The posh man in his tumbril, the poor man in his shed. Plus: The Art of the Steal. Dear Clive James.

“£25 thousand is not really all that much to spend on an attractive, habitable, craftsman-made garden feature: a faux- pastoral scriptorium for a literary troglodyte.”

“And now the news where you are….”

Hi.

This is where I am, right now.

It’s my little ‘garden room’, at the end of my not very long garden (you’re standing on the other end to look at it), where I work, rest and play, every day.

(As the fence is falling over you can’t really see, but the garden path continues on past the rotproof timber-clad structure to an area of wilderness, approximately two feet by six, at the back. Now read on…)

Annoying friends have borrowed the tiresome magazine lifestyle-column expression ‘man-cave’ to describe it; although a cave is possibly somewhat darker and gloomier than my well-lit 10′ x 12′ workspace and more inducive of brooding melancholy, even lengthy periods of hibernation. Only the self-indulgent electric guitar (mine’s a Gibson LP, yours is a Fender Strat) and the empty wine bottles might connect them.

Before condemning the perfectly satisfactory roof of the main house, thereby putting the kybosh on the sale (it was four and a half years ago. I’m still here; so’s the roof), the insensitive, semi-qualified building surveyor sent by a risk-averse Lloyds Bank on behalf of one prospective purchaser asked caustically, if I had perhaps constructed my second home myself, from a kit?

But no, moron. I had it purpose-designed and built by a faraway design-and-build company specializing in garden rooms ‘as seen on TV’. That’s why it’s so thermally efficient that if you shut the window you’ll be dead within the hour for lack of oxygen, because I couldn’t afford the extra £600 they wanted for air conditioning, and other expensive extras besides.

In fact the whole project, which I must stress was considerably hampered by the problem of obtaining access to the site either from the back – the garden is dropped by some eight feet from the road above – or below, you have to deliver through the house, with its ever-so tight turning off a narrow hallway – from a busy road where there is no stopping allowed on this side; and the additional constraint of working in a garden that’s only four feet wider than the building.

(Yes, I’m aware that the foregoing paragraph does not work syntactically. I’m trying to think of a way to fix it. Leave me alone.)

For that and reasons of opting for the best quality fixtures and fittings, the ‘high-performance’ self-cleaning double-glazing, the recessed downlighters, the tropical hardwood floor (if Ivanka Trump can specify extinction for the rainforest to adorn her dad’s palatial habitations in corrupt and rutted feudal demesnes around the world, so can I), the whole caboodle (not a kit) cost a shade under £16 thousand.

I went off on a jazz holiday and let them get on with it, else I should have become a nervy wreck.

But I’ve been making good use of it since. This is my 608th Post to the BogPo, and all Posted to you free of charge from my coffee-table in The Little House on the Prairie, as I’ve wittily named my shed. (The prairie, as you can just about see, being an area of grassland all of 10 feet by five.) It is my home-from-home, my sanctuary – my inspiration.

The reason I had it built in the first place is somewhat convoluted, but essentially my student son was living with me at the time and there was an overwhelming need to escape the sound of Rise Against! churning over the staccato death-rattle of computerised warfare. I had conceded that, since his bedroom was only eight feet by seven, plus a few inches, he should have the sitting-room (12’4″ x 12′) for use as his study area.

No sooner had the last workman departed, perhaps a little more satisfied with his handiwork than I’ve been, but never mind, Peter naturally moved out to live with his mates in a damp, mould-infested, £100 a week student hovel with stinking, stained carpets and broken furnishings, lacking any form of legal fire safety precautions, just across the road from a low tavern, taking with him his extensive collection of Rise Against! downloads, his post-ironic lava-lamp and his global gaming computer that he built himself from a kit.

Nevertheless, I have remained in the habit of saving electricity by not living in the house – other than to shit, cook and sleep, usually in that order. (There’s a handy drain for peeing in the garden.) I’m extremely attached to and perhaps even mentally imprisoned within my man-cave, my home office, my garden studio, my personal space, my eco-pod – whichever lifestyle magazine you choose to read will furnish you with an appropriate apophthegm.

What has not resulted from the commissioning of this practical and useful extra room, however, is a shitstorm of onlined criticism from the trolling community and Guardian columnistas whining enviously like so many bitches-in-the-manger at the non-public-spirited expense of it. While grimy little children yet queue at the workhouse soup-kitchen door, etc.

You know how it goes, the politics of envy.

A bunch of sheep

My old school chum, Dave Cameron, on the other hand has been widely ‘outed’ today for acquiring a genuine imitation Northumberland ‘shepherd’s hut’ – a sort of tumbril on iron wheels, for use as a writing hovel while he pens the memoir of his disastrous Prime Ministership that no-one is going to pay £25 to read in hardback; for which he has no doubt secured an advance equivalent to my entire lifetime’s earnings (envy not being the sole preserve of the illiterate).

The main complaint seems to be that he paid £25 thousand for it; not including the heritage Farrow-and-Ball makeover Mrs Cameron has given it. It seems a little harsh, even while one contemplates her disloyalty to George Osborne in her choice of decorative materials supplier. Twenty-five grand is hardly taking bread out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, you’d easily pay that nowadays for a Golf GTi or a wedding with kilts and a chocolate fountain.

The man was a low-range millionaire even before he became Prime Minister; he’s just come into another half a mill from his late dad; while Samantha is outrageously rich in her own right. They can easily afford it! Is that a reason why they should not have it? Only in nasty, envious, curtain-twitching little Britain would even well-paid journalists not only think, but actually dare to tell the former Prime Minister that just because he can afford a new garden shed, doesn’t mean he should be allowed to have one.

I feel that £25 thousand is not really all that much to spend on an attractive, habitable, British-craftsman-made garden feature: a faux-pastoral scriptorium for a literary troglodyte. From Sam’s point of view it gets her unemployed booby of a husband out of the house for a few hours each day; and it is the case that many famous writers have opted to escape from domesticity by the same means.

Roald Dahl, for example, wrote his lumpen prose for sick kids in a succession of garden sheds. Dylan Thomas had his boathouse at Laugharne, handy for the pub. I myself once visited Ayot St Lawrence in Buckinghamshire, home of George Bernard Shaw, with its modest, unpretentious structure in the garden. Shaw was a keen uptaker of new technology; so, while other writers have sought a solitude which the mobile phone now denies us, having perhaps the keenest sense of self-importance of all he had installed an enormous bakelite telephone in his shed; a detail that impresses me even 40 years later.

I imagine, too, that Leo Tolstoy probably kept an entirely separate country estate for the purpose of obtaining a little peace and quiet while penning the first few drafts of War and Peace. Is Suzanne Moore going to begrudge him that as well?

So, no. Unfair. On behalf of all solitary strivers in garden sheds great or small, dry-lined or planked, plain or fancy, with downlighters or guttering candles, I protest.

Mr Cameron is entitled to many things, eternal damnation for his optimistic miscalculations over the Brexit referendum certainly being the most pressing.

But a posh garden-shed is small reward for his years of service, however inept. It makes him almost one of us.

Leave the poor man alone!

 

The art of the steal

“The Tate (UK’s leading modern art gallery) has come under fire after it asked members of staff, many of whom are not paid the London living wage, to contribute towards a boat for the departing director, Nicholas Serota, just one week after their canteen discount was taken away.

“A notice which went up in the staff rooms of both Tate Modern and Tate Britain on Wednesday asked employees – including security, cleaners, and those (who) maintain the galleries and work in the cafe and gift shop – to ‘put money towards a sailing boat’ as a ‘surprise gift’ for Serota.” – Guardian Today, 28 April.

Whouawahwouaah… eerie flashback music….

We were all summoned up to the boardroom, where Mike, the MD, had prepared a long and lugubrious presentation, graphically showing us the bad news.

Yes, we had twice exceeded our collective annual sales target during the year. Indeed, we’d broken the target for the whole year during August, so the MD had DOUBLED it and we’d broken it again by December.

But sadly, all that extra effort had led to costly errors and money having to be passed back to the clients, all the extra activity we’d generated had doubled our cost of sales too, so we’d doubled our turnover at the expense of having made no profits at all.

Look, here’s a graph, and another one, and an even sadder one… see, how we’ve actually LOST money.

So the bad news was that staff wouldn’t be getting any annual bonus this year. But a bit of good news, we’d all be receiving a £10 shopping voucher with our company Christmas card.

Two weeks after Christmas I encountered a smiling Mike in the corridor. We hadn’t seen him around for a few days, so I asked him if he’d been anywhere nice?

‘Yes’, he said, ‘I was at the Boat Show’ – a major annual event for yachties held at the Earl’s Court exhibition centre in London.

‘Buy anything?’ I asked him, nonchalantly. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘I bought a new yacht for the business.’ (He kept a boat down at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, that he faked VAT invoices for chartering-out to non-existent clients and used to ship cash over to a bank in low-tax offshore haven, Jersey.)

‘How much did that cost?’ I pushed on, regardless. ‘A hundred and ten thousand’, he replied, smugly.

‘In that case’, I told him, ‘you can stuff your fucking job.’ And I quit then and there – although he was a malicious little bastard and forced me to work out my notice and have a crappy leaving party I would rather not have gone to. (I got my revenge when my dog had a burst of diarrhoeia in the back of my unasked-for, embarrassing little company car and I handed it back covered in shit.)

Mike was mortified. He literally could not understand why I was so angry: the company was his, any money we made was his, he was paying us so we belonged to him, to the company, he had total ownership of our lives, our time – generally about 14 hours a day otherwise you got a bad-breath ‘hairdryer’ lecture about showing disloyalty.

I once asked for a raise, he glared at me with his fishy, pale blue eyes magnified by pebble glasses, as if I had crawled out from under a rock and asked me pointedly, ‘Who would you like me to fire so you can have a raise?’

Now however he buckled. He knew I was the agency’s profit-centre, a high-output conceptual copywriter wearing also a business development hat, whom he had under-remunerated from the start and who could now make a substantial case for a big profit-share.

‘You can have a directorship!’ he blurted. Well, for a start the idea of being in business with this bullying little creep, who liked to invite selected execs up to his house to watch porno on his big satellite dish that could get Danish TV, and was pimping his wife and 13-year-old daughter, I actually found pretty nauseating. Worse was to come.

‘Director of what?’ I asked.

‘I’m thinking of setting up a new company’, he explained earnestly, still trying to con people to the end. He outlined a business plan, until I stopped him. ‘You mean, you want me to be a nominee director of a shell company you can sideline your profits into so you can make a tax loss on the main business?’

‘Something like that’, he replied sheepishly.

A fortnight later I was offered a job with another agency, and took one of the account managers with me. (Dear Reader, we were married a couple of years later.)

Tate union rep Tracy Edwards said:

“Our members are on zero-hours contracts, they are struggling to pay the bills each month, so to ask them to donate towards a boat – well, I can tell you the staff are not happy at all. It’s really rubbed people up the wrong way.

“Another worker confirmed that the staff’s 10% canteen discount had also been taken away last week.” (Ibid.)

Yep, I know exactly how that feels.

Fucking shits.

x

Dear Clive James

Writing in last weekend’s Saturday Guardian, the venerated Australian polymath, TV personality and compulsive poet complains ruefully of a fellow Aussie, apparently; a troll, who has messaged him complaining that he is still alive.

If you are unfamiliar with the backstory, James, who must I suppose be in his late seventies, has been ‘dying’ for several years now, after being diagnosed with leukemia. Not to be unkind, or to put too fine a point on it, he has made something of an industry out of this precarious state of being, hovering as it were halfway between this world and the next, as if on a long-haul flight from Sidney.

James has written muchly and richly on the topic of his impending departure, churning out whole books and collections of self-valedictory elegiacs and a weekly ‘not dead yet’ newspaper column delineating the experience of living with Death’s shadow forever hovering in the corner of one’s eye, and here he is, years later, still at it.

On the one hand, obviously, we must be profoundly grateful James has thus far been spared. His literary output continues to be mordant, insightful, vastly knowledgeable, wry and reflective, as ever. His precarious state of health offers us a new appreciation of life. He is, in short, a bit of a national treasure; although perhaps eclipsed a little by his fellow Antipodean valetudinarian, Barry Humphries. I am yet puzzled that neither of these exemplary colonials has been rewarded with a knighthood – or, in Humphries’ case, a Dodgy Damehood.

