How to be popular…

Saturday 30th November

The Tories have a master election strategist in Lynton  Crosby, he is reckoned to be one of the best.  So exactly how do you get the ‘nasty’ party re-elected.  Well, by chucking out all your former policies, by bringing forward new policies that are actually what the opposition has been calling for for ages.  We are truly in the silly season.  It seems to me a sign of absolute panic to first of all ridicule Ed Milliband and then to try to copy him.

Ed had been criticized by the press for being ‘policy-lite’, so he unveils a couple of new policy ideas at his party’s conference.  And especially his pledge to freeze electricity prices for twenty months if elected in 2015.  Attacked from all sides, ridiculed by Cameron, pilloried in the press; and yet the idea struck a chord with the public.  Suddenly the cost of living crisis, and especially huge energy price rises were making all the running.  And nearly two months later it is still news.

Earlier in the year the Tories had backed away from the idea of plain packaging for cigarettes, saying it wouldn’t work, it was a step too far etc. etc.    Then a couple of days ago they resurrected the idea.  And this morning the BBC had the news that the Government was asking energy companies not to increase their prices at all until mid 2015, just after the election by the way.  There have been denials and confusion and we still do not know if this might be actual policy.  We still have the Chancellors Autumn Statement to come next week, with a heavily trailed leak that they will do something about the Green elements of power bills, where a small charge is added to bills to help the development of renewable and alternative electricity.   There are now rumours that this will be paid not by electricity consumers but from general taxation.  As if consumers are not tax payers anyway.

But I think that all of these ‘electioneering’ policy u-turns, and stealing the popular opposition’s policies will backfire on them.  The public is often stupid. But not quite so stupid as to see why – all of a sudden they are doing something about the cost of living crisis that they have presided over for so long.   

Nigella – how the rich live

Friday 29th November

For a mere mortal like me one of the most amazing things is that nobody at the time thought it extraordinary that the two Italian sisters who were supposedly Nigella’s assistants were spending 70 thousand or so a month on a company credit card.   The accountant simply processed it along with presumably several others, though exactly what we would have charged the expenditure to I do not know.  Staff uniforms perhaps?  There is actually here a possible taxman issue, as there is no way that these were tax deductible items – handbags, luxury holidays, jewelry and clothes.

And these two women were well paid; living rent free and all meals provided they were paid 25 and 28k respectively; plus of course the use of the credit card.  And nobody thought this odd.  That Nigella needed not one, but two personal assistants – I wonder which of the three did the cooking?

And Charles Saatchi was obviously earning so much from his businesses that he didn’t notice all this going on under his nose.  I wonder how many personal assistants he had, and how much they were paid and what bills they ran up on credit cards which he allowed?

In a society where twenty percent of people are getting into serious debt, where food banks and pay-day loans are the two growth industries it is rather galling that these rich people do not even notice over seven hundred thousand pounds being frittered away before their very eyes.  No wonder they need so many drugs…

Nigella Bites

Nigella – how the mighty are fallen

Thursday 28th November

Why is it that we take such pleasure when one of the rich and famous comes a cropper?  The revelation from not the most unbiased of sources that poor Nigella was a regular user of cocaine, cannabis and prescription drugs yesterday has produced lurid headlines and a flood of facebook and twitter ‘jokes’.  And I am not immune, having responded in my usual jokey fashion to one or two facebook comments.  A few days ago we had the Reverend Flowers disgraced and hauled through the tabloids and ‘Have I got News For You’ for a similar drug misuse.  However he was the chairman of a high street bank, and maybe the opprobrium heaped on him was in some part due to his supposed high standing in society.  Besides he was a man, and men generally are not treated with such nastiness.

But we do treat women differently.  Women murderers (thankfully rare) are treated far worse by both press and public alike than men.  Women who have lots of sexual partners are sluts, men are studs.  And women who fall from grace are repeatedly attacked or ridiculed.   What has poor Nigella done that millions or at least many thousands of wealthy media folk haven’t done before?  In fact for male pop stars it is almost a badge of honour to have ingested industrial quantities of coke.  But like Rebekah Brooks before her we all get some vicarious pleasure from seeing a successful, pretty and wealthy woman dragged through the dirt.  And sadly it isn’t just us men; women are even bitchier where other women are concerned.

