Monday 21st December

As you can see from yesterday’s post, it has been a bit of a whirlwind – the last few days.  We got to Wales about nine last night (Saturday).  The house is rented to a water-sports enthusiast who only uses it a few weekends when he isn’t flying round the world maintaining jet engines.  It was cold and windy when we arrived and our first problem was to get the central heating working as the pilot light was out.  After a couple of tries we got it working and pretty soon we were warm.

But I slept badly, may be all the travelling, or just the relief that all the planning had worked and I managed to get round to seeing all my grandchildren.   And I have been tired all day.  We had a few chores to do and some cleaning and packing up of china for the new house in France.  We went out for a Chinese buffet meal; it was actually our two year wedding anniversary which is some achievement.  So a big thank-you to my lovely wife and that is all I have to say.  Heading to bed soon, tomorrow is another day.  Hopefully I will not be so tired tomorrow.

Home (but which one)

Tuesday 29th December

The trip is over, both the 17 days I was away, and the actual journey back.  And you know that old song “It’s oh so nice to go travelling, but so much nicer to come home”, ah, how true that is. But no regrets – it was lovely to see everyone again; and we brought so much stuff back in the car it was well worth it.  The journey itself was a bit tedious, or at least I as a passenger found it so.  We had packed sandwiches and fruit and nuts and figs and apricots and all sort of soft drinks and two thermos flasks and tea bags, but by half-way we were truly sick of it all and resorted to eating sweets and chocolates.  We hit a couple of traffic jams both inside and just out of Paris, and at one point I never thought we would ever get here, but 9.30 in the evening French time and we were rolling into Eymet.  Mind you we had been up at three in the morning and crossed on the tunnel at 6, so a long long day.

The house soon warmed up but this morning we discovered that we had no hot water.  It is on a separate electric immersion heater and it was working before we left.  We suspect an electrical fault, and hopefully it will be easily fixed.  So for a while it will be back to the old house for showers, and boiling water for everything else.  We are having the whole placed re-wired in a couple of weeks time, as it hasn’t been updated since 1968 when the house was built; there are hardly any sockets anywhere, and the circuit board looks positively dangerous.

I spent a couple of hours emptying the car this morning (Monday) and my wife ran the café; quite quiet as we expected, but it was nice to crank up the machine again.  The sun was streaming onto our new balcony and it felt just like spring – hopefully we can skip Winter this year, hahaha.  We neither of us can sit around doing nothing; and this new house will certainly keep me occupied for many months.

Who’se Been Sleeping In My Bed?

Sunday 20th December

Daddy Bear doesn’t know.  All he knows is he hasn’t been sleeping in his own bed.  Or rather not in the same bed for a while.  Last Tuesday week (seems a lifetime ago) I was still in the house in France.  Or let us be a bit more explicit, the old house (though we only bought it three and a half years ago) in France.  Then the day after, the Wednesday, we signed for the new house and like excited children and even though it was late at night we slept in the new house, with new sheets and duvets on the old beds.  And mine was a bit lumpy, so I will need an under duvet or a new mattress.  It was Market Day on the Thursday so up at six; opening the Café by seven and serving a few regular market traders.  I flew back to England that day and train to Liverpool Street, and eventually to Walton late on Thursday night.  I was there for two nights and came back to London on Saturday evening.

Slept in the London house for four nights, went to the Restaurant for a half day’s work and visited my two daughters (delivering Christmas presents) and saw 4 of the Grandchildren.  On Wednesday my wife drove us to Walton (makes a change from distraction) and we had one night there.  Funny how easily we seem to have slipped back into our old regime even if it is nearly a year since we did this.  Back to London on Thursday but then to Alfreton on Friday, delivering more Christmas presents and a chance to spend time with my son and granddaughter number five.  One night in Alfreton and then an early train to Sheffield to see my three eldest grandchildren, and another train back to London on Saturday.

But it doesn’t stop there – to Wales on Saturday evening (my wife has an old family house there) and we are planning to sleep there for two nights before returning to London.  And on Sunday we will be back in France.  Whose bed I will sleep in is anyone’s guess….

