Friday, 21 December 2012

The Pledge of a Pleasant Person by an ex-Chief Whip

I'd prescribe you a pathologist, patriot, painter, parson, parasite, pauper or more perfidiously a pal; perhaps even peasant, person, pedlar, pirate,  pipsqueak, piper, and patently a pig.

 I'd propose you are a philanderer, philatelist, philosopher, philistine, plasterer, plumber,  plagiarist and plonker too. I'd paint you as a pneumatologist, policeman, politician, postman, and, poodle would do .

I'd present you as prelate, prostitute, and pertinently a prig. I'd portray you a pseudo, psephologist, psycho and/or a psychoanalyst. They'd all do as well.

I'd pronounce you publican, puritan, puppet, pygmy and sincerely, though pre-eminently, pyromaniac prorogates my paromoeon web,

For never ever, no never, never ever would I proclaim "You are a Pleb."


Pierre Pauvre  asks, "Does this mean that hooligan hoodies can now curse and oath willy-nilly at les flics without fear of arrest but if they call them "plebs" they will be sent to Devil's Island ? Sacre Bleu !"

Penny Pincher writes, "Yeah, I was on the Totnes to Paddington train last week and when the guard asked me to show him my ticket, I told him  to  'Pleb off  !!'   I was thrown out of the train at Pewsey."

Paul Pedant, PhD.  states : " It is more aesthetically pleasing to be called a referendum than it is to be called  a plebiscite. Hence the latter is a pejorative term."

Paddy Parboyle rejoins "Even I know the 'p' word is short for "Plebian and I didn't even get an O level."

Petula Partickler points out "Patrick, if that is your full first name, you missed out an 'e' . The word is spelt 'Plebeian."

Noah Pologhi declares "No problems with the 'p' word though it's preposterous that a senior politician who should present as a paragon of parliamentary purity uses profanities towards a policeman without fear of prosecution."

Isa Poplectic concludes, "You can say that again. Last year, at the tender age of 16 and a half years, our Ima was banged up for  28 days in a penitentiary for young persons because he called a policeman "A tall skinny..." and then, " very serious swear word." Where's the justice in that?  but then again, what would have happened if he'd called him by the 'p' word ?  See how the mind can get well and truly boggled ? Any road I think I've finally been able to make some sense of this whole palaver and it looks as how a line can be drawn under it."

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

I'm gonna tell you something you've known all along

I've always found the line "I'm gonna tell you something you've known all along," from the Blondie song "You keep me hangin' on the telephone," uncanny.

When I'm in a brittle and vituperative mood the irony of the lyrics puts me in mind of a number of  academics, though certainly not all, who, after carrying out very important research, tell me all I ought to know about the life I've been leading for 67 years. In this way I interpret the line as "I think you're going to tell me something I've known all along so maybe you shouldn't bother."  This is cruel and mean of me.

The best way and - I believe -  from the lyricist's point of view,  a faithful way of hearing these words is through the tumult of the idealising,  lustful, and painful love of youth. This meaning urges , 'I hope, no, I'm desperate for you to hear something I'm not sure you knew all along but I desire and demand that you   -  and furthermore I'll die if you don't  -  echo my longing  because I can't bear for a moment longer to pluck rose petals and wonder, "She loves me, she loves me not," '  This is the happiest, silliest, yet most agonising and ecstatic sense of the line. Oh ! for that visceral excitement again.  Well, maybe I'm kidding myself, I'm not sure I could bear it now but the thought and the fancy bring a smile to my face.

In an ugly and scandalous sense - which I am sure Deborah Harry does not mean to communicate -  the line insists I am fully aware that in the current world set up, and in the current United Kingdom set up, the poor will get poorer, and more miserable, and more hungry, and less healthy, and more marginalised, and more despised, and more misrepresented and less represented and there is nothing I am doing to stop it.

Shame on me. I need someone to tell me something I've not known all along, who'll let me know how I can help to change the suffering of the majority of my fellow human beings.  Don't keep me hanging on the telephone.

Monday, 22 October 2012

"I'm gonna teach peace to the conquered" : a different kind of helplessness

"I'm gonna teach peace to the conquered, I'm gonna tame the crowd," sings an ironic Bob Dylan in Lonesome Day Blues. When I heard the line I hoped he wasn't referring to the way we sometimes deal with rearing our kids  but one way or another I guess he was, and maybe we ought to hope that ensuing generations will learn from our mistakes but there again the selfish part of human nature so often seems to hold sway.

It may be that the desperate fate of the humble, meek and poor is unavoidable and that they should learn to live with it but that can be tough to take sometimes. You know, like the way the wealthiest and most powerful of succeeding generations try to control and run every aspect of human activity at the same time as telling us, the less rewarded remainder, that the consequences of their exercise of power is for everyone's own good. We should, it seems, be thankful for what's left to us.  Yet forcing something upon people who don't really want it or at least don't really want your kind of peace can never be satisfactory. People may succumb physically to the coercion of the rich and powerful but it usually has a different consequence in the psyche of the subordinated. It can spawn an internal resistance in those not yet  emotionally fatigued by the humiliation of being the bargaining tokens of those who wish to be predominant. This is a resistance that demands a just peace and a fair share of the world's fruit.   Cynics - perhaps even realists - would say that the relentlessness of Dylan's enforcing peacemakers is so overwhelming that in the face of it any resistance dissipates into a despair - a helplessness - that becomes a miserable inertia. Occasionally those with energy left to fight will rebel and make war against injustice but history seems to demonstrate that even the most altruistically motivated of political and economic revolutions end up being contaminated by the self-interest and greed for power exercised by an unscrupulous few and their toadies. Everything seems to fall back into its old perfidious state and the poor remain hungry and helpless.

