How long, o Lord, how long?

sessions

Je recuse

It’s Christmas time once more again

Joy! My new little laptop thing has arrived.

I have little idea of how to use it, I have never known what the f-keys do, for instance, but I plugged it in anyway and it’s sitting there, configuring Windows updates to its heart’s content. In fact I think it may even have connected wirelessly already to muh BT hub, as it’s got a picture now on the screen, one of those annoying pictures Windows 10 puts up, asking if you’d like another one the same or something different? Or maybe you’d just like to use the computer?

Christ, Americans.

Oh, no. I think it just does that. It wants a security ‘key’. Er….

It was delivered from Laptopsdirect at 09.30 prompt on the promised day by an admirably brisk and efficient young man with a van, from a courier firm I haven’t heard of before, DX. I expect they’re a rebrand of some formerly semi-useless American operation, TNT or something, one of those whose reputations weren’t of the best.

But it seems to have worked, and it means Hunzi gets his walk at the normal time – I feared having to wait in all-day, as one does with UPS, only to discover they actually came the previous day and left it who-knows where.

After ringing the bell, the courier waited politely for me to get from my studio to the door, which takes about 90 seconds if you don’t fall over a dog, so I didn’t have to sprint down the garden path to accost him as he was climbing back into the van to rush on to the next delivery, for which he would be paid 45p or something and nothing for the journey time or his van rental, distressing tales we read about so often nowadays.

I asked him about it, and he smiled and said he was actually reasonably well-paid for his labours.

I may apply for a job.

But now I’m looking at the battered remains of this, muh previous laptop, with wistful nostalgia.

I’m still using it, as you can see, but it’s coming time to bid goodbye. The lid part has disintegrated: the left hinge, broken, with its visible wires and other gubbins; the screen, free-floating between the detached sandwiching halves; the worn-out keys, E, T, C… some others I don’t recognise; the piece of thick cardboard I had to gaffer-tape over the trackpad to stop the cursor flying about everywhere when I’m typing and using a mouse. (Asus warning: you can’t cut out the trackpad, there’s no driver for it.)

And at last I can shut it down – it’s been left on for weeks because it’s been increasingly reluctant to wake up, and I fear one morning, like myself hopefully,  it may simply not.

But the new m’chine, well. Flimsy. A rattly, plasticky keyboard, that feels it might not long survive the pounding I shall undoubtedly give it, as long as the dumb-cunt old lesbian Trump is in office, lying her fat orange pumpkin head off.

The thing I can’t figure out is how to transfer stuff over in bulk. Most of what I do is write these endless, obsessive pieces using WordPress, which is a kind of cloudstore, so the data is out there somewhere for all eternity in a bunker under Arizona or Kyrzgystan, along with every embarrassing first and hundredth draft, and I don’t need to worry about it. Ditto G-mails galore, in the parallel Google universe; and the webthings I visit, obviously: YouTube and so on will still be accessible.

So there’s no shortage of things to do and see, once it’s connected to the i-net. And has a printer driver.

But what to do with my photos, that I don’t really want, most of them; the many hundreds of docs saved in Word? I purchased along with the laptop a key to Office 365, that’s arrived too, and instructions for how to key it. But you need to be online first. I’m afraid now of making mistakes and the whole thing is blown.

Then there’s Firefox and Chrome, with all my Bookmarks. How do I hang on to those? Windows 10, Microsoft, hates Chrome and clearly doesn’t want me downloading it, or Firefox come to that. And most of all, the 60 hours of music files, copied from my extensive collection of mainly disappointing jazz CDs? How do I copy those across? (Actually, I bought a tablet specifically to handle all my musical requirements, but I don’t know how that works either. Somebody shoot me now.) The resident media player will play, and very well — but there’s no ripping CDs on it, or organising libraries. What’s it for, one wonders?

And then there are the dozens of passwords to various needed websites that are going to have to be reset, none of which I can remember. I usually have to reset them once a week anyway as the ‘Remember me’ tickboxes never work. They’re all based on jazz musicians, but there are hundreds of those and I’ve lost the bit of paper I’ve been writing them down on. I finally burst into tears trying to reset my Gmail account. Change one password in Google platforms, and you have to change them all. They know perfectly well who I am.

Alas, the sockets on the new laptop are on the wrong side and upside-down for all my cabling – I didn’t think of that, but now I’m going to have to reverse all the plugging.

Sigh.

Look! My new laptop has got various ‘apps’ as we must now learn to call whatever they were before, preloaded on it! Joy. I just clicked on a letter ‘A’ in the taskbar, and boringly Amazon has popped up, begging me to ‘love’ it. You can’t ‘love’ Amazon, nobody can, they treat their employees like dirt; although it’s dashed useful, especially if you live where I do and love getting presents in the mail.

No, Amazon is a horrid, impersonal thing that keeps suggesting stuff to order that has no relevance to your life, on the basis of a brute and cretinous algorithm that can’t understand how no-one is going to buy more than one saxophone in any given month. And keeps trying to sell you onto their Prime service, at an eyewatering price, just so you can be treated a little more servilely and enjoy more crap TV with Jeremy Klaxon. It’s already looking quite dated, frankly. Dated and cumbersome.

Stuff it.

So with the lad away I’m thinking about renting a teenager, or someone with a worse case of Asperger’s than my own, rank body odour is always a good sign, to come in and sort it. Only looking around, I can see my studio needs a good clean-up first.

