What is really happening in the Middle East?

Thursday 9th February

On the surface this is so simple; oppressed people are rising up against repressive regimes, demanding freedom and democracy, the very values the West purports to uphold.  And this may have been true in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, where there does appear to have been a groundswell of almost spontaneous protest.  However we hear little now of the troubles in Bahrain, where the protestors were put down with such violence,  lent a hand by the might of Saudi Arabia. And even in Egypt one could see the hand of The Muslim Brotherhood strongly behind things.  These two “Successful” revolutions appear to have taken the West by surprise, and in a way we have lost two faithful Arab allies, to a possibility of chaos, and in Egypt’s case maybe a retrenchment into a more fundamental politics.  Yemen seems to have descended into its own brand of chaos, nobody seems to care what happens there anymore.  Libya was always a bit more suspicious if you ask me, the West were just a bit too quick off the mark to intervene and I am almost certain that we were covertly involved for some time; in any case the outlook now looks increasingly uncertain, as tribal politics takes over.  Syria is another case in point, on the surface, no argument, an evil dictator is massacring his own people, but maybe here the picture is actually a bit more muddled.  The country is rapidly descending into civil war, and one has to wonder just where the protestors are getting their weapons from.

But of course the big one has yet to blow; our strongest ally and friend Saudi Arabia is containing not only any protest but any reporting of unrest at all.  Why is it that though we in the West claim to support Democracy so much, we do nothing to persuade the rich and powerful Saudi’s or many of the other rich Gulf states to give their people freedom, and yet we almost totally ignore the only real democratic Arab state, Palestine, even doing all we can to appease the Isrealis in their shilly-shallying over any real negotiations.

And one only has to look at a map, and one can see that Iran may still be the ultimate target of all our machinations.  So wring your hands you politicians for the cameras, but look to the blood that is on them first.

And everyone looks so downcast

Wednesday 8th February

I don’t often travel on the tube, or even the buses early in the morning, long gone is that daily trudge to work, but today I had to be in town for a meeting quite early. And I was just amazed at how downcast everyone looked, I know that it was a Tuesday and a long way from the weekend, but surely they couldn’t all hate their jobs so much; not a happy face amongst them. I suppose I am used to the mid-morning shoppers and tourists, families out for a day’s visit to the capital, not the nine o’clock brigade.  But even mid-morning lately I have noticed how glum people are looking.  Is it just the economic situation, or the cold snap of a late winter we are having, or a strange combination of the two.  Or is it something deeper going on in society, some malaise that has affected us all.  The secret knowledge that this is as good as it gets, or actually a few years ago was the best it would ever get, and we are now on some sort of inevitable slide, some downward slope with no hope of rescue.  Those days of constantly rising house prices have long gone, the best we can hope for now is that our property will not fall too far in value, especially for many who are staring negative equity in the eye, or at best, another twenty or so years of being stuck in a flat they do not love.  Bought in the frenzy of ever-rising prices; and everyone urging them to get on the property ladder before it’s too late, a mad sort of pass the parcel infected us all, and now we are left with nothing but a pile of paper with a forfeit or two lurking amidst the unwrapping.  And these are the lucky ones, those who rent face the prospect of never ever having their own house, but always the insecurity of six-month lets, and their meagre belongings sit in other peoples rickety wardrobes, and even the sofa they sit upon belongs to another.

The secret ingredient, of course, is confidence, or the lack of any.  And our politicians are simply adding to the gloom, heaping misery on us with each passing month, and they say the worst of the cuts announced with such confidence just over a year ago as the cure-all for our woes, a short sharp shock to the system, and then we would get back on track; these cuts which made us so gloomy at their announcement are mostly still to bite, the redundancy notices are being prepared as we speak.  And now, the realisation, that far from being short and sharp, they will be prolonged and increasingly futile.  What we need is a reason to be happy; maybe the Olympics will cheer us up for a while.

And now the snow is almost gone

Tuesday 7th February

Well, I hope you liked my little beginning yesterday, just a snippet of my new story.  I am having to make this one up completely, whereas last time I had to only elaborate a bit, most of Catherines Story was real, although I know that Adrian would insist that he made it all up, that’s not really correct, I told him nearly all of it myself.  Anyway, he is history, and will NOT appear in the pages of my new book, at least if I have anything to do with it.  As you know he kept shoving his way in last time, and ended up even having his name on the cover, when I had written most of the book myself, as you must know by now.

