Tuesday, 23 May 2017

There's a change coming

So, months have passed since my last blog entry. It's not like there's been nothing worth writing about - the current diplomatic crises, particularly with Russia and North Korea, our own political shambles and forthcoming election, the ongoing crisis in the NHS - I could go on. But when the will's simply not there, it just ain't there. That sense of despair I wrote about after Tump's election has manifested itself in my turning away from the news - for the first time in my life - and largely ignoring it.

I've still known what's been going on, of course; in the West the news media is all but ubiquitous. But that knowledge has only been broad strokes. I haven't really paid attention. Instead, I suspect like a lot of people, I've focused on personal stuff, and taking great pleasure in things that have gone well in my own life and those of the people I care about.

One of those things has been a long time coming, but is now in the process of happening. For about two years my partner and I have been seriously contemplating selling up in London and going to Spain permanently. We could see all too clearly what some of our family members are experiencing having worked hard all their lives, and hoped to avoid the same if possible and buy ourselves a little more time off work, as it were, than they've been granted. My own father died less than two years after retirement, and for around 18 months of that he was ill. My mum's stroke, which has left her partially disabled. My partner's mum is not in the best of health either, having worked bloody hard herself just as most people our parents' generation did.

Add those personal reasons to the broader stuff above, and you'd probably think we've got a pretty compelling desire to get 'out'. Well, it's a bit more nuanced than that, of course, as I'll explain below. It's taken a year to sell the house - thanks a lot, Brexit - but it's done. We're currently in Sussex, working our notice periods and getting ready to take car and cats out there. The contents of the house are already out there - more on that particular adventure in another entry. It's nearly done. I have two days' work left as I write this.

I've written in these pages before about the village where we're going to live. The work/life balance, the pace of life generally, the character of the people, the tranquility - all are considerably different to London. This is one of those chances that you have to take, I think, if the opportunity presents itself. We know what we're moving to - Viana doesn't change. It's probably not going to for the rest of our lives. Not much, at any rate. Therein lies the appeal, of course. But therein also lies the apprehension.

I said to my workmates, before my leaving drinks last Friday, that I'm extraordinarily fortunate by any measure. I've been blessed with a happy childhood, loving parents, friends that I'm proud to so name, jobs I've enjoyed. Sometimes. A partner I can never adequately live up to or properly explain her meaning to me. I've not suffered poverty or serious ill health. And anybody who knows me will know that I'm baling out on Sussex just as my football team has finally reached the top flight again after a 34-year wait. Complaining about pretty much anything at the moment would be self-absorbed to the point of solipsism and churlish in the extreme. So to be in a position to choose to make such a monumental change, to give up something that's so good anyway. maybe I'm pushing that luck?

What's swayed us, if I can speak for both of us, is the micro and the macro. That personal stuff gave us the initial trigger, and then what's going on at home and abroad seemed merely to serve up daily reminders that it was time to go. The country moving farther to the right, with a convincing Tory victory seeming likely (assuming they don't trip over their own feet as they seem to be doing their utmost to do). The appalling response of some Brits, both triumphalist and xenophobic in equal measure, to the referendum result. The erosion of the sense of tolerance and modern thinking that has always formed part of my pride in being British.

But, in London, and both working, we've been largely insulated from feeling those things personally. It's been more of a prickling sense that things aren't right out there than a jabbing pain of specificity. We've had it pretty good here compared to most. Even my partner, who's returning to her own home town in this move, has admitted to a sense of loss. Leaving a teeming London, where your door is locked overnight but anonymity is blissful and opportunity everywhere, for sleepy Viana, where your door never needs locking but everybody knows everyone else's business, will be a seismic change.

Locals have warned me about how hard it is over winter. Long, dark nights. Cold. Not seeing the sun. (I have to misquote Billy Connolly here - where do they think I'm from? Benidorm? Brits go whole summers without seeing the sun...) But the summers there are long, warm and reliable. We'll be able to travel. Getting back to Britain to see family and friends is cheap and relatively easy. If you're a child, or of a certain age where yoof stuff is no longer important, there can't be too many better places to be than Viana. We hope our friends will come and visit us, so we can share out just a little of that good fortune in our own hospitality.

So there may not be too much happening to us specifically which prompts me to write here, but who knows? I have so much to learn about leaving the London mindset behind permanently and settling in to another culture, that it may prove a rich seam. I'll keep you posted.




Edit: having just posted this, I've just seen the appalling news coming out of Manchester. Exactly the sort of horror that only happens in places where the shock value of it can be maximised. The likely ages of the victims of this atrocity, when they come out, are going to make unbearable reading. My thoughts with families and friends of everybody affected up there.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Complete anus completes annus horribilis

You know those posters some people put up in the office - 'You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps!' - that sort of faux-cheery, cod rubbish that never made anybody even smile, still less laugh? Well, years ago, when I was just an acne-covered 17-year-old cleaning the offices of American Express in the evening for beer money, I saw one of those on somebody's desk-space wall which has stuck with me. I don't know why - it was no more or less profound than any of the others.