In fact, the whole house needs spring-cleaning, it’s a tip. I’ve given up, quite honestly. No-one visits, no-one comes to buy it. The prostate – I had another night of straining every ten minutes to pee yesterday, starting at four a.m., with consequent blow-back and leakage – and now I’ve got this hiatus hernia problem that’s giving me nightmares as well as indigestion.

It’s not promising.

I dreamed last night that I was struggling on my own to keep an enormous exam-room full of comprehensive-school pupils quiet and on-message. (I am actually a part-time invigilator, of undergraduate exams thank God, not kidz.)

Ranging in ages from about 12 at the front to about 35 at the back – there were even some teachers there too who were becoming increasingly noisy and insolent. They were all supposedly  sitting a very basic-level math exam by way of an infinite series of multiple-choice questions, but refused to stop talking and laughing with one another and texting their mates. After trying dire warnings, expulsions, disqualifications, confiscations and futile threats of violence, including tearing-up their papers, I ended up pathetically telephoning the headmaster; and while waiting seemingly forever for him to arrive, improvised an interminable speech about taking responsibility for one’s life.

Of course, no-one took the slightest bit of notice.

Not even, it seems, me.

“Ah did naht have intracourse with that Ambassador.”

Inside the Whitehall echo-chamber

In reply to a question from the BBC about school pupils being forced to go on retaking Maths and English GCSE until they get at least a Grade C, some of them well into their nineties, and wasn’t it likely they had other skills that could be encouraged, more useful skills; and perhaps desirable that they should benefit from more specialised training that might allow them to progress in their chosen careers, the Department for Obfuscation replied it was:

“developing credible, high-quality options for students through reforming Functional Skills qualifications in maths and English, to make sure that they deliver the knowledge and skills that employers need, and consequently have credibility and prestige in the jobs market”.

Yes Minister!’s Sir Humphrey is alive and well.

This lapidary statement ignores the quite interesting statistic that 80% of the CEOs of Footsie 100 companies left school at 16, or at best have no qualifications past A-level. Success in business has nothing to do with academic achievement.

A minimum Grade C is obviously required in BLB  (Barely Literate Bullshit) to become a cypher in the Education Department’s underworked press office. I require no qualifications at all to spot that what the DoE is saying is it costs less to teach open subjects badly than to provide specialised technical courses in FE colleges.

I don’t expect my garage mechanic to have a degree in Literature, but you never know.

 

“What hath night to do with sleep?” – John Milton, Paradise Lost

The first sign that something was up was the number 140 scrawled in white paint on the pavement outside my front gate.

Then, the crumpled note last Friday, shoved through the letterflap. Our road was to be closed from 18.00 pm to 06.00 am, for FIVE NIGHTS, starting Monday. If we had any queries, here was a number to ring.

I don’t suppose anyone will answer it and if they do, so what? They don’t give a fuck. You certainly don’t get an offer of hotel accommodation.

Deep resurfacing work.

It meant that I might not be able to park within half a mile of my house for a week, if I wanted to go out in the evenings. Which I do – choir on Tuesday (19.15 to 22.00). Drama rehearsal Thursday (19.00 to 21.30). And what if I run out of milk? Wine?  It would have vindicated my resolve to sell the car, had I thought to do so when the idea first occurred to me, several weeks ago. Now I’m stuck with it, as diesels have replaced feral children, Romanian immigrants, High Court judges and devil dogs as the bogeys of choice for the insane redtop blatts.

Outside as I write, the jarring sounds of heavy machinery, 12-litre engines whining: massive gritter lorries and grit pumps and hoppers and scrapers and road-drills and generators and tarmacadam firer-uppers whining and rumbling in the street, reversing-vehicle warnings bleeping just 20 feet from my bedroom window – all night long.

It makes a change from speeding cars and huge double-decker, double-trailer slaughter waggons hauling silently shivering sheep by the thousand through the dark to the county abbatoirs, from dusk ’til dawn. But it’s not much better.

They let me through, after I drove around five miles to avoid the Road Closed barrier at the end of the street, only to encounter another barrier at the other end of the designated stretch – my little house exactly halfway between. A nice young man waved me on – they’ve only just begun. And along the pavement, stretched right across my front gate, a security barrier tape.

Considerate.

Luckily I still cut an athletic figure, I’m not some pointless disabled person in a wheelchair. I can still vault a tape. And Hunzi can go underneath. What the couple next door with the five-year-old kid will do, who cares?

I may get out in the day, I don’t know. I certainly won’t get back tomorrow night, should I venture out. Which I may not do if I’ve had no sleep. Nobody will. There are possibly 150 of us living here in the village, trapped in our homes by roadworks and the arrogance of the fuckwit planners to whom our freedom to come and go means nothing.

Why the road needs resurfacing every three or four years is a question I don’t suppose anyone will answer.

So I will.

It’s because the Highways Agency, the Local Authority and the Police are all a bunch of fucking useless retards and budget-cuts-blaming cunts who do FUCK-ALL about the increasing volume of speeding tanker-drivers, Cathedral City cheese lorries and other heavy traffic pounding the cheaply surfaced stretch of the main road that links this T-junction coastal town through our village with the motorway system and the giant distribution depots of the English Midlands.

(Sorry to have a go, but it’s been years.)

A proposal to build a southern bypass was aborted in the 1990s, after some self-interested landowner dumped an entire industrial estate atop the proposed route, which then had to contend unpromisingly with the steep flank of a valley. No-one has had the foresight to create an out-of-town distribution depot to bring goods in by rail; although the perfect site exists. So there is only the one access road for all the commercial and holiday traffic funneled into the town, past my front door.

