The Campaign So Far – Part 2, over here

Wednesday 20th April

Well things seem to be hotting up a bit, although as we still have over eight weeks to go, we can expect a bit more mud to be slung as the Tory party tears itself apart.  I hate to think of Political Advantage at such a critical time, but it seems that this will only end very badly for the Tory party.  Even if Cameron wins, and all predictions are meaningless at the moment, his decision to hold the referendum at all is looking more and more of a dangerous gamble.  His recent travails regarding his father’s deep involvement with tax avoidance schemes have diminished him in the public’s eyes.  Also his possibly foolhardy decision to tell us before the last election that he would not be Prime Minster come 2020 means that there is a bubbling-under Leadership contest also tearing the Tories apart.  George Osborne is so mis-trusted that his recent dossier predicting financial ruin if we leave the EU is seen, even by those wanting to remain, as little more than a fairy story.

And this is the real problem with the Stay campaign; there is nothing positive being said to make people rush out and vote to stay, just dire warnings of what Brexit will mean.  There is also such an anti-politics mood among the general public that the chance to slap politicians in the face is maybe a bit too tempting.  I suspect that the Stay campaign is banking on their message of economic ruin if we leave will slowly seep into people’s consciousness the longer the campaign goes on, if they aren’t all asleep by then anyway.  And this is the other great danger, the longer the campaign goes on for the more apathetic the public may become and I reckon the Leavers are more determined to vote than the Stayers anyway.

Well, there are still a couple of months to go and things could change, but I fear that as a country we may be sleepwalking to disaster, just as we did a year ago at the General Election.


The Campaign So Far

Tuesday 19th April

Not the Referendum Campaigns which seem to be mired in predictions of disaster whether we stay or leave the EU but America.  It is difficult for us over here to see quite what is happening over there.  We get a few news reports as individual states hold their respective caucuses or primaries but no real feeling for what America is thinking or will do on that fateful day in November.  Some might say that it really doesn’t matter that much as Presidents have such little real power, and looking at the eight year of Obama which started with such hope and are limping to a small conclusion they may appear to be right.  But then again if we look at the eight Bush years, the fateful decision to invade Iraq, the bully-boy language, the arrogance and the distancing of America from Europe we must consider what would have been had Obama not won.  And actually he has stabilized America and rebuilt the economy better than most commentators had predicted after the Financial Crash of 2008.  He has appeared hesitant over Syria, which may in the end have been a good thing, and he has brought in a limited healthcare for the poorest, a measure hated by the Republicans.

But who will be President next?  That is the big question, and so far there appears to be no clear answer.  For a while Hilary seemed a shoo-in, but her message is bland bland bland, and Bernie Sanders has galvanized younger people with his vision of socialism-lite in much the same way as Jeremy Corbyn did over here.  On paper Hilary is still ahead despite recent wins by Bernie and it may all depend on the New York Primary and maybe California, still a way off.  A big surprise win in NY, where Hilary is Senator, by Bernie and who knows, the whole campaign may swing behind him.  If Hilary holds New York she will almost certainly be the Democratic candidate.  But can either of them afford to ignore the supporters of the other.  Maybe a dream ticket would be Hilary with Bernie as her Vice-President.

There is very little chance of such a deal on the other side, too much vitriol has already been served up and swallowed by both Cruz and Trump.  And while Trump is ahead he is so hated by the Republican Establishment and is seen as such a loose cannon that they are desperate to deny him the majority of delegates he needs.  And Ted Cruz isn’t much better, he is also an outsider and a rabid Conservative with views almost as obnoxious as Trump – besides he is a long way behind, and even if Trump is denied an outright win on the first ballot it seems unlikely that his supporters will swing behind the hated Cruz.  Some commentators are pinning their hopes on a brokered Convention, whereby mysteriously if no-one wins on the first ballot a compromise candidate emerges who maybe wasn’t even contending early on.  Stranger things have happened.  But my best bet will be Trump against Hilary – and that could get very nasty indeed.  Hopefully commonsense will prevail (just as in our referendum) and they will go for boring old safety rather than the unpredictable future that a Trump Presidency would bring to both America and the World.


