Saturday, 31 December 2011

Writing Books: the Way We Were Then




I have a small room in my flat which is a constant reminder to me that my father hoarded junk in his caravan on a scale which made visiting an encounter with an obstacle course.

This morning, I have been trying to tidy up my room, a task I discharge several times a year, willing myself to throw things away.

The room contains suitcases, empty boxes, my bicycle (which I don't ride), Bags for Life, my library and my life history insofar as that it is deposited in written and other documents: there are such things as reel to reel recordings of lectures I gave in the early 1970s and which were precursors to my first book, Language Truth and Politics, published in 1975.

No sooner published than I took two copies of the book and broke them up. I pasted the book, page by page, onto the right hand sides of a large desk diary and used this to record comments and criticisms of the book, to add further references and to make amendments for what I hoped would be a second edition - which did indeed appear in 1980.

Illustrated above, a right hand page with the beginning of Chapter IV and the surrounding comments which extend to the facing left hand page. I guess few people would work like this now. And the result was not particularly happy: the second edition is even more cluttered with footnotes and parentheses than the first. You can see from the sample page above how that came about.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Don't Mean To Be Funny, But Is There Something Wrong with Mr Miliband?

I am one of the handful of people in possession of a letter from TV Licensing confirming that I do not need a licence because I don't have a TV.
I have a home cinema system but it isn't tuned to receive TV broadcasts; to me, this is simply part of mental hygiene.

So that is one reason why it is only today that browsing The Daily Telegraph website I came across a 2011 video clip which shows Mr Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, replying to a range of different questions from a TV interviewer with the same answer - almost word for word.

I obviously don't know what you can get away with on TV these days but I have to say Mr Miliband's behaviour in this clip strikes me as very odd. He seems to be suffering from some cognitive impairment.

Surely you cannot lead a political party which claims it could form a government (and with Mr Miliband as Prime Minister) if your Leader has got some kind of mental block which prevents him answering questions from an interviewer.

Have I missed something?

My Predictions for 2011: Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

A year ago, on 31 December 2010, I blogged three Predictions for 2011:

1. "The pound ... at the end of the year will be roughly where it is now (today: 1.16 - 1.17 euros to the pound)"

RESULT: A near miss. Sterling stayed in that band for most of the year until lack of decisive action by eurozone leaders strengthened sterling, which ends the year at 1.19 as of Friday 30.12.11 - a gain of 2.72% over the year. The gain hardly suggests that the markets think the eurozone crisis that much worse than the sterlingzone crisis. In reality, what happens in the UK is inter-dependent with what happens in the rest of the Europe.

2. "Voters will say 'No' to electoral reform" in the AV referendum

RESULT: A hit. The prediction was made at a time when there seemed to be support for electoral reform so I had to give reasons for my prediction - go to the 31 December 2010 Blog to find them

3. "Dr Liam Fox will not be Secretary of State for Defence by the end of 2011"

RESULT: A hit - and I think I may have been the only Blogger to predict this outcome. (I should have put money on it).
I had read press reports about Dr Fox's conduct in office which suggested to me that he was pursuing his own agenda in a way unacceptable for someone in a sensitive post, even in these relaxed Coalition times.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Governments, Cultures and Sex

I was thinking about how we are often shocked by the ways other cultures and their legal expression respond to adultery, rape, homosexuality, promiscuity, prostitution, and sex itself. Iran and Afghanistan make the news because they punish women for the crimes of men. The Indian sub-continent because men throw acid into the faces of women who spurn them. The list and the details could be extended at length and it would be shocking.

Our own cultures have their oddities. Sexual jealousy can be an intense and sometimes mortally destructive force which hardly needs encouragement from legislation.

Yet in France and other countries, you will get off with a lighter punishment if you can show that yours was a crime of passion. That is not true in the UK where (for example) the last woman to be hanged (Ruth Ellis) was strung up for killing her unfaithful lover.

But the UK has its own soft spot for sexual jealousy in its divorce laws. If your husband or wife has a one-night stand with someone else, that is sufficient ground for filing a fault-based divorce petition. So instead of encouraging people to find ways of dealing with hurt and jealousy, you give them an instantly-available and very destructive outlet for it. Hardly a way to support the institutions of marriage and the family. Only the lawyers benefit.

In another Blog, I said that fault-based divorce should be abolished or, at least, that the law should no longer recognise adultery as a sufficient ground for divorce.
Sexual infidelity brings out the worst in those who are hurt by it. The law should try to discourage the worst, not encourage it.

After all, infidelity is extremely common and it would be more helpful if laws and cultural institutions encouraged people to find ways of dealing with it and moving on.

