Monday 30th April
I know that one shouldn’t really complain about the weather, after all one should be able to take the rough with the smooth, but don’t you think it has been wet for a tad too long already. And I am getting just a bit fed up with it. It is scant compensation to know that the winter was particularly dry, as at the time it never really felt that great. And the worst of all is when wretched meteorologists explain that because of the time of year and the fact that the ground is so dry the current deluge is doing nothing to replenish depleted aquifers and that the drought is actually getting worse. I have no idea whether they are talking sense or out of another part of their anatomy altogether, all I know is I am fed up of getting wet every time I venture out. And not just went, but drenched. And as bad as the rain itself is the wind, which cuts through your clothing and makes any attempt at using an umbrella impossible. I cannot quite remember being this cold in April before, and this is a cloying damp cold that goes right through you and you practically have to get changed into warm dry clothes when you get home or risk pneumonia. It has been raining here in London practically non-stop for three days so far, and no sign of any break in this frankly awful weather. No wonder the Government is doing so badly; we need a little sunshine if only to stop people complaining about pasty tax, granny tax, the price of petrol and maybe even the weather is the fault of the Tories too. (It never rained this badly under Tony Blair I’m sure.)
So come on God, or whoever it is controlling the weather, shift this block of Low Pressure out into the North Sea and give us all a break.
Sunday 29th April
You do get those mornings every so often, when completely out of the blue, you wake up feeling awful. It may be partly physical, a sort of exhaustion settling on one; exhausted of life, of the treadmill, of the sheer nonsense of it all. But it is probably mostly in one’s head, maybe a disturbed night with violent or just bad dreams, but for some reason you just feel awful. You slouch down stairs, the cords of your dressing gown trailing behind you and cannot wait to slump down on the sofa. You grope for the remote, why isn’t it where I left it last night, ah here it is under the cushion. You flick through the channels, the cartoons and re-runs and breakfast programmes with their cheery presenters on bright red sofa’s. For a moment you glance at the weather, but those dark swirling clouds over southern England make you switch to News 24, oh no, sports review again and Sky News has adverts so you switch off and haul yourself to the kitchen where last night’s sad little plate and knife and fork are waiting to be washed up. You flick the switch on the kettle, which instantly boils as it is almost completely dry. Over to the sink to fill it up and you don’t quite line up the spout with the tap (I know you should always take the lid off to fill a kettle but really who does) and get splashed by cold water. Eventually you have a cup of tea, and slowly start to feel a bit better. You read your e-mails, lots of adverts for upcoming events you know you will never attend, bargain CDs – when you have loads un-played on your shelf, and estate agents still sending you stuff from France when you only expressed a mild interest in the first place. Post the blog and a quick look on Facebook then you close the connection, finish the dregs of your tea. Upstairs and ablution time. You emerge clean, emptied of yesterdays detritus, in a nice fluffy white towel and now things start to look better. In fact you cannot quite remember why you felt so bad, you open the curtains and there peeping through fluffy white clouds is the sun. Better dry my hair and get out for my morning walk.
Saturday 28th April
One of the main reasons the Governments economic policy is in disarray comes down to a political philosophy, or the rigid belief in it. Basically the Tories hate the public sector (but aren’t allowed to say so out loud) and worship Private Enterprise which they believe will deliver growth and benefits to all. This is basically trickle-down economics as preached by Reagan and Thatcher in the eighties, and despite protestations to the contrary they haven’t changed since the days of Margaret. Labour used to believe that the Public Sector and nationalization of industries was the answer to growth and prosperity, but that was a long time ago now. They are now far more pragmatic about backing what works, but still defend the Public sector (from which most of them sprung) and believe in regulation and control far more than the Tories do. The Liberals used to be almost as Socialist as Labour proclaimed to be, but now they have thrown their lot in with the Tories, at least on the economic front, only they insist they are nicer than them really; but fat lot of good that will do them.
When George Osborne came to power (Cameron is almost a bystander) he still believed (and probably will to his dying day despite evidence to the contrary) that if he cut back massively on public spending the ‘hole’ in the economy would automatically be filled by the private sector. This was what all his business chums (most of whom he went to school with) were telling him. It is all down to the market you see, and the private sector is so wonderful that it will do everything far better than all those dedicated nurses and postmen and council workers ever could manage, oh, and they will make it all run at a profit too. So, a no-brainer George. But Joe public just got scared, instead of rejoicing that billions of spending power would be removed from the economy ‘at a stroke’ and going out and starting a business, they have clung on desperately, to their money and their jobs, or what is left of them.
It is all going horribly wrong, but because they believe so fervently in their philosophy they cannot admit it, and will persevere until eventually either things get a little less bad and they can claim victory, or they are thrown out in three years time. Read on….
