Back to porridge

Don’t know what it means? Well, it’s an old Irish expression meaning when all the good stuff is eaten it’s time to get a pot of stirabout going.

We’ve eaten all the good stuff. The Xmas meat scraps have been donated to the neighbourhood cats, there are only two mince pies left in the cake tin, and tomorrow I’ll have to go the the supermarket.

In the meantime, it’s porridge. How do you like yours? My partner is a Spartan porridge eater, just oats made with water, the thicker the better. No milk, no cream, no sugar. No thanks. I like mine made with water, not too thick, served with cream and maple syrup, or tart applesauce, stirred through. But oats are good in flapjacks, biscuits and smoothies, too. And wheaten bread. Here’s some I made earlier, not available in the supermarket.

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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?

Never too late to save the planet

Okay, so he could have done it earlier. But that’s history, so let’s not revisit it. I’m just delighted, in this most awful of awful years, that Barack Obama has called a ban on further oil exploration in the Arctic. Perhaps now the polar bear will have a fighting chance, the northern ocean will not suffer devastating pollution from oil leaks and spills. Perhaps the native american people who live in the cold zone will not be harried and persecuted by Big Oil’s relentless march for ever more profit. Perhaps, I hope so.

Yes, of course I know that America is not the only nation that pursues oil, non-stop and without care for the consequences. And of course I know that there will be attempts to overturn any banning legislation, and soon, far too soon. But it’s Christmas, a difficult time of year, any year, and I’m trying to look for reasons to be positive about the future.

Thanks, Barack. May you, Michelle and the girls enjoy the holidays and move on to even greater things. Some might say you could have done more: I say, you tried, and none of us has walked in your shoes.

Hats – and other Headgear – Off to Christmas!

Two sleeps to go… so much to do. Festive foray into the madding crowd today to pick up the pork joint and other last minute essentials, more mince pies, more sprouts, (forgot those, we’ll have spinach) and one of those special cards , you know the type, Happy Christmas to The One I Love. Can never make a decision on those and always end up, after much procrastination, buying one when there are only three left in the rack. Without correct sized envelope: will it need a trim? And either tres formal or gushing. Went for formal, managed to get a half-decent one and only 99p. What a bargain. Next year I’ll just write I Love You, Sometimes, Happy Christmas! on an Amazon carton and fill it with wine, chocs, nuts and a copy of Computer Shopper. Or maybe, if I’m feeling kind, which is not likely, a copy of Dogs Magazine. He always enjoys that sketch on Peter Kay’s Car Share, you remember the one? Ah, fond memories of nights spent in the woods, or sometimes only the car park.

Anyway, never mind that, what I started this post for was to report on Christmas Hats. You know there is a special day for wearing Christmas jumpers? And intellectually challenged people join in and wear them? Well, today, my bus driver was wearing a full Santa outfit. And saying Ho, Ho, Ho! to passengers as they boarded. Brilliant! Usually the driver ignores your frantic waving from the bus stop and sweeps by, swooshing puddles at you if he – it’s usually a he – can manage it and then laughing his head off. Or making you get off again because there are already 156 people standing and you would just tip the balance, with your tartan shopping trolley whacking into people’s shins. Oh, the shame! But today: what a jolly chap. He even stopped at red lights, stayed within lanes on the suicide roundabout and picked passengers up at every stop. I think perhaps he was the real Santa. A bit like the real Trump in appearance but with full Santa beard and long white curls, instead of a weird straw-coloured comb-over. And better messages to the world, or at least to his surprised but thankful bus load.

And the other headgear? We’ve become used to Santa’s elves in the pub after work, with their Spock ears and red and green costumes. So yesterday. But last night two chaps and a woman came in wearing roast chickens on their heads. Honest, they had their heads in the place where the stuffing usually goes and they looked  flipping ace. I almost choked on my Balti from laughing. Wish I’d taken my camera.

So long, Wheels

I gave my car away this weekend. I seldom use it, don’t truly need it, since I got a bus pass, and my nephew in Ireland is caring for his dad, who’s 85 and has just had a pacemaker fitted. Sam had to borrow a wheelchair a couple weeks ago to take his dad to a GP appointment, after his lift didn’t materialise. Stressful for them both and solvable, so, farewell wheels…

Today, on the bus, I sat next to a man in a blue hat. He was counting a stash of crisp Euros and told me he was going on holiday to Cape Verde. He’d already had his shots, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, something else, I forget what. We chatted about holidays and turns out he’s been everywhere, The Middle East, Asia… Travelling keeps me going, he said, don’t drink, don’t smoke, I like to travel. He asked me where I’d been and I couldn’t compete with his list, my frequent visits to Ireland and France seeming small by comparison. But he was keen to know all about Northern Ireland, he’d never been and intended to go ‘someday’. I told him people often said that to me and that they were still worried about their personal safety. He agreed and said he thought France must be a bit scary, too, these days. I said, no, not really, it’s beautiful and the food is out of this world.

Funny what people find scary, don’t you think? And what they talk about to complete strangers on the bus.

‘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?  

 

Quo Vadis, Planet Earth?

Mustn’t be too dramatic. After all, we’ve had neo-fascists in power before and, no doubt, will again. But… just take a look around.

Tory PM May in the UK, now Trump president-elect in the US, a big ? over Europe and the EU, the ever worsening middle-east, Putin keeping careful watch overall, the economic rise of China. No effective or respected UK political opposition, Hillary Clinton edged out of the US leadership by an archaic electoral college voting system, Farage and the continuing dog’s breakfast that is Ukip, what a fuck-up. You have to wonder, even if you were a right-winger, would you be rejoicing? And if so, why, for God’s sake? I just cannot see it, myself.

And all this before even considering the most important issue, the planet. I watched a documentary last week, broadcast live from Churchill, a recently expanded fuel exploratory settlement on the edge of Hudson Bay, in Northern Manitoba. This is a cold place, home to polar bears and the Inuit, but now full of structures reminiscent of a present-day Klondike that will, presumably, be abandoned as quickly, once the land has been desecrated in the search for gas and oil. It was all so familiar, the presenters waxing lyrical about the majestic and dangerous polar bears, the Inuit desperately trying to keep some of their traditions alive, meeting to share a bounty of whale blubber. Unlike those raping the stunning frozen land for fuel, the natives took what they needed, and left the rest for another day. Isn’t this the way we should all live?

Haven’t read it yet – I’m saving the experience for when I’m really pissed-off – but one of my heroes, Michael Moore, is predicting that Trump’s presidency may not even last four years. We can live in hope, but surely there must be more that we can do?

D-Day? Hope not!

Well, today’s the day we find out if the end of the world has arrived.

I’ve been watching the international news off and on; Channel 4 are doing a sterling job of covering the so-called rust-belt US states, talking to supporters of the Donald and those anti. So similar to the once-industrial areas here, in the north and Wales, where poverty reigns, unemployment is high, jobs few and the communities have never recovered from the brutality of Thatcher and her skeletal Rottweiler, Norman Tebbit. You can understand these dispossessed people protest-voting for Ukip, though I don’t see what they expect to gain from slimy Farage. He puts me in mind of the old saying, ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’ Not on your life! But in the states, I’m lost for words, Trump represents everything bad and dangerous in politics. That’s quite a worry. He’s sexist, racist, ignorant, greedy, xenophobic, deceitful, manipulative, the list goes on and on. He’s a mash-up of all the worst human traits. God help the US, once home of the brave, land of the free. Now home of the poor, land of the desperate. Let’s pray they find a way back from the brink.

The word from the media is that Hillary has just nailed it, but there is no certainty, yet. It’s going to be a long day’s night.

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?