Still can’t stop myself being worked up about Johnson and Braverman…

WHAT sort of fool is still worked up about something former part-time prime minister Boris Johnson said or did; or, indeed, about the latest poison pearl from the lips of full-time nasty person cum Home Secretary Suella Braverman?

Oh, I know the answer to that one. It’s me, however much I say think of something else, switch to another mental channel – move on.

Does smarting at Johnsonian mendacity or Braverman’s cruel snippets change anything? Almost certainly not. They still swim in the deep ocean like weirdo creatures hogging the cameras in the latest David Attenborough documentary.

As the Covid inquiry continues, many lurid details are being sketched in about Johnson, of whom his former fellow Tory minister David Gauke says: “Whatever his electoral appeal, Boris Johnson was wholly incapable of doing the job.”

Ah, now you tell us.

What should have been clear as glass all along is that Johnson never was the decent leader we needed. Instead, during the pandemic we were lumbered with a lethally unreliable, egotistical shuffle-bum who changed his mind all the time, was always distracted and swerved from one thing to another.

Johnson is yet to appear before the inquiry, although the picture being painted of his premiership is already devastating. Here are two scraps flapping in the angry wind.

One: Johnson apparently thought that old people should “accept their fate” and die. Did he include his own father in this cruel calculation – who knows?

Two: in a Trumpian moment to rival the former US president wondering out loud if bleach wouldn’t wash away the virus, Johnson reportedly asked leading scientists Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance if Covid could be destroyed by blowing a hairdryer up the nose. As he’d seen on a YouTube video.

I feel an incidentally coming on, and here it is. During the pandemic Johnson’s government cooked up a wheeze to give millions of our pounds to newspaper groups, some of them run by billionaires who might be said to have a flexible approach to paying taxes.

The scheme/wheeze was an advertising and information campaign called “All In, All Together”.

And here’s a not very funny thing. The Mail was among media groups apparently given public millions, and as soon as Johnson was eased out of Downing Street for general uselessness, the paper gave him a column for a reported £1m a year.

Can such a ridiculous figure be true? And if it is, doesn’t it stink that Johnson deflected our money to the Mail (and other groups, including the Guardian – shame on them) and then the Mail gives Johnson a million back, or so the story goes.

Call it sour grapes if you wish, but Johnson isn’t even a good columnist, just a showy juggler of coloured balls.

Anyway, now he is also joining GB News, reportedly for another high sum. Rich right-wingers just love to shovel money into Johnson’s pockets, never mind how incompetent he was in office. The more he fails, the wealthier he becomes. It’s like he’s on a posh supermarket dash, cramming as much cash as he can into his swerving trolley.

As for Braverman, the Home Secretary – and honestly, I wouldn’t have her anywhere near mine ­­– told the Financial Times that people sleeping rough was a “lifestyle choice”.  She wants to crack down on tents being pitched in urban areas, as they are mostly lived in by people “from abroad”.

To describe extreme poverty and homelessness as a “lifestyle choice” is a stinker even for her. A “lifestyle” is glossy magazines and expensive adverts. It’s nice holidays and tins of posh paint with silly names. Fast cars and slow morals. Private medicine and public schools if you have the money.

Not ending up sleeping in a tent.

As organisations including Crisis, Centrepoint, St Mungo’s and Pathway said in a joint letter (Guardian, November 5): “Sleeping on the street is not a lifestyle choice. Laying blame with people forced to sleep rough will only push people further away from help into poverty, putting them at risk of exploitation. At the extreme end, we will see an increase in deaths and fatalities, which are totally preventable.”

Once again we are back with the “undeserving poor”, as defined by the 1834 English Poor Law and deployed ever since by harsh commentors to suggest that poor people are feckless, work-shy, and not worthy of our help (unlike the undeserving rich such as Johnson, who just get whatever they want).

And when you think Braverman can’t get any worse, she also wants to fine charities if they supply tents to homeless people, while insisting this is what “the law-abiding majority wants”. This member of the law-abiding majority certainly doesn’t want that.

j j j

The throwing away of inky old words…

One of the ones that got away…

We are at the tip with rubbish, including some inky old words. Only it’s not a tip but a ‘household waste recycling centre’.

You may spot, if you are inclined to pedantry, that ‘tip’ is a short word comprising three letters, while the council-coined phrase consumes four words and 29 letters.

Shorter is better, I’d say, but we are here to recycle waste from our household, mostly from the garden, which is a bottomless bounty of soiled debris and rotten greenery, so we’ll let that pass.