Europe is all about Compromise

Saturday 19th December

David Cameron is very good at fighting talk.  He is always out there batting for Britain’s best interests.  Or so he claims.  And when he does not get his own way he is quite willing to tuck his bat under his arm and deftly swiping the bails into his hand declare himself out.  Or so he claims.  And if the press reports are to be believed he is in fighting mood in Brussels.  The trouble is that neither he nor many British Prime Ministers have ever begun to understand Europe.  It grew out of the chaos at the end of the Second World War where both victors and defeated were determined never to see such carnage on our continent again.  The weapons were too destructive, the losses too great to bear, the stench of death hung over the continent – and so they set about creating a new Europe, where national boundaries were less important than collective security.  And Europe had always been about compromise.  How could it be otherwise if 6, and then increasing gradually to 28 countries were ever going to agree on anything.  And despite it all, despite the Greek debt crisis, despite the Unification of Germany, despite the Accession of East European nations, despite disaffection and rows – Europe is still there.  And it is still, and even more so, about compromise.

So, where are we now in relation to David Cameron’s famous renegotiation?  Well, according to Cameron a pathway has been laid out for resolution of his demands, but according to most of the press he has been given the coldest of shoulders, and his demands kicked into the long grass.  Besides they have far more important issues to grapple with; the massive influx of refugees, the leaky nature of Schengen, and always with us, the Greek debt crisis rumbles on.  I am sure that almost all of the other countries do not want us to leave.  But, they will not simply give in either (or where would we be if every petty grievance became a crisis).  Mr. Cameron will have to either soften his demands or accept that he will not get what he wants.  And their calculation is that it is unlikely for Britain to actually vote to leave the EU, and even if we do, that is better than giving in to a petulant child that has never really understood the nature of sharing anyway.

But Dave will heave a sigh of relief and slowly our demands will be altered (or altered for us) and eventually a great compromise will be reached where nothing very much will change.  Then the referendum, where I suspect very few voters will change their minds because of it, and despite Dave a narrow victory will be achieved.  Anyway, I bloody well hope so.

Luck or Judgement?

Friday 18th December

One of the most enjoyable aspects of football today is seeing managers sacked. A run of bad results, losing to old rivals or simply a disagreement with the owner can mean the chop.  Not that we should feel that sorry for them, they usually walk away with millions in compensation and seem to pop-up again managing another side in pretty short order.  And now we have the ultimate – the sacking of Jose Mourinho, a colourful and incredibly successful manager (well, he used to be).  And it is true and almost unbelievable that Chelsea have suffered a catastrophic loss of form.  Only last May they won the Premier League by 8 points, they were almost invincible and now they are one or two points above the relegation zone.

Now, the question I have to ask is this “Is success as a football manager more about luck than judgement?”  No-one can deny that certain managers have had long-term success, Alex Ferguson being the best example, but he was also managing a great team and money for buying new players never seemed a problem.  So what exactly does a manager do?  Number one would seem to be to pick the team, and make substitutions on the day.   It used to be the case that you always selected the best possible team for every game, but we often have the unedifying spectacle of very poor teams playing in the League cup (or whatever they call it these days) as managers are saving their best players for European or League games.  One supposes that tactics and where you play your men must be a skill, though I often struggle to discern a 3, 3, 4 from a 5, 3, 1 formation, and then we find that players quite out of position have managed to surge forward and score a goal.  Buying or selling players is nowadays a business in itself where money is more important than a manager’s wishes – and of course everyone wants the best players.  Though apparently Chelsea had the best players last year and this year they haven’t.

I suspect that in many cases games are won or lost more by luck than judgement.  Refereeing decisions can award a penalty or not.  The ball can pepper the posts and bar and not go in, or a careless back-pass can dribble past your own goalie.  Which all makes the game that much more fascinating.  It is also true that a good run of results gives even mediocre players more confidence just as losing games you should have won can sap player’s self-belief.  Maybe the best managers are the ones who can simply instill self-belief in a team even when results are going against them.  And here is maybe the reason for Mourinho’s failure.  A tactical genius who was used to winning could not get his players to win when they began to lose games.  And maybe those games lost were down more to luck than judgement.  Whatever, it does warm the cockles of one’s heart to see Jose limp to the bank with even more of Roman’s money than any of us will ever contemplate having.  Don’t you just love football?

Strange Fruit

Thursday 17th December

I have always loved the song, and Billie Holliday’s delivery is hauntingly beautiful.  A very sad song and an even sadder subject, of course.  Hopefully that period of America’s history is over, though the repeated emergence of U.S. cops shooting black people is sickening – there still appears to be an attitude that black lives count for less.  And we in Britain are not immune, in Iraq and Syria it is obvious that brown lives are worth far less than one of our soldiers.