Monday, 26 December 2011

My Third Prediction for 2012: The Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics will be too much to handle

The UK Government is planning two big Circuses for 2012: the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics. To encourage celebrations for the former, public services will shut down for two days. To ensure that the latter runs smoothly, the army will be on duty.

Will it all go well, like 2011's Tory-boosting Royal Wedding, or will there be problems? Here is scope for a simple Either-Or prediction.

I believe that the future is like the past: since the Royal Wedding went well (my contribution was to leave the country), then so should the Jubilee and the Olympics.

But 2011 also saw urban rioting during the school summer holidays.

I think we will see more urban riots in 2012. The state media will be focussed North Korea-style on ensuring compulsory Joy for the Jubilee and the Olympics and will push into the background reporting of the 2012 recession, the effects of the Cameron government's austerity programme, the corrupt management of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs [which may go to Court it seems], and so on. Disorder on the streets is one likely effect of this dissociation between social reality and media cheer-leading. None of the Cameron government's initiatives is really going to deal with the issue of young urban NEETs [ Not in Education, Employment or Training].

When will the disorder occur? August is a wicked month. School holidays and light evenings. The trigger? You can usually rely on the Metropolitan Police.

Me? I will be out of the country for both the Jubilee and the Olympics.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas: A Season for Old Men

Up at eight, My Breakfast and then I walked along the seafront here in Brighton. The rules are different on Christmas Day: you say "Good Morning" or "Merry Christmas" to those you pass. I think Charles Dickens may have something to do with that.

Shower, dress and a quick look at the BBC headlines.

As you would expect from the BBC, an outreach service for the Vatican, the Pope is in Number 1 position and, dressed in glittering robes, laments the commercialised "glitter" of Christmas. This old man just hates anything he doesn't control.

Number 2 position goes to another old reactionary, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh who unlike many of those old men who will fall ill at Christmas has been very promptly and successfully treated for an emergency heart problem. Lucky chap.

Number 4 position goes to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, also lamenting but, in his case, he laments the abuse of trust underlying both London's recent riots and the on-going financial crisis. So a bit radical and a bit more complex than the Pope, but from the pulpit of a state church loaded with quite extraordinary wealth.

So there you have the BBC's start to Christmas Day. Three old men, how many of them wise?

Now I am off to join my family. Merry Christmas!

Friday, 23 December 2011

My Second Prediction for 2012: Alex Salmond will become even more popular

I just read a puff in The Guardian for the new Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont - who you have never heard of before. "Scottish Labour leader's mission ... to save the union" is the way The Guardian headlines its interview with her.

There you have it. A Labour and Unionist Party which will die in the last ditch to Save the Union since that happens to be Labour's only chance of ever re-gaining a majority in the United Kingdom parliament. Even now, there are 42 Labour MPs from Scottish constituencies. Johann Lamont's prime task is to keep it that way.

That means opposing Scottish Independence and that means lining up behind Scotland's hereditary landowners and the Union Flag. In Scotland, Labour is a party of reaction. You probably couldn't pass a cigarette paper between Johann Lamont and Michael Martin, the former Scottish Labour MP, disgraced Speaker of the House of Commons and voice of reaction.

Scottish voters will realise what it's all about: Vote Labour to Save the Westminster Parliament: Save Ed Miliband, Save MPs expenses, and Save Michael Martin in the House of Lords.

And realising what it is all about, Scottish voters will turn ever more sympathetically towards Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party and a politician whose skill at the job will make Johann Lamont and Ed Miliband look like inept and merely self-interested opponents of the SNP-led Scottish revivial

Good Luck in 2012, Mr Salmond. By the end of the year, you will be even more popular and quite possibly more popular than Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Moribund combined.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

My First Prediction for 2012: A UK Foreign Policy Disaster

The sun never sets on the British Empire and in 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron will want to remind you of that. Buoyed by his success in Libya - where in alliance with his former friend, the Emperor Sarkozy, Cameron helped replace one set of human rights abusers with another - Cameron will look for a new adventure to boost his domestic standing.

There are several enticing prospects.

In Africa,we need a more robust response to the pirates who threaten our yachting community. So we could invade defenceless Somalia.

In the Middle East, Iran is being beastly to us - perhaps because they sense we can't stand up for ourselves. Well, they need to be shown that that isn't the case. Likewise Afghanistan to which we will despatch Prince Harry.

In Latin America, ships (and yachts) flying the Falklands Islands tax-avoiding flag are going to be barred from mainland ports. This policy is the work of Argentina, as a response to our provocation: we are sending Prince William to the Falkland Islands. Well, if they think that is provocation, we will show them what real provocation is about.

Then there is Syria and then there is Europe, which will turn against our europhobe government. Spain will begin to agitate over tax-haven Gibraltar and our government will fail to adopt my proposal to give them Hastings to end the dispute.

