Once every four years

Monday 29th February

The date for a start, 29th February comes round only once every four years, and one of our very good friends has her eighth (I Think) real birthday today.  Happy Birthday Alicja, so grown up for your age….hahaha..and expecting a new baby too, so double congratulations.  So, what comes round every four years as well.  The Olympics of course and this year it will be in Rio, the zinka virus permitting.  I do not expect our wonderful young athletes to do quite as well this year.  It only seems a short while ago and the Olympics were in London, and right on our doorstep too.  Another four year event is the World Cup; and despite Cricket and both forms of Rugby having their own, there is only one World Cup that matters and that is football.  I wonder how our young team will perform?  Well, we will soon have a clue as the European Championships are also this year, another four year event.  On paper it looks like we have a fairly easy opening group.  We will see.

But the most important once in four year event is the American Presidential Election.  And on Tuesday it is ‘Super Tuesday’ where about 13 American States will decide their preferred candidate.  Last night (Saturday) Hilary won a convincing victory in South Carolina, which has a large black population, by about 50% over Bernie – but that contest has a long way to go still.  If Hilary can somehow capture the enthusiasm of Bernie’s mostly young supporters she might pull it off.  On the other side of course we just have to hang our heads in shame and amazement.  The field has now been reduced to just 5 at least but no serious contender has emerged to challenge the stupidity of Trump.  One can only hope that the few sensible (if any exist) leaders of the Republican party can either stop him, or if he wins the Nomination that he is soundly thrashed and humiliated at the election.  But I honestly thought he would never have got this far, but strangely the more ridiculous he seems to us the more he appeals to his followers.  Strange world we live in.

2066 – Our Interviewer Continues to Explain

Sunday 28th February

-[At first we simply wanted to hook up the human brain with the Artificial Intelligence of the Hypercoms.  This was actually far harder than it might sound.  Volunteers were sought, and I became one of them.  We were hooked up via a complicated interface to AI chips, and some sort of transference was attempted.    Luckily I was in the third wave of volunteers.  Sadly many of those in the first two batches did not survive the experience.  The sudden shock to the human brain of gaining access to so much knowledge, so much extra intelligence if you like, was simply too much.   I have had only a limited con-joining with AI, and have consequently received only small increments to my own intelligence.  The effect has been simply amazing I can tell you.  It as if I now see the world in four or even five dimensions, problems that seemed unsolvable to me before now appear simple, clear, uncomplicated.

But I am not here to boast about my own prowess, that is not my objective.  And of course the programme was never created just to increase certain individuals intelligence, to create a few highly skilled human beings who had the brain power of our best computers.  No, the real aim of the programme, still uncompleted, was to change the very hard-wiring of the human brain itself, so that future generations of humans would not have to ‘learn’ their way into becoming clever.  They would be clever at birth.  We wanted humans to be able to evolve as fast as computers were evolving.

Eugenics, this used to be called.  And it had a bad name, not because of its ultimate aim, but in the manner of its attempted implementation.   It was seen as being for the elite only, whereas the ‘select’ programme is seeking to find a way so that all human beings will be ‘super-intelligent’, so that the human species itself will become far more efficient.  In a way we want to short-circuit the whole evolutionary process.   Rather than spend twenty or so years developing a fully-functioning, but still pretty puny brain, the human child might achieve compatibility with super-computers AI, by the age of ten or so.  That is the long-term aim; the speeding up of the whole process.

But along with this aim, we wanted also to make human beings develop in another way too.  For millions of years humans were hunter-gatherers, slowly, painstakingly slowly, evolving into the creatures we now see.  And during those millions of years certain animal survival instincts became embedded.  Greed, ruthlessness, secrecy and deception.  The list goes on and on.  They helped mankind to survive, first against the other species, but then against each other.  And it is this awful destructiveness that has also been the worst aspect of human development.  We are the only known species that happily kills its own kind, and not even for food but almost for pleasure.  This ruthlessness combined with our ascendancy over all other species has eventually almost wrecked the planet itself.  And would do so again if uncontrolled, if un-moderated, if not amended.

Our ultimate aim is to ‘breed out’ these destructive tendencies.  Do you really think that economic stability was ever an end in itself?  It was to allow the circumstances to prevail where humans no longer felt the need to be so brutal.  If resources are equably distributed then people will no longer feel the need to do each other down in their pursuit.   And this is true to an extent, but it is slow-going.  Far too slow.  We also realised that this might take many many generations to achieve.  And did we have the time?   Without intervention of some kind, I think not.

