Politics

Two wrongs don’t make a summer

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Strong and stable, my nether regions. That’s two huge miscalculations by Tory Prime Ministers whose sole aim was to benefit the party and retain power. In Teresa May’s case, of course, the “worst manifesto in living memory” (and that from her friends in the party) and the idea of basing an election campaign on her personality when she clearly doesn’t possess one and had to be hidden from the press, the public and, basically, the world, was guaranteed to fail. But none of that compares with the folly and incompetence of David Cameron for adopting a core policy of blaming the EU for his government’s failings, calling a referendum on our membership and being taken by surprise when he found that many people had believed him.

With a year having passed since the referendum, no potential benefits having yet been identified and the huge costs – financial, social and environmental – becoming increasingly clear, it’s not surprising that those supporting Brexit are reducing by the day.  Nevertheless my social media space is regularly invaded by an ever diminishing band of hardcore Leave voters claiming victory, as if claiming the accolade of “chief lemming” were a great line for one’s CV.

And yet. Because our two biggest political parties fear a voter and tabloid backlash if they were to act in the interests of the nation and terminate the absurd Brexit process, we press on into the mire with our friends in Europe and across the world shaking their heads and wondering how a once moderately respected and influential country could shoot itself so determinedly in the foot.  At the time of writing the government’s plan appears to be to spend many billions of pounds, firstly on a divorce settlement and thereafter on a trade agreement with the EU on significantly worse terms than the present one while – of necessity — allowing for little change in immigration levels, and, as a non-member of the club, with no ability to influence any future EU policy. After two years of “negotiation” a “deal” will no doubt be presented to satisfy the Leave vote and pretend that something has been accomplished, as is the way with these things. To be in serious competition with the US as global laughing stock does us no favours.

At a recent public debate which I attended in my own town involving local politicians of the significant parties (I choose my words advisedly – UKIP weren’t there) the speakers were invited, having had at least a year to think about it, to indicate what, if any, benefits might flow from Brexit.  After musing on the opportunities which would now surely open up for us to work with China to improve their human rights record, the chief merit identified by our sitting MP – herself a self-confessed Leave voter and therefore at odds with her own constituency — was that the anomaly of French nurses having priority for jobs in our NHS over, say, Philippinos would be ended. Eh? Say again? At least that worrying problem seems to have been solved: in the light of the referendum result the NHS has seen a 96% fall in job applications from nurses overseas. Result! The fact that our MP is herself a nurse I throw into the pot to assist your understanding…

One hopes even at this stage that politicians might display statesmanship and either act directly against Brexit or at least ask the nation if this lunacy is what they actually want. The wellbeing of the UK matters far more than party unity and our younger citizens will not forgive us for treating their future with such disdain. Politicians who allow this absurdity to proceed will have it on their conscience for many years to come. The rest of us won’t forget. Never in my lifetime have the prospects of the nation seemed so bleak. And I’m someone who can remember Lynsey de Paul in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Two constructive themes did however emerge from the general election. The nauseating and preposterous garbage which has been the stock in trade of waste paper producers like the Express, Mail and Sun for so long appears to have had its day and seems to have influence on nobody below the age of 50.

At last, a respectable use for the Daily Mail

And, very sadly, it has taken the Grenfell Tower atrocity to highlight that there is nothing inherently beneficial about cutting taxes, local authority budgets and regulatory standards.

Also in a more positive vein – though not a jolly one – was the news last week that there will be criminal prosecutions arising from the 1989 Hillsborough stadium atrocity (apologies for reusing this word from the previous paragraph but words like “disaster” may suggest just an unfortunate accident or freak of nature).

Personally I’ve always felt more anger about the malicious, organised and sustained cover up by the police and others that followed Hillsborough than the fatal mistakes and incompetence of the authorities on the day. Justice has been too long in the coming but we seem to be getting there.

But in Brighton the sun has been shining, and not just because an excellent young man and good family friend has been elected as one of the city’s MPs. Go Lloyd!

