And a word for the 18 Israeli Soldiers Killed

Monday 21st July

So sad that these young men had to die fighting old mens wars.  We often concentrate on civilian deaths but just because these young men were in uniform it makes their death no less poignant, no less sad and no less important.  Unfortunately the deaths of both soldiers and civilians on both sides doesn’t seem to make people see reason.  And each act of violence becomes another act of revenge, another reason to keep hating the other side.  This is a war that niether side can win, unless one or the other is totally destroyed.  And even then it seems the relatives, the great grandchildren of the dispossessed will still want to fight.  The whole world is crying out for peace.  And despite the words of the leaders of both sides that they want meaningful talks nothing ever gets done about it.

Is it really so important where the actual borders are eventually placed.  Yes, a few thousand people may have to be moved and resettled.  Yes, there will still be mistrust and stupidity.  But the UN, or at least us and the US must try to end this senseless slaughter.  We are on the brink of a hundred years after the first World War when countless millions died and which led, many believe, directly to World War 2 where almost as many died too.  Have we learnt nothing in those hundred years.

Woodrow Wilson came in to help end the First World War with great principles, which as he died before they could be implemented have been abandoned by those who followed.  One of them was self-determination of disputed territories.  In Gaza and the West Bank, let these pricicples be applied, small area by small area if necessary.  Also in the Ukraine.  You cannot force people to live under what they consider to be a foreign power forever.

60th Wedding Anniversary

Sunday 20th July

This weekend was my parents 60th wedding anniversary.  Incredible to think of it really.  I was three years old at the time, and as memory goes I cannot remember a blind thing about it.  I have seen the photo’s and there I am along with incredibly young versions of the old people who are now my parents.

It was a wonderful day.  They had hired the village hall which is absolutely opposite to their house.  There were about sixty people sitting down for “lunch” at about 4.30.  The caterers did very well, the food was delicious.  I made a short speech and so did my sister and then Mum and Dad said a few words.  Everyone went outside as it was such a hot day.  I had arranged for three of my grandchildren to be there all the way from Sheffield, but sadly one of my daughters was in France and the other one was poorly and so couldn’t come.  Never mind it was a real trip down memory lane.  Cousins I hadn’t seen for many years, and even relatives from Great Yarmouth I hadn’t seen in about thirty years too.  Everyone was talking to everyone, and in the evening even more pople turned up and the live band played old rock and roll and blues hits from the sixties and even earlier.  Even though it was a stiflingly hot evening lots of people were up and dancing.

A marvelous day, and one which will be repeated less and less, as my generation gets married and then divorced with barely a thought.  We don’t have the staying power of our parents.  Good luck to them.

The Madness of Total War

Saturday 19th July

During the two World Wars of the last century we were taught to hate the German unconditionally, and even now almost seventy years later there is a deep psychological fear of Germany in many peoples minds.  During the “troubles” in Northern Ireland each side was taught to hate the other.  A fragile peace exists, but is regularly threatened by the deep distrust both Proddies and Catholics still feel for each other.  It is as if there is a poison that seeps into the soul, that destroys any logical thought, that makes rationality impossible.  An animal fear takes over and ideas take root which are almost impossible to shift.  All of ones common-sense is overwhelmed by this absolute fear and hatred of “the enemy”.

And the longer the conflict continues the more embedded this madness becomes.  The Arab-Isreali conflict has been ‘going on’ for almost seventy years now.  That means there can be very few of either persuasion who can really remember what Palestine, as it was then, was like.  There are well documented archives, and even films showing peaceful co-existence between Jews, Arabs and Chistians in what was generally acknowledged as “The Holy Land”.  It is pointless trying to apportion blame for where we are now, and both sides are I am sure guilty of stupidity and atrocities, which each in their turn help to establish the new reality of total hatred.  Hamas with it’s ludicrous but absolutely meant statements of the destruction of Isreal are just as indoctrinated as the Isrealis.  The latest bit of nonsense I read was a quote from Golda Meir and it said “We can forgive the Palestinians for killing our children, but we cannot forgive them for making us kill their children.”

