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Pulling the wool….

9 Jun

Pouty Gove seems to have reignited the trend for baring his soul in public. His intention will surely be closely linked to ambition’s ladder – a ladder that has prompted others in the baker’s dozen (now just a starting X1) of Tory leadership candidates to manufacture and publicise the transgressions of their youth. ‘I once ran out of a sweetie shop without paying for my sherbet dip.’ Etc. For Pouty, his childhood ran until his mid-thirties and the sweeties were cocaine-flavoured but what the hell. If it gets him into office and keeps him out of America, it’s a price worth paying.

I am underwhelmed by the laughable distraction of this leadership circus. Only Rory Stewart has caught my attention as a man of good report. Not all Etonians are shysters. Take note Boris, you Spider. Your mate the Trumpmeister touched down in his handcart and, reportedly, kept his mouth in check after giving Sajid Khan both barrels on the Air Force One Twitter feed. It comes to something when the leader of the free world is praised for keeping his opinions under control, and behaving reasonably for three days, while on a state visit. I would have thought that this was the expected minimum level of courtesy for any eminent human being. But hey, the Donald is rewriting the rule books on so many things: manners, integrity, truth. I wasn’t much enamoured with the Queen’s rather complicit banquet fawnings either. And Donald’s high sounding nothings about trade deals are closer to tricks than treats. Halloween isn’t far off.

Much better was Her Majesty’s gracious applauding and standing to honour the D-Day surviving veterans and the fallen. Mother Theresa did us proud too. I felt a little better being British. And then I hear of our hooligan soccer fans abusing Portuguese hospitality and, closer to home, chatter over the vegetable section of Tescos in praise of Trump. It was along the lines of: He sticks it up ’em. tells it how it is. He won’t be bullied by anyone.

No he won’t because he is the playground bully.

Moved by D-Day, I am also enjoying the summer of sport. To get Boris out of your head just watch a little of the women’s soccer World Cup, the cricket, tennis. I needed to clear my head after too much Boris and Raab so Thiem v Djokovic at Roland Garros was perfect. And Federer v Nadal. And Konta and the new queen on the block, Barty. There was a lot of wind at the French Open but the drama was much more compelling than the silly farts race for Number 10. Remember baring your soul = pulling the wool.

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Grandparents’ Day…or what I did on the way. 1.

11 May

My little and lovely grandson Seb had invited me to his school, yesterday, for a special Grandparents’ Day. Despite the obvious and sugary PR intention of the exercise, I was all too eager to attend! The prospect of inspecting the work of a darling 5 year old, putative Einstein was delicious, as was the promise of tea with scones and jam.

Before embarking on the somewhat complicated route of car, train, tube, tube, bus, walk, a call came in from my daughter. I braced myself for cancellation but worse news was in store. She revealed that games afternoon had been cancelled to fit the old gits tea party into the schedule. Seb was distraught that his games kit had to stay in the wardrobe so Granddad could come and sip tea and scrutinize his scribblings. Meltdown.

With a slightly heavy heart I boarded the 11.50 from Staplehurst to Charing Cross. Only 4 coaches and rather packed with the grey-hair and blue-rinse brigade on the senior railcard jaunt to Fortnum’s. The tables in my carriage were taken and foiled packages were opened. Half-eaten sandwiches and, indeed, a couple of thermoses caught my eye as I made my way to a vacant two-seater. I settled in. I was looking forward to the last few chapters of A Station on the Path to Somewhere by Ben Wood, a startling account of a dark journey taken by a 12 year old boy, Daniel. In adulthood he attends a therapy group. The avuncular therapist advised the group to …stop viewing the present as a continuation of our past and see it instead as the beginning of our future. As I was mulling on the importance of this soundbite – slogan or profound? relevance to bloody Brexit, Manchester United, me?…a ringtone shattered the silence. Don’t Stop Me Now. Freddie Mercury boomed down the arthritic aisles as we chugged into Paddock Wood station. A woman under 60 behind me, fumbled in her bag. It took her until I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball before she found the thing. Then Yeah I can talk, I’m on the train. As usual we then had the benefit of a loud and self-important conversation about delivery schedules and office gossip. I sighed audibly. This was a time for my 65p i newspaper, not a weighty novel.