"And a great voice boomed from the heavens, and it said 'Don't despair - smile and be happy, for things could be worse.' So I smiled and was happy. And, lo, things got worse."

That's what it said. Now it may have chimed with my innate pessimism. I may have retained it because, like many teenaged boys, I fancied myself a cynic at the time. I don't know. But for pretty obvious reasons it came back to me this morning, as the news broke from the States.

This has been, by both personal and wider measures, an absolutely fucking shit year. My father's death, our own referendum, the refugee crises, war in Syria, terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere, the rise of the extreme right across Europe and beyond, beloved and influential people like Bowie dropping like flies - I could go on. I was, though, naive enough to hope, still, that Clinton would become the first female President of the US. Female heads of State in both Britain and the UK - even if you don't agree with their politics, even if you accept they're both a long way from perfect, that would have been something, wouldn't it? Some signs for hope, particularly in the States, that a black man could be followed into the White House by a woman.

Well no, obviously. 2016 has decided, in its apparently infinite capacity to bring forth shit, that it hasn't done with us yet. It has, finally, squeezed any last vestige of optimism from me, and left me, like so many others, in despair. I still have nothing but the highest regard for those who won't let it defeat their spirit, of course. I may not be much of a Facebook user, but I see the defiance in people I love and admire, the determination to do good, to be good people. The will not to allow Trump et al to drag them down to his hell of fear, hatred, retrenchment and isolationism. But I've got to tell you, just at the moment, I'm not feeling that. I feel beaten. Hate is winning, everywhere.

We're being told that millions of ordinary Americans felt let down, disenfranchised by a political elite they regarded as corrupted, morally bankrupt and completely out of touch with how they felt. Well I know how they fucking feel! In an America with a right-wing nutcase President-elect, a Republican Senate, a Republican House of Representatives and a Republican Chief Justice, where the hell is the voice of the Democrat, the liberal, the minority, being heard, still less represented? Don't those millions, equally appalled at the state of their nation today, also count?

On this side of the Atlantic, at least, there seems to be a sort of bewilderment that 'it' could have happened again. That a country that can elect Obama, twice, can then put almost his direct antithesis into the same seat. What happened to the America that elected him? How have people that called him a terrorist, a communist, and a Muslim, the last being intended as an insult, have had their way, when this most human of Presidents, this classiest of men, seemed only ever to want the best for his country?

The US seems to have forgotten which way round parody
is supposed to work. The Simpsons, 16 years ago. 

I wrote an entry last July about not letting this sort of thinking - this sociopathic, atavistic, solipsistic ideology that's becoming so prevalent - win. Reading it back now makes me feel like I was Cnut, sitting on the beach, watching the tide advance inexorably but still trusting to the future. He, at least, was able to leave the beach when it was clear he'd been right - there was no stopping it. The rest of us have no such luxury, and we're already in it up to our chests.

Never mind - smile and be happy, for things could be worse.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The 1950s called. They want their vocabulary back.

You know that stuff I was saying in my last entry about everything feeling like it's lurching to the right, politically? I should, of course, have said that some pretty fundamental things have always been right wing. Before the EDL there was the National Front, before them the blackshirts, for example. The tide of xenophobia that the Brexit vote has uncorked mirrors the abuse suffered by black people who came to Britain after World War II, or the anti-Semitism experienced by Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century.

So I'm not claiming to be surprised by some new phenomenon. My main problem with things currently is the fact that so much of what sounds, to me, like extremist thinking has become mainstream, or at least unremarkable. Now I apologise for linking to the Daily Mail in this blog - more on them in a moment - but some of the comments made by readers of this article are genuinely appalling; shocking examples of what I'm talking about. Bad enough that the headline itself somehow suggests that Neo-Nazi thugs attacking immigrants is somehow Angela Merkel's fault. (And there's that phrase again - 'gains by the right-wing populist AfD party'.) The comments below are far, far worse. Any quick read through them exposes the same sort of thinking that has been exemplified by the abuse meted out to Polish people and Muslims in this country lately.

I wouldn't normally link to the Mail here on general bloody principle - it is possibly the most pernicious and regrettably influential exemplum of this political cancer that I can think of. It both amazes and appals me that this is one of the most-read websites in the world. I know a large number of people who read it for a laugh, who share none of its political sentiment. Reading it ironically, if you like. But their hits are still counted. They still help raise advertising revenue and perpetuate this thing.

Take a look at the 'sidebar of shame' down the right. This is a Mail staple, the subject of a type of bingo played by my workmates who look for certain phrases that they repeat in that sidebar - 'pixie-thin legs', 'pours her curves', 'slinky', 'revealing' etc. They cheerfully run this thing alongside articles screaming about 'Paedo filth', 'sex pests' and the like, without any apparent sense of irony or shame. This archaic content and tone informs and feeds back into the thinking of those same readers who left the comments on the main article, excusing the right-wing attackers on the grounds that, in the words of two separate commentators, they were 'protecting their womenfolk'.

