The Perfect System

Thursday 31st March

Many people have dreamed up the perfect system, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.  However all of them have come unstuck because of one basic problem; people. In fact almost every Act of Parliament passed by whichever Government comes unstuck because of unforeseen consequences caused by…you guessed; people.  You see, people do not behave the way that Governments expect them to, in fact they often behave quite irrationally but in surprising numbers too.  So, when a Government Minister says that there is no shortage of petrol, immediately queues start forming; when the Chancellor stands up and declares that personal debt is too high, we all reach for our credit cards and book a holiday.

But human behaviour is even worse than that.  We almost always resort to a combination of personal greed and laziness, which overrides our better nature.  So, when we try to create a system where people are paid when they are sick, some people are sick at the merest symptom and are off for months with a bad back or some other ailment when they are perfectly capable of working.  I am not advocating getting rid of sick pay at all, but there is no doubting the fact that many employees take advantage of this generosity.  In fact statistically the more generous an employer’s sick pay policy then the more sick days are taken.  Of course at the other end of the scale many poor employees working for a bad employer who pays the absolute minimum (or sometimes nothing at all) drag themselves to work when they are really very ill. There seems to be no perfect system.

And when we come to macro-economics it is even worse. Communism failed because a select cadre at the top enriched themselves at the expense of the masses.  But likewise Capitalism fails because of the greed of many business people who take far too much profit for themselves and do not reward their workers.  No system is perfect, and yet we have a political divide which more or less either believes in ‘Private’ or ‘Public’.  Trade Unions have long defended worker’s rights and without them we might all have been forced to work far longer hours with no paid holidays and lower pay, but again there are many incidences of Trade Unions abusing their monopoly power.  And we seem, in Britain at least, to be constantly seeing the pendulum swinging between bashing the public system and Privatisation and then when the public feels the pendulum has swung too far we start re-investing in state schools and paying teachers and nurses more.

Maybe we will never get ‘the Perfect System’ but it seems stupid that we are spending so much of our time reforming and then repealing those reforms which are driven far more by dogma than logic. I can recall the sixties and seventies when the Steel Industry was Nationalised and then de-Nationalised and re-Nationalised and eventually Privatised, only for the situation today where Tata (an Indian company) are desperately trying to sell what is left, or of course just closing it down in the end.

Children Rule The World

Wednesday 30th March

I cannot really remember being four years old.  But I can remember a few years later when I was maybe six or seven and although we didn’t realise it at the time our parents were in charge, so much so that we didn’t dream of disobeying, at least not openly.  Although guilty of many misdemeanors as a child I never answered my parents back.  For a start I wouldn’t have dared to, I knew a smack would be my reward.  But it wasn’t just the fear of a reprimand that stopped me; and all of us back then.  It was the knowledge that we were children, and children were to be “seen but not heard”.  We were definitely second class citizens with hardly any rights.

But oh how things have changed.  I think I brought up my own children with much the same values as my parents tried to instill in me.  Though I did probably spoil my own children a bit more than I was spoiled, though there was no doubting who was the boss, and the smack, though rarely used was always a possible sanction.

I now have several grandchildren under the age of five, and I can now reveal that they, tiny creatures that they may be, do indeed rule the world.  They demand the TV on at all times, CeeBeeBees or some other cartoon rubbish is played at full volume whether they are watching it or not.  Incidentally the parents defence is that it keeps them quiet (hahaha…it ‘ain’t working).  We were not even allowed to switch on the TV, let alone decide what channel to watch.  They even insist on the clothes they should wear and as to eating…they will only eat what they want, refusing to sit at table with the adults and amazingly their mothers run around after them trying to induce them to eat something else.

Of course times have changed, but now the poor parents are the servants of these tiny despots.  There is no doubt who is ruling their lives, and I wonder just why?  Where do they get this independence from?  And incredibly why do their parents roll over and let them rule the world?

