Friday 16th February

“What will we do now?” thought June, “What on earth will become of us?  Phil will never be able to hold his head up after this, even if he doesn’t end up in prison he won’t be a solicitor again.  We will lose the house I suppose.  Well, I never liked it that much anyway.  In a way he took the easy way out, didn’t he?  Left me to pick up the pieces, but I am afraid I cannot do that, Phil.  I want to run away too, only I have nowhere to run to.”

And where has that lovely little girl Harriet gone, the one she used to cuddle as a baby, where had she gone to?   She had grown up and away from her mother and June doesn’t recognize her any more, but then she doesn’t recognize herself anymore either.  She looks in the mirror and she appears so old and worn out, and she has nothing left inside her to give Harriet, or Jane of course, and heaven knows she was the real innocent in all of this.  “What a bloody mess, and it’s all been my fault.” She kept thinking,  “How could I have been so stupid?  Why did I have to tell her that; one of my deepest recurring fears.  I could have lied, I could have told her what she wanted to hear, that Phil was really her father.  It would have been so easy to have lied, I really don’t know why I told her the truth.  It must have hurt her, but maybe I just wanted to hurt someone else.” She reasoned with herself,  “It seems okay for everyone to hurt me, that’s okay because I am June and June has done the unthinkable, she has slept with her sister’s man, so anything she gets she deserves, but I am some sort of terrible person if I hurt someone else.” As she prepared for bed she told herself “Tomorrow I will make it alright. Tomorrow I will say sorry to them and start to try to mend things, I am just too tired now.  Plenty of time tomorrow.  For now I just want to drift away. I want sleep to come and take me away.”

* * *

“And suddenly Harriet was gone.  Of course I was so stupid, I didn’t think for a moment that she was going out to score, that didn’t cross my mind.  And even if I had gone with her, would I have known what she was up to.  She would probably have just laughed it off, even while she was getting the stuff, and naïve little idiot me, I would probably have laughed too.

“But I hadn’t realised that was what she would do.  I hadn’t realised that now that was the answer to all her problems.  Just shows how far we had fallen apart, even now I had no real idea of what was driving my sister.  The only way she could function was to get so out of it that she didn’t have to think about her mother or her father or even who her father was, or indeed who I was, or even any more about who Harriet was.  So she went out and scored.  She didn’t get any heroin, we discovered that later, but she got some amphetamines and took far too many and that only made her worse.  Her body was craving heroin and all she could offer it were these mild substitutes.  And I hadn’t realised, even when she came in looking all bleary-eyed and exhausted and insisting on going straight up to her bed.  I just thought she had been drinking, it was quite late, and I had stayed up waiting for her till well past eleven, so was quite happy to get back to my own bed and the temporary relief of sleep.”

*  * *

“Can’t sleep, I feel so tired and I can’t even sleep.” As Harriet tossed and turned.  “What’s the use; every time I try to get free I get dragged back down again.  I should never have come back here.  When I got kicked out of Leeds I should have just stayed in London.  I don’t know why I came back, I couldn’t even help my Dad; they wouldn’t even let me see him.” She railed at herself, “My Dad, the man I have always loved and looked up to as my Dad.  How could she have said that about him?  Why didn’t she just lie?  I would have been happy with a lie. A lie would have hurt no-one.  And all I want to do is sleep, sleep without ever waking to this nightmare, because that is what it is. My life seems to have drifted into some horrible recurring dream that I can’t shake off.  I just want it all to stop, so I can get to sleep.”

*  * *

Jane can’t remember drifting off at all, but she remembers waking up.  That terrible noise, that awful bang; so loud and quite unlike any noise she had ever heard before.  She sat bolt upright and suddenly knew.  Oh my God, how she knew.  She ran out of her room and along the passage to Harriet’s room but she knew, oh how she knew, she wouldn’t be there.  She was tearing downstairs when the smell hit her, that sickening stench of cordite, the oily smoky smell of a gun recently fired.  It sticks to the back of your tongue, like iron or blood, and you can’t get the taste out of your mouth.  Harriet and she had sometimes gone out shooting with Daddy and his friends, always kept safely away from the guns as they blasted pheasants out of the sky, but she had never forgotten the stench of those guns, that sickening smell of death hanging in the air, as the dogs lolloped off to retrieve their kill.

Her mother was only feet behind Jane and tried to grab her to pull her back, she reached out to claw her daughter back but Jane was faster than her, her long hair slipping through her fingers as she outran her mother.  Her father’s study door was wide open and Jane could see the blue smoke drifting lazily out into the hall, she knew what she would find, but couldn’t stop herself.

