The Greatest Comedy Show On Earth

Sunday 20th May

It really is impossible to keep a straight face.  Every time he just creases me up.  And mostly it is unscripted – in fact, the very fact that he cannot keep to the script, but goes off like a firecracker, is the funniest.  And we cannot get enough of him.  Or maybe we have really had far too much of him already.

Donald Trump is the funniest man on the planet.  And of course the irony is that if he were not President of the United States nobody would be watching him in the first place.  When he first made his bid to become a Candidate he was laughed at, but not for the same reason.  Nobody gave him a chance.  He was a complete outsider.  Okay, a very rich outside and a TV Celebrity (our very own but much nastier Alan Sugar).  And he was vicious and ruthless, saying anything about his opponents (originally all in the Republican party) to win enough votes to stay in the race.  And he kept on winning, despite Pussygate, despite insulting dead U. S. Muslim soldiers, despite promising and then refusing to release his tax returns.  In fact the worse it looked for him the better his ratings got.  He bullied his way to the Republican Nomination, even though most of them hated him (and still do I expect).

And then he bullied Hilary (not exactly the perfect Candidate herself), prowling around the stage and glowering at her in the debates, threatening to put her in prison even.  And despite winning 3 million less votes than her he won more states and became POTUS.  Even here he made us laugh as he declared it was the greatest victory by any President in history.  The very blatant-ness of his lies is the secret of his comic success.  If he told half lies or minor indiscretions or just exaggerations he wouldn’t be so funny.  And he says it all with such a straight face – one could almost think that he believes what he says.  No, you can’t be serious.  Surely, he doesn’t believe what he is saying – go on, you’re kidding me.

And yesterday he told his best one.  He declared that he was the most persecuted President in U.S. History – no other had been treated so badly.  He completely ignored the assassinations of Kennedy and Lincoln, the derision Bush received because of Iraq, or Nixon of course.  Anyway I can’t wait for his next performance….and hope against hope that he isn’t impeached and we lose the greatest comedy show on earth.


Friday 19th May

Part Three – The Falling Apart

11)       And then it ended

Jane realized that what caused her the most difficulty, the hardest thing to adjust to, was when Harriet went to University.  She was eighteen and Jane was just sixteen, and though it had been expected and they had both known that it would happen for ages, it still came as an awful shock to her.  She was on her own now, well not totally, because she came back lots of weekends and for long breaks during the holidays too.   But for the first time she could remember she was walking to school on her own.  Even when Harriet was going to Grammar School for those two years before Jane joined her she would walk most of the way to Jane’s school with her and they simply couldn’t wait to meet up again after school.

Jane remembers clearly the day she left for Leeds, well they all left for Leeds of course; Daddy drove the family there in the Bentley.  And though it took hours and hours and they didn’t get back until the early hours of the Sunday, it didn’t hit home that she wasn’t coming back in the car with them, until all of a sudden, Harriet was waving them goodbye outside the halls of residence.   Jane twisted round on the back seat to get that last glimpse of her smiling face and waving hand.  And though she had assured Jane that she would be okay, that she would be fine on her own, Jane didn’t really believe her.  It felt like betrayal, the greatest betrayal you could imagine, and though of course it was no such thing and Jane knew that deep down, it didn’t stop the feeling of loss and hurt.  And Jane just couldn’t get over this feeling that somehow Harriet had let her down, she had always insisted she would never leave Jane, and here she was doing just that – leaving her.

And she was simply lost without her, or so it seemed to Jane at the time.  She was just going through the motions, behaving as if nothing mattered when all the time there was this great big hole inside her, and the strange thing was that nobody noticed.  They all thought she was fine. They all thought nothing had changed.  But it had.  Never more, she thought, would she be that confident young girl that she had so successfully been alongside her sister.  And though she still performed, still smiled and went to parties and dressed to kill, she was empty inside.  It was all an act; she was acting every day and crying every night.  Crying for herself and for the sister she had lost, because despite Harriet coming back for the holidays she was most certain she had lost her.

And in truth, she had.  She came back for holidays and for quite a few weekends but Jane had lost her already.  She had new friends, and talked of new bands she had seen, and of her classes, and of the lectures, which Jane had no way of sharing – and she knew she had lost her.  In so many ways Stowmarket had been too small for her, even Suffolk was too limited a stage for Harriet; she needed the world.  And she was visibly bored with them now, with their old friends, with the Mikado, their very own coffee shop with its’ formica-topped tables and shiny juke box; and worst of all, she was even bored with Jane.    She didn’t have to tell her of course, it was simply obvious.  And though she still smiled, it wasn’t her old smile.  This was a smile that, like in the song, ‘she kept in a jar by the door’.  It was too sparkling, too affected, too instant, and Jane saw through it straightaway.

