Barclays and the latest scandal – what did you expect?

Saturday 30th June

The press and commentators are suitably outraged; well they would be, wouldn’t they.  But really, is anyone surprised?  After the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the absolute mess the financial system got itself into a few years ago it is completely obvious that there has been a total collapse of all morality, and legality.  Thatcher’s children piled into the City in their droves, while in America the disciples of Gordon Gecko took over the sweetshop.  It was all wonderful as long as they all made money, and paid huge amounts in Corporation Tax, and everyone colluded to just ignore the fact that it was not only corrupt but also building up another enormous bubble, which had to burst one day – just not while I am blowing air into it, please. You only have to meet anyone who works in the City, or just overhear them in a bar or restaurant to realise that this is indeed a totally alien world they inhabit.  Making money is all that matters..  And when you are dealing with the same people every day, of course you are going to get friendly and really who cares if we just bend the rules a little bit, or say what they want to hear.  As long as it makes money, and the bonuses keep flowing, that is all that matters.  Now, with suitable contrition and the scrunching sound of hands being wrung the top bankers all condemn the wrongdoing of a few individuals who temporarily let slip the high standards of banking.  Well, just like the phone hacking scandal, we must ask who were these people, and whose orders were they following.  In reality it was never just a few individuals, it was a whole culture, which surprise, surprise is still continuing.  As long as making money is all that matters.

Death – The Longest Embrace

Friday 29th June

Each week appears to hurtle past; I seem to be forever wheeling out the wheelie bin, as if this was the very thing I was put here on earth to do.  And in two days time half of the year will be gone too.  I remember as a child how I longed for the millennium; one couldn’t even imagine being fifty, let alone writing the year 2000 as the date.  Then before I knew it, there it was, or there we were, Edward and I, watching the tiresome celebrations on the television, raising a glass of champagne at midnight 1999, but for what we weren’t at all sure, somehow now that it was here it was all an anti-climax.  Then came the plodding years, plodding through the days and weeks, and even with nothing much to do, still they race away from one.  And the mirror does not lie, no matter how many lotions and potions one applies there is no denying the passing of time.  And there grinning on one’s shoulder is the spectre, the shadow of death.  And some days one just wishes for the rest, the solitude, the quiet, the never-endingness that that might bring.  That cold but final and longest lasting embrace of all, when either we will be re-united with our maker, and ascend to heaven, or as I suspect that we will slip away into a cold cold coma, as the chill seeps into our every fibre until we feel nothing at all, and we slowly dissolve away, all pain and worries gone at last in the longest embrace we will ever know.

And still we all strive to carry on living, with each passing year the inevitability of our death looms larger, and yet we still cling to whatever we think we might have left.  We all resist that final embrace, and life, for the moment, continues.   But death knows how to wait, patience may indeed be its only virtue, for it knows that whatever we do to avoid it, it will have that final hug in the end.

It’s the Economy – Stupid

Thursday 28th June

The news that the deficit, rather than decreasing is actually increasing should come as no surprise.  As in any business, there are two sides to the coin, Income and Expenditure.  Oh, if only Mr. McCawber were still here to remind us what misery is ‘Income, nineteen and six, expenditure one pound’ for those that need reminding.  And George Osborne in 2010 set about correcting this anomaly with vigour, so how could it all have gone wrong.  Expenditure, despite the cuts is still rising.  Why is that?  Because if you sack a public sector worker, you do save their wages, but out of those wages they were paying income tax, and they were shopping and paying VAT on household goods etc:, plus of course their purchasing power was keeping others in jobs too.  Now they are on the dole, receiving housing and maybe other benefits, no longer paying any taxes, no longer having excess money to buy things in the shops, less VAT being paid and less jobs for people making those goods.  Maybe it was cheaper to employ them in the first place.  And actually they were doing something worthwhile, which now either isn’t being done, or has been outsourced, so there is not such a great saving to the public purse.  The other half of the economy is Income, and this, made up of tax receipts, has been falling, or rising at a much lower rate than the expenditure is rising.  Classic Keynes, if you are interested.  The problem was that the Bullingdon Boys thought they knew better, and that the private sector would step in and rescue them, but the private sector is busy getting rid of people as fast as it can, because in a recession they too have lower Income and want to reduce their Expenditure too.  So, a sorry cycle has started, which if we look at Spain and Greece will only get worse with more austerity.  At some point the electorate will wake up and smell the rot, or maybe not, maybe it will get much worse, and the Tories in ten years time will still be blaming Labour.  We’ll see.

