Thursday 21st May

Well, philosophy, what can we say?  Rather a lot actually; more has possibly been written about philosophy than about anything else – and yet does it mean anything?  Without quite realizing it I have been fascinated by philosophy all my life; maybe not articulating it as such and never formally studying it but certainly always interested by exactly what makes us humans, well human actually.

Strangely for such a far-reaching and all encompassing subject it is not taught in schools, and one wonders philosophically just why that is.  As parents we probably subconsciously and maybe consciously too to a degree do try to instill our beliefs or at least our world view on our children.  My upbringing was very much based on Christianity, or the morality of Christianity – do unto others, love thy neighbor etc:  but no real philosophy.   Hardly surprising when so much time was taken up with earning enough money to get by; and this must be true for the vast majority of mankind.  So is philosophy just a subject for lazy academics, chewing the cud and arguing over semantics, or does it really matter?  I suspect the latter, and of course the fewer of us asking questions such as ‘What constitutes happiness?’ or ‘What value an individual life compared to the interests of the majority?’ or ‘Whether the State or the Individual should be the arbiter of life itself?’ then the more opportunity there is for some in a position of power to impose their philosophy on others.

But like Politics and Religion, Philosophy itself is more often than not shunned by most people.  It is something they do not want to think about, or thinking about it, share those thoughts with others.  But actually I find that if you actually talk to people and draw them out they have often considered things in a philosophical and mostly private way.  So, what use is Philosophy?  The attempt to understand the way we think, the things we value, the way we want to live our lives?  In some ways it is a bit like Art; it serves no practical purpose, has no intrinsic value but it does move us, it does enrich our lives immensely, even if we all have different opinions about it – and the world would be a much diminished place without it.

Waiting For The Miracle

Wednesday 20th May

Dear Leonard Cohen wrote a song called ‘Waiting for the Miracle”, but I am not going to even begin to analyse that today.  It seems to me that we are in a bit of a muddle as a nation.  We have just had an election and like magicians auditioning for ‘Britain Has No Talent’ one after the other our politicians tried to persuade us that the Miracle was not only achievable but just around the corner.  Everyone loves the NHS and wants it to be available for us twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and completely free and quick and the best in the world.  We are in a demographic pickle too, where those over sixty-five and likely to need more and more expensive treatment are increasing as a proportion of the population.  In other words more of us are getting older and living longer and I, along with many others will be calling on the NHS more and more in the future.  Also in a competitive world we need to educate our children better, everyone is agreed though there are differences as to the best system.  All of this does and will continue to cost more money.  There are also huge issues around social care, especially again for the elderly; families are no longer prepared or able to provide care and someone will have to do it and it will cost more money.  So, it is obvious to me that if we want what we all say we want, better hospitals, better schools and better care it will cost more and more as time goes on.  And yet all our politicians say it can be done without raising taxes; in fact both Labour and the Tories felt compelled to promise that they would not increase income tax, national insurance or VAT for the next five years.  And despite five years of cuts and austerity we are still way into deficit and the national debt is increasing by around 90 billion a year.  Oh, of course they all promised to eliminate this deficit in the five years too.  Mind you the Tories promised that last time round too.  So, how is it to be done?  How will the rabbit be pulled from the hat when the conjuror has no clothes, let alone a hat, at all?  Somehow the miracle can be achieved by cutting out waste, but we did that last time, oh and the time before or so we were told.  Or by growth; but actually despite a bit of growth last time the miracle was not performed.  Growth only works if people are actually feeling more positive and spending more and by the way almost all of the post-war growth had been accompanied by and actually achieved by huge increases in personal debt, which despite record low interest rates we may be reaching the limit of.

Now I know that this is political suicide but I can remember paying 33% income tax with a much smaller tax-free personal allowance, we are now paying only 20% and yet no-one dares to suggest that this should rise – at least if they want to get elected.  So, we are sitting hushed as the magician approaches the stage, the house lights dim, the mood music swells, promises are made of prestigitation to come.  We are waiting for the miracle, just as audiences did centuries ago as alchemists promised to turn base metal into gold.  And I too am waiting to see just how we can pay no more tax, and still maintain spending on schools and the NHS, to say nothing of Trident and somehow it will all be wonderful again, the deficit will disappear and hey presto!! Tax cuts are just around the corner too….