And no-one would seriously wish anyone dead, who was not either a Conservative politician or, on occasion, John Humphrys.

Yet we know what the Aussie troll means, sort of, don’t we?

Clive James continues to deprive us of the tantalising reward he has been holding out for so long, like a parent refusing to part with the children’s Christmas presents before Twelfth Night, the opportunity of actually grieving for him, of celebrating the life well-lived. He subsists on our delayed gratification; our anticipation of sadly enjoyable Radio Four obsequies, favourite moments off the telly, contributions from past celebrities we had forgotten existed, the republication of past essays.

There dwells in our nearby town a certain person who too has gone about for several years now in a state of darkest morbidity, informing one and all of her imminent demise. ‘How are you today?’ one would ask solicitously. ‘I think I’m dying’, she would reply, ‘I feel awful.’ ‘Have you seen your doctor?’ you would ask, hopelessly. ‘They can’t do anything. They say I’m probably just depressed.’ To which there is no answer.

Turning 60, seven years ago I determined to take up two activities whose gratifications I had deliberately delayed since childhood, being the sole offspring of theatrical parents: to act on the stage, and to sing solo, again on the stage, in the jazz idiom.

Anticipating redundancy from my job, an axe that fell two years later, I wasted literally thousands of pounds of my pension ‘pot’ on musical instruments; acquiring guitars, a piano I cannot play – later exchanged for a more practical electronic keyboard; amplifiers, microphones, wobbling piles of sheet music. I studied with what teachers I could find, spending more thousands on attending residential workshops here and in France, acquiring dozens upon dozens of CD recordings.

Thus I have made a number of increasingly encouraging appearances on stage. Having had the foresight to grow my own, strangely woolly white beard, contrasting oddly with my otherwise still dark-brown hair and moustache, I have been consistently cast above my age range in comic parts, generally old sailors or pirates, ensuring a steady stream of unpaid work twice a year. I am currently playing the old Jew in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, as sympathetically as possible I hope, being a non-Jew myself. (You can’t get the actors here.)

And in December I had my first and so far my only unpaid gig as a jazz singer, outside the supportive yet respectfully critical confines of professionally supervised workshops. It was not an unmitigated success, less from a performance point of view than because of the unexpected obstacle of having to compete with a woman selling ‘smoothies’ from a powered blender in the area next to us, in the awkward key of E; while the only member of the audience was a ten-year-old girl whose parents urgently dragged her away.

Halfway through the programme we had carefully rehearsed, my dying friend wandered in. ‘Oh hello’, she said. ‘Are you here?’ and, grabbing the microphone off the stand, announced that she proposed to sing ‘Autumn leaves’. It being, on reflection, quite an appropriate swansong; which she proceeded to warble while the pianist struggled to find her key and I prompted her with the actual lyrics. Happily, as one by one the leaves sadly fell, by the end she was still very much alive and wandered off again in a haze of antidepressants to continue her campaign of morbid disruption elsewhere.

I expect you have anticipated my feelings, then, on the subject of those who cling to this world like oversubstantial wraiths. While, as I said, one would not seriously wish anybody gone before their time, after all at 73 John Humphrys could simply hang up his soapbox and retire, the sound of their fingernails squeaking down the blackboard of life can sometimes be a little aggravating.

None of us can know the hour of our departure in advance, the random omnibus of Fate is even now charging towards us all from around the blind bend of Eternity, and so one cannot really blame those who succumb to an excess of premature morbidity in the exercise of their profession. It makes for a good story.

Journalists in particular have taken to biographising for our benefit, the remnants of their truncated lives lived under medical sentence; articles and broadcasts usually prefaced with misplaced regret that we do not ‘talk about death’ enough in our thoughtless pursuit of material happiness. A new Puritanism stalks the country.

And, oh my God, it’s a May Bank Holiday Saturday and once again the sports field half a mile away has come alive with the echoing, tinny cry of the tannoy, the splintered shards of unidentifiable muzak punctuated for the next 48 hours with unintelligible announcements, that shatters the relative peace of the valley and drills through the expensively double-glazed windows of my little garden studio.

There is no escaping the racket. Death’s silent dominion can seem too remote a consolation at such a time of year.

Spring. Who needs it.

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The Pumpkin – Issue 14. Trump Arrested: Development

Editor’s Note: Apology

Sorry, our headline today should have read ‘Trump: Arrested Development’. Our apologies to readers who may have been harmed by this inadvertent clickbait, a misplaced colon that could have happened to anyone.

Carry on.

E. von-und-zu B.

Fake noose!

“Cities unfortunately have a chequered history of harbouring violent political movements. You can be anonymous in a city, until you decide it’s time to sign your name in blood.”

Follow the money!

Hi, Americans.

I’m British and concerned about our media coverage of the Westminster ‘terrorist’, Masood, because  I don’t want you to imagine this was a typical  ‘jihadi’ of the kind you need to fear (why Americans are so pathetically fearful I don’t know, your chances of dying in an Islamist terror attack in any year are about 100 million to one. Your chances of being shot to death by another American or your infant kid are just 10 thousand to one.  That’s less, by the way. Ten thousand times less.)

You need instead to understand that there is a new current in our overpopulated, socially  unjust world. It’s not just ISIS, or whichever demons your government wants you to fear. There are other evil forces who want to pull down your democracy. Like hyenas, the billionaires have evolved special skills to scent weakness; there’s scant morality in their methods. And what they are doing through your ‘social’ media is licensing citizens to act unilaterally, to act out their violent thoughts, to undermine any sense of normality and to provoke overreaction. Islamic jihad is their smokescreen, providing as it does a constant supply of ‘useful idiots’, whose buttons of malcontent are so easy to press.

It was, really, a relatively minor incident. Not, I know, for the victims, their families and friends; the injured. It was far from a normal day in the city. But – four dead, plus the perpetrator. It could have been worse: it has been elsewhere. I don’t wish to sound callous or complacent, but with guns and explosives, or a bigger vehicle and more intent, it would have been a lot worse. But that’s the point: at a higher level of organisation the security services stand more chance of nipping an attack in the bud. I’m sorry, too, that another elderly American tourist was unlucky enough to be among the dead. But out of how many? Tens of thousands. It is so vanishingly  rare.

It was amplified by the setting – the Houses of Parliament and its busy concourse, the bridge  – the extraordinary scale of the police response – the killing of a policeman, which is, I have to assure you, also very rare in Britain (was he wearing a stab-vest? No-one asks. Is there something strange about the Bogler mind, that so often he asks the questions that don’t seem to engage the professionals?)  – the expectation that something would eventually occur (threat level: Severe) (this probably was not it, by the way. Worse is probably lurking out there somewhere) – the cynical anticipation of the British press, who have been just dying for a Paris-size attack to get their teeth into, to boost sales; or a reason to reignite their phoney Jingoism over ’foreigners’ and refugees, who we are being taught we must hate and fear.

But to reiterate, the last severe terrorist attack on London  – again by home-grown Muslims – was in 2005, when 56 people were killed as four suicide bombers – British-born – attacked the public  transport network. Twelve years ago. In the thirty years before that, you could have been blown to bits instead by the Provisional IRA. Funded by Irish-Americans and the Libyan leader, Col. Gadaffi, they set off dozens of bombs at random across the country for decades, regardless of who they killed.

The Provos came within an ace of blowing-up Mrs Thatcher in Brighton; they blew her friend up, the MP Airey Neave, who survived being a PoW in Colditz castle, outside the House of Commons in the carpark. They blew-up Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, PC, FRS – Prince Philip’s uncle, on a fishing trip. And then there were the Red Brigades, the Angry Brigade – Carlos the Jackal.

Muslims don’t even come close.

Cities unfortunately have a chequered history of harbouring violent political movements. You can be anonymous in a city, until you decide it’s time to sign your name in blood.

Cities, as Mayor Khan almost commented, are melting pots where this sort of thing happens from time to time. It’s unavoidable. The ‘Little Nazi’, Donald Trump Jr, in his puerile ignorance, has seized on this rational comment to prove that Khan, a Muslim, is most probably a terrorist sympathiser. Like his bizarre parent, an elected terrorist who has discovered a new weapon of terror: administrative chaos and confusion; belief in ‘alternative realities’ and a turgid stream of incontinent, rambling bullshit. Plus, a tiny finger on the nuclear button.

Are you more afraid of ISIS than of your own President? You shouldn’t be. If you still think he is Presidential, a safe pair of hands, just watch the press conference following his humiliation over the Americare fiasco, and tell me he knew what was in the hapless weasel, Paul Ryan’s hastily cobbled-together bill. He hadn’t even read it! Pressed on which parts he would improve, because he had just said there were parts he would improve, he was unable to recall a single thing he would improve, but there were things he would improve, and it would be a great bill, you’ll see (the effect of the bill was to deprive 24 million low-income Americans of health insurance, by the way – his idea of the ‘greatest health insurance ever’). He went on to blame the opposition party, the Democrats, bitterly for not voting for it, when in fact it was a rebellion in his own party, the Republicans, that brought the votes up short. What he imagines the role of an opposition party to be, God alone knows.

Is he a complete fool? Does he have dementia, or is this masterly misdirection?

Last Wednesday’s was not a severe attack, it was not an ‘attack on our democracy’, which frankly no longer exists, or our ‘way of life’, which has altered greatly since the Editor were a lad; it was a lone operator, a clearly disturbed man with a violent history armed with a car and a kitchen knife.

The claim by ISIS that he was a ‘soldier’ is pathetic, vainglorious nonsense – they are facing military defeat. ISIS has only a tiny minority following outside its conquered territories, that it is fast losing. The media and the administration will use the incident to smear the Muslim community (I’m not Muslim, by the way, I’m an elderly white atheist). But really it’s nothing to do with them.

Try to understand, this perpetrator was not an ‘immigrant’ or a refugee; like the Paris attackers, perhaps, French-born, petty criminals, but still in their twenties. Masood was a 52-year old, British-born product, as I understand, of a casual mixed-race relationship between an African man and a British woman, single-parented. His leafy middle-class neighbourhood, his sporty schooldays, old friends remembering a good guy they lost contact with – his birth name was Adrian Elms; his stepfather’s name Aoji. He was confusingly married to several women, perhaps not at the same time, with kids.

Masood seems to have become a drifter, rootless and increasingly despairing of his life. He sounds rather pathetic; trapped in his own insignificance.  He had a record of minor offences, assaults, mainly connected it seems with being racially abused – a stabbing that got him a two-year stretch.  He may have been radicalised and converted to Islam in prison, 12 years ago. That happens a lot in our prison system, which is increasingly dangerously run on the cheap by greedy and uncaring private US contractors.

In 2008 he is found working in Saudi Arabia as a TESOL English-teacher. Maybe that set him off; it nearly did me. (The teaching, I mean, not being in the home of well-funded global terrorism.) He had occasional jobs, but seems never to have settled for long back in the UK and we don’t know how he supported himself here. Police have been raiding addresses all over the country where he seems to have tried living for a time. He was briefly on the MI5 radar twelve years ago as peripheral to a jihadi group, as thousands of Muslims have been, but there was no evidence of activity to justify keeping him on watch. It’s fatuous to blame them. Was his constant criss-crossing of the country deliberate deception? Was he a Sleeper? We don’t know. Where did he get money from, to rent cars for weeks at a time, to stay in hotels and rent apartments? We don’t know. A man of mystery.

After spending a week agreeably in a hotel in the south-coast holiday resort of Brighton, home of arty ex-London bohos, a ‘gay capital’, hardly a place where a fanatical Muslim would choose to vacation, Masood launched his attack using a hire car, and then reverted to a kitchen knife before being shot, as he must have expected to be. The Paris attackers by contrast were armed with assault rifles and suicide vests, and killed 130 people. It’s quite hard to get hold of guns and explosives in Britain. We don’t allow them. Masood took four lives, including, tragically, that of one of our unarmed police who chats to tourists at one of the entrances to Parliament. A good man, by all accounts. More of our police are armed than you might think, Masood was taken down by a security detail of the Defence Secretary, who was nearby. It might have provided more evidence of intent if they had shot only to disable him, but it’s probably what he wanted.

