How we feel about ourselves

Monday 10th September

Of course one shouldn’t complain, especially after the summer we have had, but it really was such a hot weekend.  And everyone’s mood was changed; everywhere you went people seemed relaxed and care-free.  Maybe the summer of Sport, the Olympics and now the Paralympics have had something to do with it.  At last the British are feeling happy about themselves.  For a few years now we have had the Financial Crisis of All Crises, and every day the news just gets worse, economic statistics heaped on our heads night after night.  And even if it is going to get even tougher, and the cuts will deepen and unemployment may get worse, and there isn’t much hope on the horizon, something has happened over this summer to the way we see ourselves.  For too long we were no-hopers, also-rans, a bit ineffective in the world.  And suddenly despite all our worst fears we have pulled it off with possibly the best Olympic and Paralympic Games ever.  There were no disasters, no strikes, no unfinished buildings, no rain stopped play, no cancelled events, no drug-cheats, hardly even any disappointing performances.  Everything actually went well, in fact everything went brilliantly, spectacularly so.

In an earlier blog, sometime in May I believe I suggested that there might be an October election, that the Conservatives might see an improvement in their prospects, and along with the improved mood of the country, they might just go for it.  Thankfully the mood of optimism has not translated into renewed confidence in the Government.  But I wouldn’t rule it out for early next year.   At the moment along with everyone else it is just too hot to contemplate.

Digging the Grave

Sunday 9th September

Digging the grave is Cockney Rhyming Slang for having a shave, although whether it is true original Cockney or the modern version of ‘Mockney’ I am not sure.  But quite apt it is.  This daily ritual is for most men very methodical, often performed first thing in the morning while still half asleep, in fact most of us could actually do it in our sleep.  Apart from a couple of years in the seventies when first a moustache and then a full beard made their appearance I have been digging the grave for over forty years now.  At first in one’s teens you cannot wait to shave, but can easily go two or three days without needing to.  ‘Put some milk on it and the cat will lick it off.’  Was the oft-heard jibe.  But then it got to once a day, and if you were really stupid, a second one in the early evening only encouraged the bloody thing to grow even faster.

And every morning as the blade makes it vertical swipes through the shave gel you look at yourself, but you never really notice how much older you are getting as each day you inexorably you approach your death.   But that is what is happening as you are methodically and repeatedly digging the grave.

Here comes the Sun

Saturday 8th September

Just as the Beatles were getting fractious and beginning to fall apart, John so full of drugs and Yoko, and Paul desperately trying to find ways to both re-invent and actually keep the band together, George, always the quiet one, started to come into his own.  He not only discovered Indian Music and Religion, but also started to write much better songs, at least the equal of John and Paul.  And for whatever reason those two were also prepared to allow him more than the one token song he used to get on the early albums.  And almost the best song he wrote as a Beatle was ‘Here Comes the Sun’.

And now, almost every time I open the bedroom curtains and peer myopically out, if the sun is shining, the words of that song come back to my mind.  ‘And I say it’s alright’.  ‘It feels years since it’s been here’. ‘Little Darling’.  ‘Sun sun sun, here it comes.’   And there isn’t much more to it than that.  One of the simplest and yet most affectingly honest songs ever written.  And yet it expresses perfectly that lovely feeling when you realise it is going to be a sunny day again.

So, after a very mixed summer, with months of rain and not many decent days, enjoy this weekend while you still can, because – Here comes the Sun.

Isolated inside our heads

Friday 7th September

Sitting here in a Prêt, just off Baker Street, I am surrounded by busy bloggers, i-pad browsers and mobile doodlers, and I am suddenly struck by how much the world has changed in such a short time.   A few years ago there were far fewer such establishments; it is only a recent phenomenon, the rise of Starbucks, Costa, Nero and Prêt.  A few years ago there were a few greasy spoon style cafes, Italian sandwich bars and small establishments where you could get tea or instant coffee in a white mug.  No-one would have dreamed of drinking out of cardboard.   And you had to wait while the woman behind the counter refilled the large metal tea-pot with hot water, giving it a desultory stir, before casually pouring out your tea.  Now it is highly mechanized, the training for a barrista being almost as long as that for a barrister.

But back then people talked to each other, now we are all isolated little islands of technology, with our ears wired to music or news podcasts or watching some TV re-run on i-player.  And I am one of them, as I type frantically, grabbing these few minutes of my busy day, I do not want to waste a moment, so I too have my headphones in, listening to some singer I am currently besotted with while I try to make this blog at least partly entertaining.  And none of us are in the slightest aware of anyone else, all so busy with our messages, our e-mails, our music,our texts, our…..well, whatever we are absorbed in, because it aint each other anymore.