But Is It Sport ?

Tuesday 19th May

What a surprise – no sooner do we have a new Tory Government than we see several Tory M.P.s jumping up and demanding the restoration of fox-hunting.  It was sort-of abolished under Labour, but the spectacle of red and pink jacketed ‘hunters’ parading on a Sunday morning in certain country areas still persists, even if they are supposed to be following an artificial ‘drag’ scent of course if the dogs accidentally pick up a real fox scent that is just bad luck, old boy.

There is a strange lack of consensus on the issue; those in the countryside often supporting an age-old tradition and those in the cities usually opposed.  My issue is that the whole terminology is erroneous; the term ‘blood sports’ is a misnomer.  Of course time was when almost all sports were blood sports, fox hunting of course, dog fighting, bear-baiting and bare knuckle fist-fighting.  But slowly non-violent sports have taken over, where athleticism and skill and stamina are the measure of a sports-person, not how many hunters they may own, or how many grouse they have managed to slaughter in an afternoon.  There are still many who enjoy boxing, and it is far safer now than decades ago, but it is still someone trying to beat the s*^t out of another human being; I haven’t really watched boxing enthusiastically since Muhammed Ali danced around the ring.  Rugby is another sport where brute strength is used, but more and more speed and accuracy of kicking are worth more than sheer animal aggression.  I like almost all sport, especially many newer variations like Triathlon and some of the new winter sports.  I must admit that I am not so fond of sports where a panel of judges decides who is best such as gymnastics and ice dancing.  I like a race, or something where a score is kept and there is no disputing the winner.  Horse racing is another sport where there are allegations of cruelty, and it is sad when horses die in jump racing and maybe one day the public will decide that it is not really a sport either (already greyhound racing is in serious decline).  Fishing I would consider a pastime rather than a sport; here in Eymet several fishermen are to be seen on a Sunday, and they keep and cook the fish they catch.  But huntin’ and shootin’ I consider to be beyond the pale.  I know that many disagree and see them as simple country pursuits.  In Africa rich “sportsmen” pay huge sums to kill the few remaining wild animals which really sickens me, even if the justification is that these sums pay for wardens to protect these very same animals from poachers.   A strange world indeed.  I simply ask – is it sport?

What to write about

Monday 18th May

Writing a blog every day presents the writer with the biggest problem of all, what to write about.  Usually something will occur to me, often soon after I have woken up thinking about, or maybe something I saw on the news, which has sparked my interest.  I do have a few bankers – politics of course, but post election it is pretty boring, music is a subject I rarely tire of too, my old poetry is another and of course excerpts from 2066 – my dystopian novel looking back on the year 2066 (confused – you will be if you read it….hahaha).  But sometimes I am stuck for a subject.  And today is one of those days.  I could write about my day, a bit of painting in the garden room (walls, not canvases) a couple of hours in the café, a cool glass of Hoegarten in the Café de Paris and a meal at a new restaurant in town “Chouette” which apparently means Owl in French.  But to be honest the day is very similar to many others, two weeks in to retirement and finding a nice routine.  I could have written about music; I am re-listening to alphabetically my CDs and am on F.  Just finished the Faces and Fairground Attraction – but do you really want to hear about them?  I have glanced back at some old poems, but awful as you may have found many, the remainder are truly excruciating….  2066 was featured a day or so ago so Janek must wait a bit longer for another appearance.

So if you will excuse me I will stop shortly – of course I could just ramble on like this for quite a while.  Once your fingers touch the keys it is really effortless…..

Hopefully tomorrow a really interesting subject will occur to me.

Geoff Barker and Elvis

Sunday 17th May

We tend to go to Le Pub Gambetta on a Friday night.  There is always live music and it is invariably good.  For some reason quite a lot of musically talented people have settled around the town.  I suspect that many were in some sixties or seventies band, or were singer songwriters who never quite made it; a few do in fact have CDs for sale.   Rupert, the English owner and his French wife Mathilde, despite having the business for sale, are always there on a Friday night and classically trained Rupert often joins in as vocalist, while Mathilde cooks.  Everyone’s favourite artist is Geoff Barker.

