Apathy the big winner

Tuesday 20th November

The elections for Police Commissioner came and went, and I bet most of you have forgotten them already.  This was a flagship policy of the Government, but if so their arms must be very tired because there was not much waving at all.  This was another one of these ideas which seem to have come out of nowhere with no groundswell of support, even from the politicians let alone the general public.  And the general public gave their answer in the most sensible way – by not participating.  There was on Friday morning a fair bit of media discussion as to why people didn’t vote – cold November weather, lack of publicity, no free maildrops for the candidate, no media interest – you pays your money and you takes your choice.  But the real reason wasn’t any of the above, though they all may have contributed, the real reason was not even apathy.  The public, stupid in many ways, realised that it would make bugger-all difference whoever was effectively in charge of the Police.  There would be no more money available, and in fact the post of PCC and their staff would only eat into an already reduced budget.  In reality too, although the PCC could hire or fire the Chief Constable, it is almost inconceivable that this would happen.  We all know that the role of PCC will be ineffective and when it comes to re-electing them there will be the same level of apathy as before.

Whether this was apocryphal or true, a reporter on the streets of Swindon on Friday morning had asked passers-by who they voted for, and the first six thought he was talking about I’m A Celebrity, it does neatly sum up the whole fiasco.

And nobody wants peace

Monday 19th November

It seems like groundhog day, you know the film where the hero is forced to relive every day over and over again.  Isreal and the Palestinians are at it again; it only seems like yesterday that we had the nightmare of the 2008/2009 invasion of Gaza by Isreal, and here we are again facing yet another bloody war, yet more children orphaned, yet more violence, yet more stubborn stupidity.

My sympathies are with the Palestinians and always have been ever since 1967.  We all know there have been wars and possibly, though one sincerely hopes not, there always will be.  Civil wars are often the ugliest but wars between nations or peoples can be devastating.  But for the last hundred years or so it has always seemed that once a war is over, or the fighting has stopped then you try to find a political solution to living together.  This never happened in the Middle East, and worse the Isreali’s have refused to seriously contemplate giving back the land they have taken by force.

The Arab nations have mostly made some sort of peace with Isreal, and one by one have stopped posturing about driving them into the sea, but the problem of the Palestinians has never been seriously addressed.  Even by the Palestinians themselves who lurch from supporting one radical group to one even more radical, and they must realise that they will never be strong enough to beat Isreal in a war. So why do they continue to provoke Isreal by firing rockets again and again at them.

And Isreal is even worse, using these ridiculous attacks as an excuse for even more disproportionate shelling of tiny beleaguered Gaza.  I cannot help thinking that neither side wants peace  – Hamas, because a state of constant threat unites their tiny state-let and reinforces the credentials of the extremists; and Isreal, because it shunts the infamous road-map of the Americans even further down the road.

So both sides are hurtling into another bloody conflict which neither side, unless Isreal kills every single Palestinian, can possibly win.  And the world looks on with amazement, that in the twenty-first century we can still have this amount of bloodshed and this amount of stubborn stupidity.

E is for Steve Earle

Sunday 18th November

I first came across Steve Earle in the late 80’s.  I was in the habit of trawling certain second-hand record shops, being especially interested in snapping up CD singles, often for only a few pence.  One such purchase was ‘Justice in Ontario’.  Steve Earle comes from the deep South of America and has quite an accent and I couldn’t really tell you what Justice he was looking for or singing or protesting about in Ontario but was hooked on the voice and the music – a sort of hillbilly country rock that resonated with my lifelong love of country tinged Americana.  I later bought an album of his Copperhead Road which was amazing, full of heartfelt ballads and quite heavy rocky numbers all infused with that country twang of his voice.  I struggled to find any of his albums over here, either in high street record shops or the more obscure places I visited in Soho.  And nobody I spoke to had ever heard of him.  In fact I didn’t hear of him for a few years either and that was because he stopped making records and tried to overcome his drug addiction.

