Deal or No Deal?

Wednesday 31st May

I have watched the quiz programme a few, but just a very few, times.  I sort of understand the appeal – watching poor Joe’s struggling with their greed and their hopes.  Ultimately very cruel, but from the makers point of view – good television.  Also, good television was the TV debate on Monday night.  But what surprised me was the audience’s reaction and the commentator’s verdict that the most popular thing was Mrs. May saying No Deal was better than a Bad Deal.  The trouble is who is to judge how bad a deal is – there is bound to be just as much disagreement on the eventual deal as there was over the Brexit Referendum a year ago.

But the most interesting was that people actually think that threatening to walk away if you don’t get what you want is in any way a sensible strategy for conducting a complex negotiation.  But let us look at the possible deals.  The best deal of all would be for us to have unfettered access to the Single Market with no costs and no free movement of people, and paying nothing or next to nothing to the EU on leaving.  And why would the EU even consider giving this – it would be an invitation for every other country to walk away too.  So, even in her wildest dreams, Mrs. May will not get that.  The worst possible deal – the so-called Bad Deal, would be no access to the Single Market without punitive tariffs and lots of bureaucracy, and a punishing exit bill.

No Deal however, and by implication us crashing out of the EU with no transitional arrangements in place, would mean that legally we would still be responsible for paying the exit bill, though it might take a few years to drag it out of us.  And both Mrs. May and Jeremy have insisted that we would have to pay our legal responsibilities.  But on trade, where would that leave us?  The devil, as always, is in the detail.  As a member of the EU we cannot negotiate trade deals on our own – and we will be members until 31st March 2019.  But on April Fool’s day we would be free of that constraint but also have NO trading arrangement with Europe at all.  The mad Brexiteers say that we would fall back on WTO rules; that is at least 10% tariffs on everything.  But actually no.  Even to trade on WTO rules you have to have negotiated an agreement that allows you to do this.  It isn’t an emergency safety net that is there already – it will have to be negotiated.  So back to the table I am afraid.  We also would have no trading arrangements in place with any other country either.

But far more important than this it is the attitude which both I and other EU leaders find amazing.  You do not go in to a negotiation demanding that you get your way or you will walk away.  We have already formally begun the process of leaving – we cannot either walk away or change that decision.  We have to go through the process of discussion and finding a solution which satisfies, or at least goes some way to satisfying both sides.  Even No Deal is actually a deal of some sorts because whatever happens we will leave in less than two years time.  The whole way Europe works is by negotiating and finding points of consensus.  Mrs. May has already put the backs up of many in the EU by her hardline stance.  We are not at war with Europe, we will not be fighting them on the beaches (of which ours by the way are the dirtiest in Europe, despite our promising to clean them up), we will still want to trade with them after March 2019.  I am sure an agreement can be reached, but swinging one’s handbag a la Thatcher, which may play well to mad Brexiteers, is not the way to get one.  With that attitude it would be no surprise if the EU are the ones to just walk away….and leave us to stew in a mess of our own making.  So I am afraid it has to be a deal.  Good, Bad or mixed will be for another discussion.

The TV Debate

Tuesday 30th May

Firstly, it wasn’t really a debate – though I am not sure what we would have got differently with an actual debate.  I quite like the format.

Secondly, I am not sure that many people who had already made their minds up will have changed them because of the TV programme.  I am also not so sure that there are that many undecideds out there.  Many who say they are undecided will probably not bother to vote anyway.  But there may have been some who were wavering, maybe favouring one side a bit more than the other, and it may have firmed up their decision-making.

Thirdly, it was very interesting to see the two leaders under pressure.  Both the audiences and Jeremy Paxman were pretty tough on both of them.  Neither escaped completely unscathed but on balance neither was completely rattled either.

