No, sorry, it’s turned into a Pumpkin! Issue 88: Middle East: Houthing up… The three lives of Gene Wilder… A load of guacamole… You scratch my back… And I’ll scratch yours… GW: It never rains but it burns… Essay: Us vs. Them: a draw?…

Middle East: Houthing up

“Hands up. Who in the class believes Iran or its proxy militias would be so stupid as to try to blow up two more oil tankers in the Gulf, right under the nose of the angry headmaster with his big, swishy cane, just while his friend the Japanese Prime Minister was in Tehran on a peace mission?

“Yes, Bolton?”

“Oooh, Miss, look, I’m in the fake news press! It says: ‘The US national security adviser, John Bolton, said Iran was almost certainly involved’.” (Guardian, 13 June)

“And why do you think, Bolton, that the entire class is so stupid as to believe your crazy, hotheaded Irish blarney? I mean, anyone in the school who doesn’t already know you and your friends from the Israeli special forces were smoking behind the bike shed last night. ‘Almost certainly’, what’s that?”

“Because, Miss, blowing up ships and pretending it was the other boys wot did it has always worked to start wars before.”

“And why would you want to start a war, Bolton? People might get hurt.”

“Well, Miss, wars are fun. Things go bang, your shares in Raytheon rocket up like July 4th and your oil export price doubles overnight while strong domestic output keeps consumer prices steady. The Commander-in-Chief gets to look like a leader instead of a leaky, one-winged, criminal mallard with no feathers. The country swings behind him and he’s a slam-dunk for a second term. While Netanyahu’s in for life.

“It’s a win-win-win-win situation we can’t lose. And besides, we haven’t had a good war since the last one I helped start on the basis of flawed intelligence. Mine, that is…. Look, here’s a meme of the Iranians removing a limpet mine from a tanker, so it must be them who put it there, mustn’t it.”

“Fair enough, Bolton, carry on. Class, let’s now turn to page a hundred and seventeen of your Farsi history primer, to where it says ‘And then the US 5th Fleet merrily began bombing, because the White House had been handsomely paid by the Dashing Young Prince of Barbaria'”….

Postscriptum:

In the interests of balance, we should mention that it is being suggested by highly paid experts that Iran might be minimally blowing up foreign tankers as a gesture to warn the Americans they could interdict Saudi oil traffic through the Straits if they wanted to.

I guess even the Americans probably knew that already?

 

A research project at Brown University has concluded that at 59m tonnes, the US military emits more greenhouse gases annually than Portugal.

 

The three lives of Gene Wilder

I see comic actor Gene Wilder just died again. So sad, I was a huge fan. Blazing Saddles… The Producers… if you needed a blond, curly-haired, blue-eyed, blanket-chewing Jewish neurotic with a wispy side, Gene was your man.

But there seems to be something rather odd about the sad news, a chronoclasm that might have interested the late Professor Stephen Hawking, with his theories about Time an’ all.

The BBC reported, today, 10 June 2019:

“US actor Gene Wilder, remembered by many for his lead role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, has died at the age of 83, his family has confirmed.”

This happened apparently yesterday, Sunday, and is very sad. Heartfelt tributes were pouring in, from his friend, Director Mel Brooks, actor Russell Crowe, Ricky Gervais and other claim-jumpers.

Cats have nine lives, it’s said, but it seems Willy Wonka had at least three. For, with great foresight BBC News actually published an obituary of Wilder by Arts supremo, Alan Yentob on 29 August, 2016. Clearly it was premature. Because then, they published a news report of his death the following day, on 1 September – which is completely spooky, right? I mean, how did they publish an obituary, not knowing the subject was going to die the very next day?

But then, for some unknown reason, they’ve repeated the story today, 10 June, 2019. Why, the man is a veritable Schrödinger’s Cat. Was he dead, or wasn’t he? Just how relativistic is Time, as a concept? We’re not being told, although we definitely should be.

At the bottom of the page is a link: “Why you can trust BBC News”. It takes you to another page, which begins:

“The BBC is recognised by audiences in the UK and around the world as a provider of news that you can trust. Our website, like our TV and radio services, strives for journalism that is accurate, impartial, independent and fair.”

But not necessarily much less than three years old.

The average age of a BBC TV viewer is said to be 62 and rising. Not all of us have Alzheimer’s, as Wilder did, but clearly the Editor of the BBC News website is in urgent need of nursing care.

 

Interviewed on ABC TV about Don Jr’s latest appearance before the House over his 9 June, 2016 meeting with Russians, that he lied was about adoptions, Don Sr said he’d certainly consider offers of foreign help to get elected in 2020, and probably not tell the FBI if he thought it wasn’t illegal.

Er…

 

A load of guacamole

“The president stakes out a maximalist position but never clearly defines his objectives. That way, after he backs himself into a corner, he can use a deal of any kind, even if it’s merely a fig leaf, to justify retreating from whatever misguided policy he’s threatened. Then he declares victory, having done little to nothing to solve the underlying problem.” – Senator Chuck Schumer, on Trump’s phoney triumphalist brinkmanship.

Before coming over to hobnob with his favorite gal, HM Queen, the only person on earth who, by virtue of her apolitical contract can never, ever mock or criticize him, Trump announced, as usual by tweet, yet another unexpected policy initiative he had apparently discussed with no-one other than the little yammering faces of Fox & Friends on the White House TV screens, his only connection with reality.

In lieu of funding for the Wall, he was imposing a tariff on all products coming over the border from Mexico, starting at 5% and rising monthly to 25%, until Mexico agrees to do more to stop refugees and other migrants from reaching the US border.

(The Editor writes: It is the policy of the BogPo to refer to “refugees and other migrants”, rather than just “animals”, “rapists”, “terrorists”, “M-13 gang members” or “drug lords” until someone tells us just what the hell is going on in his diseased brain.)

Returning days later from his successful European trip, while heading off to another of his golf courses for a few well-deserved days’ r&r, Trump tweeted that he might not after all be imposing the tariffs most economists agree would hurt American consumers and businesses more than they would hurt Mexico.

This was because he had done a Great Deal: Mexico had agreed to send the National Guard to the Guatemalan border and promised to buy billions of dollars’ worth of US agricultural goods, to please our “patriotic farmers” who have been royally screwed by Trump’s China tariff war and the endless rain and are committing suicide in droves.

This left Mexico’s government somewhat confused, as the National Guard has already been sent to the border, that happened during Obama’s presidency, and there was no agreement they knew of, to buy more US farm produce. So he resorted to the ancient art of bullshit and, like Chamberlain returning in triumph from Munich, peeled from his shoe a piece of paper he said was the new agreement.

Mexico is, in fact, we believe without fact-checking, a net exporter of agricultural produce to the US, while of course presumably importing as much corn and soybean back from the gringos as they can use; of avocados and beer and also of Tequila, that being the nature of the close trading relationship the now-dead NAFTA created between the neighboring countries.

He seems to have either dreamed it, or he made it all up.

Meanwhile, Trump’s violent posturing over immigration has caused a great panic, and vast numbers more South American refugees and migrants have reportedly been heading up through Mexico to the Arizona border, totry to beat any further extreme measures he might tell his worshipful dumbfucks he’s taking, that he might actually take.

It’s all a crisis of his own making.

Once again rave-tweeting and yelling in all-caps at the “failing” New York Times for pointing out these simple-to-check facts, totally fake nooze, waving a piece of paper he says proves him right, nevertheless Trump appears to have been caught out in his 10 thousand, seven-hundred and somethingth lie since assuming office.

But you can see this time it was for the good of the country. And the “patriotic” farmers he loves*.

*Why does he keep calling them that? Because he has had to invent an alternative reality in which the farmers support his crippling 25% tariffs on Chinese imports, even though retaliatory Chinese measures have essentially destroyed the hugely valuable US soybean and pork trades, that many analysts believe may never recover. Other sources say they don’t, not really.

 

You scratch my back…

“For his dubious role as the ‘godfather’ of Reaganomics, Slate dubbed him World’s Worst Economist. He’s been called a key part of the ‘Intellectual Rot of the Republican Party’. Esquire suggested that Laffer’s turn as the architect of the disastrous Brownback tax experiment in Kansas should hang ‘like a dead possum’ around his neck for the rest of his days.”Guardian

They say he who Laffs last, Laffs loudest, and Mr Arthur “Dead Possum” Laffer is certainly taking the piss out of the rest of us. He’s the author of a famous graph, the Laffer Curve, showing on a restaurant table napkin how, if you take all the money away from the poorest people at the bottom and hand it gratis to the people right at the top, everyone gets richer.

