Events, Dear Boy…Events

Wednesday 7th June

Harold Macmillan, seems a long time ago now doesn’t it, who was Prime Minister in the late Fifties and early Sixties was once asked what was the hardest thing about his job.  He answered “Events, Dear Boy…Events”.  He meant of course, the unknowable issues that arise in even the best planned of times.

And so it transpires.  This General Election has been like no other I have known.  Just like almost everyone else when Mrs. May sprung this election on the country I was depressed.  How could Labour ever win, or even lose closely?  The press would crucify Jeremy, and besides he would probably help them.  Labour would appear disunited and hopeless.  The media commentators and the polls were predicting a massive majority.  Labour were polling around 25% – the worst in years.  The Tories were all gung-ho for Brexit – the country had voted Brexit and UKIP were fading fast.  What could possibly go wrong?  Or right?

And slowly the polls started improving.  As people started seeing Jeremy every night on their TV screens, as Labour’s Manifesto was well received and as the Tory one fell apart it was no longer a complete foregone conclusion.  Okay, so Labour weren’t going to win, Theresa May wouldn’t get a thumping majority – but she was still going to have a majority, maybe 50 or 60 seats….

And so things chugged along.  The opinion polls were, and still are all over the place.  Supposedly they had corrected their methodology to give more weight to the Tories – but how can anyone tell.  The only thing for certain is that the direction of travel has been towards Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, even his personal rating have risen as the campaign has gone on.  One or two polls have even put the Tories a single point ahead.

And then we had the two terrible terrorists atrocities – which of course should have played into Mrs. May’s hands.  But events have a nasty way of upsetting the status quo.  Slowly questions started to emerge as to why the terrorists were mostly known to the Security Services and yet the plots went undetected.  And now after the second one, the question is why were the Police cut by twenty thousand, which was almost one seventh by Theresa May as Home Secretary.  It is impossible to know if more police would have made us safer, or have helped stop either atrocity.  There are far more searching questions to be asked of the Security Services, but that will have to wait.

For now, suddenly this election is incredibly febrile, nobody has any real idea what will happen on Thursday, or if there will be any pattern.  It may be that there will be quite a few ‘rogue’ results.  It may be that all the opinion polls are wrong and she is returned with the big majority she has asked for.  I don’t, even in my heart, believe that Jeremy can win.  The best we could hope for would be for Mrs. May to lose her majority and limp on for as long as she will last, to screw up Brexit, and be rejected at the next election. But I suspect she will scrape through, maybe wounded but still P.M.

But at least Labour will have done their best in very difficult circumstances.

A Dirty World

Sunday 4th June

I used to read those spy novels by John Le Carre and Len Deighton.  I was amazed by the duplicity of spies, each side as bad as each other.  I sort of, stupidly of course, thought that that would all be consigned to History with the fall of Communism.  But, if anything, it is worse today.  What with cyber attacks and secret deals and funding and arming different groups, it seems that our Nation States are obsessed with interfering in other countries business.  Before the Iraq war we and the Americans (and it always seems to be that way, America barks and our tails wag) had encouraged the Marsh Arabs in the south of Iraq (possibly with arms and money) to rebel against Saddam.  Then we of course condemned Saddam for (viciously I must admit) defeating them.  And as the threat from Russia seems to have diminished (at least on paper, though Putin is still perceived as  an enemy) we have turned our attention completely to the Middle East.

There is a huge battle within Islam’s Arabs between Sunni and Shi’ite.  Essentially also a power struggle between Saudi Arabia (nominally our friends – because they buy lots of our weapons) and Iran (our enemy because they don’t).  it has fueled the rise of ISIS and most of the rebel groups in Syria and Libya.  But we are not innocent bystanders at all.  Our secret services are funding and helping to arm (along with America) most of these rebel groups.  The aim is to get rid of dictators we don’t like; Saddam, Gadhafi, Assad, and protect those we do like the – Saudi’s, the Bahraini’s and the military regime in Egypt – repressive and undemocratic as they are.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Yesterday I read in (once a respected journalist) that the bomber in Manchester was part of a Libyan rebel group fighting Gadhafi. Our own security services were directly funding them, and knew who they were.  They were allowed to travel to and from Libya as they liked, presumably to fight or help those fighting the pro-Gadhafi forces in that now wrecked country.  I have no way of verifying this, but if true it means that our own Security Services aided and abetted a man who killed 22 young people in Manchester.  It really is a dirty world.

Pete Townshend – Who Came First

Sunday 4th June

A clever title from the songwriter and guitarist of the Who.  The Album came out shortly after Who’s Next, which was a brilliant return to form and success by the band.  We always knew that Pete was a great songwriter, but most of us were unaware that he was interested in Eastern Religions.  The Beatles, especially George, we knew, went to Rishikesh to meet the Maharishi.  Pete though had discovered the teachings of another Eastern mystic teacher, Meher Baba.  And the album ‘Who Came First’ was dedicated to him, as was the song Baba O’Riley on Who’s next.