So the ‘select’ programme is also looking at genetic alterations to change the nature of humans, to take out the animal, if you like, and to make us the true inheritors and custodians of life itself.]-

Wow, or perhaps little wow.  I am sorry to be so underwhelmed, but I am not that impressed.  Not that your little speech is not laudable in itself, but are we right to tamper with ourselves as a species?  What gives us the right?

-[It is no longer a question of the right, but of the technology.  We believe we are close to being able to achieve our ends.  The Hypercoms themselves are coming up with the solutions.  And besides if we weren’t doing it first then the Chinese might have beaten us to it.]-

Well, that’s honest at least.

-[ I have always been honest with you Janek.  You may not have appreciated that but I can assure you it is so.  And why do you think that is?  It would have been far easier to have had you disposed of.  Clagged even?  And despite your earlier observation, maybe I do have a sense of humour.  Being clagged, as you put it, was never a serious possibility.  Clagging, or ‘Chemically Linked (re)Allocation of Genetic Genome (and personality)’, as it correctly should be designated was never a practical solution.  Various methods were tried of course, but in many ways it was swatting at flies.  Clagging now means nothing more than being tracked and intravenously drip-fed with hormone suppressants.  It is as I am sure you must agree far easier to simply euthenase troublesome elements.  And that of course would have been your fate Janek.  I point this out simply to illustrate how kind we have been in not pursuing that course of action, but in taking you into our confidence, so to speak.]-

So tell me, William ‘whoever you are’, just why are we sitting here?  Why are you telling me all this stuff?  This big secret, all this eugenics crap.  Why not simply euthenase me?  I surely fit into the troublesome category, don’t I?  So, why not just inject me now.  Why are you wasting your time even talking to me?  Can you please at least tell me that?


P M Qs or Personal Abuse?

Saturday 27th February

I seem to remember that the last few Prime Ministers insisted that Prime Minister’s Question would be different now that they were Prime Minister; no more yah-boo politics, no more name calling, no more playing to the gallery – but a serious occasion, where questions would be listened to and answered as correctly as possible.  Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and certainly Cameron all promised something along those lines.  But oh how quickly these words are forgotten, if they were ever meant in the first place.  Actually the only Prime Minister who ever came anywhere close to treating this occasion as serious was John Major – but who remembers him these days.

I was surprised and then deeply impressed when Jeremy Corbyn stood for election as Leader of the Labour party.  I saw him interviewed a few times, and once when the interviewer tried the usual trick of abuse rather than a serious question and asked Jeremy if he was a Marxist, expecting a denial which he could then attack, Jeremy sat back, thought for a moment and said that no, he wouldn’t describe himself as a Marxist but admitted that he had read Marx and found a lot of what he had to say very interesting – it completely took the wind out of the interviewer’s sails and he moved on to another question.  This degree of honesty, of unrehearsed buzz-words, of thoughtfulness,  was refreshing.  Maybe Politics could be done in a different way.  We were soon disillusioned when at the Cenotaph the newly elected Labour leader was ridiculed because his respectful bow of the head was deemed not low enough.  Not half as low as those who attacked him obviously.

And then we had Prime Minister’s questions where a polite Jeremy not only has his questions, mostly sent in from Labour members, steadfastly unanswered but is now ritually abused.  The latest instance a personal jibe at his lack of sartorial elegance, as if the style of suit you choose to wear has any bearing on your opinion.  But that is exactly the point my dears, going to Public School, being a ‘toff’, is all about what suit you wear, whose watch you wear, how you tie your tie.  These things matter, not what you have to say, not whether you are telling the truth or not, not how honest or decent a person you are; but have you learnt the lessons of the elite, do you know how to be accepted in our circle, are you indeed a hypocrite just like us.  And the cheering that came from the Tory benches was just that, a tribal baying, cheering on their boorish leader who rather than answer a sensible question returned to type and resorted to personal abuse, one step away from Jeremy Clarkson himself.