And having written a garbage hagiography about “Trumponomics” (basically, the art of extortion, debt default and bank fraud), he is Laffing all the way to the White House shortly, to receive a medal from the Golden Shower, Mr Very Stable Smarts himself.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the country’s highest civilian honor, awarded in this case to the man who has successfully persuaded the criminal kleptocracy in Congress that they can deny economic freedom to the maximum number of Americans while ordering up their fifth superyacht, from which everybody benefits.

The lunacy of Laffer has been well exposed, both theoretically and empirically, but still the very rich go on using his cretinous theory to justify their egregious acts of State-sanctioned theft. And why wouldn’t they?

But wait, what’s this? Why, step forward Boris “Watermelon Smiles, etc.” Johnson, kitchen-table racist front-runner for the worst job in British politics. With the beaming endorsement of his fellow narcissist, America’s stupidest-ever President, Johnson is bidding for the leadership of the Headless Chicken party against nine lesser dangerous lunatics on a platform of…. £9.6 billion-worth of Laffer-inspired tax cuts for the higher-rate taxpayer, combined with the expensivest of hard Brexits (paid for by a giant, crippling Trumponomic-style sovereign debt default, for which Messrs Standard and Poor’s will surely beat us into the ground).

After nine years of austerity and with the social fabric of Lesser Britain already ripped to shreds and lightly tossed away in a dumpster, or skip as we called them in the days of our independence, let’s see how that goes, shall we?

 

And I’ll scratch yours

Meanwhile, reports of astounding levels of corruption are swirling around Trump enabler and obstructionist Senate leader, “Cocaine” Mitch McConnell, who is married to Trump’s transportation secretary, Elaine Chao.

Ms Chao has apparently been caught failing to obey an Ethics committee ruling that to avoid conflict of interest she should divest her substantial shareholding in a transportation-linked company, one of America’s biggest suppliers of road-building materials. With every mention of infrastructure projects, her shares get ratcheted up a notch.

Bad enough but, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports, citing extensive press coverage in the past fortnight, Chao has been abusing her cabinet status to promote business links and lucrative contracts between a Chinese state-owned shipping company run by her father and the Commerce department, while discouraging grants and contracts for US competitors; and has created a private back-channel through her office specifically to fast-track grants for infrastructure projects in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky to improve his re-election chances.

It being noted that McConnell oversaw the approvals process in the Senate by which his wife got the cabinet post in the first place. Welcome to Trumpworld.

According to reports, McConnell – who is the major roadblock for any possibility of getting a slam-dunk Trump impeachment from the House through the Senate – has benefitted from $78 million dollars’ worth of private contracts this way.

Odd this should have come out now, what with so much pressure on House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to get impeachment proceedings under way, her bein’ so shy, an’ all. It isn’t working.

 

GW: It never rains but it burns

China: At least 7 people have died after record heavy rain and flooding in southern China over the last few days. In Guangxi, “torrential rain from around 09 June caused flooding that left at least 1 dead and 4 missing. In Xinhua, a total of 514,000 people were affected and 45,000 displaced.” “In Guizhou province, an entire town was submerged under 2m (6ft 6in) of water”. There’s been infrastructure damage and thousands of Ha of crops ruined. (BBC News) “National Meteorological Center said that some areas recorded as much as 93mm (4-in.) of rain per hour and between 250 and 300mm in 24 hours on 09 June, 2019.” Continued heavy rain for southern areas is forecast. (from: Floodlist)

Afghanistan: “At least 3 people died and dozens of houses were destroyed after flash floods in Badakhshan province, 08 June. Wide areas of crops and farmland were also damaged. Over 100 people have died and thousands of homes destroyed in a spate of flood events in the country that began in March this year. In neighboring Tajikistan, 2 people died in a mudslide after heavy rain, 04 to 07 June. Homes were damaged or destroyed and about 80 people rescued. (from: Floodlist)

India: The death toll from the “unbearable” heatwave that’s persisting over northern India, said to be the worst ever, had risen by 02 June to more than 500*, as temperatures in places (and into Pakistan) have several times exceeded 50C, 123F. 4 people were reported to have died from heatstroke on a train journey in Kerala. Authorities were having to waste scarce water pouring it on roads to stop them melting. Ironically, only next month’s monsoon is expected to bring relief – and with record rainfall around the world, it’s only going to create a different kind of problem. (BBC News/NDTV)

*I don’t know where this figure came from, later reports say less than 40.

Update: the “rare” monsoon now arriving in the NW Indian state of Kerala is organizing in the Arabian sea as a fullblown cyclone, named Vayu. With 130km winds strengthening, and bearing up to 10-in. of rain, it’s due to make landfall 13 June as a Cat 3 in Gujarat state, north of Mumbai, heading on up across the border towards the populous city of Karachi in Pakistan by the weekend. A track the Wunderground people are calling “uncommon”.

These uncommon hurricane tracks are becoming quite common, in your old Gran’s opinion. The last Cat 3 to hit Gujarat in 1998 killed over a thousand people. (BBC/The Weather Channel)

Indonesia: Thousands of people have been affected by flooding in Sulawesi. The death of a baby was reported. Bridges, roads, health facilities, crops and fisheries have all been damaged.

Haiti: At least 3 people have died and an unknown number are dead or missing after flooding affected several provinces. “Roads, bridges and over 500 homes have been flooded or damaged and as many as 17 homes have been destroyed.” (from: Floodlist)

Maldive Islands: “Local media are reporting that heavy rain has caused flooding in the northern islands of the country over the last few days. The country has seen a spate of severe weather over the 10 days (to 10 June), and the latest flooding brings the total number of houses damaged to almost 600 since late May.” (from: Floodlist)

USA: At least 4 people have died after storms and heavy rainfall swept across southern and south eastern states in the USA from 05 June. Boone, North Carolina, recorded 13.57 inches (344.68 mm) of rain in 72 hours to 09 June, 2019. Other areas in the southeast also recorded high rainfall totals. NWS Atlanta said parts of Peachtree City recorded 7.81 inches of rain from 07 to 09 June. There was flooding too in New Orleans, after up to 8-in of rain fell in 72 hours. 1 person was killed when a helicopter crashed in heavy rain on the roof of a skyscraper in New York.

Meanwhile westerly states are expecting record temperatures. “Phoenix is likely to see its first 110-plus-degree temperatures of the year by Tuesday or Wednesday. Highs in mid-90s are forecast as far north as Portland, Oregon. Daily record highs could be threatened in a few locations through midweek. This includes Portland and Phoenix on Wednesday; the current daily records for June 12 are 93 degrees and 112 degrees, respectively. San Francisco tied its daily record high of 91 degrees on Sunday afternoon” – before hitting 96F on Monday. (The Weather Channel) (112F is 44C)

KTAR news reports, the Woodbury Fire in remote hills east of Phoenix jumped to 6,000 acres 12 June, and had more than doubled to 13,000 by the 13th, as 112 deg. temperatures and strong winds contributed to the spread. 600 firefighters are on the scene but the fire remains 0% contained.

Canada: More than a dozen fires still burning, 6 out of control, in Alberta province after more than a month are turning skies red over South Carolina USA, two thousand miles to the southeast, while their smoke has been detected by the UK Met Office. More than 10 thousand people are still unable to return to their homes. No new fires have broken out today, 11 June, but almost 700 thousand Ha of forest have been burned.

Reports of equivalent wildfires in southern Siberia have dried up somewhat, but the BogPo belatedly records a report from Greenpeace Russia that “catastrophic” fires at the end of April/early May destroyed homes, crops, forest and wildlife, causing many burn injuries, over a vast area. Siberian Times reported, forest roads around Irkutsk were closed, as residents reported increased asthma attacks and skies turning black. Smoke was detected as far away as Washington DC. The fires spread unchecked also across thousands of Ha of prairie in neighboring Mongolia.