Friday 27th April
My CD collection is in almost strict alphabetical order with the odd exception that individual artists are filed by their surname, but groups by the first word in their name. Idiosyncrasy rules even here with two exceptions, Elton John comes under E not J, and Pink Floyd under F not P; but as they are known respectively as Elton and The Floyd almost universally, on this occasion I might be forgiven. But A is undoubtedly for Joan Armatrading. Ever since I first bought her debut album “Whatever is for us” oh, way back in 1970 I would think. I have been addicted to this woman and her gorgeous emotional voice and wonderful songs. Joan is almost unique amongst black female artists in that she not only writes all her own material but plays guitar too. She is also unique in having avoided all attempts at manipulation by the great recording industry. I cannot think of another black female artist with anything like the longevity or independence achieved by Joan; even the wonderful Tina Turner who had such a striking late rejuvenation may to some extent be a product of clever marketing. But Joan has only ever relied on her honesty, her great voice and intelligent songwriting. Just listen to Love and Affection, her first big hit and hear how she almost duets with herself, or the warmth oozing out of a song like Willow, “willing to be your shelter” but for sheer guts and emotional integrity try “The weakness in me” where Joan admits the solidity of her old love but the temptation of a new one, and her subsequent weakness in falling for that new love. Add to this the secret knowledge that Joan is probably talking about her own female lovers and the poignancy is perfection. Long may she continue, and yes, she is still writing and singing and playing live.
A is also for Air and Arcade Fire and Aztec Camera (and Amen Corner; if paradise is half as nice.)
Thursday 26th April
For once an election is really almost too difficult to call, this time the London Mayoral Election. And strangely we have the same three heading the main parties as last time round, Boris, Ken and Brian – a very unlikely trio. Boris won last time because he was a bit dashing, a bit man of the people, a real character and very much larger than life. He won in spite of being a Tory, and obviously a lot of normally Labour voters, especially women voted for the unashamed womaniser Boris. Ken had been in charge for 8 years, and though far from a disaster, people were bored with him; the Evening Standard had also declared war on him and were drip-feeding public opinion daily – it has to be said that Ken’s arrogance did not help his cause either. So when Ken won the Labour nomination this time around quite a lot of us sighed with resignation, ‘Oh no, not Ken again,’ and we assumed it would be an easy win for Boris. But with the current disaffection with the Government the race is suddenly open again and anything might happen. Ken may actually win despite his being Ken, if a slightly more contrite Ken than last time. Of course there is the added juice that should Boris lose it is almost inevitable that this big beast of the Tory party will rapidly win some by-election and start his push to be the next leader of the Conservative party. And who said politics was boring.
Wednesday 25th April
Continuing the French theme somewhat I have just finished reading ‘Whatever’ by Michel Houellebecq, originally published en France as ‘Extension du domaine de la lutte’. This was his debut novel and was an instant success, gaining him the accolade of enfant terrible at once. Of course opinions are divided, some think he is brilliant and says the things others dare not, but for possibly older readers he is simply a shock-jock, peddling sleaze and shocking just for the sake of it. But I believe there is far more going on here than just a desire to be considered outrageous; after all one could just write a book of four letter words, maybe spliced with a few racist and religiously offensive bon-mots to boot. But Michel’s books do actually hold together and are quite readable. He does tend to go off on one, at the least excuse, which can be a bit tedious, but he is also incredibly astute about what makes humans, and probably men in the main, actually tick, especially in the modern world where sex and money combine along with an air of disaffected boredom and dissatisfaction with their lives. I first read ‘Atomised’, then ‘Platforme’ and more recently ‘The Possibility of a island’ so I am a bit of an addict. I’ve just finished his debut ‘Whatever’ which is a personal account of someone going quietly mad, but not quite admitting that his behaviour is anything out of the unusual. It is brilliant in places, boring in others and almost impenetrable in others. Overall I quite enjoyed it, but am glad I had read his later more accomplished novels first or I may not have actually finished this earlier one. A difficult writer, but no less rewarding for that. So, as Janice used to say ‘I give it foive.’
PS – bonus point for telling me who Janice was.
Monday 24th April
The first round of the French Presidential elections has thrown up a quite indecisive result. Both the main parties have failed to achieve 30% of the vote, and the National Front has achieved 18%. But if you look a bit closer it is part of a trend that may be seen here in England too. At out last election neither Labour nor the Conservatives did well at all, achieving not much more than in France; and Ukip, which used to be considered a joke is slowly gaining ground, as are the regional Nationalist parties too. For years in Europe fairly Centrist parties have ruled, there being little difference between Centre Left and Centre Right, and clearly a lot of people are unhappy with the result. Of course with the second round eliminating all except the top two, we can expect business as usual to be resumed soon, but we would ignore at our peril this groundswell of dissatisfaction with the established order of things. Neither Sarkozy nor Hollande can be pleased with getting less than 30% of the votes, hardly a ringing endorsement of their ideas. And it was a big turnout at 80%, so one cannot argue that their poor showing was down to apathy of the electorate. Is it maybe more down to a general unhappiness with the continuing decline of the economy, and no real signs of any way out of it either, the current medicine isn’t working but nobody seems to have a convincing alternative either. And I worry that much the same thing is happening in Britain, with no clear distinction and direction from any of the top three parties. Everyone at first thought the Lib-Dems might make a difference, but they have been such a disappointment that they may have blown their chances for a generation. What everyone is looking for is somebody with some new ideas, for some enthusiasm, for some hope for the future. So if we aren’t careful what is happening in France may well be an augury for us too.