David Cameron will over-reach himself somewhere and find himself embarked on a bigger conflict than he can manage and without enough allies. It won't be on the scale of Suez but it will be debilitating nonetheless. Maybe William Hague will have to resign.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Aidan Burley MP and the Case Against Allowing Englishmen Abroad

Aidan Burley is the Tory MP for Cannock Chase and in the News for attending a Stag Party in France where his mates dressed up as Nazi officers and addressed the French bar staff in the fake German accents ve are zo gut at, ja?

You do wonder about a man in his thirties who knows that he has to wear a suit and tie to become MP for Cannock Chase but is otherwise as clueless as Prince Harry - though I suppose that comparison might be some comfort to him: you can be clueless and still do very well in life. After all, this Stag Party could afford a French ski resort to parade their ignorance and stupidity.

There is a larger issue. A decade ago I was a regular flyer on Ryanair and easyjet. For some destinations - Bratislava, Hamburg, Prague - the thing you dreaded was a stag party on board, sad groups of not-so-young men intent on getting pissed and impotent. And when you got to wherever it was, there they were on the streets, objects of complete and utter local contempt.

I remember a German woman behind a bar remarking on their inseparability from each other: When one goes to piss, they all go to piss.

I felt at the time that it would be in the National Interest (Mr Cameron does that) to ban stag parties from travelling abroad. It would be better to restrict them to vomiting on English pavements.

How can you be taken seriously at the negotiating table when this is what you show to the world as England's finest?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Stronger Pound = Weaker Economy

For the first time in nearly a year, the pound has edged upwards against the €uro. Since last December it has stayed in a 1.15 - 1.17 band but has now edged up to 1.19. Hardly dramatic, but maybe it will go higher.

This is good news for €uroland exporters (ie, Germany) since it will make Mercs and Beemers marginally more affordable to British customers - and a weekend trip to Paris likewise .

It's bad news for Britain's service led-economy since it will make our tourist tat, language schools and financial services marginally more expensive.

Not so long ago, everyone was telling Greece that if it left the €uro and went back to the Drachma, it would automatically devalue, thus making Greek olives and holiday islands more attractive.

Since the introduction of the €uro, the pound has steadily devalued against it, thus helping keep us afloat with sales of Royal Wedding mugs and so on. The devaluation has been massive - ten years ago you could get 1.60 €uros for a pound.

Any appreciation of the £ now is a doubtful benefit. There are things on the plus side: our embassies in €uroland and Brussels will be cheaper to run. But is that enough?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Democratic Unionist Party: Once again, the Tail Wags the Dog

How appropriate that it should be the Democratic Unionist Party which tabled the House of Commons motion commending Prime Minister David Cameron's exercise of the British veto in the recent EU negotiations.

The Democratic Unionist Party is one of Northern Ireland's weird religiously-based parties, a Protestant one and therefore committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.

If the inhabitants of mainland Britain had a say in these things (they don't) they would want to cut Northern Ireland adrift at least as much as they would want to cut Europe adrift.

Europe adrift? Yes, that's right: Fog in Channel; Continent isolated.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

On a cheerful note, Cemeteries and Graves

Trying to think about something less gloomy than British politics, American politics, Russian politics ... I arrived at cemeteries and graves.

I am against them. Dead bodies should be burnt and the ashes scattered to the winds. By all means, choose where (off the top of my head, if I had to, I would choose Mount Caburn in Sussex but frankly think it would be an unreasonable imposition on the living to demand such a gesture).

I have never been back to the crematoria where the bodies of my parents were burnt and I have rarely visited the graves of people known to me: I can think of just one significant occasion and then I went at someone else's request.

True, I have visited Famous Graves.

In Paris, I once did the tourist visit to Père Lachaise and was moved by the narrative on the tomb of Héloise and Abelard, but merely curious in relation to Jim Morrison and all the rest.

Stuck with something to do when on business trips, I have sometimes strolled a local cemetery, often highly visible in Catholic countries. But they are awful places, combining ostentation and inevitable neglect - and creepy when there are photographs of the dead. And in Vienna, I went down into the vaults where the Emperors are boxed up. (The ritual surrounding this, in which the pall bearers have to knock for admittance strikes me as similar in intent to the ritual demanded by Wahabbi Islam - that rulers be buried in unmarked graves)

In Jerusalem, back in 1995, I made a very deliberate effort to visit the grave of Oskar Schindler, a hero to me (I don't have many heroes; Grace Darling is another). And I was prepared with a tiny bit of Sussex flint to place on the grave and I took photographs. I don't understand this aberration in my normal attitudes.

I suppose this is a companion piece to my Blog about Funerals.