Branches, gnarled roots, old sleeping bags (see last blog), something or other electrical, an unwanted duvet – all this and more we offer to the skip gods. And those words.

We have been clearing out the attic, you see. Amid all the empty boxes for TVs and computers, that couldn’t be thrown away just yet some years ago, were two boxes of newspaper cuttings; columns, reviews and features written during 27 years on the newspaper that showed me the door some time ago.

Standing on the concrete floor above the skips, I wonder which one takes old words. There doesn’t seem to be one marked “ideas and thoughts you once thought of as smart”. Can’t see one either for political rants past their grumble-by date. No repository for “columns excoriating Margaret Thatcher”. No skip for angry adjectives, narky nouns or vituperative verbs.

I don’t feel up to asking one of the workers in hi-vis jackets, so they all end up in cardboard, although critics of my long-lost columns might have preferred “general rubbish”.

I had forgotten about those boxes. On discovering them, I rummaged the words. Some were OK, some quite good, others rather beside the point.

After leaving those inky old words at the tip – I always call it that anyway ­– I start thinking about what you should keep and what you should not; and about old columns and dusty opinions, about how important they may seem at the time, how irrelevant later.

Here’s a great, often disinterred, quotation from Groucho Marx – “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

It doesn’t really work with ‘opinions’ instead of ‘principles’, or the punchline doesn’t. But writing columns or blogs can seem that way: you don’t like my opinions on this matter of passing importance… well, I have others.

So many opinions, old and new. I still push them on to this ledge sometimes. If there is a difference between then and now, it is that everyone’s opinions seem to be nastier and pettier nowadays. This is not really about what is said quite so much as they way it’s said.

I did touch my lips to the vinegar bottle for some of those old columns, and still take a bracing swig occasionally. What’s changed? Maybe it’s just that opinions in a newspaper column are properly argued, or they used to be, and still are in the better ones.

In the Trumpian post-truth, social media shitstorm world we have now, an opinion doesn’t have to be well argued or thought out, make sense or even be remotely factual. It just has to exist, and once spoken or spat out, to be believed by those who wish to believe it.

And to be tossed into the bearpit of what used to be called Twitter, once an OK hangout, now sometimes nasty and unhinged.

You can’t really move through life without having opinions about something or other, but does sharing do any good? Does it help or does passing on opinions produce brain-rot in writer and reader? Oh, who knows.

Anyway, I’ve binned my past, but not all of it. Before cuttings were dumped into those forgotten boxes, they were stuck into albums and saved in clean plastic sleeves, and I’ve kept those, just in case I need to remind myself what I thought once of Margaret Thatcher (all true, every word).

Some columns weren’t political at all. A favourite, published on March 24,1994, was a humorous account of having just had a vasectomy. “Geoff the farmer had his own solution at the squash club,” it began. “You need gelding.”

I’ve kept that one, along with whatever scars remain from that procedure.

And all the features I have written over the past eight years, some 60 or so, have so far been kept, perhaps as proof of existence. Maybe they’ll go the same way eventually, but they’re staying for now. Along with more far too many copies of my two long-ago published novels.

But that’s another old page.

j j j

Naivety… that’s what me and the Beatles shared in Greece…

The Beatles had a summer of love in Greece in 1967. I had something similar a little later, although sand in the sleeping bag proved to be more in evidence than love.

This came back to me on reading a report in the Observer (Sunday, October 1, 2023) asking if the Beatles had been used as a propaganda tool by Greece’s military junta.

Those army officers didn’t much like summer-loving hippies, so it was an odd match when John Lennon told a local reporter that Greece was “a wonderful country, fantastic climate, great climate… and that’s why we are thinking of buying a small Greek island and setting up our own hippy commune…”

Looking back, if something unites that wild-haired and fairly clueless student and the world’s most famous Liverpudlians, it must be naivety. The Beatles because they were seemingly used to offset the country’s international isolation caused by reports of torture and political persecution. And me because, well, I was just naïve.

My make-do Greek holidays began ten or more years later, at a time when I had no idea (that sentence could stop there); no idea, for sure, that only a decade or so earlier, Greece had been ruled by a military junta. Did I even know what one of those was? Probably not.

All I knew was that Greece was where mildly adventurous young people went on holiday. Packing was light – sleeping bag (tick); tent (if you went posh); a few T-shirts (tick and tick again), plus passport, drachmas and travellers cheques. Oh, and an ill-defined sense of hope (tick again).

