Saturday 31 May 2014

Don’t even think about it

Remind me, again, of the relevance of John Major? All of a sudden the dinosaurs are being wheeled out to warn of the murky waters beyond the known world, the leviathans that lurk where the charts end and the deep, dark seas of despair that await all who would venture beyond the maternal embrace of Mother Europe. Ken Clarke, of course, never went away, but it seems that his constant insistence that life outside Europe would be a geo-political death sentence is no longer enough.

What the grey man said was that a British departure was unthinkable, by which he meant a waggy fingered “Don’t even think about it.” He even used that form of words on Radio 4 yesterday morning. Furthermore he insisted that David Cameron would emerge triumphant from reform negotiations and we would all move forward in harmony and peace and prosperity. I thought it was interesting how he was happy to predict the positive outcome of a process that has always failed in the past, yet utterly denounced the possibility that an independent Britain might not only survive but thrive, free from its Eurochains.

As evidence of Cameron’s statesmanlike stature Major cited his supposed negotiated reduction in the EU budget over a year ago, which fabricated victory was not only effectively rebuffed by every analyst in the land at the time, but has also been comprehensively trashed by last week’s demand for a half-billion quid more from British coffers. It’s fitting that the best example he could offer of Britain’s negotiating power was an abject failure to negotiate a single thing of substance.

If you want more examples just look at forty years progressive loss of sovereignty despite all the promises and posturing. “Up yours, Delors”? Don’t make me laugh. The EU institutions ride contemptuously roughshod over the wishes of formerly independent nations and the best that those nations’ leaders can offer is to repeat John Major’s advice “don’t even think about it”. But the prospects for a Britain outside the EU is exactly what we should be thinking about. And thinking about it long and hard and often and openly.

Because, if we don’t, there will be nothing to debate come a possible 2017 referendum. If people quietly lie down and “don’t even think about it” we will have a referendum that effectively asks you to choose between a well-rehearsed and heavily-funded ‘IN’ position which has been quietly propagandising for years with fearful predictions for calamity on Brexit, and a poorly researched ‘OUT’ campaign that asks you to vote on a gut feeling that we might be better off out. The in campaign needs no evidence, its job has already been done, but the out camp needs to do some real leg work to counter the non-arguments of the ardent Europhiles.

Be brave, be for Brexit
Be brave, be for Brexit

Whether your doubts are based on the loss of control of our national borders and laws, or the detachment and indifference of the political establishment; whether your antipathy for the EU is based on the over-regulation of your thoughts and actions; or whether you oppose major policies on energy, climate, economics and trade, if you want a genuinely informed and fair ballot the OUT lobby has to offer a viable vision of Britain outside the EU. If it doesn’t, the vote will go only one, predictable way and we will be dragged, not even screaming, deeper into a mongrel country called Europe. I don’t even want to think about that.

Friday 30 May 2014

Something for the Weekend

With the advent of the single parent family, a phenomenon that has gone from shameful (or sad) to ubiquitous in a few short decades, many a ritual commonplace among my generation is practically unknown to youngsters of today: Riding on dad’s bicycle crossbar, a kick-about down the park and the steady hand of quiet masculine discipline. So Tony the barber was delighted when a man and boy entered his salon together one sunny Saturday morning.

They took a seat and waited patiently as the queue slowly progressed, accompanied by the snip of scissors, the buzz of clippers and the reassuring manly fug of old cigarette smoke, aftershave and proprietary hair dressings. The little boy studiously examined the fading style posters and the advertisements for grooming products long since defunct as the man flicked through the ancient magazines. Tony observed the sacrament as he recited the holy words to his current customer, “Anything for the weekend, sir?”

As the shop door tinkled closed, Tony swept the clippings into a corner and the man took his place at the tonsorial altar. He winked at the lad as Tony adorned him with the holy vestment of the faded and well-worn cape and applied the comb. “How do you like it, sir?” he queried and then set about the man’s head with the practised ease of a skilled artisan. In no time the job was done and with a flourish of his brush Tony flicked away the fallen curls and presented the man with the back-of-the-head mirror in the time-honoured fashion. Satisfied, the man stepped down and beckoned the lad to take his seat.

As Tony pumped up the chair to working height the smiling man said to the young lad “I’m just popping out for a few things. Be a good lad and wait for me here when you’re done, okay?” The shop door tinkled as he left and Tony set to work initiating the youngster in the ancient ways of barber lore, enquiring “Been on your holidays, yet?" as he began to snip away. Soon the job was done and the lad dutifully took a seat on the bench as Tony welcomed up the next customer.

Morning turned to afternoon as Tony plied his trade and soon a couple of hours had passed, during which time the man had not returned. Not wishing to worry the youngster, who seemed quite happy with Country Life and three-week old newspapers, Tony said nothing but as the clock above the big mirror struck two he judged it time to make his concern known. Bidding his last customer farewell and in a lull in trade he and the boy were now the only people in the shop. Tony took a seat beside the young fellow.

The Brylcreem Boys are back!
The Brylcreem Boys are back!

“I don’t want to worry you lad, but it looks like your dad has forgotten about you." The boy put down the magazine he had been flicking through and replied “Oh, he’s not my dad.” Tony was taken aback at first but of course, these days it was exception rather than the rule that a boy should be accompanied by his own father. “Who is he then?” asked Tony, “your step-dad?” The pause seemed to last for an age as the boy took a steady breath, “No” he said, “I just met him outside and he asked me if I wanted a free haircut.” 

Thursday 29 May 2014

Mappa Thursdi

Despite all the fun of the last week, as all over Europe new parties more closely representing traditional working people have taken respectable shares of the vote, the federal project rumbles on apace. Fuelled by fear and heavily funded campaigning to remain in the club, any potential exit referenda are likely to return such narrow margins as to be considered inconclusive and thus be effectively ignored. Attempts at reform are likely to fail, especially as the workings of the various institutions are effectively impenetrable to ordinary voters and the EU’s leaders are intent that should remain so.

So, where will all this lead? As workers from eastern states pour into the big three - Germany, France and the United Kingdom - and displace the unskilled, many of those who can are seeking to relocate their lives in more friendly climes. The low cost of living in the desperately depopulated former soviet states has been a pull in tempting adventurous Brits into early retirement. And many young professionals who can work via the internet are choosing to do so in countries where they may actually be able to afford a house of their own.

In the UK itself seaside resorts have become dole towns as the unemployable calculate they may as well enjoy their permanent holidays in fitting locations, leaving the expensive bustle of the inner cities to the workers. The Costas have long been the retirement colonies for those on stretched state pensions and with the uncomfortable imposition of multiculturalism many are seeking the prospect of ending their days among people like themselves, somewhere warm and welcoming rather than watch the towns they grew up in become veiled and unrecognisable.

The EU is divided into geographical regions but in a couple of generations it might make more sense to recognise those regions not by location but by occupation. Thus the major cities of northern Europe will teem with largely young but poorly educated people, working to make everything and pay for everything via their taxes. They will holiday in the Mediterranean where they will gain a taste for the comforts that await the end of their working lives and they will leave their children behind to work when they leave.