Be sure this is a helplessness born out of cruelty and avarice.  It is not a magnificent Wordsworthian  moment of helplessness in the face of nature when for a short instance we are filled with joy, awe and wonder that each of us has a part to play, however small, in the great mystery of our universe. No, this is the helplessness which is formed under the shadow of  an abuse of power exercised by a very small minority of humanity against the rest of humanity. What is most upsetting is that many of us enclosed in this selfish process  -  those who are allowed sufficient affluence to make their material life tolerably acceptable  -  acquiesce to the most destructive instances of this malevolent predominance. We are paid just about enough to buy our silence while billions of our fellow beings suffer abject poverty and powerlessness. They starve because the economic and political systems we tolerate allow them nothing.  We pride ourselves on being the most rational and intelligent of species on the planet. Robert Burns remarked that human beings alone have the capacity to reflect on the past, live in the present and  make a reasonable guess about the future. So it is a sad irony that, as Noam Chomsky among others has observed,  humankind is the only species which has taken the trouble to learn how to destroy creatures of its own and other kinds at the same as developing the capacity to obliterate the planet. Yes Robert we may be smart but to date we haven't exercised our smartness too well. It is a pity we haven't had the humility to teach our children about this.

For too short a period of our lives many of us happily immerse ourselves in the joy and  innocence of our children expressed through their curiosity, their imagination, their play as well as their loyalty, love and dependence. How unfortunate it is when the time comes to formally educate them we indoctrinate them to accept  that a measure of material gain makes the blow to their dignity acceptable when  they are asked to doff their caps before the destructive force of the powerful few.

Is there any way we can slowly brick by brick take down the diabolical edifice we have constructed  and carefully build another fairer one ? Twenty years before the French revolution Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in a sense a Bob Dylan of his time, thought such a project possible but only if we were content to live again in small communities where everyone had concern for everyone else.  This was not to be a perfect place - after all  humans beings would inhabit it -  but it would be a place  that could manage without conquerors, a place where peace was natural and where tameness did not have to be inculcated.

My guess is the times are not a-changing that much.

John Stein comments :

We here in the US have a very competitive society and economy.  In competitition, there are winners.  When there are winners, there must be losers.  I think of playoffs in sports. Every team who makes it into the playoffs goes home a loser, except for one.

Our system has gotten out of balance.  We had much better balance a few years ago. Systems that are out of balance, well, eventually they cease to exist if they fail to restore the balance in time.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Living at ease with my helplessness : part of life's rich pantomime

As I grow older instances of wisdom occur more rarely than the number of inner conflicts which come to visit and beset me. An internal battle that frequently and readily comes to mind has lined up on one side the forces which tell me what I should and must be doing and invoke within me the imperative that my inner parent must at all times be assured that I really am trying to be a good boy. Otherwise...... 

An ally of this force is a compulsion, (dispatched in the form ranting lectures mainly directed towards a televison set), to adjure those groups of people who make up giant institutions  -  like  government and its apparatus, like the media, and like the large financial organisations  -   to listen to the good sense I talk. If they have the nous to act on it they will find, ipso facto, that they have become, each one of them, a good boy just like the one I - without ceasing - insist that I am or may be that I think I must become. Perhaps I'm really giving myself the lecture?

Not a good boy. He has his hands in his pockets

My failure to be a good boy, as you may have guessed, is due to the regiments lined up in opposition to my inner parent : those parts of me which insist that I will not become the kind of person my “standing on an adult pedestal self " demands of me. These are the impulsions which say, “I do not need to be in a continual state of mental and physical activity. I can put my hands in my pocket! I do not have to be sociable. I can eat and drink what I like. It is not imperative that I struggle against my own primitive desires however aimless or indeed vulnerable they may make me. I don’t need a direction home.”

How is it at my advanced age that I still feel pressed by a need to be in control ? Why can’t I live at ease with my helplessness ?  

“I must try to keep figuring this out.”
 “No I don’t need to.” 
“Yes I do.” 
“No, I dont.......”

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Father's and Gulliver's Travels : how I came to be special

In the 1950s when we lived in Clement Park my Daddy worked at the Timex factory at Camperdown.
He appeared to us to be a very clever person of some status because he often had to travel on business to Besançon in France where there was also a Timex watchmaking factory, and he regularly flew across the Atlantic to visit the US Time Corporation, which was then the parent organisation of Timex.  The headquarters of  US Time were situated  in Waterbury, Connecticut. His visits there were, as I remember, all to do with his work of designing and producing watches, among which were ones with Mickey Mouse, Cinderella or Hopalong Cassidy on their dials. At the time I think he was engaged in the design and production process of a newly patented watch mechanism called "V- Conic".