Those poor, helpless, bikini-clad waifs, powerless before the rising tide of immigrants with nothing but a few brave Nazis (or 'concerned citizens' according to the comments) to defend them - is this how the Mail sees our future? Well that word 'womenfolk' typifies Mail-reader thinking, and most certainly belongs to the past. A graph tracking its use in English looks like this:

(Google's graph)
Anyway. This got me thinking about the portrayal of women in the media generally. It's a well-trodden path, I know, but worthy of comment here. The sidebar of shame is merely the most shameless of its type and I can't of course begin to understand the pressures women feel when they see how they're represented all over western media. But I do sometimes wonder if even outlets which purport to speak to them aren't complicit in undermining them at the same time. Glamour magazine today named Bono on its Women of the Year list, on the grounds that he does admirable work for the feminist cause. You read that correctly - Bono among the Women of the Year. Was it really beyond their wit to commend him some other way? And to quote one female response to the award, "To be fair, with only 3.7 billion women it must be tough to find a worthy one."

Some of Glamour's readers, appropriately
enough not all of them women, are not happy.
So - neo-Nazi thuggery and the archaic vocabulary of its British apologists, the sidebar of shame and Glamour magazine mistaking Bono for a woman. A depressing enough snapshot of a single day in the modern media landscape and Trump's not even President yet.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The way things are going

Maybe I'm over-dramatising it a bit, but it feels a little like the end times are coming at the moment. I'm sure it's been worse - during the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example - but during my own lifetime I can't quite remember feeling this sense of dread at the way the world's politics seem to be moving.

It feels, for a start, like everything is shifting dramatically to the right. Right-wing political parties are gaining ground across Europe. Barriers are being put up, literally and emotionally - even an enlightened, modern country like Norway is building a fence along its border with Russia, for example. We all know what happened over Brexit. Russia, with a President who seems as close to a dictator as is possible without being named as such by other leaders, is moving nuclear missiles within range of Berlin. They're falling out with the US over Syria, to the point where relations seem as bad as they've been at any time since the Cold War.

Then there's us. (Not all of us, of course, but enough of us that it's horrible.) We seem to be dehumanising refugees to the point where putting up walls seems an acceptable solution to their appearance. I'm pretty sure that anybody with a shred of humanity, if they found a helpless child abandoned outside their front door, would do their best to help that child without a thought for where they'd come from, what colour their skin was, that they needed food from your larder and a blanket from your bedroom. Number those children in the thousands, though, mix them in with similarly needy adults and put them on the news, and the response seems oddly indifferent. Cruel, even; it's apparently OK even for a Prime Minister to describe these people as a 'swarm'. It all seems a bit shitty, frankly.

The most worrying thing of all for me though, is the forthcoming US Presidential election. I normally regard these with only a passing interest - as with party politics in Britain, there's usually a nagging suspicion that basically not much will change regardless of who's in charge. Witness Obama being thwarted at every turn on free healthcare or gun reform. This time, though, with the Americans going to the polls a month from now, one of the possible outcomes is genuinely terrifying.

I'm always slightly wary of commenting on matters of another country's politics - you could argue it's analogous to complaining about a bloke three streets away's lawn being too long - but in this case the prospect of Donald 'can't we just use nukes?' Trump becoming President is too scary, and seems too likely, not to allow some sort of comment from any quarter. You would complain about a lawn three streets away if the lawn owner's proposed solution to his problem risked razing the entire neighbourhood to the ground.

Quite apart from his alarming attitude to foreign policy, there's the fact that the man is, plain and simple, a pig. Is this really the sort of person Americans want sitting in their most powerful seat? The latest stuff to come out - I'm sure you've all heard about the video - is merely the latest in a long line of appalling insults and abuse. He's an Islamophobic, racist, misogynistic, bullying atavist who'd be suitable only as an exhibit in some kind of weird exhibition of antediluvian masculinity, fit only for scorn and laughter, if he were not dangerously close to becoming President of the United States.

He's dismissed much of this latest stuff as ' locker room banter' even during an apology for it. 'This is not the man I am', he explains. Which version of him are you to believe is genuine - the private, unguarded one or the one who's trying to persuade you to vote for him? He's losing backing from within the Republican party, but still many of his 'rank-and-file' supporters seem unmoved. In the case of some of them it'll be down to good old, down-to-earth, honest stupidity. But there's the much more frightening prospect that a significant percentage of the US electorate, whether stupid or intelligent, whether educated or not, whether well-travelled or parochial and insular, share at least enough of his views to be prepared to vote for him. Or perhaps simply hate Mrs Clinton.

I don't know. But I've learned a lesson about thinking that things would be OK, that sanity and humanity would prevail, from our own referendum. As much as I'd like to think that his is merely the side which makes the most noise, the polls still have them close, and it kind of feels like the world's holding its breath waiting for this one to play out, hoping desperately that the 'right' outcome is arrived at.

Can you imagine a world with Trump in the Oval Office, Putin at the Kremlin, Britain isolated from Europe, Kim Jong-un in charge of North Korea and The Muppets moved to subscription-only TV? Three of those things have already happened, one is definitely going to. That leaves Trump as the one that can still be stopped. Please, America. Please - I know she's not perfect, but no career politician is - please vote for Clinton.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The great British piss-off

We Brits are, in many ways, a pretty stoical lot. Matters that would, in other countries, lead to cars burning in the streets or lorry-loads of cow dung being dumped outside council offices, often elicit an online petition or a sternly worded letter to The Times here.