Educated professionals will continue, of course, to work wherever they wish but as now will congregate in concentrations of professional expertise such as major financial centres and high-tech campuses clustered around major universities. And when they eventually retire it will be to the leafy, unspoilt countryside in the climate of their choice.

The New Europe
The New Europe

In other words, no real change; it’s already happening. The burgeoning housing crisis will be solved by building pods for the drones in industrial areas and by the depopulation of the no longer productive. Watch as all that multiculturalism turns back into segregation as work and workers retreat from islamic cities and leave them to their new cold deserts and slowly but surely a new Europe emerges, politics becomes pointless and nation states are a thing of the past.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Cowardly New World?

So, I just got home. No biggie, I hopped in a taxi, got on a plane, took a bus to the car park and drove my own wheels back to my little gaff, my sanctuary, the place where I keep all my stuff; the accumulated detritus of a life lived, if not well, at least  lived frenetically. It’s really time I slowed down a little. Maybe it’s time we all slowed down?

While I was waiting for the airport parking transfer bus I began to think – it’s a thing I do without bidding. I’d like to believe it’s something we all do, but I’m not convinced. The bus eventually showed up and the bored driver grunted a practised and insincere greeting as he grudgingly allowed us to board and remain bored while we regained the sanctity of our cars. The experience - like shopping - may have been made better without involving human beings at all.

From the earliest days mankind has been busy devising ways of saving labour. Airports in the future will not need drivers to take us from planes to automobiles; the planes are mostly capable of flying themselves, driverless trains already operate in some parts of the world and there is much excited chatter at the moment about driverless cars. What will the world’s stock of imperfect taxi drivers do once that technology is perfected?

We already have robot warehouses and where once a harvest took a whole village it’s now within the remit of one man and his combine harvester. Vending machines, cashpoints, online banking, Amazon, pay and display… the whole internet revolution. Everywhere you look, man is replaced by machine. This should be a good thing, were human evolution actually up to the job. For every creation of human ingenuity that increase individual productivity, the actual productivity of an enormous sector of the world population goes down, in some cases to zero.

Feed the world? Easy. Give it something worthwhile to do though, now there’s the rub. As more and more machines do the donkey work, humans should be freed to be creative, to enjoy their leisure, to be all that they can be. But what of the vast majority of freed humans, the ones who are only really capable of being donkeys? Here’s your problem, world leaders, it’s not employment that is needed; the real question is what DO we do with unproductive humanity? (And how do you stop the buggers breeding?)

While the bread and circuses approach was good enough for the Romans two thousand years ago, human ingenuity has yet to come up with an effective way of containing not just a city, but a world population surplus to requirements. Recently, the solution was to give them money, let them be consumers and pretend that they actually contribute to prosperity but as more and more useful humans leave work and retire that particular illusion is going to be harder and harder to pull off.

Stupid people everywhere

What do we do when the tax receipts fall but the Epsilons continue to reproduce? When the genuinely productive step off the hamster wheel? Will the work of machines alone provide enough wealth for an eventual – and not so far off - majority who are only getting better at being idle? We’ve already automated consumption and entitlement. How long before we finally twig that it’s the automation that’s moving forward and the humans who are the obstacles to progress? What leader is going to be brave enough to admit that?

Tuesday 27 May 2014

The Last Supper

In Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman attests to being an excellent driver. Well, I’m an excellent traveller; I’m really good at travelling, but indescribably bad at being somewhere for any length of time. Let me describe my day (See what I did there?)

I set out to discover the Sofia Museum of Socialist Art. This was a tip from the astonishingly good value and well-recommended free tour yesterday whose guide explained that this was effectively code for The Communist Museum and it was where many artefacts from the communist regime had ended up. Statues of Lenin and Dimitrov and the fabled ruby (glass) star from the top of one of central Sofia’s three Soviet-era monoliths. Also –and this was the intrigue for me – they play old propaganda newsreels which, said the guide, gave a real flavour of what those days were like.

Naturally, Bulgarians mostly want to forget that period of their history, so the museum is hidden away, far out of town in a dingy suburb and almost impossible to find unless you are armed with the knowledge that it is housed in the gated, guarded compound of the imposing Ministry for Anti-Discrimination. Local people had never heard of it and it took the assistance of a helpful student with internet access to track it down. It is open six days a week... Monday it was closed. Hey ho, at least I got to ride the new Metro and indulge my trademark excellent traveller technique of walking aimlessly around all day long.

Many more miles were trudged before I finally called it a day and slogged it back to the hotel, discovering on the the way a Georg Washington Street – I bet not a lot of people know that! As you read this uninspiring blog entry I am making my way back to Blighty, but there was one thing I had yet to do yesterday before packing and that was to indulge myself in an expensive blow-out in a pricey restaurant. So, in a departure from my usual partly political broadcast, I bring you what amounts to an extended version of one of Twitter’s favourite hashtags: #tweetyertea. This, because I am a discerning sexist pig, is one for the ladies.

Around the corner from my hotel is situated Хаджидраганов the House of Hadjidragonov, an ‘olde tavern’ style restaurant dishing up a huge range of jujjed-up peasant fare from its hefty, wooden-bound menus. I chose Хлебница (Hlebnetica) followed by Воеводска Сукавица (Voevodska Sukavitza) and just in case the portions turned out light, a Шопска (Shopska) salad on the side. (The portions were anything but light.) Also, to refresh the palate, a Kamenitza lager followed by a nice Merlot from the Thracian Valley region to wash it all down. Ready? Here come the photos:

Table for one
Table for one

Хлебница (Hlebnetica)
Soup in a bread bowl - a meal in itself

Воеводска Сукавица (Voevodska Sukavitza)
A frankly shameful amount of meat.
A plait of pork, chicken and beef.

Nearly empty platter
The best I could manage!

And that, my Twittery readers, will have to keep you going until tomorrow when normal service will, probably, be resumed. Oh and did I say pricey? The whole lot –and there was easily enough for two - came to under 60 Leva, which at the current exchange rate is about £25, the most expensive meal I had on the whole trip by a factor of at least four. I tell you, I’m an excellent traveller.

Monday 26 May 2014

Farage in Channel: Continent cut off!

In 1973, without consulting the country, Ted Heath signed us up to what was always intended as a grand federal project. In 1975 Harold Wilson honoured an election pledge to hold a referendum on our continued membership of what was then the EEC. Two thirds of those who voted did as they were told by the well-funded campaign to stay in and driven by a heavily propagandised fear of isolation and hardship, opted to remain. Since then those who have openly questioned the project have been derided as Little Englanders and worse.

We’ve had our ups and downs with the EU over the last 41 years, not least because of the lack of transparency of a system of government which has become increasingly unaccountable to those who pay for it. True or not we feel we are ruled by shadowy, unelected bureaucrats, detached from the often hard reality of those they impose on. To almost everybody in Britain the EU represents a clear loss of sovereignty but those born under EU rule appear to accept this as a benign thing, a necessary price. Propaganda works, you see. Overall a referendum will be a close-fought thing but even those who are very pro EU are still unhappy with the way this racket is run.

