En Vacances…

Here we are, week two in La Belle France. Phew! What a scorcher! is an understatement. Since we arrived, there has been permanent Caricule (heatwave), with warnings on the autoroutes and elsewhere to take care and not do anything too taxing in the heat. So going in the garden has been restricted to the hours before midday and after 6.00 pm. Talking loudly and laughing like maniacs, both of which we tend to do after a few beverages, result in exhaustion and require a lie down in the cool cellar.
We were invited to a BBQ last evening and enjoyed it immensely. There were several nationalities present, in alphabetical order: Australian, British, Dutch, Irish. Fascinating to hear all the different cultures comparing notes on food, customs, language, etc.. Why on earth are we even considering leaving the EU? It’s lunatic, is what it is.

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End of a Manic year…

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Is it possible that we will get to the end of 2016 without catastrophe? Retrospectives are everywhere, seemingly more so than usual, though I think that’s probably the Year of Mania effect. Russian ambassadors are being expelled from the US as a result of the alleged Clinton election hack furore. Putin is playing the moral high card of non-retaliation, for the moment. Syria still teeters on the brink, its war far from finished. Hopefully Syrian residents will be able to wake up intact in the coming days and weeks. And the rest of us, too. Yes, it could get that bad.

As if on cue, to show the state of mania in today’s world, one-time DJ Noel Edmonds has been on the radio, explaining that cats know they shouldn’t kill mice and birds, but that if we just say ‘that’s naughty and if you don’t do it you will get your reward in heaven’ our cats will understand and cease the slaughter of their little furred and feathered prey.

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Of course they will, and Donald Trump is a frisky lamb with a comb-over. But the real poser is, does Noel’s patient instruction work in the human world? Or, perhaps, why doesn’t it? Remember the immortal words of Yoda, my go-to philosopher: Patience, you must have.

Speaking of fake news, and who hasn’t been lately, I hope the brilliant press cartoonists will keep up the amazing standards they have exhibited in recent months. Don’t believe what the columnists are writing? Just look at the political cartoons and then you can work out your own, rational, response.

For the moment, mine is: A Happy and Peaceful New Year, May You Have.

Dying all over the world…

Rick Parfitt …and now George Michael. What a truly shit year. My heroes and heroines have been dying with unseemly haste. I cannot count the number of greats who have departed life in this abysmal year. It’s so shocking, it’s creepy.

But why this year? What has been exceptional about 2016? Since the start of the third millennium events have been turning darker, we believe. People are afraid of the future, it’s hard to be optimistic. But, hold on, have we not been here before? I’m not old enough to remember the Great War, or even WW2, but I do most vividly remember the Vietnam war, the first television war. I lived through the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which lasted thirty years and, to some extent, continue to this day. Those were frightening dark times, too. People died before they had lived. The difference today is that news, any news, is instant. Social media affords us the opportunity to be informed, 24/7; to live the news more or less as it happens. When bombs exploded at night in 70s Belfast we knew only that they were close or not so close, big or not so big. The news of where and who had been attacked was made public the following day, often not even then. Each celebrity death this year has been a body blow, these were the performers I shared my childhood with, shared my teenage years with, became an adult with. And now, as these lives end, and we learn of them immediately and in some detail, they feel so personal, they genuinely hurt.

Is this immediacy a good thing? I think it probably is. People are informed, they can show they care, if they do. They can respond to sad or bad news within minutes, seconds, it seems. And there is no excuse, in 2016, for not knowing. Caring is a different matter. The residents of Syria may not benefit from our social media obsession. They know what is happening to their city and its citizens, mainly through personal experience. They know that we in the West must also be aware of their agony. But, lacking any response, they must wonder, do we care?

‘New Times’, my a**e

So we are to believe that there has been a seismic shift, the world has changed, that we are undergoing  an essential transition from Welfare State provision ‘cradle to grave’ society to a new, tough, lean, individualistic era, where borders must be strongly maintained and scroungers must be rooted out and forced to contribute, or starve. A world where the old tenets of universal free healthcare and education (remember free education?) were our shining beacons to a less enlightened world. Where we were an example to follow, a civilised and compassionate example, following the ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’, assumed to be an appropriate maxim from which civilised societies could develop social policy. When did these principles become disdained, outmoded, impractical and obsolete? When did we decide to let the disadvantaged  go to the wall?

Well, the signs were always there, mostly we chose not to look. From Thatcher’s ‘No Such Thing as Society’ to supposedly entertaining TV programmes, such as ‘Benefits Street’, ‘Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away!’ From the not-so-subtle changes in the labels of benefits from ‘Unemployment Benefit’ to the current ‘Job Seeker’s Allowance’, from ‘Family Allowance’ to ‘Child Benefit’. What was once proposed as a safety net into which anyone might fall, regardless of prior industry, the current benefits agenda seems designed and publicised to cater only for the alleged feckless, the lazy, the ignorant, the Chavs, the-un British. Oh yes, the signs were there, uncaring and growing in malevolence.

If you were fortunate enough to be born at the optimum time for the post WW2 boom, you may find the ‘new times’ strange indeed. No help for benefits scroungers, foreigners not welcome, ‘not paying for these scroungers out of my taxes’. What happened to the ideals of compassion, working together, Europe united, instead of at war? The Berlin wall coming down and people rejoicing, that was a day to remember. For a few brief years, it seemed as though we were indeed marching to the same tune, moving forward together, leaving the old world of borders, barriers and division behind. It was an exciting time, a great time to be alive and part of this inclusive movement.