Sunday 23rd April
I do realise that by the time you read this it will be that Monday Morning Feeling, and in a way they are twins anyway. The one preceeds the other and maybe each one cannot quite exist without its twin partner. The thought that the weekend is over, yet again, and no matter how good it was, how much achieved, how successful, how tired one is, there is no denying the fact that tomorrow will be boring old Monday again, the beginning of the working week, the cranking up of the treadmill for another round of pointless plodding. And in a reflective mood I begin to question my whole way of life, and the constant nagging question, “Am I really happy?” “Well yes, in a way,” I have to answer, but then again comes the corollary, “but is this all there is?” And yes in a way this is it, I mean, what did you expect? And no matter I am sure if one is rich and living in Mayfair or stuck in a council flat, the question will still rise to the surface like some nagging little reminder of all the expired ambitions, the teenage fantasies, the what-if, and if-only, and especially what might have been if only ones life had taken a different direction.
So, Sunday Evening, a time for reflection and after the papers have been read and the news digested – boring as ever I am afraid, and the TV schedule refused – not another episode of Silent Witness, the book turned over on the sofa – which doesn’t appeal either, the few dishes from the solitary meal waiting to be washed up – a reminder if ever there was one that Catherine is still on her own, I take off my glasses, rub my weary eyes, and start to write another days blog. And when it is written I begin to feel a bit better. The weekend was quite good all things considered and of course, before you know it, it will be Friday again and another one; no matter what you did with the last one there is always another to look forward to. Bon Voyage.
Sunday 22nd April
I watched Newsnight on Friday night; I don’t always watch it – a bit too depressing sometimes, but if you want t a bit of in-depth analysis this is really the only place for it these days. The first item was headed Omnishambles, a made-up word which had originally featured in the brilliant ‘The Thick of it’ a few years ago. Omnishambles is a description of a series of blunders, one falling on top of the other, like Jenga building blocks. It was used this time in the context of the present Government’s current run of bad headlines or mid-term blues or whatever else you want to describe it as. What invariable seems to happen is that when a new Government comes in, and it was thirteen years since Labour swept to power in 1997 and it had been eighteen before that since Mrs. Thatcher first won an election, so lately it hadn’t been that often, there is a swathe of goodwill not only from the general public but also from the media. The press and the broadcasters seem hesitant to criticize when a party has just turned another out. But gradually sentiments change and usually about two years in things start to turn; either the new Government seems to run out of ideas, or things come home to roost. There is only a certain length of time that you can blame the previous lot for everything. And the very nature of this coalition, which seemed so fortuitous to all concerned when the Tories failed to gain an overall majority is now looking quite shabby and neither party is feeling that they are really in charge, and everything is a compromise. The current omnishambles started really with the Budget, which was supposed to breathe new life both into the economy, but also into the electoral prospects of both the Tories and the Libdems. It has done neither and has continued to unravel and be torn to shreds from all sides including Tory backbenchers for over a month now. Add to that the fiasco surrounding Abu Qatada’s appeal, and we seem to see a Government in power but not in control of events at all. It will probably improve a bit during the summer, the Olympics and the Queens Jubilee and the good weather will help, but the thing which brings Governments down is more than anything the appearance of incompetence. It doesn’t rheally matter how unpopular a Government is, or how hated certain policies are, it is the idea that they don’t know what they are doing that becomes their undoing. Read on…
Saturday 21st April
Stop for a while in your busy day, just pause for a moment and look out for a magpie. You won’t have to wait long, these birds are everywhere nowadays, not just in the countryside, but in parks and gardens in urban areas too, in fact they seem to be taking over, I don’t remember seeing so many when I was young. They are the most beautiful of birds with an almost exotic plumage, more suited to some South American rainforest than our dreary shores. Their colours are like some smart uniform for a national airline, the sparkling white and the iridescent black-blue which shimmers in the sunlight in such stark contrast to each other. And they are such brave birds, seemingly unafraid of anything and certainly quite oblivious of us humans, as they swoop and dart through the trees, and hop along the pavements just in front of you. They seem almost friendly, but don’t be deceived, the magpie is not friendly at all; it is one of the most ruthless of the birds, the true descendents of the dinosaurs. They are quite rapacious and will eat anything, true scavengers and of course among the most successful of species, along with rats pigs and foxes and humans – all creatures who will devour anything and stop at nothing to get what they need to survive. They are also reckoned to be one of the most intelligent of species, even recognizing themselves in mirrors, and learning how to solve puzzles. Is this perhaps because they are scavengers and therefore have had to develop their intelligence to seek out new food sources, unlike more specialist birds which only eat one type of food.
But they are also one of the most beautiful of birds too, much prettier than the crows and rooks they are related to. So next time you see a magpie, don’t just pass him by, but stop a moment and watch as he dives about and try to catch his eye as he struts around unafraid and bold in his smart bright feathers, and put a good word in for me while you are about it.