The Weather Here Has Been Quite Poor

Sunday 30th June

What is it with the world?   I buy a house in South West France, where sunshine is almost guaranteed, where they grow sunflowers and grapes are ripening on the vine before your eyes and what has happened.   I came here in February and though quite mild it was wet.  Easter we came with friends and it was both cold and wet, the locals hadn’t had such a bad Easter in years. We drove down at Whitsun and again it was mostly wet and unseasonably cold.  I flew in on Thursday at the end of June, which, need I remind you, is mid-summer.  The day we landed the sun was shining and it was quite warm, then on Friday it was overcast and gloomy.  Today it was cold and cloudy and drizzled on and off for most of the day.  That didn’t stop us having a nice time, and driving around and seeing some pretty villages and I even swam in the lake again, but hot it certainly was not.

Where has the summer gone?  Everyone n the town is asking the same question.  To make things worse this afternoon while it was drizzling here we were watching tennis at Wimbledon in bright sunshine.

Oh well, I can only presume that it will be nice at the end of July and in August when we are here for longer.  Meanwhile from a dull and dreary France I sincerely hope the weather is better in England.

Nelson Mandela – the world holds its breath

Saturday 29th June

I am writing this on Friday morning so it is quite possible that it is over by the time you will read this, but for now the wait goes on.  Nelson Mandela is dying – there is little doubt about that.  Almost alone he stands as the greatest man of the last century.  And there have been several greats; Gandhi, Churchill and Kennedy among them.

So what is so special about Nelson Mandela.

I can remember first hearing his name back in the late seventies, along with Steven Biko as one of the freedom fighters in the then white ruled South Africa.  But for ages I knew nothing really about him.  Gradually the news filtered out, that he was the imprisoned leader of the ANC, the black political movement which was calling for democracy and by inference black majority rule in that huge and diverse country.

We had records ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and a huge concert ‘The Nelson Mandela Birthday Party’   But he was still in jail, for forty years.  And Thatcher called him a terrorist, so too incidentally did a young David Cameron.  But still he was in jail.  There was growing pressure both inside and outside South Africa to release him.  Then amazingly and suddenly he was released, on his own terms and he swept to power at the subsequent first and free elections.

But his real power was in what he said.  In a stumbling high pitched voice he called for peace and reconciliation and no retribution, no vengeance, just learning to get along with each other.

And by and large he was successful.  He is now lauded by South Africans of all races and colours.  Incredibly South Africa made the transition from Apartheid and brutal white rule to an increasingly open and fair society.  There is still a long way to go before the blacks are really equal to the whites, but they are getting there.  And it is all down to one man who s now dying in a hospital in Pretoria.  The great Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela, en 2008.

Home Again

Friday 28th June

At last I am home again.  I flew in yesterday afternoon, and walking off the plane I just held my arms open and soaked in the sunshine.  It wasn’t really too hot, but warmly pleasant, whereas, as you know it hasn’t been quite like that back home.  My friend Mark is with me, we hired a car and drove from Bergerac to Eymet.  The vineyards green and glistening in the sunshine, the charollet cows in the fields, the dusty towns, the gorgeous relaxed lazy atmosphere of France

The house is lovely though the garden needs desperately watering.  We went to the local Spar and bought a few essentials, then some nice vegetables.  Out for a couple of beers at Café de Paris, sitting in the late afternoon sun I felt so glad to be back.  Back home again.

Mark cooked a lovely pasta dish with prawns and tomatoes and celery and basil sauce, along with a green salad and some fresh bread,  Perfection.

Such a difference from London, where you feel just a number in the digital machine.  You also notice the absence of noise here, you can hear the church ringing out the quarter hours, you have time to stand and watch the river, it is almost as if time stands still.

Anyway, a lovely evening walk rounded off the day, walking and chatting, musing on life and the universe.  Tired but happy.

M is also for and never forgetting Don McLean

Thursday 27th June

Such an ordinary fellow, not at all rock and roll, not schmaltzy country either, he is actually a very downbeat character.  But undoubtedly a deep thinker, a serious man with a dark often depressed side; in interviews he is often dismissive of almost everything since Buddy Holly, and yet when he sings it is as if the Heavens have opened and light is shining through.