Here is an impression of the Hotel Waterbury, where Daddy stayed when he was on the other side of the Atlantic. I've published it because I remember a black and white photographic postcard of this view which he sent to us at home in Dundee.

In those days my younger sister and I thought it quite something to have such an  exotic father : one who travelled to these faraway places. I didn't know anyone else who had been abroad, only my Uncle Jim who had been wounded in 1940 during the second world war by shots fired from a Stuka dive bomber on the beach at Dunkirk. Thinking back now it strikes me as strange that I never thought to rank on my very short list of people who had been abroad my Mummy's three brothers who were all seamen in the merchant navy which was the career of choice for many young men from Dundee in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. That's a story for another time.

When he was working in Dundee we seldom saw Daddy during the week except briefly at breakfast and for a short period before we went to bed. He arrived home from work about half past six. We'd have our tea with him before we ascended the stairs to bed at about a quarter past seven.

We saw more of him at weekends when he would drive us to Broughty Ferry or as far as Glen Clova for our Sunday picnics but most of the time our lives revolved around our Mummy and particularly so when Daddy was in America or Europe. Our  weekly family Sunday sojourns to Arbroath did not really begin until my youngest sister was born in 1955. Another tale waiting to be told.

Daddy did seem distant and not only when he was away from home. Mummy - except when she was crabbit with him - gave us the impression that he was very important and successful and so it came as a surprise to us when one evening -  I was about 9 at the time  and my sister was about 8 -  Daddy, returning from work, announced that he would be reading to us each night. After tea he sat in his armchair in the living room and we sat on the floor looking up at him and listening to him as he read to us for about 15 minutes from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. He did not read from an edition adapted for children but from a big old dusty volume with the original text of the 18th century political satire. As I recall he read to us every night for about a fortnight until he had to leave us yet again to work in the USA for a few months. The ritual of the reading ended and was never to be repeated. This didn't matter. His job was already done.

My sister and I had not understood a word of what Daddy read to us, 18th century syntax was a mystery to us but we sat there still, intent and silent every evening listening in awe to my Daddy''s voice and feeling very esteemed that our father, this distant yet important man had read to us. It may not have been the most warm expression of love but it was a precious gift which I've carried with me throughout my life. If this father, our Daddy had taken time to read to us then we must be very special children indeed. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A reverie on time, death and faith : what Robert Burns and the summer solstice brought to mind

On the summer solstice it seems we deny our nemesis when we call it "the longest day of the year." This mathematically and linguistically confusing declaration implies that we can stretch time. However absurd a suggestion it may be, it remains a notion set to please an optimistic imagination.

So it is sad human are  governed by their capacity and need to be rational - even though they can never sustain rationality  -  that they cannot allow fancy to reign and so be imprisoned by time. I suppose this is what Robert Burns was saying to "the wee sleekit, cowerin', tim'rous beastie" when he declared “moosie thou art  blest compared wi’ me, the present only touches thee.” For the poet’s wee moose time has no meaning, but human beings not only look back "on prospects drear," but are also impelled, even if they can't see the future, to exercise their facility to imagine what lies ahead for them as well as knowing and often dreading the inevitability of  they fate.

Some human beings can however feel “blest” in other ways and through their religious faith can sustain the notion that time can be conquered. Those who have such beliefs tell us time and death holds no fear if they have led a good life and have kept their faith. They are comforted by the certainty of their eternal souls.

In some ways I regret I cannot sustain the idea of such a triumph over time and death.  For me, limited –  or trapped, as those with religious beliefs might claim  -  by what I understand to be my finite nature,  faith in eternal life can appear but a sad, and tragi-comic quixotic gesture ;  a futile railing against a certainty.  It may be courageous to declare, " Now you listen to me TIME, you may frighten others but I've learned to believe in a future upon which you have no influence."  For me this is a flimsy bravado all too easily swept away by Marvell's "winged chariot hurrying by."

In my reverie over these matters a short title for an essay comes to mind, : "Is time a good thing? : discuss."
Another might be, " Is death a good thing?"  and a third, “Is faith a good thing ?” I need to think about these matters further. I wonder if I will have the time. 


John Stein observes " I too, am fascinated by time and by the inability of many to grasp its immensity.  Perhaps that's the wrong word.  It seems our perspective is limited to about 100 years--roughly our lifetimes or perhaps our hoped for lifetimes, or maybe a couple or three thousand years, back to Biblical times.  We can't quite grasp a milllion years, let alone 4.5 billion, the age of the earth, or even
more--the age of the universe.  We envision a heaven where our loved ones are looking down on us, even though we've been up there and seen no signs of it.  We've been pretty deep in the earth and have seen no sign of hell, either..."

Alex Russon writes "I'm fascinated by 'time' too, particularly when related to pre-destination. If our time on earth is pre-destined, why put the effort in? Should we just mark time for three score years and ten then shuffle off again? But I have a belief in a God whose power is beyond our understanding and who has sovereignty over even 'time' itself, this means I can use the brain I was born with to make decisions after all rather than be a puppet on his string. I believe in eternal life. We have a very short period here on earth to make the most of before an eternal life in heaven or elsewhere, for my part I plan to spend as much of it on the golf course as possible!"