Yet even today, when it is clear that of those who voted - even after the smears and the backstabbing, the racist, homophobic, sexist labelling - a majority mobilised, braved the demonstrators at some polling stations and endorsed a party with zero presence in Westminster, the so-called ‘mainstream’ parties are demonstrating that they are anything but mainstream: The UKIP vote was a protest; we will try harder to get OUR message across; we’re sorry, we got it wrong (this from Labour); we hope that our supporters will return to us next year in the general election. It's still all about them - they still don’t get it, do they?

For now, at least, we like to imagine we live in a western democracy and in a democracy the government is supposed to do what the electorate want, not the other way around. For several decades now, however, successive governments have sought to tell the people how they should behave and what they should think. And much of that diktat emanates squarely from a central politburo that has no accountability to the people it likes to pretend it is there to serve. The people of Europe are treated like squabbling children by the European institutions and comfortable commentariat alike. That is what yesterday’s result is about.

Euro Election Dance
The EU Hokey-Cokey

Forget about pushing Toryism, Labourism, or whatever it is the LibDems support. It’s not that you are not getting your message across chaps – far from it – it’s that your messages have been roundly rejected. And given that we know there is almost nothing you can do to take back powers from Brussels while we remain in the EU, all your bluster about reform is just so much hot air. The British people want their country back. Find a way to do that and they might, just might, start to trust you again.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Counting the Days

So, today is EU election counting day, the day when all the chickens come home to roost and the day that commentators like Dan Hodges will see if their six-week rant in vilification of UKIP and all its supporters has borne fruit. At first, a lot of observers sort of agreed with many of the conclusions resulting from the reported thoughts and deeds of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists and many decided UKIP wasn’t for them. But then it started to become a distinctly grubby game.

Here were all two-point-one major parties (It’s becoming more difficult to describe the Lib Dems as even half a party) engaged in a sometimes desperate united front to hurl some quite extreme accusations at a party that attracted people who used to vote for them. People with unfashionable opinions, sometimes formed through lack of knowledge, sometimes from grudges held against others and sometimes just because they were barmy. People, in fact, much like themselves and the voters who remained.

Then the results were in and a curious anti-London sentiment began to grow as it dawned on ‘the people in the telly’ that the rest of the country no longer regard London as a British city. Dear Dan Hodges, who has been increasingly unhinged of late tweeted, “I'm bored of this "out of touch London elite" narrative. Londoners aren't going to apologise for not being racist throwbacks. Sorry.” and then got into a bit of a spat with me amongst others.

But nobody was talking about ‘Londoners’, the beleaguered former stalwarts of the blitz spirits and all that used to represent and unite Great Britain, they were talking about groups of people who hold themselves above the accountability most of us are subject to; people who live in a fairy tale world where everybody is ‘enlightened’ and believes in the same studiously correct things that they do. Where everybody is equal and equally entitled to live as they wish. Where all people are good people and nobody seeks to control others.

Meanwhile, as these lovely enlightened people were focused on dredging up old non-stories about UKIP candidates, the islamic caliphate of Tower Hamlets carried on doing what it has been doing for years. Electoral chicanery is not only commonplace here, but has been known about for years. And so entrenched is it that the UK government appears powerless to do anything to change it. Please take a few minutes to read this remarkable piece by Andrew Gilligan and then tell me that we have nothing to worry about.

This is not just happening in ‘That London’. In many British cities, there is corruption and anti-democratic graft beyond anything we have seen in the past as concerted islamist groups – under the cover of politically correct ‘tolerance’ and crying racism - seek to control local seats of power in order to impose their own ideology. The bigger prize and eventual ambition for islam is to control all of Europe, all of the world.

Tower Hamlets Taliban
The new London 'Elite'

So tonight, as the MEP results are returned and we wait to see the appetite for change in Europe and calculate the odds of our ever getting a referendum on our place in it, ask yourself this: If we can’t even control the corruption in boroughs in our own capital, what chance do we have of ever reforming the European Union? If we truly want a say on how the EU is run, we need to start much closer to home.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Lessons have been learned?

I am laughing my socks off at the various explanations, non-apologies, excuses, denials and downright fuckwittery of the chattering classes, the ‘metropolitan elite’, the ‘social commentators’, the bloggers, Tweeters and apologists for a dozen strains of political belief, indoctrination, received ‘wisdom’ and downright inability to come to terms with the outcome of the local council elections. Spin and counter-spin, lies and deceit. In short, the usual bollocks.

The newspapers have been filled with all the regular post-election soundbites: We hear what you are saying. We will learn the lessons. Clearly there is an issue to address here. Mistakes have been made. We understand the frustrations of the British people. But that’s the point, isn’t it? None of the established parties have yet learned a single thing. They remain perplexed at attitudes that prevail up and down the country; attitudes that Westminster has helped to create and allowed to fester.

For decades, whenever they were asked, in various surveys utterly ignored by national government, millions of ordinary people have expressed distrust with the European Union as they struggled to cope with the fallout from the loss of traditional regional industries. But the MPs that variously tried to represent these concerns were consigned forever to remain backbenchers. While at the behest of big business and the EU the border controls became non-existent, parties both red and blue thought they could buy off the indigenous British with welfare bribes.

Had the intention been that Britons would live in idle luxury while legions of foreign wage-slaves did the work and created wealth they may have been applauded, but the view from High Street, England showed only the expensive suits on the turned backs of political placemen. Closer to home what working Britain saw was declining wages, housing shortages, overcrowded schools and hospitals and ever more resources poured into praising the EU and promoting a mythical multicultural promised land.

But the top-table politicians saw none of this and dismissed as liars and scoundrels and of course, racists, those who dared to dissent, because those with money and power only ever have to encounter the good parts of mass migration of workers. What use is a cheap plumber or nanny when you can afford neither because your own plumbing or nannying skills have been priced below your subsistence income level? Whatever the Westminster mob say they believe, many ordinary British workers feel they have simply become a population which is replaceable at whim.

It is one thing to be a migrant worker, moving to a country with better prospects, but where is that prospect for an unskilled Brit? To a Bulgarian builder, used to working hard all day for little more than £1 an hour, the minimum wage in the UK is a dream come true, but where are the better wages for an English plasterer to be found? The advantages of free movement of peoples within the European Union work in only one general direction: poor countries lose their talent and youth to rich countries and the poor in rich countries become a dependent and despised underclass.

Lessons have been learned

There are no easy solutions to any of this and no leadership equal to and willing to take up the challenge, but until the political and media classes start to actually listen to what people other than themselves are saying there is not even the slimmest chance of gaining back the support of several ignored and forgotten generations. Whoever holds the balance of power in Britain, these issues will be there for yet more generations to come. Meantime, stand by to laugh again as the next shitstorm of prevaricating, meaningless soundbites arrives to accompany the EU election results tomorrow.

Friday 23 May 2014

Maid in Heaven

So my Bulgarian odyssey continued yesterday as I went on a mini road trip around the Kardzhali region. Sharing borders with Greece and Turkey this part of the world was once called Thrace and is steeped in history and mythology. The ancients spread their culture and practices here and many gods were worshipped. The highlight of my day was a trip, a pilgrimage almost, to the mountain-top citadel of Perperikon, the largest megalith ensemble in the Balkans and thought by some to have once been a temple to Dionysus.