You don’t need to look too hard for examples of our usually measured response to things we don’t like. In the south at least, we put up with an utterly laughable ‘service’ on Southern’s rail network. Certain areas like London and Brighton voted heavily in favour of Remain, only for the rest of the country to disagree. Result of these two things? Protests, yes, but hardly human sacrifice and mass hysteria.

I wonder how long it’s going to be, though, before the masses march on the offices of Love Productions with burning torches because there are some things which are guaranteed to incite British ire, and messing with the Bake-Off is one of them.

Just look at the front covers of the press and you’ll see the country’s response to what’s clearly a national catastrophe. A frenzy of punning the like of which the tabloids reserve only for the most important matters. ‘Going, going, scone’, ‘Stick your dough’, ‘Bake Off starts to crumble,’ etc. Pretty serious stuff, then.

In that spirit, you have to wonder if Channel 4 have bought a soufflĂ© which is going to collapse the minute it’s served. The two presenters, Mel and Sue, have already stated they’re not going to move with the programme. I suspect the two experts, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, will follow suit. What exactly have C4 paid so many millions for, if they haven’t bought the very pillars around which the show’s character is built? A format which they’ll no doubt change anyway, and into which they will have to insert adverts and possibly those irritating sponsorship devices which bookend ad breaks.

The BBC, meanwhile, shouldn't find it beyond their wit to put together some other show with this same gang of four and a competition format. A colleague suggested, as a spin-off from Masterchef, it could be called 'Masterbake', but I fear that may be too strong a pun. I think, frankly, C4 have been sold a pup. Which the previous owners have put down before they deliver it to them, knowing they can always breed another one.

The fact is that, even if all four of the main ‘characters’ came over, and the format was left entirely unchanged, it sill wouldn’t deliver the same viewing figures it commands on BBC1 - people simply don’t watch Channel 4 in the numbers in which they do the Beeb, pretty much regardless of what they’re showing. Neither the channel nor the production company may give a damn of course, if they can monetise the programme in a way which you’re unable to on the BBC, but that will serve only to drive even more people away from it and make it even less the show that they’ve supposedly bought.

I’m not afraid to confess that I watch and enjoy Bake Off. I certainly won’t bother doing so on Channel 4 because, to reflect a criticism which I’ve seen more than once on the show when something’s gone badly wrong, the baker seems to have forgotten at least two of the main ingredients. They’ve taken a tried and trusted recipe for a reliably moist, delicious sponge, and they’re going to deliver a half-baked sourdough instead. You need only have a look at Channel 4’s Twitter feed to see that the British public are not amused. The online petition which I mentioned typifies the British response to such things has already started, but I fear that when they see what's actually served up the viewing public may, in this case, behave out of character and go straight to the 'sticking the heads of those responsible on spikes and parading them around London' stage. If they didn't know beforehand what the likely reaction would be, it must already be pretty clear to them what they've done.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Revelations

If you read my eulogy to my father, posted in an earlier entry, you'll have seen mention of secrets that had come tumbling out of the family during my father's illness. Given the week I've just passed at our place in Spain, also the subject of previous entries, and with the permission of the people involved, I thought it timely to write about it here. Most of the people closest to us already know all this stuff anyway.

You think you know how the everyday stuff works, don't you? You think that the mundane things you've always taken for granted just are, and they ground the certainties around which your lifestyle, and to some extent your character, are built. I'd always thought that my family was the absolutely archetypal so-called 'nuclear' version of that paradigm - long-married parents, two kids, standard domestic set-up. My brother found out, though, having by necessity taken over the running of the folks' banking affairs while Dad was too ill to do so, that this was not the case.

"Come and have breakfast with me before the game this Saturday," he said to me. "I've got something to tell you and it'd be better face to face."

You hear that, and you run all sorts of worst-case scenarios through your mind. Well I do, anyway. You can imagine the sort of shit that had added to our woes in my brain before that breakfast actually took place. I did not, though, guess anywhere near the truth. It turns out that my brother and I - those of us of the 2-kid, nuclear family archetype I just mentioned - are in fact two of three, and we have a half-brother whose existence had been kept from us. For seventeen years.

This took a while to sink in, of course. My brother is the bloke I grew up with. The blond kid with the good heart who's been around since quite literally before I can remember. The baby who threw mum's rings into the fire, who's grown into such a dependable and kind adult, the new pillar of strength on which our now reduced family leans - that's my brother.

But there was now, in fact has been for a long time, a third. Mum and Dad had decided between them that we'd not be told about him so as not to damage our relationship with our father - thereby protecting the same man she'd found out years earlier was father to another child by somebody else. Now my brother G and I have different characters, but we've always got on, and we largely see the world the same way. On the important stuff at least. So it was with this. We both decided, without really having to talk about it, that this brother we didn't know existed was entirely blameless in the whole thing, so was certainly not worthy of any scorn on our part. We also both felt that by far the greatest burden of forgiveness landed on Mum, who'd chosen, as she has with so many other burdens through her life, to bear it. If she had been able to forgive Dad and move on, it was hardly up to us to decide differently.