Friday, 18 May 2012

The road and the miles fae Forfar to Dundee : August 1950

I was born in Dundee in 1945. We lived for a few months in an old tenement near the new housing development Fleming Gardens while we waited for my Daddy to be demobbed from the Royal Navy.  Soon after this we moved to Forfar where Daddy had got a job as an engineer at Dons Brothers' Jute Mill.

For the next 5 years we stayed at 9 Green Street which was off the High Street. Green Street led down to the Greens. They were called the Greens because they were the communal washing greens where people who lived nearby could hang out their washing   It was also where the tinkies - who I once tried to run off with -  would congregate and stay for a while with their ponies, carts and caravans, but that's a story for another time. It's a car park now though the wee burn I used to try to jump over and most times fall in, still runs through it and I think it still feeds the remains of a square concrete children's paddling pool where my younger sister  - who'd decided to make her appearance in 1946 -  and I played as toddlers.

Number 9 Green Street was a wee privately rented "but and ben" cottage which has since been re-developed (though I am always comforted when I return to Forfar to see that Green Street and the rest of the centre of the town look very much as I remember them when I was a bairn in the late 1940s). Our house consisted of two rooms. One was my parents' bedroom and the other was a communal room which was  at one and the same time the kitchen and living room as well as having a curtained off alcove where my sister and I slept. The lavatory was situated off a tiny passage that led to the back door.  We got our water from a well in the back garden.  We had no electricity, so we had a gaslight and our radio (or "bandie" as we called it) was powered by large clear and heavy bakelite batteries which seemed to be filled with a blue liquid. The bandie had other fascinating things inside it that my Daddy called valves. These would best be described now as looking like funny shaped clear glass electric light bulbs (the kind of light bulb which is itself now defunct).

One day in August 1950 we moved back to Dundee.  My Daddy had got a job at the Timex watch factory at Camperdown. At the same time we had been provided with a council house in Clement Park in Lochee, once a small town in its own right but by this time engulfed by the greater Dundee urban connurbation.

On the day we flitted,  Mummy, my sister and I sat in the front of the removal van. Daddy was at work. As we set off on the 15 miles to Dundee it was decided that I was to sit next to the driver.  Nowadays the road to Dundee from Forfar is a dual carriageway. In those days it was a winding and twisting road until you got to the long straight which passed by  - as I remember it -  Tarbrax and Tealing.   About 5 miles into the journey there were a series of hairpin bends at Toddhills. As a boy every time we subsequently made this journey to and fro  on our visits to Grannie and Grandad Sharpe who lived in Forfar,  I found Toddhills  the scariest part of the road for the land on the left hand side seemed to fall away steeply into a ravine. I knew we'd got through the scary part when we'd reached a junction where if you turned right you headed towards Glamis and Kirriemuir and if you went left continuing on the main road you headed on to Dundee.  On the day of our flitting to Dundee it was just after this point of our journey that I built up the courage to talk to the driver of our removal van. There were things I thought he needed to know.

"We're moving to a council house. It has an upstairs as well as downstairs. It has things called switches on the wall and if you touch them  lights come on and in the kitchen there are two wells. One has cold water and the other has hot water. I didn't mention that there was a room on the upstairs with a bath in it that also had  hot and cold wells. At that early age, and for some time to come, having a bath held little appeal for me. In Green Street my Mummy had struggled to get me into the zinc bath she filled with water for me and I was only persuaded to get in it when she threatened to tell Daddy how naughty I had been when he came home from work. This threat modified my behaviour throughout my boyhood but I have no recollection of my Daddy ever punishing me following such an ultimatum. I continued my information sharing with our driver thus, "There are plugs in the wall and we will have a new bandie and it will not need batteries because it will be plugged into the wall but Daddy says we are not allowed to touch the plugs".

Once I'd finished my lecture about my new house, the driver  - who I now understand not to have been a country town Forfar loon, but a streetwise big city Dundonian -  didn't seem to share my excitement about my new project. His response to my tutorial was,  "Eh, that'll be right".

About 12 miles into our journey, at the end of the long straight we saw to our left the ruins of Powrie Castle, and at the top of Powrie Brae, where the Black Watch memorial now stands, the road turned a sharp right and then descended to a winding left hand turn where suddenly we saw the steeples and chimney stacks of the city and there in the distance briefly curving out across the Tay estuary before it straightened towards Fife was the Tay Rail Bridge. I didn't know then that in less than 10 years time I would cross that bridge and leave Dundee and Scotland for what has seemed forever.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

John Jackson : Granda, scaffy, home maker, smoker and philosopher

John Jackson, my Granda was a great man. He loved everyone and in particular he loved Nellie, my Grannie Jackson. As long as he lived, he'd do anything for her. Mind you she was to become very much in charge of things in their household.