And then the vastly well-paid, alt-right motormouths of patriotic moonshine, the publicity-sucking Farages and the Morgans, the rabid fuckbitch Hopkins, inevitably weigh in. It’s all the fault of Tony Blair; libtards; multiculturalism; prison-averse judges; flip-flop politicians; Remoaners; the Facebook generation; the soft-option; decent human beings who stupidly cling to a belief in civil society. Bring on more POWERS! Build more PRISONS! Bring back HANGING! Sell more PAPERS! Op-ed pus merchants,  who said nothing, felt nothing, were out to lunch when Remain campaigner, the MP and mother of two Jo Cox was hacked to death in the street and her white supremacist assassin gaoled forever. And then publicly attacked her husband, like the bestial dog-fucking cowards they are.

We like to pretend that ours is an open, democratic society, symbolised by the myths of our unarmed ‘Bobbies’, warm beer and red buses.  But the training, the assumption is always, ‘suicide  bomber’. Barbaric religion. Other. And everywhere you are, you’re being watched.

Something needs to change. But demonising a whole section of the population isn’t going to change it the right way.

Nor is ignoring what is happening elsewhere in the world. Without wishing to make false comparisons, or justify suicidal protests – and, by the way, Masood appears not to have made it clear what exactly he was prepared to die for, but it wasn’t religion – Muslims are dying in droves, and for what? Two hundred civilian dead in US bombing raids this week on supposed ISIS positions in Mosul might convince your incompetent, out-of-his-depth President that he’s a great military leader, but we’re not fooled. Thousands dead in Saudi war-crime attacks and kids starving in Yemen – no Comic Relief going there, I fear. Hundreds of brown-on-brown deaths in suicide bombings on harmless Islamic sects considered ‘haram’ by purists and paid agitators in Pakistan.

Instead of focussing your fear and loathing, your righteous anger on strangers, America, understand: this religious stuff is just distraction. Smoke and mirrors.

Follow the money, is my motto.

You’re being fucked.

 

And we’re being Foxed…

British TV viewers are being deprived by the curiously lacklustre performance of the BBC of so much exciting news about President Trump and his international business activities.

You may very well not know that his organisation is under investigation for sanctions-busting, in connection with a deal Trump did in New York in 2014 with an Azerbaijani billionaire to lend his name and tasteful design expertise to a project to convert an unfinished tower building into a ‘luxury’ hotel in an insalubrious neighbourhood of the capital, Baku. A project that netted him $4 million, but was hastily abandoned when Mr Trump arrived in the White House.

There seemed to be some discrepancy between what was paid for the project, which was overseen by Ivanka in fastidious detail right down to its endangered tree-wood panelling, and the original cost. A bewildering trail of contracts pointed to a connection between the Mammadovs and an Indian family connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – a ‘state-within-a-state’, financing Hezbollah and other Shi’a groups abroad, and listed in part as a ‘terrorist organization’.

Writing in the New Yorker earlier this month, journalist Adam Davidson exposes a web of connections and an unexplained failure by the Trump Organisation to carry out due diligence on the spectacularly wealthy Mammadovs, who were notoriously corrupt even by the standards of former Soviet republics, now largely family dictatorships.

Such a failure could expose Trump executives to lengthy prison sentences.

“The available evidence strongly suggests that Ziya Mammadov conspired with an agent of the Revolutionary Guard to make overpriced deals that would enrich them both while allowing them to flout prohibitions against money laundering and to circumvent sanctions against Iran.”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/13/donald-trumps-worst-deal

Davidson reports that the man who signed off the contract, Trump lawyer Jason Greenblatt, is now employed at the White House as the President’s special representative for international negotiations.

But let’s not hold our breath. According to a report in the Irish Times, following a story that Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev has also been massively enriching himself and his family:

“The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Aliyevs’ Azerbaijan, including millions for military and security training. Azerbaijan’s government is one of the largest buyers of influence in Washington DC and, together with its lobbyists, spent at least $4 million in 2014 alone burnishing the country’s image.”

irishtimes.com/business/panama-papers-how-family-that-runs-azerbaijan-built-an-empire-of-hidden-wealth-1.2597762

Nor is the USA the only country up to its withers in the well-oiled strategic arse of the Azeris. Mrs May’s pick for International Business Secretary, the man chosen to replace all the business we expect to lose in Europe, post-Brexit, is ‘Dr’ Liam Fox – frequently known as ‘the disgraced former Defence Secretary’, and the author of a little-known book, Rising Tides. (Cover price £20. 13 copies available, used, from Amazon at £0.1p)

From the Amazon blurb:

“The world has changed more and faster than any of us could have imagined. While that may be accepted in terms of global business and financial markets, and to some degree the worldwide web, people including their political leaders may have been slower at grasping what these new interconnections mean for the way we operate in this new era.”

‘Dr’ Fox indeed has not been slow to grasp the new ways of doing interconnected business in the new era. From The Guardian, August 2016:

“The register of MPs interests shows that the oil-rich dictatorship of Azerbaijan, via its London lobbyists, paid Dr Fox £5,700 for the right to translate Rising Tides into an Azerbaijani Turkish edition. The generosity of Azerbaijan’s rulers did not stop there. On 1 February 2015, the regime flew him and an aide to Istanbul to launch the book and put them up in a luxury hotel. The cost of the four-day trip was £3,579.94.

“It wasn’t his first overseas promotion. The Azerbaijani press reported that Dr Fox was in Baku in September 2014, where he was received by no less a magnifico than President Ilham Aliyev… The Panama Papers showed that the Aliyevs and their accomplices (the Mammadovs, in a joint conglomerate called ATA Holdings – Irish Times) controlled assets worth $490m via offshore accounts.

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

This was, of course, through the busy Panamanian law firm of Mossack-Fonseca.

Where too we find the name of Paul Manafort, Trump’s now oublietted campaign manager – who in 2016 was found to have set up a number of offshore companies to decontaminate the assets of his Ukrainian employer, the exiled dictator Viktor Yanukovitch, who seems possibly to have paid him £12.7 million for the work.

It is indeed a new world we live in. ‘Dr’ Fox needs to be careful however who he chooses as Britain’s new friends: US authorities may be watching carefully to see where the web of sanctions-busting connections goes next.

x

Duck, you’re not covered

Five weeks ago, there were protests coming close to rioting in seven French cities, every night for a week and sporadically thereafter, following reports that a young black man had been gang-raped round the back of a street protest in Paris, by police with batons.

These evenements were widely reported in online websites such as The Telegraph, The Express, The Mail, New York Times, Breitbart News etc. and on US TV. From The Telegraph, for instance:

“Police fired tear gas to disperse about 400 protesters, but smaller groups then went on a rampage in other parts of the capital, smashing windows and overturning dustbins in near Place de la République and in the Marais, another popular area for holidaymakers.

“Disturbances also erupted in the northern city of Rouen, where 21 people were arrested. Nearly 250 people have been arrested around France since unrest began in the Paris suburbs after police were accused of assaulting a black man on February 2.”

So, not an insignificant series of events. But despite keeping at least four ‘correspondents’ and editors on permanent station in Europe, including Katya Adler in Brussels and Lucy Williamson in Paris, it was only on the fourth or fifth night that the BBC bothered to mention it.

Again, two nights ago there was a shooting outside the train station in Lille, in which three people were injured, including a 14-year-old boy. Widely reported on US media, it turned out to be gang-related violence and not a terrorist attack. Even so, to begin with there was no way of knowing who might have been responsible, yet the BBC failed to report it at all.

They are still reporting in the news police operations, which have been wound down, to investigate any possible accomplices of Masood, the lone Westminster attacker, days after the last of the suspects has been released. The current affairs slots are still filled with increasingly boring speculative pieces about Masood, his history and motivation, about Britain’s security and our anti-radicalization programmes providing, as Simon Jenkins has sagely pointed out, endless publicity for the IS.

And indeed, the BBC is currently reporting another nightclub shooting, this time in faraway Cincinnatti,  in which one person is so far known to have died and others injured; although they report that it is not thought by local police, who say there’s always trouble at the venue, to be a terrorism-related incident. It’s another gun-crime related incident, of which there are thousands in the US every year.

The report appears second on the bulletin-board, beneath the main story about Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, calling for a ban on encryption of messaging apps, so the police have access to them. This follows a report that Masood sent a coded message shortly before his suicide bid.

Good luck with that.

I’m still trying to work out what strange biasses are operating in the BBC’s increasingly inaccurate and dysfunctional ‘cross-platform’ news operations; where the toll of dead and injured in the Westminster attack seemed to blow with the wind. Was it five dead, four, three? Twenty-nine injured, 40, or 50? All these figures were wildly thrown out, sometimes at intervals of only minutes, depending on who was doing the reporting; and still are being.

Get your stories straight!

Or tell the Tory MPs moaning about your post-referendum ‘negativity’ about their beloved Brexit to fuck off and mind their own sodding business. Until, that is, Theresa’s got the dirty business out of the way on Wednesday.

 

The son-in-law also rises

Now, see what I said about how the BBC covers Washington politics in the Trump era?

“Mr Kushner, 36, told the newspaper the “government should be run like a great American company”. He is a property investor and media executive who is married to Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka. He already advises the president on foreign relations, and is said to have been influential in helping President Trump choose staff for his campaign and in government.” (BBC report, 27 March: “Jared Kushner to be questioned over alleged Trump-Russia ties”.)

You fuckin’ shittin’ me? As Americans are wont to ask?

The sickening deference shown to ‘Mr Kushner’ – a little plastic rat under investigation in the Senate over relations with one of Putin’s banks – ignores what just happened last week. ‘Mr Kushner’, it seems, finally managed to offload No. 666 Fifth Avenue (yes, I know!), a piece of real estate that he lost a packet on when he acquired it in 2007 just before the banks hit the skids. Running a great American company can be hard on a fourteen-year-old, especially in the shadow of his bigly successful dad-in-law.

What was unusually odd about the deal was that half the dough didn’t appear to be tied to the property, but seemed to be more about a large ‘bung’ that neatly covered Kushner’s $400 million loss. CNBC quotes Bloomberg:

“A deal with Chinese company Anbang Insurance Group has brought in $400 million dollars for the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The $4 billion deal for a New York City office building located at 666 Fifth Ave. includes the large cash payout to the Kushner’s real estate company Kushner Companies.

“Some real estate experts consider the terms of the deal’s agreement unusually favorable for the Kushners.”

Given that it also paid off a large slice of his mortgage, you can say that again. It’s always useful being married to the favourite daughter of the President of the United States, especially when he says scary things about China.

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/13/chinese-firm-invests-400-million-in-building-owned-by-kushner-family.html

‘Mr Trump’ is himself also reported to owe rather a lot to the Chinese. The Mother Jones website has been keeping track. In addition to the £364 million he owes Deutsche Bank – a marker thought by some to have been picked up by the Russians – we find this:

“According to his own public disclosure, Trump, as of May, was on the hook for 16 loans worth at least $713 million. This list does not include an estimated $2 billion in debt amassed by real estate partnerships that include Trump. One of those loans is a $950 million deal that was cobbled together by Goldman Sachs and the state-owned Bank of China—an arrangement that ethics experts believe violates the Constitution’s emolument clause, which prohibits foreign governments from providing financial benefits to federal officials.”

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/12/guide-donald-trump-debt

And to reinforce ‘Mr Kushner’s’ authority in advance of the Senate hearing, ‘Mr Trump’ just promoted him – again. In addition to multiple portfolios including China and ‘Middle East peace’, the plastic rat – a  successful, Chinese-financed New York real estate mogul connected now to a sanctioned Russian bank, VEB, and its KGB-educated chairman, Sergei Gorkov – has been put in charge of a new office called the Office of American Innovation. With not one minute’s experience in government, he’s got a brief to ‘reform’ the United States government.

Interesting to see what emerges. Some Russian ideas, maybe.

Please, BBC, stop grovelling to these monsters. It’s beneath you.

 

 

Fuck the Daily Mail, O Lord, and other useful imprecations for Sunday worship.

The BogPo: An apology

Sorry we’re late, folks, I keep having to travel to London to sort out my mum’s flat and plough through a mountain of dispiriting paperwork showing how for years she was bullied and ripped-off by her landlords, banks, BT, greedy ‘dogs’n’donkeys’ charities and crooked mail-order companies, to see if there’s anything left.

