The Beginning of the End? – now it gets interesting

Thursday 21st March

On the eve of a budget I find myself drawn back to Cyprus and the Eurozone crisis.  It may well be that in the long run this will affect our lives even more than George giving away even more to the wealthy and squeezing the poor again (though that is pure speculation as I am writing this before George commends his budget to the house – but the guy does have form).

For ages nothing seems to happen and then all of a sudden everything happens at once.  Last night a brief flurry of real democracy broke out as the Cyprus Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject the raid on savers bank accounts.  Alarmed maybe by the anger of ordinary people, or spooked by fears of a run on the banks (the very thing the bail-out was supposed to stop) or just realizing that this latest move was immoral and simply a step too far they said NO.

So what happens now?  No-one quite knows.  Who will blink first, the Germans who control the purse-strings or the Cypriots, or the Russians who want to protect the maybe ill-gotten gains of the many Russians who have put money into Cyprus.  Almost comically George Osborne has dispatched a plane with 1 million euro’s on board to assist UK troops and families in case the banks do go under.   Whether they will be needed no-one knows, but there is a good chance of the Cyprus banks collapsing anyway, either because they do not get Eurozone funding, or because despite re-assurances people still do not trust them and panic sets in anyway.

The West bangs on and on about democracy, but whenever it is actually put into practice and politicians actually do what the majority of people want them to, the big institutions do everything in their power to overrule it.

There will be a few more twists to go in this story I am sure, but in the end I don’t think Cyprus will leave the EU, or the euro, and I don’t think the euro will collapse.  But a lesson, a very hard lesson indeed may have been learned; that you cannot shit on people forever.  Sooner or later they will say NO.  And of course, the people who got us into this mess – the bankers – will never be punished.  It seems easier to punish a whole country’s population than actually deal with the greed of the few at the top.


The Fury of the Press

Wednesday 20th March

At last a degree of common sense has broken out; a form of words has been devised to save face.  Cameron’s face of course, because he was heading for defeat on press regulation.  And now his old friends in the press are crying ‘Traitor’, ‘Betrayal’ and the ‘Death of Free Speech’, which is all nonsense of course.  Free Speech will still be allowed, but not maligning and persecuting and telling lies about people who have no means of redress.  This is also a more fundamental argument about who runs the country.  For far too long political leaders of both parties cosied up to the press and more or less only got elected with press support.  That may still happen to some degree, as the power of the press, somewhat diminished by the internet and the fact that fewer and fewer people are buying newspapers, is still quite strong.

And now we have not only rumblings of discontent but several publications have said that they will not comply with the Royal Charter and will not recognize the new regulator to be set up in the near future.  They would rather be fined for not ‘joining’ the scheme than obey the law of the land.  This was the whole point of the argument in the first place.  Is the press outside the scope of the Law?   Well, for a while it was undoubtedly.  Now there has been a change of heart and more and more of the guilty will be brought, somewhat belatedly to Justice.  But on this fundamental question I am confused.  Personally I do not like some laws that have been passed, but I cannot remember having the right to opt out, to not join in with this law, to sit outside its jurisdiction and cock a snook at Parliament.

But of course that is exactly what Rupert and the Daily Mail and the Express and the Telegraph and the Star and the Mirror have been doing for years.  They just don’t like being in any fashion made to behave in a way that the overwhelming majority of people in this country want them to.  They can still do investigative journalism, they can still report on anything they consider of public interest.  They will simply not be able to tell outright lies, to humiliate and invade the private lives of ordinary people, to in some cases drive people to suicide by their inane desire to kick a person when they are down.  Common humanity is all we are asking for.  And if the press don’t like it, hard luck.  Blame Rupert – he got you all into this mess.

The Beginning of the End?

Tuesday 19th March

For those in Cyprus it may well be.  Almost hidden amongst the news of the Duchess of Cornwall getting her shoe stuck was the bail-out of Cyprus.  Although tiny in financial terms the fact that yet another country has been rescued from bankruptcy, and incidentally thrown straight into the straight-jacket of Austerity means the Euro crisis is back on track.  For any savers it is devastating, they will lose 6.7% of the value of their often meagre savings, those with larger deposits could lose 15%.  While we may not feel too sorry for those rich Greeks and others who thought putting their money into tiny Cyprus was safer than leaving it at home, an awful lot of very ordinary people will be hit very hard.  And of course none of it is their fault.