He roared back in the late nineties with a series of scorching albums full of anti-Republican jibes and great tunes.  He was at last gaining some recognition and is now attributed with being a driving force behind the resurgence of interest in American music.  He has campaigned tirelessly against the death penalty and his song ‘Billy Austin’ perfectly sums up how those on Death Row feel, and the futile waste of life it entails.  He believes in redemption for everyone, almost an alien concept in modern day America.

So, if you see one of his records, or feel like trying him out on You-Tube I don’t think you will be too disappointed.


A long walk by the Sea

Saturday 17th November

I had in yet another moment of madness ordered £50 worth of CDs from Amazon.  Not quite so crazy, as three were Christmas Presents and one was a box set of all of Simon and Garfunkel’s Original CDs including the Concert in the Park (even though I had them all on Vinyl and do have their Greatest Hits).  Be that as it might, the package from Amazon was too large to go through my letter-box and I had to collect it from the Post Office in Frinton.   It is about a two mile walk, and there are a couple of ways to walk it – the main road, or along the Esplanade by the sea.

I never know quite when the buses are running here, and unlike in London where there is one every few minutes, here they are fairly few and far between.  I walked to the church where there is a bus-stop and saw a handful of people waiting.  And yes a bus came along after a few minutes.

I retrieved my package and decided to walk back along the sea-front.  The morning was cold, but no wind or rain.  I walked towards the sea and down the steps to the esplanade walk which goes between Walton and Frinton for a couple of miles.  The tide was about half way out and slowly returning, the sand not quite dry from the last high tide was a pale brown colour, and the sea a nondescript grey – dissipating out to a misty horizon and the sky only a slightly paler shade of grey.  There were a few dog-walkers on the beach, the dogs skipping around and sniffing every bit of seawall they came across.

I started at a brisk pace, and as my circulation increased I hardly noticed the cold.  In fact I felt remarkably good; invigorated and healthy, a feeling of immense well-being came over me. What could be better in life than being wrapped up warm and striding along in the misty grey morning, the sea behaving in its relentless way on my right, and a gentle sloping bank lined with multi-coloured and closed up beach huts on my left.  I passed a few fellow walkers who all cheerily wished me ‘Good Morning’ on my half-hour constitutional.

It made me wonder why on earth I didn’t do this every time I was here.

The Beach

Walton on the Naze, Essex

Is no-one on Holiday?

Friday 16th November

I have never seen London so busy, in fact it was almost empty in the summer, what with Boris warning everyone to stagger their journeys or work from home.  But now it is madness; the tubes are crammed to overflowing and the roads are almost gridlocked.  Strange for a country that is supposed to be in the grips of a recession.  And as usual there are road-works going on all over the place, and there appears to be no let-up in the weekend train disruption.  So what is the explanation; unless it might just be that no-one is on holiday at the moment.

Most people get at least four weeks holiday a year, and the country will shut up shop for two weeks as usual at Christmas, except for the shopping centres, whose poor staff are expected to work while the rest of us shop.  Most of us like to get away if we can during the summer, which now stretches from mid April to late October, when we still hope to catch a glimpse of the sun.

Winter ski holidays are almost exclusively from January to March, as are those Winter breaks which we all aspire to, but only a few can afford, when the Caribbean and Mexico, or Thailand and East Africa appear to  be beacons of sunshine in our gloomy landscape.  But November is almost no-one’s ideal month for a holiday, the proximity to Christmas, with all that added expense and preparation makes it a month that few people choose for their holidays.

So instead, they are here – on the tubes, in the shops, bustling along the pavements, taking up every available seat in Pret, and of course, no matter how much I might complain about them – I am one of them myself.

Christmas is just round the corner

Thursday 15th November

We get 365 days notice of Christmas, but there is always a day when you wake up and realise “Oh shit, it will be Christmas soon.”  For some people this day is 24th December, but though I am often still rushing around on that day, I have never ever left it that late to buy presents.  And every year we all say to each other, “Let’s just get token presents this year, buy something nice for the kiddies, but please don’t spend much money on me.”  And every year we look at the pathetic nonsense we have bought, which may have cost 20 or 25 pounds and feel it is so inadequate that we dash out and buy something else to go with it.