Harriet had propped herself up in a corner with the butt of the gun wedged between her thighs and the barrel under her chin.  The top of her head was missing, but most of her face was still intact.  Her beautiful sister Harriet was a bloody mess, but Jane held her in her arms and cradled her poor broken head in her hands as she tried to comfort her, just as she had comforted her younger sister so often in the past.

“There there, it’s alright Harriet, I am here now my darling, it’s alright, Jane is here now, Jane is here now.”    She was cuddling her poor broken sister, as she used to cuddle her when they were little children.  They hadn’t cuddled for years and years.  But now her sweet Harriet was in her arms, safe in her arms again. All those years ago Harriet had really been her mother, wiping the dirt from her face with a licked hanky (Jane had no hanky now to wipe the blood from Harriet’s shattered face).  Harriet helping Jane get dressed in the morning, holding her hand on the way to school, listening to her complaints, kissing her tears away, protecting and holding her.  And now their roles were reversed, Jane was the Mummy she had never known, she was there for her this time, she would comfort her, Jane would protect her, she would let no harm come to her, she would kiss away all her fears. They sat huddled together in the dark, the only light coming from the hallway.  Harriet was so quiet she could have been asleep, and Jane caressed her as she slept quietly in her arms.  ‘Safe from harm now, my baby, safe from harm.’

Their peace was suddenly broken by their mother, who was calling to Jane from the doorway, “Jane, Jane, come away from her now. Come over here, please Jane.” She kept saying, holding her nightdress tight and half bending over, her hair straggling and snaking away from her silhouetted head.

Jane looked up and saw her coming slowly towards them, the light from the passage behind her, with her hands outstretched and her hair all a mess, flying around her head.  “Keep away from her.” Jane screamed, “She’s asleep now.  Stay away mother.”  But she kept coming towards her. “I said, keep away, you bloody witch,” but she kept coming towards her, and all Jane could see was her hair floating all over the place.  She doesn’t remember picking up the gun, but she remembers warning her to stay away.  Why didn’t she listen?  And then Jane heard the bang, and the terrific kick in her shoulder as it knocked her halfway across the carpet.  ‘Why didn’t she listen to me?  She had never listened to me.’  And she crawled back to Harriet and they sat there – the two of them, Jane cradling her sister in her arms, in the dawning light of her father’s study, watching as the sun came up, and the police arrived and the ambulance people took her wounded mother away, and the policewoman gently peeled Jane’s hands from Harriet’s bloody head and led her away.

*  * *

“Thank God I had only wounded my mother, though I would happily have killed her, as I told everyone for years, but I never told them the reasons why.  I told everyone I had wanted to kill her and for years I believed it too.  She had been the reason for my Harriet dying and I had wanted her to pay.  I had wanted to kill her so badly, for the harm she had done to us all; my father – who only wanted to be loved, my Aunt Julie who surely never deserved her own sister to betray her like that, Harriet who despite her words was only looking for love too, and me, for taking my Harriet from me.  I didn’t kill her, though I had wanted to, I only wounded her. I had smashed her left hip and she spent months in hospital and walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of her life.”

Jane, fifty years later, explained to the psychologist.

“For years whenever I saw her that limp reminded me that at last she had paid for some of her sins.  You see, I always blamed her for Harriet’s death, but I later came to realise it was all of us who killed Harriet. My mother and Uncle Ted with their selfish lust, my cowardly father who couldn’t even see the line between integrity and dishonesty, and even me in my uncritical worship of her.  And Harriet too, of course, she was on some sort of trajectory, she could have flown so high and shone so brightly if the spark hadn’t burned itself out so soon.  And actually I don’t believe my mother at all now.  Harriet and I were true sisters, we had the same father all along.  Of that I am certain.”

She paused for breath, as the ghosts of those days swept silently past her.

“You must know all the rest, the psychiatric reports, the attempts to hurt myself, the long periods in care, the depression, the pills, the failed relationships and all.  It’s all there in black and white, you must have read the official reports.  It’s mostly true, but as you can see, it only tells half the story.  But I am empty now, I have told you all I can remember, and possibly more. There really is nothing else I can tell you, I’ve said it all.”

And so how do you feel now Jane? Isn’t it better to have got that off your chest?  Of course I knew the bare bones of your story, it is quite well documented but you have always refused to talk in any meaningful way about it before. 

“Why?  Are you surprised?  I shot my own mother.  I wanted to kill her because she had killed Harriet.  Nobody really cared what I thought anyway?  I don’t remember anyone asking me why I shot her, and I didn’t want anyone to know either.  In fact I can’t really remember anything so clearly that happened after that day.”

No, I think we have talked enough today, don’t you.  But please tell me Jane, do you think that this has helped, to have relived these memories, has it helped you at all? 

