Goodbye October

Monday 31st October

And so another month slips by, like mercury through my fingers; impossible to hold onto, impossible to describe – this is the most beautiful of months.  Cold foggy mornings and warm sunny afternoons, as if Summer cannot quite bear to leave us, while Winter nips at our heels and we are caught in the majestic splendour of Autumn’s first blush.  As the leaves on the trees turn through their rainbow of colours, green to yellow and a thousand shades of orange and red until brown and curled up they slip their chains and fall, drifting and swirling to ground and leave the trees spindly and bare to face the Winter winds alone.

And what a gorgeous time of year it is, the grapes are all in now waiting for the press to give us next Summer’s wine.  Market stalls groan with the weight of ripe pumpkins, yellow and orange, and squash of every shape and size.  And though we know that bitter Winter is just around the corner we can still bask in the warm afternoon sunshine for a few more days.  Lots to do in the garden too, pruning and lopping and cutting back and carrying sacks of leaves to the decheterie.  And the double-edged sword of clocks falling back, bringing lighter mornings but dark evenings well before tea-time.  So, goodbye October –same time next year?  Let’s hope so.


Sunday 30th October

Phil made them both cups of tea, his hand shaking so much he spilled most of it in the saucer; and then sat on the bed next to her, his one chair was piled high with Law text books.  Next thing they were kissing and then with only the slightest of insinuating from June they just drifted backwards and on to the bed.  She helped him to undo her blouse and bra and slid them off and onto the floor.  June unbuttoned his shirt and ran her fingers through his fine bronzed chest hair.  Then with very little fuss they just did it, and then did it again and then did it again.  Phil thought it was amazing, better than he had ever imagined it could be.

He was obviously a virgin, but she never told him that she wasn’t.  ‘What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you, does it?’ she reasoned.  And besides she was so happy to have found someone she could love in this way again.  After her first love she never thought she’d feel this way about anyone again.  And Phil was safe, solid, secure.  It was going to work out this time, she knew it, deep down in her bones she knew he was the man she would marry.

*  * *

Phil would never forget that first time and how natural it had seemed, not sordid at all.  As they sat on the bed he bent down to put his empty cup on the floor and June handed him hers, he was placing them carefully at their feet when she leaned back and with one hand slowly drew some hairpins from her hair, and it tumbled and cascaded slowly down and around her face.  He had never seen anything so amazingly gorgeous, so wonderful, and as he put his hands up and tried to hold her head she kept tossing it gently back and forth and her hair was dancing around her head.  It was like a game, every time he tried to stop her, carefully holding her face loosely in his fingers, she moved it from side to side and set her hair going again, but secretly he was hoping this moment would last forever – that her cascading hair would never stop swirling around her beautiful face.  And whenever he thought of June, that image of her hair swishing around her face came flooding into his mind.  That was the day they first made love, the first time Phil had ever made love, the first time he had seen a woman naked, the first time a woman had touched him, the first time he had felt a body gliding over his, the first time he had raked his fingers through pubic hair, the first time he had ever orgasmed in the company of another person, and even while he was doing it he was imagining seeing her hair tumbling around her face.  That was the trigger he always used, it never failed to arouse him, even when she had her hair cut short in her thirties he would remember those loose bangs swirling round her pretty upturned face.  The way her hair had floated around her face was magical, he had never seen that before and would never forget it either.

*  * *

Though June knew she had him, entranced, bewitched almost, he was like a child where loving was concerned, he really didn’t have much of a clue, she had to show him everything – but subtly – the last thing she wanted was him thinking she was some sort of slut.  But once he started he was like an express train, ‘Slow down a bit’ she whispered into his ear, ‘you can take your time, its better when you do it slower.’  And he learnt quickly enough, but like a lot of men she thought, he didn’t have a lot of imagination in that department.  He knew what worked for him, and he didn’t really think too deeply about what might be working for her.  Not that she was complaining, it worked, that was what mattered, and in time it would get even better, or her name was not June Wilkinson, or very soon would be.