Monday 18th April

Most people have probably never heard the term before; it isn’t even used by its exponents anymore.  This is a most dangerous Political and Economic philosophy because it goes under no name, no title, no recognized doctrine even.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  It is there in Donald Trump’s crazed rhetoric, and incidentally in the just as dangerous barking of mad-dog Ted Cruz, it is there in the repeatedly failing Austerity and tax-cutting of Osborne, for a while it was lurking in the background as New Labour admired the free-market and applied PFI into the NHS.  It is in essence the belief that the free market rewards enterprise and crushes inefficiency and is therefore the best possible economic model for progress.  And the free-er the market the better, or so they believe.  And in order to make the market free-er we must get rid of rules and barriers; you cannot expect the rich to invest unless they get continually increasing returns and the less tax they pay the more they will invest.  Surely.  And they justify this kowtowing to greed by insisting in the trickling-down of wealth; in other words the more money you take from the poor and give to the rich the more that that wealth will mysteriously drift back down to the poor.

And to a small degree they are right; to help the rich become richer a small army of fairly well-paid experts and administrators are employed.  But these are outweighed by the many who are at the mercy of the market, who are thrown out of work at the click of a mouse on another continent, whose Hospital closes because it is more ‘efficient’ to centralise and privatise services fifty miles away, whose rent continually rises because after all the landlord must make his profit.  And so it goes on. The rich get richer, the poor – well what can you do, they will always be poor.

For almost fifty years after the Second World War we had rising standards of living, my parents and me and my children had lives of comfort and opportunity undreamt of by earlier generations. Then in the Eighties ‘Neoliberalism’ started to kick in; Reagan in America and Thatcher over here became converts.  For a while nobody really noticed, but the greedy got greedier and the financial crash of 2008 should have woken us up, but we threw more borrowed money at the problem and slipped back into that dreamlike state of unknowing.  And the forces of Neoliberalsim march on and the rich get even more tax cuts and the poor get even more benefit cuts…And still it is not enough.  The poor are now poor because of a lack of enterprise, because they refuse to work hard (as the rich obviously do) and must be punished for their inability to be wealthy.  How it will all end I really do not know, human history is not, as Marx predicted, an inevitable redistribution of power from the few to the many; sometimes it is the exact opposite.

2066 – Janek Reflects Again

Sunday 17th April

Cowardy coward custard.  They used to shout that at me at crammer.  I can remember being high up on a rope, in Gym, spinning silently round and round.  Right at the top of the gym, it must have been ten metres up.  And somehow I had been coerced (forced) to climb it and now I was scared to come down.  I can remember being so frightened and clinging to the rope for dear life.  One part of me wanted to stay up there forever, away from the bullies, away from Grice and his gang.  Another part of me wanted desperately to climb down, but whenever I let myself look down for even a second a tiny spurt of pee escaped from my ten-year old bladder, and as long as I clung tight to the rope no-one could see I had pee’d my pants.  ‘Cowardy coward custard’ they were all shouting, and Mr. Soames was tugging at the rope and shouting at me to come down ‘Smith, come down this instant, do you hear me boy?’  Yes sir, I can hear you, even over the chorus of Cowardy Coward Custard.  But I just cling there, like a limpet to that rope, scared to look down, scared that the patch of wee would grow bigger and bigger and I wouldn’t be able to hide it anymore. I can’t remember coming down at all, just being up there.  Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and I am there again, a boy of ten, peeing my pants every time I look down.  Swinging silently above the world, and every time I look down my willy tingles and I have to look away. So, I climb a bit higher and then the pain in my bladder gets worse and worse until I wake in fright, cold and shivering, my body covered in rivulets of sweat.  This is the scariest dream in the world.  And now here I am back in the gym twice a day. At least no Grice this time, and even in the g-pod, though weightless I don’t need to pee anymore.

At first I quite enjoyed getting back into some sort of shape.  Amazing how flabby I had let myself get over the years; our lifestyle is so artificial, so spent ‘indoors’, so screen-oriented that we mostly neglect our bodies.  We have drugs now to stop our veins clogging up, to detect and destroy cancer cells, to suppress and regulate our appetite, and yet there is no real substitute for running, for exerting your muscles, for making your heart pound.  At first this was, as I say, quite enjoyable, but after a few days, the novelty has worn off, and I almost dread the three hourly intense periods of gym I have to do every day.  Just as my body is beginning to recover, there I am back in that rowing machine, being dragged backwards and forwards, and having to almost fight the machine to give my aching shoulders a moment’s rest, before I am yanked backwards at full stretch again.  And they say this is good for me?