Personally I think that Jeremy was a bit better, a bit more relaxed and charming.  Theresa May was forced to admit she had not achieved her repeated immigration targets, even for non-EU people.  She also had to admit she had said repeatedly that there would not be a snap election, even in March of this year.  Who knows what everyone else thought about it, but the main difference for me was that Jeremy held out a possibility of a better future.  Mrs. May was promising more of the same, she even scoffed at the idea that Social Care might be paid for, or some of it even, out of general taxation.

I am obviously a biased person.  But I have talked to a few people this weekend and more and more it seems that the more people see of Jeremy the more they warm to him.  I don’t think the same can be said of Theresa.  We will see…

Modern Life

Monday 29th May

Blur famously finished the sentence with the words ‘is rubbish’.  But I am not sure they were right.  But Modern Life is certainly different, different anyway than a few years ago, different than when I was a child.  And it will always be different.  I cannot imagine the pace of change will slow down or to ever stop.  Though many science fiction writers have imagined future Worlds where all of mankind’s needs are met by robots and computers, personal avatars to do everything for us, and therefore no need to strive, no need to struggle anymore – I doubt very much if that will be the case.  A few years ago, a famous commentator said that we had reached ‘The End of History’ with the collapse of Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Unification of Germany.  How wrong he was.  It would seem that History will never end, unless we blow ourselves up completely, or are wiped out by some biochemical means. But what of Modern Life itself, what do we make of it?  The trouble is that things are changing so fast, as they always do, that we can only tell how we feel about Modern life when it is no longer current, but a few years past.

I am re-reading the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, the first trilogy covering from around 1880 to 1920.  Only forty years and yet the pace of change was just as relentless then as now; the introduction of motor cars, women smoking in public, the Boer War and the Great War bringing about huge social changes.  The Russian Revolution spiked fear into the rich, they were genuinely scared of the mob, of the worker’s demands, of the Labour Party even.  How times change.  Modern Life is so different that people a hundred years ago would barely have any means of comprehension of our lives.  We are so reliant on technology, on computers, on electricity that even we cannot imagine living without them.  Even television is no longer restricted to watching broadcast programmes, many people watch on tablets or phones.  In fact phones are no longer phones at all, but personal handheld computers.  Like most people, as we get older we slow down on our acceptance and use of technology.  I barely use my phone for anything other than phoning or texting – I find the screen too small for anything else.  But our grandchildren have no such problem, to them they are just another thing to play with, another part of Modern life, they don’t even know how recent they are..  I find the hardest thing about the Modern World is simply to switch off.  If you go out without your phone you panic; e-mails are constantly checked.  We are bombarded with stuff, facebook posts, tv news, newspapers on line, notifications from your bank or energy supplier – it is almost impossible to just switch it all off.  And I find this is a constant source of stress, anxiety almost.  Only a hundred years ago people had no television, no computers, no radio, no reproduced music even.  Life must have been a lot quieter.  Evenings were for talking to each other, or for reading the newspaper or a book.

And of course, my children and grandchildren will look back on today as such an old-fashioned time.  Modern life for them will have moved on, to what we can only imagine.  And they too may be uncomfortable with much of it, and hark back to a simpler time of computers you could switch off, of cars you could drive yourself, of what I can only imagine.

Modern life is the life we are stuck with and stuck in, whether we like it not.  We just have to make the best of it, and hope that more things get better than worse.

Joie De Vivre

Saturday 27th May

There isn’t quite an expression like it in English.  It means, of course, the joy of being alive.  But more than that it is the essence of life itself.  The complete and utter abandonment of self to the excitement, the pleasure in purely being alive, in existence itself.  But there is also a spiritedness, a carefree, worry-free acceptance that life is good.  We see it in children, absorbed in a game, running around and shrieking with pleasure, the pleasure of being with other children also enjoying this joie de vivre.  You see it in dogs, when you come in the gate, there they are on the balcony, excited to see you, they jump with joy at the sound of your voice, they tug on the lead in their eagerness to go for a walk and smell the scents of other dogs.  You see it in young lovers leaning in to kiss, eyes closing in anticipatory pleasure as hormones are a-popping in their brains, a languid arm raised to stroke a neck, a smile on parting, a look and abandonment as they slowly descend into another blissful kiss.  You feel it listening to music, loud, or at a concert as the singer sings and you know the words and the whole audience is singing along in glorious unharmonious chorus.