The 470m high acropolis is reached by a steep, sun-baked pathway on which green skinks bask in the shimmering heat haze under cloudless skies. The site is still revealing its secrets and being developed as a world heritage site and workmen ply their trade, erecting walkways and safety barriers even as archaeologists chip away at the rock itself. I happened across a small international group of tourists, listening to an English speaking guide who told this little-know story:

Dionysus was the god of winemaking and wine, of theatre and of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. The Romans called him Bacchus. He may have been worshipped for over a thousand years before the coming of Rome itself and as far as gods go, he was noted for his very human bawdiness and carousing. In search of fun he roamed far and wide and his influence is felt today in every house of fun in the world.

We often say that modern technology has shrunk the world but the gods of old treated it as their own Xanadu, a pleasure dome whose delights were entirely theirs for the taking. Today we talk of Greek gods and Roman gods and Celtic gods, as if they were bound by earthbound geography but in truth the gods intermingled just as humans do and our story begins in Valhalla, the nightclub of the Norse in the hedonistic halls of heaven.

Dionysus was drinking there with an old friend, Thor, the raging bull of Viking legend and a real piss-artist to boot. As ever they drank and made wagers and generally lowered the tone as their boasts got louder and other, less boisterous gods left for quieter venues elsewhere. Tonight the argument – as it so often was – was about their sexual prowess. Fuelled by booze the bawdy twosome agreed a challenge. Each was to try for the affections of Aphrodite, a deity well known for putting out on first dates.

The two presented their cases to a highly amused goddess, already very tipsy on ambrosia and coke. To Dionysus’ fury, Thor won the honour of her company and the two retired to her quarters leaving the Thracian to drink himself into a stupor and cause mischief elsewhere.

Hammer Time!
It's Hammer Time!

Now Thor was a vigorous god and wasted no time in demonstrating his virility and stamina to the waif-like Aphrodite. Even as morning broke he was still intent in pressing his attentions on her. “No more,” she begged, “I’m tired out!” He stood up and puffed out his muscular torso. Lightning crackled outside as he beat his chest with a fist, “But I am THOR!” he roared, accompanied by a rumble of thunder. There was a moment’s silence before Aphrodite responded. She sat up in bed, fixed him with a jaded eye and declared, “You’re thore? Well, I’m tho thore I can hardly even pith!”

Thursday 22 May 2014

Diary of a Nobody

June 21st 2014: Today was a busy day for the firm and we needed all hands on deck. Or on the train, in this case. I made a comment to one of the interns about the tardiness of his twitters. He said “All right old man, keep your hair on!” I had to remind him that as party leader I was due more-respect than that. Later in the day, as I was passing the interns’ carriage a scrunched up page of A4 hit me on the back of the head. I turned round but they all had their noses to their smart-phones. I think I know which one it was though. I will bide my time; this is a strategy that has served me well with my policies.

It was an exhausting day, not helped by being given a bacon sandwich first thing. I was in a quandary and really wanted to refuse it. I mean, I want to be the first second Jewish Prime Minister, so how would that look? But I was with the working classes and I know that a bacon sandwich represents about 50% of their daily disposable income so I had to grin and bite it. I hoped it might taste like a croissant, but it was horrible and the grease ran down my chin. Luckily my PR team prevented any of this getting out via the media, otherwise I would have looked like I was out of touch.

Now, I don’t usually like to make jokes but in a witty aside I rhymed Farage with garage and I think everybody was suitably impressed. When I tried it out on Justine last night the two of us laughed like drains for a full ten minutes. Then she said it was even funnier because, unless you live in the north, Farage does rhyme with garage. I believe they call this irony, which makes it doubly funny. We laughed so much we had to hug each other to control our mirth. Who says I’m not a man of the people?

I was reminded though, of how not everybody shares my intellectual self-confidence and subtle sense of humour when the joke I played on BBC Radio Wiltshire didn’t go so well. I wittily pretended not to know who Jim Grant was but, provincial outfit that they are, they took me seriously. Well of course I know who John Grant is, he’s the leader of Labour-run Swindon Borough Council; a fine man is our Joe. I wish we had many more mayors like Jason Brant to run our squeezed middle, one-nation cities.

Note to self: I must find out who this ‘Beaker’ is. I keep hearing it in whispers and I think it might be a nickname for David Axelrod, but until I’m sure I don’t want to use it and look foolish. I get the impression the poor fellow is the butt of much joshing among the ranks but for what we’re paying him to make me look good, I should think he can put up with our jolly British ways.

When I got home Justine cooked me a lovely meal – Ocado delivered this afternoon and she had prepared some good peasant food: eight-year old Italian Bitto cheese and sun-dried tomatoes on focaccia, drizzled with some good Tuscan olive oil and accompanied by some lovely artisan sausage flown in from Portugal that morning. All washed down with a rather nice Pouilly-Fuissé from our private cellar. Quite how she manages on £70 a week is beyond me.

22nd May 2014: It’s Polling Day today and I planned to have a good early night last night, but Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna turned up so we played a few hands of whist to aid our spirits. In a happy coincidence they had brought spirits with them. Chuka produced a bottle of whisky and I joked that I heard he preferred Um-Bongo - everybody went strangely quite at that and Justine had to dig me in the ribs. Well Chuka is such a charmer, I’d completely forgotten he’s black. Not that black men can’t be charming, I mean, they are super-good dancers, aren’t they and um... I put on some rap music to ease the mood but I’m not entirely sure if that did the trick.

So, I tried out the new little joke I had been working on for today. I said we all needed to focus on winning but if we didn’t win there would be a good reason. I adopted my ‘Look natural, Ed.’ pose and said “We can always blame it on Beaker.” Well, that was it, what a winner! Ed and Chuka couldn’t help themselves, guffawing and slapping their sides as Justine clung helplessly to the doorframe. The laughter went on and on; I was almost embarrassed for poor David, although I still didn’t really get it.

Look natural, Ed
Look natural, Ed

We really shouldn’t have carried on drinking as I have, unusually, a bit of a thick head today and my throat is a little tense. Practising my speech for tonight I detected a slight hint of a nasal whine but I’m sure that will pass. But this is what I say, I say ‘up and at them’ and I believe that; it’s the right thing to believe. I sense a great victory is afoot.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Is that you, Gene?

In the middle of the last century, when Massey Harris tractors got into bed with the Ferguson Company, they merged their complementary ingredients to become the best and in 1958 adopted the new name, Massey Ferguson. From the earliest beginnings a hundred years earlier the history of tractors has been one of continual improvement, exploiting new technology, discarding outmoded models and moving forward in a form of man-driven evolution; tractorgenics.

The continual improvement of farm machinery, as in any type of business, is driven by competition. Bigger, better, faster, more: prairie bestriding beasts with giant wheels driving sharper blades through more soil than ever before, trundling off the productions lines to turn wild earth into shelves of cornflakes and bread. Improvement is good, improvement is necessary because without it businesses fail.

Well, that was always the story in the formerly capitalist west. Meanwhile, through the iron curtain, a different model of progress was being adopted. Using the same old production methods and employing the same old, tired-out labour, the same old tractors were churned out, year after year. But progress there was – in the use of words. Tell a person something often enough and he will come to believe it, especially in the absence of contradictory information. Keep that curtain tight shut and block out the truth and almost anything can be promulgated as real.

