The Pumpkin Extra: Doomsday Edition

The Pumpkin Extra: Doomsday Edition

 

Trumpkin (n.) An angry mole-rat; an orange vegetable of the cucurbit family. (Google Images)

Trumpkin (n.): bulbous orange-coloured fruit of the cucurbit family,  a gourd. Sometimes carved into faces to scare children on Halloween (cf).
(Google Images)

New, improved Truth

‘White House press secretary Sean Spicer also went on the attack.

‘”There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable, and I’m here to tell you it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable as well.”

‘Referring to the inauguration crowds, Mr Spicer said: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm about the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” – BBC News report, 22 January.

So now we are starting to see the true face of the Trump era: his press secretary says telling the truth is shameful and wrong; so he doesn’t. The crowd at his boss’ inauguration ceremony was the biggest ever, period, and if the press doesn’t report that as absolute fact they will be “held accountable”.

The undoctored visual record and statistics from the Washington public transport network prove irrefutably and stand for all time as witness that the crowd at Trump’s triumph was about one-fifth the size of that attending President Obama’s 2008 inauguration, with acres of empty seats in the bleachers and standing room only everywhere, while the Nilsen ratings showed the TV audience was also well down.

The swearing-in was, it’s true, accompanied by a large demonstration, with ‘ugly scenes’ involving police and anti-Trump protesters. The following day, millions of women around the world took to the streets to demand there should be no erosion of their right to equality and civil liberty under a misogynistic, racist and authoritarian administration.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that the President’s personal ego-bearer has decided this was the greatest reception ever accorded by an adoring public to an incoming office-holder. He personally counted “1.5 million” people in the crowd, he had the best view of anyone, and so that’s what it was.

The truth.

Many commenters have tiresomely waved their old swastika flags around to hail this or that political action or entity as being ‘like the Nazis’, or ‘like Hitler’. It’s generally a gratuitous comparison. Trump himself has compared the CIA and FBI investigations into Russian interference in his election as like ‘Nazi Germany’, although he also says he loves the agencies and supports them “1,000%”….. Another of his little Freudian slips, I fear. He loves Nazi Germany?

But I can think of no more succinct a metaphor for fascism than that first naked attempt by Sean Spicer – remember the name, one day he will be as well-known as Dr Josef Goebbels – not just to manipulate the supposedly free press by putting a slant on a story or feeding them fake news or favouring one journalist over others or covering something up or issuing an unwarranted security ‘D-notice’ or slipping a dastardly new, undebated policy out under cover of some blown-up ‘storm in a teacup’ story –  all the minorly propagandistic manipulations and deceptions that go on all the time in the corridors of shame.

No, this was a genuine abuse of a power only momentarily conferred that day, in blatant violation of the First Amendment: “The dress is purple and white, not black and red, and if you people can’t see it that way despite all the evidence of your own eyes, if you don’t accept and print New Truth, we have the power to destroy you.”

Four more years.

Resist.

 

69

Theresa May was only the eleventh world leader to be telephoned by President-elect Trump on his dubious election victory and invited to congratulate him. The UK’s most noxious ambitious nonentity, Farage immediately hopped on a flight to be photographed in a golden lift with the Trumpkin, the little sucky British elevator boy looking immensely pleased with his PR coup, like a chimpanzee in heat.

But like the instantaneous conversion of the roistering Prince Hal to majesterial seriousness on becoming King Henry V, Trump has swatted away the Falstaffian Farage: “I know thee not old man, look to thy prayers”, and invited May to Washington this weekend, her Louis Vuitton overnight bag packed with tax concessions to US corporates, as the first of the formerly sceptical world leaders who must now beat a path to the door of the Sun-King from Queen’s and pay homage to the world’s most powerful psychopath.

It hurts to laugh, but here are Mrs Yin and President Yang, nose to tail: May, desperate to get some hot action on the global trading front as a buffer against the hawkish Europeans and their fearsomely frigid Brexit negotiators, desperate to cling on to the rotting transatlantic partnership nobody in the USA from Trump down to the real elevator boy even remembers existed; firing rogue missiles accidentally at Florida – look out, Ivan! -; and here is Trump, desperately unpopular, poll ratings already in avalanche mode, globally reviled, feared and hated before he’s even started work on destroying the German economy and the free press, before the first breeze-block has been laid with dribbly Chinese cement by an unpaid contractor in his historically pointless, silly wall; desperately seeking validation from somebody, anybody, another photo op – even some witchy old pussy from golf-course-land…

Do we know anyone who isn’t overwhelming the NHS with psychosomatic illnesses and ‘inadvertent’ accidental injuries, brought on by profound depression? This morning, I missed my footing going downstairs and whacked my head hard on the wall.

It really isn’t the kind of thing I usually do, even on a Sunday.

It felt more like a cry for help, really.

 

Essay

“There’s no correlation, believe me, between intelligence and the ability to make money.”

From: Environment Correspondent, Norma Winters ©2017. @spacex.com

 

As Trump grasps the reins of power in America and vows to restore jobs in coal and oil and gas extraction, that we thought and hoped had gone forever, as they have in many other countries not afraid to face the future, the fate of our fragile atmosphere now hangs in the balance. It becomes easier to blame greedy US shareholders and overpaid executives – and, now, the ‘disappointed’ voters of post-industrialising middle America –  for the reckless endangerment of our one shared planet.

The barbarous appointments of extreme climate-change deniers to positions of power over the environmental agencies, the elevation of the ruthless Exxon oil boss Rex Tillerson to have charge of US foreign policy, are likely to cause dismay around the globe as Trump threatens to dismantle the already out-of-date Paris accord, that attempted to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 deg C. We may already have passed that threshold. As reported in Scientific American magazine, warming since 1900 is accelerating rapidly, reaching 1.48 degrees in the first three months of 2016.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-flirts-with-a-1-5-degree-celsius-global-warming-threshold1/ (cut-and-paste link)

As expected, 2016 ended up the hottest year in recorded history, coming on top of the previous second hottest year – 2015 (only marginally cooler than 2014). The Arctic is threatened, rising temperatures heralding a devastating release of stored methane; a far more effective greenhouse gas than CO2. The Jetstream is in chaos, bringing terrible winter conditions to Europe but warming the Arctic. In the southern United States, the tornado season has arrived, two months early. Sixteen people have died.

I’m old enough to remember the great blanketing smogs that killed thousands in London and other British cities in the early 1950s; somehow as a toddler with asthma I lived through them. So I can sympathise to some extent with the choking citizens of Beijing and Guangzhou . This year’s smogs in northeastern China have been of epic proportions, joining up to become the worst and most lethal ever.

No-one seems to relate the atmospheric conditions to the vertiginous rise in the numbers of cars in those countries, that have virtually – and in some cities compulsorily – replaced bicycles as the popular mode of transportation. Car production has become a measure of economic health; in truth, it’s a harbinger of disaster.

In the 1950s, there were very few private cars. It was the unexpected nationalisation of Iran’s oil industry, on which Britain had largely depended for its supply, and a series of poor winters that forced householders to burn cheap Welsh brown coal, emitting plumes of sulphur dioxide that became trapped under inversion layers caused by high-pressure weather systems.

Which is why I react with scorn and derision to statements that China is ‘leading the way’ globally in reducing carbon emissions.

As a long overdue public health measure, Britain introduced the world’s first Clean Air Act in 1956, 60 years ago. We knew what to do then, it was elementary: stop burning coal in our domestic fireplaces. Not burning coal was something we were rapidly able to legislate for, as the British were used to taking orders after six years of total war, and by and large it worked as new sources of heating were rapidly developed, ‘central heating’, depending on cleaner and more efficient (though still polluting) centrally generated, nationally distributed energy.