War Kids Still Tottering On

Friday 26th February

My Mum and Dad were War Kids.  We were constantly reminded of it growing up, but not by them, they never complained about their own upbringing – tough as it must have been.  But the War was on the telly a lot, all the Politicians, Wilson, MacMillan, Callaghan etc: had served in the War, and Churchill was still around when I was a kid.  And they must have had it tough, these War kids, rationing was on but as they had known nothing different maybe they didn’t really notice.  Even in Suffolk there were air-raids, and growing up there were a few spaces between houses, like a set of bad teeth, where a house had been bombed.  There was no telly, of course, and the evening news on the radio must have seemed strange to those kids, places like Al Alemein or Burma – if you could find them on a map, must have seemed like distant planets, but Uncles and Cousins were being shot at and occasionally killed; Fathers often absent for years at a time with no real news.

And that generation is still with us, tottering on, getting to grips with mobile phones and i-pads and trying to enjoy their retirements, when the highlight of the week might be another funeral to attend.  And here in Eymet there are one or two still tottering on, though most of us are nearer to Seventy than Ninety.  One of them, James, was in the Café today – he doesn’t say much but just totters on.  And if we think we have seen some changes it is nothing compared to our parents.  I wonder what they think of our generation, the baby-boomers, who had every opportunity and squandered most of them, who have had full employment and rising house prices and really quite an easy time of it all.  So, let’s raise a glass to the war-kids, old as they might be and hope they keep tottering on a while longer.

Can You Be A Christian and Not Believe In God?

Wednesday 25th February

We have a Christian group meeting in the Café on Tuesday evenings, they are actually part of the Church of England living and working in France.  They are having a series of what they call Faith Encounters – and it is Faith that I have a problem with, I cannot suspend common-sense in order to accommodate a blind belief in something handed down by former generations with no scientific basis at all.

But in many ways I consider myself a Christian; I was brought up in an essentially Christian country and attended church and Sunday School as a child.  I even attended special Bible classes and was Confirmed.  It was explained to me that I would ‘see the light’, once I was confirmed and took Holy Communion.  Well, as you can guess –no Holy Dove descended and I was not enlightened.

As I grew older and moved to London I became more and more of an Agnostic and probably an Atheist (though I still reserve the possibility of some creative force behind the Universe and Life itself).  But I still consider myself a Christian, after all – the teachings reputed to have come from Jesus are almost Socialist.  It is just that I don’t believe in all that God stuff, and Jesus being the son of God, or the Holy Ghost or any of the other tenets of the Christian religion.  I don’t even mind attending Church and listening to the message, it is just when they say ‘Let Us Pray’ that I have a problem; why should I pray to a God who seems oblivious to human suffering, surely we should be improving the world ourselves not beseeching some deity to do it for us.

So, is it possible to be a Christian and not believe in God or that Jesus was anything other than a rather enlightened philosopher whom other people wrote about and made into a rather dubious religion responsible for wars and conquest which still continue to this day?  I believe it is? And in fact there are many kind and decent people who never go to church, who may in fact be Atheists, but who live a Christian life; you might even call them Socialists, but they probably wouldn’t like that either.  Interesting, isn’t it?

The European Referendum

Wednesday 24th February

At last it is here, after all the promises and excuses, the prevaricating and the negotiations; we are actually going to be voting on Europe.  And although I am all for greater democracy, I fear that there will be more mis-information and confusion than clarity and common-sense in the ensuing four months.  Actually the whole re-negotiation was nonsense, smoke and mirrors, a media event – in reality hardly anything has changed.  There is even confusion as to whether the ‘changes’ will require treaty change or if a couple of sentences can be tacked onto the existing treaties and all will be okay.  And Cameron cleverly sidestepped questions about exactly how the benefits would be phased in (or rather, gradually withdrawn) from new immigrant workers, because nothing has been agreed so far.  Despite this, and the French insisting that the opt-outs for the City of London meant nothing, I am afraid there really is no alternative to the European Union.  It is certainly imperfect, and in need of constant reform and adjustment but it is possibly the single greatest achievement of the last Century.

We had two dreadful World Wars, both started in Europe, millions died, economies were ruined and whole cities razed to the ground.  That we have had peace in Europe, despite the messy break-up of Yugoslavia and the current problems in Ukraine is down to the creation of the Common Market and the determination of post-war politicians to bind old enemies together in, and yes I know it is only words but, ‘an ever closer union’.  And sadly the British have always only been half-committed to Europe; rather than work with other countries, we have always wanted special treatment.  It is a testament to the patience of the other 27 nations that they have bent over backwards to give first a rebate to Mrs. Thatcher, then exemptions to the Lisbon treaty to John Major and now even more concessions to another Conservative Prime Minister.