“Helped me?  To be honest I think I am beyond help, don’t you.  And now I have even betrayed Harriet, my darling sister, haven’t I?”

No Jane, you have at last reconciled yourself to her death.  That’s what we have achieved today.

Funny, it doesn’t seem that way to me.

Boris The Spider

Thursday 15th February

John Entwistle was the bass player in the Who.  He was also their musical arranger and could play a range of brass and woodwind instruments – he also wrote a few songs.  But, just as George was in The Beatles, he was sidelined by the brilliance of Pete Townshend’s songwriting.  But a few of his compositions became fan and live favourite’s, none more so than Boris the Spider.

Some people have an irrational (or maybe it isn’t) fear of spiders; some people love them.  I have often marveled at the intricacy of their webs, especially in the Winter when they are sparkling with a frosty rime.   And their patience, they wait, seemingly asleep and when there is a vibration rippling through the struts as an innocent smaller insect lands and gets stuck in the sticky web – out he scuttles to gobble it up.

Ruthlessness and patience; two very clever tactics.

But now we have another Boris, larger than life – and just as deadly.  He too has been busy spinning his web for years, waiting (maybe not so patiently) for the moment to pounce.  The trouble with this Boris is that he pounces too early, and repeatedly, shaking the very web he has so diligently spun.  Unlike the real spider, this Boris doesn’t like lurking in dark corners.  He loves the spotlight; he was a regular on ‘Have I Got News For You’; witty and erudite and not above being the butt of the joke.  He ran for, and won twice, the Mayoralty of London, despite the city being predominantly Labour.  He was quick to whip up Audiences with silly gestures and announcements, but he actually achieved little as Mayor.  He got rid of the Bendy buses and introduced his own (far more expensive) buses.  He appropriated a scheme already planned and renamed it ‘the Boris Bike’.  Incidentally, this is failing already with fewer people using them year on year.

And he has been very successful in stealing ideas.  He used to be a Remainer, lauding the EU, but seeing his opportunity he jumped at almost the last moment onto the famous ‘£350 million for the NHS bus’, and took over as the driver, appearing almost nightly with his mix of bonhomie and confidence, persuading people that there was nothing to fear.  He even said we could still leave the EU and stay in the Single Market.  He was apparently surprised when his side won, and despite being betrayed by Gove, had his own web spun already with the winner.  Mrs. May, to everyone’s amazement appointed him as Foreign Secretary.

And he is still at it; spinning his web – and waiting for her to fall.  Then he will pounce. Boris the spider is not asleep at all.

My Record Collection 1

Wednesday 14th February

Author’s Note – this book will never be finished because I keep adding to the damn thing.  So, it will be a series of snapshots in time.  There are 4 elements to my record collection.  The most important and most enduring are the CDs, many bought first on Vinyl, taped to cassette and re-purchased later on CD.  I also have a large and rarely played collection of CD singles, many with rare tracks on them.  Not to be forgotten are the cassettes, recently played but again consigned for now to their lonely existence in the garage – along with a few boxes of Vinyl and 12 inch singles.  One day I will get round to fishing out my record deck and playing these too – though I will probably save them on my computer.  They call this progress – but I am not sure anything can replace the thrill of sitting on a bus home clutching your new unheard Album and reading the sleeve notes and lyrics. But let us start with the CD’s – filed as you might expect in alphabetical order (almost, for some reason Elton John is filed under E, not J, but hey does it really matter).  I tend to only keep CDs I like in my collection but a few duds have strayed in, and I find it hard to simply get rid of these; they hang on like odd socks or ornaments you keep meaning to get rid of.  Maybe once I have bought the thing I find it hard to admit defeat and imagine that one day I will get to appreciate it.  Who knows…

A – Absolute Beginners   I only bought this as most people did, because of the two Bowie songs on it.  It is a soundtrack of a 1986 film which flopped, and apart from the Bowie tracks and one from Ray Davies it is pretty dire.  Actually, only the title song by Bowie is really any good.

A – Ryan Adams    Not to be confused with Bryan Adam, he was once the golden boy wonder, who would take the Singer-Songwriter world by storm.  He used to be in an excellent country-ish band Whiskytown (see W) and went solo in 2000 (see, contrary to popular opinion I do have stuff later than the Sixties in my collection) with the brilliant Heartbreaker (my favourite of his).   This is almost a perfect record; his voice is plaintive, pleading, sad – and yet joyful on some songs.  Sometimes just acoustic guitar, sometimes quite rocking.  And some gorgeous melodies; best songs ‘Be My Winding Wheel’, ‘Come Pick Me Up’ and ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’.  When this record came out, the critics were talking of Ryan maybe joining the ranks of Neil Young and James Taylor – he was that talented, but actually; quite like Neil he seems to have followed his muse, not caring what the critics say, and losing fans along the way – me included.  His next was a huge hit ‘Gold’, a more mature and assured record with less acoustic songs and better production.  Some great songs too – ‘Nobody girl’ ‘Answering Bell’ and ‘The Rescue Blues’ among them.  It is almost as good as Heartbreaker but loses something, some touch of sadness and regret maybe.  But still, a triumph.

