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Competence and charisma..and how does Newton fit in?

30 Apr

I’m down to one Coronavirus update per day. Well, post 5pm the news and comment is on a giddily spinning loop of repetition for the following 24hours anyway. So much to admire, plenty to sigh over and much to irritate. How will this devastating pandemic be remembered at home and abroad in years to come? Much will hinge on how, near and far, ‘success’ is measured. In whose hands will be the guidance for public perception and scrutiny? These hands are fashioned differently, across the world according to how differing regimes control or trust their subjects.

I have been reticent in spouting my views. I feel too close to it all for any sensible perspective. I’m in observation mode. That said, I note the recent social media spats between those who carp each day at some deficiency of leadership or strategy implementation and those who want the detractors to button it and led the substitute skipper Raab and his mate Hancock, get on with steering the tricky course unfettered by background noise. Now Boris is back in the driving seat I fear more division rather than less.

I have not been a fan of the media these past few weeks but I do accept that they – and Keir Starmer – have a job to ask pertinent questions which ensure accountability. However the style of many inquisitors is determinedly adversarial. Political correspondents, even breakfast show hosts, see interviews with leading politicians as contests. Win or lose. Did I embarrass or skewer my opponent or not? No wonder politicians have become so well-versed in evasion and bluster. Thank God they can hide behind ‘the science’. Only Nicola Sturgeon can see off the clever sniping of a Kuenssberg or Marr.

My spies tell me that, in Germany, the media are less adversarial. Indeed politicians are not, in general, seen as celebrities. Charisma doesn’t count for so much. German politicians are rather dull functionaries of the state who, by and large, are considered competent and, of course, accountable. They don’t don suits of armour before going into battle with salivating journalists. As a result they feel more confidant in answering questions directly, without evasion.

Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As Piers Morgan goes on the attack; the twitterati shout foul. As we applaud NHS heroes some complain that the Blitz spirit detracts from the realities of underfunding and understaffing. While there is a clamour for Captain/Colonel Tom to be knighted, there is equal noise that the NHS shouldn’t need charity handouts. Matt Hancock is praised for his earnest, even Herculean efforts to ramp up testing and lead us out of the abyss of Covidity; equally there are many who suggest that we shouldn’t have been in such a mess to begin with. Why can fast food restaurants open and garden centres remain closed? Why X deaths here and Y deaths in Germany? And so the equal and opposite reactions go on.

In the cold light of a future day some of these arguments will be shown not to be equal. The lack of preparedness – equipment, staffing and a defined pandemic strategy – will probably be blamed on austerity; the squeezing of public services and the protection of investment banks. Closer to lockdown the slow reaction-time to the spreading danger. Air traffic, Cheltenham, Liverpool v Athletico Madrid. This points to a reactive government and leadership, not proactive. Of course this is easy criticism to make and a criticism which could be levied at many other nations. Our insularity and ‘we can go it alone’ attitude, post Brexit, may not have helped.

Boris, Raab, Hancock and the scientists and medics have much of the country behind them. They have stuck to their guns with vigour and sincerity. Indeed ‘following the science’ gives the politicians a get out of jail card as they lead the nation through lockdown. Whether that card remains ‘free’ in the months to come is far less certain. There will be a political price to pay. Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon may be sharpening their knives to exact that price. Buried in committee and cabinet minutes may well be the early warning sirens of the current crisis, buried for, probably, financial expediency. I wonder if Jeremy Hunt has thoughts on this?

For all my Newtonian speculation I am, for now, happy to clap the NHS heroes on a Thursday, zoom to friends and family, cheer Captain Tom, congratulate Boris on his latest issue, praise Mr Hancock for his rearguard action and so on. I read the press coverage and analytical articles online rather than fume at repetitive questioning and endlessly repeated news coverage.

The iPad and internet has saved many from isolation and near-insanity. However I would love a beer in  my local and a curry in the village and a cuddle with my grandchildren. Real contact is all. The blame game is inevitable.