Mrs Blog and I, on our current (modest) exercise kick, took a five mile stroll along the city’s seafront at the weekend, taking in the ambitious programme of regeneration and renovation, an excellent bacon and egg roll and a mint’n’choc chip ice-cream. Mrs B also liberated from the beach, without the benefit of planning permission, several nicely rounded pebbles. These are key elements in the continuing struggle to defend her birdfeeders against the predations of squirrels. The pebbles, you should understand, are not intended to be launched at said grey rodents, either manually or through the mechanism of tripwire and crossbow, but are to be lowered into place on top of the seeds in the feeders to prevent the grey b*st*rds going headfirst down the tubes, from which one has already had to be rescued. The adorable little chaps are nothing if not determined and resourceful but Mrs B is their intellectual equal and they provoke her at their peril. Marguerite Patten is silent on squirrel recipes but hey….

The sun has also brought ‘em out a mile or two along the coast in Saltdean – to be precise, to the newly reopened Grade 2* listed, 1938 lido close to the seafront. Having closed and reopened more than once before, let us hope that the present incarnation will prosper. The specially constituted charitable body that acquired the lido on a lease from Brighton and Hove City Council has worked its socks off, secured millions of pounds from the National Lottery and other sources, reopened the two heated pools to great acclaim in June and is still pursuing grant applications to enable the full restoration of the gorgeous Art Deco buildings next year. Brilliant people, brilliant project.

Talking of restoration (see what I did there?), Blogdaughter and I paid a visit in June to another Grade 2* listed treasure — Wilton’s, just east of the Tower of London, the world’s oldest surviving music hall, evolving over the years from Victorian sailors’ pub to music hall, from Methodist mission to rag warehouse. Reopening – and not for the first time – in 2015 as a multi-arts performance venue, Wilton’s is, like Saltdean lido, a jewel, saved and adapted by devoted volunteers.

This Blog waited to visit Wilton’s until it was scheduled to host an event of particular interest to him – in this case, a Tom Lehrer tribute act. For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre in the 1950s and 60s, Lehrer – a professor of Maths at Harvard – wrote and performed at the piano such evergreen gems as “Fight Fiercely, Harvard”, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “The Old Dope Peddler”, “We’ll all go together when we go”, “Masochism Tango” and the immortal listing of the periodic table to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” known as “The Elements”. Lehrer said of his musical career, “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

So, Blogdaughter and I arrived early to take in the ambience, appreciate the history, the beautifully conserved architectural features and a leisurely drink in the bar and eagerly await the “turn” in our front row seats in the gallery.

Shame about the acoustics that evening but, as most of us could have sung the words in our sleep, little matter – I think it was a one-off issue involving something technical with amplifiers and cooling fans. Don’t let it put you off the venue. You can, and indeed should, buy the Tom Lehrer CDs. In your car they let you sit right at the front and the only one singing along annoyingly will be you.

Tom Lehrer is, as they say in Private Eye, 89.

 

 

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Politics

Is there a Point??

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Wiktionary: Remoaner: One who complains about or rejects the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum on the UK‘s membership of the European Union.

Sounds good to me. Where do I buy the t-shirt?

If “Leave” voters are to be believed (I know, why would you, but stay with me), we should give up. They won, we lost, get over it. Or, more likely from what I see on social media, “p*s off to yuropp, yoo w*nnk*”.

We all have lives to get on with (sort of) so perhaps we should focus on what we can actually do something about. Like my team’s football results…   Probably not a good example.  Like the price of — what is it that “Remain” voters eat, samphire?  Like the weather then – what do they say, “everyone complains about it but nobody does anything”?

I’ve reached an age when I ought to be gurning contentedly into my milky night-time drink and carefully monitoring Scandinavian police procedurals after the 9 pm watershed. If I stay up that late. But I find myself strangely moved to “action”, if that’s not too lively a term, politically.

I suspect, looking back (I know, I can sort of remember so I obviously wasn’t there) to my student days, that I was quite “straight”. More rugby and beer than forcing the Yanks out of Nam. And no free love. Though that was mainly because they wouldn’t have me.