As the linguistic space around me continued to be dominated by the thick-skinned Yak behind, I skimmed the rag. Breakthrough in treatment of heart attack victims; Danny Baker; Farage; the queue of chancers lining up for Mother Theresa’s job when she finally falls on her sword; University funding set to slide after Brexit; Beckham banned from driving for using his phone while driving his Bentley. And so on. Only the heart story raised my spirits.

Already regretting that I hadn’t turned to the back page first, I turned over to page 19. David Schneider’s article: How to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. Schneider is an actor and comedian. He explains himself clearly and has the advantage of being Jewish which enables an authentic perspective in these tricky days of finger pointing in and at the Labour Party. Schneider basically says be careful and clear about what you say and mean when you talk about stuff. Example: Avoid saying Zionist or Zionism when discussing contemporary Israel/Palestine. The terms are too loaded and broad in their application, often used by anti-Semites to mean simply Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu is a Zionist but so are Israeli lawyers and peace activists fighting to achieve justice for Palestinians.

And so he went on in a clear and measured way. I felt better-informed. I don’t know enough about the middle east and I would be very wary of offering opinions without getting a better grasp of identities, what has gone on and what is going on.

In part what drew me to the piece was my recent readings from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. What an amazing grasp of tribe and culture and identity T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) developed in the time of the Arab revolt during the First World War. Are our politicians and their advisors at all equipped to make life and death decisions for those whose lives and culture they can hardly fathom?

The walking sticks were on the move. Charing Cross. I stuffed my paper into my backpack and head, with the creaking army, for the toilets. Such a joy that they are free, so no fumblings for change required. The many urinals were in heavy demand and there, in the middle of the throng was a spikey-haired woman, mopping the floor. She stepped aside as I shimmied to my bowl. I wondered, idly, if there was a man in the ladies doing the same thing. Doubtful. Looking around I saw no one batting an eyelid. Modern times.

I came out into the sun and, with time to kill, went for a stroll on the Victoria Embankment Gardens. The office workers were bathed in sunshine as they ate their tubs of tuna and sweetcorn salad or delved into goody bags for whatever had taken their fancy in EAT or Pret. I noticed that the park benches had been sectioned into three or four, so that you don’t have to sit next to anyone; you can be perfectly isolated with an armrest to left and right. I settled in one such, spurted diet coke over my trousers and watched the world go by.

Kippers on the Ceiling.

13 Mar

As our politicians were continuing their best endeavours in making a once-proud nation the laughing stock of Europe, nay the world, I retreated to the golf course. I have lost all heart so smiting a small ball in a howling gale for four hours seemed like a heavenly escape from Bedlam.

The four old sporting mates began badly. Over coffee the Brexit Tourette’s started. This is now a recognized syndrome which flares whenever sensible, intelligent people get together for social intercourse in the UK. It was identified nearly three years ago and the most recent data shows that the majority of the nation have been blighted by it. What seems to begin as a normal conversation between friends rather rapidly metamorphoses into baying chaos when one or more of the interlocutors will, involuntarily shout, Fucking Brexit or Kuenssberg get stuffed or FFS Theresa or Corbyn you shifty Slug or Not another fucking vote before another fucking vote or Cameron’s fucked the Country or You didn’t vote fucking Brexit did you? or Boris has gone fucking quiet or Rees-Mogg is loving the fucking chaos…and so these outbursts will continue with liberal use of the F and C words.

Luckily, as the lunatics in the House of Commons continued their Alan Ayckbourn tragi-comic-farce and the rest of Europe hooted with maniacal derision (well, all except Bayern Munich supporters), my golfing fellows turned to other things. We were four men, of modest background and means, worried about the life ahead for the younger generations. As a metaphor for the shit that has been hitting the fan ( as if that isn’t enough of a metaphor) the revered elder of our group told a story about a domestic mishap at his home only the night before.

Distracted by the addictive drama being played out at Westminster, my revered golfing partner had left a tin of kippers heating up on the stove. He had place the unopened tin in water. He wanted warm kippers. He became transfixed by the voting down of Mother Theresa’s legal finesse to the Back-Stop following her 75th trip to kiss-ass Barmier and Juncker. His Brexit-Tourettes (BT) had taken a hold. A loud explosion from the kitchen. The overpowering smell of kippers.

