The Meaning of Life

Monday 10th November

Just another flippant topic to shake you out of your cornflake bowl; “What is the meaning of life?”   This of course pre-supposes that there must be some guiding intelligence in the Universe, or at least some principles in play other than pure physics.  So firstly let me upset all my religious friends (if I haven’t successfully done that already) by saying that there is no God.  Or rather, if there is he must be blithely sleeping or have wandered off to another part of his ever-expanding Universe to see if any species developing on another planet is worthy of his attention, looking for some Moses in another Milky Way perhaps (a word of advice God, ditch the coveting Asses next time, covering your asses might be more appropriate)– hahaha.   There is of course no evidence that there is any life anywhere else in the Universe; for all we know we could be a random mistake, a flaw in the otherwise perfect Chemistry of the Universe.  But I am open to the idea that Life may in fact be endemic in the Universe; that is the natural rather than the rare thing.  Sadly I won’t be around in a few millennia when we might find out….

So, the meaning of life.  Reproduction is a given; we are pre-programmed to replicate the programme – if that makes any sense.  And thank goodness, otherwise there wouldn’t be any sex and Adie baby would be a very dull boy indeed.  But if Man has invented God and Reason and is seeking an answer to the big question then the only one I can find is to leave this world just a tiny bit better place than it was when one came into it.  And that means both in a personal sense, in (hopefully) instilling some ideas into our children and grandchildren to counter the prevailing view that ‘Greed is Good’.  It also means to help people where you can, not to strive for money kicking the faces of those climbing the ladder behind you – let them overtake you, they too will one day discover that material possessions are worthless (no luggage rack on the hearse).  But also in a political way, to try to open a few people’s eyes to other possibilities, to educate one’s fellow struggler’s, to stand up to tyranny and to scream blue murder when appropriate.  Had any of you been reading my blog already this would of course have been abundantly clear.  Bye for now.

A Fib Too Far

Sunday 9th November

George Osborne is a very clever Politician; possibly the cleverest in the entire Cabinet, but sometimes he is just too clever for his own good.  He has successfully spread the lie that the last Labour Government spent wildly causing the Recession etc: even though only 6 months before the Financial Crash he was promising to spend as much as Labour.  No talk of Austerity then.  He has also lied in saying that the Deficit was coming down rapidly.  Well it was about £160 billion a year at the worst point and will probably pan out about the same as last year around £100 billion if not actually higher.  He propagated the lie that Labour maxed out the credit card; well if you say Government borrowing is the credit card then he has continued to use it for five years borrowing around 700 more billion on it.  (But I thought he said it was maxed out, so how come he can still use it).  He said he was cutting spending so that we would not lose our triple A credit rating, which he said would be a disaster.   We lost it anyway, but actually he has still avoided disaster.

And now the latest fib, that he has negotiated the latest EU payment to half of its value.  Well that isn’t the recollection of other finance ministers who were at the meeting.  They all say that the rebate was always going to be given, all Osborne asked was that this be brought forward and that the actual payment of 1.7 billion should be scheduled and not paid in one go.  They were happy to grant him this small concession but furious that he should brag that he had negotiated a reduction of 50% in the charge.  The charge and the retrospective rebate are two different things.  All he has really done is made it more difficult for whoever ends up being the next chancellor to balance the books.  This is really a fib too far, and almost all opposition parties are saying so.  Not that it will make much difference in the long run, those who support him will ignore the fib, and the others weren’t going to vote for him anyway.

The Truth About Ebola

Saturday 8th November

You are very very unlikely to catch it.  Even if someone got into the UK with it and travelled on the tube, which is possibly our biggest nightmare, they would be unlikely to have infected anyone and even if they did control measures would be rapidly put into place.  It might mean a lock-down of parts of the country but we would be able to both contain and deal with it.  The very few non-Africans who have caught it have mostly been medical staff treating severely or dying patients.

Ebola is, like Cholera and TB and Lassa fever and Malaria, a disease of Poverty.  We have successfully exported these diseases to the third world, where no-one even counts the dead properly.  The West has only woken up once a handful of Westerners contracted the disease.  Twenty thousand die of Lassa fever with very similar symptoms in West Africa every year – and no-one gives a shit.  Hundreds of thousands die of Malaria and even more of Malnutrition related illnesses.  But you cannot import Malnutrition, although the growing number of food banks would indicate the Government are having a damn good try.

We are ghoulish specatators, avidly watching the news and tut-tutting into our take-away Pizza as the body bags are carried away.  Just as we watched Tsunami’s and Earthquakes, or a few decades ago Executions, so we watch videos from bombers of buildings exploding, sadly the resolution is not good enough to see the bodies being ripped apart and then we go on-line and play computer games where enemies are blown away with the same lack of remorse.  And as soon as the few Westerners are declared healed or sadly die, Ebola will disappear from our screens, but will continue to kill thousands more over there.