Today we have the equivalent of the Eastern Bloc’s anything-but-casual approach to the truth about annual production statistics. Chocolate rations increased, comrades, tractor output at an all-time high and yes, everybody is equal! Except, of course they’re not. While some elements of human society strive forward with good matches and a healthy merging of those complementary ingredients, others languish behind the mythical curtain of equality, churning out the same tired old shit year after year while telling themselves that somehow, this is progress.

So, with the West afraid of politically unwelcome truths, now it’s the Chinese who are the new Massey Ferguson of genetic research, forging ahead exploring relationships that are verboten under the new consciousness of multicultural pretend-harmony and finding links that tell us what we always suspected but never dare voice. People. Are. Different. Not equal; different. And the great big modern-day bogeyman is that, whouda-thunk-it, race plays a part.

Stand by for an orchestrated front of denial as once again the life sciences bête noire of eugenics makes its latest bid for respectability. Observe as western governments shield your delicate eyes and ears from the horrors of inconvenient findings and protect your feelings from the nasty men. But the truth does hurt – progress necessarily means leaving some things behind. Look around at Britain’s shrunken, dried up, isolated gene puddles and forget about delicate sensibilities for a moment. Don’t tell me you don’t see people who in a truly functioning progressive society would probably never have been born.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

The Nazis are coming! Oh, it's just the postman...

Right you wise-old-gents, you personable-and-kind-individuals, you daft-and-glorious-operators*, let’s sort out this racism business once and for all; a lot of you seem confused. For a start, given that we refer collectively to the entire population of homo sapiens as ‘the human race’, we’re not talking about antipathy between actual races. We are all of the same species, a fact regularly demonstrated by the remarkable ease with which you lot keep interbreeding. Once upon a time, racism meant actual harmful discrimination against differently hued people, but apparently that’s no longer the case, racism now merging with simple unease to become indistinguishable in the woolly minds of junior thinkers everywhere; the New Racism is ubiquitous and all-pervasive.

I blame Coca Cola – I want to teach the world to sing, all standing hand in hand, my arse! When I was growing up a distrust of foreigners was commonplace, with their funny ways and strange accents. Of course it was – our parents had been warned throughout their lives that walls had ears and loose lips sank ships. Xenophobia was a survival instinct after two world wars in thirty years. But enter the Seventies and the newly-ageing hippy generation were becoming opinion shapers; since then and up to the end of the twentieth century, Britain absorbed the fruits of globalisation and took multiculturalism in its stride. We were becoming quite diverse enough without the ‘help’ of New Labour’s nose-rubbing designs.

To those raised in the poly-lingual streets of inner London – no longer just the British capital but a ‘world city’, whatever that means – the sudden arrival of Eastern Europe may not have been a big deal, but go to rural towns like Boston and see how former cohesive communities have developed a siege mentality, having been (in their not unreasonable estimation) invaded by people they have been unable to easily accommodate and assimilate. Is it any wonder that a weekend poll in that region predicts only one outcome for Thursday’s Euro-elections? Here is a sizeable population of people who feel they are voting for their continued existence, having had no say whatsoever in the socio-political engineering of the last decade.

These people aren’t racists, at worst they are merely fearful and a little angry which, far from being a crime, is a universal instinct and just as with my parents and grandparents is a natural reaction to events. I haven’t heard of any violent protests, there have been no accounts of paint daubed on houses of foreigners and nobody to my knowledge has been driven out of town with burning brands and pitchforks, but to hear the united front of the mainstream media and the old-order political parties you could be forgiven for thinking we were seeing the resurgence of Nazism.

But of course, there HAS been violence. There HAS been bile and vilification. Mobs screaming hatred at the top of their voices have been seen around the land and property has been defaced and vandalised. Bricks have been thrown, banners have been burned and hate-convulsed faces have been thrust at those who campaign for change. And further calls have gone out on social media to mass against the supposed forces of darkness. What an irony then, that all this frightening violence has spewed from those who say they are AGAINST fascism and that they DON’T hate. Once again it is those who say they care that manage to spit out the most venom.

And with every nasty little jibe, every personal attack and every piece of shit despatched by free post suspicions rise in the minds of the politically unsophisticated. Far from the ‘no smoke without fire’ intentions of smear tactics, ordinary people are seeing a wholly different picture. “How is fear, racist?” they ask, and “Why are words being effectively banned? Why are people who voice my concerns being vilified?” Little wonder then, that the penny is belatedly dropping and all of a sudden senior politicians are popping up to claim that the racist charges are over the top... although they continue to use words like despicable and vile in condemning these neo non-racists.

I’ll be glad when Thursday is out of the way and the votes have been counted; when the people who haven’t been intimidated into staying at home make their opinions clear. Of course, it will make no difference, will it? The battleground for next year’s GE will still centre round borders we can’t control, laws we have little influence over, treaties and agreements we can’t veto, employment statistics conjured from thin air by febrile minds and a referendum, the outcome of which has already been decided. Expect a barrage of pro-EU politicking so thick and so fast that even talking of Brexit will become a racist act.

(*Aren't acronyms fun?)

Monday 19 May 2014

On the Wires

Not so long ago the identification colours of fixed wiring in the UK changed to supposedly harmonise with the EU. Red and black became brown and blue respectively, much to the angst of practising electricians everywhere, not least because a whole new generation will never appreciate the advice: “Red to red, black to black... ‘blue’ to bits”. For three-phase wiring the phase colours which were red, yellow and blue are now brown, black and grey and the neutral which was black is now blue. Are you with me so far?

Amazingly there is yet to be a documented incidence of death directly attributable to colour blindness and this even in the face of accurate colour vision no longer being a requirement for apprentice electricians – political correctness gone kaboom. Much of that is due to a natural British caution, a distinct lack of which I have witnessed most of the world over. We have had wiring regulations for over 130 years and even if our electricians are not well-versed in their specifics our systems of circuit protection can be replicated by rote and are generally practised. At the heart of this protection is the recognition of the earth itself as a conductor.

I mention this fact merely to suggest that to a British electrician the lack of deliberate connection to earth is a show-stopper, whereas to a Bulgarian artisan earthing appears to be an exotic and unnecessary option. This probably explains why Andrew has been getting random small shocks from unexpected sources in his new Bulgarian home – the Old School. And this is why I’m here – quicker, we thought to get a British electrician to fly out and have a go, than to learn sufficient Bulgarian to accurately explain the cause of death.

Bulgaria has been in the EU for seven years now and I doubt that harmonisation with CENELEC is uppermost in their priorities, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide selection of the familiar and not so familiar on display in the local wholesaler’s shop. Via a combination of pointing, holding up fingers and a three-way translation between English, Bulgarian and Greek we assembled most of what we needed. Their wiring, by the way, is brown, blue and black; no confusion there.

So, the project started. I was expecting to be chasing cables into walls, sinking in boxes and bringing a small part of the building up to a UK standard of electrical safety and conformity but the sheer scale of the building makes this an enormous task without extra hands and equipment, so we opted for function before form. And as the installation is effectively temporary, all of the cabling is simply nailed to the walls. Once that decision was made it was but a small slide to cutting corners. Why waste pennies on expensive junction boxes when twisted and taped joints will do the job?