So, given that we knew and had experienced the public health and environmental risks and the measures needed to eliminate them back in the 1950s, why has it taken China the best part of 60 years to even start thinking about not burning coal when they also have a major problem from automobile emissions to contend with? Is it good enough to say, oh, they were a peasant economy, Chairman Mao held their development back through the years of the Cultural Revolution? (Better at least than continuing to blame the colonial British.)

A centrally directed economy, they could so easily have followed Britain’s lead and banned the burning of fossil fuels at a much earlier stage. Instead, they continued (and continue) to burn as much domestic coal as they could cheaply dig out of the ground in a reckless bid to catch up with Western manufacturing economies, without looking for any cleaner solutions until recently; and they are, literally, reaping the whirlwind.

The rush to solar and wind power is, in characteristically Chinese fashion, vertiginous: already, within about seven years China has become the world’s largest generator of electricity from renewables; but so are they still also the world’s biggest polluter from fossil fuels and industrial effluents.

For years after it became clear in the late 1970s that carbon dioxide levels were rising to dangerous proportions (the probable warming effect of CO2 absorbing sunlight had been known for 100 years), China and India were prominent in resisting all attempts to stop them polluting the atmosphere on the infantile grounds that it was the ‘right’ of all developing nations to achieve their full economic potential regardless of the known environmental risks, arguing that the northern nations had no right to lecture them as we had already translated our own coal reserves into manufacturing supremacy and were merely trying to maintain our relative economic advantage.

Two wrongs, they say, don’t make a right. China is now ruefully surveying its devastated landscapes, its filthy, contaminated rivers; gulping its remaining oxygen through gas masks. Normal atmospheric oxygen is 20 per cent of the mix of gases we breathe. All creatures other than anaerobic bacteria need oxygen to live. In parts of the ‘developing’ world, in the teeming, choking supercities the oxygen level can fall at times to as low as seven per cent.

That’s a model for the rest of us to view with considerable alarm.

Climate scientists are not very good at explaining just why the biota – and hence, the human race – is potentially doomed to extinction within decades. We imagine, don’t we, that rising sea levels or something are the main threat; superhurricanes, or possibly ‘resource wars’, declining food production; incursions by millions of starving refugees from sub-tropical latitudes.

All those things put together are going to happen, are already happening, but they do not appear to threaten the existence of all life on the planet. Even a nuclear war would probably not achieve that.

Oxygen depletion does, however. And as the seas warm, and acidify with poisonous CO2, the plankton dies and melting ice dilutes the salinity, those vast engines of production are producing measurably less oxygen. We are changing the balance of our atmosphere at a measurable rate.

For the first time ever, last summer the northern Jetstream was found to be meandering so wildly around the globe that it merged for a time with the southern Jetstream. Huge ice shelves in the Antarctic are breaking up, glaciers disappearing in the Andes, the Alps, the Hindukush. Northern Arctic sea ice this winter is at its lowest recorded extent, and its thinnest. One and a half trillion metric tonnes of methane lies stored in the Arctic sea and its bordering tundra. Just a few billion tonnes evaporating into the atmosphere will be enough to trigger runaway warming. In December 2016 the mean temperature in some areas of the Arctic was 20 deg C above normal. In January 2017, it’s been measured locally at up to 50 deg C. above normal.

And we have possibly the most wilfully, scientifically ignorant President in history in the White House, a barely literate moral imbecile with the attention span of a flea, who says he believes that tens of thousands of scientists all around the world, from a whole variety of different disciplines, not just climate scientists, are involved in a secret Chinese conspiracy to damage the US economy.

Actually it’s no secret, but not in the way he thinks. As President Xi vows to continue with China’s leading role in the Paris damage limitation exercise, embarrassed and fearful about popular unrest at the environmental degradation of his cut-price economy, China continues to try to force the pace of economic growth at a wholly unsustainable 7 per cent a year.

Its plentitudinous middle-class goes on growing, its car population goes on increasing, and why not? Look at the US! Look at Britain – we registered another two million cars last year, which after scrappage brings the number of cars in our little island to 32 million: 128 cars for every mile of road – not including a further six million motorcycles, buses and commercial vehicles. Cities are poison traps: according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, now threatened: “A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.”

You do the math. And then add the NOx.

So, yes, we in the West, the North, are deeply guilty. The Industrial Revolution began in Coalbrookdale, Derbyshire in the 1740s and we’ve been burning every bit of stored fossil energy we could get our hands on ever since: keeping our buildings overheated, manufacturing stuff we can throw away or burn, providing half the population with a ton and a half of individual wheeled transportation unit with in-car entertainment we can throw around enjoyably at speed on roads eating up our green countryside and devastating the prospects of our rapidly extincting wildlife.

It’s been fun, hasn’t it.

And now it’s almost certainly too late to stop.

In the days after the 9/11 attack on New York, planned and carried out mainly by Saudi Wahabbists – Saudi Arabia controversially being at the time, the USA’s biggest source of cheap oil imports – a stop was put for three days to all commercial flights over the USA.

Within a matter of hours it was noticed that the skies were becoming clearer, the sun brighter. It was then more generally realised that water vapor and sooty carbon particulates injected high into the atmosphere from jet engines had reduced sunlight by about 20 per cent over the five decades’ long relentless growth of air travel, and no-one except maybe farmers had much noticed. Now the pollution was gently falling from the sky, leaving purer, cleaner air.

There are plenty of other sources of muck that gets pumped into the sky, as well as volcanoes. We may recall the discovery in the 1980s that chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs – used in a variety of industrial processes and consumer white goods were eating the protective ozone layer, allowing more cancer-causing UV rays to reach the ground. An international ban followed, and the holes in the ozone have been closing up again.

If only global warming caused cancer, we might have done something about that too.

By reflecting sunlight, high-altitude particulates – pollution – have been protecting us from overheating the atmosphere as the CO2 content has risen steadily from 280 ppm in the mid-C18th, to over 400 ppm today. So let’s burn more! Maybe, but the more sunlight that’s reflected, the less is available for growing food crops. Generating particulate smog is inimical to our health. We’d need to go on doing it, probably forever. The atmosphere would go on getting more polluted. And the colder the weather, the more fuel we’ll burn.

So it’s a self-defeating strategy. The only way forward is renewables.

It’s been calculated by some climatologists that if we stopped ‘civilization’ – all generation of fossil-fuel energy: no flying off on holiday, no manufacturing, no cars, no heating, no lights or pumps, flat mobile phone batteries – all of it now, right now, it would make absolutely no difference to the warming of the climate.

The additional CO2 necessary to get us to a probably unsurvivable six to 10 deg C. of warming by 2026 is already in the system; and without the reflective cooling effect of pollution we would start to see a rapid and irreversible rise in global temperature, not in decades, but within DAYS.

The world is teetering on a knife edge.

And the worst of it is, Trump may even know this, but just not care. He has too many wealthy donors to reward; rapacious billionaires who stupidly imagine their gargantuan wealth will save them from sharing the fate of the rest of the planet. (There’s no correlation, believe me, between intelligence and the ability to make money.)

He may just be crossing his little fingers, hoping that the fast-approaching extinction of the species doesn’t arrive on his watch.

Of course, there will be no-one to bury his grandchildren.

Does he care?

Footnote

At more than one billion metric tonnes a year, China consumes roughly a quarter of the world’s coal output. (Although beaten to first place as the world’s worst CO2 polluter by Canada and its miles of stinking tar-sands). Figures showing declining consumption are invariably revised upwards, producing a small year-on-year growth. A helpful explanation is provided by:

http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/8780-China-s-coal-consumption-and-CO2-emissions-What-do-we-really-know (cut and paste link)

 

RETWEEP

I’m not one for plugging links,  have no idea how this stuff works, but I’m going to risk a suggestion anyway that you view this YouTube vid, principally because I keep trying just to give you a dead link as usual, to let you choose to go there or not, but this image comes up every time I try to paste the URL, I can’t get rid of it and I can’t make it any smaller, so I’m taking it as an omen. (Acknowledgments to whoever made it, sorry about your copyright and that.)