C is for Harry Chapin

Friday 7th November

On Sundays in the early seventies there was a fantastic DJ whose name was surprisingly Noel Edmonds, and he seemed to have complete freedom to play what he wanted.  He used to have an Artist of the week and an Album of the week which he featured extensively.  He introduced me to many artists I had barely or never heard of from the West Coast including Judee Sill, John Stewart and Harry Chapin.  Harry wrote real songs, and a very few old-fashioned love songs.  He wrote about driving in his ‘Taxi’ and picking up his first love, now a Hollywood Actress, or what goes on in the mind of a ‘Sniper’ or the widows left at home by their whaler husbands in ‘DogTown’ or how all his life was a ‘Circle’ or the reflections of a middle-aged DJ at radio station ‘WOLD’ .  And he combined operatic voices and violins and cellos into his band.  Quite quite unique, he was also a true Socialist who played benefits and founded the Harry Chapin Foundation for which he raised three million dollars.  He believed above all in World Peace and an End to Hunger.

He died in 1981 aged just thirty nine in a car accident which he probably caused while having a heart attack.  His hits had dried up long ago but he kept on recording and playing live, spreading his message of universal love and hope.   I know that he has inspired many people over the years and there is always that special moment when you say his name and someone says “Oh Yeah – he wrote Cat’s Cradle, didn’t he?”

He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for campaigning on social issues and he left behind his wonderful songs.  Well worth a listen.

Image result for harry chapin

Wild Tales by Graham Nash

Thursday 6th November

There was a time in the early sixties when The Hollies were almost as popular as The Beatles, right up there with The Searchers and Gerry and The Pacemakers anyway.  They were from Manchester and had a string of hits which were all top ten but never quite made it to number 1.  They were very “Pop” and always smiling and as the sixties progressed they got left behind somewhat, musically at least.  Graham Nash was in the Hollies and was one of the singers but also played guitar.  He left the band and England in 1968 and rapidly became a part of the West Coast community of California.  He lived with Joni for a while and became part of Crosby Stills Nash and occasionally Young, one of the Supergroups of the time.

His book Wild Tales starts off pretty well, detailing his poor upbringing in Salford and the rise of the Hollies and the move to America.  But about half way through you get the feeling it is being written by a saint, or at least someone who thinks he is a saint.  All the success is down to him, and the failure down to others.  Even The Hollies who went on to make quite a few hits after he left in the Seventies didn’t listen to him, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young could have been far better if it wasn’t for Crosby, Stills and Young apparently.  Through it all he comes out as being quite selfish, his treatment of women pretty awful and his own ability is never doubted.  The book was quite unsatisfactory really, despite giving me a few more insights into a period of great music.  A pity because he did make some great music, especially his first couple of albums with CSN, his first solo record “Songs for Beginners” and a few he made with Crosby.

Actually I have never liked Autobiographies; they are always self-serving, rarely honest and usually boring.  Still I am glad I read it, even so. “I give it foive” as Janice might have said.  (extra points for recognizing that quote)

Wild Tales by Graham Nash

Too Little, Too Late

Wednesday 5th November

I used to quite like the Lib-Dems, especially under Charlie Kennedy – by far the best leader they have ever had.  They represented a slightly different perspective, still just about to the left of Labour but with a different heritage.  I only voted for them once, in a local council election thinking they stood a better chance to oust the Tories than Labour.  I was wrong, but there you go.  Their problem always was that no matter how much you agreed with them there seemed little point in voting for them as they would never be in a position to form a Government and put those ideas into practice.  It was simply a protest vote.

Ah, just how wrong can you be?  Despite losing a handful of seats in 2010 they found themselves in the position of ‘kingmakers’.  And despite the fact that they were ideologically far closer to Labour they chose the Tories.  Labour looked tired and I suppose they thought they might be able to temper the worst instincts of the Tories.   And they stupidly celebrated the Coalition, Clegg appearing with Cameron in the rose garden for photo’s.  They should have been more stand-offish, letting everyone know that this was a temporary arrangement and that they were only in bed with the enemy out of necessity not out of love.

Too late, the electorate has got the message that they are closet Tories and largely blame the LibDems for the worst excesses of this Government.  Of late, as 2015 and electoral disaster looms, they have tried to position themselves apart, but it doesn’t really ring true and even ministerial resignations register as feeble gesture politics.  They will go down to a mighty defeat and lose possibly half of their M.P.s.  But little good will it do Labour; in most of their seats the Tories are in second place.  And that protest vote may well end up with the Greens or UKIP.  Almost everyone I meet is apprehensive of an election in which almost all of the old certainties are gone.

The Economic Madness of War

Tuesday 4th November

We first went into serious debt as a country because of war.  For centuries kings had waged wars and financed them by taxing the rich (who in turn took everything from the poor of course).  It was the Napoleonic wars which took us first into serious debt, and taxes were raised to pay for it.  Then the two huge wars of the Twentieth Century took us deeper and deeper into debt, as it did most of the nations of the world.  Even America which was lending money to us got into debt.  In essence rich people were lending money to Governments for them to wage wars; the same rich people were making money out of armaments and supplying the armies.

