Saturday 31st August
I watched most of the debate on Thursday night, and was surprised and delighted by the wisdom of our parliamentarians, especially many on the Tory side, who had the unenviable task of voting against their own Government. Many cited their constituents and their conscience and the memory of being lied to by Blair, but the overwhelming mood of the House was ‘What Good Would It Do?’ And you have to agree with them, that in the balance of probabilities any attack would achieve little, except possible extend the war a bit longer, as Assad would be hurt more than the currently losing rebel side. The possible consequences were too awful to contemplate ranging from retaliation by Iran to scuppering the hopes of real peace talks over Palestine, to sowing another generation of Jihadists.
So, at last Parliament asserted itself. There are many of us who have felt that Party Politics is a large part of the problem with our Democracy. Many MPs, I am sure, are elected with the best of intentions to do good, but find that time and again they are forced to support policies which they do not actually believe in themselves.
Politics is the Art of the Possible, and Cameron has found yet again, as with Phone Hacking, that what he thought was possible is not at all feasible.
So, what next? Well, it is still possible that the US will go it alone, or just with the French. I think that actually the arguments in this debate will resonate more and more with Obama, and he will call the whole thing off. That of course still leaves Syria, and Assad in charge, but maybe now there will be some serious arm-twisting to get peace talks started. We can but hope.
Friday 30th August
By the time you read this our MPs will have discussed and probably come up with a compromise. Cameron has shown how foolish he was by ramping up expectations of a military strike; a rabid press, and inflammatory statements from William Hague have all back-fired. Milliband has at last shown some steel, and wisdom, and insisted that we must wait first for the weapons inspectors report, and have another vote before any military action.
And this really is a no-win situation. Nobody wants to sanction or ignore the use of chemical weapons, though that was exactly what we did in Iraq, dropping depleted Uranium and Phosphorous on civilians, which will have a much longer lasting effect than the use of Sarin alleged by Assad. But what will the use of military action actually achieve. The country is practically bombed to bits anyway. Evidence over the years has shown that aerial bombardment almost always results in a more determined defiance by both the population and the government of the bombed. The London Blitz unified the country, in Vietnam more shit was dropped on one tiny country than by all sides in WW2, and yet they still won in the end.
I am not advocating doing nothing. But maybe a better response would be to say to Syria that this is the final warning; any evidence of the further use of chemical weapons would result in an attack. This of course carries the risk of making us look weak, and of letting them off the hook, and also for the other side, who are just as duplicitous of using chemical weapons themselves and blaming Assad. Maybe now is the time to actually try to get Assad to talk to the international community.
Every war ends with talking, and maybe this war is unwinnable by either side and some sort of compromise needs to be negotiated. This is a far more difficult course of action, far easier to look big and bold and drop bombs on so-called military targets, but this really is a no-win situation.
Thursday 29th August
Just occasionally an artist releases a masterpiece and then nothing much else of any real worth whatsoever.
Gilbert O’ Sullivan, a ridiculous name if ever there was one appeared out of nowhere in 1970 with an obviously contrived ‘look’; a pudding basin harcut, cloth cap and short trousers. Looking like an overgrown and somewhat starved schoolboy from the fifties he was one of a new wave of singer songwriters just emerging. He pretty soon dispensed with this image and adopted an America Ivy League student look. But the song he sang was brilliant, “Nothing Rhymed”. It wasn’t exactly pop either, harking back to an earlier era altogether, but it was great. Then came the album “Himself” full of original songs with totally off the wall lyrics about a Permissive Git, Matrimony and Houdini. It remains an outstanding debut.
He then had two more singles of merit, Alone Again (Naturally) and the soppy Claire before he sank under the weight of his own schmaltziness, never to emerge with anything credible again.
Amazing that those first few songs were so original, melodic and entertaining and then he just sort-of ran out of ideas, appealing more and more to mums and grandmas until in the end even they stopped buying his stuff. Oh Well
Wednesday 28th August
What a surprise. Exiting the plane at Stansted the sun was shining brilliantly. Most other times I have returned to overcast or drizzle and a noticeable drop in the temperature, but this time it felt at least as hot as France. And then in the evening I had a meal with my daughter and her family as they were staying in the London house, and it was so hot in the restaurant.
On the train journey back into London, as the train snaked its way through the North-East London suburbs the sun was glinting off the skyscrapers in the city, quite low in the sky it shone its gorgeous warmth over everything. And London looks so lovely in the sunshine; this morning here in prêt, looking out over Green Park.
