“And They Say We’ll Have Some Fun When It Stops Raining”

Tuesday 23rd January

There was a comedy song in the Sixties, (in fact there were several, a trend that seems to have completely disappeared) I can’t remember who it was by – some American comedian.  It was about a Summer Camp where disasters followed each other and the kids were miserable and accident prone.  The punchline was “and they say we’ll have some fun when it stops raining”.  Of course, in the song by the last verse the sun came out and it was all great fun.

Well – although we haven’t had snow (yet), it has been raining here for days if not weeks.  And it is miserable.  We came to France for the Summer sunshine.  Of course we do realise that there are seasons, and that Winter will be cold.  In fact it is often really cold; in November we had minus temperatures most mornings with a dusting of frost, but the sun came out and by lunchtime it was around 10 degrees and pleasant.  Now it is gloomy dark grey skies, and even when the rain slows down and you scan the sky for a glimpse of sunshine, just like that song “Ain’t no Sunshine”.

I have always hated Winter.  Not the cold; in fact I quite like those brisk chilly mornings, but the persistent rain.  Just as in England the pavements haven’t been dry at all in 2018 so far.  In fact walking the dogs is now a question of finding the least muddy route and avoiding huge puddles everywhere.  I also, like many others, seem to suffer from SAD (seasonally Affected Disorder).  I hate the dark mornings and the even darker late afternoons.  Every day I look at my watch while walking the dogs to see how fast the year is progressing, but it doesn’t seem to be moving very quickly at all – still dark at 8 (7 for you in England) before a glimmer of lightening skies heralds in another day of rain.

It is the first and almost only topic of conversation in the Café.  Everyone seems to hate it.  All we can do is hold tight and believe that the Summer will be good again.  Sitting out and drinking wine and listening to music in the Park, and enjoying the Night Markets and the Gourmand Evenings.  They say we’ll have some fun when it stops raining.

Explaining the Inexplicable

Monday 22nd January

They say that turkeys do not vote for Christmas, but the British electorate have in their millions voted for a royal basting (to say nothing of being well and truly plucked).  And I still find it hard to explain.  All the arguments about Sovereignty and making our own laws simply do not stack up.  The only argument which I think can begin to explain this irrationality – because the whole decision was completely irrational – is immigration.  And by immigration we are uncovering a whole nest of vipers.  If it were simply concern over European workers coming to Britain, and possibly undercutting British wages, or being upset by Polish shops in English High Streets I could understand that a few people might have voted for that reason.  Although the truth is that it if wages are being undercut it is down to the illegal activities of gang-masters.  And why shouldn’t there be Polish shops?  We could say the same about Chinese or Indian restaurants – except we have had longer to get used to them maybe.

No, sadly, when people say they are concerned about Immigration it is almost certainly Muslims they are concerned about – or, more specifically, would like to kick out, if that were possible.  And why this should be I find just as inexplicable.  Perhaps, because I am practically an Atheist, Religion doesn’t bother me – or rather, other people’s continued belief in Religion as a solution to our problems.  I can see very little difference between the major religions – they all seem to put their ‘faith’ in some unknowable ‘God’ who is all powerful, and yet doesn’t actually exercise that power on our behalf, no matter how many prayers are offered up by devoted followers.  And why people get so upset by people who follow a different God, who maybe pray in a different way, who dress differently, I find just as hard to understand.  Maybe it is the fact that new immigrants tend to settle near each other and take a couple of generations to assimilate.  Maybe it is because people are drip-fed hatred by the Daily Mail and the Sun.  Maybe it is because they are so disappointed at the paucity of their own lives that they are looking around for someone else to blame.

And the Referendum was just the chance to kick out; at Politicians who had ignored them for too long; at the Metropolitan Elite in London; at Common-sense itself.  I did detect a mood of nonchalant ‘We don’t give a f.,…k’ in the few weeks before, but was still shocked at the result itself.

And now we are stuck with it.  Theresa May seems to be on a mission to deliver the very worst Brexit that can be imagined.  And Labour are stuck between that very metropolitan elite who voted Remain and more traditional Northern voters who voted Leave.

