The Nuclear Deterrent

Wednesday 20th July

Well, firstly is it?  There are those who would argue that as there has been no major war (especially in Europe, the rest of the World doesn’t really count) and we haven’t been directly attacked, that our possession of nuclear weapons has been an effective deterrent.  In other words, nobody – but Russia specifically – has attacked us simply and solely because we would nuke a handful of Russian cities in retaliation if they did.

Who knows?  Possibly in the years following World War Two when Russian aggression and expansion was feared it might have made Stalin pause for thought, but Stalin is long gone.  And despite Putin’s puny land-grabs in Ukraine I really don’t think that World Domination is on anyone’s agenda these days.  If there ever is another ‘World War’ then it will be fought by drones and computer hacker or by Financial pressures rather than by conventional armies or even WMD.  In any case America would undoubtedly threaten nuclear annihilation if we were invaded, or worst case scenario ( a la Trump) be the instigator themselves of a nuclear holocaust, and we with or without our ‘independent’ deterrent would be obliterated bystanders.  And if anyone were stupid enough to consider wiping us out, our puny arsenal which might just hit 12 foreign cities would count for little in Russia’a (or anyone else’s) military planning.  And if we ever came to that sorry pass of using our bombs, despite Theresa May’s assertion, who would really press that button and go down in History (though at that point history might cease to be written) as the killer of hundreds of thousands of innocent people?

War is the failure of Politics.  Simple as that.  And how is it that most countries in Europe and around the World exist without having these awful weapons?  What deters Russia or anyone else from invading them?  Nothing, except the simple fact that nobody wants to attack them. And all those billions (mostly going to America) could be spent on something really useful.  Why we could even give tax cuts to the rich….ooops, we’ve already done that of course.

P –is for early Pink Floyd – Their Part in my Downfall

Tuesday 19th July

I had heard ‘Arnold Layne’ on the radio.  It was different, but every record by everyone was different then, each Beatles record leapfrogging the last to new heights.  So, imagine my surprise and excitement when I heard that Pink Floyd were going to be appearing live at Stowmarket Carnival in a few weeks time.  Now Stowmarket had truly earned it’s description as a sleepy market town, nothing ever happened there – and still doesn’t.  The annual highlight was the Carnival, where ‘floats’ were decorated by local organizations and groups and were driven through the town to the excitement of all; there was also a funfair and a few other events – but someone had for some unfathomable reason decided to have a pop concert at the local soccer ground and even more inexplicably had booked Pink Floyd, who were then denizens of the underworld, playing to the nascent hippy and psychedelic scene in London.  This was 1967, the year of flower power and I was just sixteen and open to suggestion, besides I loved the new music pouring out of California…”If you’re going to San Francisco’…

For some reason also lost in the mystery of time I and a few friends got to the football ground really early, a bar was already open and armed with glasses of Stout and Cider were lounging around.  When , suddenly we met Pink Floyd.  Yes, in those halcyon days ‘Pop Stars’ often mingled with the crowd before a gig.  Syd Barrett, Rick Wright, Nick Mason and Roger Waters chatted to a few of us as if we were old friends.  They all had long hair and wore cool clothes and we talked about music and girls and stuff.  I even got all their signatures on a ten shilling note.  “See Emily Play” had been released a few weeks ago and the crowd was enormous.  As it started to get dark they left and were on stage.  To say they was incredible would be an understatement, they were years ahead of their time and started straight into ‘Careful with that Axe, Eugene’ and other far out numbers.  The light show was, for the time incredible, but in reality was little more than squidgy oils beamed onto white sheets – but we were impressed.  I really got out of my head, not only on the music but on several pints more of stout and cider.  Dead drunk I might have been but the idea had arrived in my head that I must get away from Stowmarket.  London was the destination; how and when I hadn’t quite worked out, but thanks in part to Pink Floyd I had decided to leave….

By the way the ten shilling note, which would be worth a fortune today was spent later that same evening on pints of stout and cider; well, how was I to know how famous they would become.