I’m not endorsing the content, although as a former journalist I’d say it’s serious reportage, of public interest. And the Trumpkin was inaugurated today. A black day in history. So bad.

If nothing else it shows that theories about the Russians and Putin and Israel and Trump’s seldom-mentioned mob connections – it’s no disgrace, you can’t build in New York or operate casinos in Atlantic City without ’em – fixing the election, have to stand comparison with the alt-right stuff, the Breitbart ‘News’ website connection, that ghastly blonde skeleton who goes on air all the time defending him (I’m bad on names, thank God. Kitty something? Pussy Galore?).

What it all tells us is that in politics, money corrupts  and absolute money corrupts absolutely. Yet about 2/3 the way through, we’re shown a list of the obscenely wealthy donors to US political causes and, hey, you know what? There are just as many filthy rich capitalists donating to liberal causes, as much money every election time as most of us are likely to see in a lifetime, as there are to the neo-Nazis!

So what we’re seeing here is a kind of tennis match between men with big yachts. Only, we’re the ball.

PS – guess what Trump has tweeted in response to his dire poll ratings, the worst ever for an incoming no-joke President on Inauguration Day?

‘Rigged!’

Bless.

And, okay, couldn’t resist… This one says it all:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LFkN7QGp2c

 

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Let’s all move to… London (and why not).

Let’s all move to… London

London. Unlovely city of my birth.

I was born in 1949, at the old St George’s Hospital on the south side of Hyde Park Corner, that grand and busy roundabout dedicated to The Fallen, located at the very heart of Empire. The Second World War had been over for four years, yet I think I still remember the bomb sites, National Health orange juice, the great smogs; everywhere covered in wet soot. We lived in Maida Vale at first, before moving to the Gloucester Road, where between terms away at school and until my mother remarried I grew up, an only child – the only child – in a cobbled mews, living over a garage my grandmother had bought, ostensibly to stable her husband’s two Mercedes cars – in reality, because she knew my father well enough.

Colour had not yet been invented.

From dinner with my ex-sister-in-law in the rambling commuter-belt estates somewhere northwest of Kilburn, up by the North Circular, with some trepidation I drive south, up (down? South along) the Edgware Road, past Lauderdale Mansions; round Marble Arch and down Park Lane, then somehow negotiate frantic Hyde Park Corner on my way back to Knightsbridge, where we lived from 1965 until, a student, I left home and took a room in a shared flat in Chelsea, circa the Year of the Events, 1968.

Driving up this time was unavoidable in view of the amount of stuff I had to move back to Wales, and the family to whom I had to give lifts on this solemn occasion. Having no idea about the congestion charge, where it applied, how you paid it, I viewed the task with unease, not least because my car is powered by a modest diesel engine. Diesel has become the new dirty word among London planners and the medical lobbying group, Doctors Against Diesel, because of my very tiny contribution to the pall of NOx that is supposedly suffocating everyone – only the latest in a long line of palls down the years, that have borne away the surplus population of the city and made room for more incomers.

I despaired of public transport. On the surface heavily congested, barely moving, subject everywhere to seemingly purposeless road closures and never-completed works, buses offputtingly operated now only by obscure cards that, as a provincial still living in the 1980s, up for the day, I don’t happen to have about me; below-ground a place of airless, nightmarish horror, a multitudinous, silent grey horde of The Damned packed into groaning carriages from where escape in an emergency would be impossible, rapid mass suffocation inevitable; brutalised by random engineering works, and surprisingly expensive. Taxi drivers confide in me: they are all on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown.

Driving is indeed nerve-racking: cars coming at you from any direction, changing lanes without warning; buses pulling out, taxis cutting in – streets seething with pedestrians, most seemingly of Middle Eastern or African origin. The traffic lights at the many junctions seem sadistically phased to ensure minimal progress. It takes an hour to travel what, a mile and a half? And it’s already half-past ten at night; by which time the roads at home are deserted.

*

I’d left London in 1985 and gone to live in the depths of the countryside: first working in, then owning a small advertising agency, sausaging our rare-breed pigs, moving ever-westwards by stages until five years ago, newly redundant, I arrived in the thunderous outskirts of ‘Boglington-on-Sea’, a busy university town and holiday resort, from where I seem to be unable to progress further without an Irish passport. Something I now wish I had. Would an Irish-American grandmother be sufficient qualification to escape from Camp Brexit, I wonder?

Thus impoverished, I seldom return to London; perhaps three or four times a year, to visit my old mum – or passing through. That’s over and done with now, she died in December, in a frenetic hospital ward where no more temporary rest was to be had. That first night, they managed to lose her teeth.

The flat was rented, the landlord somehow smelled death and turned up while we were sorting through her things, with a polite written request that we evacuate her 50 years’ worth of obsessively hoarded stuff ASAP or owe another month’s rent. It was Christmas. Having not lived in London for so many years, I had no idea: where would you even start looking for a removals firm?

The make-up bottles, brushes, tubes, compacts and sprays, hopeful anti-ageing remedies filled several large binbags; her vintage clothes and shoes, heaps of books, theatrical playbills, possibly saleable furniture and small curios, piles of remittance advices from a well-known firm of auctioneers who had kept her going financially for years, optimistic financial forecasts from an ultimately ruinous Lloyd’s of London agent, my old school reports filled yet more bags; her beds, unsaleable antiques, her piano, required the attendance of experts and burly men; and now the total number of  people I know living in the entire city was down to two, neither of them quite so conveniently and centrally located, it has to be said.

No-one lives in Knightsbridge anymore.

*

Hunzi and I tramp the lamplit streets for a late-night pee, around the old village between Holy Trinity and Kensington Gore, with its bijou Queen Anne cottages, cobbled mewses and glimpses of little town gardens, many ominously hidden behind builders’ hoardings. The photos in the posh estate agents’ windows offer a selection of virtually identical, anonymous, modernised interiors anyone can acquire for enough £millions – ‘price on request’ (I roomed in a flat on the King’s Road  for £4 a week). These pretty little investments are being snapped up as a wholesale commodity by billionaire kleptocrats and money-launderers, gutted like fish and ‘modernised’, expanded internally with floating ceilings, plate windows and recessed lighting, undercut with serial basements down to Hell for pools and ‘media rooms’, embellished with planters so improbably neat you might imagine the flora to be artificial; obsessively tended by contract window-box gardeners.

And by night maybe one in ten of the houses in Rutland Mews or Ennismore Gardens, the slightly grander abodes of Trevor Place and Montpellier Square might be showing a light indicating occupancy; perhaps below street level, where here and there a Philippino houseboy can be seen morosely ironing a shirt, TV flickering in the background. Otherwise the village is deserted, dead, except for the restaurants and gated compounds of Cheval Place where chauffeurs hang around with bored expressions next to their blacked-out SUVs and limousines. Glancing in the side window of one car, I see a prostitute giving her Arabic-looking client a vigorous blowjob in the front seat.

Yes, it’s dead posh in SW7.

Just around the corner, the Brompton Road heaves with late-night tourists and people of Middle Eastern appearance enjoying the dank night air, Turkish coffee and a smoke at pavement tables outside the many shisha cafes that have replaced the elegant couturiers, from where Arabian music blares out late into the night. I have come to re-christen London ‘Beirut on Thames’ – the civilised, cosmopolitan Beirut of course, before the war.