The pan had boiled dry and the tin’s contents had projectile vomited to the ceiling. The stench seemed appropriate to the pungent odour of incompetence and slippery ambition being farted out of our seat of Government. But these kippers were real. And their stench would linger. However hard our golfing elder would scrape ceiling and walls, he seemed pretty certain that a proper, skilled professional would have to sterilize and paint over the mess he had created.

See what I mean about metaphors? Meanwhile, back at the golf club we were laughing so much that our BT seemed, temporarily to abate. Our game took us away from despair but we all have to face the awful reality sometime. At least, in despair, I can think of kippers on a ceiling rather than shit hitting the fan. By the way, the elder and I won. Small consolation.

My books of 2018…and only one on Brexit.

28 Dec

I seemed to read far too much about how our politicians were perverting things, one way or t’other,  this year. I took my eye off the greater pleasure of the solace that books can give. Anything 3 or over might be worth a squint.

Books 2018

 

Theresa must be thanking the stupid man opposite – and Jose.

20 Dec

Praise the Lord, Jose knocked Theresa off her no. 1 perch at Christmas. Journos had been searching desperately for something big enough to supplant the hapless bunch of self-interested, party-wrangling, heads-in-the-sand idiots at Westminster. And Jose’s sacking was right on cue.

It was a delight to hear Dan Roan, the BBC’s sports correspondent, heading up the first-item coverage of the 11am news on Tuesday. La Kuenssberg relegated to no. 2. Bliss.

Now you might think that the disposal of a Portuguese bighead (albeit for a likely £18million pay-off) would have few parallels with the Brexit farce, currently being played out down under Big Ben. Well, just consider. A lack of connection with his team and an ego the size of Old Trafford prevented him from seeing that the joke was, sadly on him. At least on leaving he has spoken with generosity and humility: Proud to have worn the badge, lifelong friends made etc.

Which cannot be said for the horrorshow being played out before our very eyes at our seat of democracy. Fancy spending taxpayers’ money employing lip readers to equivocate about what was so plain to the rest of us. Just bloody stupid. As if it was important anyway when the country is going to hell in a handcart. If there is a case for unelected experts to take control of our pathetic, squabbling, self-obsessed Commons, we’re close to it. No wonder the EU do better in negotiations. That bloke who runs Wetherspoons would do alright, even though he is a Brexiteer.

If Corbyn lying doesn’t take the biscuit, what about Sajid Javid’s pronouncement that we don’t want anyone who can’t get a £30k plus salary? A mate of mine, a CEO fighting for the life of his business texted: The Home Sec is so off-piste it is shameful. All our decent operations workers are EU nationals. He said a lot more but unprintable.

The three Michelin-starred chef, Dani Garcia has decided to close his Marbella restaurant to specialize in burgers, saying: You only live once and everyone has to follow the path that’s right for them. Our politicians seem hell-bent on taking the road signposted ‘Abyss’.

Meanwhile I’ll be heading for Dani’s burger bar on the Costa del Sol, visa and flights permitting.

5. A Walk on the Wild Side. We’re talking Turkey.

12 Dec

We took route 8 to Khaskovo out of Plovdiv. The road was flat and straight but started to climb as we reached a major fork in the road: left to Burgas and the Black Sea or right to the mountains and the choice of Macedonia or Greece. Route 8 presented the binary choice but we spotted that the E80 took us towards the Turkish border – ie straight on. We hoped that we would find a cosy, quiet border crossing manned by rustic, sleepy border police, who would smile and joke incomprehensibly with us but wave us cheerily across no man’s land.

In the event, after lunching in Svilengrad – again managing to choose a meal and beer via expert charades and friendly guffaws – we headed down a small road which we were certain would take us to the border. The traffic thinned and we passed pile upon pile of butternut squashes and pumpkins, stacked untidily outside forlorn farmhouses. Soon we were lone travellers heading for a sentry box, which we took to be the border.