Hey, don’t knock it! Before I got here there was a solitary light in operation, dangling precariously from the ceiling of room 13; now he has ten lights on two-way switching* throughout the entrance and grand stairway. Three days ago there were three sockets and a mass of trailing leads; now he has a dozen, situated where they are needed. And while up until today everything was connected directly to the incoming supply cable without a circuit breaker in sight, he now has a fully protected consumer unit with half a dozen active circuits.

Breath easy - it's all safe now...

*Ahem, the 'two-way switching'business: In Bulgaria you nod for ‘no’ and shake your head for ‘yes’. This is my excuse for the fact that lacking a functioning continuity tester I wired up the two-way switches from top to bottom as you would throughout the known world whereas the Bulgarian switches are wired left to right. (For sparkies, the ‘common’ is where L1 would normally be.) Hey, my bad, it will be work of minutes to sort them out. One day. Soon. As for the colour coding, it’s all green and yellow now! 

Friday 16 May 2014

Chicken Run

“In the wilds of Borneo. In the vineyards of Bordeaux...” So sang Ian Dury as he bade his listeners hit each other with their rhythm sticks. This nineteen-seventies classic invokes the mysteries of far-flung lands and exotic peoples and what better way to introduce this anecdote of the week so far in the land of dragons at the edge of the known world – not for nothing was St George the patron saint of Bulgaria.

An agrarian idyll, a landscape of mountains and forests, wide open vistas, tinkling streams and secret, bosky trails, Southern Bulgaria is a walker’s world and near heaven for a large and energetic dog. Rambo strained at his leash as we climbed the steep path out of the village, up to the ruins at the old dam. He gave a low growl as we passed his old adversary Hotie, the ancient donkey who had once strayed onto Rambo’s territory. He looked quizzically at the cows and sheep placidly grazing in the clover at the wayside and then, curiosity satisfied, he came to heel and continued up the slope.

High overhead an eagle soared, tracing overlapping circles in the afternoon sky as he followed the rising air, but on the ground another avian entirely caught Rambo’s attention. Chickens. Dozens of them. And before we could restrain him Rambo lurched toward the flock, his lead pulled from Andrew’s grasp and trailing along behind him. As the chickens scattered ahead of him, Rambo focused on one particularly plump specimen and pursued him round and round the little glade. He never quite managed to catch up, but after a few circuits, to our untrained eyes, it appeared that this unusually speedy chicken had three legs.

Suddenly it bolted out of the clearing and back down the track. Rambo followed, his muscular frame exerting every sinew as he struggled to make up ground. The chicken disappeared into the yard of the local Kmet (Mayor) and Rambo followed, while Andrew and I, far behind eventually caught up with the panting dog. For a few moments all three of us gasped for air, as the smiling Kmet sauntered over. “Kakvo praveesh?” he chuckled “What’s up?” We struggled for breath before finally managing to acknowledge the greeting. Andrew uttered a breathy “Peeleshko!” pointing the way the chicken had fled, before coughing up a lung.

The Kmet laughed as he asked, “What about it?” Eventually, between us, we managed to explain how we had ended up in his yard in such a state. He found it hilarious and we passed a few pleasantries before Andrew gathered up the courage to pose the question on both our minds. “Are we seeing things,” he asked, “or did that chicken have tri kraka (three legs)?” The Kmet laughed heartily, “Razbira se!” he guffawed, “Of course! We breed them like that!”

Where dat chicken?
Where dat chicken?

In our halting Bulgarian and the Kmet’s rudimentary English we soon learned that he, his wife and his son all favoured the leg of a roast chicken. This way, he explained, through an entirely logical and practical feat of animal husbandry, none need be disappointed come Sunday lunch. I had just one more question, “Do they taste just the same as normal chickens?” The Kmet stroked his chin ruefully and admitted “We don’t know.” Andrew and I looked at each other and Rambo pricked up his ears as we waited for him to complete the admission, “We’ve never managed to catch one yet.”

Thursday 15 May 2014


An early enough three-hour flight from the UK plus a couple of hours of added time and all of a sudden we’re well into the day as my EasyJet steed taxies to the terminal in Sofia and I disembark with all the anticipation and trepidation of the finely-timed journey across an alien landscape that awaits me. After an incredibly slick entry into this newest of EU countries I am through passport control within twenty minutes of landing, my luggage is right there and after a few short paces through the green channel I am at large in the arrivals lounge.

I say ‘lounge’ as if anybody would hang around in a leisurely manner but, negotiating the small gaggle of hawkers pimping rides by private taxi, dodgy non-official bus services, charabanc and, for all I know, donkey, I pay heed instead to the instructions I have memorised and make my way to the rank of ‘Okay’ yellow Taxis. It’s not clear for a minute or two why there are people standing around waiting while a gridlock of empty taxis is going nowhere, so I approach the taxi at the head of the queue and using the international language of monosyllabic Slow English I get a ride to the bus station where, I have been told, there is a slim chance of catching the 1:40 to Kardzhali.

Either my powers of communication are better than I thought, or the driver is telepathic... or maybe the speed restrictions are merely advisory in the case of taxi drivers, because we hurtle across Sofia at speeds approaching the sound of “Oh my God!” twice veering widely to avoid cars with the temerity to be on their own side of the road. White knuckle rides are always so much fun and I settle back in the brace position to enjoy the new sights flooding in. And the smells. Ah, the earthy, rustic essence of Bulgaria... or is it, I belatedly wonder, the taxi driver?

Looking out as we get into the busy streets I am surprised (but why should I be?) that instead of the multicultural palette imposed on British cityscapes, Sofia appears to be splendidly and unashamedly monocultural and furthermore, being largely Caucasian in appearance the local population looks more comfortably British than The UK has looked for a decade or more. Furthermore, despite a 12% muslim population I saw not one single burka. People like us. (Yes, I said it. No you’re a racist!)

At the bus station my enquiry is met with a blank expression and sharp retort of admirable efficiency. “33. Go now.” I hover, expecting to buy a ticket – I am, after all, at the ticket desk. The lady behind the glass gives me a withering look; she must deal with imbeciles all day long. “Go! Run!” So I run, out into the sunshine, locate stand 33 and reach the bus just as it prepares to close its doors. Talk about close timing. Soon we are leaving the outskirts of the capital and I settle down to watch the scenery go by.

Typically, the other passengers retreat into their own worlds, to absorb the next four hours, so I dig out my headphones and select some music. On the way out of Sofia I saw numerous posters announcing the forthcoming arrival of Lisa Stansfield, who is playing the National Palace of Culture on the first of June, so that seemed appropriate. Only kidding – I chose some nice, soothing Led Zeppelin; it’s been a long time since I rock’n’rolled! We rambled on across a wide flat plain flanked by distant snow-topped mountain ridges.

Where's the plug?
Where's the plug?