I see no solution.  This is a self-inflicted wound that will take many years to heal.  The recriminations will go on for years, and it was all so avoidable – if people had only stopped and really thought things through.   But turkeys very rarely do.

SIPS, SLIPS AND SNIPPETS OF LOVE 63

Sunday 21st January

Harriet and Jane weren’t allowed to see their, but their mother did visit him in the police station, and she said that though he was remarkably calm, he had offered no explanation for his actions.  Well it eventually became clear that he had been mixed up in dubious money-making schemes for a number of years, some had been spectacularly successful, but some had lost money too.  He wasn’t a very good businessman, he should have stuck to the law, in all its’ boring but safe detail.  But he had always imagined himself as some sort of financial genius, and one or two of his ‘investments’ had done spectacularly well, but he had always invested any profits into yet another dubious scheme, which had invariably failed.  He had borrowed quite heavily too, at first legitimately, taking out larger and larger personal loans, and then he had started to ‘borrow’ from the quite large amounts in client’s accounts held at his office.  Over the years this had become a habit, which he didn’t seem able to stop, and he had had to steal larger and larger amounts to repay the smaller ones so that he wouldn’t be detected.  Or so he tried to explain to Jane a few years later – he still called it borrowing; what everyone else saw as simply stealing.

*  * *

June had thought that once Phil returned safe and sound things might get a bit easier.  She stupidly assumed that Phil would take over and somehow make everything right again, or as right as it might possibly get.  Even though the Police sergeant had warned her that Phil might be detained she hadn’t really taken it in.  She thought they just meant for a few hours, for some sort of formalities to be completed.  She knew that Phil’s career as a solicitor was over, even if he escaped conviction somehow he would be duty bound to resign from the partnership.  They would have to sell the house, but that didn’t really bother June.  She had been far happier in their first little house in Bury Road than this monstrosity, with all those wretched bedrooms upstairs.

Why on earth hadn’t Ted and she used one of the spare bedrooms at the back of the house, the ones that were never used.  Harriet would never have thought of opening one of those bedroom doors and then none of this would have ever happened, she reasoned.  Ted and she could have still been seeing each other, her sister would never have been hurt and Phil wouldn’t have had to run away.  Oh God, what stupidity, she told herself.  ‘Were we in some unconscious way wanting to be caught, just tempting fate, seeing how near the candle flame we could fly.  Well if we were we flew far too near and got severely burned.  Or was it all just stupidity, blind stupidity.’

And now here she was and still on her own, only more scared than ever.  Harriet was starting to get aggressive with her again, not quite saying it but blaming June for everything that had happened, as if she wasn’t doing that herself anyway.  Phil was being held in the police station, and June was allowed to see him for a few minutes.

*  * *

‘Hello June.’ he said almost scared to look up at his wife. She looked haggard, as though she had been crying for days, which Phil now suspected she might well have been.  He had never thought of that when he made his break for freedom.  He hadn’t thought of anyone else, truth be told.  That little adventure had been all about him.  If he had stopped for a moment to consider how it might affect anyone else he would never have gone through with it.  Even when he left the house with the few pounds from the safe, and the firm’s and a few client’s cheque-books he still had no plan in his mind at all.  He had left the wretched safe wide open after all, so he must have been meaning to come back to the office.

He just needed to get away for an hour or so, just drive along some quiet country roads for a bit.  His first thoughts had been of simply burning the evidence, the cheque-books and a few incriminating papers he grabbed from my study.  Not that that would have really helped, but it might have given him a bit more time to think things through, to decide what he really wanted to do.  Everyone was out when he slipped back home, even Harriet, who had discovered Ted and June the day before was out.  Phil hadn’t had a chance to talk to her at all, but he suddenly realised that he should.  He should have spoken to her when June told him, but he had been so shocked, so stunned by what June was telling him he hadn’t thought about Harriet and what effect it might have had on her.   He picked up the keys to the Bentley and decided to give it a spin for an hour or so.  At that point he had no plans to run away at all.