But as life progresses, as we sit for hours at school, being tutored in the ways of the World, being pressure-cooked into passing exams. As you wearily wake every day to the alarm-bells persistent ringing, as you doggedly brush teeth, shave, and shower.  As you trudge to work, strap-hanging on the tube, crushed like sardines. As the hours slowly drift by, the hands of the clock refusing to budge no matter how often you look at them. As almost all joie de vivre is knocked out of you by the materialistic world and the struggle for survival.

But there are still moments.  Catching a few minutes in the sun outside the Café de Paris, a glass of Hoegarten, chilled and sans citron in your hand.  As you sink beneath the surface of the water at Lac Lougratte and revel in the freedom of an open space of water, maybe our natural habitat, floating head back as the sun dapples down and the waves plash gently on your face.  Ah, Joie de vivre.  Or when you get that phone call and you hear that your ninth grandchild has just been born – your heart opens up and there is no other expression for how you are feeling than ‘joie de vivre’.


Friday 26th May

Jane remembers though once it nearly happened, it was January, the first January she was ever on her own, and it was bloody freezing.  It had been snowing for a couple of weeks and had built up quite deep drifts everywhere, those huge grey ruts in the road were frozen into towering ice cliffs that the not too heavy traffic failed to break down, and everywhere there were these huge white pillows of drift-swept snow where no footprints had been, just the occasional bird tracks or scurried dog paw-prints.

She had been to the youth club dance, the fortnightly pre-cursor to what would later be called a disco, and is now known as clubbing.  Playing records loud was what it was then, and still is I suspect.  As usual she had a few drinks in the pub next door first and was a bit tipsy that night, she remembers dancing with this boy in her class who was undoubtedly the class clown, the clever but stupid kid who always mucked around and got into trouble but was just clever enough to avoid real trouble.  They were especially entranced by the current Traffic hit “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush“.  She didn’t know why, just something about the song, the infectious chorus maybe but they were laughing and spinning round and round in a circle. “Here we go, round and round.”  And then as the song changed and a slow number came on suddenly they were kissing.  Kissing hard and desperately as if tomorrow kissing would be banned, and she knew it was stupid, he was in her class after all, that was just something you didn’t do, go out with boys in your own class. And all the while going round in her head were the words ‘Here we go, round and round. Here we go round the Mulberry Bush.’

But before they knew it they were out on the street and both running along and screaming into the night, the snow, the full moon, the booze and the music.  And they were laughing with the sudden thrill of it all, the sense of freedom and being young and anything possible, and it was half past ten and no-one was around, and there was a half moon giving just enough light between the few and far street lamps, and they just headed for the rec.  The ‘rec’ was the recreation ground where everyone hung out, one of the places they all met – but now late at night and with the freezing weather there was nobody around at all.  Too late even for the dog-walkers – Jane had never seen it so deserted.  It had been snowing all day and a fresh layer of virgin snow had blurred out the footprints, and all around them were these smooth fluffy expanses of pure white snow glistening in the moonlight.

They ran and ran and tripped and fell and dragged each other around in all this cold wet freedom.  She had no fear, no cares at all – it was as if the gloom that had descended on her the last few months had suddenly lifted.  The cold and wet had seeped through her thin coat and even her skirt was soaking and it was so so cold.  But it didn’t matter, the cold didn’t matter at all, in fact it made her feel alive as they rolled around in the snow, and then they started kissing again.  Those hot hot kisses and the cold cold snow soaking through her coat, and even her blouse too was sopping wet and his hands just undid everything, and as he peeled back the soaking wet layers and as the cold air hit her flesh it all seemed right.