Ironically, I’ve just been watching a Panorama documentary about how, thanks to iPads and TV, busy working parents and obesity, kids aren’t getting enough sleep to let their brains develop properly. Not sure I am either, what with the old prostate an’ all. In an intriguing experiment, A. Doctor forced the dimwits to take the childrens’ iThings away an hour before bedtime, and hey presto! In a week their cognitive abilities improved by 60%.

From my perspective, at my advanced age I’d like to get enough sleep just to be allowed to die in peace.

Fat chance.

So I’m now on my twelfth whisky of the evening, counted in measures, which I don’t, and shall probably have to sleep in the spare room, which has the advantage of being at the back. Nor am I in the habit of swinging Katz, my tubby cat. Just as well in the spare room, as you couldn’t.

I only hope my grades don’t suffer.

“Look, guys, I twist my ear and a tongue comes out. How cool is that?”

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Let’s appoint a Minister for pain

‘According to the Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke, Lineker “needs to decide if he’s a political activist or a BBC sports journalist – he can’t be both”‘ – BBC report, 21 October

Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker has been pilloried in the Sun (‘Jug-eared Lineker’ – would that be a description coined by ‘Lard-arsed, foul-mouthed, red-faced old blowhard Kelvin McKenzie’, I wonder?) for making statements defending the first young refugees brought over from Calais by the Home Office, after years of doing sod-all about them, who have been vilified and their faces shown without pixillation in our wonderful press as looking too old to be proper children.

‘In December 2012, Shelbrooke introduced a Ten Minute Rule bill under which UK welfare claimants would be issued with a cash card instead of receiving their benefits in cash. The card would only permit claimants to make purchases such as food, clothing, energy, travel and housing, and prevent them purchasing items considered non-essential, such as cigarettes, alcohol, satellite television, and gambling.’ – Wikipedia entry

So now you know, Victorian patronage of the undeserving poor lives on in the British working-class Alf Garnet.

Ex-bathroom fitter Shelbrooke, who describes himself as a ‘Conservative Trade Unionist’, and who lobbied for Britain to Remain in the EU, has nevertheless succeeded in overlooking the fact that over half his Parliamentary colleagues have lucrative second and third jobs as well as being paid £75 thousand a year to hate and bully and victimise anyone worse off than themselves, in order to disparage anyone more famous who reacts to the migrant crisis with compassion.

What a fucking awful country this has become, thanks to these ignorant, self-serving gobshites in the press and Parliament.

 

The ‘will of the British people’, whatever it is, however inchoate, has become the prosthetic legs on which the May regime is tottering towards its ‘hard Brexit’ in 2019.”

Shake it all about

On the basis of a binary ‘in-out’ referendum, with no leeway for nuance,  the government has been furiously post-rationalising a virtual manifesto on which it might have been elected if it had run for office in June, which it seemingly has no intention of doing before 2020.

The ‘will of the British people’, whatever it is, however inchoate, has become the prosthetic legs on which the May regime is tottering towards its ‘hard Brexit’ in 2019.

Anything May’s team of ministers, most of them lapdogs with no experience of their briefs and subject entirely to her diktat, decide is the ‘will of the people’ as expressed in that heavily pregnant Leave vote, is now and will in future be Tory policy.

Anything at all. Whatever it is they have decided we want. Whether or not it was expressed in an actual referendum. Or, indeed, through our 900-year-old constitutional Parliamentary democracy. Hanging? Flogging? Sure, we’ll appoint a minister for Inflicting Pain. And one for kicking out Muslims and foreigners. Let’s give David Davies a job inspecting everyone’s teeth for signs of infectious desperation. And make it much, much easier to win the Lotto.

The policy could well be based on a strong belief in opinion polls, that as we know usually get everything right. Or it could simply be a fantasy. It doesn’t really matter. Power speaks to itself.  And we can thank God it didn’t pan out with Gove and Duncan Smith and Grayling and Johnson in charge. Not that it would have made a lot of difference, with the Investment Management Party (IMPs) in firm control.

Whatever, it seems to me that this is our opportunity to get anything we want out of the new government: money, holidays, houses, stuff. After years of Camborne austerity, all we have to do now is moan that our TV set isn’t big enough and St Theresa will make a speech about it. We share your pain, British viewers. TV manufacturers must be told: nothing under 50 inches is good enough for the British people.  Of course, that doesn’t guarantee action, but it will become Tory party policy.

So, there we are, with a suppositional referendum that hasn’t actually happened, other than in the Editorial suite of the Daily Cunts (Crapulous, Unrepentant News Toadies), editor Dacre foaming plastic blood over foreign old-age-pensioner ‘children’ smuggling themselves in as part of the shambolic Home Office effort to allow two and a half migrants to join relatives in the UK before they’re trafficked into slavery.

Two and a half too many, in the bloodshot eyes of the Daily Mail.

My first reaction, along with the entire population, at seeing three elderly child migrants being singled out arriving in Dover after fifty years in the Calais Jungle, was to ask: do the SS Border guards who are supposed to be filtering the at-risk children have no children themselves, or have they not at least undergone the Special Training, that would allow them to spot the difference between a child and an adult? Should we ban all Muslims until our representatives can tell us just what the hell is going on?

Clues they could look out for might include: have they got beards? Are their voices fully broken? Do their passports give their dates of birth before 1998? Have they passed SATS at Grade 4? Are they wearing Stop the War T-shirts? Are their medical qualifications up to date? Are they wearing suicide vests? How long are their teeth? Are they using Zimmer frames? Does their skintone pass the fluorescence test? And so on.