But as he was driving along he just wanted this moment to last forever, it was a beautiful day, sunny but not too hot, a few skittery clouds in the sky, mackerel-tails he used to call them, bright white against a clear blue sky.  he did think about driving to Scotland or maybe Wales, but he had never been to either, and instead headed East, towards the coast.  He suddenly had this burning desire to see the sea.  June and he occasionally took the girls to Felixstowe on a Sunday, they would park the Bentley out towards Felixstowe Ferry and walk along the cliff-top, and down to the old ferry.  Sometimes they bought some fresh fish, or just walked around and had a cup of tea and back for lunch.

But P|hil didn’t fancy Felixstowe that day, he turned North intending to head for Great Yarmouth.  Then he saw the sign for Lowestoft, and recalled he had had a rare holiday with his Mum and Dad when he was a boy there, that would have been before the war even.  Suddenly he wanted to see it again, so he turned off.

Even as he pulled in to the Hotel he had no definite plans, maybe he would stay for an hour or two, but he ended up asking if they had a room with a sea-view and only then as he sat in the window chair looking out at the sea did he know that this was where he wanted to be.  At least for a few days.  He never told anyone that, they all thought he had it all planned out from the start.  And if that was what they wanted to think, why should he disillusion them, and besides – what difference did it make.

He was a bit scared of seeing June, he was sure she would be angry with him, but actually she just seemed relieved to see him again.  She reached out across the formica topped table and took his hand.  She hadn’t done that in a long time.  Even when it all came to light about her and Ted, and at one point Phil was all forgiveness and crying she hadn’t held out her hand to him.  They had been like two icebergs slowly circling round each other, but not being able to meet.  Too much displacement beneath the surface keeping them apart he supposed.  But at last he felt some sort of love from her, some little touch of human warmth.

‘I am so sorry June.’ he said. ‘I’m afraid I have made a bit of a mess of things, one way and another.  It’s going to leave you in a tight spot for a while. I should have sorted things out a bit better, but there you are.’  I really didn’t know what else to say, and I suppose that sounded flippant, but I hadn’t meant it to.’

‘And I am sorry too Phil.  Sorry about all that Ted business, sorry I didn’t try harder with you I suppose, and sorry I wasn’t there for you.  Maybe you wouldn’t have done all if this stuff if I had been a better wife.’

‘No no, June, that was all down to me I am afraid.  I always thought I was a bit cleverer than I really was, that was my trouble.  Should never have been a lawyer I am afraid.’

And they didn’t really have much else to say to each other after that.  Lots of empty spaces, where once they could talk like a house on fire.    But as she got up to go he leaned forward and looking directly into her eyes he said. ‘June, I may have to go to prison.  You do know that don’t you, and you will almost certainly lose the house, but there might be a bit of money left over for you and the girls.  If I don’t get to see them, tell them I love them.  Will you do that for me June?’

‘Of course I will, but maybe you should have told them yourself before all this.’

‘Yes, you are probably right.  June, will you wait for me, if I should go to prison, you know what I mean.’ he asked her, and he grabbed her hand and held it in his.

‘I have to go now Phil.  Please let go of my hand.’ She said, calm as you like.

‘You haven’t answered my question June.  Will you wait for me?’  he was almost begging by now.

‘I cannot promise you that Phil.’ She said, as he let her hand slip from his grasp.

And then she was gone.

I Have Lived many Lives – 9

Saturday 20th January

So, where did our love go?  Suddenly I found myself in the sad situation of loving someone who no longer loves you.  And you keep hoping against hope that things will change, that they will see sense, that they will realise how much you love them, how much you have both been through already.  But of course they don’t.   And you know you are being stupid, you know it is only a matter of time, but you are also helpless.  All you can do is get through each day and wait for the inevitable..  You know that day is coming but can do nothing to avert it, or speed it up or avoid it completely.

We also had the problem of her being pregnant again.  Despite her obvious condition she still went out every evening drinking with Liz.  Then she let me know she was seeing someone – an Irish man, quite a bit older than her.  Seamus was his name.  And she hid nothing from me, in fact I suspect she was teasing me with the fact that despite being very heavily pregnant she was still attractive to someone else.