What she didn’t see through was the reason, why she had changed, because it wasn’t just University, it wasn’t the new friends, the new music, all the new experiences and stuff she was learning.  Learning had never meant that much to Harriet, it had always been too easy for her, and she had never loved knowledge for knowledge sake, she just excelled at it so easily and all the reflected praise, the gold stars, the prefecture, being made head girl, it had never seemed an end in itself.  Not the pursuit of knowledge so much maybe as the knowledge of pursuit.

She excelled because excelling made her liked, because that was what Harriet lived for – to be liked, well – adored, really.  The centre of the circle, the it-girl, the one they all looked up to, that was what Harriet had craved, had been living for really, and for as long as Jane could remember.  And in a way Jane had loved that too, because, as her sister she became the second most popular girl, the most coveted friend – she was someone too.

But now it was all false, it was as if they had become two actors in the Harriet and Jane show; Harriet putting on a show for Jane and everyone else that she was the same Harriet she had always been, and Jane pretending she was still the same happy-go-lucky sister of Harriet she too had been.   And Jane thought that they were both desperately unhappy inside, and of course the greatest tragedy was that neither of them was being honest with each other and admitting it.  If only they could have just let down their masks and been themselves again, if they could have just been open and honest about how they were feeling then maybe it would have been alright, maybe they could have recovered the situation and really sorted themselves out.

But what neither of them had appreciated at the time was that they were such a dysfunctional family in the first place.  Why was it that neither Harriet nor Jane had cared, really cared about their parents?  And that was of course because their parents hadn’t really cared about them.  And why was that?  Why were they so ignored, so – just left to themselves so much that they didn’t feel they needed their parents either?  Their mother was such an ethereal creature that Jane sometimes had difficulty in even remembering, or considering her at all.  She always seemed more interested in her friends than the girls.  She would leave them all day with Aunt Julie or really anyone, anyone who would stand in for her; that the girls barely noticed if she were there or not.  It had never bothered them at the time, it gave them a precious freedom, which most other children had been denied, but it also deprived them of that feeling of being loved, of being needed, of being valued.

And their father, their precious father, the solicitor who everyone in the town looked up to, where had he been all these years?  When he wasn’t out visiting ‘some friend in a spot of trouble’ he would be closeted in his study, a scruffy and smelly old room with his big old desk and an armchair, hunting and fishing gear stashed in a corner.  It had a really neglected feel about it and the girls weren’t really allowed to go in there, but would sometimes explore in their boredom.  He used to escape there most evenings, as if the few short hours they might spend together each day were just too much for him.  So, they had been left on our own for far too long, and by both of them, and now the chickens were truly coming home to roost.  When they needed at least one parent to talk to, there was no-one, no history of talking with them, no easy way to get started at all.

And for her part Jane never even considered it.  She had always had Harriet to talk to; but after Harriet left for University she felt so bereft of any purpose in life that she just drifted around, putting in her appearance at school, hanging out at the Mikado, accepting invites to parties but turning up and being bored, accepting petty advances from boys but feeling nothing, no thrill at all in those kisses, and too bored to even stop the octopus hands trying to grope her.  She felt nothing, so nothing really mattered.  But she never did that; a bit too much sense, or fear, deep down to do that.


The Trouble With The Conservatives – 2017

Thursday 18th May

The Conservatives do not really believe in Society.  In fact Mrs. Thatcher declared once that there was no such thing.  They do not believe in Public Services.  I once met a Tory local councilor who objected to paying for the Fire Brigade. “I will make sure my house doesn’t burn down,” was his attitude.  They believe in Private provision; each individual paying their own way according to their means….and if they have no means?  Oh well, that is really their own fault isn’t it, why should tax payers pay for those who do not work.

There was a time when the Conservatives were just that, trying to conserve what was left, attempting to stop the flood of equality brought in after 1945.  But things changed in the Eighties.  Mrs. Thatcher was bent on breaking the power of the Unions, and the working class as well.  It was now to be the market in everything, and dog eat dog became the order of the day.  And with each succeeding Tory regime the screw is being tightened, more Privatisations, more holding back and selling off the NHS, more cuts to benefits.  We will force them to work, even if they are disabled.  And we must reduce taxes for the rich.  But above and beyond everything we must keep winning elections.  And they will do anything to win. Now it is Brexit they all believe in, when only one year ago two thirds of Tory M.P.s were Remainers.  So much for Strong and Stable – the previous horses, Cameron and Osborne bolted the stable and left the doors wide open.