 

 

Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?

13 Apr

A week after passing my driving test, sometime in 1969, I was enjoying the freedom of speeding down the A3 in my mother’s split-windscreen Morris Minor. Freedom. World at my feet. Until a Police Ford Anglia flagged me down and a burly, world-weary sergeant leaned in through the window. He growled the words of my title that my generation were so familiar with. In Formula 1 racing, indeed in any form of motor racing, Stirling Moss was a legend.

My childhood was evenly split between the grey compliance of the 1950s and the multicoloured social explosion of the 60s. From wireless to colour TV, Bing Crosby to the Beatles, ration books to the summer of love. My 1950s reading material was comic books and war stories, Treasure Island and Enid Blyton, boys’ own annuals and John Buchan’s Books of Sport for Boys. Without the ubiquitous reach of media, the printed page and pictures in books were all we had to fashion our heroes. Imagination filled in the gaps that YouTube now effortlessly provides.

Stirling Moss was one of the names, if not THE name of the 1950s and early 1960s. And he never won a world championship. His name was redolent of that fighter pilot charming heroism. He had effortless and sexy talent, the derring-do chancer, the brave yet foolhardy hero. He was fast, he was honourable, he was dangerous. At a time when racing drivers really did take their lives in their hands each time they leapt into their Lotuses or Vanwalls or Ferraris, Stirling Moss seemed to brush aside such trifles as personal safety. And he often nearly paid for it with his life.

But his story was the very stuff of  boyhood fantasy. He refused to complain about Mike Hawthorn’s rules-transgression in the 1959 Portuguese Grand Prix 1958, allowing Hawthorn to take the World title by a single point. Being a gentlemen trumped being a sneak. His popularity came from being the dashing old-fashioned hero and his  devil-may-care attitude won the hearts of many a young lad reading of him in sports books and watching the black and white newsreels.

Even today those of my generation are likely to use Stirling’s name in reference to fast driving but he is amongst the most famous British sportsmen of my lifetime – and as much for his style and integrity as for his statistics. RIP Sir Stirling and thanks for the feeding the imagination of so many young lads. Thanks too, to the burly police sergeant who told me to go on my way, “But just mind your speed Stirling.”

Pronouns and pronouncements.

18 Mar

Rishi Sunak is the unlikely name on the nation’s lips this morning. Just a month ago he was a somewhat unknown Chief Secretary to the Treasury; when Sajid Javid fell on his sword, Rishi was catapulted into the limelight. He has been groomed for it, of course. Married to a billionaire’s daughter and alumnus of Winchester, Oxford and Goldman Sachs, Rishi is to the manor born.

As we become used to the regular pronouncements from Boris and his henchmen-experts (shades of Falklands) and the media pick over the speed of response, efficacy of advice and the latest infection and death figures from home and abroad, those of us at home have little else to do but observe the blackly comic merry-go-round.

Boris is doing OK, I suppose, despite my feeling that he seems rather detached from his own press conferences. He is, of course, aided by the rather articulate medical and science heads, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. Save for chucking in the odd bit of vocab with which the proletariat would struggle with (..sedulously..), Boris seems content to stumble through the 5 o’clock show deferring to left and right. Yesterday it was Rishi’s turn to shine. Indeed he did.

Despite Corbyn’s carping about what had escaped the Chancellor’s attention, the Johnny-come-lately to No. 11 did as good a job as could be expected. His speech-writers clearly wanted to big him up. The ‘I’ certainly had it…’I can announce, …I’ll provide…I am making available..’ and so on. It was almost as if his hedge fund was doling out cash to the plebs. In the darkest hours of the 2nd WW dear old Winston managed the third person so much better. We certainly did fight them on the beaches. We never surrendered.