*  * *

And now he had the problem of dumping Joyce.   How on earth, actually what on earth, was he going to tell her?  In the end he chickened out, and just mumbled that he thought it might be best if they stopped seeing each other.  She looked up at him, blinking through those big horn-rimmed glasses which must have been pretty strong as the lenses made her eyes so look much bigger than they should do, and Phil kept looking down at his upturned hands, he just couldn’t look her in the eye.  A strange mixture of guilt and impatience; he just wanted her to go, for him never to have to see her again.  After a couple of minutes she said, “So, is this the end Phil, is it over?” and he just sat there, looking down, he nodded silently and guiltily, still refusing to look her in the eye.  She sat for a minute or two myopically blinking then seemed to shake herself, as if out of a dream, she sighed, stood up and simply put on her coat and left without another word, closing his bedroom door quietly behind her.  Phil had never felt so ashamed in his life.  What a rat.  He didn’t know if she cried when she got home, but he very nearly did, for his own pathetic cowardice.  He never saw her again; she just sort of disappeared from sight.  He was both relieved and guiltily concerned for her at the same time until he heard a couple months later from one of his colleagues in the same year that ‘He would never guess what, but that Joyce he used to hang around with was getting married in a few week’s time to one of the post-grad tutors in the History Faculty.’

A Day In Bordeaux

Saturday 29th October

Although Bordeaux is the largest city in South West France we have hardly been there; a couple of quick trips to IKEA which lays to the North is about it.  So, we decided to have a break and as it was my wife’s birthday spend a couple of days in Bordeaux.

We left on Thursday afternoon after a busy morning in the Cafe, market day – cold but sunny.  We arrived fairly traffic-free and had the usual fun finding the hotel as the roads the SatNav wanted to take us down were closed.  Eventually sorted and in our room, unpacked and ready to explore.  We are in the Centre, not far from the place Gambetta (named like so many squares, including the one in Eymet, after Leon Gambetta – a Politician who was prominent during the Franco Prusssian War and did actually lead his country, if only for a few months).  It was busy and bustling full of young people enjoying themselves, lots of bars and cafes and bright lights.  We were tired and had a nice and cheapish meal before turning in.

Friday and we were up and out early, walking around this quite stunningly beautiful city, a whole section of which is pedestrian-ised.  Trams and bikes and scooters and kids on skateboards everywhere, and down by the river Garonne along the broad walkways a group of Segue-riders.  Lots of very smart and expensive shops thronged with well-dressed and mostly young people. Everyone seems happy in the late Autumn sunshine.   We had a gorgeous lunch and now a rest before we go out again for dinner to end a lovely day in Bordeaux.

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S – is for the incredible Buffy Sainte-Marie

Friday 28th October

I first heard, and heard of, Buffy in the Lower Sixth at Grammar School.  This would have been ’67 or maybe early ’68.  People started coming into school with Albums under their arms, Bob Dylan – ‘Blonde on Blonde’ or Joan Baez; there was a thriving folkie movement and Buffy was in the vanguard – and co-incidentally on Vanguard records.  She was born in 1941, a Cree Indian in Que’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada.  She has been a folk-singer, an Indian activist, a peace campaigner, an educator, a presenter on Sesame Street and a great songwriter, her songs being recorded by Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra and Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker (Up where we belong) among many others.

Many of her early recordings were just her and a guitar and a mouth bow which she played while singing, she also loved country music and recorded a brilliant album “I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again’.  In 1969 she released an album, ‘Illuminations’ where every sound is synthesised from just her voice and guitar; it is modern and incredible (and includes a song she wrote to a poem written by Leonard Cohen in his book Beautiful Losers).  She recorded the title song of the film Soldier Blue, about Indian Massacres, and her Indian Culture and Indian Injustices (Now That The Buffalo’s Gone) are never far from her work.  She now releases albums sporadically which are still excellent and relevant, with soft gentle ballads and hard-hitting rock songs often with Indian choirs and rhythms.  Her voice is still splendid, unlike many of her contemporaries and she lives in Hawaii these days.  Hopefully she still has some more music left for us to hear.


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The View From The Centre

Thursday 27th October

What centre?  There is no centre anymore.  The post-war consensus has floated off into the sunset, like our remaining aircraft carrier devoid of planes or ideas.  Tony Blair always declared that elections were won from the centre of the Political Spectrum, and both ‘New Labour’ and ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ were attempts by Blair and Cameron to both seize the middle-ground and to detoxify their political brand; Labour from Economic Mismanagement and the Tories from being the Nasty party.  Both succeeded for a while, but in reality they also benefited from having weak oppositions, or what at the time were considered weak.