There were a few times when I roamed the beaches of Greece. Grains of memory remain, although experiences from so long ago sometimes blur. I once hitch-hiked all the way through France and over the border into Spain, a trip that left disappointingly few outlines in the mental scrapbook.

Writing nothing down and taking no photographs was clearly a great plan.

Did that small epic of lift cadging take place before or after my first encounter with a sandy mattress in Greece? It’s hard to say for sure, but certainly one Greek trip was with a schoolfriend who’d not been abroad much if at all.

That was to Crete. Near our sleeping-bag quarters was a café-bar where we went for breakfast of coffee and bread, maybe fruit too, the details slip.

I went on solo beach-bedding trips to Crete (again), Paros, Santorini, and other islands. Sleeping on beaches wasn’t exactly condoned, and often you had to show you had booked a night in a room before you were allowed off the plane.

A few years later, I went back with my new girlfriend, later wife. No sleeping bags that time, but we did book a night (possibly two, we can’t pin that memory down between us) in Athens before taking a ferry to Spetses where local children gathered at the harbour, chanting “You want rooms?” We followed a boy to his house, where the family had moved upstairs, leaving downstairs for tourists.

We saw wild tortoises on the island, which was quite the sight; and an overweight British man having lager and boiled eggs for breakfast, while his thin wife smoked, which was not.

Shortly afterwards, we left the island and headed to the Peloponnese region, where we had a proper adventure, staying in Monemvasia with its vertiginous clifftop fort, going on hazardous bus rides, walking in the countryside where men in military-style clothes carried rifles and shot birds, which was unsettling. After one night in a hellish hostel, we treated ourselves to a real hotel. Before that we stayed in a crumbling but grand hotel. Our room had a balcony where I read about the miners’ strike in the Daily Mirror.

We returned to Greece earlier this year, on a package holiday; less adventurous but more reliable.

As for those more distant sandy-sheeted Greek holidays, the only sleeping on beaches I would do now is to take an afternoon kip (other locations are available, sofas will do nicely).

The Beatles never bought that island, but I did buy a new sleeping bag. In other news, we have just thrown away the family’s sleeping bags with their cocooned familial DND of holidays, stay-overs, teenagers at rock festivals and nights on hard floors.

j j j

Fake interviews on GB News and Rishi Sunak being silly about cars…

The other night on GB “News”, a right-wing TV station which is undressed without those quotation marks, the Tory MP Lee Anderson ‘interviewed’ the Tory home secretary Suella Braverman.

Unsurprisingly, he told her she was doing a grand job.

An MP pretending to be a TV presenter pretended to ‘interview’ his colleague, while failing to challenge her or ask any tough questions about her vile anti-migrant policies.

Or any questions at all, really. And nothing dimly related to journalism.

As has been widely pointed out, GB News is an attempt do a Fox News in Britain. Totally partisan and happy to aggressively brandish its bias.

To that end, the station employs various Tory MPs as faux-presenters, and apparently shells out £100,000 a year on Lee Anderson, hardly a bargain.

What has perhaps been less noticed is that the Conservative Party – long since bored with the notion of conserving anything – has in effect become the GB News party, a weirdo populist outfit with no fixed purpose other than a fatal weakness for endless culture war scraps.

It’s soul-denting stuff. Noisy fisticuffs in the hope of raising a pimple row of headline in the more slavish newspapers, as we shall hear as the party gathers in Manchester this week. But then, if you’ve been in power for years without improving life in any discernible way, even the lowest blows are worth a try.

That’s why prime minister Rishi Sunak now says he will end “the war on motorists”. A war that doesn’t exist as he’s invented it. That’s a flat tyre you’ve got there, Rishi – and you banged the nail in all by yourself.

On X (formerly Twitter), he blathered:

“We are a nation of drivers. Most of us use a car every day and, for many, life would be difficult without their car. But too often, drivers feel under attack. That changes today with a long-term plan to improve drivers’ experience on the road…”

For “long-term plan”, you should read “short-term panic/latest batshit brainstorming”.

A nation of drivers? Well, you aren’t, matey. You fly by helicopter or plane whenever fancy takes flight. And that time you pretended to fill up with petrol, having borrowed a car for a news stunt, you had no idea how to pay.

Where to start with this nonsense? We are not “a nation of car drivers” but a nation of people with different needs. Anyway, car drivers aren’t one homogenous voting block but a collection of people in and out of cars, with views about everything and nothing.