Foire des Vins – Sigoules

Monday 18th July

Sigoules is quite a small village not far from Eymet.  It may be small but it manages to put on one of the best festivals in the whole area.  It is called the Wine Festival, but it is much like all the other festivals; lots of food and wine and music.  But much more.  There must have been around fifty stalls selling wines from around the region, some Biological which we tried and were impressed by.  We went on Saturday night, and there were hundreds, maybe more than a thousand people, mostly French, there; the festival attracts people from miles around.  The food offering was amazing; as well as the traditional moules et frites and barbequed duck, there was a Chinese stall, steaks and pork and roast hams, all manner of cheeses and cold meats and a wonderful paella (which we ate) full of mussels, clams, chicken and squid.  This along with a selection of melon was all of ten euros fifty.  The main event is held in a large area which is normally tennis courts and basketball hoops, but was now decorated with orange and yellow streamers, rows of tables and chairs and a huge stage.

As it started to get dark the entertainment began and  people flooded into the makeshift arena, benches being rapidly handed out to those without seats.  A French Cabaret followed; to a loud backing track four singers belted out a few numbers, then a long break before the spectacular.   It was incredibly professional and remarkably kitcsh at the same time.  Six dancing girls, very scantily clad with huge ostrich feather ‘wings’ moving with military precision and bum cheeks winking in unison.  The singing continued, almost exclusively in French; there were a couple of comedy numbers (again in French so we found it hard to follow but the crowd roared with laughter) and a female contortionist who in a spangly costume managed to bend herself double in every way possible; there was also a male gymnast who around a vertical pole held horizontal positions which would make Olympic Gymnasts jealous.  Between each ‘act’ the girls returned in a variety of ever more extravagant costumes and exotic routines.  Despite the rather ‘old-fashioned’ nature of the whole show it was highly enjoyable, especially after a few glasses of wine.

We left at 11.30 and the show was still going on…and the whole thing will be repeated on Sunday.  Incredible.

P – is for Tom Petty

Sunday 17th July

I first heard Tom Petty on a double cassette I bought in 1978.  It was titled FM and highlighted lots of new bands and artists featuring on the new (in America) FM waveband (I think it might have been a soundtrack from a film, but I never heard of that either). FM?  I had no idea what FM radio meant; we still had Medium, Short and Long Wave over here.  But I bought the cassette anyway, and it was brilliant.  Great singers like Bob Seger and Linda Ronstadt and Boz Scaggs, and bands like Steely Dan and Steve Miller Band.  Sadly the cassette doesn’t play anymore and it isn’t available on any format nowadays.  Anyway I played the thing to death and grew to love most of the Artists.  Including Tom Petty.  But the only song on that cassette by Tom was “Breakdown”.  Then I noticed that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were playing at Hammersmith Odeon and I went to see them.

And they were brilliant, I was blown away by them; every song was original and different, great melodies and a really rocking band, and I had only heard the one song before I saw them.  But best of all was Tom’s voice, a Southern drawl with almost a sneer in his voice (a bit like Dylan but better in some ways), it was just perfect for these classic American Rock and Roll songs.  So, after the concert I went out and bought the only two albums that he had made so far and heard again the songs like American Girl and Luna and Magnolia.  I bought most of The Heartbreaker records over the years and a couple when Tom went solo.  He wrote almost all the songs himself, or collaborated with Mike Campbell (guitarist) and Benmont Tench (keyboards).  He has sold over 80 million records, was a Travelling Wilbury, has reformed The Heartbreakers and is still recording new material, but I still like the early stuff, especially American Girl and Breakdown.

See original image

Bastille Day 2016

Saturday 16th July

I was going to post a pleasant light-hearted blog about the Bastille Day Celebrations here in Eymet; it was going to be full of fun, food and wine, music and (though I left early) the fireworks.  Bastille Day, the fourteenth of July, is a special day for the French.  It marks the day in 1789 when the Revolutionaries stormed the infamous Bastille prison and released the prisoners, some Political but many simple thieves or worse.  But it marks the day when France really became a Republic, a new idea at the time.  No King, no aristocracy lording it over the peasants.  Of course, the Revolution soon disintegrated into chaos and dictatorship, but out of it grew the idea of the Citizen, and most famously “Egalite, Liberte, Fraternite”.  And it is Liberte which is now once again, and with a sickening realization that it might never stop, at risk.