The social and political historians and analysts will forensically sort through the detail of what is happening to us. The media search each day for an edge, an angle to scrape up a criticism or controversy to keep the air waves alive with tension. I turned to a 2015 TED talk by Bill Gates in which he accurately predicted that the next big challenge for the world would be a pandemic. Amongst several sharp insights he suggested that investment in readiness was both essential and well-known to us. We pump vast sums into defence capabilities so as to mobilise at the drop of a hat. Some countries invested wisely in epidemiology and a degree of preparedness. Look at South Korea. Their testing exceeds that of any country of its size and larger. 5200 per million inhabitants compared with the US, 74 per million. Our figure is approaching 1000 now but we remain slow in this respect. Bill Gates was ahead of the game.

Of course there are positives to take out of this dire situation. A reassessing of values, a recognition of our interdependence, looking after others as well as ourselves. There is much to commend a wartime spirit but words don’t put food on the table, nor cash in the coffers. Rishi will do what it takes and that is the right response if he can follow it through for the long term. Strange that George Osborne tightened all belts post 2008 and now the war chest is being wrenched open by another Tory Chancellor. The main agenda remains the desperate attempt to keep the death toll down. We’re a long way off the Harold MacMillan’s famous (misquoted) second person pronoucement ‘You’ve never had it so good.’ Follow the advice. Better to trust the medics than the media.

Unwanted emissions..

24 Jan

What pours forth from the various media platforms is difficult, as we know, to prioritise. The biggest news of last week was Harry and Megan. On my personal Richter scale the story rated about as low as my opinion of the Daily Mail. So too the ridiculous call by the Chair of the Labour Party, Ian Lavery for Sir Keir Starmer to stand down as a leadership candidate to ensure that a woman is selected. Alan Margham, who organizes the Durham Miners’ Gala, a strange anachronism in itself, I guess, doesn’t want any Conservatives attending the do despite the locals having voted the blues in. Gwyneth Paltrow has released a vagina candle. Prince Charles called for peace on his Bethlehem trip. Good luck with that. I was able to rank this last message considerably higher than his son’s unfortunate exile and Gwyneth’s fanny candle.

The Donald surprised none of us in his climate denials at the lavish, luvvie-fest that is Davos. I fear that the odd-but-brilliant Greta Thunberg will be consumed by the fires of global power. It suits the greenhouse gas brigade to tout her around – and impressive she certainly is. I hope that she’s Ok, though; this strange woman-child with a focus that drills into our consciousness but doesn’t penetrate the hearts of the mighty – much.

As we in the UK produce a tiny fraction of the world’s greenhouse gases, the market leaders in the planet’s defilement are China, USA, India and Russia. By a bloody mile. This is a big, big story.

Closer to home – and more personal – is the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We have learnt this week, the disgraceful way that successive governments have behaved over a debt of £400million owed to Iran. While nothing should condone any state imprisoning an individual for the wrongdoings of a government, what do we expect when our own intransigence and arrogance about an arms contract which we did not fulfil? Boris the Spider’s behaviour has been contemptuous. He’s not the only one. Meanwhile this poor woman and her wonderful family have been unacceptably and irrevocably damaged.

This too is a big story. Wheat from chaff.

Books…a load of crap? My list for 2019.

7 Jan

Philip Larkin’s oft-quoted line from his A Study of Reading Habits is an acerbic end to a short poem which, in fact, reveals that despite a life full of literature, he wished that, perhaps, he had had more of the action man about him. Having not been bespectacled and managing to hide my tendency to bookishness until puberty had come and gone, I have no such hang-ups about publishing my latest reading list. Another weird mix.BOOKS 2019

Good Morning from Bratislava

27 Sep

The three old men on bikes have been on the road since Sunday 15th relay-cycling from the London Eye. Destination Istanbul. So far we have pedalled through Holland and picked up the Rhine, the Main, the Danube Canal and, eventually the Danube. We have Rotterdammed, Frakfurted, Nuremburgered, Cologned and met up with our lovely partners in Vienna for a few days more gently cycling into Slovakia and on to Hungary and Budapest.