My mission is to begin the rewire of an old school that Roo – some of you know him – has bought in the south of the country. I have seen pictures of the astonishingly insouciant existing installation with new cables nailed to walls and twisted to the ancient existing wiring. “I keep getting odd shocks when I touch things” he has told me in the past, to which I have generally responded – Tommy Cooper style – that he should stop touching those things. But on arrival he informs me he has also being getting a tingle n the shower and he doesn’t think it’s from his new citrus body wash. We solve the immediate problem by resolving not to bathe until we’ve fixed it, but in the meantime a welcome beer is called for. The work will come round in its own good time... Bulgaria time: сутрин which roughly translates as mañana or in Cornish, ‘dreckly’. It may be a while before we get that shower.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

The journey of a a thousand miles...

The wonder that is economy air travel. Once it might have been excusable for passengers to arrive unschooled and stumble through the vagaries of airport check-in, security and the waiting... all that waiting. These days, however, with the long-ago advent of cattle class for the masses, you’d think people would be more prepared. You’d think...

Overheard in the queue to deposit hold baggage: “My bag, where’s my bag?” What? “Where’s my bag? It’s got everything in it!” What do you mean, everything? “Passports, boarding passes, money... Oh god, wallet, house keys! Everything!” You’d better telephone the taxi firm then. The man pats down his pockets but he already knows what he will find. “My phone’s in the bag!” Much grumbling and groaning as they excuse and extricate themselves from the snaking, concertina queue and stand, shipwrecked in a sea of teeming shoals of wheeled luggage. I can think of better ways of spending a very early morning than being entertainment for the schadenfreude-hungry hordes.

Then security. We KNOW the machines pick up metal, so woe betide the much-pierced ‘frequent flyers’ in the line. Belts, metal spectacle frames, shoe buckles, all have to come off and be placed in the trays; this seems to come as a surprise to some. And having passed a million signs demanding that liquids, pastes and gels be in clear plastic bags why do so many come unprepared? The queue shuffles forward like a prison exercise detail in leg irons as every other traveller encounters an unexpected, yet perfectly well advertised security requirement.

Nobody needs Duty Free. Nobody. In these days of online shopping and free-for-all customs control it’s rarely as cheap as you can find it elsewhere. But you still have to make that expedition through the dazzling lights and cloying perfume to get to the departure lounge. As sophisticated travellers we should know better but some still fall prey to the allure. “Don’t look, Doris!” But it’s too late. You’ve already squeezed as much into your hand luggage as you possibly could, yet now you want to buy something you don’t need, for more than you afford, for no reason you can think of.

Expensive coffee, massage chairs as fairground attractions, dozing adults and shrieking children; the departure lounge is anything but relaxing. With frequent announcements to keep an eye on your luggage the paranoia builds as everybody inspects everybody else for the telltale signs of the ne’er-do-well. And what is she wearing? Soon come the boarding calls and yet again we all lurch into lines to be scrutinised by hatchet-faced cabin crew on early morning duties as we eagerly anticipate taking our seats, only to be held in a stifling, sweaty queue of unfamiliar body odours and a Babel of muttered curses.

Finally, the madness of embarkation as we take our seats in the cigar tube. Where once there were four seats across, the slim cabin now seats six and, of course, nobody except you is prepared for the utter novelty of placing your hand luggage in the overhead locker. As I have dutifully used the rear doors to board (Ooh-er, missus!) it is to be expected that as I make my forward I pass others who ignored that instruction and now, like salmon, struggle against the force of the flow to find their seats at the back. Does everything in life come as such a challenge for these people?

"The plane now arriving at..."
"The plane now arriving at..."

But soon we are airborne, drifting off to sleep in the snoring, farting, flying sausage as it transports us to far-off lands, dreaming of new time zones and new, strange delights among an unfamiliar folk... just as long as they have a Starbucks and a McDonalds and WiFi and a half-decent mobile phone signal. And everybody speaks English. Oh and none of them strange foreign toilets... Ah truly, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

More holiday tales tomorrow as the journey continues...

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Chipping Away

My brother works for an enormous housing association with a nationwide repair, maintenance and refurbishment division. As well as managing much of what we used to call the country’s council housing stock they also squander vast sums of public money on bringing these houses up to a defined standard of amenity and energy consumption beyond what many home owners could possibly afford. New kitchens, bathrooms, central heating, wiring, etc. But I’ve written of this before.

The extra titbit I bring you today is that my little brother is one of the few tradesmen on their books who has a works van that is NOT fitted with a tracker. The others are furious because they are held to account for any deviation, mileage discrepancies and time irregularities and they see this as an unwarranted intrusion into their privacy. While, inevitably, some of them would take the piss were it not so, it is hard to put a price on the trust that is lost by this use of the technology. But hey, that’s tough, it goes with the territory.

But what if it wasn’t the works van? What if, from next year, all new cars and vans sold throughout Europe were to be fitted with tracking devices? What Orwellian hell is this, you demand? We didn’t vote for this! But, of course, you didn’t need to. Big Brother knows best what is good for you and apparently – for your own safety and convenience – what is good for you is that your car can be located at any time. Did you feel that little bit of trust as it just slipped away?

Of course, say those who see no evil, you already carry a sim card in your mobile phone that can be used to narrow down your location and if you have GPS switched on, we know exactly where you are. But the use of your phone is elective. You can choose to leave it switched off, or leave it at home. You can manage your phone to do your bidding, whereas the car will silently grass you up every time you leave the house. Ah yes, they say, but if you are doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear. Ever heard that before?

It’s another small step down a rocky road – for that is how all this works – one piece of freedom removed at a time and with luck nobody notices. Before you know where you are, you reach the end of that road. Already your freedom of speech, once taken for granted (the young people of Britain have no idea what  'free country' used to mean) is only guaranteed as long as what you say doesn’t cross certain boundaries which can seemingly be defined by anybody who chooses to take offence. Ah, but we have human rights, you cry! Yes, you do… you do… and how many dangerous criminals have been released to reoffend on human rights grounds?

Because, as always, the law does not constrain criminals, it never has; it primarily exists to control the rest of us. Toe the line and the full weight of the law will come down on your head - you’ll lose your reputation, your dignity and your livelihood. But live outside the law and the very same system will protect you from justice and retribution. The meek are not going to be inheriting the earth any time soon.

What next? Chip every child at birth? Brand them? Tattoo a QR code on their earlobe? We seem to meekly accept every little constraint on our freedoms, including that of our will; we do it to ourselves with hardly a murmur. Would you mind just putting your foot here? Yes, that’s right, just by that open shackle. And now the other one, please? That’s good. What? Oh, yes, it’s fine… you’re all equal - everybody is being treated exactly the same. Now if you wouldn’t mind just bending over and snapping the padlock shut? That’s excellent. No, don’t get up, stay bent over; it’s probably for the best if you just brace yourself now.

Chip this!

Well you won’t need to chip me for the next two weeks. I’m off on my holibobs, about which I will no doubt bore you to tears. If I can be arsed, I may well pick up the news and scribble one of my rants, but if I don’t manage to blog at all, just enjoy the blissful silence. If they track me down, I'll let you know.

Monday 12 May 2014

War of the Worlds

While you are getting frothy over the forthcoming elections, there are foul doings and goings-on afoot. The enemy is at the gates. Forget your Agenda 21 and The Illuminati. Pay no heed to the distraction of the chem-trail theorists and dismiss your thoughts of lizard creatures hell-bent on world domination. There is a far worse danger out there; it is all around us and too late to stop. Fear the march of the machines.