Haruki Marukami – 1Q84 Book 3

Wednesday 27th June

The third part of a trilogy, that isn’t really one at all; it is simply a very long book split up, so that people buy two books rather than one.    If that sounds confusing it is; Books 1 & 2 are in Book 1, while Book 3 is a stand-alone second book.  And all so unnecessary too, it could have been an excellent book as one volume, especially if the pages of repetition had been excised, or at least hacked back a bit.  One doesn’t mind a bit of repetition, if it re-enforces the message, or helps to delineate motives or character, but Haruki seems to have brought repetition to a new dimension altogether.  And the story was good in places, but dipped for such long periods where so little was happening that one could easily have given it up as a lost cause.  There were as usual some great ideas floating around in there, especially the relationship between Tengo and his father, though even here there was a distinct lack of resolution.  The end was so inevitable and un-climactic as to make one wonder if a whole section was missing.  I have loved every other book by Mr. Marukami, and I did enjoy most of Books one and two (in the one volume – remember), but really book 3, could have been cut in length by two and have been far more readable.  But then it couldn’t have been a stand-alone book, could it?   And the publishers would have had to put it all in the one volume and got a lot less books sold.  A pity, as with some astute editing it could have been excellent.  5 out of 10, I think.

We’re all alone

Tuesday 26th June

The sad news of the death of ‘Lonesome George’ has shocked and upset me.  He was the last living member of the sub-species of giant tortoise known as Pinar.  George didn’t particularly seem to mind being the last of his line, as he studiously refused to mate with females of similar sub-species, preferring to keep himself to himself, and presumably to withdraw into his shell whenever the mood took him.  So, another splendid large land animal has disappeared, though there are still quite a few other varieties of giant tortoise around, at least for the time being.  But it made me think; what if we are all the last surviving members of different sub-species of humans.  And even reproduction will simply create another sub-sub species.  Because at the end of the day, and at the crack of dawn too, we are, despite being surrounded by others, all alone.  We are all the last unique example of sub-species ‘Catherine Latimer’ or ‘jane Wilkinson’ or ‘john Smith (version 6, 547,321).  Each one of us is different and in a tragic way all alone; despite our desperate need for the company of others, we can never be sure if anyone else actually exists, or if everyone else is nothing like us at all.  They do not think in the same way as us, they do not suffer pain the way we do, they do not have the strange notions that we have.  Like ‘Lonsesome George’ we are all just lumbering alone, occasionally distracted by a lettuce plant or a passing cloud, but essentially all alone.  And we go through life pretending to understand the world and other people, but barely have the capacity to understand ourselves.  Distant relations though we may be to ‘Lonesome George’ with his passing at last we are truly all alone.

Lonesome George

The Big Match

Monday 25th June

As you can probably guess although these blogs are posted at about 5 in the morning I do not write them then; I write them the day before and schedule them to be published a day in advance.  So as I write this I do not know the result of the big match, or what in the most improbable scenario might be the first of three big matches.  But in European Championships Italy are about as big as you can get, and even if by some amazing combination of uncharacteristic Italian sloppiness and a moment or two of genius by our boys we still have to meet Germany in the next round and then either Spain or Portugal.  To be honest the way we have been playing anything can happen.  Yes, we are incredibly poor at moments, such as when the Swedes scored two goals from almost identical free kicks, but then we have scored a couple of crackers, the best being Andy Carroll’s header against France.  But it is the nation’s response I am most interested in.  Possibly alone amongst foot-balling nations we almost revere defeat and are very skeptical of success.  If perchance we go one goal up, we are almost as apprehensive as if we hadn’t scored yet; it being only a matter of time before we surrender the lead and then when it is 1-1, we know for sure we are doomed.   Other nations are able to shrug off a one or even a two goal deficit, whereas both players and crowd and all the viewers at home seem to know it is beyond us to pull it back.  If we do win the game, there will be relief tempered by the much bigger mountain of Germany looming in the background, and even if we beat them there will probably be Spain to face; so we know we will never do it.  So, I wonder what the mood will be tomorrow morning when you read this; slight surprise that the Italians didn’t really turn up and we played better than we should have, mixed with that sinking feeling when we compare our performance with the Germans, or ‘We knew it, there was just no way we could ever dream of beating Italy, I don’t know why those commentators and all the newspapers built the team up so much, there was no way we were going to win.’   And, though my head falls into the second camp, my heart like the rest of England is in the first.

Interesting Times – The Market versus Democracy

Sunday 24th June

There is a strange disconnection between a right-wing market led philosophy and the politics of most European countries, which are basically social democrats.  The right wing which despite Bush and the financial crisis of 2008 has never gone away.  In a funny sort of way the worse their policies perform the more they argue that they aren’t right-wing enough.  ‘If Austerity is driving the countries of Southern Europe towards bankruptcy then it is because they weren’t Austere enough.’  And we must remember that the problem started in America, and with the investment banks reckless behaviour, just as it did in the 1930’s.  Obviously Governments around the world were too lax also, but that is with the benefit of hindsight.  And in fact it would have been very difficult for any Government to have bucked the trend and the markets would soon have singled out any country which had tried to rein in the banking system.  Part of the problem is this mad market philosophy, which reacts with violent swings to the slightest rumour and is in fact made up of hundreds of thousands of financial speculators who are nervously watching every tiny movement of stocks and shares because they stand to make or lose fortunes faster than they can click a mouse on the SELL button.  The market doesn’t think long-term, the market has no conscience, and yet there is a whole swathe of people who believe that the market is always right, despite the fact that for the last twelve years pension funds have performed so poorly that millions are looking to a miserable old age, and all thanks to the market.  So, interesting times, and despite the dire warnings I believe that democracy and politics will prevail.