I was reminded of the song today by the sight along our roadsides of another strange fruit.  In France the sides of the roads tend to be kept clear, the verges mown regularly and bushes and trees cut down.  You can often see right across a few fields.  But along many of our roads there is a dense mass of bushes and trees, dark and brooding and crowding in on the road as you drive along.  And the strange and only winter fruit are the tattered remains of carrier bags, chucked carelessly out of passing car windows and now blooming in the pale winter light.  Some are in shreds and like ribbons wave in the air; others are more or less intact and balloon out in the wind and rain.  But what an awful shame that all along our roads we have these almost indestructible reminders of our disposable society.

Why Would You Do That?

Wednesday 16th December

There is a line in a Leonard Cohen song, which at the time I didn’t really understand “The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.”  It was on the Album “The Future”, one of his best and, for Leonard, a slightly angry record.  Well, what happens in America sure as hell will come here eventually.  I hardly ever watch day-time TV, and if I do, ITV would be a last resort, but sometimes a sort of boredom comes over one and you may find yourself drifting through the channels, remote lazily pointed at the tv and your finger poised over the +channel button.  And I am amazed but hardly surprised at what is on offer.

Quite a few years ago now I used to occasionally watch the Jerry Springer show where mostly stupid and poor Americans were confronted with cheating boyfriends, duplicitous husbands, sisters sleeping with their man etc, etc, etc.  It was sort of fun, because after all these were dumbass Americans, and what else would you expect.  Also Jerry, the host, was actually a nice man, and tended to wrap up his shows with some homily and a smile.  It was all treated as some sort of a joke.

But now we have Jeremy Kyle here on ITV.  At first I wanted to switch as quickly as possible to another channel, but purely in the interests of research I persevered.  My God, what sad and pathetic people were on the show.  The women tended to all be overweight and plastered with make-up, the men were bald and burly no-necks covered in tattoos.  And it was truly awful.  Lie detector tests on the suspected unfaithful, security guards holding back the belligerents etc, etc, etc.  It was Jerry Springer but without the smiles, and the big question I was left with was “Why Would You Do That?” – not so much the infidelity, the lies, the cheating, the tattoos even – but why go on Television and expose your crass stupidity for the world to see.  I can understand why “Celebrities” do it, but ordinary people – it is beyond me.  It is actually the same for “The Apprentice”, why would you let yourself be ripped apart by these sharks?  And it must come down to the pathetic horizons of most people’s lives that fame, even five minutes on Jeremy Kyle, could be the highlight of their sad little lives.  So, now I understand Leonard’s lines.  The rich, the TV producers etc; are exploiting the poor, especially their sexual secrets in a most appalling way, and the lambs are shoving each other out of the way to get into the slaughterhouse.

Cameron – A Lucky Politician?

Tuesday 15th December

Some Politicians are lucky; Margaret Thatcher with the Falklands, which rescued her failing administration; Tony Blair with a resurgent LibDem party led by Charlie Kennedy eating into Tory seats and splitting the opposition; and now David Cameron, who suckered Clegg and the LibDems into supporting him, only for them to take the rap and the public discontent.  Even he could not quite believe the scale of his victory in May.  And despite what they now declare it was never an endorsement of his right-wing policies, but a vote for the lesser of two evils, and not a small portion of fear of the Scots ruling the roost with Ed Milliband (a ridiculous scenario, but scare tactics work far more often than positive messages do).

And now he is still lucky.  The Tories were beaten in their attempt to cut Family Tax Credits (mostly for the poor) and were on the ropes, then they came up with the nonsense that they didn’t need to make these cuts after all, that the economy was actually doing so well that they didn’t need those cuts after all.  And we swallowed it, and Dave came away smiling.  So, they even turn defeat into showing how compassionate they really are (hahaha).

Dave, rather foolishly maybe, promised an in/out referendum in 2017 without specifying exactly what he was looking to achieve in the way of reforms in Europe.  Eventually his aims were dragged out of him, and a pathetic little agenda emerged, with bland promises and only one concrete proposal – to limit in-work benefits from EU migrants for four years.  At first I thought this was incredibly stupid, as it is clearly something the rest of Europe (and he needs them all) could never agree on.  But Lucky Dave, even if he fails in this, will still hail his “negotiations” as a success.  He will hold his referendum and with Labour, the LibDems and the SNP all campaigning to remain he should easily win.  The alternative will scare far too many people.  He will then announce his retirement date and go down in History as a successful Prime Minister.  But my, how lucky he has been.  Let us hope his successor is not so blessed with good luck.