Perhaps we could set up a bar affair at Dover, that they have to pass under to qualify. No-one over five feet tall? And no wives and children, obviously! (And now here’s the chair-creature of the Local Government Association in the Telegraph, to say they’re all frauds and none of them actually has relatives in the UK, or if they do the ‘uncles’ don’t have spare rooms for them ‘cos they’ve got five people living in there already. Could this astonishing statement not possibly result in this useless racist arsehole losing his well-paid sinecure?)

Or has the Home Office deliberately chosen to ignore the advice of charities that have been working in the camps for years, and include a handful of obviously twenty-somethings (only one girl) in the first ‘wave’ of a dozen ‘children’, tipping off the well paid, opportunistic dross at the Mail and the Sun for precisely the purpose of arousing public ire against the whole idea of taking in any refugees at all from Calais?

Which of course we haven’t been. Britain’s record on this issue has been abysmal, shaming. But then pretty well everything Britain has done since 2003 has been abysmal, shaming.

 

EU joke:

The majority of the Brexit plotters were ex-public schoolboys. (Guardian report)

Yes, we’ve lost control of our boarders.

 

Stick, carrot – stick

Here’s a new Tory way to get homeless rough sleepers out of posh suburbs: fine them up to £1,000.

That’s the ingenious proposal from Rushcliffe Borough Council in Nottingham, England. Only ‘as a last resort’, says a spokesman, will they issue £100 tickets, and if the rough sleepers don’t move on, or pay up, subsequent penalties could go as high as £1,000.

So broke is the Council as a result of Government austerity cuts, the members have to meet in shop doorways…. No, not really. But there’s no explanation as to where they imagine homeless people are going to find £1,000, let alone £100; nor at what address they can be found for legal process to be served. So perhaps it’s just a hollow threat.

(Although if we could fine the estimated 3,500 rough sleepers on British streets £1,000 each, it would go some way towards mitigating the cost of building another prison*. What do you think, Liz Truss?)

Naturally the announcement has provoked a Twitterstorm of protest, although not from the BogPo: we don’t have a Twitter account, principally because we’ve never understood the point; the present instance however comes close to persuasive.

Every 150 years or so, the Earth passes through a region of space where logic ceases to have meaning; it’s about that long I guess since Lewis Carroll published Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Other, similar instances of breathtaking illogicality include:

  • fining banks millions of dollars for failing to hold enough money in reserve;
  • fining National Health trusts for failing to meet Government-imposed quotas and service standards  on budgets already slashed to the bare bone at a time of rapidly rising demand;
  • fining football clubs for falling out of their higher divisions to lower divisions where TV rights and gates no longer generate enough income to support them, and
  • withdrawing Sports Lottery funding from entire sports and individual sportsmen/women that fail to win enough Olympic medals, so they never win any again.

We are looking either at a culture of brutish stupidity, or at regulators who consider themselves so underfunded, it’s their duty to bankrupt the very people and organisations they are responsible for and award themselves nice bonuses out of the proceeds.

If this is Government policy – and I suspect it is – it’s a pretty cynical way to motivate success.

 

*Britain’s £1.6 billion prison-building programme would build 2.6 million new homes. Potentially keeping quite a lot of people out of prison.

 

Doing a runner

“‘I return half of what I buy,” says 30-year-old Alex Demetri who spends £500 to £700 on clothes each month.’ – BBC report on ‘serial returners’ causing problems for shops.

‘She says lack of time to try things on before buying, not liking something as much as she thought she did and realising she’s spent too much money all drive her to return items.’

We’re all feeling pretty hard done-by nowadays, aren’t we. It’s driven us to returning half our EU membership: the only problem we have now is deciding which half?

The cost of renting or buying a home is just completely unaffordable, even people like poor Alex who works in Marketing are having to cut back on buying clothes, by as much as 50%. I’ve had to return half my house to the financial services sector. It’s that bad. But a girl’s got to eat. (Only not too much or that Anna Valentine dress is going to make your bum look simply enormous!)

School fees of £30 thousand a year, university tuition fees, student debt, petrol back up to £1.20 a litre, a couple of grand for a Hermes handbag… seven quid for a bottle of indifferent supermarket Merlot… we’re all driven to return items we’ve used only a bit. It’s a sort of reverse retail therapy: it can seem like cathartic decluttering at the same time.

Yes, returning part-worn stuff for a full refund is a victimless crime, ripping-off shopkeepers who don’t give you time to try things on;  doing a runner. You could look at it as a kind of social enterprise: recycling your ‘once-worn’ clothes before they make it to the charity shops. It’s like renting, really. Or marriage – there’s no commitment, no obligation. It’s a sort of ‘cry before you buy’ scheme for 30-something clothes addicts.

Or you could look at it as a form of legalised shoplifting, spending as much in a month as the average pensioner.

 

Price of a Kit Kat could rise as Nestlé mulls price hike

‘Nestlé, the food giant behind products like Nescafé, Aero chocolate and the famous four-fingered bar, is considering increasing its prices in the UK to compensate for the plummet in the pound’s value.‘ – Telegraph, 21 October

Would that be the plummet inadvertently triggered by the ill-considered support for Brexit in the Telegraph and other patriotic pamphlets in the months and years leading up to the referendum, I wonder?

‘(Nestlé’s) comments will … raise fears that (the) company will follow Unilever in attempting to pass the currency burden onto consumers.’

Bremoans the Telegraph…. which increased its cover price in February last year and therefore presumably gets the normal business logic behind responding to increased costs with price rises while at the same time Bremoaning the totally unforeseem consequences of its own propaganda?