Well, eventually her time came and strangely she wanted me at the birth.  I deluded myself into thinking that maybe she cared after all, that this Seamus had simply been a dalliance, that there was a chance, slim maybe, that we could get together again.

That too was short-lived.  I came home one evening to find a practically empty flat.  Her mother dropped off my son; she had been looking after him for the day.  She left me a letter from Carol.  I kept it for a few years but have long since lost it.  Basically she was going to live with Seamus in Belfast, taking the six week old little girl with her but leaving the boy with me.  Thank God she did too.  Without him who knows what might have become of me.  I may have gone completely to pieces.  But he started to cry, and I bent down and picked him up and dropped the letter on the floor.  In a way he saved my life, I had to be strong for him, I had to carry on for my son.   And I did…

 

Inheritance

Friday 19th January

We all take inheritance for granted.  But for most ordinary people it is a fairly recent experience.  Two or three generations ago you were lucky if your parents left enough money for their own funerals, but now it is far more likely to be a house.  And we are all involved, it is very hard to escape.  Oh, unless you are poor of course.  If you have had to rent all your life, if you are handicapped or been in poor health for years, if you have been on Benefits, or homeless even.  Then you may well have nothing to pass on to your family but debts and a big funeral bill.  But don’t worry there are plenty of loan sharks out there, in fact you may have even inherited a couple in any case.

And it is a hard and indisputable fact that in the current society we live in, those who have inherited wealth have a great advantage in life.  Many middle-class parents are now buying their kids a flat when they go to University – no Student loans for these guys, and an almost guaranteed increasing asset.  I have worked for a few ‘inherited wealth’ chumps.  More often than not they haven’t a clue how to run things, they are simply sitting on a profitable company built up by Daddy or Grandaddy, without this inheritance they may well have struggled to ever make a success of their lives.  So, with the twisted logic that although we know that Inheritance is inherently wrong and unfair – what do we do?  We try to leave our own kids and grand-kids something so that they won’t have quite such a hard time of it as maybe we did.  With the same logic that drives American to own guns (because there are so many idiots out there with guns) so we strive to leave our kids an inheritance.

In a decent society it wouldn’t matter what your parents had or did, everyone would have the same life chances.  And it was far more like that in the Sixties.  If you showed some intelligence you could get to Grammar school and receive a better education.  You could go to University for free; jobs were much easier to get; you could do almost anything you wanted.  It was the age of working class kids doing good.  And now rapidly those avenues are one by one being shut down.  Kids from poor families are disadvantaged now.  And this hasn’t happened by accident.  It has been Government Policy for years.  As long as their voters have made provision for their future, as long as they have something to leave to their kids, as long as the trust funds are well-managed, as long as Inheritance tax allowances are generous – they can sleep safe in their beds.

But, of course, knowing all of this makes no difference.  If you have kids you want to leave them something, and anyway you have struggled for years to buy your own house – what are you going to do with it?  And so the pernicious effects of inheritance continue.  And I am just as bad as everyone else.  When and if I inherit from my own parents I will try to help my grandchildren – and I will leave at least one house to my own kids.

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

Thursday 18th January

Actually a line form Frank Zappa, and a corruption (re-interpretation maybe) of the famous quote from the Bible – “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth”.  Well folks, it sure don’t look that way.  The Strong, the Rich, the Powerful have not only appropriated the Earth, they have brought up every scrap of land, they own everything – and their children will inherit it all.  The meek will inherit nothing.

And it isn’t only Religion which peddles this nonsense, but most Political parties too.  Even the current Labour Party.  They have no inclination and certainly no stated policies to give the meek very much at all.  Possibly a few more crumbs from the table, but not the cake itself.