The Centre Ground is some mythical place where the worst excesses of Capitalism are held in check and mild doses of Socialism applied to heal the wounds those very excesses may have caused; it is supposed to be a place where most people can feel comfortable.  But actually unless incomes are rising faster than costs and people generally feel better off it matters (in electoral terms) little whether the pendulum is swinging one way or the other or more or less statically in the middle.  Every Government which attempts to reform and remedy perceived unfairness ends up creating winners and losers; the winners rarely thank them but the losers can often make the pendulum swing back a bit.

We now have a Government which was elected on 39% of those who voted, actually only about 30% of those entitled to vote.  It is undertaking the so-called ‘wishes of the people’ or 52% of those who voted to leave the EU.  Parliament, and even the ruling Tory Party M.P.s are well short of 50% in favour of this, but it will happen anyway.  This is the new Centre Ground; somewhere between Nigel Farage sipping his pint and Boris promising the earth, not forgetting a pair of kitten heels.  Is it any better than the left wing Corbyn or the Tory Toffs limping off stage-right?  Only time will tell, but it certainly is a long way from the Centre.

The View From The Left

Wednesday 26th October

Well, how far left do you want to go?  As a teenager I believed in Communism; to each according to their needs and from each according to their ability.  But all the examples of Communism, with the possible exception of Cuba, have failed.  Partly because of human nature and partly because of the venality of the leaders.  But for many years I have been a Socialist, although Socialism has as many different faces as you like – take your pick.

But the main Idealogy of Socialism is that those who are more fortunate should help those who are less fortunate.  It is in the degree of accommodation with Capitalism that most arguments within Socialism occur.  And there are probably more bitter divisions within the ranks of Socialism than any other Political Movement.  It is strange too, how policies mooted forty years ago, such as Nationalism of the Banks or Minimum Wages have become orthodox thinking.

One of the problem Politicians face is that there are always unintended consequences of every well-meaning Policy.  Welfare was introduced to assist those falling on hard times but has become a way of life for some.  The minimum wage has become for all too many the maximum wage they will ever receive.  Harold Wilson, asked shortly before he retired in the mid-Seventies what he thought the biggest problem in Society was, and he said “Affluence”.  In other words you help people out of poverty and deprivation and they immediately reward you by becoming almost as bad as the people who were originally oppressing them and then vote Tory.

So, in a way Socialism will probably never achieve the sort of Society it wants.  And maybe most Socialists quite enjoy the struggle, eternal as it might be.  People are the biggest problem….

The View From The Right

Tuesday 25th October

I had a conversation with what I would describe as an ultra-right winger yesterday.  Even though I disagreed strongly with his views I decided to just let him talk; I wanted to understand just what was going on in the right-wing brain.  I should also point out that he is quite a successful businessman.

He started off, as expected, heralding Brexit as the greatest opportunity Britain had ever been given.  He was right behind Mrs. May in wanting to get rid of immigrants, not only that, but he wanted a very quick and hard Brexit, to the point that Mrs. May should simply trigger Article 50 and not bother about any negotiations.  He insisted that we would still be able to trade with Europe because they needed us more than we needed them; we would quickly sign a new trade agreement with them.  Tariffs were of no concern; we could simply devalue our currency to make up the difference.

His main argument was that Immigrants were stealing jobs and opportunities for our kids.  I pointed out that unemployment was pretty low at the moment and that of more concern were the working poor, subject to low wages and high private rents.  That made no headway with him, rents were priced according to the market, if there was high demand rents would be high.  Likewise with wages, if people were happy to work for the minimum wage and have zero-hours contracts that was fine.  I said “But what if they aren’t happy, and can barely make ends meet?”  “Well, then they must find a better paid job, or a second job to make ends meet.” In no way would he even consider it might be unscrupulous employers keeping wages low.  He wanted a society where almost everyone was an entrepreneur and self-employed with individual contracts with their employers.  And anyway once we got rid of Johnny Foreigner there would be a short period of adjustment and then plain sailing.  The whole EU was part of a plan for German Domination which hadn’t changed since World War 1…..