An unshaven and unsmiling guard stepped out with arm raised. We gabbled our question, ” Can we go across the border here?” Once again our clear English was met with a quizzical gaze. A woman, similarly fatigued, stepped out from what looked to be a garden behind the sentry box. She managed to convey that this was where the road ended. Turn around, please or things could get tricky. Further, she explained that the border with Turkey was being Trumped; a fence of some 30km had nearly been completed. This to contain a surge of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa.The only official crossing point was the Kapikule motorway customs.

We did as we were told. We doubled back, found the road which linked to the motorway and headed past mile after mile of heavy freight traffic queueing to gain entry into Turkey. I should have videoed the tail-backs on both sides of the border to show Brexiteers what a border with a non-EU country looks like.

We parked our car in a coach bay and walked to what looked like a toll booth. The Bulgarian border police clearly weren’t used to ageing Brits strolling past the car queue with holdalls in hands and smiles at the ready. We found a guy in a khaki and green uniform, sporting the sort of captain’s cap that Bing Crosby wore in High Society. He looked at us curiously as we began with a question.

“Can we walk over the border here?” A studied silence, the a slow, deep drawl..

“Yerrss.”

“Can we leave our car over there in the coaching bay?” This was a trickier question, requiring a couple of seconds thought and then a wry smile.

“No…is illegal.”

“We are only going a few miles into Turkey and coming back by tomorrow midday.” We were grasping at straws here.

“Only one day?” he drawled suspiciously. “Well OK, car is OK for one day.”

Progress but we wanted conformation, “So it will be OK to leave the car, it won’t be towed away?”

“I don’t think so. You leave. I check in morning. Is OK.” He seemed satisfied and so were we…just. We picked up our bags and walked into the passport office. They had been alerted, clearly, that two odd pedestrians would need to be processed into Turkey. As we moved across no man’s land and into a similar passport-check-booth on the Turkish side, the scrutiny of our visas was rather more thorough. The Bulgars seemed pleased that we were heading out of their patch but the Turks seemed a little less keen to welcome us.

But enter Turkey we did. As promised a small bunch of taxis waited at the crossing, mostly to ship border workers to and fro. We found a smiling old chappie with whom there was no chance of meaningful communication. We wanted to go to Edirne, a small city just a few miles in from the border. My pronunciation of Edirne (Ay-dear-neigh) didn’t find a flicker of recognition. Enter Google translate. The old taxi-man had done this before. We spoke English into an iPhone, he replied in Turkish. Mr Google then worked his magic.

We were on our way to Edirne and the Selimyie Hotel, just 200metres from the famous mosque of the same name.

3. More to Plovdiv than meets the eye.

16 Nov

It might have been better not to be on a flying visit to Plovdiv. The Roman and Greek theatres, the ancient stadium, the ethnographic museum, the parks and the rest would all have to wait. Clive and I, like two Russian agents in Salisbury, affected interest but had more important matters to attend to.

Central Plovdiv has an attractive,cobbled old town. EU money is helping to dismantle a creaking infrastructure. Giant diggers were excavating a huge underpass through the heart of the city. The Bulgaria Star opened on to a charming square just a stone’s throw from the monumental earthworks. A balmy autumn evening ensured a happy throng of drinkers and diners. We gobbled down Happy food at one of the eponymous and ubiquitous chain of restaurants. Happy girls wear tight red T shirts and skimpy red mini-skirts. They smile unfailingly as they serve you. So too the boys – shorts rather than minis but the effect is, well, happy. The Happy place is a Wagamama with attitude and great table-service. And, yes, English was spoken, if broken. Praise the Lord.

The cafes were full. Urban Bulgars eat and drink out in considerable number – and at least as many women as men were quaffing vino and ‘doing’ lunch or supper wherever we went. The night air filled with music from west and east but my lasting memory is of Elvis crooning Are you lonesome tonight? Few people seemed to be. There was a buzz about.

I had been rather idle on the foreign exchange front and had my cards but no cash. Clive had changed a certain amount but neither of us was quite prepared for how far his Bulgarian Levs would go. Think half price for almost everything. Outside Sofia hotels and taxis seemed even cheaper.. We soon realized that Clive could pay for everything and I would settle up on return. Result.

We had had a long day. The itinerary for tomorrow involved a quick wander round Plovdiv, a visit to the Turkish consulate and walking across a traffic border into Turkey. Less than a week previously Jamal Kashoggi had been murdered in Istanbul.

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