A Cabinet Reshuffle ?– Told you so

Thursday 6th September

Well, no real surprises there, were there?  Oh, just one or two.  After Jeremy Hunt’s turgid time over Murdoch and the BSky bid, he was rewarded by being given Health.  At least Rupert will now know when a hospital is being closed before the staff and patients are told.  But the downside is we will have to see his stupid grinning face for a few years to come.  One would have thought it was a perfect opportunity to have quietly dropped him, but then maybe that would have been too much an admission of guilt.

But for sheer gall one had to admire Michael Fallon (another highly slappable face) on Newsnight when he defended the demotion and reduction of women in the Cabinet, by declaring that there were now more women in Government overall, and there never had been as many women appointed by a Conservative Prime Minister before.  Hey Michael, the last Tory PM was in the last century.  He is rapidly becoming (Michael Gove excepted) the most annoying apologist for this Government.  And it was the twin demotions of Baroness Warsi and Justine Greening that really defined this reshuffle.  Warsi could be annoying, but often because she was so good and clever and witty, even when she was defending the indefensible.  Besides she was working class and a northerner and Asian, so by demoting her Cameron is sending out the right message to the type of voters he will need to win the next election.  And as for poor Justine Greening, I am afraid that Boris is quite right on this occasion.  Watch out, ‘U’ turn ahead.  The wording has subtly changed, last night Fallon repeatedly said that no third runway at Heathrow would be ‘built’ during this parliament.  So that’s okay then, one can be planned and agreed, but as long as the tarmac is still not spread out on the ground they won’t have broken their promise.

If they think the voters of West London are that stupid they must all think like Clegg.

A Cabinet Reshuffle

Wednesday 5th September

I am writing this (as usual) the day before you read it.  That is on Tuesday morning, and so the news hasn’t broken yet, though I suspect it will be the dampest of squibs imaginable.  Poor David Cameron, he has all the trappings of power with none of the actuality, none of the freedom to choose his destiny, because he is shackled at both legs to opposing forces.  On the one side is Clegg, with whom he has tied a matrimonial knot which was expedient, but is now looking as tarnished as the brass rings they celebrated with.  Cameron needs the Lib-Dems, because without them he can get no legislation through Parliament, and even now he is not going to have his Constituency Bill which would have given him maybe twenty more seats with no extra votes.   And he will still cling to Clegg, even though Clegg is indeed in trouble with his own party, who are seeing that being in (shared) power is not quite what they thought it might be, as they are blamed for all the unpopular policies they put their name to, and never thanked for the few they have achieved.

On the other side he is shackled to Osborne and the programme they so foolishly rushed into of cutting (or trying to) the deficit so fast, which was always driven by ideology and a pathological hatred of the public sector and all its values.  To abandon Osborne now would indeed be the end for Cameron too.  So I can safely (I hope) predict that it will be all change, but really no change at all as Cameron shifts the deckchairs on the poop deck of the Titanic as it sails proudly on into iceberg strewn waters.

An Advert that Really Annoys Me

Tuesday 4th September

The Whole point of advertising is to persuade you that something is true that you might otherwise either not have noticed or to buy something you would not have done without the advert.  And the strange thing is that although we know the advertisers are lying, or grossly exaggerating at the very least, we tend to believe them.  Or to accept their statements as accurate, because after all there is the Advertising Standards Authority isn’t there, so they aren’t going to tell downright porkies, are they?

Right, so this is the advert I am beginning to get really angry about.  It is all over London at the moment and it is on behalf of the sponsors of the Olympics, McDonalds, Coke, Cadburys, Visa and all the rest.  As if they need even more advertising anyway.  The advert says ‘There would be no – (then in BIG LETTERS) World records broken, great achievements, heart-stopping moments, BLAH BLAH BLAH.  Without the following sponsors…..

And they are absolutely wrong.  Yes, those sponsors have paid a lot of money which maybe make the games bigger and better than they would have been.  But are they really saying that without McDonalds splashed all over London we would not have had an Olympic Games at all, or that somehow the games themselves would never have taken place without Coke lubricating the whole thing.  Had the IOC a few years ago decreed that there would be no corporate sponsorship at all, do you really think that the Olympic Games would not exist.  The truth is that the money would have come from somewhere else, and if there wasn’t enough money then the Games would still have happened, but maybe not without quite the same razz-a-ma-tazz, not all the brand new venues, not quite so spectacular an Opening Ceremony.  Because despite the sponsor’s ludicrous claims it is the Athletes who break World records, who achieve the un-missable moments, whose human endeavour is what the games are all about.