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This blog: the babe magnet years

So I’ve been in no position to complain if more recent younger generations appear to have been too preoccupied with making money (or, more recently still, even getting an income at all) to care enough for the important things in life, like protesting or wearing kaftans. But one major plus – perhaps the only positive — from Brexit has been the awakening of interest, rage even, among those seeing their futures casually blighted by those who evidently feel that bringing back the florin, destroying the NHS and shouting abuse at foreigners will make us great again.

I didn’t really go in for marching or demos when young though I did break that rule for Margaret Thatcher’s decision to do away with my job, which seemed only fair. But I appear to be taking to it now. Joining my daughter and her friends on the big march in London immediately after the EU referendum was a joy and a privilege, and had therapeutic qualities for this person of mature years. Today’s youngsters have a whole new range of songs, chants and European food-based jokes that Joan Baez would surely have been impressed by.

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I’ve signed up for a “March on Parliament” taking place just before Teresa “I have no idea what will happen next” May is due to invoke the start of the process towards making the nation a poorer and more divided place. Happily Mrs Blog and I are of one mind on this. Mrs B supports the idea of me getting out of the house more, provided I wrap up warm, but has a mild distaste herself for the idea of being kettled. Particularly in the company of people to whom she hasn’t been properly introduced.

One of the more daunting weapons in Mrs Blog’s own armoury of protest is the prospective withdrawal of her purchasing powers. A minor twitch in her patterns of credit card patronage would make tyrants and unprincipled heads of business quail. She assures me that she will deploy this power selectively and that M&S are safe for now.

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It would be like losing her right arm but….

Sadly my own social calendar doesn’t currently feature any awards ceremonies, in Hollywood or anywhere else, but I have drafted an acceptance speech for a neighbour’s daughter’s Brownie citizenship badge that I can guarantee will inflict lasting damage on Donald Trump.

Along with nearly two million others in the UK (or fewer than two dozen, according to the Spin and Alternative Facts Department of the White House), I have been concerned enough about Trump’s history, particularly with regard to women, to sign the online petition to prevent him getting anywhere near our Head of State if he sets foot here.

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And, if he is rash enough to invade, the Scots are ready….

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.…including Mrs B who is hard at work preparing in her own way

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These may all appear pinpricks of protest but we must each do what we can. It is not enough to assume that the very existence of Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway  in Washington render satire impossible. Ridicule is a powerful tool. Where is Spitting Image when you need it?

It is tempting to head for the underground bunkers and wait for four or more years to pass and to accept that one-third of the UK’s eligible voting population has the right to bugger up the nation’s economy, welfare state, environment and belief in decent values for a lifetime, but that temptation should be resisted.

Altogether now, where’s my beads? Where’s my hair? We shall not, we shall not be moved….

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Five things I like about Britain

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Five things I like about Britain

  1. The countryside: maintained largely by farming, dependent primarily on European markets, supported by European funding and subject in environmental terms to EU directives.
  2. Eating out: catered for in my part of GB by underpaid, exploited, possibly illicit immigrants.
  3. Sport: watching and supporting GB teams comprising multi-ethnic athletes and players and a Premiership football side made up largely of foreigners whose skills and contributions make me happy.
  4. Being able to travel relatively cheaply and easily abroad and with free health cover over much of Europe.
  5. Accommodating both our colonial past and a unique position in Europe.

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Now that’s what I call a proper British meal…

 

Things I used to like about Britain but we don’t have any more

  1. The national health service
  2. Trains
  3. Industry
  4. Billy Fury
  5. Political leadership, except in Scotland
  6. Newspapers with integrity, with only one or two exceptions
  7. An informed electorate
  8. “British values”
  9. Social welfare and a sense of community
  10. Racial and religious tolerance
  11. Council houses
  12. Detached parts of Flintshire
  13. Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate

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Traditional British values coming to the fore again.

 

Five reasons we shouldn’t feel too bad in Britain in 2017

  1. We didn’t elect Donald Trump as President
  2. We didn’t elect Theresa May as Prime Minister
  3. Parliament can act in Britain’s interests and reject the self-inflicted economic, social and environmental horrors that the Daily Mail, Express and Farage seek to inflict on the nation beyond my lifetime.
  4. Young people.
  5. Jose Mourinho may be gone by the end of the season.

