the lottery, I’d buy this wonderful place!’ and I would snarl my exhaustion into their chapfallen faces, ‘Yes, and you’d need to win ten more lotteries just to keep it standing!’ (Guests used to call me ‘Basil’.)

In the successive winters of 2010 and 2011, the Gulf Stream deserted us for a month or so. The temperature in the main kitchen plunged one night to minus 14C, colder than the empty freezer. The pipes froze for days on end, and when it thawed the eclectic mix of fittings under the floorboards (who knew whence they all led?) sprang apart and the kitchen filled with water, running over the main circuit-board. In my furnished flat were neither heating nor running water, nor sometimes electricity; while builders had removed many of the floorboards in the office, where there was at least a heater of sorts and I could sit in my overcoat, browsing stoically on Asian Babes.

To this, despite my warnings of Arctic chaos the owners returned from China one Christmas with mum-in-law and the children in tow, and I forced them all to move into a hotel, an unnecessary and unbearable expense for which I was not forgiven. (I later found they had left the hotel I put them in and moved into a cheaply rented caravan.)

So, that’s 52 weeks, times 168 hours, goes into £14,000…. £1.60 an hour. And redundancy waiting at the end of it, with this shameful and tiresome retirement imposed by an unforgiving labour market, to sit-out on my embarrassingly generous State pension, blogging weirdly until I’m eventually discovered by social workers in a mummefied state, gnawed by cats. And before you say it, bloggers don’t get paid. We just don’t, okay?

But do you know what, Mrs O’Grady, cleaners, carers, Sports Direct victims, Unison? Sub-minimum wage? I bloody miss it!

The author is Editor-in-Chief of The Boglington Post.

Let us prey

Best Christopher Hitchens Arguments (Part 2). Viewed at: 1hr 30m

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHOo3e2Xlws

As part of her non-mandated education reforms, the Prime Minister, the stork-like Mrs May has announced that ‘faith schools’ in Britain can now freely ignore a previous injunction that they must admit 50% of pupils from local families not of the school’s advertised religious denomination.

Along with her intention to introduce more selective grammar schools, this different and unusual form of selection by parental ‘faith’ is illogically her way of increasing opportunities and reducing social inequality for less well-off children.

Hitchens’ warning is salutary: the barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re in the city.

It goes without saying that, far from increasing their isolation from the mainstream community, faith schools ought instead as a matter of national security and sanity to be closed down and got rid of altogether.

Faith is an individual matter and not a proper basis for learning.

The future must not be entrusted to graduates of urban madrassas setting religious monoculturalism against rational pluralism; typically teaching both childish, atavistic superstition alongside rational scientific inquiry as being of equal merit. They are simply not.

Imposing uncritical, incontrovertible religious observance, mystical rites and unprovable belief systems such as Creationism or (pretty un-)Intelligent Design in schools, other than as subjects purely of academic curiosity and pity, while denying the extent and validity of contemporary knowledge, is evil, tantamount to child abuse.

Children must be taught to question, not to accept as certainty the ‘word of God’ as ‘revealed’ to illiterate desert-dwellers in selectively edited, internally contradictory and poorly translated, 2,000-year-old texts of dubious provenance recovered from caves; and to imagine that such dessicated ravings constitute a blueprint for anything greater than a narrowly prescriptive, ignorant, barbaric and cruel society, hagridden by a power-hungry, self-serving elite.

Mr Nice Guy strikes out

Trump vs Frump, #27

Donald Trump appears to be softpedalling his hilarious ‘Crooked Hillary’ gag this week, perhaps out of deference to her precarious state of health, perhaps because the economic indicators in the US are heading in the wrong direction, ie upwards.

But, hey, you know…. who knows? Know what I’m saying?

That’s right! A story in International Business Times would seem to suggest that ‘Crooked Donald’ is a monicker better fitted to the Republican nominee, and he’d better start coughing-up his tax returns if he wants to gain the sympathy vote.

Some Posts ago, I appended one of my famous jokes. Not humour, which illuminates all muh Posts, all of the time. Just a regular joke, right? A cracker. I think of one occasionally.

It went:

Q. Where would you find the Donald Trump Foundation?

A. Under the Trump Tower.

Now, all the best jokes have a subtext going on. Mine was suggesting perhaps Trump might not exactly be known for his philanthropy, know what uhm saying? (That’s how you spell it, yeah? With a Ph? You’re phired! hey, just kidding. No, really, you’re phired…)

Actually, I didn’t know at the time there was a Donald J Trump Foundation. It was a best guess. Who knew? I coulda Googled it,  but hey! Does this look easy? Does Donald J Trump make this look easy to you? Hey, SuperTrump? Do I do this because I want to be President? Innuendo would be my middle name, too, if it wasn’t Desmond.

No, seriously, it’s Irony. Irony is muh middle name, with a ‘J’. Just so you know.

Anyway, right. The International Business Times who knows exactly what about business, right? Does Donald J Trump know about business? You bet he do. I AM business… has published a piece innuendoing that the Donald J Trump Foundation, which does exist, may not be quite what it sounds. In fact, rather than a charity splurging out money to deserving causes, it may be some kind of tax-friendly investment vehicle!