Or am I just getting old and curmudgeonly…

Easter – A Welcome Break For The Government

Tuesday 29th March

I should imagine that though for most of us we would rather have it later in April with better weather possibly Easter couldn’t have come soon enough for Mr. Cameron.  He has had a torrid time of it since the Budget.  But I don’t really feel sorry for him at all, this is all of his own making.  Our Prime Minister may be a good talker like Blair before him, but he is far too careless, or lackadaisical really, and he gives his Ministers far too much rope with which to entangle both themselves and him of course.  One of the big criticisms of Blair was that he was a control freak, the Prime Minister’s department vetted every single speech and proposal from his Cabinet, and consequently there were fewer cock-ups.  Twice now huge reductions on the Benefits bill have been hastily assembled and then just as quickly had to be dismantled amid public outcry.

And it is no use blaming George Osborne, his budgets are notoriously Political and Cameron should really have made sure that he knew all the ramifications well before Budget Day itself.

Well the controversial proposals to reduce the Independence payments for some disabled people have been shelved, though maybe not completely forgotten and there is yet another gaping hole in the Budget projections to get rid of the deficit by 2020.  And we have a new (kinder) face in charge of Benefits and Pensions, though closer examination shows that he is actually a homophobe who believes that being gay is an illness which can be cured.  He also told his local Constituency only a few weeks ago that he thought that people who had suffered strokes or had mental illnesses should still be made to work.  So, if we thought that the much hated Iain Duncan Smith and all his nastiness was in the past, we may be in for an even nastier regime now with Mr. Crabbe.  And actually the haste with which he was promoted shows that he was being lined up anyway.

But Easter will soon be over, and then we have the local elections and soon after the European Referendum.  Already the Tories are tearing themselves apart.  Now is the time for Labour to wake up and really start making an impression, let us hope so, though they are showing little sign of it yet.


Monday 28th March

Firstly let me state that I have never had a mistress.  I once had two girlfriends at the same time; at first I thought I had won the pools but in a very short time it turned into a nightmare; the lies, the deception – when I suspect that they both knew I was being unfaithful.  Thankfully that only lasted a few weeks, and I really wonder how some men can carry on two lives at the same time.  Double the stress, double the complication and maybe not that much more love.  And the mistresses (by the way there seems to be no accepted male equivalent)?  What is all that about?  Of course the established wisdom is that they are waiting for the man to leave his wife, which rarely ever happens.  But I wonder if something else is going on and they know that he will probably never leave her, and somehow this possible sense of injustice and victimhood is the glue that keeps them attached.  Whatever, we never truly begin to understand other people, let alone ourselves.

But in England the mistress is in a difficult position, firstly she is usually kept a secret, even from her own girlfriends.  And married women of course, if they knew would shun her; possibly scared it would give their own husband’s ideas.  To publicly acknowledge that one is a mistress is seen as brazen, close to being a slut almost (another pejorative term for which there is no male equivalent).  But here in France it is not only accepted as normal but mistresses have a status.  Not as high as the wife of course, though in some ways though she has the house and the money of the man she obviously does not satisfy him in bed and so is slightly ridiculed too.  The mistress is often publicly acknowledged, other women do not shun her, she has a certain status – and nobody is shocked by either her or the husband’s behaviour (or the wife’s acceptance of the publicly known situation).  Maybe this is far better than the secrecy and guilt of illicit sex in the U.K., but it does take a little getting used to.

2066 – Part 5 – The Select Programme

Sunday 27th March

Record date 20660817

I am recording these impressions so that future volunteers into the ‘select’ programme may benefit from my experiences.  Strange that I should be typing again; this screen, although perfectly capable of reading my lips, if not my actual thoughts (who knows?), has asked that I should type in the words myself.  The keyboard is projected onto a special soft-mat so that there is a slight indentation when you press the keys, and this makes it far more accurate; when your fingertips feel that slight receptivity they know instinctively that the key has been hit.  All those touch screens were popular for a while but typing is far more accurate with soft-mat tech.  And apparently this slowing of the brain is necessary to impede, to slow down, to distil ones thoughts, taking that little longer between idea and the flow of words makes one choose slightly different, maybe more thoughtful words, than otherwise.  Who knows?  All I can say is that it certainly is strange to be typing again.