I voted to stay in 1975 and will vote again to stay now.  Unfortunately this may well help Cameron to a victory, but the issue is far too important to play party politics with.

Memories of Childhood – The Telephone

Tuesday 23rd February

Well of course like almost everyone else we knew we didn’t have one.  There was a red phone box at the end of our road which invariably smelt of piss and would often have a queue of people waiting outside to make a call, pennies in hand.  In posh dramas on TV the telephone was always a point of interest and wonder to us kids – what must it be like to have a real phone in your house?  I can even remember one day our whole class being marched out to a public phone box and shown how to use it, press button A, and if no answer button B (if I remember correctly).  Then slowly phone use started to spread and like TV before it, owning a phone was a status symbol (poor people still had to rely on the public phone box).  You also had to wait weeks or months even for a line to be connected in the pre-privatisation British Telecom, although it used to make a profit it was still privatized during the Thatcher years.

I had a phone in my flat in Finchley, I think it was already connected when I moved in.  Calls were expensive and we used it frugally and I could remember the numbers of my parents and a few friends – a feat no-one can achieve today.  As I lived in London my number kept changing (01 then 07 and 08 then something else before settling on 0207 and 0208) which was more than frustrating.  The first mobile phones were shown on tomorrow’s world and they were huge, the size of a brick and you couldn’t get a signal most places; only top business people had them. Now we have phones which are connected to the internet and have millions of apps (mine excluded) which can switch on your heating or tell you some useless information.  I use mine strictly for phone calls and texting, and could really live happily as I did back in the Fifties with neither.  The next big thing will be that your phone is your credit or debit card which will bring even more stress, as I am always losing mine.  And even flying now, several people haven’t printed out their boarding pass but have it on their phone – now what happens if their phone dies just before boarding?  It is quite amazing just how far phones have come, and how quickly they change; companies like Nokia, Blackberry and now Samsung have come and will presumably go.  Maybe soon we will all be chipped and have speakers implanted in our ears and will all be connected all the time, who knows?

M – is for John Martyn

Monday 22nd February

John Martyn, real name Ian McGeachy, was a folk singer from Scotland.  He combined blues and folk in a unique way and started making records in the late 60’s, but really came to fame with Stormbringer, an album recorded with his wife on vocals.  But his best albums were “Bless The Weather” and “Solid Air” in the early seventies.  There really was something special about those years.  The Beatles had been influenced by Fifties Rock’n’Roll, but so many aspiring and talented musicians were in turn influenced by The Beatles themselves and seemed to come to fruition in the early Seventies.  The title track of Solid Air is about John’s close friend Nick Drake, who sadly died the year after this album was released.  On ‘Bless the Weather’ he had one instrumental track ‘Glystening Glyndbourne’ that is truly incredible, I have never heard anything like it; it is simply incredible.

John Martyn developed a style of guitar playing using feedback and and a pedal called Echoplex, and he bent notes beautifully sometimes drifting off, especially playing live, into all echo and reverb and yet still holding onto the tune.  He had a deep gruff voice, which deteriorated with age and the prodigious amounts of alcohol he is reputed to have drunk, but somehow the rougher it got the more it suited his sad songs.  He made many records over the next three decades, but he suffered ill-health and had part of a leg amputated and died of double pneumonia in 2009.  He was a true original, one of those artists who you can recognize as soon as he starts playing or singing.  I am still collecting his remarkable records and I am never disappointed.

Bless the weather.jpg

What’s It All About – Alfie?

Sunday 21st February

Great song, sung of course by Cilla (when she was still young and groovy).  It was for one of the landmark films of the sixties too, Alfie – starring Michael Caine.  And for the first time the unspoken horror of backstreet abortions and the desperation it entailed was shown, albeit in quite an amusing and comic film.  Which is what a great film should be of course, to make you laugh, to make you cry and to smile at life and think about it all at the same time.  It was re-made a few years ago; I sat through it, but it was rubbish.