For a few albums back in that golden period the early seventies he could do no wrong.  Beautiful melodies, clever words, immaculately sung.  And then he went all soft, churning out retreads of old standards with the occasional gem thrown in.  It was as if he had run out of ideas but  was still contracted to make an album a year.  But for a handful of songs he is worth a place at the top table of popular music – ‘Castles in the air’, ‘And I love you so’, ‘Till tomorrow’, ‘Winterwood’ and of course ‘Vincent’ and ‘American Pie.’

Even Madonna couldn’t mess the last one up – a true classic


Standing on the Brink

Wednesday 26th June

You must know by now that I am never the harbinger of bad news.  Ever optimistic, ever hopeful and never one to predict doom and gloom.  Hahaha.    But almost unseen, hidden away in small print have been the first slight shivers.  Strange that this should coincide with an equally silent and inexorable rise on London property prices, but maybe the two are linked.  Bricks and mortar is always a safe bet for the longer term.

So, what on earth is the boy talking about you may be asking.  Well we may indeed be standing on the edge of a precipice, the steepness of which is as yet unknown;  it could be an ever-widening chasm or just a crack to be papered over, much like many before.

China, that unknowable and slumbering giant is the worry.  Or maybe just the hare-trigger that might fire the gun.  There have been increasing signs and rumours that the much lauded Chinese industrial revolution may be in a spot of trouble.  Those magnificent growth rates of 10% plus which have so astounded the world appear to have slowed to about 7%.  But even this would be the envy of anywhere in the West.  But just think for a moment.  How can an economy grow at such a rate, doubling in size every seven years, cities mushrooming and dwarfing any in Europe, hundreds of power stations being built every year, a third of the worlds skyscrapers being built in one country.  The mechanisms of the Chinese state are still shrouded in mystery, but at the end of the day it has been printing money, and much faster than here and in America.  And suddenly there are troubles looming.  In exactly the same way as the last financial crisis started with a crisis in inter-bank lending the Chinese banking system appears to be in trouble.

Stock markets have reacted, as usual and mostly computer driven as they are with quick falls.  Gold and oil prices are falling too.   This may all be another false fear, and the hiccup swallowed and normal service is resumed.  But I am not sure.  The combination of easy money through QE and very low interest rates has only encouraged even riskier behaviour from the greedy financial institutions, and most crucially lessons have not been learnt.  Rather than real reform banks have been propped up and supported; maybe because the alternative was too awful to contemplate.  But we may have simply bought a little time, not a long term solution.

Who knows?  But I must say that the view standing here on the edge of the precipice is truly stunning.

A New Start

Tuesday 25th June

Every so often you have to pick yourself up, give yourself a good shake and declare a new start.  Otherwise we would just sink into the depths of depression, or even further deeper – depending on your point of view.  A new start is what is needed.  A new way of looking at things, even if it is mostly an illusion, at least for a few days you can deceive yourself into believing that things are getting better.

I have stopped laboring on the second book (always harder than the first) and have sent it off to be reviewed by a Literary Editor, though exactly what credentials she really has I am not sure.  It is simply another and possibly more critical pair of eyes.  And truth to tell I was getting tired of the thing myself.   I had forced myself to read and re-read it, write and re-write it, trying to sprinkle a little fairy dust on it, to expunge some of those slightly turgid sections and to expand where I felt it needed it too.  And I almost know it off by heart now I have looked at it so long.  And I have lost all ability to see if any of it is any good anymore.  So, a fresh pair of eyes, which hopefully will not tell me it is complete rubbish, but may suggest improvements and crucially, give me enough enthusiasm to make them.

But just as important it takes the thing away from me.  It also frees me up to start writing something else.  I have decided to exhume a bit of writing I did about a year or so ago.  It is a psychological thriller (or will be) set in the not too distant future.  Maybe a modern 1984, who knows.  Anyway I am going to give it a go.  A new start.

