Flying Back

Tuesday 31st May

Returning to France yesterday at the ridiculously early time of 7 in the morning, which entailed getting up before 4 in the morning, I was in a reflective mood (as I have been for a few days).  When your normal schedule is interrupted for whatever reason, it does make you stop and think a bit.  And soon I will be back into France mode and looking forward to the madness that is summer here.  I say madness, but a very pleasurable madness too.  It is almost like a two-month long Christmas, and actually lasts even longer really.  For the whole of July and August there are Night Markets and Gourmande Evenings all over this bit of France.  Practically every night of the week in one small town or another there will be live music and communal eating.  Food stalls selling mussels and frites, roast duck, risotto and paella and lots more are usually around the perimeter and rows of long tables and benches (communally owned) are set out and it is one huge outdoor picnic.

You never quite know who you will be sitting with; often it will be new British people you haven’t met before or French people and their families just enjoying themselves.  And people talk to each other, somehow all that famous British reserve melts in the warm summer sun liberally lubricated with wine.  Last year was the first year we had the Café, and while we hardly sold any coffees there was a brisk trade in cold drinks.  And, because we had our own tables and chairs outside it became an impromptu meeting place for quite a few people we know.  And bottles of wine would appear as if by magic and a great time was had by all.  There are also wine festivals and our own Mediaeval Day and of course the Oyster and White Wine Festival.  There is Bastille Day where there are also fireworks and music, a National Music Day and of course the regular Friday Music Nights at Gambetta, held under the arches in the open air.

Quite a lot to look forward to one way or another….

Thoughts on Europe

Monday 30th May

Well, as predicted Immigration has moved centre-stage in the Referendum Campaign.  A bit sooner than I had expected, as we still have nearly four weeks to go, but maybe the Leavers think that if they keep banging the drum loud and long enough that they will drown out the economic argument, which they have lost.  And maybe they are right.

I have just watched Andrew Marr (writing this on Sunday) and it was actually very interesting.  We had three contrasting views, Liam Fox for Leave – and he was actually quite sensible and almost persuasive, then Tony Blair – who likewise was very persuasive if slightly evasive too, and Yanis Varoufakis (hope I spelled his name correctly) who actually gave the best arguments of all.

In a way of course the economic argument is pretty conclusive.  Almost every sensible person or organization is predicting that it will a) be pretty damaging if we leave, and b) that it will be a huge leap in the dark to suppose that we can negotiate and trade our way to replace the single market, imperfect as it is today, with something else.  But it may well be the Immigration argument which sways more people, and Liam Fox articulated very well that if we remain in the EU we cannot either predict or control the numbers of people who are able to come here from Europe.  In fact it could happen that if the UK economy collapsed there could actually be an exodus of people from these shores, which would maybe cause far greater problems than the present influx is perceived as creating.  Nobody really began to explain why over half the net migration continues to come from outside Europe and why no Government has managed to control this migration either.

But the most interesting points were made by Yanis, and by the way touched upon by Tony Blair.  Tony, commenting on the extremism evident in Politics today, while avoiding any criticism of Jeremy Corbyn, said that it was important not to cling so much to an ideological position but to understand the way the Modern World worked – in other words choose Pragmatism over Belief systems.  But Yanis, who admitted that he had campaigned, many years ago, for Greece not to join either the EU or the euro, said that leaving the EU was not the same thing as not joining it.

That may not seem to make much sense but how true it is.  He admitted that the EU was a mess and undemocratic and desperately needed reform but if we leave it will not solve any of those problems.  And most importantly that we would not be able to escape Europe if we left, we would still have to deal with it yet we would have no voice within it.  On balance he said it was in our better interests to remain and fight for the organization to be reformed and changed.  Tony also made the point that Norway which has left the EU and has managed to renegotiate entry into the single market have had to accept free movement of people (the main argument for Leaving) yet have no say on the way the EU develops.

And on balance I think they are right.  And yet of course my overriding fear is that just as in Scotland where losing a referendum has only strengthened the SNP; that the arguments will not go away if we vote to remain.  If we vote to leave of course it will be almost impossible to re-join and yet if we vote to remain the leave side will never accept defeat, UKIP will still be there and will probably gain in strength and the leavers, a majority by the way, in the Tory party will vote for any leader who offers them the possibility of another referendum, just as the SNP are campaigning for in Scotland.