And how do we protect ourselves from these atrocities, and especially this last one?  A crowded Boulevard (I was there about six years ago on New Year’s Eve), a balmy night, a day of Celebration, the crowd awaiting the fireworks – and then out of nowhere a large white lorry, driven at speed straight at ordinary people, the driver apparently swerving to kill as many as possible.  What hatred motivates these people?  What can cause such senseless cruelty?  And it is our very sense of incomprehension that we must tackle first.  It is no good simply dismissing this as the act of a lone lunatic, a terrorist (whatever that is) or even a fanatic.  Vowing to kill those responsible is almost as pointless.  The only long-term solution which stands any chance of success at all is to talk to our enemies, try to discover exactly what they want so badly that they are prepared to kill absolutely innocent people for it.  And maybe we will have to, in the end, give them what they want – or something approaching it.

We cannot kill an idea, and simply killing those we can identify as Isis or Daesh, or whatever they are calling themselves these days, will not solve the problem.  In fact, as we have discovered in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and now in Syria, violence simply feeds the monster.   Just like the War on Drugs, we have to see if there is any way of accommodating those who disagree with us so much they are prepared to die for their beliefs and kill as many of us in doing so.  It may not be possible, but unless we try then there will be many more Bastille Days.

2066 – and we are really concerned for Janek

Thursday 14th July

-[This was an unexpected development.  We knew that Janek would suffer some fatigue, but five days of almost totally deep sleep were unexpected.  It is true that we did keep waking him, there were fears of him slipping into a coma, so deep and still his sleeping had become.   He simply lay on his side, curled in the foetal position and didn’t move, no rapid eye movements, extremely shallow breathing, pulse slowed right down, temperature slightly raised.  Various theories were posited, but really they were all theories.  We knew almost nothing.   The Hypercoms were as ignorant as the rest of us.  I felt that we were groping in the dark for answers to questions we hadn’t even begun to ask.  I was deeply worried.  What if Janek should never regain his mind again?  Had, what we were certain was simply a sharing of his memory banks actually robbed him of them?  Were they transferred in their entirety, had they indeed been stolen rather than unraveled and shared?  Too many questions and no real answers.

Meanwhile what we considered his shared memories were about to be pored over by a different team altogether.  Psycho-analysts and philosophy experts were starting to open them.   One after another they were mining Janek’s treasure trove of memories.  The problem was immediately apparent.  As soon as each memory was sparked into life, appearing in audiovisual on the screen like a series of old homevids, it began to fade.  We could see his memories there on the screen, for a few seconds as they opened up and glowed briefly, but we couldn’t capture them.  When we tried to re-run the images, frantically re-opening the files they became fainter and fainter, and after three or four tries all we saw was a blank screen.  The files were empty, and going back the originals were a series of empty boxes.   After twenty or so attempts the process was halted.  Also there appeared to be no discernible order to his memories.  It was as if they had all been jumbled up in the transference process.  We could see the files there; millions of them all safely stored in a specially firewalled and safe quadrant of the Hypercom’s hard data bank, but we couldn’t read them.  The very act of opening them destroyed them forever.

This was a real problem.  Not only a physical one, but now an ethical dilemma, especially as there were now fears that Janek had lost his own memories, or was at the very least experiencing a similar difficulty in retrieving them.   Should we simply wait and see how long it took for Janek to recover, or should we intervene.  What form should that intervention possibly take; there was no going back, we couldn’t undo his second conjoining.  But how to proceed? And then the broader questions; did we have any right to his memories in the first place, was the whole theory, the ‘raison d’etre’ of the whole ‘select’ programme in question.  We had a real dilemma, for the first time real doubts were creeping in, we were at an impasse.]-

The Party’s Over

Thursday 14th July

Well possibly not, but there is no doubting the serious situation which the Labour party finds itself in.  Strange that the Conservatives, who until a few weeks ago were tearing themselves apart over Europe, are now united and with a new Leader and pursuing a policy of disengaging with Europe which they don’t really believe in, have jettisoned their 6 year policy of Austerity and eliminating the deficit and are even pursuing policies first outlined by ‘Red Ed’ of the Labour Party.  Labour however, who were fairly united in opposing Brexit are now tearing themselves apart because they have a leader, who may be reflecting the views of the bulk of the party members but is ridiculed by the Media, disowned by most of his M.P.s and being challenged (probably unsuccessfully) by two of them.  Rumours are rife that this will split Labour, with the M.P.s, either being de-selected or going off to form their own party (as the SDP did 35 years ago).