As for the rest of my life.  Well, like most of us a lot is already mapped out, dates in the diary, holidays scheduled and so forth.  But I am trying to think just a little bit further down the road than that. I will shortly be down, by my own request, to three days a week.  So the challenge will be to not fritter that extra day away completely.  I need to make that extra day a new start.

There Is A World We Live In

Monday 24th June

There is a world we live in where billionaires wheel and deal in millions of shares a day, making and breaking fortunes, closing factories and throwing thousands of workers on the scrap heap because of projections on a spreadsheet.

There is a world we live in where Politicians cosy up to business leaders – tit for tat, we pass a bit of legislation here and when we retire we will become non-executive directors.

There is a world we live in where so-called leaders of so-called democratic republics live in sumptuous palaces where they eat and drink lavishly and pile up huge bank balances in Zurich which when they die their widows will spend on shoes and clothes they will never have enough days to wear.

There is a world we live in where not a stone’s throw from those same palaces peasants toil eighteen hours a day to keep body and soul alive dutifully paying their taxes to those very same leaders.

There is a world we live in where soldiers get killed fighting wars in foreign countries which have never posed any real threat to their own, being blown up by improvised devices planted by those who see them as attacking and stealing their land.

There is a world we live in where young trendy people have no idea about the rest of the world, so wrapped up are they in their own little lives, spending most of their money on clothes and eating out, drink and drugs in their hedonistic little whirlpool.

There is a world we live in where their parents still scrimp and save because a lifetime of habit is hard to stop even though they are quite comfortable really, putting money by each month so that their kids can waste it all when they die.

There is a world where crime is the norm, where drugs are dealt in the front room, where the kids have criminal records at eleven years old, where their mothers are into prostitution and where nobody even sees what they are doing as wrong or hurting anyone else.

There is a world we live in where old people live in barricaded flats on vast estates, too scared to go out of their own front door.

There is a world we live in which switches the news off and searches the channels for yet another soap, living their lives through the vicarious pleasures of fictional characters.

There is a world we live in which goes hungry every night until even hunger dies.

There is a world we live in of caring concerned people who do not want wealth or fame and who are not greedy, they are almost invisible but believe me they are there, they care and you might need them one day.

There is a world we live in that is teeming with life that has never encountered the human species even though their number are reduced every day by the actions of this same greedy species.

Have a nice day.

An Abject Apology

Sunday 23rd June

After yesterday’s post regarding the lack of competence in some highly paid women in the Care and Quality Commission I feel I should abjectly apologise.  It is perfectly possible that the debacle we are witnessing was nothing to do with the gender of the people running the Commission at all.  It may just be down to a general level of incompetence anyway, and the fact that they were women could be completely irrelevant.

One does wonder however how these people get presumably head-hunted , selected and employed in the first place.  There appears to be a happy coterie, a cosy network, a jolly band of professional public servants who simply pass jobs around between them.  We are still in the golden age of the Quango, and despite successive Governments ‘outsourcing’; and creating Agency upon Agency where mere Civil servants existed before, there seems to be no change in the ethos.  There used to be a tendency, especially prevalent in the Civil service, but also in large Private concerns, that people would be promoted until they reach a level of incompetence, where they would be stuck, rising no higher but unsackable and undemotable, often side-lined or simply given less and less responsibility until they took early retirement.

But now with each successive Governments re-organisation of departments and hiving off and reviewing and renewing there is a constant churn of ridiculously highly paid people whose only qualification is that they have somehow managed to be in a ridiculously highly paid semi-autonomous public-sector post before.  There seems to be no requirement to have done the job well, simply that you are a known name, and therefore some sort of safe pair of hands.  And these people are very clever, managing every so often to get themselves made redundant with large pay-outs, only to walk straight into another job, often in the same sector.

But it is also true in Corporations, where the same faces pop up time and again on Boards, as Non-Executive Directors, as Chairmen, or as CEOs even.  And often they have both Golden Handcuffs and Golden Handshakes on starting and leaving.  As they and their friends are both the appointees and the deciders of salaries there seems nothing we can do to stop this financial merry-go-round.