This biting cold air at least felt real, and he undid her bra and exposed her breasts and as he grabbed handfuls of snow and rubbed them all over her body it felt electric.  The cold wet snow and his hands and his kisses felt so real, it was as if she had suddenly come alive after weeks of being asleep.  Then before Jane knew it her knickers were around her ankles and he was piling snow on her pubes and rubbing, rubbing and rubbing with his hands as the snow melted and his fingers touched her there.  And she couldn’t get the words of the song out of her head, ‘Here we go, round and round, here we go round the mulberry bush’.

She supposed she must have been drunker than she had thought, but suddenly drunk or not, she came to her senses just as he was getting his thing out of his jeans, and Jane struggled to her feet, yanked up her sodden knickers and started to run back home.  He was all apologetic, and running behind her, imploring her to stop, but she felt she was running on air, despite her soaking wet and freezing clothes and her quite close encounter she was in control now.  She was running but not away from him really, there was no danger anymore from that direction.  She was free, far more free than she had ever been, nothing mattered anymore, even her apparent abandonment by Harriet didn’t matter. All that mattered was the snow and the running and making fresh footprints in the deep damp snow.  She just had to keep making fresh marks in the snow and it would all be right.  She was free at last and she reveled in this freedom, freedom to leave her fresh footprints in all this snow, and the remembered excitement of ice-cold snow on her noonie, and his fingers and her breasts out in the open air, just so exciting and she still had not done it, she was still in control, still intact, that was the wonderful feeling she had.  She never even said goodbye to him; she left him staring in incomprehension at her gate as she ran over the lawn leaving new prints in the virgin snow, all the way to the back door, and upstairs as her thin shoes left a trail of snowy prints all the way to the safety and warmth of her bedroom.

T – is for the remarkable Tanita Tikaram

Thursday 25th May

Tanita emerged in the late eighties, around the same time as another great singer Julia Fordham.  From the first hearing I was hooked.  Something in that deep and sultry voice, and the intelligent quirky lyrics and great melodies just clicked.  At that time I was in my CD single collecting phase.  A promotional tool at the time was to often release two or maybe more CD singles of the same song, but with rare and demo and live versions as the other, and there were often 4 or 5, tracks.  At one time I had far more CD singles than actual CDs, and quite a few were by Tanita.  She was actually born in Germany of an Indian-Fijian father and a Malaysian mother and has the most beautiful features, and living in England most of her life is as English as tuppence.  Her brother was actually in ‘This Life’ the hit modern life drama on BBC2 in the early Nineties.

Her first album Ancient Heart sold very well and had two huge singles ‘Twist in my Sobriety’ and ‘Good Tradition’.  Since then her albums have sold less well, but she has managed, unlike many female singers, to continue in the music industry releasing albums occasionally.  They have all been interesting, and as she has matured so has her style; a lot more sad songs, slower and her voice seems even huskier and sexier.  I think she is one of those artists who really don’t care what her audience thinks of her at all.  I don’t think she ever tours or sings live but concentrates on recording her albums just the ways she wants to.

I continue buying her records and am never really disappointed.  In fact of late her songs seem to be even better.  And she has one of those voices that draw you in and it seems she is singing just for you.  I must admit that it does help that she is incredibly beautiful too.  One of my all-time favourites.

Image result for images of tanita tikaram


Wednesday 24th May

What can I say that hasn’t already been said, or that doesn’t sound trite.  At times like these words can seem inadequate.  I have never visited Manchester, though I do have a few friends from there, but it doesn’t make me feel any less hurt, any less outraged. And of course I have never heard of the young star whose concert was so disastrously ruined by this attack.

Strangely, last night I stupidly got involved in one of those Facebook arguments with a couple of raving anti-Islamists.  I should have stopped, but the very inanity of their ‘global domination of Islam’ arguments angered me and I kept responding.  Needless to say when I woke this morning (Monday) to the news of Manchester, my Facebook was full of their even stupider comments.