What utter madness.  Hamas are not forcing the Isreali’s to kill innocent women and children.  There may even be a few on the Isreali side who truly regret this “collateral damage”, but stop kidding yourselves that Hamas is forcing you to commit murder (genocide some are calling it).  You are firing the missiles and while you are maybe trying to kill those who are aiming rockets at you, you know that you will be killing innocent children and yet still you continue.  The madness is that this is how you justify your killing, “They make us do it, by hiding their weapons under schools or in hospitals”.  This is the Madness of Total War.  And every child killed, every innocent massacred simply adds to the hatred of Isreal on the Arab side.   When will they ever learn.  Hatred simply breeds hatred.  Try talking, really talking, without pre-conditions.  Listen to the other side for once.  And stop all this senseless killing.  Even if every Palestinian is killed or permanently removed from Gaza, do you really imagine the War will stop?

B – is for Barclay James Harvest, then there were three, now there are two

Friday 18th July

Just like The Beatles, The Who, and Pink Floyd there will never be a complete reformation of the band.  Barclay James Harvest were incredibly successful in Europe, but back in the UK, after Punk and New Wave they seemed more and more irrelevant.  Not that that bothered me.  I simply loved them and their records.  Wooly Wolstenholme left the band, then about ten years later they called it a day.  Their last album River of Dreams wasn’t even released in the UK.  Their last few records had one or two very good songs on them but an awful lot of fillers too.  That didn’t stop completist me buying them, and all the reissues with bonus tracks and box sets too.

Actually the band didn’t so much end as split into two, with both John Lees and les Holroyd releasing albums using their name and the Barclay James Harvest name too.  Confusing, yes.  Then their drummer died, Mel Pritchard, whose bombastic drumming especially on the early records was so splendid.  Wooly came back to play occasionally with John Lees and to make his own records again under the name Maestoso.  Then Wooly committed suicide, just before a tour by John Lees version of the band.  You might have thought that this would be the end, but no.  John has pulled himself together and released an album of new material, North.  It is really quite good.  They also play occasionally, with the new band members (obvious fans of the original band) seeming to really enjoy playing live.  How long this incarnation of the band can continue is anyone’s guess.  The Floyd do not play anymore, the Who are embarking on a final farewell tour and Paul McCartney soldiers on solo.  The band may be no more, but they have left behind a wonderful catalogue of music.  Long may they be played.

Breakfast on the run

Thursday 17th July

We live in rapidly changing times.  Sometimes it seems we are on a rollercoaster to hell, or some place I don’t want to think about.  I read a lot of Victorian novels, set in slower moving times, although even then the Victorian times of 1850 are totally unrecognisable by 1890.  And so it is now.

As a child, breakfast was eaten together around the dining table.  Most days it was cornflakes or porridge in winter followed by toast and jam or marmalade.  But it was a family time, we sat together and though maybe sleepy-eyed there was some conversation.  Bringing my own children up I followed the same routine, but slowly over the years things have changed.  I started working earlier and earlier, often leaving the house before anyone else was awake.  I would breakfast alone, usually a bowl of cereal or a yoghurt as I was packing my bag for work.

Now we have a routine where a cup of tea and maybe five minutes of chat in the morning has to suffice before we each get ready.  Sometimes even this space is taken up by reading e-mails (and answering them) and me on my laptop, my wife on her phone scan our facebooks.  Then it is off to work.  I stop at a Pret to write this blog, eating an almond croissant and sipping my latte.  But I am not alone, the place is full of similar breakfasters on the run.  Our lives are so full, e-mails, facebook, texts, on-line news, breakfast tv that we have no time for sitting for even fifteen minutes together in the mornings and just waking up slow.   Soon it will be France and a different pace of life entirely, there I will go out for croissants and we will have time for each other again.