I really don’t know how this will pan out.  I blame all sides for the state we are in.  Firstly those from the right of the party should not have refused to serve in the Shadow Cabinet in the first place; I am sure that Andy Burnham has as many reservations as some of them but he has stayed to try and save the party.  Secondly, Jeremy should not have made John McDonell his Shadow Chancellor, he really isn’t convincing on any level.  He should also have sought a consensus set of policies under which the whole party could have felt comfortable with.  Hilary Benn and the others who walked out of the Shadow Cabinet, on the excuse that Jeremy did not campaign effectively for Remain are guilty of planning a coup, where they hoped to force Jeremy to resign.  This, plus the vote of no-confidence and Angela Eagle’s challenge have only served to discredit the party further.  And Jeremy’s reported intransigence and refusal to hold talks with his opponents has only added to the problem.

We now have a new Leadership contest, which will not solve anything.  Whoever wins, either the M.P.s or the Membership will feel betrayed.  And when we lose the 2020 election, which is almost inevitable now, each side will blame the other – that is if they are still in the same party anyway.  UKIP will be rubbing their hands and will make substantial gains, especially as the Brexit discussions will get bogged down over the question of free movement of people.

Labour will probably hang on to around 200 seats (maybe less).  It may take another ten years after that for them to sort themselves out.  The economy may be in free-fall, the NHS practically gone, but the Conservatives will sail on, holed below the waterline maybe, but with no effective opposition.  But of course, I could be wrong….I usually am.

What a Strange Constitution (or lack of one)

Wednesday 13th July

Britain famously doesn’t have a written Constitution.  But that isn’t quite true either; we have an awful lot of written law, it just isn’t written down in simple language which any normal citizen can access.  And it seems that this written or unwritten constitution can be changed by any party managing to gain a majority in the House of Commons to force through that change.  We used to have General Elections at the pleasure (or displeasure) of her Majesty when advised by her Prime Minister that he or she no longer had the confidence of the House, or if it was five years since the last one.  For some bizarre reason, more to do with Cameron and Clegg hanging on to their jobs than anything else, the last Coalition passed the Fixed Term Parliament Act.  This, unless under very unusual circumstances, means we will now have Elections only every five years.  No longer will losing a vote of no-confidence suffice to remove an unwanted Party or Prime Minister.  Unless of course the Government repeals this non-sensical Law we will have to wait until 2020 for our say on the recent shenanigans which have seen one Prime Minister offer a referendum, accept the result which was against his own argument and immediately declare that the wishes of the people would be obeyed.  But not by him, by his successor (who by the way has arrived on the scene rather quicker than expected) who has stated that she will take her time to do so.

There is as far as I can see no precedent for either the Referendum or accepting the result.  Parliament is supposed to be Sovereign, not a glorified Opinion Poll.  And as the result will have such long-lasting results and leaving the EU was not in any major parties Manifesto it seems bizarre that such a change can now be Government Policy without a new Election.  I accept that in all likelihood the Tories would win again with an increased majority, but we now will have the nonsense of our elected Representatives negotiating and voting on measures they patently do not believe in.  And in any case nobody is really sure what they will be, or whether if we do not agree with the terms for our leaving the EU we can refuse to accept them, or whether this will have to be ratified by either our Parliament or the other 27 countries in the EU.  An absolute mess.  And all so unnecessary, there was nothing Constitutional in calling the Referendum or in having to accept the result.  It makes you wonder whether this was the plan all along.  So much for a Constitution, written or otherwise – we are making it up as we go along.


Days Like These

Tuesday 12th July

You never know quite what the day is going to throw at you, even when you aren’t standing just to the side of the fan.  Today was always going to be busy.  I am in England, ostensibly to catch up on some work, but also to see some of my Grandchildren.  I arrived on Sunday evening, plane late from Bergerac so I got in about half an hour late at Stansted.  The long walk to Passport Control; I have an e-passport so went through these gates.  Now, as time goes on of course more and more people will be issued with them and have to use the wonderful face recognition machines (strange that Facebook can recognize a blurred snapshot of me form ten years ago but these state of the art machines reject at least half the poor mutts queuing to use them).  To add insult to injury yesterday only three out of about twenty machines were actually working, or had been switched on, so had to wait in line for about thirty minutes while those in the manual section sailed through.  Anyway I eventually got to my wife’s house in East London, where I was meeting some friends and her extended family for a curry dinner.  We ended up having a take-away and watched the football, but they all left before the Portuguese goal.