Across the road, that garish temple to the execrable taste of the ludicrously rich, Harrod’s continues to exert its magnetic attraction for the not-so-wealthy; the pavement outside virtually impassable for tourists gawking at the tawdry, overpriced junk in the overdressed Christmas windows. In the glaring lightpools of the dead of night rich kids in their Ferraris burn rubber up and down the Cromwell Road, the raucous snarl of over-revved Italian engines echoing through the canyons into the early hours; the police have given up chasing them.

Why on earth are all these people here, when all there is to see is more people?

*

Arriving from the North at Euston I observe a never-ending stream, a torrent of whey-faced commuters pouring into a hole in the ground: the Underground. I think immediately of the procession of the dead, and decide instead to take a taxi across town to the hospital and screw the cost (only £25… and it took an hour, including many detours to avoid the worst of the traffic). I stop off, and pay £5 for a small cake to take to the bewildered, toothless old lady, cut off from the world behind blue drapes. A harassed nurse brings morphine on demand. My mother explains, she has had to become an addict as the bastards won’t let her smoke. Back at the flat I sort through a time-vault of publicity stills, a promising actress of dark-eyed, vital beauty.

Next day, Hunzi and I seek refuge, space – air – in the Royal Parks. He remembers from year to year where the stray tennis balls are found along the fenced-off shrubbery behind the courts; and sure enough there are two inside the railings. With an eye out for park rangers I purloin the nearer, and we play chase and catch in the rain until the ball becomes caked with London’s tenacious brand of black dirt and an object of no further interest. It seems a measure of the impressive wealth of the city that the intensively coached players can’t be bothered to collect the balls they knock accidentally over the wire at £2 a time.

Avoiding speeding Boris Bikers, the morning phalanx of joggers, extended Arab families out for a stroll and the pretty boys of the Household Cavalry exercising their perfectly turned-out mounts on Rotten Row, helmets gleaming, swords jingling like distant goat bells across the plain, the sun striking fire from the newly regilded Albert Memorial, green parakeets whirring and screeching in the familiar London plane trees, the 09.35 Emirates Airlines flight from Abu Dhabi wheeling in towards distant Heathrow, I could almost imagine the life I once knew here.

Growing up then, marrying, moving ever-westwards: Chelsea, Putney, Hounslow – Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, I had thought perhaps one day I might return, to sit out in retirement at some quiet pavement cafe enjoying the passers-by, exchanging pleasantries with other villagers, smoking Gauloises, pottering about the little shops. The dream faded long ago. In the Fulham Road I feel underdressed, a poor refugee amid the elegantly attired, eminently tall young men and women striding purposefully in their Burberry and Dolce e Gabbana past decor shops filled with Babylonian luxuries, temptingly expensive patisserie; barking important messages about property deals into their iPhones; past knots of Ukrainian building workers in high-viz jackets awaiting pick-up to ferry them on to the next basemented development no-one will ever live in again.

In Thurloe Place I encounter a small man with a blue Macaw perched on either shoulder, with whom he seems to be enjoying an animated conversation. He glares defiantly back at my curious gaze. You probably know him. While here and there may be glimpsed an elderly, well-dressed individual, white-haired, knobbly with arthritis, looking as disorientated as I feel in this city, the village of my birth, abandoned and struggling as my mother did for years in defiant poverty, until the ever-changing yet somehow consistent story of London, the mist of its history swirls around them and swaddles them and bears them away into obscurity.

The Great Wen, as Cobbett sneeringly dismissed it, is and has always been a Darwinian habitat fit only for the young and the wealthy, the broker, the builder, the garbage man and the cleaner; an overcrowded and barely functional bazaar of scrabbling opportunism and excess, of smart prep schools and ludicrously tank-like cars; a place for tourists to see themselves, teeming humanity reflected in a shop window.

To be honest, I could grow to like it.

1936 ww

What is a ‘Leppo’?

Along with millions of others around the world, as Christmas approaches I am trying as hard as I possibly can to avert my gaze from what is happening in Aleppo.

Because there is absolutely not one fucking thing I can personally do or say to halt the medieval slaughter of innocent men, women and children; doctors, nurses and paramedics, dying for mercy in that ancient ruined city after four years of almost incessant bombardment; seige and starvation, their schools and hospitals deliberately targeted by the little arch-cunt of the Kremlin.

Someone, perhaps someone close to him, has to take out that psychotic war criminal, Assad, and now. A parasitic, enteric worm, he has surely forfeited any right to life.

But they won’t. The rotten, tyrannical scum of history seldom face justice in their gilded lifetimes.

Forward with Boris in glory to the past; and a reminder of how you were warned….

Analysis of the referendum vote shows that the older and worse-educated you are, the whiter your neighbourhood is, with the least number of immigrants and young people, the more likely you were to vote to Leave the European Union. It may not have occurred to you, then, that you were taking part in a General Election to enable Boris Johnson to oust his hated rival, Cameron, and that your vote had nothing to do with the coloured people next door.

BogPo Chief Political Correspondent,  Laura Facebook went looking for someone to blame….

 

@BogPoNewsdesk

Hi from @Laura’sweeplace

Hope this will do? It’s a Mr Bogler, 66. I’ve got his address somewhere in Romford. That in Essex? Quotes follow:

 

“Okay, so. I’m 66. Sixty-seven in two months, my how time flies when your wedding tackle’s packed it in for the duration.

“No, I don’t have a university degree – just a vocational qualification from a technical college. (Excuse the teeth, they don’t fit too well. Polish dentist.) But I do own a flat cap and a pair of brown Dralon slippers, they’re very comfy.

“And I remember the 1970s, the Golden Age that my generation has voted Leave! to get back to, before gay rights and foreigners and that Damon All-Bran person. Silly name.

“When I matriculated in 1970 after two years of studying and training to be a film cameraman, I was good at it. Knew my stuff. So I was offered a job straight away working as a camera assistant on an actual feature film shooting in London. If you’re over forty you’ll probably even have heard of the stars. Of course they were proper stars in them days, not just celebrities like now.

“Then after two weeks I was ‘let go’ – sacked without pay – on the orders of the ACTT, the film technicians’ union. I wasn’t a member. But not having worked in the industry for at least six months, I wasn’t allowed to join either, which I would of if they’d let me. The union was threatening to have the film ‘blacked’ at the processing laboratory unless I went and they could put some bolshy, pre-war old studio hand into my job, someone who hadn’t progressed beyond Assistant grade in forty years, at ten times the wage.

“Career, basically, down the drain. Thank heavens for Maggie is all I can say. And you could just walk into another job, so I did. No foreigners, see. You hardly ever saw a black face, let alone these Muslims. You could talk to your doctor and he’d understand you.

“Ah, the 1970s… You’d proudly buy a British car for four pounds seven shillings and sixpence, then sit out in your front garden with a nice cup of PG Tips, you know, the chimpanzees, they were good, and watch it rusting to pieces. Morris Maestro, Austin Allegro, Vauxhall Victor, Triumph Herald – Hillman Minx. The Bond Equipe! Great names, all gone now. Of course, the windscreen-wipers never worked. Come off in yer ‘and.

“Cars, and most else we made then, before the Common Market got carried away with itself and brought in all these foreign laws, were, basically, crap. Hadn’t always been, but the war, austerity, rationing, foreign competition, antediluvian management, bolshy unions, foreign competition, underinvestment, terrible old infrastructure (did we still have steam trains? I used to go to school on a steam train. Just like Hogwarts!), foreign competition; well, it had all gone a bit downhill under Wilson, hadn’t it, really, truthfully?

“Best not dwell on that.