Though poverty still exists in parts of the city, in the 1920s, 30s and even into the 40s there was widespread poverty in Dundee.   Jobs were hard to come by. A great number were unemployed. Many  emigrated to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA for what they hoped would be a new and prosperous life. Dundee was a significant port in those days and so another route into paid work for many of the city's young men was to join the merchant navy. This was a path all three of his  sons were eventually to take but my Granda Jackson didn't.

Following the first world war Granda Jackson got a job as a scaffy and after a while the wages he earned from sweeping the city's streets encouraged him to pluck up the courage to ask Grannie to marry him. A few years later he lost his job because the City Corporation discovered he had a club foot which in his desperation to find work was something he had hidden from the authorities. For the rest of his working life he was either unemployed or doing any temporary odd job he could pick up. In another sense though he wasn't unemployed. Nellie, that is my Grannie Jackson, gained full time work at Cox's Jute Mill in Lochee.  In those days in Dundee it was less difficult for women to find a job than it was for men. The jute mills were keen to employ fast working and less expensive female labour. Still, low wages or not, in many households the women were the breadwinners. Dundee became known as a "women's town." So it was Granda Jackson who was the home maker, who kept the tenement flat they lived in ship-shape and it was he who washed, fed, dressed and sent the weans to school on time. He was the one who made sure there was a dinner ready on the table when Grannie had finished her shift at the mill.

Granda was a great support and source of encouragement to his wife and family.  He was very proud of them too.  He was full of admiration for Chrissie - his eldest daughter and who was, in due course, to become my Mum - when she became a nurse. He was proud too when decades later I became the first member of his family to go to college and train to become a teacher. When he heard that I had qualified he said, "Eh dinnae care whit any o' ye say, Eh'll bla' aboot this tae a' body, and then Eh'll  bla' aboot it again." More than any diploma or degree Granda's pride in me remains the most precious accolade I've ever received.

Granda could be a philosopher. My remembrance of a conversation I had with him when I was about 6 or 7 years old brings this to mind.  Granda was a cigarette smoker.  "Woodbine" I think was his brand. I can't remember clearly because unlike other grown ups during my childhood, he never asked me to go to fetch cigarettes for him from the local shop. Occasionally he would smoke a pipe and I noticed that he did not spit while he was smoking a pipe as my Grandad Sharpe did. Grandad Sharpe was someone who always smoked a pipe. One day I asked Granda why he didn't spit into the fireplace when he was smoking a pipe like Grandad Sharpe did. "Weel, Charlie," he said, "There are twa kinds o' smokers. There are dreh anes and wet anes. Ye're ither granda is a wet smoker."

"But Granda," I persisted, "Why then are there dry smokers and why are there wet smokers ?"

"Ach, Charlie," Granda replied, "afore lang ye learn there're questions there's nae answer tae." 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

He was a friend of mine

David was a friend of mine. I loved him dearly. I hope and I think he thought of me as a friend. If that were the case, then it would be a great honour for me.

David wasn't a demonstrative man - he didn't speak at length but I knew when he talked about his family, his wife, Jean, his children, Gaynor and Lee and his grandchildren, Ryan and Charlie, how much he loved them and how proud he was of them.

David was everything I wasn't. He was good looking, he was practical, he could build things, he could fix things and on numerous occasions he rescued my wife Jackie and me when our central heating went wrong or our fence was blown down or our washing machine wasn't working. He was a linguist, a gifted amateur photographer and he was a good cook. He had fine taste in music and he it was who introduced me to Willie Nelson.

Jackie and I have known Jean, his wife,  and David for over 20 years and during that time we've played badminton together, been in pub quiz teams together, gone to concerts together, been to family anniversaries and parties together, and we have shared many meals together.  We've also walked together and that brings me to the infamous perambulation of Dartmoor  which David and I undertook in the early 1990s. This was the occasion David and I slept together.  Just to warn you, there is not going to be a Brokeback Mountain revelation here. The perambulation is a walk around Dartmoor of almost 60 miles and goes through some fairly tough terrain. We intended to do it over a weekend : the main part of the walk, 36 miles, on the Saturday and the remainder on the Sunday.  Rooms were booked for an overnight stay at the Plume of Feathers Inn at Princetown where having completed our day's hiking we were to meet with Jean and Jackie  to have supper, stay the night and then to complete our expedition on the morrow. From our early Saturday morning start near Brimpts Farm everything went well. The going was good. David encouraged us when we were on the steep ascents and I gained strength when we were going downhill. Soon after midday the weather broke and the rain came down with a vengeance. We were seriously delayed  - streams  became rushing torrents and the ground became boggy. Although it was June the glowering grey clouds made it very dark. We began to lose our footing and increasingly, as the afternoon became evening, we fell down holes and crevices. At about 10 0’clock, fearful of breaking limbs from one of our falls and having missed our schedule for meeting Jean and Jackie we decided it was not safe to go on and that we would bivouac for the night. We were very cold and wet. Before we had set out Jackie had packed, for use in emergency, two special blankets made from the same material as astronauts' suits but  after a thorough ransack of my rucksack I could only find one blanket. We found a peat hole and cuddled up for the night under our one astronaut blanket.