So, what is it all about Alfie?  That is the big question facing all of us, and more so the older we get, until maybe at some point you just let go – and stop even thinking about it at all.  When we were young, or much younger than now, we had all the answers – or thought we did.  And now….well, for me, I really don’t know anymore.  All I know is I have to keep on keeping on.  And for what, I am not sure.  It’s a life and not such a bad one really.  It could have been far worse, and for sure it would have been if I hadn’t escaped my previous relationship.  But as to what we are all doing here, on this planet, in this country, in this town; I am not sure any of really know.  Some have given up on England, or so they say – citing immigrants, benefit scroungers etc: (obviously Daily Mail readers).  Some, like us, are having a once in a lifetime adventure, living (or imagining we are) the dream, enjoying the food and the wine and the weather and the friends we have made here in this very English enclave of rural France.  But some are younger and are working in France; builders or architects or teachers, and their children are attending the local Ecole and are wonderfully bi-lingual.  Some of us have sold up completely and moved to France, and the way house prices are going never to return.  Some of us live here for the six months of the summer and go back for the winter.  I used to think that you had to be some sort of special person to decide to live here, but the longer I am here I am less sure.  It is the sort of place that people just wash up in, like flotsam or jetsam, drifting around and then realizing that this is quite a nice place and staying.  But as to what it is all about, I know less and less.

2066 – What is this Big Secret?

Saturday 20th February

-[The question I need to ask is simple.  Despite your rebellion, despite your ‘journal’ and your apparent dissatisfaction with so much of the world as it is today – do you want to help mankind to a better future?]-

That’s like saying do you like life, or are you in favour of food as a means of sustenance.  There is no answer ‘no’ to that question.

-[Let me put it this way then, would you like to actively help us to improve the future?  Would you, rather than be a constant malcontent, be willing to contribute in some way to society?]-

I suppose that depends, doesn’t it.  I would need to know a hell of a lot more before I could definitely say yes.  In the abstract it sounds fine, but I will really need a bit more information.  So, a qualified yes, but if I don’t like what you are actually proposing that might end up being a no I am afraid.

-[Always this scepticism, where does it all come from?  But in any case I have been asked to inform you and inform you I will.  For the sake of this interview I am taking your answer as a yes.  Not that it really matters as I am sure you understand.  As we are presently constituted you are guilty of several misdemeanours, you have no real rights as a citizen anymore, so your opinion, your agreement, is irrelevant.  I hope you understand that, Janek?]-

Absolutely, Mr. William.  I was under no illusions that this was in any way a fair and equal chat.  Interesting as it is to be sitting here with you, if I were free to be elsewhere you wouldn’t see me for diddly-squat.

-[These attempts at humour, while mildly amusing, are not really helping your cause.  I need you to be serious for a moment.  What I am about to tell you is very important.  In fact it is most secret.  It goes without saying that you will not repeat anything I might tell you to any unauthorised person.]-

I apologise for seeming flippant.  I do realise the seriousness of my situation.  I am totally aware that you could simply have me taken out of here and shot at a moment’s notice.  Do you know how that makes me feel?  Humour is my way of coping with that, that’s all.  And as we both know I am in no position to talk to anyone, or am likely to be in the foreseeable future.  I don’t know whether I should be flattered or very very scared that you are telling me whatever big ‘secret’ you are about to divulge.  I feel as if we are playing some sort of mind games here actually, and I not sure if there is likely to be a winner.  Not me in any case, that’s for sure.

-[Hopefully mankind will be the winner.  There are two schools of thought Janek.  One, that nothing we do on this planet, nothing at all has any meaning, in the context of the Universe I mean.  The Cosmos is so vast and ever-developing, new stars being born, whole constellations dying that what happens on a small planet on a tiny strand, a wisp of stars is bound to be irrelevant.  And the other is that everything we do has meaning, everything matters.  Some people even hold the two ideas simultaneously, and see no dichotomy in that.  But I am a firm believer in the second proposition, as I believe deep down you are too Janek.  Everything matters; everything we do has some significance.  And nothing more than what I am about to tell you.]-

Okay, so what is the big secret?  What is it you are itching to tell me?  Even though I know that my knowing it might be more dangerous than splendid ignorance, you actually are beginning to intrigue me.

-[About eight years ago the UK and America started the ‘select’ programme.  It is top secret and has never been publicised or even admitted to.  Any Gov minister will simply deny its existence, which will be easy as they have no idea it exists at all.  It is still being developed and expanded.  Of course by admitting you into the secret you must realise that you will not be allowed to divulge what I am about to tell you.  Ever.  That is simply not a possibility.   The ‘select’ programme is, in short, mankind’s first determined attempt to create a new type of human being.   In essence what the ‘select’ programme is attempting to achieve is a new direction for the evolution of the human race.