So, what about the album?  Well, it is quite different from The Who records.  Much quieter, more reflective, but recognizable too.  The record starts off with a complete version of ‘Pure and Easy’ which appeared as a fragment on ‘Who’s Next.’  Pete at this time was working on another project which he called the Lifehouse.  Many of the songs on ‘Who’s Next’ and this record were originally written for this – but Pete more or less abandoned it as too ambitious.  It eventually emerged as a box set with four records of songs and instrumental pieces and a radio play.  It was all a bit incomprehensible, but the songs as usual stood out.  Another favourite on this record is ‘Evolution’ sung here by Ronnie Lane of the Small Faces.  There is a devotional song ‘Parvadigar’ and even a rendition of a Jim Reeves song ‘There’s a Heartache Following Me’ because Meher Baba particularly liked it.  But most of all this is a joyfull and hopeful record, completely unlike anything by The Who or anyone else really.  A lovely record.

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Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

Sunday 4th June

This was the slogan, the rallying call, the principles of the French Revolution.  It was over two hundred years ago but it is still the glue which holds France together.  The French Revolution was the first Republic, we are now living in the Fifth Republic – but the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood are still prominent in French Society.  Many Mairies still have the three words emblazoned on their walls.  But what do they really mean?  And why is this French ideal so different from Britain’s?

Liberte, means Freedom.  But there are many definitions of freedom.  I think it means freedom from subservience, freedom from poverty, freedom from ignorance.  For many in Britain freedom means the freedom to – exploit others, to get rich quick, (at the expense of others) freedom to be superior to others.  Liberty also means, as a country, to not be subservient to any other.  In Britain, we are more and more becoming, in cultural terms at least, subservient to America.  The French are proud of their culture, in Britain we are almost ashamed of ours.

Egalite, equality under the law.  As citizens, the French are all equal under the law, rich and poor alike.  In Britain, theoretically we are too.  But the law is becoming more and more expensive, legal aid is under attack and Justice harder to come by.

Fraternity, brotherhood means that collectively we are stronger than apart.  In Britain this is almost heresy, for the last thirty-nine years, since Margaret Thatcher first came to power we have more and more accepted the cult of the individual.  As individuals the strong get stronger, the rich get richer and the poor – well, the poor are always with us.  And fraternity, brotherhood, the idea that we are all linked and if a few of us suffer we are all weaker for that – is still a cornerstone of French culture.

And strangely you cannot have one without the other two.  You cannot have liberty without equality and brotherhood, or equality or brotherhood without liberty.

This is a fundamental difference between Britain and France.  In France you are a citizen, free and equal and part of a larger family.  In Britain you are on your own, and a subject, and subject to the power of the rich, to the power of influence, to the power of privilege.

We can change this, but it will be a long haul.  But just look at children, free, equal and part of a large family, they run and play with other children without any air of superiority.  As we get older this gets knocked out of us and we all try to find a little niche where we can survive on our own.    And many of us simply don’t.

I Am Not Really Interested In Politics

Friday 2nd June

How often do you hear that said?  And I find it quite difficult to understand.  I mean, I am not really interested in cricket – I will sometimes note a score on the news but whether England or Australia win the Ashes makes very little difference to my life.  But Politics?  Come on, Politics is the stuff of life.  What goes on at Westminster, or Brussels, or indeed your local Town Hall – directly affects your life.  Especially if you are poor, or (horrible phrase) just about managing.  But actually even if you are doing okay, if you have a decent pension, a nice house, no mortgage, a good job; or just rich, living on inherited or even earned wealth – Politics matters.  How can you just not care what sort of a world you live in?

But it is true that there are people who do not even watch the News, who are oblivious to events around them, wrapped up as they may be in their own little world.  Or is it something else entirely?  Is this openly stated disinterest in the World, in Politics really a blind, a distraction?  Are they secretly actually watching and judging but apparently not taking any part?  Or are they in their own way ‘living outside the law’, on the surface obeying the petty restrictions that govern our lives, but not giving a flying f…k about anyone else.  And of course, this attitude, those who say that ‘all Politicians are the same’, that ‘they are all in it for themselves’ plays straight into the hands of certain political viewpoints.

The big divide between the parties, and rarely more so than at this election, is between those who think that government should be about letting people get on with it; get rich if you like, trample on others – that’s alright, and if you cannot manage, if you are stupid enough to be poor or to lose your job or be disabled – well, don’t look to other people to help you; and those who think that we are all interdependent and that it is our responsibility as human beings to care for others less fortunate than ourselves.  And I suspect that those who say that they aren’t interested in Politics are really ‘Tory fodder’.  Either they don’t vote, or they go along with the masses, whatever the Newspapers are telling them.  And if they think about it at all they suddenly have to realise that they may actually be accountable for their actions, some responsibility may lay on their shoulders.  So, easier not to vote, not to get involved, not to have to think about it, to say ‘I’m not interested in Politics’.

Well, one day they may wake up and find themselves ill and have to go to a privatized hospital where the minimum will be offered to them unless they have private insurance.  Or they may be made redundant as some large company moves overseas and they realise that there really is no safety net, just a few strings with big holes for them to fall through.