It’s a bit like the England football manager, for some absurd reason the powers that be think they have to offer a salary of several millions a year simply to achieve mediocrity.  Why not drop the salary levels of all these jobs, public and private, to say three or four times average wage.  You would get hundreds more applicants, and quite probably a far better end result.

Grab your pitchfork folks – it is time to clean out the stables.

Four Women….Co-incidence?

Saturday 22nd June

I know that this is risky and I will be accused of sexism, misanthropy and all the rest, but I am ploughing on regardless.  The Scandal about the scandal about the scandal about deaths at a hospital in Barrow & Furness rumbles on and on.  There is no doubt that in anyone’s book there was a cover-up.  The Care and Quality Commission, set up by Labour incidentally because there was nothing before this, was intended to be a sort of Ofsted for the NHS.  It started out with very good intentions, and the hospital in question was ‘inspected’ in 2010 and given a clean bill of health.  However of course this was a very poor report which somehow missed the mistakes at the Hospital, which of course had been covered up in the first place.

Well, an internal review by the CQC was ordered to see how these problems went unnoticed by the CQC itself.  So an internal look into how mistakes had been made by the people who were supposed to be making sure mistakes and cover-ups weren’t made by others.  The report was compiled by Louise Dineley  and is supposed to be highly critical of the original inspection.  Are you still with me, because this gets worse.  There have since been changes at the top of the CQC and Grant Thornton were brought in as consultants to look at failings of the organisation.  They have discovered that this internal review had been discussed by the author and the three most senior people working at the CQC at the time and because it was so critical it was ordered to be deleted.  In other words another cover-up.  Then even this cover-up was covered up, in that the names of the women ordering the cover-up were covered-up.  Even to the extent of ‘naming’ the four women all as Mr E, Mr D, etc:  Why change the sex, why couldn’t we know they were women?

Anyway it has all, or almost all, now come out and what is shocking apart from the horrendously high salaries these women were earning (for what precisely) was the callous and self-serving way they decided to suppress the truth that they were crap at their jobs. To say nothing of the continuing distress for the real victims at the hospital in the question, which all seem to have forgotten.

I have worked for several women in my career, and some were quite good, but they all had a tendency to react to any situation by asking themselves “How do I look in this situation?  How does this reflect on me?” rather than what is the best solution.  It may be that women in the workplace are under more pressure to perform well, it may be that they are constantly aware of men’s critical appraisal of them, but they do tend to think of themselves first, just watch any episode of the Apprentice and you will see what I mean. (Teamwork?  Forget it.)  A word of advice to women at work.  Be prepared to admit that you got it wrong occasionally and you will not only gain respect but actually make better decisions and become a team player.  Honesty is hard but always the best policy.

The Economy may be Recovering…

Friday 21st June

The economy may well be spluttering like an old car left out in the cold for too long.  It is a bit tricky to get it moving again.  The engine turns over a couple of times and makes encouraging noises but keeps dying again.  You pump the accelerator with all sorts of curses and added fuel, you open the choke, but it floods the carburetor.  You resort to pushing and bump-starting the thing and then jump in as the engine finally catches and it begins to move of its own volition.

The Government has tried almost everything; quantative easing – which is just printing money by any other name; ridiculously low interest rates – which may have actually had a counter effect; project Merlin – which promised so much and delivered so little; reducing corporation tax – which only helps those companies who were successful and had ridden the recession anyway.  But actually there is only so much harm the Government can do, and the economy will emerge again.  First in London, the real driver of the whole thing and slowly out to the other cities and lastly the countryside, and very last the old industrial heartlands in the North.

This has been a patchy recession anyway, here in London you wouldn’t have guessed it had happened at all, but in the Midlands and the North they can feel it in their bones as the wind of reality blows through their scanty clothes.

And what sort of a future do we foresee?  Will the deficit ever be really closed, or will we live in a continuing cheese-paring world of economy drives and reduction in services, until we settle for a US style of very poor emergency provision and you pay for everything on top as you need it.

This all started when the financial system of Capital wound itself up and out of control but the end result could be the death of Socialism, brought about by the failure of Capitalism.  Ironic?

But that in its turn may just trigger another revolution in the way we think about our whole relationship with money.