We are still living through the greatest financial banking crisis ever, and no-one knows exactly how it will end.  Banks overextended themselves, ever since Reagan in America and Thatcher over here loosened all financial regulations, and Europe soon followed.  Greed and complacency led Governments worldwide to turn a blind eye to bankers getting richer and richer and by the way getting us all deeper and deeper in debt.  And now most of those wonderful investments are turning bad.  At times I have wondered just why rich people and institutions were buying Government bonds which barely paid any interest.  It was for safety in this most uncertain of worlds, surely Governments would honour their debts.  Wouldn’t they?

And the worst of it is that in this eminently connected world you cannot isolate the problem.  Cypriot banks own billions of Greek debt, which will put the spotlight back on Greece.

But there is another big problem with this bail-out; despite EU promises of protection of savers deposits and Government promises when it came down to it they were worthless.  So confidence in banks will take another hit; the authorities are already braced for a run on Cypriot and Greek banks when they re-open on Tuesday (now postponed till Thursday).  And what if this fear spreads to Italy and Spain, and even – dare we whisper it Britain.  There is nothing so powerful as fear, and if people feel their money is not safe and the banks will not pay out or Governments take a chunk then where the hell will we be.

It may not happen of course, it may just rumble on and on, but that is almost worse in a way.  Decades of stagnation, more and more Austerity, more and more destitution, the re-introduction of workhouses, because what else can do with these wretches.  Ah well, enjoy your day, but just watch this one – slow burner that it might be.

Car Boot Sale Britain

Monday 18th March

It wasn’t even a real car boot sale, no muddy field in the cold and rain but about sixteen tables in the Columbine Community Centre in Walton-on-the-Naze.  The stalls consisted of a lady who specializes in quite lovely Caithness glass, paperweights and expensive glass ornaments, a couple of semi-antique dealers who will never lower their prices, a lady selling jewelry, another kiddies toys and one hand-made cards, and lots of dvds and books which never seem to sell, one lady selling apple pies and scones, and about six of us who were just selling whatever we wanted rid of.

It was pretty miserable and cold outside but warm indoors, and for many this was I think the main attraction, and most look as if they come here every week, meeting friends, having a bacon sandwhich and a cup of tea.  They wander disconsolately round ekeing out their pennies, buying an ornament here, a tea-towel there but not prepared to comtemplate anything over 50p.

There were about a hundred or so customers and we did sell, or almost give away, a few bits and pieces, Julia sold a few bars of soap, and I got rid of a couple of old lamps, a clock and one or two other bits that had been mouldering in the garage for years.  All in all we had a good time and had a few nice chats with other stall-holders.  But what is Britain reduced to – this car boot sale mentality, where almost everyone was over sixty, they all probably read The Mail and will undoubtedly vote UKIP in the European elections but may well revert back to the Tories a year later.  What are they living for?  Their daily soaps, gossip with neighbours in the co-op and a weekly car boot sale at the Columbine Centre.  Most seem almost scared of their own shadows – a quiet and desperately hard-up apology for a life.

Always Loading and Unloading the Car

Sunday 17th March

For years I never even had a car, and seemed to manage quite adequately without one.  My partner loves her car and uses it for everything, including transporting furniture and all sorts of odds and ends from one house to another.  Our fault for having three I suppose, but I had a house full of stuff before I met her, and at that time she had two houses full herself.  And that was before we bought France, which of course had to be filled up with stuff, most of which we transported by car.  We are back down to just three houses now, but every weekend I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time loading and unloading the car.

I have no idea where all this stuff comes from, but we seem to be addicted to buying junk which travels from one abode to another, usually ending up in my garage which until today was chocker.  We are trying to get rid of a lot of it this weekend at a car boot sale, though I imagine we will return with at least as much, after wandering around the other stalls and buying even more junk.

Not that it really matters, as long as we cover the cost of our table it will be a success, and some of the old table lamps and ornaments I will be happy to lose for 50p, or if you really want it, just take it away.

None of these financial transactions will even figure on the horizon of the vast amounts ‘earned’ in selling my old house and buying two others and doing them up.

Money is the most ridiculous of commodities and I am one of those people who are only really happy when I can see a rising balance on a spreadsheet, though am equally happy to admit that when it is all gone it is all gone.  For myself I could live on a remarkably small income and be quite content, but money seems to come in one end and flows out the other, and each transaction seems to be accompanied by me loading and unloading the car.