Many people drive, some do not. Some drive and hate being stuck in endless traffic jams. Some drive but would travel another way if public transport worked and you didn’t have to take out a mortgage to buy a train ticket.

Rather than this fake “war on motorists”, what we have is a society far too tolerant of the noise and nuisance caused by cars, and even more so by thundering HGVs. There is no such war; it’s another myth; and even if there were, the Tories have been in power for 13 years, so how come they’ve only just noticed?

Should you be wondering, yes, I have a car and drive when necessary. I also have a bicycle and two feet that work fine. And a bus pass for free use of the splendid new electric buses in York. But then, Sunak probably regards electric buses as a woke conspiracy and maybe thinks we should proudly suck up good British diesel fumes.

Sunak’s pro-motorist measures include limiting the power of local councils to impose 20mph speed limits and bus lanes. He also has it in for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, where rat-runs are closed to create cleaner, more peaceable neighbourhoods.

So much for levelling up; so much for localism. Instead, we have a prime minister behaving imperiously and telling local councils what they can and can’t do. Such decisions should be made locally, not laid down by tinny presidential whim.

And I’ve not even mentioned bunging £3.5bn of taxpayers’ money on the new Rosebank oilfield off Scotland. A public subsidy to a Norwegian-owned company.

What we need is less oil and more sense.

Sadly, all we can expect is more boorish nonsense.

j j j

Cosmos worries at my feet and Sunak’s anti-Kermit song…

YOU’RE standing on the cosmos, my wife says. This gardening lark is clearly more philosophical than you might suppose.

Then again, perhaps we are all standing on the cosmos, or in it, as cosmos is another name for the universe, and…

You’re standing on the cosmos…

Ah, not the complex and orderly system or arrangement of things, but that spindly plant with feathery leaves that is suffering from cruel proximity to my untrained garden boot.

We are trying to remove an uninvited shrub that seems disinclined to budge. My wife bends down with a sigh and pulls out the cosmos, displaying the elemental power of the gardener.

As her stumble-bum assistant, I keep digging and tugging, while attempting to restrict unnecessary damage to the universe. Eventually, the stubborn shrub comes free and joins the pile of greenery destined for another trip to the tip.


GARDENING and politics don’t really mix, the first being too pleasant for the latter, but something about that doomed cosmos fits Rishi Sunak’s wish to water down his government’s key climate commitments.

Then again, big surprise. The man flies everywhere and uses helicopters as others might hop on those dangerous-looking electric scooters you see in town now.

In reviewing his government’s green pledges, Sunak says he will put the “long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment”.

So says the man doing this for the short-term political needs of his presently unpopular party. Ever since the Tories scraped home in that byelection in Uxbridge, with a single-issue candidate who stood against the Ultra Low Emission Zone, they seem to see votes in doing an anti-Kermit.

“It’s not that easy being green,” sings Sunak, with his too-short trousers risen up to expose socks in that colour.

“It’s not that easy being green when you fly everywhere, and the worst of your MPs think green only belongs in the fields they own.

“It’s not that easy being green when the right-wing newspapers who support you won’t shut up about how rubbish electric cars are and about how they can’t see the problem in a bit of pollution.

“It’s not that easy being green when you’re in a deep hole over that election in a year or so. It’s much easier to kick off a culture war about how nobody can afford to be green – apart from me, of course, I can afford whatever it like. I’m just not that interested in being green.”

The home secretary did the interviews round this morning, despatched to sell shabby shares in Sunak’s Anti-Kermit Policy. Her line, delivered in that uniquely annoying way she has, both patronising and hectoring, boiled down to: “We won’t save the planet by bankrupting the British people.”

Ah, our old friend the British people. Whenever you hear that, remember to check what they are trying to sell you. And when a Tory says it, keep hold of your wallet. They seemed happy enough bankrupting us all when handing out PPE contracts to their mates during the pandemic. Or when Sunak came up with his Eat Out To Help Spread Covid scheme.

Making the Tories the anti-green party doesn’t seem likely to appeal to young people, or sensible Tories, or the motoring industry, or anyone who worries about all those greenhouse gases – such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane – we’re swimming in. Or the concerned global community.

Sunak delivered a hurried speech about his plans this afternoon, saying that people dislike Westminster game-playing and short-termism.

According to the lectern he stood at, this was all about “Long Term Decisions For a Brighter Future.” Well, it’s snappier than “Short Term Decisions To Cling On To Power and the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch told me to say this”.