At this point I gave up and politely said I had to be getting on.

What did I discover from this engagement with the right-wing mind.  Absolutely nothing that made any sense at all, no consideration for others, no understanding of other people’s lives, no comprehension of Society at all.  Just self-interest, pure and simple.  It would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that these people are now in charge….


Monday 24th October

It didn’t take long for June to hook him, though maybe in his understated way he hooked her too.  He was so shy that she had to take the lead; if she’d waited for him they’d have still been politely chatting months later.  As his train for home pulled in and he looked plaintively and apologetically at her, she suddenly grabbed his head, pulled him down and gave him such a long and lingering kiss that he only just jumped aboard before the guards whistle.  He was hanging out of the window and waving his big white hanky frantically until his carriage curved out of sight.

June walked down the platform with her heart thumping, it had worked, and he was actually a good kisser too, better than she had expected.  It was going to be okay, with Phil it was going to be alright, because she was more than a bit scared that it wouldn’t be as good as she remembered it being that first time.  She’d had a few ‘fellas’ since then, well, boyfriends, but she never went the whole way with any of them.  She never felt it deep down, that feeling that she just had to.  They were just ‘fellas’, and none of them lasted long – besides in her job behind the counter she was always getting asked out, and not only by the customers either.  But none of them had meant anything, she’d never felt like that again until she met Phil, so she knew from that first kiss at Ipswich station that she wanted him, she only had to wait till he was back in Cambridge and it would happen, sure as eggs were eggs.

*  * *

He’d only been back at College a week when June wrote saying she wanted to come up for a weekend to see him.  ‘A weekend?  Christ, what did that mean?’ he thought,  ‘She hadn’t said for a Sunday, but a weekend, that meant at least two days – and crucially, a night in between.  Where was she going to stay?  I mean she couldn’t stay with him in his digs; his landlady wouldn’t stand for it.’ “You can have female visitors but not after nine in the evening.  You do understand Mr. Wilkinson, I have certain standards to keep up and tongues will wag, you know.”  And tapping a finger on her nose repeated with a knowing look, “Tongues will wag.”

He had actually had Joyce round loads of times, but that was different;  he hadn’t wanted Joyce to stay the night, and was quite relieved when she would glance at the clock at a quarter to nine, put her coat on and without a word expect to be walked round to her college.  Sometimes she would stand outside the gate and blink up at him through those big horn-rimmed glasses, and Phil knew that this was his cue to give her a hug and a peck on the cheeks.  But sometimes she just cheerily said ‘Bye then, see you tomorrow I suppose.’  And with a resigned shrug she would turn on her heel and slip through the gate.  And Phil would nod his silent yes back to her, inwardly thankful to have avoided the embarrassing hug.  I mean it was never going to lead to anything so why torture himself by getting even the tiniest bit aroused, even if through duffle coats and scarves that might have been remotely possible.

But now June was talking about coming up for a weekend.  In her next letter she asked him to find her a hotel or boarding-house as near to his digs as possible and to let her know how much it would cost.  He found a small family run place and pretended that June was his sister coming over from Norwich to visit him, so he told her she would have to be June Wilkinson for the weekend.  As he met her from the train, and helped with her case he repeated that she had to remember to be his sister, she was to call herself June Wilkinson for the whole weekend. “Oh, I do like the sound of that. June Wilkinson” she said, “I could get used to that.”

Well he needn’t have worried about the nine o’clock rule, or the subterfuge of her being his sister at all.  She got off the train at twelve and after dropping off her case she insisted on seeing his college and his digs.  By two he was making tea for them on his one ring Belling electric hob, and by three they were under the sheets in his bed.