Let us hope it doesn’t come to that…


Thursday 1st June

But that was one isolated incident, most of the time Jane was getting more and more depressed, and the fact that she knew she was unhappy simply contributed to her unhappiness.  Her feeling of aloneness – because this was at the heart of things; this overwhelming feeling of aloneness – she just couldn’t cope with.  She had never had to face the world alone before, Harriet had always been there before and alongside her.  She had never had to face the awful desolation of being on her own before.  And not just alone, alone – on her own was okay because Harriet was always around somewhere, the most terrifying aspect of this being alone, was that she was on her own with herself.  And for the first time in her life she really had to confront herself, to ask what the hell she was doing here anyway, what was she living for she supposed, and the answer kept hammering back at her, knocking back into her dumb and numb brain.  Nothing you fool, you are living for absolutely nothing at all.

And that was when she started hurting herself, because the pain wasn’t so bad really, and it made her feel alive, it meant something real at least when the compass points pierced the thin skin on the inside of her arms and the blood ran free, and at last she was alive and in pain and crying and at least she didn’t feel so bloody alone.  As the blood ran down her arms she at last realised she was real.  She may have been miserable, but she was awake at last.  And then as the pain started to subside she could soothe herself, somehow the fact that she was so desperate that she was making herself bleed was some comfort, a secret comfort she hid from the world, but this was her pain, no-one else’s.  No-one could reach her here in this capsule of pain, it was her own pain – she was immune to anyone else hurting her.  Here she was in some sort of control, here it was her making herself bleed, not everyone else.


12)       A brave new world, at last

As the Bentley swished gently away and the franticly waving hand of little Jane got too small to see anymore Harriet stopped waving, and picking up her quite small suitcase she turned on her very sensible low heels and entered the hall of residence.  Her parents had already been in of course and inspected her room; what were they going to do – reject it, insist on a larger room for their precious daughter, or just nosily approve it; her father even going so far as to open each drawer of the small chest to see that they were running smoothly before declaring that she should be quite happy here really.  Well, of course she would be.  Harriet would have been happy in the dingiest of hovels, anywhere away from the stifling normality of Stowmarket.  That was the whole point of University wasn’t it?  Getting away from your parents, escaping the mundanity of life where you grew up, your first foray into the big world.  Freedom at last.

Freedom, with no-one to clock you in at night, even if there were supposed to be rules as to when you had to be back there she was sure they could be avoided if need be.  But what she had really craved was the independence, the isolation almost of being on one’s own, the sheer excitement of being free to do whatever she wanted.  She had always had a certain freedom back in Suffolk, her parents were pretty relaxed about her.  Well, of course she gave them no choice really – they could hardly have locked her in, could they?  And she could always wrap her Dad around my little finger.  Her mother was a bit more difficult with her constant moaning and watching, but somehow the fact that Harriet had sensible little Jane to look after must mean she was safe and sensible too.

So she was given a bit more leeway than maybe she should have been, but there was always that over-riding feeling that there was someone watching you, waiting up for you, or in the case of her father, actually turning up in the Bentley to collect her just as the party was getting really exciting.  She craved the anonymity of no-one knowing who she was or where she came from; that feeling that she could be anyone at all, anyone she wanted to be.  Everyone knew her in Stowmarket, that was partly her own fault as she was such a show-off, but here she could be that most delicious of things – a completely unknown quantity.  She could be anyone she wanted, she could invent her own history, she could make believe and make others believe in her new identity.

She wasn’t really interested in her studies, Harriet had always found passing exams pretty easy, she just seemed to be able to do it, learning stuff she meant; and she couldn’t quite understand why other people like Jane struggled.  But then, she had always realised that she was different.  It sounded big-headed she knew, but she was aware from an early age that she was cleverer then all the kids in her class, probably the whole school.  Harriet actually assumed that she was indeed far brighter than her teachers and it was no real surprise when she discovered that, of course, she probably was.  It wasn’t that they were less intelligent than her, or knew less, in fact they knew or remembered loads more than she ever would, it was just that they had no idea what to do with that knowledge, except pass it on to the next generation.  As if that was their sole purpose in life – to teach children all that they knew and then crawl under a stone and die somewhere, Harriet knew that there was much more to life than just accumulating facts, everything had to be for a reason, or if not, why were they living at all.  She had known since she was about ten that her route out of the rut of Stowmarket would be to get to University, and then her life would really start, and to get to University she had to pass her A levels, to pass the exams she had to learn stuff – to jump through a few hoops and out to freedom.  So, it was all for a greater purpose, she reasoned.

And the purpose of life was to live it to the full, to experience everything, to take advantage of all It could offer; let the ‘Janes’ of this world take life carefully and follow the rules, Harriet was there to break them and she couldn’t wait to get started.  New people, new possibilities and new experiences; that was what University meant to her. This was 1968 and the world was exploding before her very eyes.  Music was changing every few weeks, Fashion and Art and Cinema were full of new ideas, the old ways were being swept away, it was truly the time of the young.