 

 

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.

Blue Rondo à la Turque (Integrity unwrapped)

Handing out the lollipops

Since commencing this thread on Thursday the BogPo has been overwhelmed by the onward march (‘frenzied dash’ better, shurely? Ed.) of history.

On the subject of last night’s failed attempt by junior Army officers to overthrow the increasingly erratic Mr Erdogan, who blames all the nation’s misfortunes on a parallel universe ruled over by his Nemesis, the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, I should dare only to say that history teaches us that a fish rots from the head, the immediate precautionary removal of which ought to be the primary objective of any competent coup plotter.

(If it wasn’t, you start to wonder who exactly inspired the plot? And how many of the subsequent six thousand ‘arrests’* are merely opportunistic reductions in the swarm of Mr Erdogan’s imaginary enemies? Who will ‘try’ them, now he has sacked all the judges?)

Letting the President rally his vast horde of low-rent supporters on his iPhone made shutting down all the TV and radio stations a bit of a waste of scarce manpower; and letting him fly back to Istanbul from his holiday at an agreeable villa on the Sea of Marmara was a significant tactical blunder, especially as the plotters had supposedly surrounded the airport and grounded all flights.

The failure too to secure the support of the airforce and any of the ‘opposition’ parties in Parliament sealed the fate of the plotters, whose motives, intentions and the addresses of their friends and relatives are now being extracted from them in no doubt colourful and entertaining ways. Knowing their probable fate, why did they allow themselves to fail so easily?

They should have learned lessons from the fate of the Brexit plotters: you’re never as popular as you think you’re going to be, even when you’re winning. Coups aren’t over until you start handing out the lollipops.

Go, Bo!

And what does our new Foreign Secretary have to say about Turkish affairs in the light of last night’s events? Go to: <http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/19/boris-johnson-wins-most-offensive-erdogan-poem-competition> for some clues.

They say a week can be a long time in politics.

 *Now believed to be in the region of 50 thousand…

(Jazz alert)

Integrity unwrapped

As every reader of this, muh bogl, kno’, I sometimes allude to some of the worse things life can bring in its wake.

Like, when your socks slide down inside your wellies on a wet walk and bunch-up under your feet.

Or when a bunch of credulous baboons decides you’re going to leave the European Union.

I’ve expatiated before, I think, on the subject of cellophane packaging. As a collector of cheap reissues of old jazz albums on CD (see Pages: My Jazz CDs for full details, yawn), I am forever tearing my guitar-pickin’ thumbnail trying to slide it into the CD case around the edge to cut the cellophane seal.

As, in the old days, one unwrapped a pack of cigarettes. Almost.*

Not for nothing have easily corruptible CDs been described as intermediate technology. (Okay, I didn’t get paid for it, but it sounded good.) Cellophane rips, but only once its integrity has been compromised. Compromising its bloody integrity is 99.9 per cent of the battle. Fail to compromise its integrity, and its protective qualities may last a lifetime.

Cigarette packagers had the clever idea of designing-in a pull-strip around the pack, with a coloured tab you could easily get hold of, and tear through the cellophane in one quick motion. Tearing the cellophane was the first satisfying element of the daily (or in my case, twice-daily) ritual of opening a pack and smelling again that sweet air of Old Virginnie.

So you can imagine my delight when, within 24 hours of confirmation of my latest CD order, I discovered there was a pull-strip woven into the cellophane packaging!

Until I started exploring further, when it became evident that, whoever helpfully thought to provide a pull-strip, was almost certainly the same baboon who thoughtfully collects their dogshit in a little bag and then dumps the bag on the footpath across from my house.

No tab.

If you are interested in finding out more about modern jazz of the Bebop era (1945-59 – or for non-purists maybe ’68), I recommend the album as among the best I know: ‘Blowin’ the Blues Away’, by the Horace Silver quintet, on Blue Note 7243.

See, some good can come from the worst of adversity. But you may need a sharp knife.

And if YouTube viewers didn’t keep recommending me tawdry 1970s Italian ‘erotic’ movies about randy dentists dubbed in Russian, I’d suggest you might even look there and avoid the problem of cellophane altogether.

 *A modest proposal. Ban the insertion of the little tear-off cellophane strip around the cigarette pack and you deny the user access to the contents without insulting their intelligence. Result: extra health, and safety.

 

Be careful what you wish for #2

There seems to be a hint of punishment of the Brexiteers about Theresa May’s cabinet appointments.

Gove, for instance, the speccy little swot and crazed plotter, has been dumped altogether. The hapless Boris has been turned into a figure of ridicule on the global stage, being appointed Foreign Secretary; formerly an important job, now little more than a bag-carrier for the US State Department, his appointment has occasioned gales of mirth across the water.

Fallon, the hypocritical Scots bully-boy (see Posts passim), has been sent to Defence to bully us into paying for Son of Trident instead of wasting the money on hospitals. Boris’s bus conductress, Priti Patel has been sent back to India or wherever as International Aid minister. Grayling, he of the curiously shaped head, has been put in charge of making the trains run on time. (Presumably that includes HS2, for which we shall need easily 50,000 more EU migrant workers to build it.)

Ex-SAS man and arch Eurosceptic, David Davis (so good, they misspelled him once) has been given the thankless task of negotiating Brexit, serves him right. But at least he’s had the tough-guy training, which should enable him to yomp around Europe for a while with a backpack full of rocks. But then SAS operatives do like to go native ….