I first met M, my 'new' brother, while Dad was still alive. That was, of course, a bit odd. This kid I'd never set eyes on before calling my dad 'Dad' - rightly, of course. That was his father he was speaking to. But I got a little jolt every time he said it - for 44 years until that point I'd obviously only ever heard me or my brother say that to him. It was the most immediate sign that something had changed forever.

This first meeting was at the folks' old place in Portslade, in the period when Dad was home from the hospital between his first enforced visit to the ICU and his later surgery. Dad had said to me that he was going to 'be a better man', in what at the time was an inexplicable conversation, just before my brother told me what he'd discovered. He asked me what I thought of M when he'd gone that first evening. His concern about our response, my response in particular as it's seemed since, was still there. What could I say? I'd only just met M and was frankly a bit bewildered, but he seemed like a decent kid.

A decent kid who later had to attend his father's funeral in March, surrounded by people he hardly knew or didn't know at all. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been for him. The teenager, one of those carrying his own father's coffin, who was unknown to most of the mourners. It's things like that which back up our original instincts that we should be trying to build a relationship with him, not rejecting him, Just as my dad remained my dad regardless of his own weaknesses and typically male failings, so this young man is a brother to me despite how little time we'd then had to get to know each other.

Rejecting M would have meant scorning our dad, which would in turn have affected Mum, an entirely innocent victim already, so I don't think it's what would have happened regardless of when we'd found out. It is, though, the version of us, particularly of me, which was painted for M by Dad in the absence of actually meeting us. M has told me that he was nervous about meeting me because of how he'd been led to believe I am, what my likely reaction to him would be.

It's not a version of me I entirely recognise. While I may lack a powerful, instinctive, visceral empathy, and certainly am not slow to express my feelings freely and quickly, I hope my response to M is an indication of at least an intellectual capacity for tolerance, for acceptance of changing circumstance. For generally responding the right way to a given situation because my head tells me that's the right way to respond even when my heart and guts have abstained in the matter and are being fuck-all help. That's essentially what happened over that breakfast, when G told me what he'd learned. My guts just went 'Holy shit!' but pretty quickly, thinking about it, I realised that the only sensible way forward was to try to build a relationship with him, to make up for the time that had thus far been denied us.

So I recently invited M to come to our place in Spain with me and my partner, to spend a week in the peace and warmth of the Galician summer and people. He'd never flown before, and never left the country, so all of this was new to him. I'd warned him that the little village to which we intend to retire is not Ibiza; there's little to do bar sit and enjoy the pool, the sun, the cold beer and top-notch steaks. This did give us time to do a fair bit of talking, and we must both have felt a little bit like we were conversing with some time-displaced alternate of ourselves. I know I did. He looks much more like me than he does my brother G - we both felt that the other looks most like Dad. We both, of course, share some of Dad's mannerisms.*

We share a past with Dad, though those pasts are only now being very slightly stitched together through recollection - they'll never be part of the same whole. As he said to me quite early on, all three of us have a store of memories and experiences of the same man, but ours and his are and always will be separate.

That's where we are, then. Our closest friends, as I knew they would be, have been entirely accepting of him and have simply got on with the new reality in the same way we're all trying to. Can G and I build as close a relationship with him as we have with each other? I don't know. How do you bridge the space between meeting somebody at 17 and having grown up with them, having had them a part of your life for all but 14 months of its entire 45 years so far, as is the case with my brother G? Not to mention the generational gap. Difficult. But it does feel like we're all committed to doing the best job of it possible.



*This must have been a bit disconcerting for Mum in particular, who was also with us last week. (Poor kid - he's got two mums on his back, one of whom isn't even his, no doubt nagging him about his smoking for example!) 




Thursday, 30 June 2016

Implosions

Even a quick look at the political landscape in Britain right now reveals the seismic changes that have already been brought about by last Thursday’s result. I'm a very, very long way from a political expert, so can only say it as I see it, but it all rather suggests that the front each party presents to the electorate has been tissue-paper thin all along. I suspect that would surprise nobody (and could fill an entry all of its own), but it’s nonetheless a bit worrying.

On the one hand, the Tories are going through a leadership election that was always going to happen if the vote went against Cameron. The declared runners at time of writing are few, with likely candidates like Boris Johnson* and Jeremy Hunt announcing they’re not running. but even so - you know it’s grim when you’re looking at the selection and thinking to yourself ‘I hope Theresa May wins’. And she’s been backed by ‘Corrible’ Hunt – I’m sure she’s delighted.

Obviously though, being instinctively a lefty, it’s Labour’s leadership issue which most concerns me. I confess to having felt mixed feelings about Corbyn specifically – it’s not easy to support a man the majority of whose parliamentary party is against him, simply because it makes things easier for the Tories at a time when their own divisions should be being exploited.