And then what happened?  Well, maybe he just decided to plough his own furrow, or wanted to be awkward.  He has continued to release albums, some good and some not so good.  But somehow the quality of his song-writing seems to have slipped.  I now only buy the occasional CD if I see it in a second-hand shop.  I have two others in my collection; ‘Love is Hell’, which I think was his fourth – it is truly miserable, and this from a fan of Leonard Cohen; one or two decent songs but bleak.  I also have ‘29’ another disappointing record. Still, I continue to read his reviews…and you never know.


A Few Crazy Ideas

Tuesday 13th February

Sometimes ideas, which are totally the opposite of conventional thinking are needed; they might appear right off the Richter Scale, but in these troubled times they actually might be the solution.  And it is strange how some whacky concepts have now become mainstream.  Forty years ago ideas like Gay Marriage, Smoking Bans and Gender Re-Assignment would have been laughed at.  And to be fair Governments have usually been far more cautious than the general public at accepting them.

Okay, so – we seem to be having a problem with an ageing population.  The retirement age is constantly being increased, because Governments see this as a problem – or rather paying these people their State Pensions as a problem.  So, why don’t we think out of the box – and lower the retirement age.  Straightaway down to 65, but over say ten years down to 60.  Madness, you say.  And yes, it will cost a lot of money.  Or will it?  Under my idea, everyone would be entitled to a State Pension far earlier than now.  If they wanted to they could continue to work, but both incomes would be included in any taxes they might pay.  But, if they chose to do voluntary work they would get their State Pension completely tax-free.  There are many things which Local Councils would love to do, but they simply cannot afford the staff.  Helping at Retirement Homes or visiting older people in their homes, looking after parks and open spaces, helping at schools.  So money could be saved, or better spent and people’s lives improved.

Annual Health Checks is another obvious winner.  Spotting diseases early would not only save lives but prevent some pretty expensive and invasive surgery.  You see, it all depends on how you look at things.  If you see public Expenditure as a problem, then it will always be a problem and be pared back.  If you see it as an opportunity to improve people’s lives, then finding the wherewithal to pay for it is the solution. The Tories believe instinctively that if people want a better life, they should work hard and pay for it; Socialists believe (or should) that it is the duty of Government to help those less fortunate by Collective effort.

A Basic Income – this is quite an old idea, which may – in the coming age of Automation – be gaining some traction.  The idea is that everyone should receive a basic income, enough to live on – as a right. Automation is happening, and at present it is seen by Industry as a way of saving money and increasing Profit – but it is also a release from the tedium and hardship of much work presently done by humans.  But for this liberation to work we have to completely change our attitude to how Money works.  At present it works for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many, it is called Capitalism. I would like to see a future where companies are largely owned by those working for them and where profits are limited.  An Excessive Profit Tax isn’t a bad idea, as is a truly progressive income tax.  In other words, the more you earn or own the more your contribution to the welfare of others.

I know, these ideas will never work!!! But….technological change is roaring down the tracks.  We either use it for the benefit of a very few, as at present; or we all benefit.  The choice is ours, and maybe these crazy ideas will in the not too distant future be mainstream.

Recession…What Recession?

Monday 12th February

The government will be in denial.  The Mad Brexiteers will smell conspiracy and say that the numbers are being fiddled.  But there is little doubt that Britain is doing quite badly; if not heading for a recession in the not too distant future.  It may not all be due to Brexit, but much of it is.  Or to be more precise, the uncertainty surrounding the immediate and, far more important, the longer term, future.

Unbelievably, over half way through the negotiations we really are no clearer about just what sort of a Brexit we will end up with.  Or indeed, even what sort of a transitional period – just over a year away, we will get either.

In December it all seemed so easy, after a bumpy couple of days, and actually months we wasted arguing over minutiae which in the end we pretty well caved in over, we had agreement.  No precise numbers on the Divorce bill, but what we all thought was agreement on both the rights of EU citizens and the transition.  We were told, and as far as I could understand, we actually signed up to, a 21 month ‘implementation’ period when practically nothing would change.  Mrs. May even said that both the Government and Business wanted only one change, presumably in 2021.  That would mean that we stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union during that period – but, as we would have technically left the EU we would no longer have any input into any rule changes.  Seems obvious enough.  But now Rees-Mogg and the other right wingers are saying that this is not acceptable, as we will be a ‘vassal’state.  Incidentally I thought that they always considered us as that anyway, that was why they hated the EU so much.  Now, there is uncertainty, and the embarrassment of Ministers being unable to give any answers at all.