Turkey: 5 people are reported to have died in flash flooding in the capital, Ankara, on 09 June. Emergency services attended over 370 calls for aid. The mayor says the city received 5 times the amount of rain predicted. (Floodlist) The provincial Governor’s offices were flooded out. It’s the 5th time Ankara has experienced severe flooding in the past 13 months. (Bianet)

Yemen: “Strong winds, heavy rain and flash floods have hit several parts from 08 June, causing major damage and at least 3 deaths. Aden saw 77mm of rain, most falling in a 3 hour period. Houses and roads were submerged. Satellite images showed rainfall rates of up to 35mm per hour in southern and western areas of the country. Further severe weather warnings have been issued as Typhoon Vayu intensifies in the Arabian Gulf, with outer rainbands stretching hundreds of miles around. (from Floodlist)

UK: Hours of steady downpours have brought much of the rail network to a halt in parts of the south of England, and many suburban roads around London are under water. The M25 London beltway has been closed as two sinkholes have opened up. The Met Office says the region has seen a month’s worth of summer rain in 24 hours, with another month’s worth to come over the next 3 days. Yellow warnings are out as the system is slowly moving northwards. (BBC Weather)

Floodlist reports similarly intense rainfall across Europe causing flash floods in Italy, Germany, Greece and Poland. Severe hailstorms have also been reported in Germany, Italy, Poland, Croatia and Slovenia, and landslides in northern Italy.

Approaching tunnel….

Mount Bolshy: Russian geophysicist Ivan Koulakov is warning that the 9,500 ft Mt Bolshaya Udine, a volcano in the Udine chain on the Kamchatka peninsula declared extinct in 2017, may not be. A M4.3 earthquake suggests it might be waking up, with possibly catastrophic consequences.

Road resurfacing? Some seismic activity seems possibly occurring in the downtown Los Angeles area as liquid tar has begun bubbling up across from the La Brea tar pits along the Miracle Mile, accompanied by much outgassing of methane. The Blessed Mary Grealey records that the media doesn’t seem very interested. CBS reports, residents say it’s not unusual, but it’s never been this bad before. Cooler weather is forecast from tomorrow, 11 June.

(Rainy Sunday afternoon TV viewers might recall a 1997 movie called Volcano!, starring Tommy Lee Jones, in which an eruption trashes Los Angeles {but he heroically stops the lava with a line of overturned buses… as if!})

Vicious cycle: “Carbon emissions from the global energy industry last year rose at the fastest rate in almost a decade after extreme weather and surprise swings in global temperatures stoked extra demand for fossil fuels. BP’s annual global energy report revealed for the first time that temperature fluctuations are increasing the world’s use of fossil fuels, in spite of efforts to tackle the climate crisis. … BP (plans) to drill new oil wells which could hold up to 30m barrels of oil.” (Guardian)

Your Granny assumes that’s a Grauniad error and they mean 30bn, as 30m barrels is only 8 hours’ worth, globally speaking. We’re basically fucked.

 

Essay: Us vs. Them: a draw?

Would some helpful statistician kindly reflect and possibly comment on the extraordinary and growing phenomenon of political polarization?

The more choice of parties there appears to be, the more freedom to vote for whatever you like, the more atomized politics has become in a world of mass personalization and “identitarianism”, the closer the results seem to get, between the same old left-right-split parties. It’s like we’re afraid to reach out, except to ever-more authoritarian, religio-racist groups on the right and anachronistic class-warfare dinosaurs on the left.

But you don’t have to be a weeping libtard snowflake Blairite centrist! Why would you not vote for the Green Party agenda, for instance? For a better life? Another way of doing business? From Schumacher to Herman Daly, Greenomics has a perfectly sound intellectual base.

The narrowness of electoral margins seems to be becoming endemic. Brexit (52%-48%) and Trump (50.5%-49.5% in favor of Clinton) being famous cases in point, there have been many others. The 2017 Austrian election, for instance, was too close to call and had to be rerun. The British election in the same year resulted in a hung Parliament; as had the 2010 election, with only a wafer-thin Conservative majority in 2015. The Australian election was daylight cobbery and resulted in a tiny squeaking upset for the favored Labour opposition party.

Many uneasy coalitions have had to be formed in other countries, too, in order to keep the wheels in motion.

Yesterday’s Israeli Parliamentary election resulted in a dead-heat at 37 Knesset seats apiece between the two main parties, victory being claimed for a fifth term by the deeply unpleasant and authoritarian religio-racist, Netanyahu only because his party panders unashamedly and often illegally to the demands of more of the smaller and loonier rightwing religious parties than his opponent’s could.

Is it a function of more proportional voting systems? Not in first-past-the-post Britain. Should we blame the media for encouraging a more adversarial climate in the name of entertainment, are politicians more inclined to use ‘divide and rule’ as a tactic, or is there some meta-statistical reason, perhaps connected with rising population numbers or changing class expectations, for these inconclusive outcomes?

It occurs to me on re-reading this that humans themselves may have become polarized – or, in a sense, paralysed. I’m currently – I confess – becoming quietly resigned on the subject of Brexit, that I have been frothing against since long before the referendum, when I could see perfectly clearly that it was a rightwing neocon coup attempt, nothing much to do with Europe, sponsored by disruptors in the USA and Russia, and nobody else seemed to have realised.

Now, I simply can’t decide, or any longer bring myself to care, about what ought to happen next. Whatever it is, we deserve it. I’ve bought my toilet paper, my canned sardines and a month’s supply of Pot Noodle, I’m set for a siege.

I literally “switch off” – my radio, when yet another Leave politician is trotted out, frothing and swivel-eyed, to repeat the same old bullshit mantras to the same old interviewers asking the same old questions, week after week, sucking all the air from the news agenda – and none of them with a single interesting or helpful idea to offer, as the planet fries.

If asked to vote, frankly I’d have to toss a coin – statistically resulting in a 49.5% to 50.5% split, obviously, if enough people were to do the same.

Psychologists always trot out the ‘Fight or Flight’ cliche when describing the survival strategies available to sentient organisms facing existential threats. They regularly ignore the third ‘F’, “Freeze”.

Politics is everywhere frozen. As are we all.

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I lasted 18 seconds… You can’t eat a fucking Social Mobility Action Plan, Mrs May… Poisoning the diplomatic atmosphere…GW: Dead…

Pulling strings: Nigel Farage commands the fish to rise from the waters. (Sky News)

“Even a second series of The Night Manager would suck less air out of the schedules.”

 I lasted 18 seconds

Forty or so years ago there used to be a pretty anodyne and harmless but highly rated family quiz on Sunday evening primetime TV. You tended to put it on in the suburban background in lieu of anything else, other than getting remorselessly pissed on gin, there being only one and a half channels to watch and no Netflix in those good old days.

From left: £4.2 million; £3.5 million. (BBC/ David Venni) Uncle Bogler (top): £ zero million. Oh well, next time.

All-singing, all-dancing, genial master of the catchphrase: “Alright, muh luvs?” “Nice to see you, to see you nice”, etcetera – (I never promised you a prose garden, btw) – Bruce Forsyth would get contestants to stuff a duvet blindfolded in under half a minute by the big counting-down studio clock, whatever, make fools of themselves, ask them some easy questions and they’d get a chance to go away happy with a pile of crap from the pound shop, items they’d memorized going around on a conveyor belt (“Cuddly toy!”), with a main prize usually of a small, silently rusting British Leyland car to astound an audience living on five quid a week, as one was.

National treasure, Sir Brucey twirled off for the last time into the wings last year, aged 180. (“Didn’t he do well?”) So now the BBC has revived his old show with the help of the rest of the Strictly Come Dancing “comedy” presentation team: usually quite funny comedienne hoping to go straight, Sue Perkins and her besty, Mel Gdrcie (Are you sure about the spelling? Ed.), lavishing a fortune bled from your £145.50 a year TV license fee on brightly colored sets, bizarre costumes, props and raising the heights of the TV Centre doorways for special guest Richard Osman to pass through.

Unfortunately money is not, and never has been, an adequate substitute for creative originality. You need more sparkly tat.

So, anyway, if you don’t know who Richard Osman is, ask his mother. A gameshow host, promoted from Assistant Gameshow Host (“the scores, please, Richard, and cut the smartypants ad-libbing!”) he supplements his daytime TV income from a show appropriately called Pointless!, where I think the idea is contestants start with points and have to lose them, by making frequent appearances on other gameshow hosts’ gameshows.