But I wanted to write about the disappearing snow.  It always saddens me how quickly, especially here in London the snow dissolves, and this year more so than ever.  It didn’t start snowing till Saturday afternoon, and had stopped by the evening.  We had just one whole day to enjoy this deep lushness, to savour its pristine whiteness, its blanketing denseness, the silence of its descent, blowing this way and that, rising and falling and all the time the light refracting off its surfaces as each flake twists and turns before finding its own allotted place in the snowy landscape.  And am I alone in hating the grit, this muddy and salty brown sludge that does remove the worst of the snow from pavements and roads, but feels so gritty under your shoes, and leaves a brown-sludgy mess everywhere, can they not come up with some-thing a bit cleaner to help melt the snow.  Not that this time around it has needed much help, it was mild all day on Sunday, and in London at least it hardly got below freezing during the night, so already by Monday, most of the pavements were clear.  And now there are just a few desolate little patches of snow, rapidly thinning and melting.  And even those few splendid snowmen with twigs for arms and carrots for noses, that parents had helped their children build on Sunday are little foot high pyramids of ice today, the branches fallen and the carrot nowhere to be seen.  At least the foxes will have had something to eat.  .

And I think that this will be how the new book starts

Monday 6th February

1 – The first meeting

It never stopped raining that Spring, or so it seemed as I struggled with my finals, too much rain and gloom and I wondered whether the real Spring; you know sunshine, flowers, all of that stuff, would ever arrive.  But the gloom of that perpetual cold and drizzle was finally lifted sometime late in April, just after Easter in fact.  I had been home for the hols, a four week break where I was supposed to finish off my final dissertation, ready to be handed in the second week of May.  My tutor was always reminding me of the importance of getting it in early, ‘so we could revise and work it up together’.  Not that he could possibly interfere you understand, that would be quite unethical, but if he got a chance to see the way I was shaping the thing he might be able to put a few pointers in my way, help me to find a path to success.  And of course I knew only too well, that that would entail the inevitable rewrite of the whole thing.  And nothing seemed less appetising I can assure you. I was beginning to think that Law was a mistake, five wasted years when I could have been having fun, or at least studying something I liked, not this dry dead subject.  Most of my old sixth-form friends were out there working now, or teaching, or like Rodney travelling the world, actually doing something with their lives, while I spent my days burrowing into heavier and thicker and dustier old law books.  Was it really necessary to know so much anyway; how much of it could I possibly need?  And the worst regret of course was that I was simply doing it all for my father, not because I had the slightest interest in the law at all, not because it had been my desire, my choice, but simply to please my father.  I had spent my whole life trying to please him, and for all of those twenty three years of effort there seemed precious little to show for it. Nothing I ever achieved seemed good enough for him.  He still barely acknowledged my existence; whether I was back home or away at college seemed not to bother him at all, there was no pleasure when he saw me, no real conversation with me at all, a grunt, a nod in my direction over his paper, but nothing resembling any connection..  Did the old fool not realise I was doing all this for him, because he wanted me to study law, because I stupidly thought I would be pleasing him if I did well, he might actually be proud of my graduating, he might actually say well done.  He was in Medicine, but had definitely stated his opposition to my following him, “One Doctor in the family is one too many,” he had said, “Why not read law, you could do far worse than law you know.  Wish I’d had the gumption to become a lawyer, instead of looking at sick people and their flabby bodies all day long.  I would have been far better suited to a courtroom than a clinic.”

And so I had read law, without thinking of the consequences, and anyway what the hell do you know at seventeen.  Two years in and I was beginning to regret my hasty decision, I fancied banking, or business of some sort, I had a couple of pals whose dads were stockbrokers and they were already dabbling in shares, and I was tempted to chuck it all in and try my luck in the City, but as usual I flunked it.  No bottle when it came to it, I suppose.  All talk when I’d had a few pints but not a rebel at all I am afraid in the cold light of day.  So I felt I was sort of stuck with law, and some-days it wasn’t at all bad you know, besides, my Dad, for all his taciturnity and lack of any real emotion, wasn’t such a bad old stick, he had pulled a few favours in and I was already almost guaranteed a clerkship in a Solicitor’s in a small market town not so far from Norwich. “Get your head down there for a couple of years, take on whatever they throw at you, make yourself indispensable and, before you know where you are, old Jameson’ll make you a junior partner.  He’ll want to retire in a few years I’m sure, so he’ll be looking to get out and leave the practise in safe hands.  You mark my words, my boy.  Get in there and get your head down for a few years.”  And so, my whole future seemed planned out for me, why not go the whole hog though Dad and choose my wife for me, oh, and you’d better make sure and impregnate her yourself, you wouldn’t want  a little twerp like me to botch that up for you, now would you.

But actually that whole task fell to me entirely I am glad to say, my Dad never really met her until a month before the wedding and we had well and truly discovered that, little twerp or not, my equipment was in perfect working order, thank-you very much Dad.

Writers Block and how to remove it.