And even if it all goes wrong and the great Brexit project ends in tears – it will be the fault of those wretched Europeans, especially the Germans.  And it will be the poor who will pay..

Plus ca change, plus ca meme.

The Trouble With The LibDems – 2017

Tuesday 16th May

The LibDems, or really the Liberals as we know them, are neither fish nor foul, neither Angels nor Devils, and consequently are never really taken seriously.  But under Charlie Kennedy, their best leader in decades, they presented an alternative voice and gained as many as 65 MPs at one time.  During the Blair years they seemed more left-wing than Labour, but they made a fatal error under Clegg in joining the Tories in Coalition.  Rather than being seen as sensible and helping save the country from financial ruin (which the Coalition only exacerbated in fact) they became traitors and in fact allowed the Tories to do almost exactly what they wanted to.  If only they had told the Tories to Govern on their own and vote bill by bill it would have been a different story, but through either naivety or venality they preferred to be offered a few crumbs of Government.

And now they have a new young leader who talks the talk – but unfortunately is of that brand of Christianity which believes that Homosexuality is a sin.  Ironic that the party which is probably most ‘liberal’ about sexuality (remember Jeremy Thorpe) should now be led by a man who although he accepts Gay Marriage etc; is privately unreconciled to the fact of love between two men or women.

Not that that on its own will stop people voting LibDem.  Sometimes in politics it takes some time to be forgiven, and the huge ‘U-turn’ on their 2010 pledge on tuition fees still sticks in many previous LibDem voter’s throats.  They may pick up a couple of seats in the West Country or to the South West of London, but it will be many years and maybe many elections before they are ever a real force again.

The Trouble With Labour – 2017

Tuesday 16th May

Labour has always been a broad church of the left and has been riven by more internal struggles than most parties – from Gaitskell and Wilson to Tony Benn and Denis Healey, and now the ‘Blairites’ and the left.  And Labour doesn’t argue in private, it washes its’ dirty laundry in public.  And the public are confused or at best, content to hope things will improve in the future.  Labour members are far more interested in having their ‘brand’ of Socialism, or Social Democracy win the internal argument than in winning the hearts and minds of the public.  They think that because their policies are so obviously ‘right’ that the public will automatically vote for them.

They are also a prisoner of their History, the dominance of the Unions – which many people see as insidious, and the perceived economic failures; devaluation of the pound and the Global Economic Recession of 2008 are all laid at the feet of an economically incompetent Labour Party.  Tony Blair successfully detoxified the party in the nineties and won three elections, largely by moving to and occupying the centre ground.  And despite some good measures he is still unforgiven by most Labour members for the invasion of Iraq.

And we now have one member, one vote – and as the membership of Labour is far more left-wing than the general public – has elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader.  And may well do so again, or someone perceived as just as left-wing next time.  The opinion polls though dire, in that they indicate a huge victory for the Tories, are deceptive.  Labour may end up polling the same percentage as under Milliband and the Tories will mop up many UKIP voters who don’t actually like the Tories but see Mrs. May as far stronger to negotiate Brexit.  Labour could be in for another long spell of Opposition, and until they find a way of reconciling their internal disputes and choosing a Leader which most voters will think electable they will still be in trouble.

The Trojan Horse

Monday 15th May

Everyone knows the story of the Trojan horse; the gift of the giant horse which turned out to be full of soldiers.  Well, it may or not have actually been quite like that, but we have just had the twenty-first Century version of the Trojan Horse.

UKIP came almost from nowhere, but were backed by a few millionaires and steadily their anti-Europe and anti-immigrant message seeped into the nation’s consciousness.  And it was classic scape-goating; blaming immigrants for many of our woes, which were really home-grown.  And it appeared around seven or eight years ago that theTories were really rattled.  UKIP started off winning seats in the European Parliamentary elections.  Barely understood by anyone, the European Parliament was seen as an expensive talking shop and people had often used their votes as a protest – a few years ago the Greens won a few seats.  But now it was UKIP winning and then doing everything they could to sabotage it when they got elected.  And then when they started winning local council seats and it looked as if they might actually steal a few Tory seats at the General Election of 2015, Cameron blinked and promised a referendum.  But he thought it was a safe bet, he had already (narrowly) beaten the SNP in the Scottish Referendum and the polls were decidedly in Remains’ favour.  But as we all know it didn’t turn out that way.  Brexit won, though even more narrowly, and suddenly UKIP, though triumphant were really not needed anymore.  The coup had succeeded.  And guess what?  It was a Tory coup all along, or a coup by the right-wing of the Tory Party.  A real Trojan Horse.  The tragedy is that slowly quite a lot of Labour voters, especially in the Midlands and the North had switched to UKIP.  Quite why I am not sure.  I really don’t want to think it was simply the anti-immigrant dog-whistle politics of Farage and co.   And the feeling was that Labour were out of touch with ordinary working people.