Now, this is where cool heads are required.  While deploring the person(s) who committed this atrocity and the perverted ideaology they espouse we must not blame a whole Religion for this.  I have worked with a few Muslims, and each one of them equally deplore and are horrified at these attacks.  They are peace-loving people who only want to live their lives quietly and bring up their children just the same as the rest of us.

And all the condemnation in the World will not solve the problem.  All the hand-wringing will not stop this.  Unfortunately, the perception in most Muslim countries is that the West is engaged in a Crusade against their religion, and our involvement in Iraq and Libya has not helped.  Statements such as those uttered by Donald Trump on the campaign trail (despite what he says for the benefit of his Saudi friends) and Marine le Pen and now Paul Nuttall only fuel the flames of hatred – which is exactly what the Terrorists want.   Hold back the hate, and concentrate on hope for a better future.

If The Opinion Polls Are To Be Believed

Monday 22nd May

A big if, of course.  They have often got the actual result wrong, but they generally get the direction of travel correct.  And they are all we have, to give us any indication of how things are actually going.  Now, whether they actually affect anyone’s vote is debateable.  There are some commentators who think that there are some people who like to back a winner, or more likely, think that if most people favour one party then they must be right.  There is also the possibility that if people think the race is tightening it stiffens their resolve to actually go out and vote, rather than if your party is so far ahead they cannot possibly lose so don’t need your vote.  Who knows?  It may also be possible that most people take no notice at all of opinion polls and have made up their mind ages ago, despite what they tell the pollsters.

After the last election, there was a belief among pollsters that they had underestimated the Tory vote, and most of them changed their sampling methods to give more weight to either certain demographic groups or those who had definitely voted last time (though how can they ever be sure that people will repeat their behavior?).  Anyway, ever since the 2015 election the Tories have been well ahead in the polls, and Labour who got 31% under Ed Milliband have languished at around 30%.  When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Labour, I, like many others thought he would be a disaster.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Labour’s polling figures went from bad to worse, but more importantly the Press had a field day as Jeremy obviously struggled with the role, what with shadow cabinet resignations or sulks from established party figures, and then came the Brexit vote.  Jeremy, I will agree, did not appear to campaign that strongly for Remain.  But again, here, the Media thought that Boris and Nigel were the real story and tended to neglect Labour’s message anyway.  In retrospect Jeremy’s slightly jaundiced view of Europe, but on balance thinking that membership of the Single Market was more important, just about reflected (if anyone could) the Nation’s mood. Of course – he was slated, (strangely Cameron and Osborne who ran the most negative of doom-ridden campaigns were hardly criticized – if being strong for Remain had so abjectly failed, why was a more balanced view so derided?) and he suffered a vote of no confidence by Labour M.P.s.  Then he was challenged and won again handsomely.  So, resignedly, it looked like we were stuck with him.

When Mother Theresa (she hasn’t quite been canonized yet) called the Election she was 22 points ahead in the polls.  Her fervent and “recent” conversion to the Brexit cause and her fighting talk about the negotiations went down well with Leavers, and all the Remain Tories were suddenly jingo-istic Brexiteers too.  UKIP was visibly falling apart under the nutty Nuttall and without Nigel they looked dead in the water.  Most of their voters became prospective Tory supporters – and the election looked the surest of sure things.

But, as Jeremy and Labour’s policies have received Media attention, the polls have begun to shift – and Labour are suddenly on 34 to 35%, much higher than mild Milliband achieved.  It seems that people actually like the ideas of fairness and more help for people; whether this will be enough to overcome the idea of Jeremy as useless, time will tell. The press, of course, will vilify almost any Labour leader, and Jeremy will now receive the full broadsides from the Mail, Telegraph, Express, Sun and the Times.  It may well be that this weekend’s polling was the high-water mark for Labour and the Tories will still get that huge majority.  But you never know.  The disastrous ideas in the Tory Manifesto, with attacks on the old and the very young (school dinners) may be talked about for a few more days.  And there is still the NHS to come. Whatever happens it has suddenly become an interesting election, if the Opinion polls are to be believed….