And the presents are only a small part of it.  There is the buying of, the writing of and the posting of the cards.  My mother used to keep a book of cards sent and received; adding and subtracting people from her voluminous list each year depending on whether she received a card from them.  She doesn’t bother now, but still receives a mountain of cards compared to the twenty or so I get.  And what does it all mean, how many are sent out with any genuine feeling and how many because we always send these people cards.

Then there is the dragging out of the Christmas decorations which look shabbier and shabbier each year, until you do actually get around to replacing that antique artificial tree with a nice modern pre-lit monstrosity which is always smaller than you imagined when you saw it in the shop along with all the other ones.  Each year I try to surreptitiously put up a few less decorations than last year in the vain hope that one year I won’t put any up at all and no-one will notice.

Then we have the ritual of the Christmas food shopping to endure, when we know we will fill our trolley with all manner of things we would never dream of buying if it weren’t Christmas, and will struggle to eat as the New Year passes us by.  But we cannot have Christmas without Port and Stilton, or a Panetonne or a Stollen, or a Christmas Cake or Christmas Pudding or Brandy Butter, or loads of cream and chocolates galore and don’t even start on the meat.

And a tremendous amount of money will be spent, and we will regret it in January when the credit card bill comes in, but at least we will have about ten months to relax before we wake again in mid-November and realise that Christmas is coming again.

The Times They Are A Changin’

Wednesday 14th November

I wonder if Dylan had any idea of the changes that were still to come when he wrote that song fifty years ago in 1962.  He was living through the rapid postwar changes in America, where a largely rural society was suddenly becoming urbanized, where young people – and by that he meant twenty-somethings, teenagers still did not matter – were demanding a bigger say in the way the world was run. America had a young President, who was promising a brave new world, even if the cold war was at its nastiest peak with the threat of nuclear war just there on the horizon.  But hardly anyone had telephones, television was still black and white and even in America only a couple of channels, there were no computers, cinema was still locked in that cosy Hollywood world of make-believe, un-besmirched by grim reality. Black people were still segregated physically in the South, and even in the big cities were definitely second class citizens.  Homosexuality was illegal, and gay people had to be very very careful.  Abortions were illegal too, so there were shotgun weddings and absolute shame if you were a single mother.  Divorces were uncommon and expensive and divorced women, especially, were generally not welcome in polite society.

And yet Bob felt that things were changing and he wrote an anthem that a whole generation sang, looking forward to a new world.  Little did he envisage the immense changes to come.  And yet how was he also to know that all that enthusiasm for real political change would dissipate so quickly.  Afghanistan has replaced Vietnam in the roll-call of foreign interventionist wars; Obama has replaced Kennedy; Al Quaeda and Muslim fanaticism has replace Russia in the new cold war, the rich are even richer; the poor just as destitute, and a majority of those are still black; but worst – a sort of apathy has settled over young people, the real drivers of society.  No longer are they looking for heroes and role models, simply celebrities, whose rich and easy lifestyle is to be emulated and admired.

And in fifty years time when ‘The Times They Are A Changin’ is dragged out of the archives will they have any clue at all what Bob was singing about.