Geoff must be sixty or so but still has a good voice and plays both acoustic and electric guitar really well.  His repertoire is sixties, seventies and occasionally later pop and rock and blues numbers, which almost everyone knows.  They are our generation’s standards; Waterloo Sunset, Ruby Tuesday, American Pie and many others.  Just lately he has been joined for at least a few songs by Rob “Elvis” Fowler.  Rob is a big man with a rock’n’roll quiff, but is very quiet and soft-spoken, almost shy you might say.  Until he gets on stage and his inner Elvis breaks out.  An accomplished guitarist in his own right he sings really well too, not so much imitating Elvis as singing in an Elvis style; parody it ain’t – but very good it is.  Geoff has the elusive quality of holding an audience which can very easily descend into talking over the singer if they are boring.  And Elvis too captivates and draws you in.  Now I have never been a great Elvis fan; he was my Mum and Dad’s generation (mine was the Beatles and it wasn’t till I was older that I realized that they were inspired by Elvis themselves), but as you know all the songs anyway you find yourself, along with the whole pub, singing along to Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoe and the showstopper Suspicious Minds, where the chorus goes on forever and the mike is handed to anyone unembarrassed or drunk enough to sing “We’re Caught in a trap”.  Another great night here in Eymet.



2066 – Our silent observer watched Janek again

Saturday 16th May

Ten days ago Janek started writing his little diary, unaware that it might despite his best efforts, be read by a silent observer, who is very interested in these meandering thoughts….

-[Janek quietly closes the laptop lid, unplugs and hides it away.  But now he begins to think in a different light, it has suddenly dawned on him that he may have crossed an even deeper line than he had thought.  It had always been a dangerous enterprise, more stupid in Janek’s mind than dangerous.  If discovered he would undoubtedly be reprimanded, warned about his behaviour, maybe lose a strata or two, but not that serious really was it?  I mean, where were the laws forbidding you keeping a private diary, or even owning a non-uploadable recording device? Surely there must be thousands of people all over the world keeping some sort of record of their lives.  And just because there were no machines like his with their own internal memories left anymore, was it actually proscribed to own one.  Come to that who writes the laws nowadays, who decides what is legal or not?  The courts only exist for petty crimes amongst the non-people, the drones and dregs, who persistently refuse to behave in the correct way.

People like Janek do not need to ask themselves what is lawful or not.   They know instinctively if they are doing wrong.   Let me explain one thing.  Laws do not have to be written in order for you to break them.  The law is simply not a consideration; in fact we have got rid of almost all the laws which people used to regularly break (theft of cred is impossible, as you know);  murder and personal violence excepted of course.   But Laws as they used to be known are not necessary.  The Law is whatever we decide.  But as you don’t know it is the Law you wouldn’t dream of breaking it.  The Law, like cred itself is a flexible entity.  Janek is right, there are no laws forbidding writing your thoughts down and saving them on a non-accessible device, because non-accessible devices do not exist, or if they do they are obviously against the Law.  QED as my old maths-crammer teacher, ‘Nap’, used to delight in saying.  ‘Nap’, Norman Arthur Phillips, haven’t thought of him in years, I wonder if he is still teaching; too old by now, surely.  But I digress, decent people, strata-ed people anyway, wouldn’t dream of stealing something, or hurting another person in any physical way.  It just wouldn’t enter their heads to behave like that.  Besides you can’t steal something that isn’t yours, it wouldn’t work if you did.  Crime really doesn’t pay in our world.  Instead they work hard, well sit at a screen somewhere in any case, and gradually every year or so they will go up a strata and more things will be available to them.  Well not always more things, but better things.  Nicer, and more real-food, better styled clothes, more screen-vids to watch, better syn, if that is what turns them on.  And it works, people readily buy into the strata system, they are constantly being induced to strive for the next strata, the next level of controlled access to the nice stuff, and everyone is happy.  Laws, who needs them?