Of course this time, unlike the words committed so hastily to my antique little laptop, I am fully aware that these words will be uplifted, sifted, stored and pored over and read by many unseen eyes.  Not that that bothers me anymore.  I am just thankful to be alive.  And that life, indeed this whole strange year, my ‘journal’, my running away, my strange ‘adventures’ – all of that seems such a long time ago.  A whole lifetime ago, in fact.  In many ways I am a completely different person.  I look in the mirror in the mornings and I hardly recognise me at all.

There was a time when all I wanted was to escape, to exit the life I found myself living.  Nothing satisfied me, I was more than restless, I was desperately unhappy.  Like many men approaching their middle years there was a feeling of underachievement, of uselessness, of failure somehow.  My children had been reared and had flown the nest many years ago, I would see them at Chrissie, or birthdays, but it felt to me as if I hardly knew them anymore.  It became harder and harder to remember what they used to be like, as people, as individuals I had once loved and cherished, and despite all the viddyfilms of them available to me on any screen, it felt as if these strangers, these children of mine I would occasionally meet, as we shook hands or mwah-ed with our lips pursed, (careful not make actual contact), it felt as if somehow they weren’t mine at all, that they must belong to someone else.  Does everyone feel like that; this internal alienation from everything, this almost brutal disaffection, or was it just me?

And my wife, my darling Cathy, the person I once thought was the only one I would ever have any connection with at all, where has she gone?  Do we really change so much from our twenties to our fifties?  She has become a different person, a stranger, who, like my children, I struggle to recognise.  She seems so much the opposite to me too; whereas I had become disillusioned, bored, tired of my life; the older she became, the more she seemed to settle into hers.  The more uncomfortable I became with who I was; the more nested, the more contented; no – complacent, she had become.  It was as if I didn’t exist, I was hardly a speck on her more and more consumerist horizon.  She totally accepted all the changes, the whole strata system, the new flexible cred replacing money; it all seemed to suit her down to the ground; the ultimate new consumer/citizen.

And then there was sex.  Or the lack of it.  It was in those moments of anticipatory bliss, a few moments before orgasm, that I felt most alive.  When the rest of the world completely disappeared from my mind, I was right in the zone, I was absolutely focussed on pleasure; my own and my partner’s.  And of all the partners, it was Cathy I shared this feeling with best.  We split up for a few years after Uni; I can’t even remember what the row was about now.  Then we would still keep in touch, despite meeting others, somehow never being able to fully let go.  Even when we were apart I was always thinking of her, and some part of me knew I would find her again.  And when we got back together again it was like coming home. I was safe, harboured in her loving arms. I had never felt so happy, so realised as a person, so together, as connected to another as during those first few years.

And yet I have discovered that happiness, like sex itself, is actually quite a transitory emotion; almost as soon as you realise you are happy the moment dissolves, as if the thinking about it, the trying to understand anything about it ends up actually destroying it.  Well, it was like that for me, anyway.  And even though sex was so wonderful with Cathy, somehow we even let this slippery gift slide from our grasp.   And then when syn came along I was just so desperate to replicate those feelings that for years it was always the image, the form, the touch, the lips of Cathy that I had programmed into the machine.  Until even syn ended up boring me, as has everything; my work, my life, Cathy and the kids, it all bored me.  And I tried to escape.


Saturday 26th March

Don’t worry – I am not coming over all Religious.  Easter is a moveable feast, which may well begin to account for the fact that for most people Easter is not such a celebrated occasion as is Christmas.  Christmas day is fixed, and the 25th of December is also fixed in our brains; it is one of the first dates children learn.  Easter has been reduced to the commercialism of Easter Eggs; hardly anyone goes to Church anymore and who really wants to dwell on Death and Crucifixion, whereas we can all ‘celebrate’ birth.  And where do eggs and bunnies come from?  Actually a pre-Christian festival of Ishtar, which came also from the Middle East celebrated fertility, so maybe that was the origin of Easter Eggs.  But more than that it is a reminder that Spring is here, or maybe just around the corner.  For most of us it is two bank holidays either side of a weekend, so an excuse to try to get away from England’s wet and windy shores and try to grab a bit of sunshine, though it is wet and dull here in Eymet too, after a few warm and sunny days.

So, Happy Easter everyone; even if you are all huddled round the tele and looking out on the rain and wondering if Spring will ever come.