And this is only about the Transition.  There have been no discussions at all, and so far, no agreed Government position on any future trading agreement after that.

December was poor for retailers, as was January too; inflation is really 4.1% if you exclude mortgages which have stayed steady for the last few years.  GDP is running at about 1.5% only half what we had on average year on year from 1945 to 2007.  But this poor performance is set against rising economic growth in Europe and around the world.

Car sales are slipping, and it looks as if even house prices in London and the SouthEast are falling too.  And the longer the uncertainty the worse things will get.  I suspect that no agreement will be reached on trade by the time we actually leave the EU (March 2019), and actually there is no reason why there should be.  Any future trading relationship has nothing to do with the process of Brexit itself.  The Japanese ambassador gave a stark warning that if it became unprofitable to make cars in Britain then they and other manufacturers would leave.  By unprofitable, he meant if tariffs are imposed, if there is no Customs Union, if the free movement of goods is impeded.   And yet, all the signs are that that may well be the Brexit we end up with.

Oh dear….and yet the Brexiteers will not only blame Europe for not giving us what we have asked for, but will also no doubt cry “Recession…what recession?”

Syria – The Most Complex Conflict

Sunday 11th February

Can someone tell me, please, just who is not involved in the fighting in Syria?  It is the most unholy mess imaginable, and it has been going on for almost eight years already.

It started with rebel groups, supported and equipped by a crazy coalition of Saudi Arabia, America and Israel – who of course all deny any involvement.  The Saudi’s are really fighting iran, who they suspect of having influence over Bashhar Assad, the pretty undemocratic leader of Syria who took over from his father.  The Assads are from the Baath party which is actually quite a Socialist party.  Before the war started Syria, along with Iraq had Universities and Free Schools and hospitals, most people, despite having few Political freedoms had a decent life. There is also a Religious element (when isn’t there?) as Syria and Iran are Sunni, and Saudi Arabia is Shi’ite.   America just love to destabilise this region…oh and Syria also has oil.

Anyway, the rebels were quite successful to begin with and seized quite a lot of cities and territory in Syria.  But, one (if not quite a few) of the disparate rebel groups were Religious nutters, including ISIS or Daesh (or whatever name they now use).  Supported by America, this group started to gain ascendancy in both Syria and Iraq, and at one time were actually threatening Baghdad itself.  Panic in the West, who then practically declared war on this group.  A bombing campaign started with France and Britain involved too – though thanks to Milliband we stopped short of committing troops on the ground.  Instead we helped the Kurds, who were fighting anyway for their own homeland in both Northern Iraq and Syria.  The Kurds have been the most successful of all the forces fighting in both Syria and Iraq.  Meanwhile, the Russians, allies of Syria waded in with bombing missions of their own, targeting not only ISIS but many of the rebel groups.  The tide started to turn and ISIS is practically wiped out and the rebel groups are being beaten back too.  The Kurds are hanging onto a large area in Syria too.

Now enter Turkey, who have always had a problem in the East of their country, as the Kurds are also fighting for a homeland in Eastern Turkey.  Turkey is now bombing the Kurds in Syria.

Not to be left out, Israel is getting involved (maybe always was) and a plane of theirs, on a bombing mission – supposedly to target Iranians in Syria (Oh, I forgot to mention that they are also fighting alongside Assad’s forces) has been shot down.  Who knows how this will ever end, or if it will ever end.  But so far France, America, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel and Britain have been fighting or bombing people in that poor country.  And what no-one mentions is that each and every bombing raid kills people, almost all of them innocent civilians…


Saturday 10th February

She should have seen it coming, but you never do.  Only later when you play back the film in your head, you can see the clues, almost as if the director had left them there all along.  But when it is happening you don’t manage to join up the dots, you fail to stand back and see it all from a different perspective.  You are too much in the thing to see it clearly for what it really is.