Then it is straight into the weightless chamber, or ‘g-pod’ as everyone calls it.  This is the very opposite of the machines in the gym; here I just float.  I drift and gently glide from wall to wall and ceiling to floor.  But the whole pod is gently turning, and in three directions at once, so that even when you are perfectly still, or have slowed yourself down to an almost standstill, there is still the illusion of movement as the almost featureless pod glides round and round and up and down and over and over.  I am encouraged to keep my eyes open.  This is to orientate myself to nothingness.

“In the con-joining, you must concentrate on nothingness, your brain must not be stimulated in any way at all.” They tell me. “It is vitally important that you master the technique of not thinking at all.  All your synapses must be at rest.” They exhort me.  And I willingly comply.  Nothing is quite as nice as thinking nothing.  The new philosophy of Janek Smith;  “think nothing and nothing bad will happen, nothing good either; so, nothing to worry about at all.”

Blankness training they call this, and actually I quite like it, submerging my whole mind, my personality, my thoughts, to a blank nothingness.  O-fucking-blivion, I call it and sweet it is too – this state of nothingness.  In some ways I have spent my whole life secretly trying to achieve this state of oblivion.  As a teenager with headphones on I would link them up to two or three different machines pumping out different heavy music and I would ramp up the sound so loud that my ears hurt, and I was listening to the purity of sheer fucking noise.  No melody got through, just noise and I was so happy being blasted out of my tiny little mind.  And it is the same here in the g-pod; only here there is a total absence of noise, but in essence it is the same thing; oblivion, sweet oblivion as thoughts are sandblasted out of my head altogether.  Oh, and the other thing I forgot to mention is that the colours inside the pod slowly change too, imperceptibly altering, rainbowing their way through the entire spectrum.  Again, this adds to the feeling of utter relaxation, the letting go of your entire self.  Drifting into pure colour myself – I really like being in the weightless g- pod.  At times I think I could live here, inside an immense g-pod.  I wouldn’t want for anything anymore.  I could even happily die in a weightless pod, slowly turning in an artificially induced outer space, where my inner space and the outer pod become one gorgeous dead thing that just is.  Or is not, as the case might be.

A Very French Function

Saturday 16th April

We always fly Ryanair; it is so convenient – Bergerac to Stansted, then a 50 minute train to Liverpool Street; we can be home a couple of hours after landing.  A few months ago we heard that BA (yes, that mighty behemoth British Airways) was planning a route from London City Airport, literally a couple of miles and on the DLR from our house on the Isle of Dogs to Bergerac.  It was planned for the first of May and will be three days a week.  Of course we have to wait to see what the fares will be, and BA are not known for low fares like Ryanair, but if it is so much more convenient we may well use this service.

A few days ago we received an invitation to a Reception at Bergerac Airport to celebrate the Inauguration of these flights.  We weren’t at all sure what to expect, and none of our English friends in Eymet seemed to have received an invite (just why we were chosen we don’t know).  We turned up fairly smartly dressed to find almost everyone in black tie, white shirts and dinner jackets, a couple of the men even sported kilts, but there were a few men like me in smart casual jackets so we didn’t feel too out of place.  It was a very French occasion and it was to say the least slightly over the top.  Almost every dignitary from the neighbouring French departments were present, local Mairies and Office de Tourisme et Industrie were there and all looking very grand and important.  The theme of the evening was James Bond’s Casino Royale; there were gaming tables and free (no value) chips and croupiers and roulette and blackjack and poker tables (all a bit pointless if you couldn’t cash in your tips).  There were lots of free drinks, good quality Bergerac wines and Martinis and lots of waiters and waitresses and pretty girls walking around with trays of canapés.  It was all a bit stuffy and hardly anyone was speaking to anyone else, too important to deign to acknowledge lower mortals I suspect.  We managed to find a couple of English speakers including one of the reporters from The Bugle (a free newspaper in English in Dordogne).  After an hour there were speeches from local dignitaries, all in French and extolling the advantages for Bergerac, the Perigord, the Dordogne, Aquitaine and all of France of the new route – blah blah blah; each speaker said the same thing really.  There was a pretty poor computer presentation of London City Airport, all artists impressions – not at all like the real thing.  We escaped before they had finished, not really any wiser about the actual flights but it was an experience, a very French experience.