I mean, £59 for a small pot of foundation makeup? And how did an investment fund of £120k turn in seven years into one worth £102?

Ah, sweet mystery of life, as they used to say.

I have to go again tomorrow, to hopefully meet at 7 am Monday with some council employees who we’re paying to take a few bulky items away. It’s an average six-hour drive, which at my age I’m finding incredibly wearing. A night in a sleeping-bag. And £30 to park… Hopefully this is the last, although it means saying goodbye forever to the urban village where I was born and raised – a village I now call without irony or malice, ‘Beirut on Thames’.

Anyway, here we go.

Fuck the Daily Mail, O lord – right up its shitty, mean-spirited, jingoistic fat arse.

The familiar refrain starts up in my liberal lefty snowflake breast as I read that ghastly, ambitious, greasy-ladder-climbing Priti Patel, Boris Johnson’s bus conductress and something-or-other for International Development (oxymoron in today’s insular climate) has summarily wielded the axe to a £5m programme to improve the lot of women in Ethiopia, on the grounds that the money ‘could be better spent elsewhere’.

On consultants, presumably. Or sending Boris to kiss Jared Kushner’s holy little gilded ring?

And as she says it has nothing to do with the long-running campaign of banner headlines in the Mail claiming Britain is funding nothing more worthwhile than an Ethiopian ‘girl band’, we must accept her explanation, must we not.

Or, as that great patriot and vigilant defender of Britain’s Just About Managing middle-class, Dacre of the Mail (salary: £1.5 million) has thundered, week after week, funding Ethiopia’s ‘Spice Girls’ to the tune of less than 0.05% of our international development budget (in turn, o.7% of our £1.4 trillion GNP) is a colossal abuse of UK taxpayers’ money.

Because the programme, known overall as Girl Effect, uses as its promotional flag-bearer a five-piece girl band called Yegna (the g is silent, as in gas-chamber).

BBC News describes the project in somewhat different terms to those now well understood by readers of the Mail:

The five-strong pop group was founded in 2013 and aims to tackle issues including domestic violence and forced marriage through its songs and online videos.

They perform a weekly drama and talk show on Ethiopian radio, as well as running a YouTube channel. They released their first song, Abet, meaning “We are here” in Ethiopia’s official language Amharic, four years ago.

It is part of the Girl Effect project, which was created by the UK’s Department for International Development and the Nike Foundation in 2011, which said Yegna aims to “change the culture of Ethiopia in a good way, to explain the problems in the society”.

God forbid we should use a penny of the massive wealth of this country to do things in a good way, after centuries of doing the opposite. Or that any aid should be imaginatively aimed at achieving cultural change through targeting young people in a language they understand, rather than simply dumping sacks of rice and tinned milk on a few starving babies; the stock image of  chronic ‘African dependency’ favoured by prim British Conservatives dispensing their cold crumbs of Victorian charity.

Perhaps Messrs Bono, Geldof, Posh Spice and other well-remunerated luminaries of the pop world, assuming they have not lately been carried off by the Grim Showbiz Reaper, might be persuaded to dip into their sherbet fountains accounts to at least soften the blow, as the women of Ethiopia return to the life of uneducated, clitoris-mutilated, black-eyed, underage, half-starved, rapine domestic servitude they knew before the British government cravenly bowed to the will of the people, as channeled by that bullying monster, Dacre.

Fuck the Daily Mail, probably Britain’s most disgusting cultural manifestation after Nigel Farage – who, I see, has been given his own nitely radio talk-show on LBC, to make up for losing his £85,000 a year salary from the European Parliament – you know, the unfair, undemocratic institution he has been dreaming for many years of bringing to ultimate destruction, claiming a healthy salary and indecent quantities of expenses from it while yet he may.

Something to keep the taxi drivers awake, I suppose.

Postscriptum

To declare an interest, I once got a royalty cheque from Ethiopia for £8 for an educational TV script I’d written years earlier for Thames TV. Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to cash it.

 

Crisis, what crisis? Oh, that crisis!

Readers of this, muh bogl, will know that my mum died just before Christmas. She’d been rushed to a city-centre hospital after collapsing at home with chest pains, that turned out to be not a heart attack but the discovery that she was drowning in fluid produced by a massive tumour on her lung – not the product of the 20-a-day habit she kept up until the last, but an unlucky secondary metastasised from a returning, previously non-aggressive breast cancer.

In fact, she had multiple conditions – she would have been 93 in December – and had had increasing difficulty in walking, to the point where she could no longer get to the front door, down the many stairs of her second-floor flat. She was effectively a prisoner, a vulnerable woman trapped in the otherwise empty building for nights on end, until a cleaner came on Fridays.

She’d been begging to be moved to sheltered accommodation after the building was acquired last year by a ‘rental management’ company. Until then she’d been fiercely independent. Her rent was artificially low, about one fifth of what the area might support nowadays, mostly paid for by the Pensions department and controlled by the local authority – whose social services and housing departments were powerless to offer her a safer alternative unless the new landlords decided to evict her.

Instead, the owners were waiting for her to die; and failed to comply in any way with their duty of care to a vulnerable tenant, carrying out no safety audit or premises inspection, as that had been done five years earlier when the local authority intervened to force her previous landlord to carry out repairs and improvements on a damp, mouldy and unheated flat they had not touched in over thirty years; failing to understand that their tenant of 51 years could not afford to move anywhere else.

How to make repairs to a duplex apartment near Harrod’s, so an old lady can be made more comfortable.
20161208_201428

#1: let’s put in central heating…

As she ‘blocked’ a bed in the hospital, which could do nothing for her other than provide palliative care in a general ward frantic with activity day and night, groaning, chalk-faced old ladies being wheeled in and out for X-rays at 2 am, we raced to come up with a solution.

There was no possibility I could provide nursing care in my tiny cottage, 250 miles away.

Between the NHS and her local authority, a solution was proposed that would have involved sending in teams of two carers every four hours to look after her at home; the only drawbacks being they couldn’t provide cover at night when she was most vulnerable, parking is impossible and the flat was in a horrific state as she had already started packing to move, imagining she would soon be rehoused – there’s a two-year waiting list for care home places – while a firm of property clearers and auctioneers had been through the place like magpies, scattering drawers and papers everywhere, leaving dusty holes where her furniture had been and a generous receipt for £500.

#2: safer wiring.

#2: and safer wiring.

She had sold her bed – it was an antique – or thought she was about to, and a new, put-you-up cot was still in its box in the hallway.

A put-you-up cot. For a 92-year-old woman with osteoporosis.

Dying was really her best medical option at that point.

This weekend, Red Cross CEO Mike Adamson (Red Cross volunteers are providing many ancillary services in our hospitals) has described the NHS as a humanitarian crisis:

“The emergency care system is on its knees, despite the huge efforts of staff who are struggling to cope with the intense demands being put upon them. This cannot be allowed to continue. The scale of the crisis affecting emergency care systems has reached new heights, as we predicted, mainly due to a lack of investment in both social and acute health care beds, as well as emergency department staffing.” (BBC News)

And the NHS director’s pantomime-horse reply?

‘Oh no it isn’t!’

Why not? Because ‘we’ve got a plan for the winter.’

Is Donald Trump running the NHS too? It’ll be so great, believe me.

‘Told you so’ corner

“It hinges perhaps on what the Leavers mean by ‘sovereignty’ – ours, or their own? They appear in fact to have no idea of how they propose to direct the UK economy going forward; what ‘trade deals’ may be done, that we do not benefit from already. They are like bungling art thieves who steal a priceless painting so hot that no-one in the collecting world will touch it. The British people have mistakenly voted for a principle, not a policy.” -The Boglington Post, 24 June 2016

“Contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities: increasing market access to other markets and consumer choice in our own, depends on the deals, multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral that we strike, and the terms that we agree. I shall advise my successor to continue to make these points.

“I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.” -Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s not-so Permanent Representative to the EU, in his resignation email to his staff, expressing his frustration that no-one in Government has a clue what to do about Brexit.

(He has today been supported by Canada’s EU ambassador, who agrees with his assessment that Brexit could take ten years to repair and be ‘catastrophic’ for the UK economy in the meantime.)

 

Pumpkin News

News that the Trumpkin has been at it again, petulant late-nite tweets spewing from his rhinestone-studded stateroom slagging Meryl Streep as a ‘greatly overrated’ actress.

Ms Streep, who has won probably more awards than the entire US Olympics team,  had delivered a speech at the Golden Globes that could have been interpreted as critical of Herr Strumpf’s notorious cripple-mocking appearance at a campaign rally last year. Although we have all seen it a dozen times on TV, and it made President Hollande of France throw-up, the Orange One furiously denies it ever happened (“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” – Mandy Rice-Davies, 1963)

  • Is an obviously intelligent, thoughtful, well-informed, mature woman who happens to work successfully as an actor entitled to criticise the poor behaviour and ugly demeanour of the inexperienced and incompetent President-elect?

I would say so, yes. We all are.

  • Should she be regarded as an absurd, self-important airhead who should know her place, because that is the perception some presidents-elect and others, non-actors – TV personalities –  may sometimes have of actors in general?

I’d say not, no. It’s a statistical fact that not all actors can be fuckwits; any more than all politicians and all businessmans. Some ‘reality TV’ show hosts seem pretty vacuous, though. I mean, Anti-intellectual and Dec?

  • Is the platform at the Golden Globe awards the right place to make political speeches to a roomful of absurd, self-important airheads, where they will easily be dismissed by politicians and businessmans as the usual tiresome drivel spouted by luvvies in moments of cocaine-fuelled euphoria?

Again, I should have thought probably not.

  • I should have thought Miss Streep’s better bet then would be to put her perfectly valid conspectus in writing, say 750 to 1,000 words, and mail it to the editor of The Guardian, the New York Times; Pumpkin News or the Huffington Post, or to appear in person on one of the many serious US cable TV shows offering pre-resistance to Trump’s horrific cabinet, a rogues’ gallery of billionaire carpetbaggers, sagging old drunks, congenital cretins and gung-ho military fantasists.

It might have some effect, although nothing much is working so far.

 

Everyone back where you came from

Well, there was I, thinking it’s Thursday and what am I going to Post about today, given my new sitting-room rug hasn’t arrived yet and li’l Hunzi has got his legs crossed waiting, and hurrah! Overnight, Akismet has put forward two new Comments for me to approve.

Both seem to be on the same theme, that of removing all the black people to somewhere unspecified.

 

Okay, so today Monica Wells and Kelly Matos have emailed me a second time, to tell me all black people are rapists.

What does that make you, silly little worthless baboon-women?

And why do these crude messages not count as Spam, Akismet? Any more and I will take down my site, Word-fucking-Press. I WILL NOT APPROVE RACIST SHIT ON THE BOGLINGTON PRESS.

THANK YOU.

 

I am reminded by one of the messages that the black people living next door are criminals. Actually, the black people living next door moved away last October and the black people living next door are now most definitely white, I’ve checked.

But judging by the aroma drifting from time to time over the garden fence they are definitely criminals. Smoking that stuff ain’t legal, I’m told. And the white couple on the other side are from Birmingham. ‘Nuff said.

The black people living next door might have been criminals for all I know, especially the daughters aged 8 and 9, and the overpolite teenage boy. The mum I’m not sure about either, I’ve seen her sneaking about the university campus with a rucksack filled with books she was probably stealing from the library to sell on the black market. They were suspiciously shy and neatly turned-out, hardly ever speaking in their black criminal argot other than to threaten me with a Good Morning, and the only sound you ever heard was the boy practising his scales on the saxophone; surely a crime against music. The kids snuck off to school every day, the girls’ black hair done up in illicit braids, the boy in a pair of shiny shoes he must have shoplifted during a riot; the whole gang fled to church every Sunday, a definitive sign of guilt-ridden consciences.

And then one dark night, or maybe it was day, they did a bunk. I’ve reported them to the authorities, of course.

Now, why Akismet, the WordPress spammeister who claims to have otherwise protected me from almost five thousand Spam messages over the past four years, should imagine I might be happy to read the kind of purulent racist bile that would kill a Komodo dragon, let alone Approve it for publication on this, muh sainted bogl, is one of life’s enduring mysteries. Indeed, it is a question I frequently pose, that is never answered.