Cameron granted the referendum from a position of weakness and has made a huge error of judgement.  He should have given no specific time-frame and a much stronger agenda for changes he wanted in Europe before he allowed us a referendum on such a complex set of arguments. Because of an unsolvable rift in the Tory party itself we are in danger of making a decision which could have huge repercussions for our country and that decision may be based on an innate and subtle form of Racism and a belief that somehow stopping people coming to our country will solve all of our problems.

A Few Days In England

Sunday 29th May

I have been in the UK for a few days; more than I had planned really but threats of yet another air-traffic controllers strike meant I moved my flight from Thursday to Wednesday.  When I had booked a couple of weeks ago the cost of flights back to France on the weekend were horrendous but on Bank Holiday Monday they were quite reasonable so I booked that day.  And so I have a little time for reflection.  And a rest; our lives (supposedly retired) in France have been quite hectic lately, and will continue for a while too as we are having new plumbing work and a new kitchen installed in the next two weeks or so.

I spent Thursday morning clearing back the forest that my garden here in Walton has become.  I filled 8 garden sacks with rubbish; not sure yet how I will dispose of them but the garden is looking much better now; amazing how, untended, things just grow.  It reminded me of a documentary I watched once imagining what would happen if human were suddenly wiped out, and within a few years plants would have eaten into most people’s houses.

In the afternoon I went to Frinton and spent a while in a charity chop specializing in books and records (yes, I bought a few).  Lunch in a café and as I sat and waited for my omelet and chips I couldn’t help listening to a woman in her fifties relating in great and unnecessary detail her illnesses to the waitress.  Women never seem embarrassed talking about their bodies, intimate bits and all, even when they aren’t functioning properly; men wouldn’t dream of discussing their erectile dysfunction or piles with another person but especially not another man.  Her husband sat patiently eating his egg and chips, he was wearing a neck brace and said nothing; I am sure he had heard it all and many times before.  Then another woman, grossly overweight came in and began telling the waitress, who by this time I suspected of being some sort of counselor or maybe a doctor in disguise herself, of her mother’s admittance that day into A. and E., again relating her symptoms without a shred of embarrassment, followed by a litany of her own suffering.  I looked out of the window and watched as several people glided past on mobility scooters or were leaning heavily on their partners each step seeming difficult.  And I began to think that there was something wrong with the English.  They are all ill, or seem to relish being ill, which may be an illness itself.  In France you rarely see people in wheelchairs or mobility scooters, or appearing to be grossly overweight.  Many more smoke, and the pharmacy is the busiest shop in town and they drink wine with most meals and a lot more bread than we seem to in England – but on the whole they seem healthier.  Who knows?  Maybe it is all my perception.

Anyway I worked on Friday and now have the expanse of the weekend to deal with….I am sure I will think of something to do.

100 Fabulous Things You never Knew About Me – No. 37 – I love Ironing

Saturday 28th May

For quite a few years, way back when – and then again not so way back either – women kept leaving me; not that I am complaining, in some ways this was a wonderful thing – as there is nothing quite like starting over again with someone new.  Thankfully, or rather hopefully, those days are over.  But along the way I learnt to love ironing.  At first it wasn’t so much a love affair as a rather necessary chore (I had my sons clothes and mine to iron), which over the years has developed into something deeper.  In fact during one relationship I was deprived of my true love by a woman who insisted on dashing away with the smoothing iron herself; I could only sit and watch and jealously plot to retrieve the ironing board from her grasp when she was out shopping.  No such problem with my lovely wife now – she wouldn’t know which end of the iron to use if one fell from the sky into her lap.  Not that I would let that happen, for goodness sake – I might damage the iron, that would never do….