M – is for Don McLean

Friday 25th March

Like almost everyone I first ‘discovered’ (but just as with America and Columbus – he was always there) Don McLean when ‘American Pie’ became a huge hit.  The follow-up ‘Vincent’ was in some ways even better (a more gentle song anyway), and the Album ‘American Pie’ is brilliant, every song a classic.  I immediately bought it and it’s originally poorly received predecessor ‘Tapestry’, another wonderful record.  I followed Don for many years, buying his records, even when he descended into schmaltzy renditions of old country songs.  He has always been one of the most intelligent and misunderstood of singers, his lyrics apposite and almost as well-crafted as Dylan and Cohen’s are.  His voice too has a warmth and sadness which makes it again one of the most recognizable.  And he has never really been a ‘Pop-star’; he was a singer-songwriter emerging in the early Seventies, though he had been around for a few years before that.  I don’t think he ever really enjoyed the fame of ‘American Pie’.  He has admitted to suffering from Depression and many of his songs deal with loss and sadness and grief.

My favourite record is actually his third simply titled ‘Don McLean’, he seemed to be trying to move away from big hits and sung about a horse being auctioned and an old ‘cowboy’ film star coming to grips with the Modern World.  In many ways Don hails from a much early time, before Rock’n’Roll even; he loves proper tunes and melodies.  He still tours but has announced that he doesn’t want to make any more records.  That’s okay Don, I have most of your records and I love them.

We too often make the mistake of thinking that we understand Artists; but what we see as success is often considered failure on their part (a beautiful phrase clumsy and a painting full of faults).  And I am reminded every few weeks of Don as Geoff Barker tends to sing ‘American Pie’ every time he plays the Gambetta.  It is really a very sad song, longing for an earlier, less sophisticated time and mourning the death of earlier ‘pop-stars’.  Maybe we have all said ‘Bye Bye Miss American Pie’, to an America that no longer exists, except in the songs of such wonderful singers as Don McLean.     See original image

The Terrorists Are Winning

Thursday 24th March

After every terrorist atrocity Politicians declare that the Terrorists will not win.  Unfortunately the Terrorists are winning, and will not be defeated; at least not by drones and bombs and targeted executions, or soldiers with machine guns on the street.  And least of all by Politicians condemning the Terrorists; they laugh at our condemnation, they invite it and they positively love it when Terrorists are gunned down by the Police, the more Martyrs the better.

Until we begin to understand just what the ‘philosophy’ or ‘mindset’ of these people is, we will not even start to defeat them.  In fact maybe all that will ever be possible may be containment and some sort of dialogue with them.  Looked at from an unemotional dispassionate   viewpoint, why do we not simply carve out a bit of the Middle East so that they can have their Islamic State, with all its barbarity and cruelty.  But of course that is never going to happen; after all the poor Palestinians have been fighting for their tiny bit of land for over sixty years.  We may one day actually militarily defeat them, but we will not kill their ideas, or the threat they pose to our freedoms.  And I completely understand and support the various Governments in Europe trying to protect their people; after all I am one of them.  But do not even begin to imagine that we are defeating the Terrorists.  We may make life harder for them, but of course every restriction made in the name of Security affects us as well as them, and our own freedoms which we treasure and are hated by the fanatics are likewise compromised.  So, even then the Terrorists win.

And we must also remember this, that they have time on their side.  Most children of Muslims grow up to be Muslims too, and some of those will always be prey to fanaticism.  For the Jihadists it matters not whether they will ever live to see their goals accomplished; if it takes a thousand years to accomplish, then fine – that is how long it takes.  Unfortunately there really is no solution, or no easy one that doesn’t involve a lot of patience and maybe a lot of setbacks too.  Discussion and Education, Understanding and actually Listening may in the long run have more chance of success than Condemnation and Declarations that the Terrorists will never win.  They may never win ultimately, but most probably neither will we.

No Blog Yesterday –We Were Travelling

Wednesday 23rd March

Well, firstly an apology.  No blog written or posted on Tuesday.  As you know I write the day before and schedule the blogs for release a day in advance.  Monday my wife and I were travelling back from England, where I had been for my family get-together (my Birthday was the excuse) and my wife to see her grandchildren.  It had all been quite a rush and for complicated reasons we had to be in England at the same time; this had never happened before and it was actually the first time we had ever flown together.