The Unsinkable Trump

Sunday 23rd October

The polls are still in Hilary’s favour and almost every commentator is predicting that the Trump Campaign is over, fatally wounded, holed beneath the waterline and bound for failure.  But somehow like the shiny blond bouy he resembles as he rolls around the stage he may be unsinkable.  One never knows.  Opinion polls have been wrong of late.  The General Election severely underestimated those who would go on to vote Tory; even days before almost all the commentators were predicting Ed Milliband leading either a coalition with the SNP or a Minority Government with Nicola Sturgeon pulling the strings, and maybe that was the argument, that Project Fear (of the jocks) which won the day.  Only many who would or had been persuaded by that argument didn’t want to admit it to the pollsters.  And likewise in the Brexit Referendum many who had serious concerns about Immigration maybe didn’t want to branded Racist and so withheld their true intentions.  I am not a great believer in last-minute swings, I think that most people make up their minds quite early on and the high number of ‘Don’t Knows’ are often ‘Don’t Want To Tell Yous’.  But in America the polls are almost all showing swings towards Hilary.  Of course they could be right, and maybe at the moment they are registering what people’s intentions are – but that doesn’t mean that that is what people will do on polling day, or even that they will go out and vote at all.  A degree of Complacency may set in, and many Hilary leaning voters may think she has won already without their votes.  Also Obama managed, not unsurprisingly to get the Black and Hispanic vote out, something Hilary may struggle to do.

And Donald Trump appears bullet-proof, he simply shrugs off his accusers as liars, predatory sexual behavior which would shame others are simply notches on his alpha-male belt; he points his finger in the air and says Hilary is crooked, and many people fall for it.  They see him as their spokesman, a different sort of Candidate, not a Politician at all but a successful businessman who will know how to make the country rich again.  And also there are those who always vote Republican in the end; they may dislike Trump as much as the Democrats but will not be able to stop themselves voting the Red (republican) ticket.  And even if he loses we know already that he will be a bad loser, already claiming a rigged election, he will still be an unsinkable presence, a constant thorn in both the President’s and his own party’s side.  He may even bob up in three years time with “I told you so…”  and make another bid, and he may be believed too.

Body Image

Saturday 22nd October

We watched a programme on TV last night about body image.  It was presented by the ever-sardonic Anne Robinson, a presenter of a certain age who has apparently used many devices, (surgical?) to appear to be younger than she really is.  And maybe in this wonderful new age of “Youth” extending into one’s Sixties and possibly even Seventies we are all subject to varying degrees of age-deception; hair dye is probably the most common and maybe the most innocent of deceptions.  Anyway, the programme, as all such ‘reality’ documentaries tend to do, possibly concentrated on the most extreme forms of body image consciousness.  We saw a young thirty-something man who applied every lotion and potion ever invented each morning to try to achieve some sort of Perfection, and another young man who had had surgery to give him what he considered the perfect nose.  On the other side of the coin we had Miriam Margoyles, joyfully chubby and eating her way merrily to a perfect size 22, while Anne herself picked on a couple of sticks of asparagus and a salad for lunch.  There was also a perfectly healthy older man, whose ‘regime’ consisted of a seven minute tooth-brush and wash and shave in the morning with absolutely no conditioner, moisturizer or any other unguent applied.  He was perfectly happy with his slightly craggy looks.  There were also two young women from Liverpool who spent £100 a week on clothes and make-up, and who would rather be dead than seen in the same dress ever again; incredibly these girls happily wore clubbing clothes once only.  They also had tattoo-ed their eyebrows and lips.  Why????

I kept asking myself why? Also incidentally how they could either justify or afford £100 a week on their looks.  If I spend £10 a month I have overspent drastically. Although when I was working I did tend to buy more clothes which I am now gradually using up.  I tend to have two pairs of jeans, or shorts in the summer, one in the wash and one I am wearing – and a handful of cheap tee shirts.  And it doesn’t bother me at all if people see me in the same clothes: I rarely notice what anyone else is wearing myself.  But more concerning is why our (mostly) younger people feel so compelled to ‘look good’ or not even good but ‘perfect’ all the time.  Are the pressures from their peers so great that imperfection is frowned on, or is it the fashion and ‘beauty’ industry conspiring to persuade these youngsters that their lives will be so much better if they look like “this”.  The over-riding feeling one got from the programme was how stupid they all were and also how unhappy.  No amount of ‘perfection’ would please them.  But, as we know, these are real concerns for many, bulimia and anorexia just one side-effect of our increasingly “Celebrity” culture.  Let’s face it, we can’t all be perfect.  As I shave every morning I just shrug at the image before me, because I for one achieved it long ago and the rest of you are far behind, you will never catch up…..hahaha