Reshuffle of the Walking Dead

Wednesday 16th July

By the time you read this the Cabinet Reshuffle will be over.  I used to really get excited about these occasions.  Sad, isn’t it.  But not any more.  It barely makes any difference.  One face is replaced by another.  It may be a relief not to hear those flat Yorkshire tones of William Hague droning on about “something must be done about” and promptly doing nothing at all.  Foreign Secretary is a grand title with no real power except reacting to atrocities and events with aplomb.  It should suit Phillip Hammond perfectly.  Mind you, very rarely does a former Foreign Secretary become Prime Minister, so maybe he knows he is too old now.  Ian Duncan Smith is rumoured to be moved from the Ministry of Benefit Cuts and a friendlier female face will come in.  And at Environment too.  All shiny and new and ready for the election in ten months time.  Not that most of the electorate will care or even notice.  I suspect that most minds are already made up and unless some enormous cock-up occurs nothing much will change by next May.  It may be a close run thing, and the Tories may even get more votes and possibly more seats than Labour, but I don’t think so.  We may be in real unchartered territory with neither Labour or the Tories being able to command a majority, the Lib-Dems decimated and having to choose.  Though that task may actually fall to Alex Salmond, who while professing he wants to sever ties with Westminster may find himself Kingmaker extraordinaire.  In that case he would almost certainly pick Labour, but probably on a more casual basis, bill by bill, concentrating on getting a new devo-max bill through Parliament before yet another election.

The Tories are at a crossroads.  Win or lose they will almost certainly turn right again, probably ousting Cameron if he loses many seats.  The new cabinet joinees are for the moment the Walking Dead.  But for them, this is all about the future, especially the women.  They are looking to be the next Tory leader, they will have been Cabinet members for a few short months; long enough to get their faces on TV but not long enough to have brought in any new hated policies.  Interesting times we live in.

Cynical, Moi?

Tuesday 15th July

I have often been accused of a small degree of cynicism.  Fair comment I suppose.  But I wasn’t always a cynic (experience has taught me well).  In fact I don’t really believe I am.  Despite the chaos in the Middle East, where religious fanatics are trying to murder each other (and that’s just in what used to be called Palestine) and car bombs killing twenty or more are barely reported.  Despite human rights abuses all over the world.  Despite hunger in a world of plenty.  Despite Capitalism making the rich ever and ever richer and the poor poorer still.  Despite the scandal emerging of our wonderful Westminster politicians buggering small boys at sex-parties, which make Berlusconi look like Mother Teresa.  Despite a celebrity culture which masks everything real with a sheen of glamour.  Yes, folks – despite all of that and worse – I am an optimist.  I still believe, despite the evidence to the contrary, that some Politicians are genuine and want to make things better.  I still belive in the inherent goodness of people, the little kindnesses ordinary people are capable of never cease to hearten me.

I can understand why so few people nowadays actually watch the news, or vote or even allow themselves to think about the world we are living in.  But they really should wake up and smell the ersatz coffee we are being served by Starbucks.  It is only by constantly questioning the world, by in effect being a tad cynical that we will educate ourselves (‘cos no-one else is gonna do it for us).  Thank heavens or who-ever for the internet which is still a free forum, until the bastards find a way to control it.  Or am I just being cynical….oh, and have a nice day.

What was the score in the end, 167 – 0 when I left it?

Monday 14th July

I am writing this on Sunday lunchtime so I am not sure of the final result.  Though this grudge match may actually still continue for several years, we may well get this games result soon.  When I last looked it was 167 nil.  Not bad for such a small country, though the spaces on the pitch they have grudgingly allowed the opposition  are even smaller.  Funnily enough the referee, one Mr. B. Obama and his two linesmen, one of whom is Mr. T. Blair  (the other appears to be tied up in the dressing room) are calmly pacing the touch-line discussing the finer points of the game.  The Manager of the only side which would ever be allowed to win is threatening to bring on twenty thousand substitutes to completely destroy the home and away kit of the battered team, many of whom are women and children.   Besides it isn’t even in the rules for them to be playing, so it must be their own fault that they got in the way of the attackers.  The physio’s of the almost decimated underdogs are struggling to cope with the wounded, whose numbers are almost beyond counting.