Meanwhile back at the Plume and Feathers  Inn, Jean and Jackie  were becoming concerned about us and at 9 o'clock they told the landlord of the inn that we had not turned up. He contacted the police and the Dartmoor rescue team. Shortly afterwards policemen came and whisked Jean and Jackie from the pub as if they were ladies of the night out on illicit business and took them to Tavistock Police Station to be questioned. Jean and Jackie told them we were well equipped against the weather and when asked what food we had Jackie said I had sandwiches and a Mars Bar and Jean said David had sandwiches and  three bunches of bananas. At the mention of the bananas the police officer turned to his colleague and said, “Well we don't need to worry about him he'll be happily swinging up and down in the trees." Jean and Jackie were returned to the Plume of Feathers and spent a restless night trying to remember if we had any worthwhile life insurance policies.

Up on the moor we woke up at daybreak after a night of unsettled sleep. Taking map readings we calculated that we were 6 miles north of Princetown and headed south. As we were approaching the Tavistock to Ashburton Road about 3 miles from Princetown  we saw  a large group of Land Rovers and other small military looking wagons. One of these had a tall radio mast. It slowly dawned on us that this was the Dartmoor rescue team and that they were out looking for us. When we reached them they established who we were and asked us when we had got lost. We were upset and dismayed by their assessment of our predicament . David insisted that we had made a sensible decision to bivouac on the basis that at that time it was a safer option than continuing our hike. He told them that we had known all along where we had been and that we hadn't ever been lost.This was to no avail. The headline that appeared on the front page of the Western Morning News on the following Monday morning was, "TWO MEN LOST ON DARTMOOR RESCUED" and over the years, however much we have insisted to the contrary, everyone has always called it, "the day David and Charles got lost on Dartmoor." 

After we had been "found" we were taken to Princetown in the back  of one of the rescue team’s Land Rovers – they wouldn’t allow us to walk there – and we met up with Jean and Jackie at the Plume of Feathers,  had breakfast, and returned home.

We completed the remainder of our perambulation the following weekend. During this second stage we confessed to each other that one, if not the main reason for our decision to bivouac for the night was our realisation that  there wasn't any chance we could get to the pub before closing time. A beer was out of the question. 

Well, David it was a great day, you were a special man and I'm missing you.

Link : He was a friend of mine

Monday, 19 March 2012

"Of Gods and Men" : the way religion and democracy could still be.

For a long time now religion and democracy have not enjoyed a good press.  I am certain arguments may justifiably be made in favour of exceptions to my assessment, but in some measure I think the opprobrium has been deserved. Religious movements have proved intolerant and "democratic" politics have in the main proved useful only in preserving the status quo : a status quo typified by our obeisance to the will - as well as to the rule -  of the wealthy and powerful. By wealthy and powerful I mean those who, in the final analysis, can afford and are prepared to use the most deadly weapons of destruction to coerce the end they desire. Perhaps it is sad to note that the exercise of this oppressive influence has often been supported by religious movements.

It seems strange to be writing this as if it were a paradox but the potential for good in humankind is almost invariably a founding principle of most religious and democratic movements. This potential would be manifested by a society in which everyone is sincerely and uncynically trying to lead a better life in the service of others ; in which each listens to, and values  the views and decisions of others at the same time as sharing -  on an equal basis - the natural riches provided by our planet and our universe.

Seeking potential for good in religion and democracy in our present oppressive social weather  may seem a quixotic quest promising little fruit.  Occasionally however contrary signals can appear from unexpected places and I believe such a one may be found in the  film  Of Gods and Men  which is  based on the true story of 8 French Cistercian monks who in the mid-1990s were living and working in a monastery situated in the Atlas Mountains in North Africa. As the film begins the quiet, modest lives of reflection and useful activity led by the monks is disrupted by a series of events which puts them in danger.  How the monks respond to these situations stirred in me feelings -  which I had thought lost in the labyrinth of my cynicism  -  about the  possibilities for good in humankind.  Watching Of Gods and Men I could begin to rediscover religion symbolised by a quiet life of service and by pure democracy. To be sure each of the monks is a real human being with strengths and flaws yet I could not help but be moved by the patience they as a group devote in calmly proceeding to a gently achieved consensus about the decisions they take.  In what for others might seem an impossible predicament, the monks sustain love and regard for each other, for the people they serve and for those who are intent on harming them.

The film seemed to ask me to weigh the value of a satisfaction gained by listening to, and serving others without demanding or expecting greater material reward against a satisfaction gained by the accumulation of wealth and by the undue wielding of intellectual, political, physical and military power.  The end of the film which is both tragic and noble left me to wonder if the kind of satisfaction embodied in the lives the monks through their beliefs and their activities is the only source of power that is worth our faith, that is truly democratic and so may be used for the good of all. I don't know, but the story of these monks has persuaded me that in future when I am writing this blog I will attempt to express my views in a more considered way and so, I hope, in a more considerate way.