“Yes, the jolly days before that nasty commercial radio, when there were the three BBC national radio stations to listen to – three TV channels to, basically, go out rather than watch – no ‘time-shifting’ in those days, only time – homely local BBC stations; you stood up for the National Anthem last thing at night, before bed. If you wanted to hear the latest American pop hit tunes and you lived in Essex or bits of Kent you could tune-in to Radio Caroline and Radio London, until the Government forced the ‘pirates’ off the air.

“And the cinema! You could spend a rainy day at the flicks for 1s/9d, watch the main feature in Todd-AO, Doris Day, that Rock Hudson; a B-movie in black and white, two cartoons, a newsreel and a Look at Life. Butterkist popcorn, a leaky cardboard box of Kia-Ora orange juice… You need never go home! Now that was real value for money.

“Great days, when it was legal and right to discriminate against anyone you liked. You could sack a pouffe or, better still, not hire him in the first place. You may not have been anywhere but you knew where you were. You could decide on their age, nationality, whether they was a real man or perhaps a woman, the colour of their skin, if you wanted them in the office. And wonderful comedians on TV! Bernard Manning, that Jim Davidson, brilliant jokes about the colour coming off in the wash!

“Now there was proper entertainers, not your politically right-on ‘standups’ nowadays, all that swearing and sex stuff.

“Oh, we had high old times, when the most foreign food you could buy on the High Street was a Wimpey burger made from Belgian horse lips and anus and suchlike, and a thick strawberry milkshake with real chemical strawberry, some Fairy for the froth and a spoonful of Polyfilla. None of yer E-numbers then, we’d never heard of ’em. Before all them computers and unleaded petrol came in, that was. And what was wrong with a bit of lead? I could do with some in me pencil now! (Doris, ‘ow do you put in one of them smiley face things?)

“Of course, we wasn’t all ‘consumers’ then, was we? Proper customers, that’s what we was. We had rights! We hadn’t given ’em away to Brussels.

“Happy Sunday afternoons, when professional sport was banned except if it had rained at Wimbledon and the only shop was the Pakistani on the corner, and even he closed at lunchtime. When pubs chucked you out at 10 pm and opened again at noon…. and closed again at three, and opened again at half-past five… but it were real beer, Watneys Red Barrel, none of your continental lagers, and only 1s/9d a pint. A man could smoke wherever he liked, not outside in a pram shelter in the rain. You ‘ad a bit of dignity then. Men were men, not these transvestments. It’s all gone wrong.

“Oh, but how we laughed together as the lights went out, and our working hours was cut to three days a week!

“Mind you, you could still get a well-paid job down the pit, or falling into a blast furnace. And then that de Gaulle died, didn’t he, and they let us in the Common Market, and it all changed for the worse. And the price of everything.

“Eee, but Britain were great in them days, and you never needed an education, not like now.

“Glad to have ’em back, if you ask me.

“Which you did.

“Ah, that’s my mobile. Excuse me, it might be my estate agent…

“Up yours, Delors! Eh? Smiley face?”

 

I make no apology for re-Posting the following, from three years ago. But if you’re looking to employ someone who can tell you what’s going to happen in three years time, you can send me an email  via m’friends at WordPress. My fee is negotiable, sort-of.

Home » End of the world » Hating the British

Hating the British

………..
I often wonder what the European Union would look like, better probably, if the British hadn’t spent the last forty years being easily convinced by the endless barrage of propaganda paid for by the global corporatist conglomerate, that Europe is some sort of evil conspiracy of inefficient garlic growers, best kept at arm’s length; when, in fact, the English Channel is but a shallow, water-filled depression formed only a few thousand years ago as a result of melting Norwegian ice, and you can walk across at low tide.
A few minutes in the air over France, gazing down at the obsessively neat rectilinearity of the farms, gives the lie to the belief that French farmers still need our taxes to feed their stumbling plough oxen. How efficient would British farmers be, if they had to cope with the same volume of unexploded ordnance and well rotted corpses on their land? Time Team is hardly the same thing.
No sooner had they voted themselves in, than the British put on their High & Mighty Gannex coats and began jumping up and down in the rain on the touchline of Europe, yelling like demented dads at a schools soccer tournament: ‘Up yours, Delors!’, and similar technical terms unrelated to the peaceful transition from perpetual warfare to universal cooperation between nations that everyone else was expecting.

It never seemed to occur to the British that the point of a Union is to join in; only they don’t like it whatever it is, and demand to change the rules with every game to suit themselves. As a result, we shall never know if British membership of the club might have made a difference. We’re still too busy taking a preliminary piss in the foyer.

Thanks to the corporatist proxies, the media owners Murdoch, Northcliffe and the sinister Barclay twins, Lords of Sark (where?), the British have finally spawned UKIP, a party of pub bores, taxi drivers and in some cases seriously swivel-eyed power-seekers, led by a perpetually grinning salesman (but with an underlying air of tragedy), a spaniel-eyed Pagliacci who is seldom seen without a pint of beer in his hand and a fag in his mouth, although he is not really Andy Capp. He is merely posing, as Harold Wilson did, as a Man o’ the People.

The People, by whom I mean the British, fall for this schtick in droves, so desperate are they to be led into the wilderness by a real British man and not some traitor called Cameron, who will let foreigners in. At such times we lose the capacity to recognise that the cheery chappy on the doorstep is busy nicking granny’s wallet.

This party miraculously secured the same percentage of the vote in recent local elections as the party of the rancorous TV comedian, Pepe Grillo, did at the last Italian general election: 25%. Not that spaghetti-chewing Italians can hold proper elections, like the British. Foreigners don’t get democracy, a British invention.

The result extrapolates to an awful lot of people who think, on the basis of the complete ignorance of the issues in which they have been kept by the dreadful British press for 40 years, that we should ‘get out’ of the EU, before British culture is ‘swamped’ by Eastern and possibly even Southern European migrants intent on straightening our bananas.

I am imagining the reaction of Tory MPs’ wives, when they wake up on the morning after the referendum, only to find they are no longer automatically entitled to own their agreeable third home (converted from a shepherd’s hut, how killing!) in Tuscany, having swept royally through the Green channel at Pisa airport; where instead, they will be forced henceforth to queue for five hours at the Aliens desk behind several boatloads of tired and hungry Somali asylum seekers before being put on a plane back to Luton.

How, I wonder, will Kentish publicans, or the less well-off fathers of brides-to-be, react when they can no longer hop on a cross-channel ferry to Boulogne and haul back crateloads of duty-free Cava and several thousand counterfeit fags, and find instead some officious bastard from HM Revenue and Customs poking suspiciously through their people-carriers demanding payment of 150 quid duty?

And will it be Auf Wiedersehen, Pet for the thousands of British workers entitled to travel freely and seek employment elsewhere in the Union, whose frontiers will clang shut behind them as they are promptly expelled, enabling the same Bulgarians and Romanians whom the British don’t want to fill British jobs in Britain to sweep instead into Germany and France, Spain and Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg, taking the British jobs British workers will have been compelled to leave behind?

Well, maybe. But at least loyal British employers will be at liberty once again to kill and maim hardworking British workers; corporation tax will be cut to 10%, we’ll all be allowed to inhale other people’s cigarette smoke and let’s have no more of that dangerous foreign nonsense about human rights, gay marriage and gender equality. We can subsidise our own, highly efficient farmers, thank you… oh, sorry, they’ve all gone bust. Never mind, thanks to HS2 we can create a land fit for stockbrokers, bankers and global commodity traders – plus, of course, those lovely corporations, that have all our interests at heart.