That said, ultimately those MPs are (supposedly) elected to represent their constituents, and many of the rank and file Labour Party members who voted for him in large numbers come from those constituencies. So overall, I think the PLP should shut up and get behind a man who has a clear mandate from the membership and would likely win again in the event of any formal leadership challenge. Indeed the Labour Party membership jumped specifically before his election, with many joining so they could vote for him. Those members haven't gone away, as the rising membership of Momentum demonstrates. The Parliamentary Labour Party should not be distancing itself from the very people who put them there, even if they disagree with many of them on the specific issue of the EU. Corbyn’s support of Remain may not have been convincing but he did support it, at least publicly. He did what was right when it mattered – the PLP should do the same.

The biggest concern for me in all of this is who’s likely to exploit any political vacuum caused by the splits on both sides. Usually the centre ground would benefit from such problems, but the Lib Dems are still reaping the whirlwind of their own voters’ ire after they coalesced with the Tories, so that’s not necessarily the case now. That leaves the worrying possibility that more extreme parties, of whatever persuasion, stand to gain from the chaos. Imagine a general election where the Tory vote is split or lowered because they’ve lost the support of Remain voters in London and elsewhere, the Labour party has split in two, dividing their votes with them, and nobody wants to vote Lib Dem. What you’ve possibly got then is a very low turnout and UKIP and others improving their share of the vote dramatically.

That doesn’t bear thinking about, but the referendum result has generated such turmoil in politics in Britain right now that it’s the kind of hypothetical scenario that we have to.



*Has it all got a bit real for Boris, such that he suddenly doesn’t want anything to do with it? He and Gove looked like rabbits in headlights in the direct aftermath of the Leave victory, and it’s since become clear that they’d done not an iota of planning between them for such a result.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Consequences

I've always been a proud Englishman, but that pride is not bound up with the usual motivations for it, or expressions of it, that typify such an animal. I've always, for example, absolutely detested the flag-waving, tub-thumping spectacle of the last night of the Proms. Instead it's come from the fact that I've always thought us an island of open minded, tolerant, modern-thinking, creative, culturally significant people.

That belief has, obviously, taken something of a dent these past few days. Immediately on hearing the referendum result, my reaction was pretty sanguine. Just accept it and get on with it, I thought. But what's been happening since then has served only to make me think that, frankly, we're a nation of idiots. Look at this piece in the Indy, for example. The morning after the vote, and only once the result had been announced, there was a surge in Google searches for what happens if we vote to leave. I'd thought, rather naively as it turns out, that this is the sort of thing you looked for before you cast your vote. Accepting that some of these may have been worried Remain voters fearing the worst, if you don't even know what it is you're voting for, should you really be in the damn polling station in the first place? I guess it's possibly because many Leave voters were busy fretting about being robbed by a conspiracy to alter the results by erasing the pencil marks beforehand. Perhaps they didn't have time to actually consider the other stuff.

Then there's the quantity of spoiled ballot papers - over 26,000. Of course the bulk of those are people making some form of personal protest, but over 9,000 of these were rejected for both boxes having been marked. What the fuck? How much more simple does it have to be to enable people to vote correctly?

The post-vote response of some people has been startling, too. A workmate told me that more than one of his friends had said they 'didn't think their vote would count'. Apart from wondering why they bothered to vote in the first place if they genuinely believed that, you again have to ask how they thought this process was going to work if some votes counted and some didn't.

There's no room for voter remorse, and no point arguing the result. No matter how huge the petition grows for another vote, it's pointless and doomed to failure because it's asking for retrospective legislation. There was one vote, and it's done.That's how democracy works - the people have spoken and now have to deal with the consequences. Consequences that we're seeing all too quickly. An apparently broken PM resigning, the only thing he could do in the circumstances. The Parliamentary Labour Party rebelling against its leader and, in the process, showing that it doesn't think the same way as the bulk of its voters - in the north at least - because Corbyn, who better reflects what those northern voters think, was too lukewarm in his support of Remain. The prospect of Boris Johnson or Michael Gove taking over at Number 10, in the process giving us an unelected leader that I rather thought was the type of thing the Leave campaign were against. The two of them may at least have managed to sound gracious in victory, but it's hard to ignore that they were doing so when a nice spot in Downing Street had just opened up.

We're also seeing the first noises being made in what could ultimately lead to the break-up of the supposedly United Kingdom (what a joke that name looks like now, given the enormous division in voting). The Scots were already pissed off about the failure to deliver on promises made after their own devolution referendum. They're positively livid now. And what's going to happen on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Surely they're not going to want to return to the days of patrolled borders, checks to get across etc, which would be horribly reminiscent of the Troubles they've worked so hard to leave behind.

Meanwhile, Leave are busily distancing themselves from much of the stuff they'd campaigned on. The £350million claim, for example, which I described as already discredited in my previous entry, has now been called a 'mistake' by none other than Farage himself. The version of Britain for which Leave voters thought they were voting never existed, and never could. I wonder if they're beginning to realise that for themselves now.