No, the problem I wish to identify is that there seems to be no way of reporting to WordPress when some foul-smelling gas-bubble from the undredged, anoxic bottom of life’s slimy pond has burst over my life’s work.

I’m assuming WordPress don’t give a shit what anyone says, as long as they get the advertising revenue. They still won’t let us single-space, the criminals.

 

Pots, kettles

A destructive row has erupted within the Labour party over accusations that too many Labour supporters are ‘anti-Semitic’ and the party leadership is in meltdown not doing anything about it.

Anyone except the media would think there was an election coming up next week. On Holocaust Memorial Day, too.

The row has spilled over into a violent verbal assault by the combative self-publicising Labour MP John Mann in the foyer of Westminster Hall  on the outspoken former very leftwing head of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone. Mr Livingstone, who was trying to give a telephone interview to a radio station at the time, sought sanctuary in a disabled toilet, pursued by Mr Mann, with consequent weird radiophonic sound effects like two dinosaurs in rut.

Mr Livingstone has defended the position of Naz Shah, a Labour MP and until this week parliamentary private secretary to Labour’s shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. Ms Shah has now been suspended from the party over a stupid tweet two years ago, for which she has already fulsomely apologised. Mr Mann is accusing Mr Livingstone of being a ‘Nazi apologist’. Mr Livingstone has made some very curious remarks. But is the beasting of Ms Shah evidence in turn of anti-Islamism? And do we make the mistake of being too clearly defined by the past?

Ms Shah, who was not an MP at the time, retweeted a tweet she had received, a photo showing the State of Israel superimposed on a map of the USA over a cretinous suggestion that it could be relocated there. Ms Shah, a Muslim, humorously appended the words ‘problem solved!’  Now widely suspected of wanting to forcibly expatriate all Jews to America, she has been accused of the worst crime of all: being an ‘anti-Semite’. Her real crime was being naive. You can’t get away with using humour in politics these days. Words are meant to be twisted.

Who has inflated this non-story to discomfit Mr Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader? Why, none but our old friend, ‘Citizen Dave’ Cameron.

Mr Cameron has recently been embarrassed by accusations of living off, as it were, the amoral earnings of his stockbroker father, who ran his investment trust as if it were an offshore company to avoid paying tax in the UK.

What better, then, but to stir up hatred of the Labour party during Prime Minister’s Questions, by castigating Mr Corbyn for failing to expel this ‘disgusting’ tendency from his completely eclectic, secular party? Mr Corbyn didn’t help, when he paraphrased the apocryphal quote famously attributed to his predecessor, Jim Callaghan: ‘Crisis? What crisis?’. (Let’s be frank, Jeremy is a bit of a walking PR disaster.)

Mr Livingstone has apparently tied his own shoelaces together. The party was wrong to suspend his protege, Ms Shah, he argued. There was a big difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. (I’m not sure Ms Shah was expressing either point of view, I think she probably just thought there was some ironic humour in the idea of moving Israel, where a lot of American Jews are settlers involved in a disputatious land-grab in Palestinian East Jerusalem, to America, where the pro-Israeli lobby is all-powerful.) Hitler, he had explained without much forethought on a morning radio show, had even supported the Zionists before going mad and trying to exterminate the Jews instead. (He stands by this interpretation.)

That was when Mr Mann, who found the claim offensive and unbelievable, repeatedly shouted the words ‘Rewriting history! What about Mein Kampf?’ (which I doubt he has read) and accused Mr Livingstone of having Nazi sympathies; a totally inexplicable accusation as Mr Livingstone is known by all and sundry as a lifelong Socialist holding anti-racist principles to the point of tiresome obsession; the very reason he has been so supportive of the Palestinian cause, as he believes them to be victims of Israeli racism.

So who was right?

Some years ago I edited an anniversary collection of writings from History Today by fifty eminent historians, chosen by Professor Frank Furedi. Among them, Hugh Trevor-Roper (the ‘expert’ on prewar Germany, who was famously bamboozled by the fake ‘Hitler Diaries’) had contributed an essay I found compelling,  investigating a link between the early National Socialist party and German Zionists; both of whom found it in their interest to promote the emigration of German Jews to Palestine.

Persuaded at least of the possibility of this unlikely collaboration, to find out more I’ve just been online to the website of the authoritative-sounding Institute for Historical Revision, and a dissertation-length article by its editor, Mark Weber, complete with an imposing list of citations.

Mr Weber quotes numerous sources and makes a compelling case that German Zionists, in their zeal to create a Jewish homeland, collaborated extensively with the Nazis, who ploughed millions of dollars into a project between 1934 and 1938 to persuade as many Jews as possible to emigrate to Palestine – although they didn’t cling for long to the idea of a Jewish State they thought might become their enemy.

Most Jews, however, refused to go, believing themselves to be good Germans; a naive faith that sealed their death warrants.

Indeed, Weber argues that many Nazi functionaries actually admired the German Zionist Jews for their sturdy independence (unlike the rapacious bankers, or the riff-raff of the eastern stetls); encouraged settler training camps, and were willing to assist them with their campaign to create a separate state, to the extent of helping to build factories to create employment for Jewish settlers in Palestine.

He argues, perhaps a tad less convincingly, that anti-Jewish laws from 1935 onwards were designed not to oppress, but more to offer Jews essentially a two-state, apartheid solution within Germany while they were contemplating the prospect of mass migration to the Holy Land. Kristallnacht, which he skirts around, gives this view the lie. (Sounds more like bullshit, but that’s history. Ed.)

Weber fingers the former Israeli PM Yitzak Shamir as a member of the ultra-nationalist Stern Gang, an underground terror organisation that, he says, went so far as to propose a military alliance with Germany against the British, who were also opposed (but for other reasons) to a Jewish state in Palestine. There is written evidence, a letter signed by Stern himself, he claims. (There’s always a ‘letter’ somewhere.) The Germans didn’t respond.

Hitler, he suggests, was uncomfortable with the accommodation with Zionism, but went along with it, until becoming impatient with the slow progress of this voluntary ‘ethnic cleansing’ and on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the conquest of Russia, he ordered the ‘final solution’ in 1941; as one would.

Wow. This all seemed like dynamite until I read-up next on the Institute for Historical Revision.

It seems it’s been branded along with its maverick editor by dozens of respectable academics as being about the biggest bunch of lying, anti-Semitic, flakey racist historians northward of the Ku Klux Klan – in fact the IHR went out of business in 2002 citing lack of staff and funding. Weber himself attended the notoriously racist University of Illinois and is said to be a huge Holocaust-denier, something he denies. He only questions the claimed extent of the Holocaust, he says, the ‘six million’ – although he was forced to stump up a $50k reward after a survivor of Auschwitz proved conclusively there had indeed been gas chambers there, which (along with his friend, David Irving) he doubted.

So, has ‘Red Ken’ been led up the garden path by anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi revisionist historians? Or are the ferocious attacks on Mr Weber and his institute – hence, on Mr Livingstone – further evidence of the worldwide Zionist PR machine, that seeks to close down all and any debate about the increasingly repressive tactics of the Israeli government by promoting the worst possible account of the Jewish experience in wartime Germany, bitterly attacking as racist anyone who does not go along with their narrative? Making it virtually impossible for politicians and academics to enjoy the freedom even to discuss the historic circumstances of the Holocaust and the subsequent foundation and strategic development of Israel, without accusations of anti-Jewish, racial and religious bias.

Is historical revisionism actually anti-Semitism? And is anti-Zionism (a political movement) evidence of racism? After all, they are just words; loose definitions of one form of Jew-hating or another. Israel was supposedly founded as a secular, not an exclusively Jewish state. Is the Israeli government actually Zionist? Or has it been hijacked by religious fanatics on the right? Is there a difference? Should we allow the Left to promote a view that is by no means confined to non-Jews, that Israeli suppression of the aboriginal Palestinian population has gone too far? Or the opposite, that to accuse Tel Aviv of crimes against humanity is in fact veiled anti-Semitism, fear and loathing of the Jew that aligns its critics with Hitler, as Lord Levy, a former Labour party treasurer, has today alleged?

And what of the white American settlers’ treatment of their aboriginal minority, the British treatment of its vassal subjects in the Empire? How clean are our hands of accusations of genocide? How comfortable does that make us feel about criticising (more often not) Israeli domestic policy? How far should we go back in time to demand apologies and reparations for historic wrongs – to the Roman empire, maybe, Julius Caesar’s ruthless ethnic cleansing of Gaul? Are such ‘rearrangements’ of ethnic populations not the done-and-dusted accompaniment to centuries of intolerance and greed for land and resources, that have left us geopolitically where we are today? Is it not unhelpful for special-interest groups to consider themselves to be nothing but victims of history; a belief that traps them forever in the past?

In my view, the whole furore is utterly childish. If it was wrong of Germany to wall Jews up in European cities and use overwhelming punitive force against them when their young men revolted, then without rewriting history, how can it not be equally wrong to wall Palestinians up in parts of Israel and rain down sophisticated weaponry on their women and children when their young men rebel against the ongoing seizure of their homes and farms by settlers in defiance of UN resolutions? It is not good enough to present Palestinian resistance and the rise of Hamas as inexplicable acts of terrorism and anti-Semitism, unconnected to the historic occupation. Is that an anti-Semitic thing to write?

Many Israelis and diaspora Jews feel deep discomfort about it too, but their voices are not listened to in the Knesset. And many of them feel that non-Jews should keep out of it, as they too are being branded as ‘anti-Semitic’ by Jews to the right of them. To me, the moral position is clear: if Palestinian terrorism is wrong, then so too must have been the Zionist terrorism and political assassinations in the 1940s, that eventually pushed the war-weary British mandate into shamefaced accession to their demands, armed as they were with an unanswerable moral case that, post-Gaza, is now looking increasingly tarnished. But if Palestinian intransigence, the tropes of Hamas’ propaganda, is racism, what is Israeli intransigence, imposing their State by force, to be called?

It’s a convoluted moral argument. In reality it has nothing to do with race. Anti-Jewish feeling is more often rooted in economics than in religion. Calling people names is not helping to heal this seemingly incurable wound.

Closing down discussion is evidentially increasing anti-Semitic feeling across Europe, exacerbated by the usual popular response to the current climate of economic adversity to blame ‘alien’ minorities. Those who perceive anti-Semitism as being on the rise should perhaps look at the wider perspective: anti-Everything is on the rise. But to seize party political advantage from one silly young woman’s momentary lapse of taste by making her out to be some kind of Untouchable whose vile racist views have infected the entire Labour movement is pretty low politics.

Then, I detest Conservatives, as you know. Especially Labour ones.

 

Burnt umbrage

Fuckety-fucksticks.

For the third time this week, while engrossed in the polemical literary endeavour above, I have burned my lovely dinner: a steak-and-kiddly pud.

I am totally incapable of holding two objectives in my head simultaneously*. I need a partner, or at least an attractive kitchen timer, to prompt me with news of the passage of time. I certainly have no idea how to set the programme on my elderly cooker, without light and strong glasses I can’t read the legends beneath the little buttons. It’s why I thought a new one might help.

To bogl, then, or to cook?

As I write, I am crunching my way disconsolately through a hardened silo of suetcrust pastry, in the mix of which I have forgotten to put salt, my one remaining molar splintering on little hard knobbly chunks of meat, blackened carrot and dehydrated mushrooms, knowing that before retiring for the night I shall have to forestall my incipient heartburn with copious draughts of Gaviscon.

Hunzi, who has gone on a diet, eyes my plate wolfishly.

Little does he know.

*I’m seriously worried. A new report linking increased depression in the over-50s with early onset Alzheimer’s fails to take note of something I did this morning. Next to my bed is a table with, on it, a lamp and a radio. Both were switched on when I got up. Getting dressed, I went back around the bed and switched off the radio, before going back to put on my socks. A few moments later, realising I had left the lamp on, I went to switch that off and instead, switched the radio back on.

What am I like, eh?

What?

 

Who the hell are you?