Well at least sixty-five percent of the population are anyway, safe and graded in the strata system.  The next thirty percent can be slightly troublesome, sometimes we have to keep them in line by threats or promises.  Basically they are a bit unpredictable.  Politicos are always trying to woo them with promises that they will be better treated, that the strata levels will be reset, that they will be part of some promised land, but nobody can get them to even vote, let alone vote for one set of politicos rather than another.  So, as long as their behaviour isn’t too outrageous nobody really bothers about them.  One of our long-term objectives is to gradually absorb them into the full strata system, but that may be a few decades away yet.

Janek has heard rumours that the manna these people eat is drugged in some way, that some soporific or mind-numbing drug is added to keep them docile.  Who knew; anything was possible he supposed.  But actually they aren’t drugged at all.  There is no need for such drastic and expensive measures.  The truth is that they have simply never really grasped the hopelessness of their situation.  They are at the very bottom of the strata system and very few ever make it off this lowest rung.  Yet they appear comfortable in their stasis (pigs in shit –as the old saying goes).  It is as if they do not have the motivation to raise themselves out of their own situation.  They are only lightly crammed of course, learning to read and write and not much else.  They only need the most basic of skills for the work they are destined to perform. but they are still needed to do all the dirty jobs that cannot be mechanised, the building work, the loading and unloading, the road sweeping, the toilet attendants, the thoughtless and mindless work that someone has to do.   One day our robotics experts may be capable of mechanising more of these tasks, but as you know robots have had some very unfortunate incidents in the recent past and the programme has been suspended temporarily.  In all likelihood the Hypercoms will overcome these small technical hitches soon, and progress can be resumed.

But please do not assume these uncrammed people are badly treated.  They get cred for this work too, but this is a different sort of cred, not like strata cred.  This can only be spent in special shops; Gamb or Manna outlets and cheap Apparel stores, they still use plas-cards for transactions though these are automatically topped up with their cred, and they too can never go overdrawn or overspend.  The cards change colour slowly as the cred is drained out of them, from a bright green to pale yellow which slowly darkens orange, then deeper and deeper until solid red means the card is useless for anything.   Then it is automatically topped up each week and changes back again to a bright and healthy green.  As if by magic.  Just imagine the pleasure this gives these simple folk as they watch their cards slowly regain health.  And as each card is DNA spec’ed to the user, unless you actually cut off someone’s hand or steal their eyeballs it is useless to anyone else.

Not that that actually stops the criminal underclass, of course.  This is the remaining five percent and what they live on, how they survive is a mystery to almost everyone.  This is the breeding ground of most rebs.  They scavenge rubbish tips and live in old abandoned industrial units, and rob and steal where they can.  The Polis largely ignore them, unless they stray too near a strata-ed housing project, or loiter near any Gov-buildings or Comglom premises.  They are constantly being apprehended, but as the jails were abandoned in the thirties as being too costly there is nothing to really do with them, except clag and track them.  But even this doesn’t always work as they often manage to get the clags removed or blocked.  How they keep foiling our tech is a mystery.   It is too costly to keep arresting them, so they are mostly left to their own disgusting devices.   They tend to form vicious gangs which are mostly concerned with fighting other gangs; and if they kill one another all the better really, it leaves fewer to worry about.   They are, to all intents and purposes, non-people, un-crammed, not repaired if they become ill and not even counted.

The main thing to understand is that these non-citizens are in no way redeemable.  They are not really human anymore, they have fallen beyond redemption; they have no future and are destined to fail.  Sooner or later they will cease to exist at all, which will benefit the rest of society immeasurably.  It is just that nobody has come up with a cheap way of getting rid of them.  We cannot, despite some suggestions simply euthenase them wholesale; there are far too many individuals, and there would be massive issues around disposal.  That solution has been tried in small scale experiments, but those not rounded up successfully, simply scatter and infiltrate other areas.  Much like the rodents and small mammals which the small-scale farmers insisted on being culled decades ago; their populations moved to new areas and actually exploded rather than declined.  We have to hope that like all unsustainable sub-species these recidivists, these failed human units will wither and die off in due course.