Elsewhere in his having-his-green-cake-and-eating-it speech, Sunak said: “Since I’ve become Prime Minister I’ve examined our plans” and “they impose costs that no one was ever really told about and which may not be necessary”. Perhaps he should speak to whoever it was who was Chancellor from 2020. Did he support those green policies back then or was he not paying attention?

The headline to his speech was pushing back the ban on new diesel and electric cars until 2035 – another five years. As for the rest, it was as slippery as it pretended to be sensible.

Perhaps I should go back into the garden and try to avoid treading on something.

j j j

EU flags? Oh, just another night of silly squawkers complaining about nothing much…

Who ‘owns’ The Last Night of the Proms? Moaners with stale fruitcake for brains seem to think the night is theirs.

They’re always offended by something. Three years ago, there was a creaky old culture war about whether or not to sing the words for Rule, Britannia!

This year the snowflakes – hate that word, but let’s fling it back for a change ­– were affronted when some members of the joyous and sweaty audience waved EU flags.

The former Tory MP Harvey Proctor posted on X (formerly Twitter) that it was a “disgraceful” display and demanded an inquiry from the BBC as he accused the Corporation of “messing up a British tradition”.

Was that the tradition of the last night; or the tradition of silly twerps complaining about nothing much with shouty nobs on?

The sharply right-inclined commentator Isabel Oakeshott posted about “a seething mass of Remainers”. While the reliably tedious and Brexit bonkers Nile Gardiner wrote: “Rule Britannia represents freedom, sovereignty, and self-determination, all absent in the European Union. Thank God for Brexit.”

Ah, yes – the Brexit that has had no benefits at all and, according to the latest Private Eye, has been officially estimated to have had a 4% long-term cost to our economy’s growth. Yes, that Brexit.

Bloody Europeans messing up our traditions again, although I do believe that Beethoven was a teeny bit European. Then again, his Ode To Joy is the European anthem, so perhaps that offends them, too.

It turned out that a pro-European band of music lovers calling themselves Thank EU For The Music had handed out thousands of EU flags outside the Albert Hall.

A cheeky protest, but good luck to them.

The stale-fruitcake-for-brains mob always weigh in like this, while missing the point. In this case: the music.

Not just the music on the night, and certainly not only the cheesy patriotism ding-dong at the end. But all the music across eight weeks, with 72 Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, plus other Proms around the country.

Instead of praising the BBC for putting on all that marvellous music, to be heard live, watched on iPlayer or listened to on BBC Sounds, the likes of Proctor, Oakeshott and Gardiner just want to make cheap anti-Beeb shots about one tiny aspect of the last night.

Those type of squawkers love to tell you what’s wrong with the country.

Two can play at that game.

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the country – we’ve spent too much time being influenced by loud-mouthed bullies who, helped by billionaire newspaper owners, complain endlessly until they get their way. Then they carry on complaining because getting their way wasn’t what they thought it would be.

I watched the last night on television. There were still plenty of Union flags being waved inside the Royal Albert Hall, giving the impression that Britain was a happy sort of place, if slightly silly. Sadly, away from that frothy bubble, schools are falling down, the NHS is limping along, and rivers Elgar might once have walked beside are now full of shit. Hope and glory, indeed.

Still, at least we still have music. The highlight of the last night was soloist Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s cello playing – so moving, emotional and eloquent ­– and the singing of the rather stupendous soprano Lisa Davidsen.

Oh, and the first Proms airing for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River, a truly lovely piece led again by that mellifluous cello.

The conductor Marin Alsop ended the night with a forceful speech about diversity in music, and bridging the gender gap, so good on her.

Back in the thin air of the right-wing stratosphere, Harvey Proctor is still wittering on that the BBC was responsible for allowing the Last Night of the Poms to “become a prime-time political broadcast on behalf of the EU.”

That’s the last we need to hear from that man. Time to catch up with another concert on iPlayer.

 

j j j

Concrete crumble on the menu as Keegan swears and Sunak sulks…

Most of us had probably never heard of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, or Raac.

It’s said to be bubbled with holes, rather like an Aero bar. But to mix the chocolate metaphors, only the crumbliest, flakiest concrete was good enough for building schools in a hurry.

They were mostly put up between the 1960s to the 1980s, with a shockingly short projected lifespan of around 30 years. Here’s your brand spanking new school; do look up at the lovely flat roof – just don’t stand there in a few years.

Governments often end up with the scandals they deserve. Crumbling schools being in danger of falling down is a perfect fit for the present austerity-addicted lot.