As if the furore over anti-Semitism in the supposedly secular Labour party, and is it the same as anti-Zionism or merely a vague irritation with pushy people, isn’t enough to be going on with, the politics of ‘identity’ is fast becoming another tangled web with which to ensnare us all in what we thought was our own language.

(Forty years ago you were allowed to point out without being accused of being a Nazi, or merely a facetious imbecile, that the Palestinian Arabs are also a Semitic people with a two-and-a-half thousand-year history of occupation of Galilee/Judaea. They predate Islam by a thousand years.  Come on Ziobots, have a go at me for that, why not?)

Having been treated to video coverage of the attractively transgendered Caitlin Jenner, the burly Olympian formerly known as Bruce, ceremonially visiting the Ladies’ powder room in New York’s Trump Tower to test The Donald’s assertion that he supports voluntary self-identification and mixed ablutions, we learn today that April was BBC Identity Month.

Sorry I missed it.

Once upon a time, I seem to remember, it was all so simple: men were men, and women weren’t. You stood up to pee, or you sat down. (I have to try both, these days.)

No longer. It appears we are free to select which degree of bifurcated humanity we represent, and to demand that we be treated accordingly with unique respect. Not content with Trump toiletry, some transgendered people are even demanding their own segregated facilities. One envisages an endless line of toilets stretching down every corridor, each designated with a different little stick figure indicating which self-defining group may enter therein without causing social offence, moral outrage and general consternation.

Apart from the ‘straight/gay’ divide, now so old-hat, a bizarre article on the BBC website today ‘identifies’ at least fifty shades of grey between hormone-fuelled, red-blooded heterosexuals and pathetic old, post-sexual jazz lovers like me. Some categories merely refer to how you go about managing relationships:

  • Sexual
  • Asexual (‘aces’)
  • Grey asexual, or ‘grey-ace’
  • Demisexual (doesn’t mean you only fancy Ms Moore…)
  • Bisexual
  • Polyamorous (polys)

And so on. (Autosexual doesn’t get a look in, sadly. Wankers demand recognition!)

Other finely nuanced ‘identities’ are more to do with where you feel you’d like other people to agree you fit on the gender spectrum; how comfortable you are in your male or female skin, in your mom’s high heels.

Yet more are concerned with race and religion (one story concerns the persecution of a gay ultra-Orthodox Jew… take your pick) and the divisive perceptions those create. As with race and skin colour, disability, too, has grown its own vocabulary and social hierarchy, bidding for recognition as a separate spectrum of ‘identities’.

That’s if there is anyone left standing outside any of these self-declared republics to confer the respect and/or recognition they demand. (See, the use of the word ‘they’ labels me as a colonialist, or worse….) What did John Donne write about it, that ‘No man is an island’? Well, some of us are incontinent, ha- ha, frowny face.

Then, of course, there are the manifold ‘identities’ conferred on hapless humans by class and birthplace.

Apparently more of us are feeling more international than ever, ‘global citizens’ or, at least, African, American or European or, an increasingly confident group, Asian. If we have become more middle-class, more of us are feeling ‘squeezed’. And the religious minorities – ‘Pastafarians’ celebrated their first legally sanctioned wedding just recently, with spaghetti cake, having been officially recognised somewhere.

Finally, there are the various classes of victimhood, endlessly setting up dedicated charities – silos for people ‘like themselves’ – demanding more costly public inquiries and being trotted out on chat shows, prisoners – many of them – of their past. We are rapidly acquiring too, a new set of persons known as the ‘victims of victimhood’; former public servants and others forced to fall on their swords because of their too-human failings in office.*

That’s an awful lot of toilets we’re going to need.

My thought is that we shall eventually arrive at a point where there are so many minutely categorised ‘micro-identities’ out there, we’ll suddenly realise we’re indistinguishably all the same – which is where we started out, a big messy jumble of crapulous baboons who’ve been at the fermented fruit again.

Let’s keep calm and remember, people – discrimination is the highest form of recognition.

 

*I have learned today that ‘victimology’ is now a formally recognised branch of the social sciences, and a module in the Law degree. I am beginning to feel like a persecuted minority of one, myself.

 

Pointing the finger

The big story this Bank Holiday weekend, however, is ‘Fingergate’.

You might not be a fan of the game of snooker, in which case you’ll need to be told that this has been World Championship fortnight at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield.

So, last night it’s the semi-final, the last of four sessions over two days in a tense best-of-33-frames match between current world no. 1, Mark Selby from Leicester, and the unfancied Marco Fu from Hong Kong. It’s finely balanced:  12 frames apiece. In the 25th frame, Fu is trailing slightly by 12 points to 7, 128 points on the table still to play for, and Selby has hit a ‘safety’ shot that has left the white cue ball touching one of a tightly-packed cluster of reds. (Potting one red at a time, scoring 1 point, enables you to play for a higher-value ‘colour’ ball. Now read on…)

If the cue ball is touching another ball, the rule is you cannot attempt to score from it: he has to hit the cue ball away from the red without moving it. Fu has difficulty bridging his cue (that’s the pointy stick, that you poke the ball with)  over the reds, to get the angle he needs on the white. His hand is at its maximum extension, resting on spread fingers. He strikes the cue ball cleanly away, but as he does so, in pulling back he accidentally touches one of the reds with his index finger.

Now, strictly speaking, it’s a foul stroke. You’re not allowed to touch any of the balls with your finger, just like at school, thereby possibly improving the lie of the table. Although it remains exactly where it was, the red ball has rocked slightly, a trembling movement visible to the TV camera, which is tight-in close,  but not to the referee, who does not call the foul.

Snooker being a game invented after dinner between English gentlemen in large country houses (you may have noticed the referee, with his black-tie,  white gloves and deferential attitude, forever polishing the cue ball, is really the butler), an honest player would have put his hand up and nobly confessed that he has just committed a faux-pas.

Fu doesn’t.

Controversy soon rages in the commentary position, and between the studio experts: two players with, between them, thirteen world championship titles. Could Marco possibly in a hundred years, a professional player, not have realised what he had done? Maybe in the heat of battle… but… shaking of heads… it was all most irregular. The words foreigner, Chinese, what can you expect? were left hanging in the air, unsaid.

Now, I have part-time work twice a year, for a total of five weeks. It pays for my jazz hobby. I work as an invigilator in the exam rooms of my local university. Part of my job is to discourage – and, in the last resort, to catch – cheats. I feel a bit of a hypocrite, because in my time I might have done a bit of ducking and diving myself, principally to keep our children alive. So I have an ambivalent attitude towards cheating. I only report the most blatant or incompetent of cheats, for their own good. Nothing will happen to them anyway, the university needs the fees.

Sometimes I think, so what? It’s their life. If they can’t pass an exam without cheating, what sort of success are they going to have under professional scrutiny in their chosen career? (Most businesses need people who know how to cheat creatively.) How much information do you need to smuggle into the exam room, to make any sort of difference to your results? Writing the odd formula or a name up your arm isn’t really going to help: if you knew enough to write it down, you know it already! Like a Chinese student I once caught, you need to bring the whole essay in with you (unfortunately, in his case the essay wasn’t the answer to the question.)

Then, the examination system itself is a kind of cheating. It loads the dice against candidates who might be brilliant, but who are forgetful or just not good at exams. It relieves academics of the responsibility to ensure that all their students are elevated to the same level of knowledge. And it’s a totally artificial situation you will never encounter again in your life: we have these things called personal computers nowadays.

So when you leave university, life becomes morally less certain. I once had to take a local knowledge test as part of an application to work for BBC News. I was alone in the room, sitting at a computer on which I was answering questions to the best of my knowledge. Having only recently moved to the area, I didn’t know the answers to some of the questions. Afterwards, checking my score, the news editor asked me incredulously, why hadn’t I just Googled the answers? For being honest, I didn’t get the job. And I had once been a news editor myself.

Back at the Crucible, we had a situation where a player has accidentally touched a ball with a wayward finger, and technically it’s a foul. You’re supposed to keep your fingers under control. But because the rules don’t allow him to score directly from the shot, and there were no other reds he could hit, he could have gained no possible advantage from  merely touching the ball. Touching it has not enabled Marco to play a better shot, as he touched it only after he played the shot. The red ball has trembled, but not moved. It’s still in exactly the same position it was before he touched it. Touching the red ball has not altered the chances of his opponent either: it’s the new position of the white cue ball that matters. If anything, moving the red ball would have benefited Selby, giving him an easier shot. Besides, it was an accident.

Should Fu have done the decent thing? Serving what purpose, other than to chalk-up a small gesture of chivalry in an otherwise ruthless fight to the death?

Ironically, by admitting to the foul Fu would have changed the run of play, which might then have turned to his advantage. He would have been docked four points, but at that early stage of the frame it mattered less. Selby would have had to replace the white ball on the baulk line instead of being able to play his shot from where it lay. (alternatively, he could have asked Fu to replay the shot.) Fu might have obtained some psychological advantage from the warm audience applause and approving commentary that would have greeted his honourable admission. By keeping quiet, to what extent do we think that his mildly dishonourable decision to fib, taken in the heat of the moment, might have preyed on the challenger’s mind for the rest of the frame?

But he kept quiet.

Inscrutably.

Selby goes on to win the frame anyway – and, eventually, the nailbiting semi – and at last, the championship. One up for the decent folks, you might say.

Until you look at the world beyond that unforgiving exam room, that microcosmos that is the Crucible theatre, Sheffield, in World Snooker Championship fortnight.

Take the distasteful actions of ‘billionaire retailer’, Sir Philip and Lady Green, for example; the former owners of the ageing, once-loved British Home Stores retail chain, that has collapsed with the expected loss of up to eleven thousand jobs and a £500 million hole in the pension fund. The deficit, equivalent to several schools and hospitals, will have to be made up by the Government’s pensions emergency fund; while (£580 million richer) the Greeds, as they are now known, having sold the chain for £1 to some random bloke who turns out to have been been bankrupted three times, but who is nevertheless reported to have taken out a £1.5 million loan* shortly before the business went into administration, bask on their $100 million superyacht in Monte Carlo, sticking two fingers up at the world.

Ransacking a business you own,  letting a bunch of idiots drive it into the ground and expecting the taxpayer to pick up the pieces while you party with supermodels in your sunlit tax haven is not, as I understand it, against the rules of the game; in fact it’s pretty well compulsory in business. It’s not as if they touched the ball, or anything.

Now that’s what I’d call ‘Fingergate’.

 

*All figures from memory. See, I’m cynically cheating too.

 

Trump, Trump, Trump, the boys are marching…

Okay, oops, sorry, he’s won. I take it all back, whatever I said.

Let me just say now, for the record, that no finer man e’er existed; no sounder mind, no nobler spirit, no truer friend, no more handsome visage, no loftier ambition or greater soul, no more apposite candidate for Leader of the Free World,  no tinier hands, no finer-spun angel hair.

Come, build us your towers, your rolling fairways. Come, cut us your famous deals. Put up your walls, your trade barriers, your punishment blocks for women, your transgender toilets and transit camps for evil Muslims. Come, laugh in the faces of  disability and womanhood, Great Manager of Huge Enterprises. Introduce us to your connections.

Make America grate again.

Of thee I sing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memo to self: give up

“A squirrel is just a tennis ball that can climb trees.”

  • Hunzi Bogler, 5 3/4

 

We’re constantly being told by Conservatives that everyone must work for the good of the country (‘Arbeit macht frei’, as Ian Duncan-Smith might have put it), except obviously for those wealthy enough to support their families by offshoring their business interests, and to Hell with the country; as David Cameron’s late dad, Ian, certainly did.

(Do I recall Ed Miliband’s father being branded a traitor by the Daily Mail? Maybe not.)

Mr Cameron has this evening fessed up that in 2010, when elected to become PM, he made £30k perfectly legally selling his holdings in daddy’s company, Blairmore Holdings Inc., and paid ‘the relevant tax’ on it. Yes, that’s fine, but the taxable earnings consisted of income and dividends earned, presumably, from his father’s non-UK taxed investments. It didn’t come from flipping burgers in McDonalds. And it was never declared in the MPs register of interests.