And we keep being sold pups.  They really are cute and cuddly, aren’t they?  That wonderful idea of Thatcher’s, the dream of Home Ownership.  Well, for some of us, the dream happened.  Aided by the Sale of Council Houses (still one of the most disastrous policies ever dreamed up) many of us got a foot on, the then not so expensive, housing ladder.  But now look around at that little pup.  It has grown into a rabid dog, greedily consuming everything in sight.  Home Ownership is slipping – for many Twenty and Thirty-Year Olds, the very idea that they might one day be able to stop renting is just a silly dream.  Maybe their Mum and Dad can help them, or die even – but the buggers just keep living longer.  If I were in my twenties I would be so pissed off at the older (that is me) generation.  They had free University education, an NHS largely uncorrupted by Private providers, pretty secure employment, and the chance, or even the almost inevitability, of one day owning their own house (oh, and the right to go and live and work anywhere in the EU).  All of that and more has been taken away from them by the Capitalist System.

Because Capitalism always ends up enriching the powerful, the already rich, the clever ones who can manipulate the system.  And it is always at someone else’s expense.  For centuries it was the Third World, those Shithole countries who were exploited.  But now it is our own ‘meek’ population.   And with Automation just around the corner the whole thing is destined to accelerate at a pace Governments will struggle to contain – they may well be reduced to simply giving lower and lower taxes to companies, just for the privilege of them employing at least some people.

Meekness will get us nowhere.  It is only Anger, and fighting back which will achieve anything.  Welcome to Brave New World…

 

What Are We Waiting For?

Wednesday 17th January

The famous referendum was a close run thing; 52% to 48%.  I can remember Cameron standing outside No. 10 and resigning – and basically running away from the mess he had caused.  Theresa may picked up the baton and declared that she would make a success of Brexit.  And ever since then there has been a stunned silence from the Remain camp.  It took Gina Miller to go to court to force the Government to not only ensure that Parliament triggered Article 50, but also that Parliament must have a say on the final deal (or no deal, as May keeps on threatening). Labour have sat precariously on the fence – all I can say is that the sharp palings must be making Jeremy’s bottom pretty sore by now.  Apart from Tony Blair, practically no-one is making the case for rejecting the referendum, or at the very least having a second one to reverse the first.   The trouble is they (and there seem perilously few) are leaving things far too late. By the time any eventual deal is agreed (or not) and the terms put to Parliament there won’t be time for a second referendum at all.

And even if parliament is brave enough (which I very much doubt) to reject the deal, where will that leave us?  As far as I know any deal will have to be agreed by all 28 countries (including us) and ratified in their respective Parliaments and also agreed by the European Union.  What happens if any one of these (it could be us, or others) says no, is totally unclear.  Under some interpretations we will leave anyway, but without an agreed deal at all.  Others say that negotiations will have to continue until some deal is eventually agreed by all parties.

Undoubtedly if Theresa May either fails to get her deal passed by Parliament, or in fact walks away with no deal, then she will have to call a general election.  And then who knows what will happen.  I still cannot see Labour promising to Remain.  The best we could hope for is that Labour wins and goes back to the EU to get a better deal,

But….by leaving everything until Mrs. May has negotiated some sort of a deal is far too dangerous.  I really find it hard to believe that our Politicians (at least the majority, who wanted Remain) are still transfixed like rabbits caught in the headlights of some approaching juggernaut which threatens to drive us completely off the road.

Private Good, Public Bad

Tuesday 16th January

George Orwell warned us in Animal Farm “Four legs good – two legs bad”.  And so, we then had the Thatcher Revolution where suddenly the slogan, the rhetoric, the entire Government Philosophy was “Private Good, Public Bad”.   Tony Blair, under the guise of Pragmatism, continued along the same lines.  Cosying up to Big Business and just like in Animal Farm, looking around the room you couldn’t distinguish Pig from Man.

The trouble with Private Companies – at least the vast ones like Stagecoach and Carillion and Group4 is that they simply have to have exponential growth, year on year, in order to maintain not only their share price but the exorbitant salaries of their Executives and Directors.  And Government has colluded, practically falling over itself to grant contracts worth billions to Private Companies.  And here is the nasty bit – those same companies invariably donate large sums to the very same Political parties making the decisions of what and to whom to award these very contracts.  Now it may be too big a leap to actually accuse those in power of corruption – but there is no denying how cosy it all is.