Now we have the snap election and it looks as if, despite almost all of the policies Labour is espousing proving popular, people are still not convinced.  It may be Corbyn, or the Media’s representation of him, but I think it is deeper than that.  If the opinion polls are anything like correct Labour will get around the same percentage of votes as two years ago, but UKIP has collapsed.  And maybe because of Brexit, which Theresa May has embraced so fervently, most of those who voted UKIP last time are going over to the Tories.

Ironically what was seen as a threat to the Tories may end up costing Labour very dearly.  But perhaps that was the intention all along.  I sincerely hope it won’t happen, but even though there are still four weeks to go I don’t think Labour will do much better this time around, and because of the first past the post system Mrs. May may well get her large majority.

Personally I think it will be a huge poisoned chalice and the public’s mood may be quite different post-Brexit.  But I am also afraid what damage a large majority might inflict on ordinary people’s lives, many of whom will in a Jingo-istic spirit have voted for the Tories as the party to deliver Brexit.


Sunday 14th May

Too often, far too often, we are cynical.  Especially in the face of the brutality of the World.  And the desperate news emerging day after day from our television sets makes it easy to think that people are simply greedy and selfish and cruel and that the World is getting worse.

But we often forget the little acts of kindness which bind us together.  Humans have only just emerged as a species, and as hunter-gatherer’s for a couple of million years we lived in family groups where everyone knew each other, much like chimpanzees do in the wild today.   They cared for everyone in the group but were suspicious of other groups, often fighting them.

But the emergence of farming and people becoming established in small villages changed things.  It soon became good practice not to eat everything but to store some for bad times.  Seemed like a good idea but inevitably some people were in charge of the food and enriched themselves.  The rest is, as they say History.

But now we have huge cities and huge disparities in wealth, getting larger by the day.  And it seems that life in many ways is getting harder.  Capitalism has no conscience and will do whatever it takes to keep the profits rolling in.  And humans are still adjusting to living in such conditions.  And yet inside the family group, or among close friends there is still kindness and compassion.  It is just a bit harder to share our food and homes with strangers.  But we are still capable of kindness; it hasn’t quite been knocked out of us by the World we live in.  And it is our greatest strength.  It costs nothing and surprisingly, small acts of kindness are still appreciated, and often rewarded in their turn.  And despite the News life is still better in many ways than our rose-tinted memories might have us believe.  I can still recall seeing notes in windows “Room to let, No Blacks or Irish”, and Homophobia was the order of the day; queer-bashing was still common in the Eighties.  So, in many ways we are more tolerant.  Many of us have welcomed Assylum seekers into our country, we have befriended and accepted different races and cultures into our own.  Small acts of kindness may indeed be our only hope as a species.


Saturday 13th May

The very word seems incredibly old-fashioned now.  Manifesto.  A proposal for Government or a list of beliefs and a confirmation of the ideals of the cause.  It makes the news for a couple of days but then the agenda moves on and by Voting day very few people actually remember what was in the Manifesto at all.  Occasionally a Government is reminded of its Manifesto commitments a year or two in, especially if it was about taxes – but mostly Manifesto’s are simply wish-lists, manna for true believers but they usually leave ordinary voters cold.  Elections are becoming more and more Presidential, with so much being invested in the perceived strengths or weaknesses of the leaders of the parties, the prospective Prime Ministers.  In fact it is now the like-ability, the personality of the Leaders which is the most potent weapon in our Celebrity driven culture.

But for those of us who think about these things the radical-ness, the bravery – or the paucity of ideas, the timidity of a prospective programme is of great interest.  And Labour’s Manifesto was leaked a couple of days early; whether this was deliberate to create a buzz or an accident is debatable.  It certainly did them no harm.  The right-wing press of course were horrified – “Back to the Seventies” they cried.  But actually, it was mostly the Tories who caused chaos in the Seventies with their three-day week; Labour were, as Harold Wilson so succinctly put it “the natural party of Government’.  It was only the Winter of Discontent, largely a newspaper invention which painted the Seventies as bad.  In fact it was a time of constantly rising living standards, colour televisions, fridge-freezers, motor cars and foreign holidays became the order of the day.  Yes, we had a bit of inflation, largely brought about by the quadrupling of oil prices after the Isreali-Arab conflict but Callaghan made sure that pay-rises were limited and benefited the poorest most.