 

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The new leader of the western world in full statesman mode

 

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The British PM reminding us that Brexit means Brexit and she has absolutely no idea what to do about it

… but it’s good to know that we have men of stature and integrity to see it through

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Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln….

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Can’t you be trusted to do anything right? I mean, all you had to do while we were away on holiday was feed the goldfish, water the plants and DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING IMPORTANT! And what did you do? Oh yes, in case we need a reminder, you managed to crash the economy, play havoc with Mrs Blog’s pension pot, sacrifice the pound, further reduce the employment prospects of Blogdaughter and others of her generation and make GB the laughing stock of the rest of the world. As others have said before me, at least we voted for this recession. Not bad going for one careless Thursday, was it?

So, when friends and work colleagues ask how our holiday went (and of course we had voted postally before we went), it was ruined, thanks very much. I’ve certainly never returned from any holiday in such low, angry spirits. I could really use a holiday right now – if I could still afford it…

A dozen things we learned over this past week or two:

  1. That passionate conviction coupled with an absence of knowledge and understanding may have dire consequences.
  2. Information, facts and expert opinion are no longer to be a major consideration in our politics. As a substitute for these many are content to believe whatever the Mail, Express and Sun are keen for them to believe.
  3. Contrary to what this blog has previously claimed, you may actually find things in the Daily Mail that are true. Admittedly they have been appearing in very small font at the foot of an inside page, confessing that the previous day’s front page banner headlines were in fact untrue – but hey, a step in the right direction?
  4. Future funding of the NHS can at last be made secure, now that we’re all going to be worse off and the government’s going to have less money available. Oh no, sorry, that canard only lasted until the Friday.
  5. That half of our voting population is very keen to re-establish the 1950s as our Golden Era of choice, presumably complete with the widespread poverty, malnutrition and disease as we’ve become quite used to those again recently. Because beer cost 1d a gallon, Life with the Lyons was so hilarious, wasn’t it, and we used to beat everybody at “international sport” before others took up the game.
  6. Not to go to a sports bar while abroad on holiday to watch the England football team immediately after an EU referendum.
  7. That it’s not OK to vote Leave to see what happens then change your mind and “have another go” when it all turns out the way the Remain people told you. If you wanted to “send a message” to the politicians, why didn’t you write an email?
  8. It’s quite OK to be a racist provided you begin each sentence with the words, “Of course, I’m no racist but…”
  9. That keeping swarms of Bangladeshis (remind me, are they from the EU?) from taking over Wiltshire is worth making a huge financial sacrifice for a few decades. Or was it the Scots that were doing the swarming? Or Vikings, or Anglo-Saxons? Or keeping Syrians out of Iraq, or Turkey out of the EU? Or getting rid of young people from the UK, or banning the 21st century from reaching our shores? But above all, we don’t want any racists here. Because they’re awful people. And we’re not.
  10. That Scotland can come up with statesmanlike parliamentarians in the way that England can now only envy.
  11. That David Cameron, who after all was only trying to deliver what was best for the Tory party by holding the referendum, and whom this blog always believed to be at the toxic end of the “Rubbish Prime Ministers” spectrum, will surely be remembered as truly decent once we’ve experienced whoever is set to follow.
  12. We lost the right to laugh at politics in the USA. Until November?

 

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 Ah, if only we could return to those good old days…

 

But, to return to football terminology for a moment, it’s been a game of two halves. On landing at Gatwick on Saturday morning after an overnight flight, this blog set off jetlagged and unsuitably attired into London to meet up with Blogdaughter and some of her friends to take part in the big anti-Brexit march/demo. Not something I’m prone to but you have to do something – and it’s surely in the economic interests of Brexiteers as well as Remainers that a halt be called to the nonsense triggered by the vote.