Envious, curtain-twitching, dog-in-the-manger, dismally ignorant, insular, xenophobic, gullible British, with their grotesquely inflated view of themselves, their overweening sense of entitlement, their baseless air of superiority, their bombastic yearning for the return of a vanished global empire that never really existed (that our American ‘allies’ have taken away from them), crawling about in the gutter having fumbling sex in puddles of puke, constantly complaining about everything, hating anyone marginally more successful or less privileged than themselves, hating everyone who isn’t themselves, are welcome to live in their own little bubble in their tiny corner of the globe, on the rest of which seven billion inferior foreigners are happily getting on with ignoring their existence and learning Chinese.

As you drift rudderless out into the Atlantic towards the growling icebergs, Hardworking British Families, goodbye and thanks for all the Difficult Decisions. I’m off to live in civilization while there still is one.

Posted 11th May, 2013.

 

A thin blue line

The death of PC David Philips hit (apparently) by a stolen pickup truck being pursued following a suspected robbery is awful for his family, friends and colleagues and our hearts go out to them.

But the incident looks more like reckless endangerment than deliberate murder; a swerving attempt to avoid the stinger device PC Philips and a colleague (who managed to jump out of the way) were deploying to burst the car’s tyres – in itself a dangerous measure that could have caused the deaths of anyone in the vehicle.

That at least will be the basis of any defence 18-year-old Clayton Williams will put up. The Wallasey, Merseyside teenager has already publicly confessed, and profoundly apologised to the family, in an extraordinary statement issued through his solicitor, after he was remanded in custody last week, in which he said he had no intention of running down PC Philips and was not aware that he had.

In fact, a number of aspects of this case are somewhat unsettling.

It is common practice, and allowed, for police to issue photographs or photofit pictures, and to name suspects they are looking for in connection with major crimes, before an arrest is made and a charge brought. But at that juncture, reporting restrictions demand that only the accused’s name, age and address may continue to be published.

I cannot remember a single case in which the police have carried out an arrest, the suspect has been charged, appeared in court to confirm their identity and been remanded for a further hearing, and the police have then released to the press, for publication, a photograph of the accused.

Whatever the crime, even a police killing, such an action is totally contrary to the 800-year old principle of British justice, that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In this case, it looks like the defence has been railroaded into issuing a public admission of guilt even before the accused has been given the opportunity to enter a plea in court: trial by media.

It is not a happy precedent.

That the photograph should be an image taken from social media of the teenager drunk and behaving disgracefully at a party, leering spottily into the lens and raising two fingers, while the faces of people in the background have been pixellated, is clearly highly prejudicial. What motive could the police, if indeed it was they who obtained the photo, possibly have in releasing it to the media, other than to influence a potential future jury of sober and upright adult citizens?

The release of the image provoked a predictable crawling-out from under stones of the rabid tendency among the Commentariat, most of whom called for the youth to be violently tortured and hung as an example to others. Many complained of their disappointment that Clayton Williams, despite his name, had turned out not to be a black man.

The Daily Mail controversialist, Katie Hopkins for once took the side of proportionality and criticised sensationalist media coverage of the family’s outspoken grief as ‘scripted… X-factor videotape… the Instagram nation.’ She cruelly went on to imagine Mrs Williams viewing the TV coverage of her performance with satisfaction. Ms Hopkins is not a very nice person, but in this instance she expressed the unease some may have felt at the way the death of PC Philips was being turned to advantage, at a time of cuts to the police budget.

Again, this seems to have been the police ensuring maximum public opprobrium against the accused, through an orchestrated press conference designed to heighten sympathy for the victim’s fully extended family. Tearful family appeals to the killer to come forward have become commonplace, but in this instance the police already had a suspect in custody, who had apparently confessed – and went on to arrest a number of other, unnamed persons – presumably the boy’s family and friends – as accessories after the fact.

This trawling of connections to suspects is also disturbing, reminiscent as it is of the ancient practice of ‘sippenhaft’ – targeting the wider families of supposedly disloyal resisters to ensure compliance. Commit a crime nowadays and your spouse, your mum, or seemingly anyone on your contacts list who has failed to hand you over to the authorities in good time is likely to end up being hauled in and gaoled on charges of ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’.

The vengeful statements of senior officers should be seen in context of a force that very much protects its own. The Chief Constable’s impassioned remark that ‘he didn’t stand a chance’ made for a good headline, but the inevitable inquiry might, in the cold light of day, possibly find that PC Philips was ordered into the path of the escaping vehicle by a superior; reducing his ‘chances’ still further.

It is unfortunately a truth that many such accidents happen when the police take off in hot pursuit of a suspect: in this case, the red Mitsubishi pickup stolen earlier was spotted lurking in the area an hour after police were called to the robbery, and a high-speed chase ensued. Was PC Philips ordered to put himself in harm’s way? And if so, could the extraordinary media-storm not have been generated in part to deflect attention away from a possibly fatal operational error?

It all begs the question: should we go on risking TV-cop-show-style, high-speed car chases in built-up areas, when we have spotter technology and surveillance cameras and drones, the ability to track vehicles remotely – and even, if not yet then not far off, the technology to send a jamming signal that can switch-off a car’s computerised engine management system?

And what if the victim had not been a policeman, but some other father-of-two making his way home after a night-shift, hit perhaps by a police car? Would the force have treated the case with the same sensationalised prominence, or perhaps relied instead on another anodyne and long-drawn-out IPCC investigation to draw a veil?

In context, with forty million vehicles on the UK’s cluttered roads, around 400 pedestrians are hit and killed by vehicles each year (some by police drivers); another 1,400 die in crashes. That’s quite a lot of ‘brilliant dads’ who don’t come home in the normal course of events. That this figure is one third what it was 40 years ago is  testament in part to the vigour with which police enforce the traffic regulations.

And it is salutary to remember that one hundred and forty-two people died in workplace accidents in 2014.

Statistically, police work is actually quite safe when compared with some other occupations; possibly due to assiduous training. The last British policeman killed in the line of duty was back in 2013, also struck by a getaway car. 2012 was an exceptional year, as a result of two WPCs in Manchester being lured into an ambush and shot to death by a local ‘face’ – a known thug who had decided to hand himself in over a previous murder and thought it would be a nice idea to take a couple of coppers down with him. Another PC was shot confronting an armed man while off-duty, and a fourth died of a heart attack while pursuing a suspect.

But there are 128 thousand people employed in the police force. It is the relative rarity of such incidents that makes them stand out.

Self-serving and pious statements by politicians about the extraordinary dangers of police work and lurid phrasemaking about ‘putting their lives on the line every night’ ignore the facts – with, on average, 30-plus deaths a year in police custody, it’s quite a lot more dangerous in Britain to be a criminal, or suspected of being one. Most people would say, that’s how it should be.

Of course, in America it’s more like a small war. Let’s not go there.

 

Postscriptum

After adding to the above yesterday with what I hoped was a more direct rationalisation of my semi-private concern at the management of the publicity surrounding this tragic case, as it seemed to set an uncomfortable legal precedent, there is news of a PC in a ‘serious’ condition, having been knifed in the stomach when called to an incident in North London. A 16-year-old boy is being questioned.

Of course, policing is often dangerous work. I merely commented that statistically, the fatality rate among police  in this country is thankfully very low. Nor do I believe that violent young punks without any sense of consequence or responsibility for their actions are a new phenomenon indicative of the breakdown of the social order: they have always existed.

Hanging and flogging them isn’t going to make any difference, we used to do that but they are ever with us. It is hardly perverted liberalism to suggest that there are reasons for their antisocial behaviour that ought to be addressed, while at the same time upholding the rule of law.

I do not take pleasure in the death of any individual; nor was I writing about any individual, excepting that this was a case that illustrated the way in which a precedent was being extended and nobody appeared to have noticed.