The Luddites knew a thing or two, I tell you, but once they were consigned to history the machines just got craftier and quietly carried on, taking over. Now, they rule our lives and distract us from their evil purpose with the wizardry that is their domain and theirs alone. Some people believe they have tamed the beast and it dances to their command but they delude themselves. This many-headed monster is nobody’s pet.

If anybody is on a leash here it is humanity, pegged to a stake and paying out daily only for the monster to get stronger and stronger. Nobody is immune and ultimately there can be only one winner. When it first arrived you thought it might become useful, given time. Then you convinced yourselves that you would be in the driving seat. But then it began to play its tune and like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, you all followed it to where you sit today, deceiving yourself that you are the puppet-master.

How do I know all this? Because the other day I started to look into the possibility of getting a new laptop. Now here’s the problem – I have no meaningful relationship with Information Technology. I have a degree in the subject but I may as well have a qualification in stone masonry for all the dialogue there is between me and the kit; it doesn’t talk to me. I foolishly posted my dilemma on Twitter and I got advice! Advice? I’m a man, for heaven’s sake, I have no gracious way of dealing with advice. Help me out here – no, don’t!

You see, I want my phone, my table, my PC and my laptop to work in seamless harmony with each other. In the past I have spent entire lost weekends installing, configuring and ultimately removing all kinds of software. But it turns out that while I can USE the tools, I can’t sharpen them. Give me a chisel and a whetstone and I’m your man, but give me a computer and an operating system and I’m screwed. This is no accident.

For all you adherents of Linux or Ubuntu or the dread OS X there is still not one unified, harmonious solution. Mention Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, or 8i and prepare for a clamour of hostile invective? This is intentional. This is what the machines want. They want some of us dumb humans to believe we are in fact in control when nothing could be further from the truth. And all the while we bicker and backstab, the internet – autonomous alien entity that it is – is collecting data about who we are and how stupid we can be.

Make no mistake, friends, the Information Age is no such thing. If you disbelieve me, consider how much of your time you now spend voluntarily telling strangers your innermost thoughts. You can’t even remember what you used to do before the world of Wi-Fi stole your leisure time from you. You are willing slaves to the digital world and not the other way around. And things will only get worse…

Because while in days gone by your views were shaped by the social groups you interacted with, as real people with real daily lives, nowadays you get your views of the world from people you may never meet; people who not only don’t give a fig about you as an individual, but who might quite happily consign you to oblivion with the simple act of unfollowing, or not liking; a virtual thumbs down. The same now applies to politics.

Once upon a time you voted in your blocs for the party whose overall package of policies appeared to best fit the aspirations of your societal groups. This was simple and effective and before the machines arrived we were more or less content with the outcome; we felt we’d made an informed choice. But now, separated from the group, the flickering screens pick up our individual dreams and send them to the politicians who try and package their policies to suit.

If you don’t believe me, check out some of the more stupid things otherwise responsible people have been made to do: Ed 'Robot' Miliband, the incredible repeating man, Nick Clegg and his apology, Boris Johnson on the zip wire… and now Michelle Obama with 'that' sign. What was she thinking? It has since become symbolic of how the most sincere of gestures can be hijacked and held to ridicule; we now put the words in the politicians’ mouths. This is democracy taken to its inevitable and ludicrous extreme. Welcome to machine politics and god rest your souls!

Friday 9 May 2014

The Lesson of History

Teaching history is an area of scholarship fraught with politically charged danger for the unwary. In mixed sex, mixed ability, multi-ethnic classes it is hard to find an episode in Britain’s past that doesn’t press the offence trigger for some national or special interest group or other and it is impossible to tell the history of the modern world without mentioning the British. History teacher Dave checks his privilege every time he begins a sentence; his students are quick to spot a potential slur, no matter how innocent the intent.

The beginning of term was easy enough, covering the Roman occupation of Britain. Boudicca was a suitably inclusive and morally positive icon for the girls in the class, or as he had learned to call them, the cis-gendered, non-body image challenged equal females and the indigenous white British boys were too dull to pick up on the air of smug superiority exuded by the oily-haired well groomed Tommaso as he recounted the achievements of his ancient Italian ancestry.

Despite its only being a myth, the programme allowed for the teaching of the court of Camelot. The Arthurian legend was deemed to be inclusive enough for all nationalities, creeds and colours, adopted as it had been by Hollywood and turned into a worldwide franchise. Plus it had the added bonus that limitless online material was available for research and there was no shortage of footage Dave could display on the big screen in the classroom, enabling him to take the occasional crafty fag break while his pupils gawped.

The Boxer Rebellion caused a few heart-stopping moments as the unnerving and inscrutable gaze of the usually silent twins Bao-Zhi and Cheng-Gong threatened to put a chink dent in his multiculturally sensitive armour. Thankfully he managed to negotiate those treacherous waters and tell the dramatic story of the rise of Jardine Matheson, the opium wars and the development of Hong Kong without any obvious mishap.

But there was one period in British history that Dave felt he had to skirt round. Fully a third of his pupils hailed from various Indian subcontinental backgrounds, so the story of the British Raj was always going to be tricky. He had both Hindus and Sikhs in his class, who seemed happy enough to rub along, as well as a good proportion of muslims whose parents insisted they observe their religious dress and differences and maintain their strict rituals. Dave hated to admit it but he felt he was under scrutiny the whole time for causing some infidel slight or other, punishable under sharia law.

As the time to deliver this part of the syllabus neared, Dave found ever more inventive ways of delaying the inevitable, while constantly scrutinising his lesson plans for any hint of the ever-threatening, unintentional, white-man’s casual disregard for cultural sensitivities. It was Friday, the day he had steeled himself for Naveed or Haroon or one of the several Mohammeds to interject and correct his clumsy racism. He gazed out at the class and bottled it.

Instead he decided to take a detour into European history; the Black Hole of Calcutta could wait until Monday. Quickly selecting a different PowerPoint presentation he told the tale of the valiant Swiss hero of the fifteenth century. The class sat in rapt silence as he recounted the actions of William, or Willhelm, from Bürglen, the strong man, mountain climber, and expert shot with the crossbow. He felt he was on safe ground as he told of William’s defiance of the Habsburgs, his subsequent arrest and the deal that was made.

Warming to his theme and sensing the end of the lesson drawing nearer Dave built on the tension as he told of the single-shot chance William had to save the life of himself and his son, Walter. But suddenly he was aware of a hand waving in the air. Sure enough, one of the Mohammeds had something to say. “Sir, sir!” he urged. Despite the fact that he had been born in England the accent was pure Pakistani. “Yes, Mohammed?” asked Dave, wondering what on earth he had said wrong this time.

Unknown to most historians, William had an 
older and less fortunate son named Warren

“Sir, sir” repeated Mohammed, “you got that all wrong, sir!” The class waited, holding their breath. “You see, sir, that man, the one with the apple on the little boy’s head? Well he was one of ours, sir.” Dave breathed a sigh of relief. The little shit had nothing on him, but he was nevertheless intrigued, “What do you mean ‘one of yours’?” he asked confidently. Mohammed replied, quick as a flash, “Well, it's his name, sir, innit? William Patel!”