Harriet had returned, and now she was really pissed off.  The Bursar had been telephoned, by whom they never found out, but it was decided that Harriet be dispatched back to the relative safety of her home.  Maybe the rumours of her drug-taking had reached the ears of the authorities, or maybe it was just the fear of scandal, but she was almost in disgrace; bundled away from Leeds as fast as British Railways could carry her.   And now she really was a fish out of water.  They were practically housebound too, because people must be talking out there, and even Harriet’s usual brash dismissal of the rest of society seemed to have deserted her in the shock of it all. She mooched around the house, rarely out of her dressing gown, and seemed to clash with her mother at every opportunity.  It was like watching a storm brewing, the two of them almost circling each other, like prowling tigers.  Maybe her mother was angry at their father and the whole mess he had landed them in, but precisely because he was not there her anger came out in her lack of patience with Harriet.  What had been tolerated before as just Harriet’s nature, her sardonic take on everything, was now too much for my mother, and she constantly snapped back.  It was as if she had nothing to live for now, she would just shrug her shoulders and toss back her hair and face Harriet and her constant questioning. She wasn’t trying anymore, and she certainly wasn’t pretending that it would all be alright soon.  They all knew that, the worst that could happen had just happened, they were just living through the aftermath, trying to avoid the bits of debris flying about.

And Harriet was just as angry, blaming her mother for her father’s flight, though in the clear light of day, it was obvious that he had been heading for some sort of a breakdown for some time, and yes, maybe their mother’s being caught had accelerated things, maybe been the catalyst, or the excuse he needed to make to himself, in order for him to act so out of character, to embark on his sad little running away.  And to Lowestoft of all places; it might have been different if he had gone abroad, or to Scotland even, but not to Lowestoft.  Lowestoft was only a few miles away, a sleepy seaside town with none of the exotic allure of Paris or Rome.

And maybe, just as Harriet was blaming her mother for setting him off on his little escapade, she in turn was blaming Harriet for catching her and Uncle Ted.  The irrationality of her unannounced appearance in the house only two days after saying goodbye, and being safely tucked away in Leeds.  She had suddenly returned, and not making a sound really had almost crept upstairs to catch them literally in-flagrante, it must have been incredible bad luck.  But then again they had gotten away with it for years and years, and it was this fact above all others that had started to rankle with Harriet.

Almost like a cuckolded lover she seemed to want to know all about it, as if by examining every aspect of it she might begin to understand a little about her mother, or even about herself.  Maybe by pursuing her mother so relentlessly she was working out some of her own problems.  And so she picked away at it, and reluctantly my mother had to admit that it had been going on even before she met my father.  And no, she couldn’t explain why she hadn’t stopped; it wasn’t as if she didn’t love our father, that wasn’t it at all.  Maybe it was more a case that she just couldn’t let go of Ted, he was her secret lover, and as no-one had known about them, they just carried on.  And it must have been so exciting, knowing that no-one else knew, knowing that they had this thing together, this special thing; special precisely because it was their intense secret.  They had a secret space where they came alive, where they maybe lived at a totally different intensity, another world, shielded and encapsulated within their secret, and nobody had guessed; it was just their place, theirs alone.  And now her mother wasn’t even ashamed of what she had done; her father had eclipsed her little mistake by a much larger one, and her earlier mood of defensive apology was being replaced by a strangely quiescent defiance.  At last she didn’t seem to care what Harriet was saying anymore; Harriet was the least of her problems.

And this didn’t stop Harriet, if anything it made her worse and the sniping got really serious.  It was after their father had been caught, though caught is hardly the word for his silent surrender – he had been brought back, relieved of the burden of his lonely escape, which had maybe become, in itself, a sort of prison.  He had been returned, but not quite to them; he was currently in police custody.  There was a feeling on the part of the police that they could barely disguise, a mood that had been developing over the days.  What had started off as polite deference – they were after all the family of a solicitor, even if he had apparently run away from home – had rapidly coalesced into a sneering disrespect for them, the family of a felon, and a pathetic one at that.  When the mighty are fallen, the rest of us can’t help but take some open satisfaction in it, a sort of righteous self congratulation, a feeling of self justification and a joy, almost, in the trouncing of those who had quietly assumed that they were our betters.

And just when they should have come together, to help each other in this, their desperate hour of need, here they were tearing each other apart.  Jane had never seen my mother so distraught, it was as if she were really broken by what their father had done; as if despite her betrayal of Phil, Phil’s betrayal of all of them was just too much to bear.  And all Harriet could do was to taunt her, so it is really no surprise that my mother just let her have it. The last secret was thrown out at her, almost as retaliation, but maybe as the last despairing thing she could possibly say – ‘Are you happy now?  Now, please for God’s sake, leave me alone.’

Harriet had been digging and goading their mother into it, trying to get her to admit even what Harriet hadn’t quite dared to ask.  When had it started, how had she managed to get married knowing she still had feelings for Ted, had she ever stopped, even for a few months, what about when she had been pregnant with us girls – all of these half accusations-half questions being thrown around.  As if knowing would have solved anything.  And underneath it all the irrational desperation of Harriet being suddenly deprived of her new best friend (her drugs) was making her more and more reckless, more and more desperate, nastier and nastier to the shell of a person her mother had become.