The only Brexiteer who’s in exactly the right job, ‘Dr’ Fox has been put in charge of International Business, which should allow him to pursue his lifelong interest in Britain becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the US defense industry, and will at least keep him and his invisible friend Mr Werritty out of the country for long periods at a time.*

The one I feel sorriest for is Jeremy C… sorry, Hunt. Nobody ever gets that right.  I can imagine how the poor chap has spent the day pleading to be released from the living hell that is the Junior Doctors’ dispute and given anything, even a junior ministry at Work and Pensions. But the ruthless Mrs May was having none of it. ‘Back you go, Jeremy, and sort the NHS out or MI5 will tell The Sun what we know you did behind the bike shed!’

What’s worse, he was a Remainer! But he might be reminded that in 2005 he co-authored a policy document advocating privatising the Health Service. Maybe she intends to take him up on that? So we can spend the £350 million a week instead on keeping Scottish shipbuilders in work?

I vaguely recall a TV mystery show back in the 1950s whose trailer carried the strapline: ‘Anything can happen in the next half-hour’.

So don’t bet money on whatever I say, will you.

*For further information about ‘Dr’ Fox and the weird and dangerous world inside his curiously shaped head, you could try both his Wikipedia entry and the following cut-and-paste link to an alarming article by Nik Cohen.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/07/liam-fox-azerbaijan-relationship-book-publishing

 

Trump vs Frump #3

“I was the one who predicted Brexit” – Donald J Trump

No, Donald, read my bogl Post of 2 May, 2013, and Posts subsequently. Unless you already did.

 

 

EU referendum: there is no debate worth having

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

Do we want to leave the EU?

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

Too many migrants, it’s unmanageable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People should stay in their own countries

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

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

What about all the illegal immigrants?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migrants are taking British jobs

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

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

Migrants are driving down wages

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

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

We haven’t got room for them all

Britain is not an ‘overcrowded little island’!

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

We’d be better off making deals with other countries

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

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

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

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

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

British businesses are drowning in EU ‘red-tape’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Napoleon and Hitler, the EU wants a united Europe

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

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

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

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

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

We want to make our own laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And who will trust our word ever again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you?

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

I have to chuckle.

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

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

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

Spring is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Keeping up appearances

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘They say it was eating too much chips.’

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s alright then.

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

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

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

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

I think I’ve Posted before about shuffling.

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

What some people will do to keep up appearances.

 

Love me or leave me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And guess what?

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

 

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

A. Yes. Ian Duncan-Smith.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome back to 1914

“You call it Visegrad, I call it the Austro-Hungarian Empire.”

Comment by:  Sterling Pound ©

 

I am hearing, mostly, about the unfolding insanity of Brexit – Britain’s now-inevitable departure from the European experiment – with an increasing sense of unreality.

Mr Cameron has returned from Brussels waving a blank piece of paper promising no closer union in our time, or indeed ever, purportedly countersigned by Herr Tusk. He is now, literally, hoist on his own petard (a quaint expression meaning you have blown yourself up with your own grenade). There was no necessity to go down this route, but having unwisely chosen to try to unite his fractured party by negotiating a virtual withdrawal from the Union without actually leaving it, he has given the Leave tendency a hostage to fortune.

His ‘friend’, Babyface Gove, the formerly reviled Education Secretary and chipmunk lookalike now in charge of prisons, meanwhile has sabotaged the entire renegotiation exercise by declaring for the Leavers before Cameron has even stepped off the plane. It was his Geoffrey Howe moment. The Camerons’ Christmas list gets shorter by the day.

The disloyal Mr Gove finds himself making common cause with certified lunatics such as Peter Bone MP* and Respect’s George Galloway, who addressed a packed meeting of visibly genetically damaged Empire loyalists and gum-gnashing Daily Express pension-vampires at Westminster Hall last night while the ink was still drying on the Brussels accord. After forty years of relentless anti-European propaganda in the corporatist press, British exceptionalism has reached its post-Edwardian apogee..

All it would take now is for France to sign a non-aggression pact with Russia, and we’re back in 1914. (You call it Visegrad, I call it the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)

And today, Sunday, the BBC’s coverage of the Out campaign continues unabated, with not one word published in support of staying in. Why? It’s not that BBC News employees all want to leave the EU, or that Eurosceptic cabinet ministers’ views are even interesting; it’s because they are terrified that the swivel-eyed,  power-sucking, über-liberal demagogues: Boris Johnson, Ian Duncan-Smith, Chris Grayling, Owen Patterson, ‘Dr’ Liam Fox, God-forbid John Redwood, will take over the Tory party after Cameron’s inevitable defeat in June, and that will be the end of the BBC’s cherished independence and your human rights.

Having wasted months of frantic diplomacy renegotiating our treaty obligations, we’ve arrived at the point where Mr Cameron can seriously advocate that we should remain members of the EU without having any responsibilities towards it. Our endless special pleading is a national humiliation.

We’re probably going to vote to leave anyway, since there is now no point in staying in. And that will lead to Scottish independence and further Welsh and Northern Irish truculence, as we out-of-towners depend so heavily on the EU for our subsidy fix.

So here we shall remain, interned in a disintegrating little Fortress Britain run by dodgy snake-oil salesmen, CIA-funded Atlanticists and City bankers untrammelled even by 0.1% transaction tax, trapped with the anti-immigrant groundswell of The Disappointed, second-class citizens in the rest of Europe; our holidaymakers queuing for hours with the migrants at the Aliens’ desks of Greek airports; no automatic right to live or work anywhere but here (you think the Americans will let you in?), acned teenage customs men crawling officiously over our MPVs at Dover, the triumphalist braying of Nigel Farage, ad aeternam.