It’s nowadays impossible that an entertainment can be created just for the TV audience (controversy has already arisen over whether the studio audience lives in a can or just shares a strange laugh that breaks out for no obvious reason now and again); Osman appeared to be one of an entire panel of “celebrity” experts invited at great expense to sit next to the stage and comment on the performance of a fat lady spinning plates. I mention Osman so frequently, only because I do at least know who he is. He’s unmistakably tall.

Even a second series of The Night Manager would suck less air out of the schedules.

Within ten seconds I was already feeling as if I’d had a flannel full of Novichok stuffed in my face. Switching off Sue and Mel’s Generation Game moments later was purely an autonomic reflex before paralysis set in. Fortunately they’re only making two in the “series”, although I have my suspicions.

Disapproving of the product, a cheap cigarette brand made from the floor sweepings at Imperial Tobacco after the night shift had gone home, under duress I once wrote an ad campaign that was so deliberately far downmarket, I’d hoped it would never get up again. The normal response to a similar campaign might with luck just be 1.5%. My hideously garish, illiterate, insulting mailshot pulled 16%. I was the hero of the hour.

No-one ever got anywhere overestimating the tastes of a bussed-in British TV audience, either. I thought those people had gone extinct in the 1980s, but… Brexit?

Look forward then to an extended run, maybe as the nights start lengthening in the Autumn and the realities of our economic situation set in, a return to the 1980s will seem attractive. In a week or so, even hardened Guardian critics will be polishing up phrases like “all good family fun” so as not to seem out of touch with the zeitgeist.

Oh. They already are.

Floral wallpaper, anybody?

 

“It’s the grey skin, the pallor. It’s the pallor you really notice.”

You can’t eat a fucking Social Mobility Action Plan, Mrs May.

Four out of five head teachers are reporting growing signs of malnutrition and sickness among their pupils.

A report compiled with the Child Poverty Action Group, presented at the annual conference of the National Education Union in Brighton reveals that many schools are having to devote increasing time and resources, not to improving test results, but to social action programs to try to relieve the consequences of nine years of knuckleheaded, attritional Government cuts to welfare, universal child benefit, tax credits – creating adverse knock-on social deficits, such as massive reductions in local government safeguarding services.

Among measures they are having to take are:

  • Creating food banks and handing out food parcels
  • Teachers supplementing meagre ‘bread and margarine’ lunches out of their own pockets
  • Providing free uniforms and laundry facilities to keep homeless children looking clean
  • Staying open during holidays with volunteer teachers providing meals
  • Offering free debt counselling
  • Providing emergency loans to families.

One head from Nottingham noted:

“Monday morning is the worst. There are a number of families that we target that we know are going to be coming into school hungry. By the time it’s 9.30am they are tired. It’s the grey skin, the pallor. It’s the pallor you really notice.”

Another from Portsmouth, said there had been a four-fold increase in the number of children with child protection issues. “Every one of these issues has had something to do with the poverty that they live in. It’s neglect. It’s because they and their families don’t have enough money to provide food, heating or even bedding.”

Head teachers acknowledged that many of the parents of these starving children are working poor, who would be marginally better off on benefits.

The Department of Education has responded with the following:

(We want) “to create a country where everyone can go as far as their talents can take them. That’s why we launched our social mobility action plan, which sets out measures to close the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers…”

Mmm, yummy. Nutritious action plan for lunch again.

Dear God, voters of Britain, when will you look up from your stupid fucking phones, instruments of social control, and throw these diseased incompetents on the bonfire of history? No civilized country should be managed like this in the 21st century.

How anyone could tolerate the continuance of this demented, morally bankrupt Tory government whose sole economic policy is, and has been for some time, to deliberately starve children of the food their brains need to “close the educational attainment gap”, is quite beyond me.

The sixth largest economy in the world and we cannot house, clothe or feed our people. Yet our crazy housing market adds two thousand paper millionaires to the heap each year. It’s obscene.

As is the brutal illogicality of spending millions on remedial action (as they claim to be doing. The evidence suggests they are lying) to “reduce child poverty” at the same time as depriving parents of the income they need to reduce child poverty.

No?

(Edited from a BBC News report, 02 April: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43611527)

 

So who could help feed Britain’s 120 thousand homeless children, and why should they?

“British wealth rose to a record £12.8 trillion in June 2016” (Cityam.com, who genuinely have a banking correspondent called Jasper Jolly…)

“A quarter of all new UK wealth goes to millionaires” (Oxfam report). “A total of 3.6 million households in Britain held wealth of more than £1m by June 2016, up 29% in two years” (BBC, quoting Office for National Statistics.)

“With the number of millionaires on the up, the wealth of the top 10 per cent of households was five times that of the bottom half combined by the end of 2016.” (thisismoney.co.uk)

“The £2 million given to him to help buy a home in the capital includes payments of £28,000 a month to cover mortgage interest. These total £740,000 since he took the top job in the summer of 2015. He will keep any profit he makes on the swish apartment if he decides to sell or rent it out. In addition to interest payments, the Pru handed Wells £514,000 to cover stamp duty on his new home – enough to buy a £5 million property. Because the payment is a taxable benefit, he was given £330,000 to settle his bill with Revenue & Customs. The company paid £200,000 for his possessions to be shipped across the Atlantic. He was also given £178,000 for temporary accommodation while he was waiting for the purchase to complete. That takes the total he has received for housing costs to £1.96 million. On top of that, he received £37,000 last year to cover flights back to the US. Wells’s package came to £8.7 million last year, taking his total pay and bonuses since he became chief executive in June 2015 to £23.6 million.” (thisismoney.co.uk on the staggering remuneration package of the Prudential UK CEO, Mike Wells.)

Of course, he may give it all away to Britain’s legions of grey children. Who knows, stranger things have happened.

 

Poisoning the diplomatic atmosphere….

As diplomatic relations slip through the rabbit-hole into an Alice in Wonderland world of threats and conspiracy theories, many of them thrown up by the wily Russian who succeeded as ambassador to the UN, a predecessor whose autopsy following his sudden death a year ago has been marked Classified, the odd case of the Salisbury Poisoner continues to raise many apparently unanswerable questions.

The Pumpkin has asked many of these right from the beginning. It has been said, for instance, that novichok A232 is a virtually instantaneously acting nerve agent, whose lethality decays over time. Yet the Skripals apparently spent several hours having lunch in town after they were supposedly contaminated at home, before they were found unconscious on a park bench.

And they have both apparently survived; unlike a Russian banker and his secretary who were also poisoned with a novichok agent in Moscow in 1995 and died almost immediately. A tribute to the skills of the NHS, I expect.

If A232 decays to the point of non-lethality, then why is it that people in suits are still scraping around Salisbury weeks later looking for traces of it to decontaminate? What do they expect to find?

Who uses their front door handle to close the door behind them?

What was Skripal doing with two guinea-pigs in the house? (Dimwitted Plod apparently sealed-up the house, leaving the Skripals’ two cats and the guinea-pigs inside to die of thirst and starvation. One of the cats was eventually taken, barely alive, to Porton Down for examination for traces of nerve agent but had to be put down by a vet. The other has gone missing. This is surely a matter for the RSPCA?) I’ll repeat the question. Cats, okay, so James Bond – but what was Skripal doing with two guinea-pigs in the house?

Did he manufacture the A232 himself, for some other purpose? It can be done in your garage, apparently, following some simple instructions available from certain sources. See:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/06/uk-us-case-file-russian-nerve-agent-shikhany-spy-poisoning

Many questions also remain, concerning the contaminated policeman, Detective Sergeant Bailey. It now appears a second, unnamed policeman was also treated in hospital. Why has he remained unnamed thus far, but not Bailey? Did Skripal have a security detail – or just a tail?

Where did they come into contact with the A232? If it was at the house, as was reported, then how did the police know to go there before the couple had been identified or a nerve agent had even been pinpointed as the cause of the Skripals’ distress? When in the timeline did that happen – as it’s not the most likely scenario?

If someone had searched the unconscious Skripal’s pockets and found an address, how were they not also contaminated?

If the nerve agent had been suspected before Sgt Bailey went to the house, why did he go there unprotected? Was Sgt Bailey indeed the “first responder” at the scene – a detective sergeant, called out to a report of two people who, witnesses say, looked like drunks or druggies on a park bench?

If he had been, then he surely would not have been the one to go straight to the house….  as he would have been too busy making reports at the scene. Did he already know who the Skripals were, and where they lived?

Was someone anticipating just this scenario?