We have had a lovely summer, and even though the TV and papers are so full of Syria and impending war, somehow it all seems to be happening somewhere else. I wonder if this will be Cameron’s Falklands moment, or possibly more like Blair’s. I don’t think that anyone wants us to actually go to war this time, even the Americans and the French, but they want to try and tip the scales so that the rebels can maybe do it on their own. But will some sort of aerial bombardment achieve anything except more death and destruction. There is talk of bombing the chemical weapons sites, but what if this in itself releases far more stuff into the atmosphere.
Nobody wants to ignore the use of chemical weapons, but so far the evidence is not conclusive that it was Assad who used them, and even if it is confirmed, then what? If by using an attack as some sort of warning it will prevent further atrocities then it might just work. But we are talking about a cornered beast here, which is fighting for its life. It is impossible to tell what might happen next. Sunshine or no sunshine.
Tuesday 27th August
I usually go out with the dogs in the morning and buy bread and croissants. Of course having been here a while I know exactly what I want and can order in French. Today (yesterday for you) I went as usual. Now on Monday the main Boulangerie in town is closed, but the smaller one is open and far busier than usual. Just in front of me were a couple of Americans about seventy I would guess.
I must admit when I first came to France I was amazed at the Boulangeries, and by the fact that no matter how small the town it was the most important shop, and would have a decent selection of bread cakes and croissants. The French of course buy their bread twice every day, as baguettes only last really well for a few hours, and it is the most common sight to see at six in the evening French men and women walking along with a baguette under their arm.
Anyway back to my little Boulangerie ; “Gee Harry, look at all the bread.” And they stood there in amazement at the Boules, Campagnes, Baguettes and Ficelles as well as all the different croissants and cakes. In France it is usual to have to wait until the person in front is served, even if that person (American) in this case doesn’t know what they want. Patiently the woman explained the different breads to them, and the croissants. Eventually they made their choice and paid.
Releif, at last I could be served. Then the woman turned round and looked again at the croissants and said, “Harry, maybe we should get some chocolate ones too, and that looks nice as well,” And so they spent another five minutes buying second helpings.
Oh well. At least when they get home they will have a story to tell, of the fabulous bread shops which I must admit I now take for granted.
Monday 26th August
And so after the sunshine it rains. Maybe this is (hopefully) the tail-end of the awful rain you have had in England, but it is persistently raining here now. Not terribly heavy, but the sort of rain where you know that it isn’t going to stop for a while.
So far, it has been lovely weather here, days of quite hot sunshine, so a little rain doesn’t hurt. It must be good for the crops too. The farmers all have these complicated irrigation rigs; long cantilevered horizontal crane-like structures, the sort of thing you made with Meccano as a child fixing more and more pieces together so that it bent in the middle with its own weight. There is a flywheel at the end so that it can be tractored around the field in a wide circle. Then it is connected to a hose at the edge of the field and the water turned on. Some clever little valve at the end sends it out in bursts, wide arcs of misty water imitating rain, sparkling in the sunshine. But for now they can let the rain do the work.
The sunflowers are mostly dark faces now and stand row after row with their heads bowed down, no longer turning towards the sun all day. They are harvested when they are completely black. The corn on the cob is yellowing too. Only the grape-vines are still a fresh vibrant green, although as the car dives past you only occasionally get a glimpse of the grapes, still green and small, it is hard to imagine how ripe they will be in October, and again a little rain will fatten them up nicely.
Sunday 25th August
I have decided that I will no longer be a stick in the mud, pooh-poohing the latest fashions, choosing comfort over the latest trends. Look out world here I come. I have at last joined the world of high fashion and have absolutely no shame parading around in my new blue denim hotpants.
I shamelessly cut them down myself from an old pair of jeans, perfectly shaping them tight around the bum. I must admit I do look quite sexy in them.
Actually I cut them down for painting in. It really is too hot to wear jeans and I didn’t want to ruin a pair of shorts, so my old painting jeans from London were put to good use. But I am not sure what the neighbours thought. I did get some admiring glances but whether that was for my handiwork with the brush or for my splendid torso, rippling in the French sun I am not certain. A bit of both I suspect.