Janek suspects quite correctly that the rebs are all part of this criminal substrata; or have no choice but to hide themselves there.  Even though he wonders if he is a reb now, even a nascent one, it is a place he really has no desire to go to.  The worst thing that anyone could ever imagine would be to sink beneath strata at all, because there would be no way back.  Even if you were really stupid and slipped into that lowest sub-strata, that thirty percent of manual drudge workers there was always the possibility of re-hab, of clawing your way back up.  But to slip right off the strata scale completely, that was unimaginable.

And what if there were no actual reb movement at all he wondered, what if it was just another dreamed-up external threat, just as he imagined that Al-Queda and all the rad-muslim threats had been in the first half of the century.  What if there was no such thing as a reb movement at all?   What if Janek was the only reb, one of his own making, who existed only in his own mind too?

These were the thought processes of our poor Janek in those days before he had really committed any serious misdemeanour.  Paranoid or justifiably worried, he was never quite sure, but so far he has simply committed to a private network some of his personal dissatisfaction.   And if he had gone no further in all probability we would have never really noticed him.  Or noticing, have simply let him be.  After all, we cannot be expected to worry about every malcontent in the world.  We have far more important things to do with our time.]-

Busy Day a la Marche

Friday 15th May

Thursday is market day and the whole town, normally quiet and peaceful is transformed.   If you wander into the square at six in the morning there are already stalls being erected, large umbrellas (parafour) going up and all manner of food and clothing and wine and toys and flowers appearing form the backs of vans.    The Café des Arts is busier than normal, but actually not always that much busier, it all depends.  If it is sunny many people like to sit at one of the other cafes which have more outdoor seating – you can never tell.

We do open earlier though, although most customers come in a rush between eleven and twelve.  Today it was steady and we managed to serve everyone with no problem, though the market did seem quite busy.  We are allowed to put a couple of tables and four chairs in front of our door on market day, but there is always a territorial fight with the stall-holders.  There is a lady who sells figs right outside our door, and we often have to ask her to move so that people can actually get in the door.  Today she hadn’t set up, but another stall-holder told me she would definitely be here later.

I put out our two tables and left her what I thought would be enough room for her stall.  By nine she still hadn’t arrived and we gradually spread ourselves out a bit.  She did not arrive and we served quite a few customers who wanted to be outside.  You never can tell what will sell, and just lately home-made scones are selling like, well like hot cakes actually.  And we sold out by twelve.  We also sold a few baguettes but there are many days when we do not, and as the ficelles we buy in the morning are stale by afternoon we take them home unsold and feed them to the ducks.  By one in the afternoon the market is over, stall holders are now fighting each other to get their vans as near their stalls as possible.  By two the last remnants have gone, the square is deserted and absolutely no litter remains to show there ever was a market at all.


Thursday 14th May

We have had a mini heat-wave the last few days here in Eymet.  The sun has been shining and it really lifts your spirits.  As I have officially, but not quite, retired now and am out here for three weeks, which incidentally is the longest I have ever spent here, or indeed anywhere in my whole working life, I decided that I was not going to wear socks or shoes for the duration of this break.  Travelling every day on the tube it is almost a necessity to wear shoes but my favourite footwear is actually espadrilles, these are rope-soled canvas shoes and are available in every market or supermarket in France.  The only problem is that the cheapest ones have no sole except the rope and if you get them wet the this tends to expand and fray.  There are slightly more expensive ones now available that have both a thin rubber sole and a cushioned inner sole, so even more comfort.

I just love the freedom that my, admittedly sweaty, feet require; it almost feels like you are wearing nothing.  I am at the moment wearing a pair from England which I found in Peacocks, though you can get them in M. & S. too.  These have an almost air-tex top webbing and are even cooler than the usual ones.    As age beckons one rapidly decides on comfort over fashion and Espadrilles are decided un-cool, but I much prefer then to sandals, as I always find the leather chaffs at some point.