I have had a night to think about an abusive Comment received in relation to the original article. It is the first such Comment my blog has attracted in almost four years; possibly a sign of failure. The author, ‘Chris’, is a person obviously with little education, but direct and to the point. What I write may indeed be ‘fucking bollocks’, while it is indeed regrettable that I have never had the opportunity to die for my country, of whose overly sentimental laws and customs ‘Chris’ disapproves.

As a citizen (whose ancestors migrated here from northern Europe thirteen centuries ago) I still insist on the right to have a view, to express an opinion!

My blog is a personal ‘work in progress’ and subject to continual interventions by an editor I keep in my head. I have made one or two minor changes this morning. Something however that has also popped out of my head overnight is a worry that the country is becoming polarised between moral relativists and moral absolutists: people disposed to thinking-through complicated problems, as against people who merely react, sometimes with inarticulate violence, from pre-prepared positions.

I can see little difference between the ‘Chris’s and their fundamentalist counterparts in other cultures around the world, ISIS, the Moral Majority, who are once again in the ascendant. People who see everything in terms of black and white, who express violent thoughts against anyone they consider The Other – anyone that is, who looks or behaves or thinks differently from themselves. People with a visceral hatred of open discussion.

I suppose the difference is, for now, that one group is prepared to rampage through cities, indiscriminately shooting and bombing in the name of a religious ideal; while the others conduct their private wars by hurling inarticulate invective at people they fundamentally disagree with, in a public forum that guarantees their anonymity (for now). I am equally guilty of that, at times.

I suppose there has always been tension between the two camps, the ‘class war’ – but the internet has enabled a permissive discourse to evolve that is ratcheting up the social tension level, at a time of difficult global challenges to the postwar social consensus for which no-one appears to have any answers, other than more violence.

It’s not a good sign.

The expense of truth

There are three kinds of people, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Buddhist Monk is a consume-nothing minimalist. Bare white spaces leave room for contemplation. You can imagine anything in a bare white space. You can see the world clearly, if uncomfortably. You can live on air. Such a world requires no transactional value-system – only a mind eternally present in the Now.

Lonely Ms Lovestoshop has thirteen credit cards and store cards, all maxed-out, on which she owes three times her annual salary. Thirty-four-point-nine per-cent interest holds no fears. Her idea of a holiday is a shopping trip to Milan. Her wardrobe, cupboards and under the bed are stuffed with – er, stuff, that she’s never going to wear.

And then there’s me.

Mr Finer-feelings. Part monk, part hedonist, Libran by birth and inclination, I would love to have that white space to live in, but it would be a world containing just six, impeccably beautiful and useful possessions. I would want nothing else, other than red wine, bread, olive oil, avocados and tomatoes (with a little sea-salt), an ocean and the occasional sunset. Oh, and Hunzi.

The year before last, for instance, I decided that the Alfa Romeo in most of its manifestations was the most beautiful production car you could buy, that I could afford. Having a little money for the first time in a while, I bought one.

I spent weeks on the internet, researching the marque, the model range, the dealers and their prices, comparing all the parameters and matching the outcomes to my discerning criteria of affordable beauty and usefulness. The one that I finally bought seemed to satisfy all demands.

DSCN0948

After signing-off the delivery, I noticed that on the passenger side, just down in front of the seat, was a small, dark, triangular gap where the gorgeous pale-beige carpet had been cut incorrectly and did not fully cover the inner doorsill. It was an area about two inches long and half an inch high at the apex. Every time I drove the car, it tickled the corner of my vision, this tiny but significant imperfection, that had been overlooked in Quality Control.

Reader, I sold that car.

Oh, yes, there were other reasons, practical reasons. Though undeniably beautiful, it was not as useful as I had hoped. Pale beige leather and expensive carpeting did not really go with the need to kennel my lovely dog, Hunzi, for a couple of hours each afternoon while I worked away from home. Not on wet, muddy days. The Italian suspension was just not up to lugging around the weight of a couple of 1cwt bags of sand-and-cement, a dozen 3-metre lengths of 2″x4″ timber and half a dozen paving slabs, as I discovered after our nearby B&Q was closed for months due to minor flooding.

And the first time I tried overtaking, it terrified the life out of me when, at the top end of second gear, with a lorry heading the wrong way towards me, I floored the accelerator and there was just – nothing. The trick, as I luckily discovered after a millisecond of thinking, whoops!, was to throw it straight up into third, where it seemed to take-off like an F-16. But the seed of doubt had been sown.

Finally, I had put the remains of my money into a long-term bank bond, so that I could not get at it for another six months. As my overdraft crept ever closer to its limit, I thought, this is silly, I owe the bank this much, losing so much interest every month; but I have five times as much saved with the same bank, earning much less interest, that I can’t get at to pay it off. I never go anywhere, I have no friends I need to impress, I don’t really need a car at all.

So I sold it, for two-and-a-half thousand pounds less than it had cost me five months earlier. An expensive lesson in aesthetics.

And now, I fear, I am at it again.

(Boring guitar chat alert – look away now)

This outrageously beautiful item, whose portrait I have reproduced here with full acknowledgement to dealer, GuitarWorld, is the semi-hollow Custom 24 by Paul Reed Smith, in Faded Whale Blue. I pictured a faded whale. It costs about £3.5 thousand, which is not at all expensive by guitar-porn standards. Why I class it as guitar-porn is simply because, in a more normal reddish or browny colour, it’s £800 less. And because I couldn’t help bookmarking it, so I can gaze lustfully at it every day.

It’s just the kind of thing I mean when I say I demand only six possessions in my white room, in my life, that are all beautiful and useful; taking after William Morris’s famous dictum. Paul Reed Smith’s guitars are not only gorgeous to look at, they are also useful, in that they sound absolutely fantastic when played by experts. I am certainly not the world’s greatest guitarist, far from it, so to spend £3.5 thousand on a single guitar, however sculptural, would be pretty idiotic. Wouldn’t it?

And, what you can’t see in the photograph, but what I know, is how spectacularly UGLY this guitar is on the reverse! Because these semi-hollow Paul Reed Smith guitars, that are all very much of a muchness in terms of their design, particularly the cowhorn shape, all have a standard varnished, heavy-looking solid mahogany back in which are set several large and ungainly plastic manhole covers through which you get at the internal electrics, held in place by ugly screws. A very American solution, I may say.

Worse, where the stick joins on to the box, Mr Smith has designed an ugly great lump of wood, that I stare at in dismay and disbelief whenever I go online to try to find my ideal instrument amidst his seductive and ever-lengthening catalog; The Special One that I would be happy to spend the rest of my life with, alone on my desert island (alone, that is, apart from Hunzi. And maybe Scat, if she promises to stop eviscerating prey on my expensive handwoven Indian rug (‘100% Acrylic’). Although recently she has taken to doing it in my bathtub, where I find chunks of bloody flesh and little curly baby feathers of a morning (I found an entire mouse last week, stuffed down the plughole, dead).

Other guitar-makers seem able to minimise this clubfoot, or even get rid of it altogether. I can see the reason for it, which is to minimise the alternative, of taking up valuable space by setting the neck inside the resonant cavity of the body – but not the rhyme. It’s hideous. I know that if I do somehow get hold of £3.5 thousand and buy my Custom 24 in Faded Whale Blue, I should spend the rest of my life gazing in horror and dismay at the back, vainly wishing that embarrassing lump away, instead of admiring the stunning beauty and Zen-like clarity of the false front and the special sound it makes – until I decided to sell it and take another thumping loss.

Never let it be said that the pursuit of truth and beauty is not as deeply, spiritually painful a journey as any other mode of existence. For if beauty is truth, as Keats eloquently put it, and truth beauty, then to have both can be bloody expensive.

Pride goeth, car dothn’t

A word of caution.