I confess that, living in Lambeth, with its second highest pro-Remain vote in the country behind Gibraltar, I'd been optimistic that it would go the way I wanted. I hadn't seen a single Leave sticker, window poster etc, in my area. It was difficult, as that's all I was seeing, to see it going against Remain. I thought people would vote with a 'better the devil you know' nervousness about what would happen if we left. I was very badly wrong.

So - and I realise this is sour grapes, since that bitter taste in my mouth must be coming from somewhere - over 17 million people, plus the 28% who couldn't be titted to vote on the most important matter in our lifetimes - have forfeited their right to complain about what happens in future as a result of this vote. They've made the bed, it's just a pity that the young, the Scots, the Northern Irish, Gibraltarians and Londoners, the majority of whom all voted to Remain, will all have to lie in it with them.

And that pride in being English I was talking about? Well, during the General Election people turned out in their droves in Farage's constituency, some of them openly saying they were voting tactically specifically to keep him out. That's the sort of thing I was talking about making me proud. It's a pretty good thing they did, because his lack of class in victory was quite incredible. Then there's this sort of thing. I don't feel a great deal of pride at the moment. I feel ashamed, to be honest.


Thursday, 23 June 2016

I can even get biscuits into an entry about the referendum...

It's been, again, a long time since I made an entry here, but the third-ever national referendum in Britain, and one held on such a fundamental matter, seems suitably weighty a subject on which to return.

At time of writing, we're perhaps eight hours, and certainly less then 12, from knowing the final result of the vote that seems, thanks to the ludicrously negative and bitter campaigning, to have taken forever to arrive. I had to queue to cast my vote this morning, which suggests a high turnout, so at least all the effort both sides have put in may have been worth it from the point of view of voter engagement.

It does seem to have been something that people genuinely care about. Mooching around a farmers' market in Oval recently - very good chorizo Scotch eggs to be had there - there was a civilised debate going on between two fairly eloquent reps, one from each side. This was being amplified though speakers so the whole market could hear, and indeed there was a decent smattering of people sitting listening. This debate, though perhaps atypical of the campaign as a whole in that the speakers were at least civil and didn't interrupt each other, instead alternating at the mic, still threw up some ridiculous claims from each side that were all too typical of what we've been hearing over the past few months.

The Leave campaigner, for example, trotted out the standard bollocks about the £350m fee we pay every week to the EU, a number long since discredited since it makes no account of either the rebates we receive or the mitigating benefits we're paying for - see this rather marvellous piece from John Oliver for a much better response that this layman can come up with. In turn, the Remain campaigner retorted that for every £1 we spend on the EU, we get £10 back. She offered absolutely nothing by way of evidence for this number, merely giving her opponent the rope with which to hang her. This was somebody on the same side of the debate, broadly speaking, as me, but who'd still managed to make me snort with derision at what she'd said.

Overall, the two rather nicely summed up the biggest problem with what amount to the sticks with which each side has beaten the electorate lately - there's been nothing genuinely convincing from either side. As far as I can tell, the Remain campaign has largely been about all the crap that could fall on our heads if we pull out. While I can, of course, see that, couldn't they have focused the main thrust of their argument a bit more on the positive, rather than treating them as some kind of side show? The Leavers' argument, however, can pretty much be summed up as 'Hurrumph. Bloody foreigners.' Not even close to good enough, lads.

It's only fair to point out that, as somebody whose partner is an EU citizen who came here a long time ago, and who hopes to move permanently to Spain with that partner, my own position would be rather simple even without all the 'facts' that have been spat at us during the course of the campaign. My partner has worked without a break ever since she got here, and has certainly paid more tax than I have during that period, offering considerably more to our society with her career in teaching and the charity sector than I ever have with mine in advertising. We'd like to live in Spain but come and go to Britain and elsewhere as we please. We'd also like to do this without having to get married, or either of us taking the other's nationality. So to me this is a no-brainer before either side even put their case to me. 

I like to think, though, that I'd want something a bit more substantive than 'if the immigrants would only sod off everything would be OK' to make up my mind, even if I weren't living with one. But in the event that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, to go on, I still think there'd be a way to decide. Let's imagine you had, for whatever reason, not the slightest knowledge of what each side was campaigning for. Not an inkling. You've been living as a hermit for ten years so for all you know, it could be about whether chocolate digestives should be banned from having a layer of caramel added between the choccy and the biscuit base - you just have no idea what's going on.

But you've come back from your little hole in the desert ground, have realised from the hubbub that this is important, and need something to key on before you cast your vote. All you'd need to do is take a look at some of the standard bearers for the respective campaigns. They've given us nothing more useful to go on, so that's as good a criterion as any. So, let's see...

On the Remain side you've got the leaders of the main political parties, a lot of high-profile business leaders and quite a few celebrities. Not exactly the champions you'd send in to joust for your honour, but hold on - have a look at this lot on the other side. Yes, there are business leaders on this side too. But... Gove. Boris Johnson. Nigel fucking Farage

Quickly! Give me that pencil. Decision made.