Investment tip: buy flags. One is truly great again.

*Mr Bone’s Wikipedia entry makes fascinating reading, giving an insight into what a rightwing Tory Eurosceptic MP thinks. While having once been branded as Britain’s meanest employer, opposing as he does the payment of minimum wage, and having had a £100,000 fraud case against him dropped by the public prosecutor for insufficient evidence, the former accountant,  mysoginist and homophobic Mr Bone has sponsored bills to abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights and have the August Bank Holiday renamed Margaret Thatcher Day.

These are the self-interested, crazed fanatics who want to rule you, a 1950s Britain made in their image, unimpeded by a wider polity involving foreign people and their infuriatingly cultured intellectualism. By ‘sovereignty’ they mean theirs, not yours. Meanwhile, the march of the Trump continues unburdened by the merest hint of humanity, wisdom or  reason.

 

A vanishingly large number

So, Post number 499… on schedule then for Post number 500 to arrive next week. Saturday 27th is the fourth anniversary of this, muh bogl, thus producing a propitious numerical coincidence, of sorts.

Of such important considerations is my little OCD world made. But there you have an explanation for why my Posts have been getting bigger and more portmanteau-ish these past few months, with added sub-headings in Boldface, as I attempt to stretch them to fit.

Meeting next – hello, a JavaScript Scratchpad just opened up, begging me to Save it. No, fuck off, importunate JavaScript Scratchpad baboon. Whatever you are. Start again…

Meeting next week’s deadline will be a race against the peculiar entropy that is erasing the lettering on the keypad of my li’l Asus lapbook thing. E, A and N are now completely gone. T, S and M are just residual dots of white. I (no, sorry, it’s an R), H and L look identical, only the vertical lines remain. U, O and S have reduced themselves to tiny arcs….

The issue being, never having learned to touch-type I have a problem remembering where the letters are, and am now having to proofread my copy in real-time as I stumble over Rs and Ts, Ns and Ms, forever keying the wrong ones more in hope than expectation.

And why is it called a ‘laptop’? Does anyone ever use one of these things on their lap? I certainly never have. It’s hard enough typing while the letters are disappearing under your fingers, as in some work-related anxiety nightmare, you are giving a client presentation but you have only your socks on, and they have holes in, sort of thing – without having to factor-in wobble.

Maybe I could crowd-fund an appeal for victims with skinny legs? We lapless ones are a much misunderstood minority, especially by cats planning to settle amicably on our laps, only to fall crossly through the bowed space between our emaciated thighs.

Mind the gap!

 

A red-letter day

I got so much done yesterday, it was a real Beyoncé day!

With a little help from the sprog, I finally plucked up courage, stiffened the remaining unstiffened sinews, grasped the nettle by the horns, and Switched both my longstanding overpriced, maladministrated dual-fuel energy contract AND my pathetic dribble of constantly buffering Internet stuff to new and exciting service providers promising the earth, the moon and the odd star thrown in.

I now live in terror of getting impossible demands for penalty payments for Switching mid-contract. But at least I’m saving money in the long run! I think… it’s not very clear what any of them is actually offering or how much it costs. And why does it take three weeks to flip a switch? We should be told.

But I also went into town, big deal – I’ve become increasingly agoraphobic – and bought new brushes for my broomsticks, indoor and outdoor, both of which had rotted through; and went to the bank and transferred a bewilderingly large sum out of my pointless cash ISA (a tax-free savings instrument, currently offering 0.7% interest) to pay for improvements to my flooring.

Not before I had taken matters in hand and ordered on-line, a pallet of excitingly expensive ceramic tiles for the kitchen, plus all the tiling accessories; and informed my Estate Agent that said sprog wishes to avail himself of my hospitality for another year, so off the market it comes – my glaring inability to sell my little house being henceforth one less thing I shall have to bogl about.

Then I swept up all the soggy piles of leaves and stuff from my little garden and put them in the compost bin; painted the rusting front gate green, and winkled all the crud out of the deep grooves in the oddly complicated sills of the double-glazed front and back doors, that are designed to trap anything you carry on your feet and make it look like you never springclean your home.

All that, plus Hunzi’s two walks; food-shopping, cooking lunch and dinner, finally putting away both bottles of Mr McGuigan’s nastiest industrial-grade Merlot (‘2 for £10!), while guessing the perpetrator in TV’s ‘Death in Paradise’ (‘A marine salvage hunter is killed, but the main suspect has a solid alibi…’ of course it was the wife, she was having an affair with the stepson and they needed the money…), which I only really watch for the hot Detective Sergeant and her tiny shorts.

What a day, eh? I haven’t achieved so much in months. But today I’m back to my normal state of glum torpidity.

I guess it was just a celebration of Mental Health Week after all.

 

Reading the signs

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about linguistics and semiology, as one does.

Take this morning as a case in point. We are out on our walk, li’l Hunzi and I. At the end of the lane there is a 90 deg. bend onto the footpath under the railway bridge. As he rounds the bend, Hunzi, who likes to run on miles ahead because he is, after all’s said and done, a sheep-dog bred for the high rolling pastures rather than the thunderous outskirts of a busy seaside town, stops and waits for me. Seeing me also rounding the corner, satisfied I am still there, he trots on with his normal lack of concern.

Now, I didn’t train him to do this. So clearly, he is making a series of decisions of his own. Trot on, stop round the corner, feel anxious, make sure I’m following, feel relief, trot on again.