Monday morning and we were up early packing the last few things and planning to leave at eight in the morning for Stansted. I had read my e-mails and as I was getting in the car I read my messages.  To my horror I saw a flight cancellation notice from Ryanair.  No e-mail though, and we had to get the rented car back to Stansted by ten so drove there anyway.  Thousands of stranded passengers everywhere; French Air-Traffic Controllers on strike, so no flights to France or Spain or Portugal – and the strike was threatened to last for three days.  On the internet there were no flights back to Bergerac until Sunday, and hardly any to anywhere else either; it is the week before Easter after all.  My wife, intrepid as ever, booked us with Easyjet to Geneva that day and we picked up a hire car and drove to Eymet ( a mere 600 kilometres)  arriving just after midnight.  We had arranged a dog-sitter but what with the Café and the dogs we were anxious to get back, and anyway as we had booked separately there was no guarantee that we could both have got back on Sunday.

So, a bit of a nightmare day really, but we are back.  I can’t help but feel sorry for all those trapped at Stansted, but maybe planes are now flying or they can re-schedule.  So, although I usually support the right to strike, when you see the chaos and heartbreak it causes to ordinary people trying to get to their Holiday destinations, it does make you wonder if there should not be a much better way to negotiate.  And this is not the case of struggling nurses or poorly paid office cleaners but as seems more and more the case these days, quite well paid professionals who just happen to be in a position where they can cause havoc by striking.  But, as we found there is nothing you can do, but just get on with life.

Iain Duncan Smith – the Socialist. Who knew?

Monday 21st March

For the last almost six years IDS has been reviled in Labour circles.  My Facebook was littered with messages saying he was causing suicides and ruining countless poor people’s lives.  And yet now he is presenting himself as the saviour of the poor and disabled whose best efforts were constantly scuppered by Osborne’s mad Austerity drive.  So what is the truth?  Somewhere in the middle probably.  After his disastrous spell as leader of the Opposition, when he was unceremoniously dumped and Michael Howard replaced him, he seems to have had some sort of Damascene conversion.  He says that he decided that all he now wanted to do was to change the very nature of Welfare and to give poor unfortunate unemployed people a life of dignity and hope.

Maybe he was always in the wrong party, though I hardly think he was ever Labour material.  But in a way he had a point; and that was that for far too many people Welfare has become a way of life.  He identified that one of the main reasons for this was the disparity between what a family could receive on Benefits and what they could realistically earn, even if they could actually get a job.  “Why work, when you can get more from the state.”  This is the common perception, and there may indeed be a stubborn core which refuses to contemplate the idea of getting off benefits and into work.  There are I am sure several (though not as many as the Daily Mail would have us believe) Benefit cheats, who at the very least play the system for all they can get.  Just as at the top of the tree there are some Private Businessmen who work for cash and do not pay their taxes, or try to evade them in every way.  Most Benefit Claimants are simply unfortunate people who have fallen on hard times and cannot escape.  IDS’s big plan was to make work pay.  But Labour had been trying to do that too for years, and it isn’t as simple as that.  He used the carrot and an awful lot of stick to try to get people off Benefits and into work, often with terrible consequences for the individuals concerned.

A large part of the problem was that at the same time as he was introducing massive changes to the Benefits system he was also part of a Government hell-bent on cutting both taxes and spending.  Had the sort of changes he was contemplating been tried when money was available to properly assess every claimant and decide exactly how they could best be helped then there might have been a chance of success, but with every financial squeeze it has become harder and finally IDS has quit.  We may never know the true reasons for his resignation, but I find it hard to believe that for almost six years he went along with all the cuts and then the true Socialist in him could take it no longer.

The good news is that he has at last exposed Austerity for what it really is, a hatred of Public Service and Public Spending at all.  The deficit could have been reduced far faster with a dose of good old-fashioned tax-rises, but that was anathema for Osborne, he saw cuts as the only way forward, with predictably terrible consequences.  And if it now suits IDS to dress in the clothes of a true social reformer and helper of the poor, okay – but I don’t believe a word of it.