And then – what happens when a huge company like Carillion goes bust?  There is only one solution.  One way or another the Government has to step in and either bail out, or at the very least keep things going until either a restructuring or another huge concern can take over.  A strange co-incidence is that the Chairman of Carillion is called Phillip Green (no relation to the infamous BHS boss) – and of course the Prime Minister’s husband is a director of Group4, which also has its trotters deep in the mud of Government contracts.   Invariably whoever takes over will have the same Directors and shareholders, and the same raiding of Pension funds…

The current crisis is only just emerging, and it may have a few twists and turns before it is all resolved.  But undoubtedly it will not shake the faith, the absurd doctrinal belief that our current Politicians have in ‘Private good – Public bad.’

Numb And Number

Monday 15th January

There was an American film in the Nineties called Dumb and Dumber.  I didn’t watch it – the title told me enough.  But just lately I am feeling numb and number.  Admittedly I had what I must assume was some variant of ‘flu’.  I ached all over, spent a few days in bed, was feverish and listless, had no appetite and was bored by everything I looked at, be it books or TV.  Even music left me cold – so, it must have been serious.

But somehow that lethargic mood has persisted and I just feel numb and number.  The Cabinet reshuffle where only two or three cards were moved about, and the, far too many surely, Jokers stayed put left me unimpressed.  Even Donald Trump’s use of language doesn’t shock or surprise me at all.  We seem to have become anaesthetised, to be unshockable any more.  And as 2018 rolls itself out it is really much of a muchness.  Don’t expect any real progress.  Even Brexit will be a fudge, with I suspect, the much vaunted new trade deal pushed into the long grass.  That really is Theresa May’s only hope.  I suspect that if she can declare that Brexit has happened and no great disaster she will dash for a quick May 2019 election, with the still undefined trade deal hovering like the Cheshire Cat licking it’s lips as millions watch hypnotised.  And the glow, the almost halo-like aura may have slipped off Jeremy’s forehead by then too.  The longer he prevaricates about Brexit the harder it will be for Labour to win next time.  They may well pick up a handful of seats but I suspect that won’t be quite enough.  Labour may have to wait for a new Leader – undoubtedly a woman and maybe a black one (but please, not Diane) next time, before the pendulum will have swung back far enough.

And what else is there.  Oh, a Royal wedding, maybe even more Royal children.  The World Cup, where England will once again flatter to deceive.  But at the moment it all looks quite predictably boring.  As I said I am beginning to feel numb and number.  Must be my age…

Z – is obviously for Zappa

Saturday 13th January

Frank Zappa.  When I first heard the name, and saw his face with that ridiculous moustache, I was sure it was made up.  But actually it was all too real.  Of Mexican heritage, Frank was actually an All-American kid.  But not only that…a brilliant musician from an early age.  He fell in love with Rock and Roll in the Fifties and interspersed writing very modern Classical music with playing in local bands.  But this was only the beginning – Frank was in the forefront of the West Coast music scene, with it’s many manifestations.  He recruited a band of brilliant musicians but definitely weird misfits and called them the Mothers of Invention.

His first few albums were superb, if somewhat erratic and uneven in quality.  But Frank has been nothing if not prolific.  Even by the busy standards of the time Frank was knocking out records at a ridiculous pace.  Often live concerts, where he was joined by John Lennon and Yoko and famously by Flo and Eddie from the Turtles.  Mixing comedy with outrageously complex guitar instrumentals Frank moved through various musical genres, with apparent disregard for his audience.

By the late Seventies he had dropped the Mothers and released a string of superb recordings.  My favourites are Sheik Yerbouti, and Joe’s Garage (a triple album narrated by ‘The Central Scrutiniser’ about how in the near future Joe comes unstuck by playing ‘Music’).

I tried but failed miserably to keep up with Frank’s output, which if anything, seemed to speed up as he got into the Eighties.  I saw him once, at Hammersmith Odeon, where he played nearly all new songs that later appeared on records, but he was brilliant.

He continued writing both Classical and Rock music until his sad early death in the mid-nineties (he had a perpetual cigarette alight while playing).  But his recordings have continued long after his death.  He never stopped composing and committing music to tape.  I very rarely buy his records now, but love playing the old favourites.