Over the years I have learnt to love ironing.  And from my mother has also come the important corollary that one must never allow an ironing pile to form (once a pile starts it becomes impossible to completely eliminate it), as soon as clothes are retrieved from the clothes line or tumble dryer they must be ironed.  Now while enjoying ironing almost anything (I draw the line but not the crease at underwear) I do have my favourites; shirts, as there are so many bits to think about and the buttons present a particular challenge; t-shirts are nice as are tea-towels but trousers can be a bore; pillow cases are a particular joy and duvet covers, though a long job are relatively easy on the ironing arm.  I do dislike fitted sheets as the gathering at the corners is never really satisfactorily ironed.  Ironing is a bit like painting walls, both boring and interesting at the same time; edges and folds breaking up the monotony of the smooth expanses.  And you can let your mind drift away while doing both.  All too soon the wall is painted and the pile of clothes transformed into neatly folded ‘his’ and ‘hers’ and ‘theirs’ piles, time to put away the brushes, fold the board, tip the water out of the iron, rinse the brushes and feel particular contented with another job well done.  And you thought my life was boring???

A Short History of Migration

Friday 27th May

Now now children, sit still and listen to teacher.  Yes, even you ‘Noisy Nigel’ at the back, stop talking; sit down and sip your beer like a good boy.

The subject for today is human migration.  Now then, things were different many years ago, not that many records were kept and we are still trying to piece together exactly what happened, but it is something like this.

We all started in Africa, probably in the Rift Valley in East Africa.  We know this because our DNA can be traced right back there. There were only a few thousand of the first humans and being inquisitive they soon moved out of their home trees and started wandering all over Africa and into what we now call the Middle East and then to Europe and Asia and even over to America and Australia, and actually there is barely an island in the vast Pacific Ocean which is not populated by Human Beings.

For most of the first few million years people were moving around, following herds of animals and eating whatever they found, but around ten thousand years ago they started farming and settled down in one spot waiting for the crops to ripen.  This was called Civilisation and created the concept of Ownership, both of things and food and land; before that people more or less shared stuff.  But if you think that this settling down stopped people moving about you couldn’t be more mistaken.  Moving about or ‘Migration’ as it is now called has always been with us.  The records from Greek and Roman times show huge flows of people, as Cities rose and fell people followed for work or wealth, or sometimes just as slaves.

Then in what has wrongly been termed ‘The Dark Ages’ people continued moving from one bit of land to another, raping and pillaging aside it was often to find a better piece of land, in other words – The Vikings and Saxons and even the Normans were simply economic migrants.

About five hundred years ago Europeans ‘discovered’ America, and even though there were numerous tribes of indigenous people already there the uneducated Europeans decided to conquer these savage lands.  Wave after wave of people from Europe, often poor and dispossessed, crossed the Atlantic and settled in what is now America.  And guess what children; they made it the richest country on earth.  And that has been the story of migration through the ages, it almost always enriches the country people move to.

Now, in the last Century things got a bit more complicated and we started counting the numbers of people moving from one country to another, something we really hadn’t bothered doing too well before.   And people are getting all hot and bothered about the numbers.  Those who have lived in one country all their life sometimes think that anyone not born there shouldn’t be able to come and live and work in ‘their’ country.  But most of these people actually came from somewhere else, if you go back far enough.  We are all Migrants on this planet – that is the simple truth.  And nothing will stop these migrations, in fact with the Internet and better education more and more young people all over the world are deciding to go and live somewhere else.  And leaving the European Union will not stop this happening, and actually most of the new people arriving in our own country have come from other places not from Europe.

Nigel, did you hear all that?  Can you please wipe that ridiculous smile off your face and answer me?  Honestly sometimes it is like talking to a brick wall.  And Boris, leave that pretty girl alone and pay attention too, sometimes I think you are never going to grow up.

That is all for today children, time for lunch – ooh Curry and Chips today, I can’t wait.