Things tends to collapse after the Tories have been in power for too long. Although, to be fair, some things grow – NHS waiting lists; tax breaks for bankers; litanies of pathetic excuses.

Ministerial shuffle-bottom games flourish, too. Three prime ministers in one year; five jobs for Grant Shapps in one year.

Seeing as we’re talking about schools, there have also been ten education secretaries since 2010. Ten, count them all. It almost amounts to a maths lesson.

This lot care about education so much, they put someone new in charge every few months. And they care so much they gave the job to Gavin Williamson – and then went and knighted the useless man.

Gillian Keegan has held the brief since last October, much longer than her predecessor, Kit Malthouse, who lasted the few weeks it took Liz Truss to dissolve into a pool of bitter self-justification, telling everyone she was right as she sank.

Keegan was doing the interview rounds yesterday, twisting away from blame in a typical game of dodgy dodgems.

After swerving and condescending on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, she later gave an interview to ITV, after which she was caught complaining when the cameras continued rolling.

Charmingly, she asked: “Does anyone ever say: ‘You know what, you’ve done a fucking good job, because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing.’ No signs of that, no?”

At least Keegan later apologised. No such luck with the prime minister. Rishi Sunak went off on one of his prissy sulks when it was suggested that, as Chancellor, he’d slashed the budget for repairs to school buildings.

Jonathan Slater, the DfE’s top civil servant from 2016 to 2020, told the BBC that a request to replace up to 400 schools was slashed to 100 by Sunak, and then reduced to 50 the following year.

Don’t know about you, but I know who I’d prefer to believe.

It’s not as if the problems with aerated concrete weren’t known about. A roof collapsed at a primary school in Kent as far back as 2018. Now, just as term starts, the government tells 100 affected schools that they can’t open until tests have been carried out.

Some children are being taught remotely for up to a term, raising lockdown worries all over again.

Oh, and it’s not just schools, as “24 hospitals, seven court buildings and four government buildings [are] affected”, according to the Observer.

Still, if you want dilapidated, go on and vote Tory again. It’s amazing the daft things people do when an election heaves into view.

As for Keir Starmer’s reshuffled Labour, well, Sir Keir needs to show that he is willing to spend and invest, and raise taxes, rather than wandering around in the Tories’ shadows, muttering “mustn’t do that, can’t to that…”

 

YOU’D have thought schools falling down was quite the scandal. But it wasn’t on the front of yesterday’s Mail.

Instead, the paper led with what it called a “dramatic ten-fold rise” in the number of council employees given permission to work from overseas. Approvals have apparently risen from 73 in the year 2020 to 2021, to more than 700 last year.

Well, knock me down with an over-heated and sandy laptop. That’s a nonsense story of little importance. Seven hundred is still hardly any.

Oh, and look here ­– it says the story was based on Freedom of Information requests “submitted to local authorities by the thinktank the Taxpayers’ Alliance”.

Oh, that lot again – an obscurely funded right-wing think tank obsessed with how our money is spent, although weirdly unconcerned about all those billions lost to fraud.

 

AND you’d have thought that Iain Duncan Smith would learn to shut up just the once.

Sir Iain told the Mail – sorry, that lot again – that he backed “blade runner” vandals in his east London constituency who destroy roadside cameras because they were “lied to” over the ultra-low emissions zone in London.

So, if you don’t like a rule, you’re free to break the law. Not sure the hopeless former Tory leader thought that one through but then thinking too hard has never been his speciality.

Plenty of us were “lied to” over Brexit; Boris Johnson when in office lied to everyone, every day. And Rishi Sunak has now grabbed the fibber’s baton.

Although, strike that last line. It sounds ruder than intended. That man’s baton is best left well alone.

 

j j j

When to give up on your dreams (courtesy of Woman’s Hour)…

Inspiration arrives through many doors, including the one marked Woman’s Hour.

A tweet from the BBC Radio 4 programme asked whether it could be liberating to give up on a lifelong dream, citing listener Monica who’d “stopped trying to be a novelist at 71”.

As it happens, this 66-year-old had just sent off another novel to a publisher. This one is a Victorian murder mystery set in a reimagined York where steam technology has raced ahead of anything 1890 actually saw. My hero, Investigator Strode, is unhappy with the pace of change.

I chose the publisher as, in my role as a retired person who can’t quite retire, I’d just interviewed a writer whose books are published by that house.

Suckered in, I listened to what Monica had to say.