Anyway for a whole week now I haven’t worn socks or shoes at all.  A small achievement I must admit but I see so many people struggling in trainers, which I have never got on with, in the hot weather.  And of course the biggest decision when wearing trainers with shorts is what socks to wear?  Either smart sports socks or those silly half socks that just cover the heel but don’t show over the edge of the trainer; no such problem with espadrilles, socks would defeat the whole point of them.

Now That The Dust Has Settled

Wednesday 13th May

Well, how was it for you – the Tory victory on May 7th?  Were you like me, at first shocked, despondent and finally resigned, or did it pass you by?  Are you one of those who feel that politics doesn’t matter?  That all political parties are the same, perhaps – or on a more personal level that it won’t really affect you.  Well, of course, I lived through 18 years of Tory rule and the sky did not fall in; we survived.  But somehow the world became a bit meaner, a bit nastier; greed was good and society was not a collective endeavour but individual people looking after their own interests.  And the country, generally prospered.  Except….

In the sixties and seventies kids like me from poor working class backgrounds could and did do relatively well.  There was massive social progression, huge changes in public opinion over racism and sexism and giant leaps forward in the idea that the future would be better for everyone.  The mood now is far more defensive, protect your family, look after what you have got because there are hordes of less-fortunates just waiting to take it away.   Or are we actually a happy nation, despite the Scots wanting more and more to be apart from us, despite massive poverty in certain inner cities, despite the huge rise in food banks (unheard of in the much ‘poorer’ sixties) and despite the disabled facing even more stringent ‘tests’ to see if they are fit to work.

Despite massive inflation, income tax at 33%, far too many strikes, the three day week and all I think that people were actually far happier in the sixties and seventies than they are today.  And I wonder if this is a natural progression, that it would have happened whichever party was in power, that it is somehow an unstoppable movement in History, that we are all being swept along regardless, the rich getting massively richer and the poor – well the poor remaining poor of course.


Tuesday 12th May

Tax is an awful word, it is considered almost as punitive, imposed from above and the commonest refrain you hear is “I’ve paid thousands in tax and never had a penny out of it.”  Not quite true I am afraid.  Even if you have never been unemployed or claimed benefits if you had children you will have received Child Benefit and those kids will have been educated at no cost to you.  If you are lucky enough to live to (the ever increasing I will admit) age of retirement you will get a state pension.  If you are as old as me you may have received MIRAS (Mortgage Income Relief At Source) which subsidized your house purchase.  If you have saved for a private or work pension you will have received tax relief too.  If you have ever visited your doctor or had an operation you will have got some of your tax back.  And even if none of these things you can rest assured that if your house catches fire there will be someone to put out the flames and if you are burgled a policeman will at least come and have a look at the damage.  Your money is of course spent in other ways you might not be so happy about, such as nuclear weapons, armed forces and foreign aid – to say nothing of the civil service payroll or the various quangos either.

We entered the Common Market, as it was then called, in the early seventies and VAT was introduced.  I went on a course at the time and was surprised to discover that VAT was not to be shown separately on prices displayed.  This was a clever ruse, as it means that whenever we buy almost anything except food we do not realise that we are actually paying tax.  Income tax is shown on our payslips or our tax demands but VAT is a silent deadly tax that we are almost completely oblivious of paying.  I used to be a great opponent of VAT, in that it was not progressive – in other words it hit the poor harder than the rich, and even the unemployed pay it.

But…..the trouble with income tax is that so many avoid paying it.  Good accountants can easily minimize your tax bill, and if you are self-employed as many more of us are becoming it is extremely easy to simply under-declare your income, which of course all those on Salaries cannot.  I have met many ‘self-employed’ people and almost all of them to some degree under-declare their income (or over-declare their expenses).  So I am slowly coming round to the view that VAT is actually a more effective tax, in that it is harder to avoid paying it, unless of course you pay cash to small traders.  Nobody likes paying tax, but maybe the Lib-Dems were right and increasing the personal allowance while increasing VAT was not such a bad policy.  All parties at the last election made much of stopping tax avoidance, but actually it is much harder than they will tell you.  VAT is actually the hardest tax to avoid.  Maybe we should have a luxury VAT tax, on diamonds and expensive cars, but then that would straightaway be seen as a tax on aspiration.