But then a few things changed people’s thinking. Did Britain’s coal and steel industries really need to close down? Did the USA’s? The politicians said they must, that they were too expensive and that we could import coal and steel more cheaply from Poland and South America. Really? Cheaper than throwing thousands of US and British workers out of employment? That seemed unlikely, but it’s what happened. You must decide for yourself if it was indeed a bargain, and if so, for whom. Just have a look around the ‘desolate North’ of England or the ‘rust-belt’ states of America. Fracking for gas hasn’t yet got underway in Britain, but we are repeatedly told that it has been a boon for the US. Really? Who benefits? And what about the cost to the Planet and the Environment?

Then we had the financial crash of 2008. Was this just the consequence of a few greedy and unscrupulous bankers going money and power crazy? Really? Who benefited? Who paid the cost? Most people would agree that it was the taxpayer, in Britain, who ‘baled our the banks’. The rich didn’t seem to suffer unduly and they don’t seem to have experienced any lasting damage, unlike the public, who are still paying, in terms of near-zero interest on savings and the constant struggle, as PM Theresa May calls it, to ‘just manage.’ Frozen salaries, part-time working, zero-hours contracts, these are all evils we have become familiar with since the financial crash. But again, ask yourself, who benefits, who pays?

These are not new times. The rich get richer, the poor suffer ever greater losses. It was ever thus.  Remember this as you are bombarded, over the coming weeks and months, with spurious explanations for the ‘New Times’. And always ask yourself, always look for the bottom line, Who Benefits?  

 

Changin’ times?

It would be awesome if times really were changin’. The unsurpassable Robert Zimmerman has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize – for literature. Not for services to world peace or to education, both of which would be perfectly justifiable. But for literature. As a forever Dylan fan I am well acquainted with the lyrics of many of his songs and, yes, I do own some of the albums, though not all. And indeed, world class they are. But can even Dylan’s mighty and sustained oeuvre change the world?

Even as I write these words, the forces of darkness continue to oppress the citizens of the world. In fact, only this week, the phrase ‘Citizen of the World’, has been put forward in a speech by Theresa May, the UK’s brand spanking new PM, as a negative label. If you are a citizen of the world, she blurted, in that hurried breathless voice she is currently adopting, then you are a citizen of nowhere. Go figure. The good news is that she has been challenged on this view by people everywhere, on social media, in newspaper editorials, on UK television political programmes, like Question Time, This Week and The Daily Politics. Tweeters are adding Citizen of the World to their profiles, proud to describe themselves as such. But if Mrs May and her Brexit ministers have their way, the UK will soon belong to a shrinking nation, divorced from friends and neighbours in Europe, even more detested by the Irish and Scots. To quote from another famous ‘6os hit song, Where Have all the Flowers Gone? written after the Great War, I ask our foolish, short-sighted politicians, When Will They Ever Learn?

 

 

 

Send in the Clowns?

Terror reigns on both sides of the pond!

While the presidential election sniping and hacking continues unabated in the US, a new wave of fear, imported from the States, is sweeping the UK. Even in the backwater of Norn Irn, so-called ‘killer’ clowns are appearing at random to terrify the unsuspecting populace. Schools are a particular target, which seems to me to be a particularly cowardly way for clowns to get their clowning kicks. Elderly people, too, are being singled out to frighten, though you’d think that the older generation would be so used to clowns appearing without warning over the decades they wouldn’t bat a drooping eyelid.

Several of these comically dressed and fearsomely masked or made-up clowns have gone further, standing in the path of oncoming traffic, reminiscent of the somewhat passe but once-much-loved-by-little-boys game of ‘Chicken’. Or leaping out in front of cars stopping at red lights or slowing down to manoeuvre. Sooner or later, one of these, yes, clowns, is going to get run down and killed. And that will be a shame, won’t it? I mean, it’s not even Halloween yet. And it’s hard to take an amusing selfie when you’re unconscious and bleeding all over the highway.

Election fever?

Been following western politics lately? Beats any TV drama or soap opera for entertainment, that’s for certain sure.

UK

In the last couple months the UK has voted in a referendum to leave the EU, this is commonly referred to as Brexit. This has resulted in, in no particular order:

The resignation of Cameron, the Prime Minister, oftimes referred to as ‘Dodgy Dave’

A declaration from Scotland that it will call a second vote to ‘leave the union’

Disgruntled mutterings from Northern Ireland about any reinstatement of border controls between NI and the Republic of Ireland

The value of sterling going up and down like a thing that goes up and down a lot

Europe

Barely concealed threats from other EU leaders to ‘punish’ the UK. Smack its bottom, perhaps? Various EU countries following the UK’s lead in considering their own position within the EU. The words ‘rats’ and ‘sinking ship’ spring to mind. Does nobody want to repair the stricken vessel and sail on to greater things, in harmony, tranquility and prosperity?  Get real, this is politics, not Pollyanna!

USA

Meanwhile, the long drawn out process for choosing a new president has arrived at the sorry spectacle of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton engaging in televised debates as to who is the better candidate for the Presidency when Barack Obama’s second term comes to an end. Remember when UK protest voters used to support the Monster Raving Loony Party? Where is Homer Simpson when we need him most? Is there no alternative to these two alternatives who seem to bring out the worst traits in the US electorate?

The amount of tweets and media stories covering these events grows exponentially. I must stop reading them and get a life.