So, yes ,there still would be all those great achievements, we just wouldn’t have Coke and Big Macs shoved down our throats at the same time.

A few thoughts on the Paralympics

Monday 3rd September

No-one can possibly deny the wonderful achievement of these truly world class athletes, but one must sometimes go beyond the hype and the ten page newspaper coverage and ask just what is going on here. Why is it that just once in every four years we even turn our limited attention span to these people?  Is it because the event is being held here in London?  Is it all part of the euphoria we felt during the regular Olympics?  Are we all being swept away by sentimentality over sense, are we maybe just part of some larger crowd hysteria, are we being manipulated by an all-encompassing media.

Possibly even worse, is this modern four-yearly Paralympics just an extension of the Victorian Circus Freak Shows of old?   Are we maybe even a little bit disappointed when we cannot actually see anything wrong with the physique of the runners or swimmers?  Are we subconsciously looking for the prosthetic legs, the withered arms, the blades instead of feet; to, in some strange way, make it all alright?  It’s okay to watch this because it is on the telly, when normally we have been taught that it is wrong to stare at cripples.  In fact we go out of our way not to look them in the eye, the disabled, the lame, the dwarves we sometimes see on the street, we automatically look the other way, try to put them out of our minds, try to think about our perfect lives and not about the fact that these people are all around us.

And at the same time that David Cameron is lauding these athletes his Government is re-testing disabled people ever more stringently.  Not with the intention of rewarding them and making their lives easier, but to save money, to declare them fit for work, even if there are no jobs in any case, because they are no longer disabled but simply lazy and work-shy, malingerers, who can be paid the minimal amount to stop them actually starving.  We really need to re-examine not the disabled but our attitudes to them.

A Few Days On One’s Own

Sunday 2nd September

Sometimes when one is in a relationship one longs for a few days on one’s own, just a bit of time to oneself.  Time to waste, time to do nothing in particular, just a break from the usual routine.  It isn’t that you really want to get away from your partner, but more that you need a little rest from constant company.   And that is exactly what I have had over this summer.  My partner has stayed just over a week longer in France, and who can blame her.  I wish I had more holiday time, or rather someone to pick up some of the work for me occasionally.  In any case it transpired that I have returned for four days of work and three of leisure and the house, or rather two houses, to myself.

And while I rather enjoyed it at first; the freedom of watching whatever crap on the TV that took my fancy; the luxury of eating when and what I liked without worrying about someone else, and just the freedom to come and go as I pleased.  Not that I did anything that different as it transpired, except falling asleep in front of the TV without being told to go to bed.  I have got some writing done both yesterday and today, which was good if tiring.  And I have probably listened to a bit too much music than is good for anyone.  But in a funny way I am dissatisfied, and cannot wait for her return and normality.  Maybe I need the routine to settle me, to keep me busy too, because it is never quiet when she is around.  Tomorrow (today) I am off visiting grandchildren, far better than another day with just me for company.

So, a few days on one’s own are okay, but more than a very few and you are crawling the walls.

The Loneliness of the Long-distance Writer

Saturday 1st September

It is already September.  Hard to believe how quickly the months come round, and here I am still wrestling with the second book a good two years after I finished the first.  Although wrestling is the wrong word, actually getting to grips with it would be a start.  I did manage quite a bit of revision while in France, but haven’t touched it since I have been back.  The trouble is that work keeps getting in the way of my life-style.  I am realizing that rather than being a well-worked five thousand metre steady jog it is turning into a marathon marathon.  I really need to carve out at least a couple of hours a day, and when I am fresh too; it is no good at the end of a working day when your mind is rattled with numbers and the television becomes a way of just letting go of all those thoughts as your mind unwinds.  So, how to resolve the problem; well, I am here at Walton and have just done about 5 hours of catch-up from the time in France.  There is the garden to do, and a couple of odd jobs, but at least for the next two hours I am going to write – and there is tomorrow too.  Actually I am in first revision mode, trying to brighten up my first draft, a bit more snappy conversation, shorter sentences – that sort of thing.

And it is a lonely occupation.  It can only really be done on one’s own, and like in a long-distance race, where you become focused and forget anyone else, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other I know I still have an awful long way to go.  But each sentence is another footfall, and one day the finish line will loom into sight, and I will have to say goodbye.  I wonder quite how I will feel then