Of Gods and Men (2010)  Director : Xavier Beauvois 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Iraq, Iran, Israel, the United Kingdom, Weapons of Mass Destruction and a very naughty boy

My history teacher told us that for our own safety and wellbeing our government in the UK never allows its citizens to forget that Iran is a very nasty and evil country. Now Iran may not have invaded any other country recently but it would be very ignorant and uneducated of us to think this is a good thing. In the 1970s Iran did have a battle with Iraq when Saddam Hussain was the new head boy of Iraq and at that  time Iraq was a very good thing. Later we changed our minds and Saddam Hussain and Iraq  became very naughty things and because of that we invaded them and smashed them to pieces. We invaded them because they had weapons of mass destruction and though they didn't actually have them our government said it was all right to pretend that they really did have them.  Now that Saddam Hussain has been executed and Iraq has been smashed to pieces it has become a very good thing again and we're not to worry that it has become a very dangerous country for its inhabitants to live in.

History tells us that Iran has never been a very good thing, well certainly not since that very nice man the Shah was the head prefect there and now our government has spotted that Iran is developing the capacity for nuclear weapons of mass destruction and that Iran has become an even more very evil thing.  Our leaders are saying we might  have to think about smashing it to pieces because apparently it might attack  Israel, a little country which doesn’t officially have nuclear weapons and yet actually does, but don't worry about that for our government says it is OK to pretend that Israel doesn't have nuclear weaponry.

Before I go to bed tonight  I will obediently wish for a privatised health service, a private police force to defend the property of rich folks,  and I will loyally pray for awful things to befall Alex Salmond,  Dennis Skinner, fat people, welfare cheats, schoolchildren whose exams are too easy and all the rest of the feral underclasses who have broken our nice home counties society, - yes while I'm doing all that -  I  promise to understand why my government thinks it is a good thing that we have nuclear weapons and a bad thing that those terrible Iranian leaders have them. 

The leaders in our government tell us the citizens of Iran live in fear of their government - that’s terrible.  A  naughty boy in my class called Noam says we should be in fear of our government because it is spending a lot of time thinking about which evil country we  can next smash to pieces without any danger of that country smashing us to pieces in return. Noam says that in order to give itself something to do while it makes its mind up about this, our government has decided to declare war on all its poor citizens. 

Fortunately none of us good boys listen to Noam.

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Concession Confession

I have been a concession for some years now..  Recently my wife joined me in that predicament. She too is now a concession. A month or so ago I asked her, "What is there to like about being a concession?"  She replied, "What is there not to like?"

I suppose she meant the free bus travel and cheaper rail fares, reduced entry fees to cinemas, theatres, exhibitions and museums. The trouble is that I am fast - as if any part of me goes fast these days - becoming a museum piece. I'm slow of mind, hard of hearing and my eye sight is deteriorating. I struggle to get on buses and trains.

Furthermore, and people who know me will find this difficult to believe, I have become even more cantankerous.

Recently the customs officers at an airport temporarily barred my embarkation on a 'plane because I refused to take my belt off before going through the security screening check. A young female security officer had asked me to take it off. I refused on the basis that I was fearful that my trousers would fall down and I would lose what little, if any, dignity I might yet retain.  The officer was adamant. "You must remove, your belt sir."  I refused again. I like to think now that my refusal was a matter of principle rather than the chauvinist feelings of a man whose diminishing potency was being publicly exposed by the directive of a young woman.  Appreciating my fixed attitudinal locus, she called her boss - a shaven haired bloke of about 50 who towered over me - and in a demonstration of both his solidarity with his colleague and his masculine power he said, "If you don't do as the lady says I will not allow you on the plane."  At this point my wife who had already passed to the "other side" of the security check called to the customs security boss that I had not been well recently and this had made me very stressed and would he please let me through. Her story was untrue but the situation was desperate and my wife advised me to take my belt off. I did. I walked through the security beam holding up my trousers. As I walked towards the duty free area, the young woman who had first demanded my unbelting said, "Enjoy your flight, sir."  I wasn't certain she was being entirely sincere.

My confession here of disgraceful behaviour at the airport says everything about what being a concession really means. It is a developmental process of ageing by which  gradually one has to accept that one's role is now to make a concession to other younger beings. It is to concede that they hold the power now and that I do not.

Recently I was travelling on the London Underground Circle Line from Paddington to Euston Square.  I was a standing passenger and just after the train left Great Portland Street a young woman got up and asked, "Would you like a seat ?" Astonished that this request had been made to me  - surely I hadn't reached this stage of decrepitude yet  -  I was about to say, "No thanks, I'm getting off at the next stop," but I had to concede she meant well and actually I was feeling quite exhausted. "That's very kind of you," I said and I sat down.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Robert Burns :"Why has Man the will and power to make his fellow mourn?"

Robert Burns wrote  "Man Was Made To Mourn" in 1784. He tells of the lives of suffering, hopelessness, sadness, depression, toil and failure which so many impoverished children and their mothers and fathers faced in the 18th century. For Burns the tragic irony was that the misfortunes of the poor were caused not by any universal and incomprehensible cosmic fate but by their more affluent fellow human beings.  Here in 2012 we can see that in many ways little has changed since 1784. We are all born free to think but we are not all provided with the same freedom to act.
Certainly as a Scot born with an  "independent wish planted... in my mind" I find it difficult to forget  "such a parcel of rogues in a nation." These were the absent " lordlings" who assumed and still assume the right to act upon us and to sell us.