At Last Some Good News

Monday 14th December

There are people who say I am a cynic. I know it is hard to credit, but apparently one or two of you have doubted my profound optimism.  It is true that I have posted the occasional blog exposing corruption and greed and ignorance, or pointing out the obvious errors in Politics or Religion, or bewailing our lack of compassion; but I am at heart a positive person, as anyone who reads my blog will surely appreciate.  And at last some good news.  The Paris Climate Change Conference has come out with a broad agreement to limit the rise in Global Temperatures to well below 2 degrees Centigrade.  Or should that actually read the rise in Global Temperatures will be limited to, well, below 2 degrees anyway – not much below and 1.5 is only an aspirational target.   And 2 degrees will mean slightly less severe changes to the climate, a bit more flooding and weather disruption true, more deserts and faster melting of the ice-caps, but it could have been so much worse if we had gone over 2 degrees.  See, how can anyone say I am cynical after that?

But of course it is a day for celebration.  Almost 200 countries have agreed to water down a final declaration so that it is anodyne enough for Governments to ratify, and yet can also be sold to the general public as a great achievement.  And of course it had to be an agreement, otherwise there wouldn’t have even been a Conference in the first place; they have been working on this for years.  The final two weeks arguments were simply about the wording of the final declaration (ten hours spent on deciding where the commas would be placed).  But at least it is something.

But wait.  Haven’t we been here before?  Rio? Copenhagen?  Weren’t they hailed as great achievements too?   At least though the Environment is top of the news agenda at last, just pipping the price of petrol slipping below a pound a litre (which will surely slow down our reliance on burning of fossil fuels).  So stop thinking that all the news is bad.  There haven’t been any reports of bombings in Syria for at least a week now.  There have been no terrorist attacks (today, anyway) and Donald Trump has declared that if he is President he will build a wall around the whole of America and not let any Muslims, or Irish or Gypsies or Jews or Black People or Queers or Women or Cripples in; all the Americans inside will be allowed to drive their cars wherever they want all over America only stopping to buy guns and burgers, so we can all sleep safe in our nuclear shelters for four more years.

Some Things Cannot Be Easily Explained

Sunday 13th December

Government Policy aside, there are many things we see around us which cannot be easily explained – hence (maybe) Religion.

The Sun comes up every morning (unless you live in England – hahaha) – where does it come from?  And the Moon at night, where was that hiding all day?  And when you learn at school that actually we are the ones moving and the Sun is stationary (or not actually but for the purposes of argument…) and the light we see beaming from the face of the moon is simply reflected light from the centre of our Solar System, our old friend the Sun, it is simply too difficult to comprehend.  Being facetious (que moi?) in Physics I asked our teacher old Mr. Monk if he could prove it.  His reply was that “actually no, he couldn’t – but everything else in the Universe worked if we accepted it as a fact.”  He also added that I may actually be the only pupil in the school capable of studying Physics at Uni, but I was also the only one he would refuse to teach.”  Faint praise indeed – and I failed all my “O” level sciences, one of my proudest achievements.

And Life itself?  The division of cells, the nature of DNA, the double helix – could all this simply be an accident of Chemistry which happened to occur on one single planet in a Universe populated by an almost infinite number of huge chunks of rock and gas flying about.  I find it impossible to believe that we are alone in the Cosmos; that life was an accident on one planet, or indeed that intelligent life, Art, Music, Literature are accidents of matter too.  Probably not in my lifetime, but one day certainly we will discover Life elsewhere.  In fact it is more than probable that Life itself is an as yet unrecognised ‘Force of the Universe’, where Chemicals can combine to form ‘Life Giving’ properties – they will.  But these things are hard to explain, and even harder for us to comprehend no matter how many Horizon programmes we watch – hence Religion. It is far easier surely to believe in an old man with a beard sitting surrounded by angels in some place called Heaven, while a fallen angel, old Satan himself, is attempting to lure us all to a much hotter destination – both places incidentally outside of the known Universe. Or is it just me who is dafter than a ‘hapenny frying pan’