In the end it was Jane’s mother who almost volunteered the information, begging her torturer to stop, hoping that by this final revelation she could put things behind her at last.

‘What exactly do you want to know Harriet? Because I can’t give you a definite answer, I simply don’t know.’  She pleaded with an exhausted look on her face.

‘Don’t know what mother?  What is it you don’t know? Tell me. Tell me now. Tell me what you are hiding from us.  Tell me the truth for once in your life.’  Harriet barked at her, though her mother had been answering her with a quite disarming honesty for the last couple of days

‘I simply don’t know Harriet, I am sure of Jane, I am sure that Jane is her father’s child, but you Harriet, I simply don’t know.’

‘What? What are you saying? Oh my God, are you trying to tell me that I might be Uncle Ted’s child, that my father isn’t who I think he is. After all this, are you now telling me that somehow it’s okay because Ted is really my father?’

‘No, it’s not alright, none of it is alright, it’s all wrong.  I am trying to tell you that I simply don’t know – that’s all. I hoped that you were your father’s child; I have always told myself that you were, I always assumed that you were, but you could have been Ted’s.  I mean I wasn’t expecting to get pregnant anyway, I wasn’t counting the days. I simply don’t know.’

Jane was stunned.  She had never considered Harriet to be anything other than entirely like her, same mould, same parents and same blood.  It had never occurred to Jane, even when she found out about Uncle Ted, that Harriet and she could possibly have different fathers.  They were so alike, so together, so as one.  How could anyone possibly imagine that they weren’t the same?  They could have been twins, in fact in a way we always had been twins, hadn’t they; just separated by a couple of years.  So what on earth was their mother suggesting?  How impossible, that Harriet could have been Uncle Ted’s child?  But it was outrageous, wasn’t it?   Jane looked over at Harriet, but she was just blank, she had no idea what she was thinking, it was bad enough what Jane was thinking.   Their mother walked out with an ‘are you satisfied now’ shrug, and slouched up to her room.  Jane couldn’t take her eyes off Harriet, she was so scared for her.  And she was uncertain of her, despite their previous closeness sometimes Harriet felt like a stranger to her.  Jane tried to calm her, to mollify her.

‘I shouldn’t take any notice of her, she was only saying that to hurt you, you do know that don’t you.  There can’t possibly be any truth in it.’  Jane said.

‘No, I expect you are right’ Harriet replied, but she didn’t sound convincing, it was too pat an answer, too un-Harriet like.  In exactly the same way as Jane had been trying to reassure her by belittling my mother’s comments, Harriet was trying to reassure Jane by appearing to agree with her.  In a way this was more terrible a revelation than the affair in the first place, or even their father’s running away and being caught.  All of those things could be gotten over – maybe.  But this, and the very fact that it was inconclusive, was suddenly a greater problem for them as a family than anything that had gone before.

Jane knew by the way Harriet was handling it, or actually refusing to handle it, that it was quite possibly the most terrible thing that could have happened.  But she just seemed to brush it aside, as if it hadn’t really registered, as if the importance Jane was attaching to it was as nothing to Harriet.  She was too nonchalant, almost light-hearted suddenly.  She wanted to go out, she felt like a drink, and Jane like a fool, for once let her go on her own.  The last thing Jane felt like doing was to act as if nothing mattered, as if it was all so much froth.  She certainly wasn’t ready to face the world, she hadn’t been out in days, she had been crying so much her eyes were sore and she must have looked awful.  But Harriet just laughed and said ‘Well, never mind, little sis. You stay at home moping about if you want to – I’m going to see what is happening in this sleepy little shit-heap we call home.’  And she was gone.  Almost before Jane had thought about it she let he go, and on her own too, and after what their mother had just told her.


The Masterplan

Friday 9th February

Maybe we are all underestimating Theresa May.  Maybe she is, actually, a genius who might even end up being more lauded (by some, hated by others) than Thatcher.  Maybe she has a secret Masterplan.

Maybe she already knows what we do not, maybe she has some insider knowledge, maybe she is far cleverer than all her Civil Servants, than the majority of Commentators, than the Governor of the Bank of England even.  Maybe she has a Masterplan that the EU will roll over and accept, and that even the Hard Brexiteers in her party will be ecstatic about.  Maybe she has solved the intractable problem of the Irish Border question.  Maybe she can square the circle and have no border and yet for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, to be out of both the Single Market and the Customs Union.  Maybe she has a Masterplan to have completely free and frictionless trade (no border checks) with the remaining EU while not belonging to the Single Market at all – a feat not accomplished by anyone so far.  But she must have a plan.  Mustn’t she?  She must have some secret unseen, unpublished document, some ‘Peace in our time’ wonder-plan to solve these seemingly impossible and contradictory goals.