We have seen the beauty and the beast of the Rhine, the vineyards and forested hills along with the teeming traffic and cement works and all manner of industry which flanks the great river. So too the Danube with its cruise ships and tourism flowing majestically through a vast landscape of rolling countryside and industrial sprawl. The river Main is a gem, weaving its way through enchanting towns and villages with schlosses aplenty and tempting eateries which we had to bypass as the miles needed to be ridden.

We have camped on river and canal banks and been welcomed wherever. We pedalled the short 50miles or so from Vienna to Bratislava yesterday and the three couples, Clive and Karen, Chris and Satah and yours truly and Belinda are holed up in the delightful old town before heading for Gyor and Budapest today. There the girls will fly home and the boys wull plough on through Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and, finally into Turkey and the Blue Mosque at Istanbul. Eye to I, geddit?

Follow us on facebook Eye2i.Three old men on bikes or the occasionally updated website eye2iblog.wordpress.com. Read about our charity BeatSCAD and see what three old men whose ages total over 200 get up to when the day job stops. What a fine time we are having wearing our European Union t-shirts and distancing ourselves from the separatisr sqabbles of our divided nation. We have felt wonderfully european as we have sliced through this lovely continent.

See you in Istanbul.

Fist Pumping and High Fives…

11 Jul

The Trumpmeister will be pumping and hand-slapping round the White House this morning after Sir Kim fell on his sword, obligingly held at the appropriate angle by Boris the Spider. What a demeaning end to an estimable career. When a relationship is dubbed special, the unspoken proviso is that it is a pairing of equals. Boris’s squirming non-answer (one of many) to the question of whether he would back Sir Kim, betrayed a toadying, arse-licking, walk-all-over-us approach to Anglo-American relations. And the Donald high-fived his way round the twitterati with joy.

Almost every walk of life seems to revel in overstated hand-gestures to indicate pleasure, small successes, cajoling support, mini-victories. Doubles players at Wimbledon, I note, can’t get through a point without little hand touches and conspiratorial chats behind tennis balls and cupped hands. Rafa the faffa has so many personal ticks and ball bounces that I find myself mesmerized more by his twitching routines than the game he is paid gazillions to play. World Cup batters fist pump at every opportunity such is their need for glove-touch approval. I wonder what Sir Colin Cowdrey would have made of it all. Or even Beefy Botham. He didn’t need the reassurance of a partner’s touch to give the Aussies hell at Headingly.

As I write the ticks and touches are in full swing at Edgbaston and England have taken the early advantage. I’ll update shortly. Let’s reflect on the Boris and Jeremy Rhyming Slang. Despite the latter trying to look like the grown up in the room, the Spider’s extraordinary following amongst the party faithful will ensure the buffoon’s anointment as the ruler of Hades. After, we learn, six hours of debate-training his mantra of ‘Let’s not kick the can down the road…’ – repeated 5 times – echoed around the empty caverns of our economy. Boris’s approach to ITV’s confirmatory beauty contest was to smile, hand in pocket and treat the whole show as a bit of banter at the Oxford Union or the Eton debating chamber. Jeremy, hardly my favourite politician, sounded practical and relatively sane. Still it’s the 160,000 members who will decide. Half of these are my age or older, most are male and nearly all are white. God help us.

Reading George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, I discover another Boris. He’s an aristocrat (allegedly) who has fled Stalin’s Russia and find s himself scraping and begging a living on the streets of Paris, along with G.O. There may be a wish-fulfillment link here..

I search for the small inspirations of daily life and find them flourishing, despite the extraordinary unreality of Westminster and the White House. We are hunkering down and hoping that all will be well, I guess. There is something rotten out there, the invisible worm has eaten its way through to the skin and, I guess, we need horse-strength antibiotics to quell the infection. Have we reached the stage where those who govern are immune to such treatment? The Labour Party are in denial, the Conservatives are barking and we, the people, (and possibly the Lib Dems) need to get together and do some fist-pumping.

Aussies are 110 for 3. Fighting back. C’mon England! C’mon UK.

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.

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.

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