Sunday 5th February

I reported a few blogs ago that I was suffering from writers block, and boy, was I.  It seemed as if whatever I was writing was going nowhere, maybe it was me but everything I touched seemed to turn to, well what exactly is the opposite of gold – mould?  Or rusty pig-iron, maybe.  In any case for the last few weeks, ever since Christmas really, I have been in the doldrums as far as writing is concerned.  I had started a second novel about a year ago, and had written what was in effect a long short story; too long for a short story, but far too short to stand on its own.  I had tried fleshing it out, but that just felt like unnecessary padding, so I tried to think about what would happen to the story further on down the line, after the crisis had been reached.  I tried at least three scenarios, but in each the writing seemed flat and forced, because of course, the story really had nowhere else to go.

So, I shelved that, even though I did think that some of the writing was quite good.  Just after new year I started another venture, and a different genre altogether.  It went quite well for a few days until I realised that I was writing absolute drivel, and was way out of my depth.  So, I stopped, put it away and actually stopped writing for a few days, except for this blog.  How could I let you my little audience down.

Then at writing class, last week it suddenly came to me, how to proceed with the long short story I had written for most of last year.  And that was to have the same story told by the four characters in the family.  Not a totally original idea I will admit, but maybe one which would work in this case, because of course, as what I had written was already a first person narrative, and what was now glaringly obvious was that whereas we knew exactly what Jane, my heroine, was thinking, we didn’t have a clue as to either the thoughts or the motivation of the others.

So, with new resolve I have spent a few days going over in my mind the different ideas, and ways of writing it, and then yesterday I put pen to paper.  And after a hesitant start it seemed to work, I could see how the thing would shape up; and good or crap as the writing might eventually turn out to be, I was actually writing again, and even better enjoying it.  So writers block is removed not by driving straight into it, or even by driving around it, but my going back and looking at it from a different angle.

There is no revenge like a woman scorned

Saturday 4th February

And now for a real political show trial – Chris Huhne, who until he joined the Government I had always liked in a way, is soon to be facing charges over perverting the course of justice, re: speeding points. And believe me the Law takes perverting the course of justice far more seriously than whatever the original offence may have been.  The whole edifice of Justice relies on people being truthful, and when they are found not to be, the whole panoply of the law is used against them.  Otherwise we might all think we could get away with lying, heaven forefend; the very idea. I bet he wishes now that he had simply taken the points and a possible ban way back in 2003.  It would all be over by now.  Strange how things you thought you had put behind you always return to bite you on the bottom.  But of course this is not really about speeding points or who took them, I mean who really cares about that, this is about integrity, with the added juice of a woman scorned. Not since Jeremy Thorpe have we had in a courtroom a Liberal politician having his integrity challenged.  And what on earth does Mr. Huhne think will be his defence; will he expect the jury to believe either his or his wife’s words over this charge, and she is on trial too for the same offence, so if she admits it, and he doesn’t what will that say about both of them.  I cannot in all honesty see anyone really believing him, and even if he is not actually found guilty, there will always be the whiff of dishonesty about him.  Of course, it is just possible that he is totally innocent and is now the victim of a scorned woman’s revenge.  Hard to really believe his former wife would go to such lengths purely out of revenge if there weren’t some fire behind the smoke.  She could have simply “kissed and told” her side of their marriage, maybe hinting at previous infidelities – you know, that sort of thing.  But how convenient for her that they had this little guilty secret between them! The fact that she, if Mr. Huhne is to be believed, has made the whole thing up only adds to the spice.  And now he is branded not only as a liar, but a cheat and a love-rat too.  Oh, how the mighty are fallen.  And of course let us not forget that he could so easily have become Leader of the Lib-Dems and Deputy Prime Minister too, now that would have been exciting.

What has happened to Society

Friday 3rd February

Margaret Thatcher once stupidly declared that there was no such thing as society.  Maybe she instantly regretted it, or maybe her minders told her she should be more circumspect in future, but she never repeated it.  Of course there is such a thing as society, and public opinion is a large part of that.  But how do we measure public opinion, I mean really discern what the public is thinking, not what they are being told by an ever more strident Media.  Sometimes society’s views, public opinion if you will, becomes overwhelmingly obvious, such as over MPs expenses, or the News of the World hacking into missing Milly Dowler’s phone, but these occasions are rarer than you think.  Often the so-called public furore is actually being quite well orchestrated by politicians or a lobby group, and sometimes the papers, closely followed by the TV news who jump on a bandwagon which was hardly moving until their added weight sends it careering down the hill of public opinion.  Were people really up in arms about Stephen Hester’s bonus, was society really clamouring for the knighthood, and almost a head on a pole, of Fred Goodwin, or are we all being manipulated in some more sinister way.  If you think about it, these poor (or rich, depends which way you look at it) individuals were just the private victims of a more public disquiet about our society.  Why is it that the rich and famous, as well as receiving quite ridiculously high paychecks, also qualify for almost automatic bonuses and awards, plaudits and praise or worse if they fall foul of certain views.  It is actually quite hard nowadays to be a business leader or a pop star or a footballer without praise and opprobrium being heaped upon one in almost equal measure.  Maybe this is the inevitable end result of the increasingly fervid celebrity culture we all, to some extent, live in.