It reminds me of my childhood where if a poor girl got herself pregnant she was a ‘trollope, and it brought disgrace to the whole family.  The boy responsible was sometimes dragged to the altar but often got away with a shrug of his shoulders and a pat on the back from his mates.  And who were the worst critics of the unfortunate girl; why, other women who in all probability had also indulged in pre-marital sex themselves, but had been lucky enough not to fall pregnant, or if they did, to rush through a marriage in the nick of time.

We think we have come a long way in equality; but we have far further to go than we like to admit.

Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friends, Festivities

DEBT, DEBT and more DEBT

Wednesday 27th November

Our whole society is built on debt.  Debt, debt and more debt.  Excluding Mortgage debt, odious enough in itself, each man woman and child on average owes over eight thousand pounds of debt, and the figure is increasing year on year, as is indeed Mortgage Debt.  The government debt keeps rising too; no matter how much they crow about reducing the deficit, this is simply the rate at which the countries overall debt is increasing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  My father had a horror of HP, which was basically the only way you could get into debt in those days.   Very few working people had bank accounts, and bank managers were quite hard to get loans out of.   There were always pawn shops, but you had to be pretty desperate to resort to that.   There have probably always been loan sharks too, though reading Trollope I think these mainly dealt with impoverished ‘gentlemen’.   Hardly any working people owned their own home, and you had to save for years with a Building Society to get a mortgage.

At some point Debt became a real industry, and now must be one of the biggest in our society.  Trading on people’s misery I call it, though others might say allowing people to realise their dreams.  It is all a question of degree, and yes I did have a mortgage for years, though it was a wonderful day when I paid it off completely.  My father’s words kept going round in my brain and every time I could manage to send a thousand off I did, also when interest rates went up and my repayments increased I kept them at that higher level when they dropped.

We are living in a never-never land.  Interest rates are so low that it is easier (and cheaper) to buy on credit than to save up for things.  But does this instant gratification bring any lasting satisfaction.  I doubt it.  In fact we are stoking the fires of a far worse financial crisis than last time.  Banks have been shored up, and the system more or less mended and on we go in the same old way.  Only with ridiculously low interest rates that must at some point go up.   I hope the fan is angled away from me when the shit hits it though.

The Demise of Cowboys and Injuns

Tuesday 26th November

The war had only finished a few years ago, there was still rationing, life was pretty grim.  Most entertainment was coming out of America, and our newly installed televisions were full of Westerns.  The American public was in love with the Cowboy, and we followed suit.  They embodied all that American dream, the free-spirit, those wide-open spaces.  There was a romance in the man on his horse enforcing law and order on the lawless West.  Oh and killing Indians.  That was the best bit.  We had programmes like the Lone Ranger, Wagon Train and best of all Bonanza.  All had shoot-outs between cowboys and injuns, and the amazing thing was that whereas sometimes a cowboy got an arrow in the arm, he would pull it out and mutter ‘only a flesh wound’, but the injuns were mowed down in their hundreds, falling dramatically off their horses and yelping to the ground.

And as children we played cowboys and injuns, with silver guns and holsters and bows and arrows and hat and headbands with a single feather and fringed waistcoats and trousers.  It was the first and best game we played, a gang of us would meet and without question it would be cowboys and injuns.  Bang bang – you’re dead, and if you were an injun you fell to the floor.  My parents made me a rug of Davy Crockett and a Red-Indian chief.  And every night before sleeping I would shoot the Indian with my toy rifle.  And none of us ever thought it might be wrong.

Then in the seventies came the Spaghetti Westerns, grittier, a bit more realistic, the bad guys were other white men.  Eventually the tables turned with Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse, where the idea of the noble savage was resurrected.

Now, no kids play cowboys and Indians anymore.  There are hardly any Western films, no Cowboys on TV, you don’t see guns and holsters or real sound effect rifles in toy shops anymore.  But strangely despite all the ‘evidence’ of violence affecting kids I am not sure it had that effect on our generation at all.   In many ways we have gentrified a violent world, bringing in ideas of respect and fairness – hardly cowboy values at all.


Iran – Deal or no Deal

Monday 25th November

Robert Fisk, that wily old Independent reporter of all matters Middle East believes that almost all of the Arab uprising, the civil war in Syria and the struggles between Sunni and Shia is really a massive power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  There have even been rumours that Saudi has a secret deal with Pakistan to ‘borrow’ their Nuclear capacity if needed.  Who knows?   Anything is possible these days.   And so, what do we think about the deal, that is no deal but a possible precursor to a deal with Iran?  Well, it is a start.  And jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.