Anyway I woke on Monday morning and got ready for work.  Last thing to do was to pick up my keys.  Now where had I left them, on the side table I always use, surely.  No, they weren’t there.  In fact they weren’t anywhere at all. Panic.  Mad panic. All my keys are on that bunch.  I searched everywhere; I had certainly used them to get in the house 12 hours earlier.  I looked under seat cushions and on the floor under the sofas, the toilet and bathroom and bedroom yielded nothing.  I had to leave, by now thirty minutes late, for work.  I texted the people who were there last night in the vain hopes they might have picked my keys up.

In fact one of them had.  And it wasn’t the first time he had done this, when they visited us in France the same thing happened.  Anyway I had a spare key for Walton where I was eventually headed and they will meet me tomorrow night to let me in and give me my keys (I hope).  To work, and a mad rush because I had promised to see two sets of grandchildren in the afternoon and logistically this would be tight.  To Kings Cross by 12.15 and bought the tickets.  Misread the Train information and had to catch the next train but had a lovely time in Stevenage with one daughter and two kiddies.  Dash back to Kings Cross and train to Luton Airport to meet daughter number two and her children.  Again a nice time but mad rush to get back to catch train from Liverpool Street to Walton.  On time, just.  But the Clacton train (change at Thorpe Le Soken) was cancelled due to an earlier broken down train.  Got on next fast train to Colchester where I am writing this blog and hope to catch a train from there to Walton.

Madness I know….but hey, my attempt to travel on every train line in England in one day was almost achieved.

It’s Politics – but not as we know it

Monday 11th July

The dust is just beginning to settle on a transformed Political landscape.  Gone are many certainties and gone are many of the leading characters.  All that is left is a dusty windswept stage with a few tattered side curtains blowing gently in the breeze created by the vacuum.  The result of the Referendum came not only as a shock but with the startling revelation that nobody at all has a plan, least of all the Brexiteers, who may be as surprised as the rest of us that they actually won.

We will shortly be in the middle of at least three leadership elections.  Angela Eagle has promised that she will shortly (maybe today) be formally challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership.  I really have no idea at the moment how she will fare.  On paper Jeremy won with a very large mandate, though how many of those will continue to support him remains to be seen.  He has been inconsistent; at times brilliant and at others stumbling and reminding us of the worst days of Michael Foot.  The fact that he can barely form a shadow cabinet and will likely face a major revolt over the renewal of Trident and has lost the confidence of most of his M.P.s make him look ridiculous – but on the other hand the zealotry of many of his supporters means he may still beat Angela.  I am torn, like many Labour supporters.  I like the ideals of Jeremy, but know that actually winning elections is more than just presenting a bouquet of promises to the electorate; you have to have a realistic chance of winning.  I am not at all sure that Angela Eagle would win in 2020, but am pretty sure that Jeremy will not.

The Conservatives have a choice between two women, and again on paper Theresa May should win easily, but the Tory party members are far more right-wing than most of the M.P.s and are predominantly anti-Europe.  Andrea Leadsom has echoes of Thatcher which might attract them.  Both ladies promise to be tough in negotiations with Europe, but the reality is that you can be tough as you like, the clock once it is ticking will be on Europe’s side, “Here is the deal – take it or leave it, oh and by the way is that the time?”

Ukip will be electing a new leader too, and if they really want to be a force in Politics rather than a single issue party, just like the SNP in Scotland they will have to really decide on their policies; are they going to aim right of the Tories of even left of Labour (as the SNP did).

An interesting few months ahead; the country already looks like it is slipping into poor if not negative growth; will the Tories abandon Austerity and raise taxes (watch out for a rise of at least 1% in VAT); will Labour move back to the Centre, wherever that is now, or continue veering Left; will UKIP support or attack a deal with Europe and will the LibDems begin to recover lost ground under Tim Farron?

As your very own Political Oracle I really have no idea, and if I don’t know what hope is there for anyof us…..hahaha