Friday, 1 April 2016

My tribute to my late father

As my earlier entry suggested it was going to, cancer took my dad on the stroke of midnight on March 15th/16th. My family are hugely grateful for the love and support that's been shown to us. I don't propose to relay the details of his last few days here, rather I'm just going to place here what I said at his funeral service this morning.

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When we were nippers, the phrase ‘wait till your father gets home’ meant something. Dad’s size, giant to a young child, coupled with the fact that he worked nights so we didn’t see much of him during the week, gave him an imposing air that you respected without thinking about it. Mum only had to say those words to put an end to any misbehaviour on our part. To count the number of times Dad ever laid a hand on us in anger, though, even after hearing any report of some wrongdoing, some broken vase or refusal to go to bed, I wouldn’t need the fingers of a single hand. It was so rare that, if I ever did get a smacked backside, my main response was one of shame, because I’d know without question that I really had done something that deserved it. That’s how Dad was; a man of contradictions. When we lived in Edinburgh Road, for example, he was a subscriber to Militant magazine. By the time the folks left Bevendean, he was reading, to my horror, the Daily Mail!


Examples of these contradictions run like a thread all through his life. Unlike his father and grandfather before him, he didn’t join the Navy, though his great respect for his forebears having done so was clear. He told me once that the reason he didn’t follow them was because the Navy told him he’d be a good fit for some kind of engineering role, which didn’t appeal to him. He didn’t fancy sitting in a confined space in the bowels of some ship, surrounded by the noise and grease of his work. He then, of course, spent much of his working life doing exactly that type of thing on land rather than sea, quite literally getting his hands dirty to earn his living.


He didn’t want us to have to do the same sort of thing, urging me once to seek so-called ‘white collar’ work rather than any kind of job you had to wash off yourself at the end of each shift. Glenn, though, has inherited his mechanical talents, and Dad wasn’t afraid to tell both of us how proud he was of us as young men, not minding at all that Glenny had found work like that, despite the advice he’d given us to the contrary.


Dad was a man with a low embarrassment threshold. He did not like people to think he’d made some mistake, he fretted about how he looked whenever he stepped out of the house in anything other than his overalls; he placed, in short, a high value on his dignity. So, knowing that, and as another illustration of the contradictions I was talking about, let me tell those of you who never saw it about the White Admiral public house in Bevendean.


This now-demolished boozer was one for which the term ‘spit and sawdust’ could not have been invented, because it suggests a salubrity and class which was simply absent in the Admiral. Possibly blood and sawdust would suffice, though I suspect any sawdust would have been nicked had it been left sitting around unguarded. One Christmas the Admiral held a fancy dress competition. Dad, perhaps miffed by the fact that Mum used to win something in every single one of the pub’s many raffles, decided he was going to win it.


Now bear in mind that this is a man who once asked me if I thought he looked like a ‘retired copper’ before he left for a night out. Turning up in any fancy dress whatsoever would have provoked surprise, so when he came into what was laughably called the ‘family bar’, they might as well have called the competition off and put first prize straight in his hand. His chosen outfit was a deep, iridescent blue, off-the-shoulder ball gown, a long blond wig and a tiara. I was, like everybody else, so startled by this that it was only much later that I wondered where he got these items in sizes that would fit him. Of course he won.


He was a voracious reader, a love of words being one of the greatest gifts he bestowed me, and he had a sophisticated and varied sense of humour. The hardest I ever saw him laugh though was in response to a silly pun about the controversial French footwear designer Phillipe Floppe. He was helpless for about half an hour and for a short time I thought we were going to end up gathering to celebrate his life a lot sooner than we actually have because he went the colour of that ball gown.


In truth he was always pretty quick to laugh, a great quality in my view, and despite being quick to express his displeasure when he felt it, usually with some inanimate object he was threatening to cast through the nearest window, he was no less quick to express the great pleasure he took from so many things. As you’ll have seen from how he made his final journey today, he had a lifelong love of motorcycles, refusing to allow the last one he owned even to get wet – if it ‘looked a bit threatening’, the bike remained in the garage. Though he never joined the Navy, he did love the ocean cruises he took with Mum, her sister Chris and our greatly missed uncle Clive, and he took particular joy in the pleasure boat he and Mum bought to tour the Norfolk Broads.


He also found friendship and brotherhood in the Freemasons, the support from whom has gone above and beyond the call, and extended well beyond the point at which he was too ill to play any active role. My family owe Mr F in particular a debt of gratitude which we can never expect adequately to repay.


Some family secrets came tumbling out of their hiding places over the course of Dad’s illness. These have served to illustrate the point I’ve been making about his contradictory nature. For all of that, I could not have asked for a better father as a kid. The last thing I said to Dad, when I thought he was sufficiently awake to understand it, was to thank him for everything he’d done for me. While we were doing a bit of tidying up at the bungalow he got to enjoy so briefly last week, my partner Cristina came across a ring that Mum had, as she frequently does, ‘tucked away’ somewhere or, as I’d call it, lost.


‘The last thing he ever bought me’, Mum told us, quickly moved to tears. ‘He loved you’, Glenn said to her. He did. He loved all of us. And we loved him, and will miss him terribly.

Goodbye, Dad. And thanks.