One way of looking at the last few decades would be that the West was doing everything in its power to isolate and eventually defeat Iran.  Saudi Arabia was our ally and co-incidentally the Saudis were the world’s greatest producers of oil; no wonder they had to be our friends.  But now that the USA itself thanks largely to fracking is again the largest oil producer, maybe we don’t need them so much now.

Also they are the least democratic large nation on earth (the Saudis not USA, but that may be debatable), how much longer can the West support such a country?  And Iran is possibly returning to the fold, coming in from the cold a bit, starting to be a tad more conciliatory.  But this deal may not stop them from their Nuclear ambitions at all.  The Isreali’s are certain it won’t, but then the Isrealis are suddenly scared.  Syria is still a mess and so hardly a threat to them, but if Iran is now preferred to the Saudis suddenly Isreal looks more and more isolated.

I have always believed that Isreal is the real problem in the Middle East, or Isreali intransigence anyway.  They have steadfastly refused to negotiate in any serious way on the Palestinian question, they continue to attempt to expand their borders, the only country in the world trying to do so.  And the reason is that they know that however badly they behave America will always come running to their rescue.  But maybe that perspective is changing too; America itself seems to be changing, more inclusive, more international; more interested in stopping wars than starting them.  On the surface it looks as if Obama has been a failure as a President, but maybe he has changed things more fundamentally.  And if he can actually pull off a deal with Iran he could indeed go down in history as one of the greats.

map of Iran

The Magic of Dr. Who

Sunday 24th November

There had been nothing quite like it before on telly.  Nothing supposedly for children which was quite so scary, so exciting and so modern.  We were used to Champion the Wonder Horse or The Lone Ranger and were simply blown away.   It arrived with little fanfare but I seem to remember even the first episode where the Doctor takes us back to the Stone Age.  Then pretty soon after that the Daleks.  I even had nightmares about the Daleks.  Exterminate became the playground catchphrase as straight armed we would wheel about and bark out the words.  And then there was the Tardis itself, bigger on the inside than it was outside, a fascinating concept for kids of twelve like me.

I watched avidly William Hartnell and his successor Patrick Troughton (my favourite Doctor) until I left home.  Later I would sit with my son and watch as John Pertwee and Tom Baker took the character into the seventies, into colour and flamboyance and a bit more technological brilliance.  The Magic was still there, even if as a young adult you maybe got more of the in-jokes than as a child.  We followed the Doctor as he challenged various monsters, The Master, Cybermen and of course The Daleks, even meeting Davros, evil creator of these robotic figures.  I thought the middle lot of Doctors were a bit poor, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.  Then came Paul McGann, a brilliant Doctor.  But the powers that be at the BBC decided to axe the Doctor for a few years.

We thought it was all over.  Not too many tears shed really but just a big part of my childhood, and my sons was over.  Then in 2005 annus mirabilis the Doctor returned.  Spruced up, modern, street-wise with new effects and new companions and most important great scriptwriters the Doctor has returned for a new generation to love.  If anything it is even better than the originals and the story rolls on, a bit sexier, a bit scarier, a bit cleverer.  And now we all wait in trepidation as the new doctor is about to enter the scene.

Fifty years old, the programme still has a great future.  Hope it makes it to a hundred.


S is for Split Enz

Saturday 23rd November

This band seemed to spring fully formed out of nowhere.  Well, out of Australia actually, although lead singer Tim Finn and his brother Neil were Kiwi’s.   They had a couple of early singles and an album out in Australia, but their first UK release was a record called ‘Dizrythmia’ in the earl seventies.  On the cover they appeared in brightly coloured suits and zany hair; this was in the middle of the ‘Glam’ pop stuff with bands like Gary Glitter and Sweet and Slade dominating the charts, so in our ignorance we thought they might be more of the same.

Joy and I went to see them at the Roundhouse, and had never heard any of their music before.  We were in for a big surprise.  They wore the famous suits and coloured starched hair, but boy could they play.  And not only their own instruments; in the middle of a song Tim would run over and snatch a bass guitar from the player, who would then run to the drums and take over, the drummer pushing the keyboard player off his seat and so on.  And the music just continued; at times frenzied with lots of crazy squealing brass, at times more gentle and soulful.   The songs were so different, singing about Crosswords ‘I’m down, your across’ or Hermit Mcdermott, or I see Red.  But all sung with enthusiasm and panache.