Signs of Cracks in the Coalition

Saturday 16th March

One of the perennial criticisms of coalitions, such as Isreal and Italy have lived with for years, is that they are fragile, unstable and ultimately satisfy none of the supporters of the coalition-ees. This one was supposed to be different; this was an almost ‘holy’ alliance with the single objective of rescuing Britain from the Deficit and to eventually reduce our Debt.  Not much progress on that front so far of course.  One could say with hindsight (and I screamed it at the time) that the Lib-Dems were incredibly naïve and would have been far better to have held out for supporting a minority Tory administration on the economy but free to oppose where it felt it needed to on social issues.

Part of the trouble is that the Tories had been out of power for thirteen years and desperately wanted to change everything overnight, and the Lib-Dems gave them the opportunity to do so. On ‘The Week in Politics’ last night Portillo said that the policies being pursued by the coalition were voted for by over 60% of the electorate.  But no, hardly any of the policies now being enacted were mentioned in the election campaign by either of the two coalition partners.

And the Lib-Dems have suffered so much opprobrium that they felt their only chance was to stay the course and remain in the coalition.  And Clegg, love or hate him, has managed to hold his party together extremely well.  Not so Mr. Cameron, possibly because most of his party know they will be re-elected as MPs whatever happens, but also because of the restrictions of being in a coalition, with every ‘soft social climb-down’ being branded a Lib-Dem policy by the far-right.

But we are now only 2 years at most away form a general election and nerves are beginning to fray.  The Lib-Dems are beginning to realise that not only may they lose quite a few seats (though maybe not as many as some fear) and a big percentage drop in their vote, but also the possibility that they may actually have to go into coalition with Labour next time.

And the Tories are realizing that without the boundary changes they lost in their House of Lords spat with the Lib-Dems they must be at least 7% ahead of Labour to stand any chance of even being the largest party, let alone winning outright.

I suspect that the coalition will remain in place, but more and more in name only.  The Lib-Dems will vote with Labour on Leveson, and maybe on Minimum Alcohol Pricing, and will begin to position themselves again to the left of the Tories, and try to retain at least their core voters.  There is no real serious contender to either Clegg or Cameron in this Parliament, but come defeat and all the gloves will be off.  Also watch out for a 2014 election; despite everything Cameron has said – if the polls start to narrow he might seize his chance especially if negotiations with Europe get sticky and he finds an issue he can maybe fight on.

H is for Steve Harley

Friday 15th March

Steve Harley was the singer in Cockney Rebel.  I first heard of them and saw them singing live in 1972, I didn’t realise then that Steve was not only the singer but the songwriter and creative force behind the band.  Two incredible albums of ‘Glam Rock’ which almost rivaled Bowie and Marc Bolan later and the band broke up.  This was probably because of Steve’s irascible temper and musical dominance.  He quickly assembled a new band and ditched the violin-player and started to make a harder more traditional rock group.  He wrote a song about the members of the first band coming to see him to tell him they were leaving.  This went on to become a massive number 1 hit and a perennial radio and dance-hall favourite ‘Make me Smile (Come up and See Me).

But still Steve was hardly happy and brought out a couple more albums, perversely changing the band’s name to Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel before dispensing with their services completely and going it alone.  He was still writing great songs but seemed adrift somehow.  He moved to L. A. and married Yvonne Elliman.  We heard nothing from him for a few years until he returned to England and remarried and settled in Suffolk.  He has since brought out a few studio and a lot of live albums and continues to tour with both a big band and an acoustic set.  He has an incredibly loyal following who turn up at every gig to hear the old songs sung with great passion and energy and the occasional new one thrown in.

The man is a genius, a brilliant singer and songwriter and a complete arsehole.  He could have been a really big star, but apart from a few stalwart musicians he has managed to alienate most of those in the music business.  I, of course, still buy everything he deigns to release and see him about once every two years for communion with a holy (and devilish) spirit.


No Conception of Time

Thursday 14th March

There is no doubting that the brains of Men and Women work in slightly different ways.  Women are far more adept at picking up signals, detecting subtle mood changes, and in expressing their emotions than men.  Men seem to have a wire loose when it comes to understanding other peoples moods.  Faced with a member of the opposite sex we are reduced to a quivering wreck nervously wrong-guessing our potential partners every signal.

Whether it is the millennia our ancestors spent as hunter-gatherers or the cut and thrust of business but in general men have a better understanding of time.  All generalizations are odious and there will be examples aplenty to disprove my theory.  Suffice it say in my experience it is true.  I am always aware of the time of day, and when glancing at my watch I am invariable only five or ten minutes out, but am constantly surprised by many women’s apparent astonishment that it is in fact two o’clock already.  Come to think of it very few women seem to wear a watch nowadays, especially since all mobile phones display the time, whereas, possibly clinging to an outworn habit, most men still wear one.