Of course she has.  We have all underestimated her.  Her Masterplan is this.

She will send her stooge David Davis along to meeting after meeting, where he will smile and smile and slowly concede point after point until Barnier and the EU start to relax as they begin to see that all that rhetoric about no Single Market, no Customs Union, no ECJ – was just that, rhetoric and bluster; and that a sensible solution was going to emerge.  Then, at almost the last minute she will breeze in and lay down the law.  No Single Market, no free movement, no ECJ, no customs union – even during the transition period – but a completely free and frictionless ‘bespoke’ deal immediately.  Or else…

Or else she will walk away with no deal (much better than a bad deal).  Which, of course, she will be forced to do – amid a blaze of publicity.  The Tory press will go to town, all the old animosities resurrected, the anti-German hostility, the anti-immigrant nonsense, the ‘stab in the back’.  Those damn Europeans being awkward again, they always hated us anyway.  We will go it alone.  And swept along on a tide of jubilant Brexiteers she will immediately go to the country to back her.  A huge majority is only four weeks away as the public realise what a fighter she is beating those pesky foreigners – her very own Falklands War.

Now, that really is what I call a Masterplan.

What Do You Make of Elon Musk?

Thursday 8th February

At first sight he is a rich self-publicist – and he certainly likes the spotlight.  But unlike most rich celebrities, he may just be one of the few people who can really make the World a better place.  But, he isn’t a conventional philanthropist like Bill Gates, who is using some (but only actually a small part) of his vast wealth to alleviate problems in Africa.  Just an aside, we often see persistent tax avoiders deciding that rather than pay their taxes and give Governments money they prefer to use some (and sometimes this is tax-deductible) of their money to do the very things Governments are supposed to be doing.  Is this fair?  Or does the end result make the Greed in the first place somehow laudable?  I am still not sure.

But Elon Musk is also a visionary.  Luckily he is also very rich.  But he seems to be using much, if not all, of his wealth to create a better world through technology.  He is at the forefront of electric cars through his Tesla company.  He is developing ‘Hyperloop’ a new form of transport using MagLev inside a vacuum pipe – potentially capable of speeds of 700 mph.  He is planning a colony on Mars.  And he has his fingers in hundreds of other pies, some potentially game-changing, some which seem plain daft.  He made his fortune largely through Paypal, which has simplified buying stuff on the internet.

On Tuesday he launched a rocket which (more or less) lands back on earth to be re-used.  But the payload was a Tesla car with a non-human astronaut set to (he hopes) eventually head for Mars and then out into the wider cosmos.  This has reportedly cost over 90 million dollars, a colossal waste of money…or the best advert ever for Tesla and Musk, or an awe-inspiring feat?  Opinion may well be divided.

One thing is for certain, we cannot stop technological change.  And I personally would rather have a maybe crazy, but visionary, man like Musk involved in that technological change than one simply interested in making more and more money.

The nagging thing is….you can never be quite sure, can you?

A close-up of Musk's face while giving a speech

Taking Politics Out Of Government

Wednesday 7th February

The trouble with Democracy is that every party, when they finally get into power is far more concerned with getting re-elected at the next election than doing the right thing.  Far too much power accrues to the Prime Minister (a sort of elected King) who not only hires and fires their own Cabinet but almost always dictates the Policy.  We now have a Prime Minister being pulled and pushed in all directions before deciding which Brexit road we will be dragged down.  And likewise, the entire Labour Party is waiting on tenterhooks for Jeremy to make his mind up too, whether to go soft or hard.

Let us look at two big issues.  The NHS is always short of funds, and at each election parties promise to fund it adequately, which they rarely do.  Wouldn’t it be far simpler to have a National Commissioning Body which decides in advance what actual funding the NHS needs, and it would then be up to Government to find the money.  Experts rather than Ministers would decide how much money a decent NHS requires. A similar system could work for schools.  But this will never happen…Taking Politics out of Government, you must be joking.


With Brexit itself, the sensible thing for any Government to have done on receiving the electorate’s decision would have been to have consulted widely and tried to hammer out some sort of consensus.  Difficult I know, but it could have been done if the Political Will was there.  Our whole strategy should have been decided and agreed on (as far as that is possible) before we triggered Article 50.  Instead our new PM made it a political decision.  She was more concerned with winning votes than doing the right thing.  The Cabinet are actually only meeting today to decide our end game.  This was far too important to have been dealt with in this way.

Prime Minister’s are concerned ultimately about their legacy.  How people will remember them.  And despite Mrs. May’s intention to deliver a splendid Brexit she will be remembered for yet another terribly bungled and ultimately very costly mess…Sometimes you just have to take Politics out of Decision Making, and do the right thing,