Saturday 24th August
I have just survived fifteen rounds (and two hours) with a flat-pack wardrobe. I am of course in France again, and fed up with trying to share a small wardrobe, and inevitably living out of a suitcase we decided to buy a second wardrobe. The good news is that the only suitable one we found was reduced from 200 to 140 euro’s, so in a way the most painful part of the whole project was not quite so painful.
But though it came in two packages they were both incredibly heavy. Some sort of veneered chipboard of course, but it did look pre-hole drilled at least. It was too heavy to carry up-stairs so had to be unpacked and carried piece by piece up the stairs. Full of far more hope than experience I opened the instructions. You guessed – they were in French, though there were drawings too, so I started. I did try to clear the room, but most it is taken up with the bed, which is solid pine and almost immoveable.
All went well, until you had to start putting the sides to the bottom, and align a shelf and two sides, both rawl-plugs and the tightening screw. Nine, then 12 to be lined perfectly at the same time. We just about shifted the bed and could squeeze in and after a lot of huffing and puffing got it together. Not before having screwed one piece in upside down completely, which had to be unscrewed and then rescrewed. Eventually we got to sliding the flimsy hardboard back –piece into the groove. It never goes in properly. or once in, stays in the groove until the top is securely in place. Then we discovered that two tightening screws had to be put in late. Back to the diagram and no – no picture of the little screws at all.
Finally it was beginning to look like a slightly distressed wardrobe sans doors. We manhandled the incredibly heavy beast into the alcove with one centimeter to spare either side. Then the hanging of the doors. I always dread this bit, but actually after a couple of tries I managed it. And it was done. And so was I, dripping with sweat, slight headache and sore hands. One wonders why as consumers we put up with it. They will expect us to go straight to the factory door and pick out all the bits ourselves next. And actually Ikea isn’t that far away from that either.
Friday 23rd August
You won’t be surprised to know that I have always been a defender of the BBC, it’s impartiality, it’s remit to Educate, Enlighten and Entertain, it’s freedom from Government control, and it’s generally high morality and aesthetic. It has always been funded by individuals paying a license fee to listen to, or now mostly to watch it’s broadcasts. This has always seemed to me perfectly reasonable. Yes, it is slightly annoying seeing the quarterly DD pop up on your bank statement, but given what one receives it still remains great value.
But we are now rapidly entering the computer age. I access and read BBC news on my laptop, probably spending almost as much screen time on this as I do watching the box. With i-player and new technology emerging almost daily we will soon be in a position where the old TV becomes almost redundant. Incidentally can you be fined for watching TV on a laptop out in a public place if you do not have a license?
Then there is the expense of administering the whole license system. And I read today in City AM that ten percent of all court cases are enforcement of license fees!!! Yes, ten percent. Add in all that court time, on what is actually quite a minor misdemeanor and one begins to wonder if a better way of funding the BBC should be found.
Maybe an independent (small) body who look at the BBC’s costs and recommend to a Parliamentary committee any increases in an annual amount paid straight out of taxes would be more efficient. There are those who would argue that then people who did not partake of the BBC’s services would be paying for it. But I happily pay for Education, Health and Social Security for which I barely use, and even reluctantly pay for our involvement in Afghanistan and for Trident, even though I wish that money were not spent in this way. And in any case the license fee is to operate a TV, not to specifically watch BBC, so the same argument applies.
Thursday 22nd August
The Snowden affair gets stranger and stranger. Firstly the partner of the reporter to whom Snowden had passed the information is detained and questioned for nine hours and has all his electronic equipment confiscated, all under the prevention of terrorism umbrella. And now it emerges that following threats from No. 10, the editor of ‘The Guardian’ had to witness the destruction of the hard drives by GHCQ which may have contained the files.
Don’t these idiots realise that no matter how many sledgehammers you bring down on computer hardware the information is out there already. They are probably on several hard-drives already, and can be distributed so easily now by e-mail, or memory bar that the chances of actually destroying them are incredibly remote.
But far more important than that is the fact that we all know they (the Americans and GHCQ) are spying on us. It comes as no surprise that they are, though what they are going to do to us as a consequence remains a mystery. As Wikileaks has shown before, there is no hiding place on the internet, and no matter how many sledgehammers are used, no matter how many years poor Bradley Wiggins is forced to serve, no matter how many individuals are detained pointlessly at airports they will not be able to snuff out free speech quite that easily.
And the worse aspect of it all is that one suspects that the strings are really being pulled by the Americans, who seem to go to any lengths to prevent the dissemination of the TRUTH.