In another part of the forest, literally – well, a small wooded area between the heritage railway and the sewage works – there is a path that divides. Both paths then join up again a couple of hundred yards further on. Trotting on ahead, Hunzi is free to choose either path. Having done so – and he does not always choose the same path – again, once I am no longer in sight he will stop and wait to see that I am following him before he trots on, pausing now and then to read and reply to another pee-mail.

So, enabling himself to make those decisions: stop, wait, observe, recognise me, feel relief, trot on, he surely needs to have an internal vocabulary, a system of recognisable, infallible signs to which he can respond appropriately each time. To be capable of abstract thought it is necessary to be able to internalise the meaning of objects and events and signs in the outer world, which humans do through naming things and articulating processes, including memories: language.

Dog language.

What, I wonder, is his word for me? How does he internally express a compound thought: “Oops, I’ve gone out of my master’s line of sight. Maybe he’s not following me? Now I’m worried… Oh, right, there he is, slowcoach! He’s seen me. So it’s okay now for me to trot on again… I think I’ll go this way today.” Can an iterative decision-making process like that be produced entirely through conditioned reflexes?

I don’t think it can. All animals need to be able to make rational decisions on some level, based on the ability to recognise objects, other animals (such as me), signs and situations – and that cannot be done without any system of naming their world, and themselves. If food, warmth and sex are indeed all that motivates an animal, they still require ‘words’ for those necessities in order to seek them out and recognise them when they arrive.

It used to be thought by science experts that only Man has a sense of self. I think that is nonsense, for to have even a conditioned ‘fight or flight’ response to danger (and what happened to ‘freeze’ as the third option?) it is a sine qua non that the animal first recognises WHO is being threatened. Even insects exhibit this threat response, which must result from a sense of self. It’s very short, but ‘I’ is still a word. What is the doggish for ‘I’?

So although Hunzi cannot articulate language in the way I can, he recognises many of my words, he knows they have specific meanings, he responds to them and we converse otherwise through a system of signs; principally body-language. When he wants a walk, he tells me by repeatedly lifting my arm off the keypad with his nose. He’s pretty good at knowing when it is exactly 11.30 a.m., or if we don’t go now we will get caught in the rain. When I bang shut the lid of the laptop he is already on his way out the door, tail going nine to the dozen. He sees me closing down the tabs and he knows what it means. Without an internal dog-word for ‘walk’, or ‘now’, none of that behaviour or the exchange of signs would be possible.

Language and semiology.

Talking to myself, basically.

 

Blockhead

Okay, I confess, I use Adblock-Plus.

There’s growing indignation among the billionaire beanbaggers that wicked people like me are depriving them of necessary dough by blocking their paid-for site ads. Special teams of mini-baboons are being drafted to get around this malicious conspiracy to deny fundamental capitalist principles.

Well, okay.

I don’t ever watch commercial TV either, unless they’ve got the rights to a good rugby international. I don’t wish to buy a new car, or a sofa, or need help choosing a packet of washing powder or a tube of toothpaste. I’m not planning a Thompson holiday or flying Emirates anywhere this year. I don’t gamble, responsibly or otherwise, and I don’t need a Payday loan.

If I do need anything I know where to go, how to find it and buy it for myself. I’m all growed-up. I don’t want ads in my face, or my ears; not because I’m a subversive anti-capitalist, although I am; nor because I am unsympathetic to the argument that these service-providers need to pay their hired baboons now and then, but because I’m not interested in the content the ads provide.

Ads don’t persuade me, they don’t help me to choose, or enhance my brand recognition and loyalty; in fact, the opposite. And I don’t like my concentration to be interrupted with repetitive, banal messages every five minutes.

But I don’t see the good folk at ITV or Channel 4 threatening to find a technological workaround to force me to view their adverts.

The point is, with TV and radio you’ve got a choice. If you don’t want ads, you can watch or listen to something else. I find there are just about enough programmes on non-commercial BBC TV and radio to keep me entertained. I don’t mind paying £3 a week for them, which is all it costs for the licence fee, although to hear the denizens of Sofaville moan about it you’d imagine they weren’t already paying £600 a year for the full Sky package, 42 channels of subscription porno, shopping channels, makeover shows and all.

And if there’s nothing worth watching or listening to I have my record collection, my guitars – as a last resort, my singing voice. Or I can just go to bed.

I have consumer choice!

So there is no advantage in Facetweet and Bookagram and Gootube and Youhoo! demanding the right to chuck advertising pop-ups at me, because I am not ever going to buy anything from their advertisers. It would be pretty dishonest of them to promise advertisers, you’ll get x billion hits for your ad every day, when there are many people like me who won’t ever respond to their messages even if we have to be forced to look at them.

Except when the guitar shop emails me with another irresistible offer, obviously.

While I’m a happier customer without the unwanted distractions ads cause. So I’m actually doing them a favour by blocking their ads, that are wasted on me.

Cleverly, you may get to see ads on this page which, as the author, I don’t. I actually object to WordPress putting ads on my pages, profiting from my fascinating content and my army of Spammers, but I can’t stop it. Besides, they don’t charge me to be on here, even if they don’t pay me either. I object more to subscription sites like Preloved smuggling ads onto pages I’ve paid to advertise my stuff on; although nobody buys it.

So I don’t feel bad about blocking ads, ‘cos I’m a victim too. Ultimately, what will attract advertisers to web pages is not the number of clicks, but the actual response rates.

Sales.

Toodle-oo!

  • UB