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My long experience of taking part in the Lewes bonfire processions made me want to line up the walkers in smart lines of three with blazing torches but they weren’t having it. But what a lifting of the spirits. To be accompanied by tens of thousands of predominantly young people, with plenty of older folk thrown in, committed to ensuring that the nation retained some modicum of belief in toleration and a viable future – economically, socially and environmentally — despite all that society has dumped on them in recent years, was nothing short of inspirational. We have a better “younger generation” than we deserve.

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Politics

Let’s Not Hear it for the Silent Majority!

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During my years of what I like to call “public service”, on reading that the general public had been consulted on some vital issue or other and had expressed a range of unfathomable and almost certainly contradictory views, I was generally inclined to feel charitable. Some of my best friends were, after all, members of the general public and they couldn’t all be wrong all of the time.

But the Silent Majority?  Give over, as my father would have said. If ever there’s a reason not to bother to read on, it’s finding the words “I’m writing to you on behalf of the Silent Majority” at the head of a letter or email. Actually does the Silent Majority do email? Or does that belong in the same rather scary world as, say, asylum seekers, teenagers, eastern Europeans, or indeed anyone beyond the front door?

How shall we recognise the Silent Majority if we should pass in the street? What shall we talk about? Oh no, silly me.

C’mon Silent Majority, engage! What have you got to lose? What is there to be frightened of, other than having to think, read and perhaps even listen?

Ten things you should know about the Silent Majority:

  • They support Donald Trump

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….from my favourite publication, the Onion

Actually, that’s all you really need to know, but here are a few other helpful pointers:

  • The Silent Majority believe “we’re all in it together” and the UK has a government of “one nation Tories” devoted to the wellbeing of all
  • They know that foodbanks are just a conniving, political trick
  • They’re certain that global warming is (a) a good thing, (b) a myth or (c) something we shouldn’t be expected to do anything about in this country as the Chinese are still going hell for leather
  • They’re sure that immigrants are generally a bad thing, especially if they live in Lincolnshire or Northumberland and probably won’t meet any
  • They may well, for crying out loud, vote UKIP on the basis that at least that’s a party that can’t follow what’s going on either
  • They’re not on Facebook because you have to have friends to do that and be able to communicate, although not necessarily with joined-up writing
  • They’re confident that, unlike all other nations, at least our history of engagement with the rest of the globe has been an uninterrupted narrative of ethical intervention
  • The Silent Majority (US branch) knows that the way to reduce gun crime is to arm all of its citizens

 

  • And, most important of all, they’re absolutely NOT A MAJORITY OF ANY KIND! And thank heavens for that.

 

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Trump’s majority support gather in their tens of thousands…

 

 

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The Republican Party candidate for the Wild West constituency seeking out ethnic minority groups to canvas

 

Well, that’s that off my chest. Some other seasonal thoughts:

Mrs. Blog and I went to see our much lamented former MP Norman Baker last week promoting his political autobiography at the Lewes Speakers Festival, just one of the ways in which our little town regularly punches above its weight when it comes to (mainly left of centre or green) politics, the arts, fireworks, beer and bloodymindedness. When this blog posed the question to the speaker, “How should any Guardian reading pinko liberal in Lewes position him/herself tactically to achieve political success at the next general election?” Norman replied that all hope should be abandoned and that despair was the only reasonable response – or something to that effect, I recall.

Blog spoiler: I bought a copy of Norman’s book “Against the Grain” and asked him to sign it to Blogdaughter (that’s not her real name, by the way, but I think she might recognise herself) with the words “Sorry that I didn’t make your Save the Manatee fundraiser, Regards, Norman.” Children’s memories run deep, you understand, and I didn’t want her resentment from 1997 to continue to fester. Well, she’ll get to unwrap that on Christmas Day on our cruise ship off Madeira and Boy will she be surprised – she’s expecting a new winter coat.

Spot that seamless link to Christmas? It’s a gift.