I saw them a few more times and gradually bought all their records.  In the early eighties the band sort of morphed into ‘Crowded House’, and the Finn brothers still occasionally tour or make a record.  Almost the only band from the Antipodes to make it globally, they have now achieved cult status, and their old records are exchanged for ridiculous sums on e-bay.   I still look out for them, but their CDs are hard to find and mostly very expensive.  Which may tell you something…



Threats to Democracy

Friday 22nd November

We live in a democracy.  Well we do, don’t we?  And the answer is sort of.  Our system of democracy has evolved slowly with actually very few changes in the last hundred years or so.  It is based on delegated responsibility.  Every four or five years MPs are elected to represent their constituent’s views.   But in all reality the electorate is rarely if ever consulted.  Supposedly each party publishes a Manifesto, or wish-list of what they would do if in Government, but there is no legal requirement to stick to that Manifesto, or to not pass laws that were never mentioned at the time of the election.  So, maybe one of the biggest threats to Democracy is the very Politicians themselves, who once elected will not be seriously challenged for five years.  With the internet now available to most people it should be feasible to create a system of consulting the voters over major changes, or events which were unknown at the time of the election.  But it is unlikely that Politicians will willingly give up power so easily, so there needs to be either a new party offering this, or pressure from the middle classes for more devolved decision making.

We also need some form of PR, because it cannot be right that parties are elected with less than 40% of the vote.  My favoured system would be for super-constituencies which would ‘elect’ ten MPs.  Voters would vote for the party, not individual MPs; each party publishing a list of ten candidates in order that they might be elected by achieving 10% each.   At least then most people would end up being represented by someone they agree with.  As things stand millions of voters never get an MP of the party they vote for, and so in effect are disenfranchised.

Another threat to Democracy comes from the Press, which far from being free, is almost always a vested interest.  Possibly with the rise of internet based news these will have less power to persuade voters to support their ‘side’, but I see more and more that the News channels agenda is being set by the Press.  These are unelected, and in theory their opinion should count no more than mine or yours, but just in choosing which political stories to report on, and the slant they put on them, let alone their ‘Comment’ section they think they should be choosing the Government, and often do.

And the biggest threat to Democracy of all is Apathy.  More and more people, especially youngsters, do not feel any interest in Politics at all; the whole thing, the News even, is a big turn off.  More people vote for X-factor than in some elections.   And yet it is their futures they are ceding to others to decide.  Imperfect as our democracy is, it is all we have.


Thursday 21st November

As you must be aware from my various music blogs, I am in love with Music.  And just like that other Love, my love of music has gone through many stages.  There was that mad rush of infatuation as an 11 year old on hearing the Beatles for the first time.  This was the age of discovery, Beat Music, Surf, Soul, the Blues, Rock’n’Roll and R’n’ B, and it truly was a Golden Age.  New bands, new ideas, new trends, new technology, better recording studios; the electric guitar went from a twang to a squeal; the electric organ went from ponderous notes to the synthesizer, drum kits expanded and even went electric.

But also the song, the idea of the song changed.  From a less than three minute verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, verse and chorus routine it stretched out and became anything the composer wanted it to be.  Words suddenly became important, poetry became song; love was not the only acceptable subject to write about.  In short Music became an art form for the masses.

Classical music had always been an Art form, but a highly class-ridden one, as it still is.  I can remember my first Music lesson at Grammar School, the teacher was scribbling notes onto the five-lined music blackboard, and as a couple of us were obviously lost in confusion he told us it wasn’t his job to teach us to read music, we should have learnt that at our (private) schools.  All we had done was sit cross-legged in the Assembly Hall and sung along to a few folk-songs (Who is Sylvia is the only one I can remember).  Incidentally a year or so later he derided The Beatles and said no-one would remember them in five years time, whereas Schubert, Mozart etc would be revered forever.

But my love affair has deepened over the years, every now and then a new artist appeals to me, but mostly it is mining the deep seam laid down in the sixties and seventies and a few that occurred later.  I love so many Artists that even keeping up with every new release becomes a struggle.  But I try.  And although I am addicted to listening to new recordings, I have a ‘playlist’ invented long before the word was invented, where I alternate old records with a rotating rota of new stuff.

Where will it all end?  In an almighty skip I presume as my kids throw out albumafter album of stuff they have never heard of.   Hahaha