Tectonic Plates Shifting

Thursday 26th May

We know that when major tectonic plates move far beneath the earth it causes sudden earthquakes on the surface.  And it may well be the same with Politics.  In Europe generally it seems that the old status quo of Centrist Christian and Social Democrat parties is on a rapid decline; time was that, as in Britain, the two major parties would command almost or occasionally 50% of the vote.  Now they are lucky if they achieve a third of the popular vote, which is often less than a quarter of the actual electorate, which hardly commands any authority.  This has resulted in years of varying coalitions, with partners jockeying for position long before elections and political philosophies being watered down.  So in a way nobody is ever really happy with the resulting Government.  And more and more there is an anti-establishment mood.  Hence the success of left wing parties in Greece and Spain, and even more worrying the rise of the Ultra Right in Austria, Hungary and Poland.  Here in France Marine Le Pen keeps threatening to break through and even in Germany the far-right is gaining ground.  In Britain despite the demise of the LibDems (the price they have paid for Coalition) UKIP is far from buried, despite failing to breakthrough at the last election – I predict they will eat into more and more of traditional Labour territory in Northern England and Wales.  As for Scotland, the SNP have successfully painted themselves as the anti-Westminster party and rather than recoil after their referendum defeat have gone from strength to strength.  I fear a similar thing may happen after our Euro-referendum and the UKIP fox that Cameron thought he had shot will run riot in the chicken house and many Tories will defect to them if we vote to Stay in; their rallying call will be a second referendum.  And if we vote to Leave they will be triumphant and I see another General Election looming.  And the results of that scenario are impossible to predict, except that Labour will not win, and neither will the Tories.  What sort of coalition may emerge one can only guess.

I think we are in for some really troubled times, and whether the UK leaves the EU or stays there will be major changes in Europe.  I cannot see the EU holding together with such disparate partners as the Freedom Party in Austria, and Law and Order in Poland and Syriza in Greece and other left-leaning countries like Denmark and Sweden.  One possibility will be a two-tier Europe with the Euro-zone becoming practically one state and the other countries on the periphery with varying degrees of free movement.  The real breaking point could be the possible accession of Turkey, which Germany is practically committed to but almost everyone else is scared of.

2066 – More Revelations

Wednesday 25th May

I have only been partially conjoined; my brain and my Hypercom twin are now linked, although at present this is only one way.  I am receiving data all the time from the computer’s memory. New boxes keep arriving, I barely have time to open one before another arrives.  I can already solve quite complex mathematical problems instantly, almost without thinking.  I have access to the complete ‘select’ programme.  I know that my old friend William is watching my progress with interest, and I suspect a small degree of jealousy.  I am monitoring the progress of my fellow unknown conjoinees, who will be on a six-stage conjoinment; best to take things a bit slower with these slightly less developed individuals.

My next conjoining will enable the hypercom brain to have access to my thoughts and memories, and the final conjoining will link us inextricably so that we will think simultaneously.  Of course, when I say Hypercom, I mean the whole hyper-computer network.  All hyper-computers are linked, so that one increase of knowledge by one machine is instantly shared by all.  Very soon my brain will be part of that network too.  I am quietly anticipating that moment, when my own human sensibilities will finally be shared with the most complex Artificial Intelligence yet created.  With such power at our disposal all problems, material, environmental, or just human aberration will be solvable.  At last mankind will be freed from the petty animal concerns inherent in our previous existence.

I stated earlier that God never has and never will exist.  This is the recognized orthodoxy, at least in the educated West.  What we mean is that although the reason for the existence of the Universe and all matter, the laws of physics, and the reason for life itself are still not fully comprehended, we now know so much as to be able to state categorically that any evidence for a creationist entity, a super guiding hand if you will, simply does not exist.  The Universe simply is.  It actually resembles a vast Moebius strip, twisting round and back in on itself, continually growing and looping around,  and both expanding and contracting, depending on how you look at it.  Scientific achievements in the last fifty years means that we know almost everything about the creation of the Universe, the nature and existence of matter and its constituent particles, and how atoms combined to form life itself.  In other words we know How and When and What.  We are on the threshold of understanding Why.  I am confident that after the final conjoining and my complete absorption into the hyper-computer heirarchy we will discover Why also.  It can only be a matter of time.


Tuesday 24th May

Besides the Referendum Campaign (and we still have a month to go) boring almost everyone to an early death there is an air of complacency settling over the ‘remain’ camp which is beginning to worry me.  The polls, unreliable in the General Election, are showing a small but consistent lead and the Bookmakers are now giving ‘Remain’ an almost 80% chance of winning.  We have almost every serious World leader or Economist or Businessman telling us we must remain – or face disaster.  And yet. And yet….

I feel that all of this advice has been given too soon, maybe hoping to achieve some sort of knockout blow early on, (which it hasn’t) and most importantly there is still no positive reason to vote Stay.