Never make the mistake of imagining that fortunate coincidences are in some way permissive!

I have Posted before on the story of the girl I met at a party but was too shy to ask for a date. Two days later in the middle of the London rush hour I get on a cr0wded underground train and find myself, against enormous odds, standing jammed-in the car right next to her. Bingo! But life is not like in Dr Zhivago. The date was your worst nightmare and we never met again.

Yes, there was a lesson to be learned. But it was not the one I expected: I had begun my lifelong career as a comic adult.

So. Forty-five years later and two days ago, I was having trouble starting my car. The battery wasn’t properly charging and on cold mornings it would go flat. The garage man measured the output from the charger, which is called the alternator, and it was unexpectedly normal. So he suggested I needed to buy a new battery, although the old one looked perfectly fine to me.

Well, the battery shop wanted £94.99 for their cheapest model, which is about £59.99 more than I paid for the last car battery I bought in 1999, and it came as a shock (haha!), so I didn’t buy it. I thought I would rather live with the problem. But the very next morning, a bank credit arrived in the post for exactly… £95. A penny change! And the car was refusing to start.

So, naturally, I to0k it as a sign that the Committee of Discarnate Entities who order my strangely dull but disorderly existence had woken up and voted to send me a sign that it was okay to buy the new battery. I went back to the shop on foot, wheeled the heavy item home in a blue wheelie suitcase, found some rusting tools and started trying to fit the new battery.

Of course, the Germans had ordered der engine kompartment so you can’t get at the bolt that holds the battery down. “Take zat, Englischer schwein!” Yes, they have a sense of humour. So, with the rain getting steadily wetter, I sloshed along to the garage, borrowed a get-you-started thing, lugged it back to the house, started the car, drove back to the garage, where the mech dismantled the engine compartment, fitted the new battery and began running the voltmeter over the electrics, and guess what?

It wasn’t charging up to the right voltage. So they measured it again, and (mirabile dictu) it was. So they measured it once more for luck and it wasn’t again. And they said, you know what? It’s probably the alternator after all.

So now I have two batteries, one discharged but still relatively new; the other slowly discharging and not now returnable to the shop, and I’ve spent the money I needed to spend on fixing the problem with the alternator on buying a cheap, short-life battery I don’t need. And that’s another lesson learned, although at my age I am rapidly running out of future opportunities in which to apply all this newfound wisdom.

You see, it is only human vanity – the Greeks called it hubris – that makes you think Someone Up There is really watching out for your best interests. Most of the time, they are enjoying just taking the piss.

The dead giveaway

Talking about secondhand cars has reminded me that I am not quite right in the head.

Most of the time, I think I am more than okay, and can function well in the world. After all, I am nearly 64 and still here, unemployed but in full working order, sitting in my lovely garden studio, that I can’t sell, Hunzi dreaming fitfully at my feet, writing my interesting and amusing bogl, that nobody reads; or, if they do, they must be too stunned to Comment on it.

Evidence, then, of normality.

Except that, when I look back on certain events in my life, I beg leave to remark that only someone who is missing synchro on third gear would behave the way I do.

It might fairly be observed that no-one in their right mind would ever have bought a short-wheelbase Mitsubishi Pajero in the first place, a ‘grey import’; something I later discovered would reduce its value considerably. The insurance companies hate them, owing to their untraceable origins. Be that as it may, I had decided to sell it and buy something more economical, that would not be quite so much like driving a cement cavity wallblock with no sense of direction.

This being West Wales, pop. 503, there are few car buyers looking for any given car at any one time, and no-one has any money, so it sat on the forecourt of the mansion for months while I advertised it in the paper. I soon became impatient, and ‘borrowed’ a month’s wages in advance from my employer to  buy a low-mileage Renault Laguna for a knockdown price. It seemed to be made entirely from recycled plastic spoons, but it ran pretty well; until, driving on what passes for one of our main city-to-city trunk roads, basically an unmarked rutted track with livestock, a salesman in a Volvo pulled out from behind a van as I was passing, and his sturdy Swedish wheelnuts chewed all four panels off my driver’s side. Another six inches and I would not be bogling so interestingly now.

Shortly after this incident, a fish nibbled the hook: a man turned up with his entire family to see about buying my Pajero – which, I have been reliably informed, is Spanish for ‘wanker’.

I was faintly appalled then, when the man produced from somewhere a pristine blue overall, zipped himself in, dove under the bonnet (hood) and started tugging expertly at the wires and hoses while his wives, children and aunts looked on in admiration, to discover what any expert mechanic might: that is, anything that could conceivably lead to a more insulting offer being proposed.

Having minutely examined every inch of my car, sucking his teeth doubtfully, he emerged after about twenty minutes from beneath it and triumphantly announced in his whining Brummie accent* that one of the outriggers that secures the bodywork to the chassis was rusted through.

By this time, gentle reader, one of the outriggers that secures my sanity to the inside of my skull had rusted through too, and my inner Basil Fawlty emerged. “Oh, my God!” I cried. “But that would mean an automatic MOT failure! I couldn’t possibly sell it to you in this condition! I must get it repaired first. Thank you so much for pointing it out!”

“No, it’s okay” he replied, doubt and alarm creeping over his face. “I can do that, honest… I’d really like to buy the car…”

“No, I won’t hear of it!” I persisted. “I am absolutely NOT going to sell you my car in this unsafe condition. Give me your number and I will call you when the work is done.” Which, of course, I had no intention of doing because, by now, the man and his prissy blue overall had earned my undying scorn. Albeit that he was the only person who had even glanced at the car in six months of advertising, I was damned if I was going to sell it to him.

So, he and his family trooped off disconsolately, fleas ringing in their ears, while I pondered how, having recently paid another month’s salary to have my mangled Laguna fixed-up with four non-matching panels and two illegal secondhand tyres (for reasons I can’t go into, I needed to avoid making an insurance claim), I was ever going to afford to have the chassis of my wankermobile (as my son christened it) welded.

As if cutting off my nose to spite my own face was not enough – the offer the man had proposed was not actually beyond considering – I then did something so extraordinary, so bizarre, that I cannot explain it, other than in terms of some underlying mental deficiency.

There was a garage up the road, and I took my Pajero there and asked them to estimate for the repair work, and I didn’t hear back from them. This being West Wales, you never do, no-one ever phones you back with a quote, they just do the work, sometimes not, and invent a large sum of money you owe them, which they forget to tell you about, sometimes for years, until you get notice of a court judgement in their favour.

Days, then weeks went by, and I forgot about my Pajero, other than from time to time I would drive past the garage in my two-tone Laguna (shiny red-and-blue, my family referred to it callously as ‘the Bruise’) and see it parked outside and wonder anxiously how much the welding was going to cost, and would I ever be able to afford it – I was paying my ex-wife half my net salary at the time and living on practically nothing. Plus, I still owed my employer the money for the car.

I also owed another garage £500 for work they had done two years earlier, and at this time they tracked me down and sent me a reminder. So I wrote back and said they could have the Pajero in lieu of payment if they would care to come and collect it; which they tried to do, and then complained that the other garage had said I owed them money for the repair and would not release the car until I paid them.

This all seemed so impossibly complicated that I decided to ignore the whole thing.

One day the following summer I came to my senses and thought, this is ridiculous, I should go in and settle the matter as I was not going to pay for a repair they should not have done without my go-ahead while I was still waiting for them to tell me how much it was going to cost. Besides, I hadn’t even seen a bill.

So I drove up there, and it was gone.

I never saw it again.

* Demographic note: The Birmingham accent is distinguished by its tendency to induce suicidal mania in the listener. Examples: F1 driver Nigel Mansell; comedian Jasper Carrott; Dr Johnson.