There’s nowhere better than an English Holiday, except anywhere else

Saturday 23rd June

A few years ago now Tony Blair forsook the usual hospitality of the rich and famous and pointedly had an English Holiday.  This was to help promote the UK tourist industry which felt it was suffering at the hands of all those sunny hot places abroad.  And that is the whole problem with an English Holiday.  If, by some stroke of luck you can manage a few days of continuing sunshine, or at least no downpours, there is nowhere better for a holiday.  Even grimy rain-streaked concrete-lined London takes on a magic sparkle in those rare moments of sunshine.  And the beaches are un-crowded, and free from hawkers and expensive beach-chair rentals, there are lovely little villages to discover, there are beautiful and magnificent National Trust houses to wander round, there are gentle rolling hills and chalky cliffs to admire, there are fabulous restaurants tucked away in unexpected places, there is a hospitality next to none, and yet there is always the risk, or should one say the inevitability of rain.   When it is raining the beaches are deserted, the restaurants either full or for some unexplained reason closed, the pretty villages have no parking spaces, and picnics and ‘al fresco’ dining are out of the question.  Also it is so cold too that it hardly feels like a holiday at all, as the car is full of bickering kids, bored dogs and the remnants of too many sandwiches eaten in the pouring rain.  No-one asks Tony Blair where he holidays now, in fact except for public enquiries no-one asks him anything, but I bet he flies off to some hidden little Sardinian villa, or maybe Tuscany, or in the winter the Caribbean.  Margate it certainly ‘aint.

Invasion of the Sausage Snatchers

Friday 22nd June

Maybe our lives are just too busy, or we fail to communicate properly but quite often my partner and I will both decide to buy food for that evening’s meal.  She is a vegetarian, and rather than cook two meals I invariably forego the dubious carnal pleasures and eat something ‘veggie’ too.  Last night we both came home with Quorn sausages – actually if only they would come up with a better name these might be a bit more popular; they don’t taste so bad, though sausage shaped they lack that special porkiness of real sausages.  Anyway we were both looking forward to ‘sausages’, mash and onion gravy.  The potatoes were in the steamer, the onions fried and the ‘sausages’ gently browning.  At this point I must add that I had decided to cook the whole 2.5kg bag of potatoes and the whole pack of 8 sausages, a meal for four easily, but easy to reheat for that late night snack.   Just as it was ready to put on the plates, and our appetites sharply aroused by the smell of onions and sausage frying the doorbell rang.  Well of course the doorbell didn’t ring (another story for another time) but the dogs let us know someone was at the door.  Oh no, not visitors just as we were about to eat.  Alan and Alicija and baby Elan had come round to see us.  There were only two choices, one to shut the kithen door and pretend we had already eaten or the sensible one, to insist that they join us for sausage and mash – well there was plenty to go round at least.  In the end a pleasant evening even if we were inadvertent victims of ‘the invasion of the sausage snatchers.’

Runners Runners Everywhere

Thursday 21st June

Is it the sunny weather, a rarity so far this summer?  Is it the fact that the Olympics will soon be upon us?  Is it the football, which has suddenly made us all athletic?  Whatever it is I have never seen so many runners.   Quite often in my early morning walk with the dogs I see no-one at all, then there are mornings when all I see are fellow dog-walkers, all out with their little black pooper-scooper bags, at other times there appears to be a surfeit of cyclists cluttering up the pavement – hasn’t anyone told them – ‘This is a pavement, it is for people to walk on, just over there is a road, that is where you should be.’  Yesterday morning I saw runner after runner, and no before you suggest it, they weren’t from some amateur athletics group or a school, in fact that were completely disparate and I might add running in both directions.  There were the old men, wiry with silver curly hair and bright yellow tops and baggy white shorts, and elasticated socks that came too high up their calf, doing that strange half run, half walk, waddle that old men do.  There were the young city-clickers in the latest Nike matching gear with their fancy water bottle and i-pods, running in pairs.  There was the overweight but not too large mid-thirties woman in the tight black lycra shorts that left little to the imagination, and even less to desire.  There were the two Chinese girls, early twenties, seriously running in smart new Adidas tracksuits, and there were also the obvious first-timers who kept stopping to rest – fatal, if you are serious about running at all.  But where did they all come from? And why do I only see them on some mornings – I, the most regular dog-walker in the world.  Just one of life’s little mysteries I suppose.  Maybe I will meet a convoy of mobility scooters tomorrow; or an army of pregnant women all striding forward into a new dawn.  We’ll see.