And the more the polls predict an easy victory the lazier Cameron and co. will become.  Then come two weeks out ‘Immigration’ will suddenly become the issue.  And who knows.  Also there is no way that Cameron can actually manage the news.  Another twist in the Greek Crisis, a sudden run on the pound, or migrants running amok in Calais – who knows, but it could all blow up in their faces, and the mood in the country turn from Apathy to some sort of Gung-Ho Nationalism.  Why, even if England start to do really well in the Euro Championships – it may bring on a feeling of Invincibility.  I just worry that the whole campaign has been built around Project fear, and the more that message gets rammed home, the less people are hearing it.  There is no single politician who is saying anything Good about Europe at all.  And the other lot haven’t really let either Boris or Nigel out of their boxes yet, it has all been Michael Gove and other minor characters for ‘Leave’ so far, which again tends to bore us all rigid.

And of course, the football could also distract us all so much that we don’t even bother to vote at all.  A low turnout will surely help the ‘Leave’ campaign more than ‘Stay’.  Apathy and Complacency combined and we could sleepwalk into the biggest mistake we have ever made.

N – is for Randy Newman

Monday 23rd May

Randy Newman came from a family of Film Composers and eventually became one himself winning Oscars for Best Songs in Shrek and other Disney films.  Which to me seems an incredible waste of talent – he was a brilliant sardonic and cynical songwriter, exposing Racism and Prejudice in Sixties America.  He did not have a great voice; however when did that ever stop anyone called Bob or Leonard.  It was always the songs that matterered, and they have been covered by many artists including Three Dog Night and Alan Price and Harry Nillson, who recorded a whole album of Newman’s songs.

Randy Newman was the master of ironic songs, one ‘Rednecks’ is a brilliant take on Deep South Prejudice which also exposes the hyposcrisy of so-called Northern Liberals where he talks about the ‘North has set the nigger free – free to live in a cage in Harlem, New York City’.  And his most famous song is Short People; at first this seems to be ridiculing small people but you soon realise he is talking about Prejudice of all kinds and how stupid it is.

But for me his best record was his third ‘Sail Away’, where he extols the dubious virtues of America and in one song ‘Political Science’ he suggests that as everyone ‘hates us anyhow, let’s drop the big one now’ – meaning that America should nuke everyone (except Australia {don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo – they got surfin’ too).  He finishes a brilliant record off with ‘God’s Song’  where God himself sings of how stupid people are to worship him while he kills their children and inflicts floods and famine on the World “You really need me – that’s why I love mankind.”  And all of this to brilliant melodies and often quite upbeat tunes.  There has never quite been anyone like him.  He barely makes new records these days preferring to score Pixar films – as Ian Dury sung – what a waste.

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The F. A. Cup Final

Sunday 22nd May

I am writing this on Saturday lunch-time, so I don’t know the result (which you will do reading this), but to be quite honest – does it matter?  The F. A. Cup just isn’t that important anymore, unless you happen to support Crystal Palace or Manchester United of course (or even West Ham who will be in Europe if Man. U. win {too complicated to explain}).  There is simply too much football on TV these days; we even had the women’s F.A. Cup final last weekend, which was a must-see for all sports fans (sorry ladies but, though they play wonderfully, very few are household names).

Time was when the F. A. Cup final was practically the only football on telly.  I can remember as a kid our house would be full, we were one of the first to get a TV and Grand-dad and Uncle Raymond and a few neighbours would sit around the tiny black and white Murphy with a crate of brown ale and cheer on West Brom or Blackpool or Preston North End, sides which barely trouble the commentators these days.  The picture was tiny and grainy and it is a wonder we could see anything at all, but it was always an exciting occasion (I expect Mum. Nana and other wives would be in the kitchen preparing half-time sandwhiches).  The first time I really got excited by TV football though was the ’66 World Cup with Eusebio playing for Portugal and the North Koreans surprising everyone and England beating West Germany in the final.  We were actually on holiday camping in Spain when England won but many of the Spanish would wave and shout “Bobby Charlton” as we passed.

We don’t have Sky Sports so at least we aren’t quite so bombarded as some, and I will try to catch at least the England and Wales games in the coming Euro Championships but the times have passed when I watched every World Cup game.

So, good luck United – you need to win something, it doesn’t seem right without you challenging for titles every year.  And let’s hope that Palace at least make a game of it – you never know, they might have even won it by the time you read this.