That’s what they’re suggesting. I know! He-he! It’s mad!

Because according to the facts as printed by the Business Times, and who needs facts in today’s ironic political landscape, the Donald J Trump Foundation has made in its life only five donations, four of around $10k, none of which has apparently been recorded as ever being actually received by the donees, or whatever, donuts, some black guys playing basketball in a tenement yard, what have they got to lose?

According to the Times, a fifth donation of $25k was actually paid, only recorded as something else, to ‘a political group supporting’ Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a blonde bombshell who three weeks later seems to have dropped an investigation into… Nudge nudge, wink wink, need I say more?

Yes, actually, you need. It’s illegal for a charity to make a political contribution, right? Know what I mean?

One of Donald J Trump’s other interests is the so-called ‘Trump University’. This venerable institution, founded in 1368 by the fourth Earl of Trump; no, let’s make him King Donald of Troon, somewhere, has been caught up in a scandal of sizeable proportions.

According to the New Yorker (02 June, 2016), a  whistleblowin’ former salesman, Ronald Schnackenburg, a name so long he needs two badges, has claimed that Trump University was simply a scam in which perfunctory ‘courses’ for would-be estate agents were offered in exchange for large, tax-deductible fees.

Donald McRonald probably got the idea from McDonalds, whose ‘Hamburger University’ may still exist for all I know, spraying out degrees in Burgerology to students spattered with tomato ketchup.

The evidence points to the fact, writes the Times‘ Mary Papenfuss, that: “Trump hasn’t given a dime to his own foundation since his last contribution in 2008, according to tax records.”

The paper did track down $25,000 in charity money given illegally in 2013 to a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was considering litigation against Trump University. She decided not to do so after the contribution was made.

So I’m not saying, right, am I or what? I’m not saying, but hey. What I am saying is,

“This article is not at all accurate…. Mr Trump continues to be unfairly maligned for his generosity” – Campaign spokeswoman….

…Hope Hicks, who, in a report in the Washington Post, is quoted also as saying Trump has given away “tens of millions of dollars” over his lifetime. However,

“…she has yet to provide any documentation to backup that statement.”

And you better believe it. Because I’m not releasing my tax records for anyone, okay? Know what I’m saying? Nobody. Nada. Yada.

Gonna build that wall, papa. Make you proud.

Start>

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/donald-trump-foundation-donations-are-missing-investigation-finds-1581020

 

Never mind the bollocks

While inadvisedly listening to a news bulletin, I have just learned from a clip I quickly switched off that the indefatigable blimp, Farage has been given his own show on London’s LBC all-talking radio station, presumably because he can’t get enough airtime on the BBC.

Appalled, yes, but not surprised.

In September 2013, I sent an email to the Managing Director of LBC, which is in fact a successor company to the original LBC. I mentioned that 8 October 2013 would mark the 40th anniversary of the inaugural broadcast of what was indeed Britain’s first-ever legal, commercially funded radio station.

I went on to explain that I knew the date well, because I was one of the inaugural broadcasters on-air that day; having been hired for a pittance as a newsreader and writer by LBC in July of that year; furthermore, I later went on to produce or present almost every programme segment in the schedule; and, if they liked, they could invite me along as a still barely living witness, possibly one of the Last of the Few, to any commemorative bash they might be arranging.

Old habits die hard, and a free drink seemed in order.

By return, an email arrived from the MD, thanking me with enthusiasm, saying he had passed my details on to the director in charge of the celebrations.

Later that October, having heard nothing more, I visited LBC’s website and read all about the wonderful party they had thrown, at which a few surviving demented old hacks I can still remember working with had been wheeled in drooling by their carers, for a glass of Wincarnis, a game of Bingo and a good old sing-song round the battered piano.

Those like me whose memories of the grim days of the 1970s remain undimmed by the passage of alcohol – that lets out most UKIP supporters – will recall the appalling shambles that attended the birth of Britain’s Independent Local Radio Network.

The bumbling upper-class nincompoops appointed to the board of the Independent Broadcasting Authority had, for some reason that still to this day baffles History, handed the licence for their flagship 24-hour ‘rolling news’ operation in the world’s capital city to Express Newspaper Group, ignoring all applications from organisations having any connection whatsoever to the actual business of broadcasting.

Hauled from their agreeable lunches at El Vino’s, print journalists would henceforth be given three-hour programme slots to fill, entirely unhindered by the expertise of any production staff or training in the operation of the massively redundant, self-operated studio technology, that resembled in baffling complexity (to coin a phrase) the flight-deck of Concorde.

Members of the SOGAT print operatives union, potty-mouthed machine-minders, would spend their well-paid lives playing poker, holding strike meetings and otherwise sticking two fingers up at the editorial staff waiting in vain to be handed the scraps of paper ripped from the teleprinters, bearing the vital news we needed to fill the aching void that was the ’24-hour’ schedule – given that any advertisers were staying away in droves.

I have bogld about it elsewhere. I need not go into any more anecdotal detail. Suffice to say, it is probably just as well I was not at the birthday party, as having mild Asperger’s I tend to say things people regret.

I should have liked at least to be invited, but sadly the ‘C’ in LBC has never stood for Competence, Care, Charity, Curiosity; Long Boring Chatshows, more like.