Turkeys Are Kept In The Dark

Sunday 21st May

We assume that turkeys are rather stupid birds, that they are simply interested in gobbling as much corn a possible and getting themselves nice and fat for Christmas platters.  But they are still kept in the dark.  Farmers say that this is because in their twilight pens they are less likely to peck each other to death as they scratch around ankle deep in their own excrement (hope you aren’t having turkey for dinner).  But maybe they are kept in the dark about their ultimate destination.  And for good reason; if they knew then maybe they wouldn’t be so keen to get fat, and might actually attack their captors.

Election Manifesto’s are rather strange beasts – part wish list, a few promises and one or two policies fleshed out.  But….you must be careful not to give too much away, Hence the 2010 Tory statement that they had no plans to increase VAT, only to do so a few weeks later. And so, I was surprised, amazed even, that Mrs. May was trumpeting big changes to Social Care, and she seemed proud of them.  And crucially gave away far too much detail.  Not only is she going to means-test the Winter Fuel Payment, and of course means-testing costs money and often deprives the most needy.  On top of that she is dropping the triple lock on pension increases.  As if that weren’t enough for mostly Tory-voting turkeys to take in she declared a massive change to Social Care.  Under her next Government if you need Social Care provision in your own home the costs will be added up and when you die it will be taken out of the value of your house – but you will be allowed to keep £100,000 to pass on to your children.  How kind of her.  So, you save all your life to pass on something to your kids; and if you are lucky (hahaha) and die of Cancer in hospital they will get it, but if you suffer for years with Dementia or some other debilitating disease which does not require hospitalization but you need home help and nursing you lose most of your house.  How popular will that be with the older turkeys traditionally voting Tory?  Not very, I would have thought.  It is simply a death tax – repaying the costs you thought you had paid into via your taxes all your life.

I am amazed that Mrs. May did not consult a few farmers; they would have told her to keep the turkeys in the dark….

A Distraction

Sunday 21st May

We are less than three weeks away from polling day and what the country really needs is a distraction.  After all we might then forget the plethora of new cuts planned by Mother Theresa just long enough for the heat to die down.  What we really need is a distraction, something lighthearted and insubstantial before we return to the Strong Stable, being shoveled out now ready for the return of that innocent pastime of the true-bloods.  Tally-Ho.  But before that we have the spectacle of a not-quite Royal Wedding.  Or, as the tabloids will undoubtedly have it – the battle of the ‘bums’.  I wonder whose will win this time?

Apparently a sister of someone or other is getting married, there will be hordes of press photographers and the Sunday papers will be awash with fascinating fascinators, pretty princesses and pouty page-boys, glass marquees and champagne on tap.  This is what we really need, a cornucopia of pointless rich benefit scroungers grinning their way through another ‘occasion’.  It will thankfully knock Trump and Corbyn off the front pages for a couple of days.  I mean, who wants to think about our future (or lack of one) when we can watch really rich people in expensive couture dresses parade and prance around for our delectation.  And people will coo and smile and say how beautiful the bride looks and how handsome her hedge-fund manager is (as he seals another deal to screw some small company).  And after all we need some sunshine to brighten up these rainy news days.

So, all you misery-mongers – grow up, this is the real news.  This is what people are really interested in.  Forget Politics, forget the economy, forget taking away people’s savings as they get ill in old age, forget the Brexit negotiations to come when we will be forced to accept cold EU porridge or be really out in the cold, forget looking forward to another five years of a crumbling NHS, forget pushing the deficit into the even longer grass.  None of that matters.  What matters is this wedding.  And would you believe some people are actually calling it a distraction.