Confronted by a few tasks to complete I can almost always estimate correctly how long they will take, both at work and at home, and if I conclude that I cannot do them all will not attempt those that may be more time-consuming, but so often I find women’s optimistic assessment of how long things take to do to be unrealistic, and they end up leaving tasks half-finished or not even started.  They also have little consideration for other’s time.  I have worked for three women bosses, all of whom constantly turned up late for meetings, oblivious or lacking any guilt at keeping a room full of people wasting their own maybe precious time waiting for their arrival.  Many women are quite happy to keep hubby and kids waiting at the front door while they finish their make-up, fiddle with their hair, change their top for the fourth time or decide that they need to move the ornaments on their dressing table at that precise moment.

Ah, how cruel you will think me, and it is quite possible that we anal men are completely wrong and that time being a man-made concept anyway is simply a waste of time after all, and we shouldn’t worry our little brains over such trivia when making sure we look good or spending time on ourselves is so much more important.

Marrying into the Aristocracy

Wednesday 13th March

One of the abiding themes of English Literature, and our beknighted history of course, is marrying into the Aristocracy.  You know, those in trade, who have come into a lot of money but crave respectability marrying the impoverished but titled gentry.  In this way the upper classes constantly renew themselves, replenishing their diminishing gene-pool and their bank accounts along the way.  And it is still going on today.

I picked up the Evening standard the other day; I was just starting a new book (by Trollope, of course) and not quite into it yet, you know how the first chapters introduce the main characters and you need to concentrate.  Anyway, tough day at work etc: I grabbed a Standard to read.  And there in London Diary, the snobbish bit where celebs meet the gentry I read that Sam Branson, son of self-made multi-millionaire we all love Sir Richard, has just married (wait for it) Isabella Amaryllis Charlotte Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe.

Isabella is described as an actress, though I cannot imagine that name appearing on film credits.  There is no other indication of who the delightful treble-barrelled actress is, or who her family are etc:.  But you don’t get a name like that unless you are somebody, or your parents think they are still somebody, or recently were somebody.

Anyway I am sure than Sam and Bella will be incredibly happy together, and soon we will hear the patter of tiny feet as one by one the little Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe-Bransons make their appearance into the world.

But poor things, what possible Christian names can go with Branson.  Somehow Amaryllis Branson doesn’t sound quite up to the mark. It might leave the poor darlings in a bit of a pickle I suppose.

Today, beneath a sacred tree on the summit of a hill overlooking the South African veldt, Sir Richard Branson's son and heir Sam ties the knot with society blonde Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe

Do you see any green shoots?

Tuesday 12th March

It is nearly spring-time, and yet there is little sign of it out there.   I did actually see a scrawny handful of daffodils just opening their faces to the world at the weekend, though how they will cope in this icy wind I wonder.  It hardly seems to have warmed up all winter, a couple of sunny days and now straight back to winter.

The garden is sodden. The grass a dark winter green still, and even ‘Batchelor’s Button’ is hardly ablaze, just a few sporadic flutterings of yellow amongst the thin branches.  Green Park is usually awash with yellow daffodils by now, but hardly any seem to have poked their first green leaves out yet.  The shops are full of light spring jackets and flowery dresses, while their customers are still looking for hats and gloves.

And so people wrap up and huddle along the pavements, braving themselves against the chill wintry wind, and the whole population seems hunkered down against the bad weather.

In just the same way, no-one has any real confidence that the country can return to prosperity.  Maybe this is the end of growth as we have known it since the fifties, with each generation doing better than their parents, home ownership increasing, secure employment, more and more foreign travel, second and even third homes, and best of all the security of knowing the future will be fine.  Now we are suddenly looking back through the wrong end of the telescope, families renting forever, a succession of jobs, periods of unemployment and re-training, working on and on because you cannot afford to retire, children still living at home into their thirties, and the sure knowledge that ‘it aint gonna get any better’.

So where are the green shoots?  I am almost willing for the economy to improve soon, even if that gives the Tories a semblance of a chance to be re-elected.  I met yet another person yesterday who is being laid off work, at 58 he will struggle to get anything like a permanent job again.  This recession or downturn or whatever you want to call it is different from all the ones we have experienced before, where after a short sharp shock we bounced back.  Absolutely no sign of any bounce at all this time, just like the daffs in the garden, no real green shoots visible yet.