She’d wanted to be a novelist since she was at school and that was a long time ago. Always had a headful of ideas. So many ideas it gave her a headache and stressed her out. Agents were willing to listen – or, as she put it, willing to listen until their eyes glazed over and she still hadn’t stopped talking.

Monica has given up on the dream and says she feels better for it. She still writes but no longer obsesses about being a novelist. Although she has just written a short story.

Has she really given up? I have my suspicions about that, but it got me thinking about when, if ever, you should give up on your dreams.

I thought of myself as a novelist long before I became one. Thinking about writing is easier than sitting down and writing anything.

Aged around 40, I finally dashed off a crime novel called A Fine And Private Place. It was OK but never found a publisher and the title had, I’ve only just spotted, already been used by an American fantasy writer.

Another novel followed that one into the great bargain bin of lost novels. Maybe more than one as I don’t recall them all. The other day I found on my laptop a novel about a hitman. I’d forgotten writing that one, until I skimmed the first chapter. It seemed pretty good, if self-consciously writerly.

Anyway, I did have two novels published around ten years ago, here and in the US, and that more or less allows me to appropriate the title of novelist.

Although I do worry there may be a “best read before date”. That long ago? Oh, we’ve removed you from the list of novelists, struck you through with a chewed biro and added the words “No Longer Active”.

I’ve written a few: a time-hopping whodunit based round the York Mystery Plays (decent idea, never worked) and another more recently about a murdered TV presenter. And now I’ve sent off the latest one.

It’s a weird hobby, writing books that mostly never sit on a shelf.

Like Monica off the radio, would I be happier giving up on still thinking of myself as a novelist? The answer to that, by the way, is don’t be stupid. I’d be happier if this latest one was published.

Still, it was written to entertain myself, a good enough reason.

I am not good at giving up. I am still having guitar lessons, for heaven’s sake, aware that I will never be Richard Thompson or John Martyn or, to reach for another great guitarist, Prince.

Eric Clapton was once asked about what it was like to be the best guitarist in the world, to which he responded: “I dunno. Ask Prince”.

His words went viral across social media after Prince died. It’s a good quote, but apparently not true. Clapton had expressed his admiration for Prince but never in those words.

I’ve always liked that quote and it turns out not to be true. Much in the way that I’ve always liked an idea of myself that turns out not to be true, or to have only been true for a while.

Anyway, now is the hopeful interregnum between sending and hearing back. While I wait I’ve got this other idea to work through. Make that two ideas…

j j j

A Crooked House for a Crocked Country… and Small Gloats Week…

Crooked House pub

WHAT a gift the demolished Crooked House pub has been to lovers of a convenient metaphor. To borrow from the tradition of letter writers to Private Eye, let me be the 94th scribbler to point to a perfect image of modern Britain.

You will recall that the infamously wonky pub in the Black Country, built in 1765, succumbed to fire and demolition shortly after being acquired by new owners.

Adam and Carly Taylor appear to have withdrawn from society since the sudden demise of the property.

While not wishing to stray into the legalities of this upsetting matter, a series of unfortunate events does seem to have occurred. A fire and demolition; how unlucky can one couple get.

The pub’s famed instability was down to mining subsidence, common in the area. A marble placed on the bar would appear to roll uphill, while bottles of beer rolled up tables. Drinkers could think themselves drunk before they’d supped a drop, as walking around the bar was said to induce giddiness.

Much as in the less charming way that merely trying to stay upright in modern Britain can be an endless struggle for many.

Of course, that name helps in the metaphor department – a Crooked House pub for a Crocked Country, or a Crooked One, if you prefer. And the undermining of the pub adds to the image: swap this subsidence for the endless privatisation undermining Britain, the never-ending chucking over of public money to richly incompetent private companies.

The present “owners” of the NHS prattle about its importance, while holding back funds and handing more of the health service to private companies who soon set about tunnelling.

There have been calls for the beloved pub to be rebuilt, wonky brick by wonky brick. Such restorations have been ordered before by local councils, as happened with the Carlton Tavern in West London after it was demolished without warning.

Whether a country can be rebuilt, brick by sold-off brick, is another matter.

Time to give Labour a go, is what this sometimes disillusioned old Labour voter thinks.

Labour is often seen as being less electable when it is “too left wing” ­– yet shouldn’t the same theory apply to Tories becoming “too right wing”? Especially now that they’ve morphed into a far-right sect so obsessed with culture wars on woke etc that they’ve more or less given up on governing. Inventing scraps and flinging lies around is so much easier, you see.