Mind you, even with such an outnumbered team the defenders are still kicking slowly looping long balls into their opponents three-quarters.  They are almost all intercepted or fall short of their intended targets.  One would think they would give up, but some stupid idea remains in their minds that they are even entitled to play at all.  It certainly doesn’t look likely that there will be a penalty shoot-out, even though most neutrals in the crowd are shouting foul time and again.  This particular match has been going on for about a week already but Mr. Obama hasn’t even glanced at his watch to blow for half-time.

Though it may seem to those uninformed that this is such an uneven contest, they must understand that the rules have been changed so that the victors (the pre-chosen ones) may score indiscriminately until the opposition have no boots or even legs left to play with, and it will be up to them to decide the final score.  Just woe-betide the opposition if they manage to score just once.  Then all mayhem will be let loose.

World Cup 2018 bid: sport can't succeed without business


In Store Cafes

Sunday 13th July

It used to be that there were only a few cafes around.  There were the traditional greasy spoons, and in Soho and central London a few Italian family run cafes.  I am old enough to still remember Lyons Corner Houses with their “nippies”, but for years there really wasn’t much choice.  John Lewis had a posh coffee shop, and BHS a pretty downmarket canteen style one.  Now almost every shop has one.  Even supermarkets; Waitrose where if you have a ‘My Waitrose’ card you get a free coffee, Sainsburys where the breakfasts are excellent and Asda which is just as cheap and nasty as the rest of the shop.  But almost everywhere now has its own café, from the Range to Dunelm Mills.  And by and large they are really rather good.  The revolution that has seen standards rise all over the country in Restaurants has now spread to coffee shops.  The sophisticated machines nowadays make pretty good coffee at the touch of a button.  And we all now accept that stopping for at least one coffee while shopping is essential.  Time was when shopping was got over quickly and back home for a cup of tea.  Now, with out of town Retail Parks and Shopping centres we often lunch out too.  One wonders just how many Starbucks and Costa Coffee outlets can be squeezed into every high street, but add on to that the In Store Cafes and it is amazing just how many teas and coffees we are able to consume very day.  I used to have a coffee and croissant every morning and worked out that I was spending close to one thousand pounds a year, an amazing sum of money.  And yet our appetite seems undiminshable, now there are Wild Bean Cafes at almost every petrol station too.  We even have a Nespresso machine at home, and you would think that being able to have a perfect latte whenever we want would mean we didn’t bother when we are out, but no; we, like everyone else really enjoy stopping for a coffee, and love all these in-store cafes.

The Dumbing Down of the News

Saturday 12th July

In the week in which the Palestinians and Isrealis are slinging rockets at each other with reckless abandon, while in Iraq Isis is still threatening the integrity of the whole country, while in Ukraine nothing has really been resolved and people are still dying, while we have discovered that the entire Establshment  has been involved in a monumental cover-up– the news headlines are that the NHS is going to be doing more gastric band operations and the Government sold off Royal Mail too cheaply.  What is the matter with the News Editors.  Do they think we are completely stupid, and need a new story every day.  Both of the above “Headlines” are not headlines at all.  They are simply reserve stories, pre-recorded and written and ready to be wheeled out when the real news gets too grisly, too depressing, too important even.

The strapline “Breaking News” is almost always a lie.  It is simply a précis of yesterday’s events, not something just coming through the news-wires.  The most important person is the News Editor, the person who decides exactly what is the News.  The TV news is usually led by the papers, papers which fewer and fewer people are actually buying.  The Press feeds off the TV news and the TV news feeds off the triviality of the Press.

And we just swallow it all, watching the news and yet most of us wouldn’t be able to remember what the items were as soon as the programme is finished.  The news has just become another soap.