Mrs. B is as usual stockpiling the holiday essentials – eyeliner, facial cleansers, that sort of thing, while I just deal with the trivial but “boy” stuff like tickets, passports, guide books, maps and euros. And unlimited supplies of Boots Muffles Earplugs — I’ve heard that the cruise is “family friendly”.  We’ve paid a decent amount of money for this trip so it goes without saying that we shall take a dim view if we hear that the weather here has been fine while we’ve been experiencing Hurricane Ethel.  Provided Santa is able to trace us out there on the foamy brine this blog will report back in due course on the huge array of presents which it expects to receive. But no more nasal and ear hair clippers this year, thanks: I haven’t really done justice to last year’s.

And, for the benefit of any would-be burglars, a warning: Clint Eastwood, no less, has offered to provide homeland security for us while we’re away, so, make my day, just try it…

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As I was saying….

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It has been brought to my attention that I’ve become a tad dilatory on the blogposting front lately. Nothing terminal, I can assure you – if I had indeed departed for the great Website in the sky, I’d be sure to let you know.

What, I hear you ask, is the explanation for such neglectful behaviour on my part? Well, for one thing, I have found absolutely nothing to laugh about emanating from our self-styled “government”, which cuts down a little on my scope. You won’t, I feel, wish to read of my despair each morning over your cornflakes when you have enough on your plate, or bowl, without me adding to it.

On a slightly brighter note, I read in the Sports section of my daily broadsheet that one David Pocock, playing for Australia in last weekend’s rugby union world cup final, uses his acquired status in the game and public profile to raise issues important to him, like fair trade food, rhino poaching, gay marriage and climate change. And, as he weighs in at over 18 stones, I’m definitely on his side.

Welsh singer and TV presenter Charlotte Church weighs, I understand, considerably less – though the Daily Mail is no doubt seeking counter-evidence plus damning photos of cellulite and “glisten stains” for its online subscribers as we speak. But I’m definitely a fan of her newfound campaigning role on the environment, the government’s austerity measures and sexism in the music industry. Doesn’t mean I’ll be buying her records anytime soon, though.

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In the other corner, let’s hear it for our very own Baron Lloyd-Webber who took the trouble last week to fly home from New York in order to help the government get its tax credit cuts for the poor through the House of Lords. He failed, but thanks any way for trying, Andy – it’s the principle that counts. Lloyd-Webber understands what it’s like to be poor better than anyone, because he became rich by writing a musical about Jesus. And if there’s one thing Jesus couldn’t stand, it was the poor whining on about being hungry. In response I shall stop going to Llloyd-Webber’s West End musicals – and if that doesn’t bring him to his senses, I don’t know what will.

If I need another excuse for my recent blog-gap, it may be found in a confession that, despite popular demand, I’m starting work on another book. I know, it’s what the world needs right now. I’ve just read Bill Bryson’s latest contribution, “The Road to Little Dribbling”, and, how can I put this, while Bill’s early travelogues set a standard for amusing raconteurship (is that a word?), other writers like Tim Moore and Michael Simkins now do this kind of thing so much better, leaving Bill to growl around the country complaining about the cost of sandwiches and the sheer stupidity and bloodymindedness of almost everyone he meets.

So, here’s where you come in. I’m embarking on my own travelogue, though I won’t ask Bill B to provide a celebrity endorsement. Have you heard of “crowdfunding”? You haven’t? That’s handy. In that case, it involves each of you out there sending me a cheque for £1,000 to fund my travel costs in exchange for a mention in the book. I promise it will be the last time you hear from me. Literally.

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Or, if you prefer…

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Meanwhile, Blogfamily does have one trip of its own sorted. Christmas will be spent on a cruise to the sunshine in the Canaries, with Christmas Eve spent in Madeira, the big day at sea, and Boxing Day in Lisbon. (Burglars, is that all the information you need right now?)  Blogdaughter is a little concerned about how Santa is expected to find us if we’re not in our proper place – oh, ok then, it’s actually me that’s worried. Blogdaughter believes this cruise will enable her to avoid the tyranny of the Christmas sprout – but I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to arrange a special sprout-based surprise for her onboard.