Avoiding the obvious joke that you’d imagine a Tory leader would have changed the name to Blair-less, and disregarding the amount involved, which is more than I have earned in a year for most of my life but neverless small beer nowadays, Mr Cameron’s admission is evidence that he participated in a family enterprise that the Panama Papers tell us chose to sequester its profits aggressively from the UK Treasury through a deception that the business was not principally conducted in the UK. He can hardly therefore demand, as he so frequently does, that others pay their full share in the national interest.

Furthermore, there is a hint of surprise in the media that his £300,000 inheritance from his late father fell just short of the level at which death duty becomes payable. There can, I feel sure, be no hint of legal avoidance in the news that shortly afterwards, he received transfers of money totalling £200,000 as ‘gifts’ from his mother – sums which would, had they emanated directly from Mr Ian Cameron’s estate, have taken the PM’s inheritance over the duty threshold.

I have previously alluded to his disastrous lack of judgement. To haver and dissemble for five days before coming out with a more definitive statement of his affairs was a pretty bad call, as he has admitted. There may have been sentimental reasons: no-one likes the thought that their parents may have done questionable things. But it smelled of a cover-up. The fact that he paid £76,000 tax over the period is evidence of honesty, we all knew he was rich and no-one is accusing him of dishonesty, but it is not really the point. The question is on what, and how – and in what spirit – did the principal arise?

Now back to work…

I am perfectly capable of working.  Large, strong, healthy, intelligent, fiercely independent, with a plethora of unexpected skills and experience, I should still be working but for one thing: my birth certificate, which says I was born in 1949: the year Edwin Land sold his first Polaroid camera. I’m the same age as NATO… the same age as the People’s Republic of  China, federal Germany, Indonesia – Jeremy Corbyn.

Oh, and another thing – I keep being made redundant.

It probably explains why I’ve been actively looking for a fulltime job for the past eight years; during which time, despite being registered with a large number of specialised recruitment agencies, answering maybe a hundred want-ads a year (I’m quite picky about who I work for, plus they would have to love my dog), I’ve been granted  only four interviews; three of them obtained by my own efforts.

I do have part-time work, that occupies me five weeks of the year on an hourly rate. I do it reliably and well. I pay tax on the very small earnings. Otherwise, I have the State pension and other little bits of income amounting to about £200 a month. I’m taxed on that too. I can afford to live on it, provided I choose not to travel, play golf or acquire a yacht. But I would rather be earning than sitting at home, drinking cheap supermarket wine, writing this stuff.

To qualify for State pension, men born after 1950 now have to go on working until 66, and then in future years on into their 70s. How are they going to do that, if no-one will hire them?  There is a limit to the number of minimum-wage shelf-stackers and broom-pushers the groceries sector can usefully employ; while many of us ‘Oldies’ are, in fact, rather better than that.

I have tried to remake myself as a musician; a singer. But I seem to be losing heart: success requires opportunity, as well as talent; luck as well as ambition; and I lack the relentless drive, the boundless self-regard and the organisational skills necessary to build a career in showbusiness. Besides, I have not practised for several months.

In January 2012, age 61, I was declared redundant from my fulltime job as general manager of a dilapidated country house, that I had been made to run singlehandedly as a terrible B&B (I was originally hired – and paid – to be the gardener!), on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week (junior doctors please note). Learning long in advance that the axe would inevitably fall on me after the house became a full-blown hotel, in April 2008 I started looking for another, similar kind of job – and I’m still looking.

My CV does attract a few positive responses, but then something happens. Interviews are cancelled at the last minute, job descriptions changed, agencies suddenly clam-up. It can’t be because they have discovered I have a criminal record – I don’t, not even points on my driving licence. My credit score isn’t great, nor is it entirely damning. I don’t have a Facebook account spattered with embarrassing personal photos. Nor – despite years of experience – am I demanding a fat salary. Surely it can’t be because I went to public school? Or that, in the late 70s, I was followed around for a while by Special Branch as a result of something my wife was involved with, as a journalist.

What then seems to be the problem?

Since October 2010, under broader EU equality legislation, the Age Discrimination Act has made it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of age. We are no longer obliged to disclose our age to a prospective employer or recruitment agent, it is improper even to ask.

However, you only have to glance at someone’s CV to see that they’ve done the rounds. It’s not illegal to demand dates for past employments; these would show that you have achieved some seniority, which you could only have done over a sufficient period to indicate your true age. Explanations that you were a boy genius don’t wash; although, naturally, I was.

And in a competitive jobs environment it is incredibly difficult to prove discrimination as the reason for not getting an interview. There is some kind of moral consolation, too, in knowing you’re not going to be a bed-blocker, stopping some younger, more deserving person from getting the job.

I try to get round it by going back 20 years and then becoming vague about what I was doing before, but you have to say something to avoid difficult questions or to indicate enough relevant experience. If, for example, you confess that at one time you were the director or senior manager of a company, it’s natural for a prospective employer to wonder how long it took you to achieve that exalted position; and possibly even to feel threatened by it, or to ask what terrible event happened to suddenly change your career path, what personal failing has led you to sink so far as to apply for a menial domestic role?

It seems unreasonable to assume that, just because someone is 66, they must be broken-down, decrepit and senile; that they might fall asleep or fart embarrassingly in client meetings, take weeks off work for cancer therapy, smell faintly of old pee, discuss the latest models of caravans at the water-cooler, and sport a tweed jacket with leather patches over a Fairisle tank-top, before  haemorrhaging messily in the executive washroom. If that were the case, I should probably feel – even without the benefit of polite rejection emails (or more often being ignored altogether) – that the time had perhaps come to settle into one’s armchair and quietly expire, to be discovered years later by social workers, partly gnawed by cats.

Those symptoms of ageing are more probably the result of finding yourself permanently on the scrapheap than of having spent too many years pointing optimistically at a flipchart. Despite remembering how ancient your grandparents seemed when you were a child, sixty-six is no great age these days. It seems equally natural to expect that, over time, a person will have had their failures as well as their successes, and we shouldn’t hold the odd genocide or fraud against them. It’s all good learning-curve. But I do agree, my electronic communication and social networking skills are falling further behind as I type.

So if you can’t employ us, just have us put down.

For the good of the nation, no less.

 

Plus ça change, moins c’est cher

I’ve just signed another damnable petition from Change dot org.

Yes, I felt sorry for the cleaners at Top Shop stores. Their union reps have just been fired by the Britannia staffing agency, Top Shop’s private contractor, for merely asking on their account that they should be paid the London Minimum Living Wage of £9-something an hour, so as not have to raise hundreds of wide-eyed hungry children on Mr Osborne’s newly introduced Living Wage of £7.20, which is only the old Minimum Wage plus 50p and with a Tory twist, and which goes nowhere in the capital, where average monthly rents are approaching the price I paid to buy my first house.

Only, I get £9.67 an hour for invigilating undergraduate exams twice a year, and I’ve got a degree and my own ballpoint pen. And I’ve been sent want-ads for complicated editorial jobs requiring deep knowledge of languages and technical editing qualifications and several years’ experience, on short-term contract at only £9 an hour. In the last couple of years I’ve turned down an opportunity to work as a freelance photographer (using my own professional equipment) for £8 an hour. I’ve seen ads for KFC workers at £4 an hour, even been passed over for a job as a morning store cleaner myself, on £6.70!

And, while I used to get paid £200 a day as a freelance copywriter in the early 1990s, when last I tried to wrest some business from a prospective client, asking only £12 an hour, he snorted derisively and told me he could get the job done in India for three dollars.

Dear Top Shop cleaners:

Yes, you perform a socially vital service and you deserve to be paid and treated with decency. But the world doesn’t work like that.

We’re all being fucked-over by The Man. It’s not just you.

Now, back to work.

 

Time to stop playing the game

John Humphrys.

I’ve long been foaming at the mouth that this annoying old National Treasure is still fronting BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, after about a hundred years of infuriatingly irrelevant and patronising lines of questioning.

When I worked briefly for the BBC there was a compulsory retirement age of 60. If that sounds ageist, well, sorry. It’s not his age I hold against him, I just wish they would use it like a wrecking-bar to prise him away from the microphone. He’s surely served his time.

I’ll tell you why, shall I?

Take this morning.

John Humphrys was ‘interviewing’ a representative of the junior hospital doctors’ union, the BMA. They’ve been staging a series of short strikes over a new contract that will force them to work at any time they are required to, over seven days of the week, with no extra antisocial hours payment or time off in lieu. This, they say, breaches their right to a family life.

They argue that they already do have to work on seven days of the week; that the new contract (which is being compulsorily imposed in June after many months of stalemate) is poorly thought-out; ideologically motivated by a government that has rashly promised to ensure the NHS operates without any downtime risks – a populist position supported only by controversial ‘evidence’ that hospital death rates rise at weekends.

They fear it endangers patient safety by imposing unlimited hours on their working time and is simply a smokescreen to cover the fact that there aren’t enough doctors in the NHS; something the government hotly denies. The new contract, they warn, will push many more doctors into leaving the NHS for a better work-life balance in other countries.

The news story was that, after yesterday’s walkout, and with a further two-day strike planned later this month without the emergency cover the doctors have hitherto been providing, the Health Secretary Mr Hunt has refused to meet with their representatives again.

Humphrys, who has been getting up at four in the morning all of my adult life, immediately launched into one of his more lurid lines of questioning;  his usual assault with a pig’s bladder, demanding that the union representative should first of all explain to a hypothetical mother, why her child had to die in hospital when its life could have been saved if only the doctors weren’t on strike.

It’s the infantile way he thinks.

From that point on, whatever the doctor tried to say on the subject – for instance, that emergency cover will actually be provided by the senior consultants and nursing staff – Humphrys continued to hammer home the vital question: what will the doctor say to the mother?

The doctor tried patiently to explain that doctors have to speak to bereaved mothers in hospital pretty much every day of the week, whether they are on strike or not.

But what will he say to the mother? Humphrys harrumphed on and on, warming to his tiresome little theme, oblivious of the time passing during which the listeners might be gaining some more useful information; ignoring the obvious point that this grieving Mary was purely his own sentimental invention.

And so eventually the interview ended. We were no further informed than when it had started.

Mr Humphrys so frequently does this: persistently demanding that interviewees must first join him on his Methodist soapbox and make full contrition, to be properly sanctified before they can safely be allowed to explain their position. But will you apologise, Minister? Will you resign? Do you support terrorism?*

Why should they? If it were me being interviewed, I strongly feel that after the fifth time of demanding that I answer some meretricious question aimed only at flattering Humphrys’ sizeable media-ego, I would just tell the tendentious old humbug to fuck off, and hang up the phone on him, let him filibuster and splutter to fill the dead airtime. It’s about time somebody stuck it to him. We’re much too nice in this country.

I have to say, without being at all racist, because that would be a stupid accusation, would it not?, and with the greatest of tenderness, that after fifteen years of exile in Wales, from where Humphrys hails, I am aware of a certain ‘chapel’ hypocrisy, a tubthumping tendency to try to seize and control the moral high ground, however illogical the position; a preachiness that renders all further argument futile.

I’m also sick of him pretending with an invisible wry shake of his wizened-tortoise head not to understand anything about modern science and technology or pop culture. He may believe sincerely that he is asking the questions the listener would like to ask, but if he thinks I would like to ask the questions he asks, then he must think I’m an idiot, or senile.

Even Time must have an ending. Get him off.

 

 

Je suis migrant

I’m an economic migrant.

Fifteen years ago I moved my family to a part of the country where you could still buy a house with some land for maybe a third of the price you’d pay around where we had previously been expensively renting a place that was, frankly, a bit of a shithole.

Because we couldn’t afford a more expensive house. And I wanted a better life for my kids, breathing fresh air, growing and making stuff they needed rather than just buying it in a shop; knowing where their food came from.

So we gave in our notice and packed all our stuff in a trailer, towed by our ancient Landrover, and moved like the dustbowl farmers of 1930s Americky to a green place three hours away, out in the remote Welsh hills; where we soon found we couldn’t make a living and the locals with their barbarian strange tongue curiously tolerated us. Migrants, we feel your pain.

That’s why I don’t care for the distinction political throwbacks like the heavy-set Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are making between ‘genuine refugees’ and ‘economic migrants’ – or for putting up fences (I once had to write a script for a promotional film for razor-wire…).