And so it has continued.  In all the arguments about the current deficit and who caused it or the ever-growing pile of debt no-one ever seems to consider the costs of Afghanistan and Iraq and now the bombing of Isis.   There was never any real justification for the invasion of either Afghanistan or Iraq.  And it must have cost billions.  Whether we will ever know the exact cost is unlikely, but that money could have been spent on decent hospitals and schools.  But there is never enough money for them, is there?  But whenever America decides to bomb someone there we are, (hands up – let us join in please) with our puny but expensive contribution, happy to blow a few billions more, and to kill a few thousand more in the process.  But wars are big business nowadays and no-one wants the Government to stop buying bullets and bombs and tanks and aircraft and big ships.  Except us – you know, the ordinary citizens who just see the madness of it all.  Unfortunately we really have no-one who is willing to stand up and say “No More War”.   The defence of our nation is the excuse that is always thrown up, as if we are about to be overrun by radical Muslims tomorrow if we do not keep spending on killing machines.  And as to the real threats, Russia, China or America – we wouldn’t stand a chance anyway.

We Are On Our Way Out Of Europe

Monday 3rd November

Sad to say I now believe this to be the most likely scenario.  And what a disaster it will surely be.  Too many forces are converging at the same time.  The rise of UKIP is fuelling xenophobia and a thinly disguised racism.  Cameron has bluffed and blustered and blundered his way into a tight corner of his own making – partly to please his backbenchers and partly because he is scared of losing seats to UKIP.   Labour are being led by someone who (nice man as he may be) has a charisma problem the size of the Bristol Channel and are steadily losing ground with each month that passes.  The Lib-Dems, incidentally the only openly pro-European party are in terminal decline and will be lucky to retain half their seats.  In Scotland Labour are being beaten into second place by a rampant SNP.  And to cap it all, our only half-ally in Europe Angela Merkel has just let it be known that she would rather see the UK leave Europe than to dilute the “free movement of people” principle; the very thing that Cameron had said will be at the heart of his so-called renegotiation.

I cannot now see Labour winning next May, and quite possibly they will not even be the largest party at all.  So it is a strong possibility that there will be another Tory-led coalition.  Cameron will then have to try to renegotiate and will come back with a few minor reforms, which UKIP will rubbish.  I cannot see Labour supporting him, and so there will be a referendum he will almost certainly lose.  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Home Again

Sunday 2nd November

I am, believe it or not finally getting used to it, the journey.  Waking at three and making up the thermos flasks of hot water, and packing sandwiches and last minute rubbish clearance and tidying up.  We set off at four, the old familiar run through Fonroque, Sigoules, Ruffinaque and via Bergerac airport the long road up to Perigeux, then motorway to Brives La Gaillard, our first stop.  My partner sleeps in the back of the car and I go for a coffee and croissant then have a sleep myself.  By this time it is about 7.30 and the sun is just coming up, lots of fog lying low in the valleys all around, the hilltops appearing like mist out of a milky sea.  Eventually morning sunshine breaks through as we pass Limoges.  On and on the long motorway to Orleans and crossing the Loire we see the twin towers of the cathedral.  A few more stops on the way and eventually we are on the outskirts of Paris and on the roads leading to the Perepherique, the various motorways snaking into each other, sometimes eight or nine lanes wide.  A glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and Montmatre up on its hill.  Our trusty sat-nav keeps us on track, bearing left then right as we cross first the railway tracks of Gare de Lyon, then the Seine, then more railway tracks of the Gare D’Est.  Eventually we are heading out of Paris and towards Charles De Gaulle Airport where planes take off and land right above your head, the runway straddling the motorway to Lille.  We get o Calais ahead of time and are re-booked onto an hour earlier train, into the Pet Reception to have our dogs microchips and passports checked.  Then Border control, the French standing around moodily but ignoring us and the Brits scowling and making us wait while they pore over our passports.  Terrorists, Isis or Immigrants – who knows, but they take their time.   Then onto the train and a chance to sleep again.  England and driving now on the Left, darkness now and we cross the Thames at Dartford and slowly come back through Dagenham and Barking and City Airport and Canary Wharf.  About 16 hours door to door, with at least three hours asleep or at various Aires walking the dogs, eating sandwiches and drinking tea.

Tired but not exhausted we unload the car and order a takeaway and make tea.  Shave and shower and bed. Home again.


Saturday 1st November

There are just a few times when you know you are content.  Mostly happiness is in anticipation or in retrospect, very rarely it would seem in the actual moment.  Today I sat for about an hour in the sun outside the Café de Paris with a glass (or two) of Hoegarten and watched the world go by.  And I realized that I was contented.  Nothing to do, no worries, no nasty thoughts, no e-mails, phone on flight mode, the occasional car, a passer-by to nod to, and the sun so warm on my face – it was heaven.  All the money in the world cannot buy that moment of sheer contentment.

And today by the time you read this we will be gone, back on the road to Calais I am afraid.  But as I have to remind myself, it is just a short little break before we are back and in just five months I will be retired and can sit for many more moments at complete contentment with the world.