Nothing adds up and I doubt it ever will. But if I were Yulia Skripal, I certainly would not want to go back to Moscow with Cousin Viktoria.

Just sayin’.

 

GW:

“The greatest declines were seen in west Antarctica. At eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers, the speed of retreat was more than five times the rate of deglaciation since the last ice age” – cpom.org.uk

With a current 4C 2m/surface temperature anomaly, Antarctica is now coming in for the scare story treatment as scientists find that most of the melting is going on unnoticed, UNDERNEATH the vast ice shelves and glaciers.

“The results could prompt an upward revision of sea-level rise projections.” – (UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.)

Spring 2017

Dead

In April last year I’d already begun posting in amazement at the incredible outpouring of biomass I’d observed in our valley. The speed and volume of growth so early in the year were, in my view, unprecedented.

Climbers fighting for light, 2017.

Trees that would not normally crown before May were already densely and – for a change – healthily in leaf; wildflowers were blooming, the nearby playing fields covered in snowy mats of daisies; ground-cover and climbing plants fighting for light in the densely packed hedgerows and head-high clumps of already berrying brambles.

Just outside my studio, five years ago I planted perennial herbs. A border hedge of rosemary; oregano, that would be covered in bees, a clump of thyme. And a rather expensive, miniature ornamental Japanese acer.

They’re all dead.

As is most of a hebe I planted three years ago in the front garden; although a couple of other plantings seem healthy – a hydrangea labelled ‘hardy’ seems to be just that, coming into leaf. The early clematis Hendersonii is in flower…

But nothing much has come to life in the valley. I’m walking Hunzi along paths lined with dried-out, dead last-year’s vegetation, withered brambles, a few bearing stricken early leaf buds; here and there ivy, leaves turning brown at the tips, shrivelled berries; evergreens looking blasted and ever-brown; clumps of bleached grass; a few daisies, celandine and dandelions showing, but nothing like the riot of exuberance we had this time last year.

Spring 2018.

Evergreens turning brown.

Now, okay, admittedly it has been a colder winter, later than we’ve had for a while. But not nearly as cold or snowy here on the west coast as in the east. Cold and wet. And I haven’t seen any flying insects at all (no, a few midges came out yesterday with the sun and I was buzzed by a solitary foraging bee on our walk in the rain just now. It won’t find anything.) While the birds started nesting in February, I’m wondering what they’re getting to eat?

Then, I’m seeing too that these die-offs appear to be recent, and simultaneous, although the hardest frost was three weeks ago. It’s like Russia has sprayed everything overnight with weedkiller.

Is it something we’ve done?

USA: caught in a loop of the jetstream, Winter Storm Wilbur is dumping another foot of snow over the northern states, from the Rockies to the Great Lakes, as the song goes. It’s the fifth major winter storm event of the year, but it’s a double-whammy as a second front is also hitting the east coast, including New York. Too warm to settle for long, though.

“A powerful late-season atmospheric river is headed for central California late this week, with the potential to bring near-record rains for April … Intense rain rates on Friday night will pose a flood risk in the Sierra Nevada, where the runoff will be bolstered by rain-induced snowmelt. By Saturday, high winds and heavy rains will rake parts of western Oregon and Washington … ‘This is really an historic event …’ said Cliff Mass (University of Washington)”.

“Torrential rain, strong winds, lightning strikes and flash floods hit parts of Indiana and Illinois” on 3 April, Indianapolis recording its wettest ever April day. Local forecasts for Phoenix Az. are predicting the return of 100F, 39C temperatures next week – still early mid-April. Dangerous UV levels already being measured.

Canada: powerful winds knock down buildings in Ontario.

Meanwhile northern Europe and Russia have also seen extreme cold and heavy snow persisting well into spring. These huge pools of arctic air make the northern hemisphere look like Narnia, but elsewhere across Africa, the middle East, the SW US, Australia there are enough hotspots still to keep global temperatures marginally above the 1980-2011 average for March/April.

Bangladesh, Nepal: 7 killed in severe storms, massive hail smashes houses down.

Brazil: STILL raining intensively in many areas, flash floods, cities underwater in Goias province and elsewhere. In Mexico, an intense hailstorm reduces streets in Tlalpan to rivers of ice.

Argentina: “Over 50 people were evacuated and dozens of streets closed after flooding in Río Gallegos, Santa Cruz province. Local media reported that the city received 3 times the amount of rain it would normally see for the whole of April.”

Fiji: “At least 4 people (now 6) were killed and another was missing after Cyclone Josie caused severe flooding in the South Pacific island nation. Josie moved past the island of Vitu Levu from 31 March as a category 1 storm, bringing with it heavy rain and wind gusts up to 100 km/h.”

Vanuatu: flash floods destroy homes.

Indonesia: Devastating floods in Sumatra and Java.

Greece: “Several rivers in the Balkans have broken their banks over the last few days, causing flooding in parts of northern Greece, southeastern Bulgaria and northwestern Turkey.” Police are searching for a party of “about 15” migrants thought to be missing after trying to cross a swollen river.

UK: “Snow and heavy downpours closed roads and caused travel disruption throughout the holiday weekend of 31 March to 02 April … Emergency services were called to rescue at least 8 people trapped in flood waters. Up to 10cm (4ins) of snow blanketed areas of north England, north Wales and Scotland. At one point on 02 April there were 271 flood alerts in place…” Interestingly, GW noticed absolutely none of these events taking place locally from her eyrie in Wales. Sorry.

World: “Storms, floods and other extreme weather events are hitting cities much harder than scientists have predicted, said the head of a global network of cities tackling climate change.” According to Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 climate change alliance: “Almost every (C40 member) city is reporting extreme weather events that are off all the scale of previous experience, and ahead of all the modeling of climate change.”

Edited from reports: Boglington Post/ Floodlist/ Wunderground/ MrMBB333 website/ CEWN #107, #108/ Reuter

 

Hinterland: projecting the Welsh culture abroad

21 July, 2016

Rhodri Talfan Davies

Director for BBC Wales

 

Dear Mr Talfan Davies

While not disagreeing entirely with your views on the lack of Welsh cultural projection (BBC News website, 21 July), given that you might be responsible for some of it, I should like to make two or so points.

Wales is a far more multicultural place now than it was when I arrived as an ‘economic migrant’ from London, via Gloucestershire, fifteen years ago (today, as it happens!). Sometimes it seems as though there are more natives of Birmingham here than there are of Wales; Polish and other languages are heard on the street, we have a new Bangladeshi community; while cars seem sadly to have replaced sheep as the most multitudinous of the non-human population.

I appreciate therefore the importance of celebrating, preserving and promoting the Welsh dimension through its cultural institutions – although that sounds possibly like a museum curator talking, but perhaps there is more of a need to accept change and celebrate diversity, projecting a more fluid social dynamic?

BBC Drama, especially on Radio 4, seems to go through patches where all the scripts seem to be about the minutiae of life in Pakistani families (corner-shops, honour killings), Irish or Scottish (heroin-related, or someone has come back depressed from Afghan) – and then from time to time Welsh, when one sometimes feels perhaps a little patronised by a certain forced comedic dimension.

Welsh characters are too often caricatured as, well, a bit helpless. I have myself acted the Welshman in several local dramatic productions because not enough Welsh male actors will put themselves forward to join in. We recently had to rewrite the script of a Dylan Thomas bio-drama because the only real Welsh actor we had to play him was six feet tall, whereas the giant of Welsh modern Lit. was only five feet five in his holey socks.

In a sense this mirrors the dilemma of ethnic diversity in drama in general: you want to cast black actors, but where are they? Fortunately there is now a growing pool to draw on, and perhaps the same will be said of Welsh actors the more success the Rhys Ifans’, Michael Sheens’ and so on enjoy internationally. But we have yet to celebrate a black, Chinese or east European Welsh actor, I think!

I feel too there is an element of defensiveness in a lot of what you and others have been saying for many years; and it is perhaps that which is preventing the wider promotion and presentation of Welsh culture, as it is so inbred in its nature. Wales punches indeed significantly above its size in terms of cultural celebrity; but those artists and performers all recognise that their success depends on them becoming, first and foremost, internationalist. Somewhere there needs to be a balance; and, more importantly, relevance in a busy world where so much ‘culture’ is vying for attention

Which brings me to Hinterland….