An Early Morning Person

Friday 15th April

I have always been an early riser, from those long ago paper round days when I would rise (without an alarm clock, somehow my body clock knows), the whole house a-slumber and get dressed and cycle off to sort and collect my papers, to Thursday mornings here in Eymet.  I even once had a job three mornings a week buying fruit and veg on Covent Garden market.  I had a tiny 50cc motorbike and would get up at 2 in the morning and read my ansaphone with the chef’s orders then drive from Finchley to Battersea.  Actually I loved it; I would go to my favourite stall and ask what was short in the market that day and hurry off and try to secure pineapples or passion fruit or whatever it might be, I especially loved the English temporary stalls located near the car park where farmers would come with whole lorries full of freshly cut lettuces or mountains of ripe strawberries.

For years I worked as a bookkeeper at a patisserie the other end of the Central line and would catch the first 5.20 a.m. train, huddled in jumpers and coats against the cold.  Then I worked part-time for a pasta maker and again would start at 6 every day, walking up York Way from Kings Cross past the junkies and discarded condoms and needles on the pavement (I was also employed and was never late for that job starting at 9 when I had finished at the pasta factory).

But even when I didn’t have to start so early I used to get in a half-hour before time to read my e-mails and enjoy that early morning latte in the still quiet morning.

We open the Café every day at nine so I am up at seven to feed and walk the dogs and on Thursday an hour earlier as I open up for market traders at seven.  I love it as the dawn creeps up and the dark blue sky slowly lightens up.  We are coming into summer now and this is the best time to be an early riser, the very air feels fresher, especially after a hot night.  I imagine that even if we one day no longer have the Café to run I will still be an early riser, old habits die hard.

Sunshine and Showers

Thursday 14th April

So often we watch the weather report and they predict sunshine and showers.  Now what does that really mean?  Does it mean a sunny day with the chance of a shower, or a wet day with a few bursts of sunshine between the pretty persistent showers?  And you never really know, because of course the weather forecasters don’t know either, so they uses that term, or ‘patches of rain but brightening up’ or ‘occasional rain’ because although their computers can predict fairly accurately that heavy rain or a dry spell is on its way there are so many local variables that it is almost impossible to tell where and when it might actually rain.  Which is all most of us bothered about.

Here in Eymet everyone is a weather expert, and we are constantly being given the local weather.  Actually it is usually some sort of long term prediction; either – it’ll be really sunny next week, or it’s going to rain all next week.  And just as the BBC they are often wrong.  We have had quite a lot of rain since the New Year with the occasional sunny day.  Sunday just gone though was gloriously warm and sunny all day – until about eight in the evening when we heard the rumble of distant thunder coming closer and closer and then really loud claps of thunder and bright sheet lightning continued for a few hours with torrential rain.  Monday was similarly glorious but in the afternoon we had a really heavy downpour followed by sunshine again.

And in a way you don’t mind, as the mix here seems to be 70 or 80 percent sunshine and then heavy downpours.  In England it is often the other way round, pretty dreek all day and an occasional patch of sunshine in between the almost constant showers.  What a joy it is though when the sun shines here; temperatures get up to the low 20’s and you are suddenly encouraged to wear shorts and sandals, barely heard of attire in the U.K.  So, roll on Summer, even if we have the occasional showers the sunshine here is glorious.

Three Landmark Joni Albums – Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter

Wednesday 13th April

Joni seems to have been influenced by some of her lovers from David Crosby and Graham Nash through to Jaco Pastorius, bass player extraordinaire.  I nearly chose Hejira with such beautiful songs as Coyote (a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway) and Amelia (It was just a false alarm) which is fluid with Jaco’s bass riffs, but for me Don Juan just has the edge.  It is a double album for a start; Joni’s only double – and often double albums suffer from too many sides to fill but not with this superb collection.  We start with the teased out opening to Cotton Avenue leading into Talk to Me and Jericho, but then we have the magnificent side-long Paprika Plains where Joni’s seemingly random piano chords blossom into a full orchestra with wonderful striking moments.  This is possibly Joni’s most completely realized piece of music, simply breathtaking.  But we then have the lovely story of Otis and Marlena and the woozy drifting Dreamland (tar babies covered in baking flour, the cook’s got a Carnival song) and the simply amazing poetry of Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (Puffed up and strutting when I think I win, Down and shaken when I lose, There are rivets up here in this eagle, There are box cars down there on your snake) and all to a driving strummed beat that takes you up and drops you down.  The final track is also glorious, The Silky Veils Of Ardour, she sings “Come all you fair and tender schoolgirls, Be careful now when you court young men, They are like the stars, On a summer morning, They sparkle up the night, And they’re gone again, Daybreak gone again” she seems to be both weary of love and it’s dangers and craving it at the same time, a truly beautiful song.