And now we are entering into the realm of the celebrity trial.  Whether John Terry actually abused Anton Ferdinand or not is hardly worth a trial is it?  What were the words he either actually used or that Mr. Ferdinand thinks he heard him say?  And what was his intention, is it not just as important that one’s intention has some weight rather than just the perception of the receiver of those words. Anyway I was always brought up to say to girls who might try to bully one, who poked you in the ribs or slapped your arm with a ruler when Miss wasn’t looking, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  And their words were quite hurtful enough too, I can tell you.  Should I have insisted that they be publicly humiliated and forced to repeat them in a public trial.  And is it public opinion that is driving this, or is it just one section of an ever more intolerant society?  What do people waiting for the 97 bus think of it, or has no-one actually asked them?  The most ludicrous thing is that at the very same moment as John Terry said whatever he did say, in anger and frustration no doubt, and probably deeply regretted later, thousands in the crowd were chanting quite obscene and racist slogans to their hearts content safe in the knowledge that as a crowd, as part of society they would never be brought to book for it.  Strange world isn’t it?

And now at last it is getting cold

Thursday 2nd February

After one of the mildest Januarys I can remember, February has come in with a blast.  A blast of cold air from the East too. And just by con-incidence, yesterday I saw my first daffodils of the year, on February the first too, that must be a record.  I think they had been fooled by all the mild weather that spring was really here; a mistake a lot of us may have made too.  They looked a bit sad to be honest, it was bitterly cold, the wind was blowing bits of litter around and these few early daffodils seemed lost in the cold wind, looking around expecting to see their fellows, all with their yellow heads dancing, only to see that most were keeping their heads down and closed up, hunkered down out of the wind.

But despite the cold, maybe in fact because of it, I feel that we need it. We need it to remind us that life can be hard; a constant struggle against the elements, and we need the winter to remind us that it won’t always be cold, that the Spring will come soon.  I always think how sad for those who choose to winter abroad, in their Spanish villa’s that are actually too hot to go to in the height of summer, that they should miss our winter frosts, when the grass is a field of spikes, each blade with its own crystal coat of ice, and your breath comes out in watery cloud-puffs in front of you, and your nose and ears tingle when you get back indoors. And as I get older, I almost don’t feel the cold so much as I used to.  At least when I am out walking, I hate a cold draughty house.  I almost relish the wind trying to finds a way in past my defences’, between the buttons of my coat or where my sleeve doesn’t quite meet my gloves.  The way the ice in those shallow puddles cracks when you tread on it, and the way there is a frosty sheen on the metal railings, a thin patina of ice that is almost dull in its opaque smoothness. And so far we haven’t had any snow even, a few lonely flakes drifting around looking for somewhere to settle and then deciding it wasn’t quite time yet. A bit like the Winter itself, hesitant, tentative and unsure of itself, testing us and making us wait a while this year, but my old friend Winter is here at last.   

My capable friend and I

Wednesday 1st February

We all cope in our different ways, whether it is a leaking tap or a friend’s illness. I have a very capable friend, in fact in many ways she is amazing; nothing fazes her, simply nothing. She is never stuck for an answer, if she doesn’t already know the solution, she knows someone who will know. If it is something she has never come across before she is straight-away on the computer and seems to know as if by some divination exactly which words to type into the search engine. And in minutes she has the solution; there she is bright and breezy with all the platitudes she can muster, ready to sort out any disaster large or small. But I wonder if somewhere deep down there is the tiniest bit of self-doubt, or is the persona she exudes the person she really is, is she really so absolutely capable and self confident the whole time.

Me, I react quite differently, I take my time for a start, and mull things over and maybe, just possibly I work it out over time. Or maybe I don’t; some things I do not manage to resolve in any satisfactory way at all.  And the sky hasn’t fallen in yet. The leaking tap can drip a bit longer until I decide if a plumber or a washer is required. And if I hear of a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, I do not rush to the PC and print off reams of the latest advice, the latest possible remedies and treatments, the hopes for the future, the best hospitals to get them into. No, I go and make a pot of tea, and sit down to think. I slip on a CD, maybe Delius or Dvorak, or some piano music by Chopin. I may even pick up a novel for a few minutes, just to divert my thoughts, I may pull out some photo’s of my friend and try to remember the good times we had. The only positive thing I may do is to find out if she is in hospital and when the visiting times are. And I think, I think about the fragility of life, about the fact that we are constantly let down by our bodies, and yet how wonderful we all are too despite our failings and frailties, and I may even write a note to them. That is how I cope with disasters, sitting here on my sofa stroking little puddy-tat and thinking about our lives.