Apart from the obvious scheduling problems and apparent budget shortage (why can’t Tom have a proper detective car, a vintage Jaguar like Morse or a (Welsh!) TVR, a battered old Mk1 Land-Rover he obviously cherishes, rather than that humdrum Volvo?), I and many of my friends here feel that Hinterland presents a remorselessly negative picture of life (and death) in Ceredigion. Most of us watch it largely because we enjoy the continuity errors!

If you will pardon an anecdote, last year I came across the cast and crew filming around the marina. I stopped and asked Mari when the new series was coming out; she thought ‘maybe’ in the autumn. ‘And will it be as gloomy as the last?’ I asked, jokingly. ‘Probably gloomier’, she replied glumly. It was!

I have to say, despite it winning an international award, I feel Hinterland is derivative, inward-looking and lacking in plot variation, precisely because of its overly Welsh one-dimensionality: the brooding landscape, thinly populated by embittered loners setting fire to one another’s houses over ancient feuds, seems almost satirical. The characters don’t seem fully developed in comparison, say, with The Bridge or other Nordic noir dramas on which the mood and feel of Hinterland are clearly based; they seem emotionally stuck, with what are thinly doled-out (does ‘Lloyd’ even exist, off-set?),  cardboard-cutout back-stories.

The lack of a realistically diverse ethnic and cultural dimension portrayed in this teeming university town and seaside resort does not at all reflect the life we know. (Yes, you did have a couple of Polish girls in one episode, well done! I have yet to identify a single English or Scottish character, who make up fully a third of the population… and where are the endless traffic snarl-ups?) There is so much more richness of history, intrigue and event in Aberystwyth than your writers seem willing to mine for stories. Why not set an episode in our university? It is a real one, at least!

There is of course no reason the show should reflect real life, it is drama after all, but if you are going to complain about the lack of Welsh cultural projection outside Wales, one viewing of Hinterland would be enough to convince most people of its severe limitations.

What is stopping you making more accessible programmes for the outside world? Apart, that is, from Dr Who? I suspect it is in fact the paucity of subjects; the narrowness of the Welsh dimension, that is holding things back.

To be frank, Shetland is a more reliable series; more openly reflective seemingly of its island life, more rooted in its community yet open to the wider world; and is more intricately and densely plotted, better produced and more naturalistically written, with interesting, three-dimensional characters showing vitality and progression.

Hinterland by contrast is an unwelcome study in Welsh claustrophobia; introverted; stuck in its miseries*; under-cast, short on locations, short on plot and character development and trapped in its own narrow country lanes.

A national depression narrative…. How good an ambassador is that for Wales’ diverse culture, I wonder?

 

*’Miseries’ sounds like ‘miniseries’. An odd word you often come across in TV columns. It was honestly years before the penny dropped and I realised that the word meant ‘mini-series’. ‘Miniseries’ sounds ecclesiastical, perhaps from a prayer: ‘Lord, forgive them their miniseries’; a part of the Tridentine mass (Let us now proceed to the miniseries), or a description of some priestly vestments: ‘He appeared at the altar in fetching pink miniseries’….

The problem of proving a negative

Wot a whopper

So the Appeal Court has ruled that it’s okay to lie on an insurance claim about the circumstances the loss arose out of, so long as the claim is genuine and the lie doesn’t make a difference to the actual amount claimed.

It’s called a ‘collateral lie’.

I can’t comment on the legal side, the case was about some ship’s crew and a cargo loss they blamed on the weather when it was caused by something else not their fault; sometimes it’s easier just to lie than to have to explain.

I once had a claim rejected when the insurers argued that if the radio had not been in the car in the first place, and the car had not been locked, the kids doing drugs would not have had to smash the quarterlight to steal it.

There are lies, ‘collateral lies’, and there are profitable evasions.

But I do wonder if there isn’t a more general application here?

Is it okay in principle, for instance, for a politician ambitious for the highest office to tell people the double-lie, that they are spending £50 million a day on our annual subscription to Brussels, and he would spend the money instead on the health service?

It’s obviously okay to say that, when it’s clear they would have voted anyway to leave the European Union. It’s only a ‘collateral lie’.

Meanwhile, some of the collateral damage of Brexit is already emerging.

You remember we wanted to get our sovereignty back from Brussels? So yesterday, our world-leading semiconductor company, ARM was sold to an indebted ($100m overdrawn) Japanese entrepreneur for a notional £24 billion.

The post-Brexit-vote collapse of the pound against the yen made ARM a bargain. And Mrs May bravely hailed it as another sign of a brighter future for Britain outside the EU.

What, that we can flog-off our sovereignty instead to the highest foreign bidders, so they can profit from controlling our potentially hugely lucrative industrial research and development programmes in the future, that we never seem able to exploit ourselves because we are such a small country?

Already, British research scientists, universities and high-tech SME companies are reporting being frozen out of co-funded European projects, as being too toxic a risk for the investors.

Individual trade deals or not, it’s hard to see Japanese or Australian or US government funding being made available for British research projects in the way it has through the EU, without Britain surrendering control of our own world-beating technologies.

And we have had to give up our turn at the rotating Presidency of the EU next year, so have no chance to influence anything..

But don’t worry, at least Brussels isn’t calling the shots!

Cretins rule, ok?

 

The problem of proving a negative

An open letter to the UK-based, very funny American humorist and compulsive litter-picker, David Sedaris, on the danger of being too public-spirited.

Dear David Sedaris

I read about your litter-picking interview with Clare Balding.

So, I was standing in the queue for the butcher’s, as one did in those days in the People’s Republic of North Harrow, in the 1970s when lamb chops were on ration, watching two children tearing up paper and throwing it on the ground. I said to their grandmother, ‘who do you think is going to pick that up after you’ve gone?’ and she looked embarrassed and told the children to pick up the paper.

A younger version of the grandmother then came flying out of the shop, shouting at the children to put the paper back on the pavement because,‘you don’t know where it’s been!’ The grandmother explained that the man in the queue had complained that the children had dropped the litter. And the woman informed me furiously that if I didn’t piss off and mind my own business, she would fetch her husband to sort me out.

I’ve been a little less public-spirited since. But maybe not enough less.

20170524_125218The people who annoy me most are the ones who thoughtfully pick up their dog mess in a little bag, and then leave the bag lying on the footpath. There’s some kind of cognitive dissonance there. I’ve been guilty of it myself: on a circular route, I planned to pick up the bag on the way back as that’s the direction the village’s only public dog-litter bin lies in, only to be seduced into taking a different way home, forgetting all about the bag and its contents; forgetting where I had left the car parked.

I live on the edge of a seaside town, on a thunderous main road, where the houses shade into a flat, partly wooded heathland along the river valley. It’s littered with industrial buildings, goods yards, railway lines, cycle paths and sports grounds. Dogwalking territory, it’s also a place where people can go to celebrate the nearby supermarket, McDonalds and so on by liberally distributing their wrappers and cut-price cider cans in the undergrowth, smashing up the one park bench so regularly the council gave up repairing it and it’s no longer there.

Another sign of civic pride is the way people like to get exercise and fresh air by carrying whole bags of rubbish into the woods and abandoning them there, to rot and spill their contents among the bluebells.  When you can just put the bags outside your house and the council eventually will collect them, and when there is a public recycling centre a few hundred yards further along the footpath on the industrial estate, it seems perverse.

The river sometimes floods, and the trees growing along the bank are festooned with tattered plastic bags and old clothing washed downstream; there are stains and trails of litter running down the high bank above the river on the opposite side, under the ends of the gardens of the estate houses above.

Every few months, McDonalds or the supermarket holds a sponsored litter-pick, and you find all sorts of people busy filling bags. I always take the trouble to thank them politely, because while it occurs to me that I have nothing better to do on my thrice-daily walks with the dog around the exurban space that passes for our local park, than to pick up the litter myself and just stop being offended by it, somehow my brain fails to recall my good intentions the next time, and we go out unequipped either to pick the litter or to cut back the brambles growing over the footpath behind the sewage works; another pet project for which somebody else might eventually take responsibility.

Yesterday, however, things got more serious. Passing the town cricket club, with its signs asking people please not to walk their dogs in the private grounds, I observed a family: a youngish man in a baseball cap, calf-length shorts and hoodie, his partner, their toddler and a large black dog, larking about behind locked gates on the actual playing surface.

Some protective civic instinct made me raise my cellphone to take a picture for identification purposes, should it be needed. Stupid, really, as I’m not a member of the cricket club and people trespassing in their grounds really is none of my affair. If they don’t want people trespassing they should fix the fence.