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The Blogfamily cabin, decorated as I have requested online…

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…and what happens if you insist on an outside cabin

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I’m worried that the cruise is advertised in the brochure as “family friendly”.  I mean, who wants kids swarming (sorry, that’s a David Cameron word, usually restricted to refugees) round them when you’re trying to have a nice time at Christmas?  The term brings to mind other words and phrases that send a shiver. When scanning the TV schedules for a box office movie (we know how to live the life) I’m quick to move on when spotting descriptions like:

  • Romcom
  • Teenage
  • Slash
  • Steven Seagal
  • Avant-garde
  • Critically acclaimed
  • Lighthearted
  • Family
  • Hilarious consequences
  • Action packed
  • FX
  • Lord of the bl**dy Rings
  • Madcap
  • And, probably worst of the lot, “Caper”

You may feel this doesn’t leave us with many, and you may be right. Mrs Blog wants me to add Jennifer Anniston and Cameron Diaz but this is my list. So, no. Let’s switch over and watch Doc Martin, some dark Scandinavian murdering or Michael Portillo seeking to reinvent himself as a decent human being by travelling first class on posh trains and trying his hand at making pasta. It’ll take more than that, Michael – some of us have long memories.

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The “Portillo moment” — a happy memory from May 1997…

In terms of film terminology, I understand that “snuff” has generally negative connotations. But I say this: it all depends on who’s appearing in it. Does Jeremy Clarkson make movies? Does Jose Mourinho?

What else do I have to report?

Well, Lewes will go all weird and fiery again on 5th November for our annual bonfire celebrations and Blogfamily will be marching as ever with our chums and neighbours in Commercial Square Bonfire Society. Don’t be put off by what you read: it’s ages, really, since we stopped throwing Catholics on the fire. Something to do with health and safety, I believe, or equalities. We’re allowed to burn effigies of the famous – my money’s on Baron Lloyd-Webber this year.

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The spirit of Arthur Brown is alive and well at Lewes bonfire

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On the following day Mrs Blog and I will be entertained to tea in the House of Lords (she still harbours an ambition to be ennobled for her services to retail). We will no doubt still be reeking of gunpowder and cordite from the previous evening. Wonder who we might take with us if someone were to light a match…

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Animals, Politics

Well that’s alright then

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Once it became clear that the proposed amendment to the 2004 Hunting Act didn’t really mean a return to unfettered hunting of foxes with hounds, but was really all about the exemption in the legislation for hunting “undertaken for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of the wild animal”, it was obvious that it was in fact intended as an animal welfare measure. All that those Tory MPs had in mind was how best to carry out their observations and studies efficiently. “So, Mr Fox – purely in the interests of research, you understand – what will you miss most when you’ve lost a few body parts?”

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Just answer the damn question — if you wouldn’t mind helping us with our research…

Well, who could object to that? It’s a bit like the Japanese finding it necessary to slaughter a few thousand whales each year “for research purposes”. I can never remember — is it bits of tigers or rhinos that are so vital in reinforcing the sinews of chaps of a certain age, and is it the same in the UK with hunters and fox parts? Is it acceptable to cull dentists from Minnesota to see how — or if — their brains work when they’ve just run amok amongst the Zimbabwean lion population?Anyway, it was reassuring that our overworked politicians were prepared to make time in their schedules for animal wellbeing issues so early in the life of the new parliament. And such a shame that it all came unstuck. Whatever next? Parliamentary time devoted to something really important, like dismembering the BBC or the NHS?

Other than that, it’s generally been a good week or two.

Here in Sussex we’re pleased to claim Eric Ravilious as one of our own, knocking out his distinctive brand of watercolours of the South Downs and elsewhere up to and during WW2, sadly meeting his end in 1942 when his plane went missing off Iceland. He was 39 and a highly regarded war artist. Dulwich picture gallery has been hosting a major exhibition of his work. It’s been packing them in and Mrs. Blog and I used it as an opportunity to meet up with Blogdaughter who managed (almost) to find her way there from London unaided. It’s on until the end of August and well worth poking a stick at.