These political metaphors abound in the mud of British life. Once you start looking, you can’t stop – as happens to those silt-encased folk who go mud-larking in the Thames.

Take that Bibby Stockholm, a modern spin on a Dickensian prison ship moored off the south coast. What better image could there be for an unkind country than using a floating prison to contain asylum seekers, many fleeing war, terror and torture?

Barely had the first migrants arrived, than they had to be evacuated over fears of legionella bacteria in the water systems.

As with the Rwanda scheme, the modern prison hulk seems to be more about nasty performative politics than thinking of policies that might actually work or show an ounce of humanity.

The legionella scare came in the same dreadful week that more people died while attempting to cross the Channel.

But Rishi Sunak has the answers or thought he did. In case you missed it, last week was “small boats week” in which Rishi and his ministers intended to hail their successes in tackling Channel crossings.

Perhaps I misheard. Maybe it was “small gloats week”. To misappropriate the tile of the Bill Bryson book, Notes From A Small Gloats Island. Small gloats from a small man – and, standing a full inch taller than Sunak, I can say that.

Another handy image – Sunak saying he is going to blow the environment and “max out” on oil. As the country and the wider world begins to think that climate change must be tackled, the prime minister sticks his head in the sand and comes up with oil. Or, more tellingly, the promise of oil.

If the Tories really think that turning oil into election-winning holy water is going to work, they deserve to lose.

All of which has raised fears among some senior Tories that they risk being the “nasty party” again. Or the “even nastier party” if you prefer.

j j j

A fine failure that ended up being a success for one woman… and trees falling in the opinion forest…

I LIKE the story of the actor who posted a tearful tweet about the seeming failure of her one-woman show at the Edinburgh fringe.

“There was one person in my audience today,” Georgie Grier tweeted, alongside a selfie of her wiping away tears.

One woman on the stage; one woman in the audience. “It’s fine, isn’t it? It’s fine…?”, Grier added.

Thanks to the random kindness of social media strangers, her show was sold-out 24 hours later after well-known comedians rallied round, saying they’d all been there.

Dara O Briain said he’d bought drinks for his audience “as a thank you for being the only ones there”, while Jason Manford said it was “absolutely normal… for one person to rock up to your show” in Edinburgh.

Perhaps the best response came from the Tory peer and writer Daniel Finkelstein, who said he once went to Norwich to give a speech and, after four hours of travel, two people turned up.

“One of them was the person who invited me,” he was quoted as saying in the Guardian’s report of August 5. “I asked the other person to join the cause I was there to support. He said he would, but it might interfere with the terms of his parole.”

Yes, I like that story, but it did make me wonder.

You know that old philosophical saw about how if a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, yes and no is the answer to that, but that’s philosophy for you, I guess.

A blog is just a blog, but does it make a sound in the opinion forest if no-one hears it land? While the world rallies round a young woman actor who cried about the apparent flop of her show on the Fringe, would anyone rally round an ageing blogger who complained about not being noticed as much as would be nice?

Well, I hope not. No-one asks this blogger to blog; no-one insists on hearing what a mostly liberal-minded oldish guy thinks about the way of the world. But I blog all the same, liking the process, enjoying the shepherding of words, savouring the way some black sheep opinions occasionally run up to readers, while others get stuck in a hedge somewhere.

This blog is read by a hardy few. I get monthly statistics, you see. People in the low hundreds favour these meanderings each month, but some of those lovely people will be the same ones.

Some occasionally will be my mother.

Any form of creativity may be done to please the creator, or to appease a nagging need, a making sense of things, or because a day or a week doesn’t feel complete unless you’ve tapped the laptop or picked up pencil or paintbrush. Or done a little of whatever it is that you like or need to do.

For me it’s writing. Blogs and features that are read; novels that were read once and may be read again as you’ve got to have a grain of hope in your bookish soul.

So, yes, do what you do; act what you act; stand-up where you wish to stand; keep writing what you wish. Sometimes you will be noticed and sometimes you will not. It’s all part of  everything. And sometimes the ‘doing’ is enough in a way, even if occasionally it is encouraging to be seen doing whatever it is you do.

 

No politics today, but have you seen the state of that hulking prison ship moored off the coast of Dorset, all part of the dreadful culture war over migrants, with the government perpetually swearing it will solve a crisis of its own making, and not solving it anyway as it’s more “useful” to use disadvantage people as political pawns in a grubby game.

No politics today, but we are better than that.

 

 

 

 

j j j