Man Was Made To Mourn : A dirge

by Robert Burns

When chill November's surly blast
Made fields and forest bare,
One ev'ning, as I wand'red forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spied a man, whose aged step
Seem'd weary, worn with care,
His face was furrow'd o'er with years,
And hoary was his hair.

'Young stranger, whither wand'rest thou?'
Began the rev'rend Sage,
'Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure's rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of Man.

The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling's pride:
I've seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return;
And ev'ry time has added proofs,
That man was made to mourn.

'O Man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Mis-spending all thy precious hours,
Thy glorious, youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway,
Licentious passions burn:
Which tenfold force gives Nature's law,
That Man was made to mourn.

Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood's active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported is his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then Age and Want - O ill match'd pair! --
Shew Man was made to mourn.

'A few seem favourites of Fate,
In Pleasure's lap carest;
Yet think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest:
But oh! what crowds in ev'ry land,
All wretched and forlorn,
Thro' weary life this lesson learn,
That Man was made to mourn.

'Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And Man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,--
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

'See yonder poor, o'erlabour'd wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, tho' a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.

'If I'm design'd yon lordling's slave--
By Nature's law design'd--
Why was an independent wish
E'er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has Man the will and pow'r
To make his fellow mourn?

'Yet let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast:
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man,
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!

'O Death! the poor man's dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy fear thy blow,
From pomp and pleasure torn,
But, oh! a blest relief to those
That weary-laden mourn!'

Monday, 23 January 2012

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The anger and love of a father

I remember a day during the early 1950s when we lived in Clement Park. I was 8 or 9 years old at the time. My parents had bought me some rubber moulds with which I could make Plaster of Paris figurines. When the liquid plaster I poured into the moulds had solidified I could remove the moulds, paint the figurines with poster paints and when the paint was dry I would varnish over the paint to protect the figurines. My intention then was, as I recollect, to sell these rather tawdry ornaments to unsuspecting adult relatives for sixpence or a shilling.

After supper it was time for me to go to bed and I hugged my Mummy and said "Good night" to my Daddy, but so excited was I about my new money making project that instead of going up to my bedroom as I should have done, I went into the kitchen which had been my workshop earlier in the day and as quietly as I could I continued to manufacture figurines. Some time later my father decided he wanted a cup of Nescafe and he discovered me in the kitchen. As I remember it he became very angry and told me that I had been deceitful in not going to bed and that I had broken the trust he and my mother placed in me. I was in tears as he peremptorily sent me upstairs. I lay in bed crying. I had let down my Daddy. After about 10 minutes my Daddy  came into my bedroom. He didn’t put on the light but he sat on the bed beside his sobbing son and he said, ‘Charlie I’m really sorry I got angry with you. I was really proud of you making your ornaments today and I should have told you that. I’m sorry son.’ He left my bedroom.

My "Daddy", as I grew older he became my "Dad", justifiably got very angry with me on a number of occasions after that before the time came for me to leave home, but I have never forgotten that evening. 

Friday, 6 January 2012

"No blacks, no coloureds, no Asians, no Irish, no children." Three cheers for Diane Abbott

I don't like the idea that anybody should be "dressed down" by another person and so I was disappointed to learn that Ed Milliband has apparently administered such a thing to his colleague Diane Abbott for her remarks about us white folks. I was disappointed because I have up to now admired Ed Milliband for his  unfashionable take on politics that it is about intelligent discussion and not about the cheap, too often repeated cliched  soundbites, and moral diktats that appeal so much to his immature opponents, the leaders of the Conservative government, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Yes, I did write Nick Clegg and to be sure, I did write  "Conservative government."

Back to Diane Abbott, who in my view has never done herself great favours by her often inconsistent views and actions, but on this occasion I think she got it right. We white people, including my wonderful self, who read The Guardian*  and who think of ourselves as nice non-racist centre lefties  are, it seems to me, just as racist as anyone, whether of white, yellow, black or whatever hue, religion, language or culture.  It mystifies me that those who tell me they know better about all things of import have got so worked up about Diane saying whites "divide and rule" on matters of race, when what she says  has manifested itself so immediately and dramatically in the response to her remarks made by the media and its subservient operatives, meaning, well,  most politicians really. This has been a disproportionate reaction. 

I guess like most white British people I have never been the subject of a racist taunt.

To agitate against Diane Abbott's observation at a time when, we still have not resolved all the issues underlying what happened to Stephen Lawrence and what happened in the aftermath of his murder, when, an Indian visitor to our country is murdered because of what the colour of his skin may have represented to the impoverished and deprived personna of his assassin, and when overwhelmingly  both the most subtle and overt expressions of racism are made against non-white ethnic minorities, the vehement condemnation of Diane Abbott's remarks represents, certainly for me,  a worrying exercise of denial.

When I was a student in the 1960s looking for accommodation I would often see notices posted on the door of potential lodgings which read, "No blacks, no coloureds,  no Asians, no Irish, no children." I sometimes think this notice is still pinned up there on many a door in our country even though it is clothed in a sophisticated disguise.

I am  dubious about my association with The Guardian which now appears to be the official apologist for the Conservative government.