But they were too far away to photograph clearly, so I gave up the attempt. As I walked on, I heard commotion behind, a man loudly shouting ‘fucking paedo!’ I didn’t connect, until I got home and within minutes two policemen were on the doorstep, wanting to know why I was going around photographing people’s children, because (while it was not illegal!) there had been complaints, and I had been followed home and was seen photographing children along the way.

Now, a sometime journalist, movie-maker and blogger, perhaps a trifle OCD, I’m an information gannet. I make photographic notes of all kinds of mildly uninteresting things I encounter, for all kinds of purposes. I take pictures of:

…my dog; my cat; the exuberant wildflowers along the river; interesting cloud formations; garish sunsets over the bay; storm-damage; flooded landscapes; unusual rocks and weird jellyfish stranded on the beach; of unidentified insects; my guitar collection, for sales purposes; of my house, ditto – I’ve been trying to sell for nearly four years but nobody is crazy enough to want to live here, and I’m seeing why.

I record my DIY projects and workplaces, essentially other people’s gardens, showing how effective I’ve been at restoring them in case anyone wants to talk about a job. I kept a documentary record of the restoration of a nearby stately home I was paid to look after for seven years; I record, too, the more valuable things I own, mostly guitars, for insurance purposes when I get burgled; important documents; local views: for instance, of my street at night, so I can complain about the harsh lighting keeping me awake.

I also photograph things by accident, like my own eye, as I’m not very good with ‘smart’ technology and didn’t realise for ages that the camera points both ways front and back. Besides, it’s a cheap phone and you can’t see the viewfinder screen in daylight. Some cameras are ‘point and shoot’, mine is more ‘point and hope’. And the buttons are situated just where they can sometimes turn on the camera all by themselves, I find it’s been videoing the inside of my pocket.

So some of my shots are interestingly abstract. I sometimes photograph the washing-up, for documentary interest. I once proposed an exhibition of my colourfully artistic shots of food residues on plates after a party, ketchup and picallilli, custard and cake crumbs…. I took a shot in evidence of my garden hedge the other day, as I feared from the sounds of chainsawing that my neighbour, who is from Birmingham, was attacking the other side and could possibly kill off the whole thing, and I might have to sue him.

I’ve even tried taking selfies, as for some reason people need to know from time to time what I look like; only I don’t look at all like my selfies, which show an elderly, bearded man with receding hair and baggy pouches beneath alcoholically bulging eyes, living alone with his familiars: a dog with strange amber eyes and a magic cat, his guitars; keeping himself to himself, an outsider tragically photographing his own face in a small cottage on a main road in the noise-polluted outskirts of a small town.

Just like a fucking paedo, in fact.

Only, he isn’t! There is absolutely no reason to suppose anything of the sort.

The one thing I never, ever photograph is other people’s children. Or even other people, except maybe sometimes far in the background, for scale (I have a photographic and movie degree. I know about shooting landscapes.) What might strike you most about the several albums of photographs I hold on my computer is how few people are depicted in them at all. I’m not really a people person.

You probably won’t even find pictures of my family, my ex-wife and grownup kids, my ninety-year-old mother. They take countless pictures of each other, their holidays, their dinner parties with friends, their table layouts, their graduation ceremonies, their weddings; they can email me if they want. I’m just trying to make sense of the world around. Collecting evidence.

But when some concerned parent in a baseball cap decides that, no, neither he, nor his partner, nor their large, black dog trespassing on a private cricket square could possibly be the subjects of an elderly weirdo pointing a cellphone at them from a hundred yards away; but concludes instead that he must have been focussing directly (a physical impossibility at that distance) with some sinister intent on their little princess, and calls the police, who turn up on the doorstep the minute he gets in, you lie there at night wondering what on earth proof you can offer, to prove a negative. No, I wasn’t? I didn’t? I don’t? See for yourself?

But someone says you did.

And is there now to be a campaign of vilification, graffiti on my door, my car trashed, petrol through the letterbox, a pitchfork village lynching? Will I be followed around by men in baseball caps, shouting abuse at me? Have I become ‘a person of interest’?

I showed the policeman my cellphone. Look, a picture of my dog. A pie I ate, for some reason. Wildflowers. The river. My car. My newly decorated living-room. No children!

And the policeman said, well, you might have another phone somewhere.

And asked me where I was born.

Pulling the Pork

Pages in category “British cooking television programmes”. The following 78 pages are in this category, out of 78 total. This list may not reflect recent changes … (Wikipedia listing on Google)

(Yes, 78 pages of cooking shows. It makes you sick!)

As the only TV shows I watch tend to be the news, international rugby matches, police procedurals and documentaries about parallel universes/who really built Stonehenge?, all of which enable me to shout furiously at the telly (much to Hunzi’s and the neighbours’ distress), I’m not very up on fashion trends in cooking.

How I have avoided the overwhelming swampiness of programmes featuring tense cake bakeoffs and nervous celebrity cheffing and the production of complex desserts using industrial gases and hairy bikers and epic-fail dinner parties and art critics making agreeable tours round Italy’s more expensive ristorantes in a posh hire-car, I don’t know.

It’s probably that I’d rather eat my own head boiled with Swede, than sit here for an hour watching some media-smoothie and his best mate scoffing delicious regional specialities in the eternal Calabrian sunshine, engaging agreeably in witty, unscripted badinage, while copping for massive expenses.

Hence, I have caught up with “Pulled Pork” rather late in the day.

And wished I hadn’t.

Eating “Pulled Pork” is rather like eating overcooked, frayed string dipped in Vaseline, to use an analogy. It’s the kind of pappy nappy-food you don’t really need teeth for – which is just as well, I suppose, as I haven’t any, at least none that meet conclusively in the middle.

When you do manage to chomp through a mouthful, however, you can spend many a happy hour trying to winkle the bits out of your denture, using a succession of increasingly enamel-unfriendly sharp implements.

“Pulled Pork” is  clearly one of those serendipitous discoveries beloved of marketers:

“Now, team, porkchop sales are falling off a cliff. Focus groups tell us they’re too retro for modern tastes. We’ve tried marketing just the fatty bits, but the consumer has seen through the old “Pork Belly” scam. So how are we going to segment this normally boring, meat-like commodity in order to get the housewife’s eyeballs on a profitable new market proposition for our revered client, the Porkmeat Marketing Council of Great Britain and Elsewhere?  Let’s blue-sky some thoughts. Yes, Torquil?”

“So, like, my partner Jocasta well overdid the pork roast on Sunday, while we were out playing tennis with our friends Dave and Sam the Cam, and, when I poked gloomily at a slice with my fork, it just, like, pulled apart, like a shreddy old skein of damp sheep’s wool. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what it tasted like, too.”

“”Pulled Pork”? Terrific branding, Torq, have another Porsche!”

And so, with a decent bung to Mr Tesco, the aisle-end chiller cabinets have filled with Now Only £4! bargain-priced boxes of microwave-in-the-bag “Pulled Pork”, pre-slow-cooked for all Eternity in smoky barbecue flavour goo by Europe’s finest chefs at 30 deg. C. , so you don’t have to.

And I ask myself, what do all those millions of gluttonous viewers glued to glutinous Celebrity Oven-porn do with the reams of brilliant ideas and information they are absorbing, along with the microwave background radiation spewing from their fifty-inch TFT Smartscreens?

Why, like me, they rush out and buy Mr Morrison’s cook-chilled ready meals (now with extra subtracted unidentifiable chicken pieces in spicy bulky gluten gloop) and ‘wave them for three minutes during the commercial breaks.

Cooking? Like, duh, dudes. Cooking’s for Masterchefs.

I’ll just pull me some pork.

 

Postscriptum

Torodism

Speaking of cookery shows, how many people would you imagine having the same name, a very uncommon-sounding name, like ‘John Torode’?

I worked years ago at the London all-news (ha-ha! They used to get me to present music shows when they had no money to pay journalists. And I wasn’t invited to the 40th anniversary bash!) radio station, LBC. There was a journalist there called John Torode, who later became slightly well known on, I think, The Guardian newspaper, but then seems to have disappeared off the radar – much like myself.

So you can imagine my mild surprise/wild surmise, when he popped up as one of the heavily sceptical judges on Masterchef, only it wasn’t him but some random Australian namealike bearing no resemblance to the original.