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http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/2015/april/ravilious/

Then to Scotland, travelling first class, courtesy of nice Richard Branson and his Virgin Trains. (Remember when we thought Branson and Virgin were quite, well, hip, as distinct from bloody irritating?) In fact, he wasn’t being over generous. My freebie came in compensation for a seven hour delay on a Virgin Train in soaring temperatures just outside Crewe last summer on the way back from the Commonwealth Games. I have nothing at all against Crewe, you understand – it would have been brilliant just to get there.

The highlights of my trip to SNP country? The world’s best cooked breakfast, in a small café in central Scotland — great food but I wasn’t to be tempted by their Saturday morning Football Special of “the full works plus pint of lager”.

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What’s not to like? Black pudding, square sausage, potato scone, double statin…

And a day trip to Falkirk to take in the world’s only rotating barge lift and the “Kelpies” via the tourist hop-on-hop-off bus. Definitely top attractions. I won’t try to describe – here are some nice pics.

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Back home to Lewes and its annual Speakers’ Festival. We’re fortunate in such a small town to have a good number of people who are prepared and able to take on the organisation of such events. I could be wrong but I think this festival may have had its origins in an earlier “Thomas Paine Festival”, which ran for a number of years from 4 July (you’ll have heard this date mentioned occasionally on Friends or The Simpsons?) to 14 July (an excellent day, I understand, for storming the Bastille) – no decent revolution being possible once upon a time without the active involvement of that former Lewes resident. To quote The Guardian’s coverage of the Thomas Paine celebrations:

“There’s something in the water in Lewes, and probably in the beer as well. The beautiful East Sussex town is stuffed with historic buildings and museums, dear little tea rooms and shops selling flowery dresses and posh chocolates. It looks true blue Tory to its flint foundations: in fact it’s been a hotbed of seething anarchy, rebellion, and downright stroppiness since records began.”

And I think many Lewesians would settle for that.

Anyway, I detect a similar strand running through the Speakers’ Festival. Last year this blog reported on contributions by Kate Adie (not at all stroppy) and Polly Toynbee (very stroppy), and this year this blog booked to see the Beast of Bolsover, aka Dennis Skinner MP. First elected to Parliament in 1970, I believe DS is now one of the longest serving, and probably one of the oldest, Members.

It seemed unlikely that many would turn up to such an event in order to challenge his take on modern politics or to seek to engage in detailed discussion about the public sector borrowing requirement. More of an opportunity to hear direct from one of a dying breed of working class Labour MPs (he was a miner) with little interest in claiming the political middle ground. He had no time, of course, for Tories, pairing, right wing press, time-serving Labour members, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, Royalty, serving on Select Committees, All-Party Parliamentary groups, foreign junkets or claiming expenses. I suspect that Dennis’s constituents know what they’re getting when they vote him back in. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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I particularly relished his tale of “talking out” Enoch Powell’s bill to block stem cell research by moving a writ to hold a by-election in Brecon and Radnor. Places, I assume, he would have known little about but on which he succeeded in speaking for the three hours necessary to prevent debating time for Powell’s ill-conceived measure. He will, when his permanent seat in the Chamber — front bench, below the gangway — eventually becomes vacant, be missed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Skinner

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There are, Mr Speaker, and I do not exaggerate, almost a thousand streets within the constituency of Brecon and Radnor, each with a distinctive street name. You will bear with me, I am sure, while I list them. The people of Brecon — and, I might add, the good folk of Radnor — deserve no less….  Good heavens, Mr Speaker, is that the time?

Readers may legitimately query Skinner’s use of a parliamentary device (the by-election writ) but, for all that, I have now read through the transcript of that debate in Hansard, and it’s a hoot:

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1985/jun/07/new-writ-brecon-and-radnor#column_546

Overall, it’s been something of a politics week for this blog. It has just finished reading “Honourable Friends?” by Caroline Lucas, Britain’s only Green Party MP (Brighton Pavilion). Kept me awake at nights. If you never read another book on what’s wrong – and a little of what’s right – about politics in this country, do read this one and I doubt you’ll view the world in the same way again.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/honourable-friends-parliament-fight-change-caroline-lucas

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