Tuesday 13th November

Isn’t it strange that some days you feel fine, and others you feel shattered.   I had quite a relaxed weekend, and yet even then I was tired all the time.  I got to bed at a reasonable time on Sunday night, and yet all day Monday I felt shattered.  It all just felt too much.  And every little thing seemed a struggle.  I was transferring some money to France to pay the plumber who is putting in the facilities in the guest wing (a brick built room in the garden – but don’t tell anyone).  RBS were quite useless, I went in to transfer £3000 to Smart Currency FX, from whom I had bought my euro’s (not as good a rate as when I bought the house, but certainly better than the banks are offering – and no commission or onward transfer fees) and they started asking questions “What did I need the euro’s for?  What use was I putting the money to?”  “None if your business actually.”   “But we need to know.”  “No you don’t, or do you actually want me to close my account and transfer all my money out today (says he, as if he is Phillip Green himself).  “No, no, we simply like to make sure our customers are acting wisely.”  “FFS – if I want to put it on the 4.45 at Chepstow, that is my choice, leave me alone.”  Of course I omitted the last comment.  Anyway, they of course reluctantly agreed to do the transfer, but why the hassle.  Then they started to try and sell me an ISA.. F… off Mr. Hester, I already own 82% of your crumby bank.

Anyway, I must admit I did feel a tad better after that spat.  But the day wore on.  And on.  And the longer it continued the more shattered I felt.  I felt as if I could barely make it home on the tube.  And now at 9.15 p.m. I feel – you guessed it – shattered.

The BBC – still tearing itself apart

Monday 12th November

Incredible times we are living through.  Most commentators, who by the way have either worked for or still are working for the BBC, are saying that this is the biggest crisis the BBC has ever faced.  We have just lost the newly appointed Director General, either through incredible bad luck, or some sort of jealousy based conspiracy of silence amongst his immediate subordinates which has led to his downfall.  The chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patton – a supposedly safe pair of hands is next in the frame for the big heave-ho.  Everyone agrees that the BBC needs another complete management shake-up, which must be urgently implemented by whoever is the next Director General.  One wonders just how many senior management shake-ups there have been since Lord Birt was sent in to sort the place out.  There is talk that Newsnight is now so tainted it will soon be axed altogether.  Has the world gone crazy?  At worst this was a story which was badly sourced and not thoroughly checked, and apologies have now been made to the very person the programme deliberately did NOT name.  So what?  Newspapers get stuff wrong all the time.  ITV has been guilty of far worse and escapes with at worst a slapped wrist.  I suspect this is far more likely a concerted Tory attempt to smear the BBC so that they will NEVER again investigate rumours and stories about senior Tory politicians than any real failing of the BBC.  True, there may well have been a degree of bad management etc, etc.   But really is this all front page news?  We are still in the middle of a worldwide financial recession, the problems with Greece and the Eurozone do not get any better, Syria is falling apart in front of our eyes, Iran may or may not be close to having their own Nuclear bomb, America is about to fall off a fiscal cliff with probably disastrous consequences – and all the Media are obsessed by is what is happening at the BBC.   And the rest of the country is only worried about who will win X factor and what bush-tucker trials Nadiine Dorries will have to face.  Grow up all of you.

Did I forget to mention

Sunday 11th November

Sometimes I am so busy that I forget things.  Things which are important.  Amongst all the bad news, the way people constantly mistreat each other, the unimaginable cruelty, the disregard for other people and their lives, the criminality that goes on at every level of society, the benefit scroungers, the rich putting money in tax-avoidance schemes, the politicians in the pocket of big business, the cosying up to Murdoch, the mutual back-slapping as they enrich club members, the cruelty and neglect of chlldren – both by ignorant parents and cruel care staff, the horrors of the revelations of the Welsh children’s homes, the unnecessary poverty all over the world, the starving children, the diseases that can be cured, the deliberately broken limbs of professional beggars, the unkindness you meet at every turn, the selfishness of the haves and the lack of imagination of most peoples lives.

I may have forgotten to mention that this is still a good time and place to live, people can be kind, people do look out for their neighbours, our young people are often very helpful and so talented, there is an acceptance of people who may be a different colour, or race or sexuality than us but on the whole we embrace them, there still is a good health service, there still is help if you lose your job, most people still have families that are far kinder than when I was a boy, there is Art all around us and most of it is free, there are hundreds of TV and radio stations offering free entertainment, there are wonderful films being made, exciting music is out there, and there is love.  Above all there is love.  So I apologise if I have forgotten to mention these things occasionally.

Here endeth today’s lesson.