Just saying.

Really, because I find there are several people posing on Facebook with my unusual family name, and they are not me,  or even related to me. I don’t even have an active Facebook account.

But who would know the difference?

 

 

 

Watching the Defectives #4

Two detectives. Edgy buddies. A detective and a possible witness. Junior/female colleague. The detective and his ex-wife – rebellious teenage son/daughter (led astray by drug dealers from the squat or other bad influences who might become suspects), who may or may not themselves be a witness but might know/be under the influence of, the robber/murderer. The flagging middle-aged detective and the faded nurse/schoolteacher he’s taken a fancy to and is hoping to get at least dinner with if not a tit-job off.

These characters get in the car and drive to the police station. To search a house. To a house where the killer lurks but unsuspected. Where the body is lying on the floor. To the teenager’s home where his mother will express contempt/hatred/residual tired love for the detective. To a very dark place (do they ever switch on the lights?). To the hospital. To the intended’s home. To follow the suspect. To find the deserted country cottage on the beach no-one previously knew about, that was on the location manager’s same list three episodes ago. To the place they’re going to search but don’t have a warrant. To the abandoned factory. To the scene of the crime.

They arrive at their destination and stop the car. Switch off the engine.

And at that point, they start to have a relevant conversation about the murder. The accident. Their lives. Their knowledge of the victim, the murderer, the murderer’s relatives, wives, colleagues and friends, the crime scene, the time of the murder, their significant past, the building, the likelihood of success/being killed, their mission…. Calling for back-up (‘No time! I’m going in! Cover me!’)

And meantime anyone else who might be an important source of information but who wouldn’t tell anyone what the problem was, or who has previously been fingered as a suspect, or whose character the audience has been wilfully lied-to about by the writers, is probably being slaughtered in the cutaways.

The question I have is simply this:

If they didn’t have a plan, hadn’t exchanged important information, didn’t know what was going on, who they were dealing with, called for back-up, counted the shots left in the ammo clip, then what the fuck have they been talking about all the time they’ve been driving in the car?

Another epic fail to tell my grandchildren about

Have you ever been so perfectly qualified to do a job that you almost expect not to get it?

I’ve just had a ‘better luck next time’ email from the BBC, who were not looking for a replacement anchor for Newsnight, or a new Director General.

They were looking for someone to be one of three people on-call with a key to open-up their local remote radio studio in the town where I live. How hard can that be?

Such a person would get a call a few hours in advance, whenever the programme producers needed to interview a long-distance guest on the news; greet the guest, provide hospitality and security, persuade them to switch off their phone, switch the microphone on, sit them in front of the mic, check they were hearing the right programme feed, make sure there was a line open to the control room 100 miles away, etc. (There was also a very occasional need to sit them instead in front of a TV camera, for which you needed to understand tricky terms like pan and tilt.) Full training was to be provided.

So, you had to live nearby, be available at odd times, be comfortable around not very technical broadcast equipment, have a hospitable manner even at six o’clock in the morning, be tactful and not let them smoke in the building – know when to call out the fire service – understand things about health and safety, maybe speak a bit of their strange language and be good in an emergency.

I sent them selected highlights from my CV.

Now semi-retired and looking for part-time work to keep me busy, but not too busy, I had spent nine years back-when, working in UK radio as an announcer, news writer, senior editor and producer – including nine months with a BBC local radio station on the breakfast shift, before I foolishly went off to a senior job in the commercial sector – often using self-operated technology.  I had interviewd politicians, authors, business leaders and showbiz personalities. I have a degree-level qualification in Film & TV, plus a few more years’ offline production experience, so I am, or used to be, thoroughly familiar with the milieu, as they say.  Apart from writing this and walking little Hunzi I have little else to occupy me for most of the year. And I live six minutes from the studio.

What then makes me possibly uniquely qualified among candidates to open a studio and greet guests, is that I have also spent seven years recently as a licensee, managing a £100-a-night guest house: booking, receiving and looking after guests, feeding and watering them, giving tours (it was an important historic house), hosting large wedding parties, business meetings and WI teas, maintaining a legal ‘duty of care’ obligation, writing management reports and being profit-responsible. And a while before, I’d owned my own small media business employing ten people (including women and even two French citizens) and was a member of the Institute of Directors, and the CBI, demonstrating massive levels of responsibility, inclusivity and acumen all -round.

All this was on my CV. Nowadays, I am semi-retired, but still fit and active. The questions I was asked at the interview, which seemed relaxed and informal, were all of the: ‘Can you think of any situations in which you have had to make decisions?’ variety, which are actually quite difficult to answer when you’ve done all the things I’ve done over 40 years. You’re tempted to answer, well, duh, what do you think? I’ve anchored election programmes… (Actually I started with, ‘well, I’ve been driving a car since I was 17…’)

‘Describe your attitude to diversity’ – so you’re going to confess to a prejudice against UKIP, black people generally and Muslims worst of all? I already have a part-time job at the University, where I work among people of all ages from all over the world. I’ve worked as the only man in all-women business environments. Of course I’m bloody diverse! But are they? I didn’t dare ask the question, how prejudiced were they going to be against the idea of an upper-middle-class, late-middle-aged, English-born, public-school educated, ex-BBC, able-bodied, heterosexual, white male agnostic holding a position of such power in the Welsh broadcast media? Surely, we are in the minority?

‘We are obviously looking for someone reliable. Can you give examples of how you might previously have demonstrated reliability?’ was the real doozer. Were these questions thought-up by a primary-school administrator? Sure, I had reliably delivered news bulletins on the hour for nine years! I’d managed a news operation with six journalists reporting to me, outputting 18 hours of news and current affairs shows a week! I’d been an exam invigilator for six years and never missed an exam. I’ve worked with a local drama group for the past five years and never missed a rehearsal. I last took a day off sick to undergo surgery in 2006…  I used to reliably forget to pick up my kids from the nursery after work…

As glib answer followed seemingly spurious question, I began to imagine I was missing the point somewhere. These people were professionals, in the business themselves. They knew I knew the job, it’s not rocket-science, they must have known the answers to all their scripted questions lay self-evidently in my CV and that the only point in asking them was to hear me answer them. Was I perhaps being a tad overconfident?

Then they sprang the trap.

I was led into the airless, windowless corner-cupboard that was the remote studio, and an A4-sized card of instructions was thrust into my hand. The test was to take the studio for a drive through a procedure I had not gone through for more than 30 years, in a strange environment. I had gotten less than halfway through reading how to set up the studio and which buttons I needed to press, and when to press them, before my interrogators came in and told me to start.

Everything went fine at first, despite the fact that the labelling on the buttons had worn off, forcing me to peer at them myopically, phoning Andrew in Master Control, getting the code to fire-up the line, until the stage where I had to dial-up the ISDN line itself, and one of the digits would not punch in.

Without having time to see properly how to clear the system, I tried three or four times, hoping not to show I was getting flustered. I could not see the LED display properly and had no idea why it would not connect. My brain was telling me, basically, that the system had been designed in the 1970s, which is typical of BBC Engineering policy where stuff trickles down to the regions; and could be a lot simplified with a little technology.

Why was a ‘9’ prefix necessary, for instance, when it could just be incorporated into the number? All the numbers had an obligatory ‘9’ prefix. Where else would you want to dial out to, other than a ‘9’? Why were there 25 different lines, when one would do, maybe with a couple spare? Why were we still even using ISDN when there was 100Mb fiber Broadband network available locally? Why hadn’t they shown me first, where the directory was, that you referred to when the engineer in the control room gave you the code to tell you which line to dial? Why did you need a code anyway? Why could the line not simply be activated from the control room at the other end, rather than from here?

‘Here’, said my interrogator, ‘let me have a go…’ It was basically game over, and I had lost. You try being 65, I thought, furiously, with the wrong reading glasses, and not see a better way of doing things while you’re fumbling with, basically, an antiquated system you’re going to be trained to use anyway. Had I been shown what to do even once, I would have known forever. I’m not stupid. But this was about your reaction to dealing with an emergency, and I’ve slowed down over the years, and I think too much.

Instead, hoping they’d understand sympathetically that people learn through their mistakes, I stupidly told them the story of how, many years ago, I’d once screwed-up a news opt-out doing just this exact same operation while working at the BBC in London….

So many stories. So many screw-ups.

So reliable.