Where was little Viktor in 1956, when 200 thousand of his countrymen fled from the advancing Soviet army, and plucky Britain took in 27 thousand of them, despite no-one speaking a word of Hungarian, another outlandish tongue if ever there was one? Probably not even born, the selfish so-and-so. (I once got so drunk in Hungary, I ‘lost’ an entire 48 hours during which, apparently, I became a different person… but that’s another story.)

What in essence is the difference between someone who is running away from a well-founded fear of being tortured in some rat-infested dungeon, or accidentally evaporated by a Hellfire missile from a drone strike on his neighbour, or barrel-bombed with mustard gas; and another person who is running away from starvation, dust storms, lack of education and healthcare and maleficent governance, or from the threat of rape and murder by marauding gangster militias, warlords squabbling for decades over a few poxy diamond mines?

Legally, the difference is that one set of intolerable conditions from which any rational human being would desperately hope to escape is brought about by ‘war’ and the others are just, well, a bit inconvenient. Thus, persons of the first category are protected under international law, while the others are despised and spat upon and generally made to feel like shit. The exercise then becomes a numbers game: there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who might prefer to live in Sweden, than in Darfur. Obviously, they can’t all.

As the number of ‘migrants’ swilling around (and too often dying in) the Mediterranean basin increases exponentially, driven by war, famine and hopelessness, the inevitable culmination of generations of economic exploitation and brutal military adventurism by exuberant Northern polities, this idea that there are ‘good’ migrants and ‘bad’ migrants is being taken to extremes by Mr David Cameron, the Eton-educated Prime Minister of Great Britain, a smooth-faced Trustafarian and ex-PR department gopher, who has never in his privileged life had to experience the hard grind of threadbare existence.*

Mr Cameron has a fundamentally Pollyana-ish worldview, inculcated no doubt by his nanny on the nursery couch and in man-to-man chats with his prep-school headmaster, that people who do good things deserve to have good things, and the rest of us don’t. Good things to be rewarded inevitably include being poor but honest; working hard, being self-reliant, not getting into debt, going to church on Sundays, bunging a fiver in the collection plate,  helping old ladies across the street, voting Tory and not complaining when you fall off your bicycle, or catch cancer, but getting back up in the saddle and buggering on.

As the ‘friend’ of some deeply dodgy characters, Mr Cameron also has the most suspect judgement of any Prime Minister I can remember – and I go back as far as Winston Churchill. (Maybe Anthony Eden, who stupidly tried to invade Egypt.)

Which explains why, when he senses himself being backed into a corner by the rightwing media or by his mutinous backbenchers over any of the various unsound policy initiatives he delights in pre-announcing without having consulted anyone who actually knows anything about it, policies we suspect will never be carried through, but which provide good soundbites and headlines, he always hedges them about with caveats and conditional clauses and small-print getouts.

Thus, confronted by Mrs Merkel chiding him with Britain’s abject failure to do anything about the refugee crisis other than chuck money at it to make it go away, having just returned from yet another holiday he announces, apparently without consulting anyone who, etcetera, that Britain will not take in any refugees, in case they include people who are only economic migrants – and we have enough of those coming in legally from Romania already, thank you, the British people would never stand for it.

I imagine him in a previous life as a security guard: ‘Sorry, mate, can’t let you in, dressed like that! Let one in, and they’ll all want to come. It’s more than my jobsworth.’

Next morning, confronted over the toast and marmalade with the image of a three-year-old child washed up as a tiny corpse on a Turkish beach, wearing normal western kids’ clothing and not some terrorist hijab, observing a growing public clamour to smell the coffee that contrasts oddly with the attitude of his cabinet colleagues, who are of the opinion that the only way to stop these horrid people coming over is to end the five-year-old polygonal civil war, that no longer has a conceivable ending, he retrenches. We will take in refugees – but only on Mr Cameron’s special conditions.

The new plan, about which he has seemingly consulted no-one who, etcetera, is to take in twenty thousand refugees! To avoid screaming headlines in the fascist press, they are to be spread over the next five years, four thousand a year. And, of course, they will be hand-selected refugees, only the best ones, the ‘good’ ones. We can tell who they are because they are already living in refugee camps over the Turkish and Jordanian and Lebanese borders. (There are only about four million of them…)

There will be no ‘bad’ refugees, abstracted from the ‘swarm’ of migrants already escaped to Europe, the hundreds of thousands of undeserving, unwashed scum who, after appalling journeys by sea and land at the mercy of traffickers and corrupt policemen, are already camped in the railway stations and sleeping rough along the motorway verges and slumming it in the Calais ‘jungle’, upsetting  sensitive British truck drivers. We’ll let Mrs Merkel take those ones in.

No, the traditionally welcoming British people will rescue… the children of Syria!

Like the Kindertransport programme, that in 1939 just before the war broke out evacuated ten thousand Jewish children from Czechoslovakia, leaving their mummies and daddies to be exterminated in Treblinka, Britain will take in many Syrian children, especially orphans – but not their parents. (I am reminded of what happened after WW2, when Britain in collusion with children’s charity Barnardo’s transported its war orphans to Australia, to be violently abused in Catholic seminaries and exploited as virtual slave labour on remote cattle stations.)

Now, anyone who knows anything knows that children cost local authorities a great deal more to house and feed and educate than do their hardworking parents, who could (if the rules were changed – asylum-seekers are not allowed to work) get jobs and pay taxes and support their families, which is all they want to do. While children raised in Council care notoriously have far higher rates of academic failure, sexual exploitation, subsequent homelessness and criminal convictions; and besides, there is already a chronic shortage of foster-carers.

Nice one, Dave.

So is this typical Cameron initiative any better than just a crass headline-grabber? I mean, who can object to children? Besides, Home Office rules on immigration state that unaccompanied minors granted asylum visas in Britain have to be deported back to their country of origin when they reach the age of 18, so there are no long-term consequences for the nation in terms of cultural and ethnic racial dilution…. Win-win!

It’s cynical party-posturing, it’s horrible, morally repugnant, senseless, and it makes me ashamed to be Welsh. Er, British.

Er, an economic migrant.

 

*It is true, I freely acknowledge, that, unlike me, Mr Cameron has experienced what must be the scarcely bearable pain of losing a child. It is perhaps why it took the death of another child to alter his perception of who the refugees are. It does not detract from the expedient crassness and Protestant parsimony of his political decision-making.

Crossing the bar

What are we to do with the Calais migrants?

I’ve just wasted twenty minutes being deeply sarcastic to Commenters on a news site, who are all of the ‘send them back to Africa and if they won’t go, shoot them’ mindset.

There are many more abusive and fearful British dimwits online today than there are migrants in Calais, making them see sense is mission impossible. Most don’t even know that Africa is made up of several different countries, or that there are civil wars and insurrections and murderous regimes creating genuine refugees seeking asylum from a swathe of countries from Libya to Syria.

All they know is that these tragic people are black, foreign, unskilled labour, sexually potent, probably Muslims and somehow threatening to “our” way of life. How come they can afford to pay people smugglers thousands of dollars to get them here, but they can’t afford to live in their own countries? Not only that, but they are only here to claim “benefits” funded by the British taxpayer. (Somehow I doubt that many of these barely-sentient creatures texting from their piss-stained, sale-bargain sofas are themselves paying much tax, but we’ll pass over that.)

So they hate them, with fruity hate speech, and no-one does anything to stop them.

I’m sort of worried myself, as I’ve paid a slew of money to book a Eurostar train to Paris later this month and the Channel tunnel has had to be closed several times in recent weeks, either because desperate migrants have stormed the entrance or because striking French dock workers have lit fires on the line.

It’s not a very worthy thought, and possibly not far enough behind those who are claiming the migrant problem is creating shortages in the supermarkets and we’re going to be deprived of our right to guzzle horsemeat fatburgers and sliced white bread unless we send all the something-or-other Muslims back to Bongoland now.

The delays and even, it is reported, physical threats to “British” lorry drivers (there is no other kind in what passes for the mind of the British media) are clearly having a costly effect on the freight economy, both ways. Although it is odd that Calais residents with migrants camped almost in their back gardens all report that they feel no threat and that the migrants are generally polite and well behaved, according to our media British lorry drivers are worried that they might soon be being killed. (Begging the question, who will drive the lorry?)

Frankly, I don’t understand why the migrants are so desperate to get to Britain, which is a vile country, cold and wet and full of bigoted, uneducated and envious little minds spewing their hatred of humanity from behind net curtains, from the dispatch box of the House of Commons, egged on by a press so unprincipled and high-smelling that you would not give it a room for the night in your dog-kennel.

(Postscriptum: I refer of course also to the removal by security guards of its entire cleaning staff for presuming to ask that they be paid the London living wage, which is now even official Tory Government policy, while the Directors of this brilliant con-trick of flogging dubious art crap to vastly wealthy idiots, Sotheby’s, were merrily cavorting among the roses at salubrious and hideously expensive corporate summer watering-holes such as Ascot, Glyndebourne and Wimbledon. Not only that, but these well-stuffed, silver-tongued artroaches actually threatened to have the cleaners charged with criminal offences associated in their somewhat distorted worldview with upsetting the smooth running of their vastly lucrative transnational fleecing operation. Traditional British values at their best, have the servants flogged. Fuck them, very much.

Oh yes, sorry.)

Nor do I understand why the migrants all head for Calais, which is already a bit of a dive, thanks to the British ‘booze-cruise’ trade (which will have to end when the Farageistas drag us out of the EU and Kentish publicans will have to pay massive customs duty again on their campervans full of cheap Spanish Cava and noxious fags, ha-ha!) when there are six or seven alternative Channel ports in France alone with services running to Britain. I suppose they don’t have maps or information with which to make a rational decision.

But we are talking about only three thousand people at present, who could easily be accommodated on a dedicated transport ship where they could be sanitised prior to the Chosen Ones making the crossing.

If the UK government had taken a realistic approach five years ago and set up some kind of system to process these migrants formally, instead of paying the French to let us bottle them up in Calais in unfunded and ad hoc tented shanty communities from where they understandably make persistent attempts to escape, we would not be in this mess now.

It was said (and this is where my remark about the British being a little people with smaller minds seems justified) that maintaining the old refugee centre at Sangatte would only encourage more of “them” to come, and the French caved in and closed it. It never occurred to British officials – or possibly it did and they are just the most dreadful cynics – that a quarter of a million refugees might cross the Mediterranean in 2015 and that, having to go somewhere, many of them might arrive in Calais and, finding no food or shelter, might behave in desperate ways we like even less.

The UK in its generosity has admitted fewer than 200 of the two million externalised refugees from the Syrian war; arguing that chucking £700m aid money at charities operating in Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon, countries that between them are hosting 97% of the refugee population,  is as good as the same thing. It isn’t. Forty years ago, we managed to take in sixty thousand Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin; and in 1956, tens of thousands of Hungarians fleeing the Soviet invasion; and after the Second World War, tens of thousands of Polish refugees who had fought with the free Polish army. Now, we have an official policy of hating foreigners so badly, we daren’t let them in even on temporary visas, unless they are guaranteed to be earning £35 thousand a year (I never have, but then I was born here).

(Postscriptum #2: I actually heard a Government minister on the radio the other day say that, of course, it was great that the best brains in the world should want to come to Britain’s wonderful, rapidly-going-downhill universities to be properly educated, but they must go home again afterwards… I love politicians who can manage such feats of joined-up long-term strategic thinking at breakfast-time, don’t you?)

Legally, wherever refugees first present their papers is the country that is obliged to take them in, even if only on a temporary basis. The problem being, many have escaped war zones with no papers; while the European countries where they arrive are refusing to accept their papers in order to be able to move the problem on somewhere else.

So it’s not really surprising if Britain should feel resentment at being treated as the dumping-ground of last resort, were it not for the fact that we are refusing to let them in anyway, and therefore have nothing concrete to resent. Thus while their (mostly) brothers rot in Calais, a trickle of illegals manages to successfully make it across the Channel, clinging to the undersides of vehicles or risking suffocation in containers and the backs of lorries (can the owners not put locks on the doors? What is going on there?). Some have even died trying to swim the 23 miles.

Surely that’s a worse, less containable problem than ensuring these poor people are treated with dignity and due process? Or need we take away even their humanity, to make ourselves feel better in a troubled and overcrowded world?