Joni had come an awfully long way from “I’ve looked at Clouds from both sides now”, she was on the edge of free-form jazz and was painting in sounds.  Where to next we thought.  She followed this superb album with maybe her most difficult record “Mingus” which she made with Charlie Mingus; I like some of it and I still listen but find myself lacking in understanding quite what she wanted to say.  Joni then met Larry Klein and again her music changed.  She returned to a more basic rock’n’roll style with “Wild Things Run Free” and the few records that followed.  Again like many artists the Eighties proved difficult, the space between albums lengthened but then in 2000 she released “Both Sides Now”, a collection of songs charting a love affair, many were standards with just two of her old songs in there.  Her voice never sounded better, deeper and more melancholy and the jazzy arrangements are superb.  She followed this with “Travelogue” my third landmark album…

Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (International Release)

The Long-term Fallout

Tuesday 12th April

It is often not the immediate explosion which causes the most damage but the long-term fallout.  And we can never be sure at the time whether that fallout will land and coat everything with a new aspect or will dissipate and blow away with the morning mist.  But I do detect a distinct mood of change.  The revelations in the Panama papers will possibly pass most people by; the shenanigans of the Super-rich may provide a headline or two but then another Royal baby or terrorist atrocity will fill the attention span of most people.  But I believe we are beginning to see a generational shift.

Mrs. Thatcher changed so much in our country, and mostly for the worse, but mostly she changed people’s attitudes; getting rich was okay, greed was good, there was no such thing as society.  And most people bought into it; after the turbulent Seventies the Eighties was a time of increasing prosperity.  It may well have been brought about by huge increases in personal debt and relaxing of almost all financial controls, but as house prices soared and borrowing money was easy this seemed no problem.  Credit cards and store cards proliferated and it became so easy to buy things – we were liberated from our own common sense – that one day all of this would have to be paid for.

The financial crisis of 2008 may seem in the past but we are still living with the consequences of that credit disaster.  The solution most Governments came up with was simply to create even more credit, so fuelling the next housing bubble.  And the younger generation was cast adrift, those lucky enough to have wealthy parents would be all right after all, and they are now angry (and they have technology on their side – it is getting harder for the rich and corrupt to hide).

I think that things are changing, no longer will people tolerate massive tax avoidance and evasion (call it what you will) by both large Corporations and rich individuals and things will change.  It may take some time but the accumulated effects of Google and Amazon and rich individuals avoiding their rightful taxes will no longer be tolerated.  The fallout from this could be long-lasting.

The Hardest Room To Paint

Monday 11th April

I am painting the toilet, the hardest room to paint.  Because it is so small and fiddly.  Hardly any nice blank wall to paint and even the ceiling is small and awkward.  The real problem is that there is barely any room to put a ladder; the toilet bowl itself gets in the way.  You end up having to try and balance on a folded upright ladder and stretch across with your foot on the window ledge; the ceilings are all quite high in this house.  We also have the original 1960’s cistern high up near the ceiling, disconnected but it will be very hard to remove as the pipes are cemented into the wall so we are going to have to box this in.  The toilet bowl itself is always a problem too, you end up on your knees, hugging the bowl and painting almost blind with one hand and peering round the bend to see how well you are painting, not that anyone will check my handiwork there I am sure.  You also have to be careful turning round as you invariably touch the opposite wall you have just painted. Anyway, one coat done and it doesn’t look too bad.

Another peculiarity about France is that until recently they never had sinks in the toilet, or toilets in the bathroom, so you have to come out of the toilet and into another room to wash your hands. We are having a plumber coming soon to see if there is room to have a small hand sink fitted in the toilet.  So, gradually we are getting the house done.  I reckon it will be a two or maybe even three year job altogether, by which time it may all need doing again…hahaha.