And a few years later Michael Foot’s Manifesto was declared ‘the longest suicide note in History’ by the press, but it was really the Falklands which won Thatcher her second term not the radical ideas of Labour.  So, we will just have to see if the nightly exposure of Labour policies and ideas will do anything to dent the seeming in-surmountable Tory lead in the polls.  And it may well end up being the collapse of UKIP which helps them more than an actual drop in Labour votes.  We will see, but for now let us at least enjoy the Labour Manifesto, and hope it resonates with at least a few people.


Friday 12th May

The concert was just a part of it. There was such a feeling in the air that all of this, money, power and property would come tumbling down in the very near future.  After all, the edifice was so rotten, so creaky and tottering that only the slightest of nudges would surely bring the whole thing down like a tower of playing cards.  And Labour had been elected in 1964 and already things were changing, there was a feeling that this time it would be different.  There was a mood of optimism, that everything would get better from now on, and the Music was reflecting that.  Not just the Pop stuff, the stuff that got in the charts, but all the Music was evolving and changing so fast that it was sometimes hard to follow.

Just take the Beatles, the cheerful early Beat tunes like ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want to hold your Hand’ were subtly changing into ‘Ticket to Ride’ and ‘Help’, and then suddenly there were songs like ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Paperback Writer’ only to be eclipsed by the weirdness and brilliance of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and all of that Sergeant Pepper Stuff.   It just got better and better, and we had this overwhelming feeling that it would continue forever.

So mixed in with the Music, was Politics and Optimism and Social Justice too. This is what we mean by ‘The Sixties’, it was a feeling that anything was possible, because nothing could stop us.  It was there in the fashions, the style of things, the politics and the Music.  It was as if we had all just woken up to a bright new world that was unshackled from the failures of the past; that was forward looking and would never end.  Or so thought Jane.

*  * *

“Oh Jane, when will you ever learn?  Spouting all of that revolution stuff, when you must know deep down that we are the privileged few, we will be the first heads to roll if they can ever get off their fat arses and actually do something rather than just sing songs about it.  And listen to the Beatles for Christ’s sake. “Money can’t buy me love” one day and “Taxman” the next.  It’s all a game Jane; you just have to learn the rules, and how to break them without getting caught. When are you going to learn to stand on your own two feet or will I always have to be here to look after you?” Reasoned Harriet.

*  * *

Well, that was Harriet, with her cynical take on everything; just like the Beatles in a way – she was sarcastic John to Jane’s idealistic Paul.  But that was just her way of course, she had to be different, to take the contrary view.  Not that Jane would have ever admitted it out loud; she had always believed and would assert to anyone, whether they wanted to hear it or not, that her sister was always right.

But her dear dear Harriet, who Jane had always trusted to do the right thing, who she always believed to be right in everything she did, turned out to be wrong in the end, and in the biggest way imaginable.


T – is of course for James Taylor

Thursday 11th May

James Taylor seems to have been around forever, and almost he has.  He emerged in the late Sixties, and was actually signed to Apple, The Beatles record company where he released his debut album (very hard to find nowadays).  But he really came to prominence in the early Seventies as part of the band of incredibly talented Singer-Songwriters coming out of California.  He shared a stage and a bed with Joni and Carole King, and actually lived with Carly Simon for nearly a decade.  His second album, ‘Sweet Baby James’, was brilliant and had the hit single ‘Fire and Rain’ but his third ‘Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon’ was his first masterpiece.  The whole album just glides from great song to great song; it was rarely off my turntable for years.  I knew every song and every word by heart; favourites are ‘Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox’, the Carole King song ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ and ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’.  His lazy-sounding delivery and great, almost country, backing are simply brilliant.

He went off the boil a bit after that but had several late Seventies excellent records, ‘Gorilla’ and ‘JT’ my favourites.  But the thing about James Taylor is that you are never disappointed, even his lesser albums are good and contain several little gems.  He has also covered other writers with brilliant covers of Chuck Berry’s ‘The Promised Land’, and ‘Handy Man.’  The thing about James Taylor is that he never really seems to be trying, it is just as if he has picked up his guitar in your front room and started singing.

He still makes records and tours where many of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside.

Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon