Sunday, 24 July 2016

Getting In Gear





Today is the last day of the French Annual Festival of Exhibitionists, Fruitcakes and assorted Deranged Persons from across Europe.  They come in their thousands to be there and enjoy unlimited access to TV coverage now beamed around the world.

Thrown into this mix of anarchy and idiocy are around a couple of hundred men on bicycles to give a focus for the various activities.  During the festival they cycle over two thousand miles or so (albeit in kilometres) up hill and down dale, in and out of towns and sometimes around in circles.

This is The Tour de France, designated a sport, and is marketed as the leading cycle race of the world, if not the oldest.  The winner is deemed to be the man who takes the least time to cover the distance, modified by various time bonuses, penalties for infringements of the rules, where the crashes occur and other sundries that might occur to The Jury.

There are other major prizes.  One is for the man who gets up mountains best, another for who sprints best, another for the best young rider and another for the most "aggressive rider", that is the one who attacks the course most rather than his fellow riders, although the difference is not always clear.

The administration and organisation of this is all very French, which is not a compliment.  But it can make compulsive viewing.  What is a delight is the extensive showing of the countryside and the terrain.  Often just turn the sound off and watch the pretty pictures for a restful TV hour or so.

The trouble is when the TV is on key points in the ride of the day and all the Festival followers congregate to get in the way, run alongside the riders, make for the cameras, howl and rage and generally behave like the mob enjoying an afternoon with Madame Guillotine.  This is not civilisation as we know it, Jacques.

Having toddled around France a time or two, what intrigues me are the Festival followers etc. who manage to turn up each day on screen.  At one time, back in the 80's they were limited in number, now there are hordes of them.  It must take immense time, effort, cost and trouble to do this.  Those with the very large motorised caravans will have made a major investment.

It is a sobering thought, although I doubt whether many of them are sober.  When does the Premier League football start?

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Revising The Past





In "The Spectator", Richard Ingrams, sometime editor of "Private Eye" and later the "Oldie" has an article titled "Ted Heath: Still A Surly Man Of Mystery", reminding us of the political career of Edward Heath.

He was Conservative Prime Minister and rival to Harold Wilson winning the 1970 election but taking his chance in February 1974 in the face of a miners' strike was left with a hung Parliament.  A second 1974 election in October delivered Harold Wilson back into office.

In 1975 after declaring his intention to carry on as Leader he was challenged by Margaret Thatcher for leadership of the party and lost, going into a grumpy retirement where his contributions to politics did little to enhance his reputation or standing.

Then and since, whatever Tory policies might have been I regarded him as a walking disaster area.  As I was in a senior job at the time, picking up the pieces of his government decisions and changes out there in the real world was a nightmare, never mind the fact we were living in a mining area.

Consequently, in the decades since I have gone along happily with all the criticisms and the stories of his bad temper, arrogance and boorish conduct to the point of unpleasantness.  At this length of time it is difficult enough to change a view of the facts, let alone long held opinions.

This is prompted by realising that Heath and I were around the same place at the same time in 1940-1941.  It was Liverpool, I was a child staying with family, he was an officer of the Royal Artillery in charge of some Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery in the area during that period of the Blitz.

My aunt lived a few yards from a main trunk road into Liverpool close to the junctions with other roads and rail links all serving the docks.  She had a group of artillery emplacements a stone's throw away, I knew, as a child I liked throwing stones.  I still have vivid memories of the thunder of the guns in the night.

Later Heath went on to the Normandy landings, a very difficult and dangerous phase for the artillery, a major target for the Germans.  The sheer business of being in action and constantly on the move was difficult enough, being always at risk did not make it easier.   He went on to be in Germany until it surrendered and then for a  little while after, involved in clearing up the mess.

A few years later, in my time during peace, I had to do with the Artillery in all our divisional capers.  Also, I played on the garrison cricket team with Brigadier David Block, Commander Royal Artillery, my task was to stay in while he made the runs.

What was Heath actually like as a young man before the Army, the information is slight?  Were those personality traits there before, if so were they milder in form, or did they arise from his war time service and the long periods in action.

I know that if Liverpool was bad, Hamburg and other German towns were worse, let alone the trail of devastation the Artillery caused as they moved on from Normandy to The Elbe.  At one time, Heath had to be the officer at the execution of a soldier following a court martial.  How did all this affect him?

It is better to avoid the various medical and technical words for those things which we know far more about today that in the past.  But, it is possible that Heath in his personality was "damaged goods" in a way which was not understood then, especially given his status and prominence in politics.

It was the chances and chaos of politics that enabled him to become leader of the Conservative and so Prime Minister when we became fed up with Wilson.  It may well be that Heath was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But it is possible, perhaps, now to understand better why.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The Empire Strikes Back





Sometimes the views of an apparent outsider can be more to the point than those of the insiders.  In Zero Hedge, Professor Jayati Ghosh of New Delhi gives an imperious over view of the European Union.

It is a little long but readable and clear being written in the direct and structured English that has been lost to the us in the West.

What happens next is the basic question he asks; the answers to which seem to escape most and almost all of those at present engaged in the relevant debates in Europe and the USA.

He concludes:

The European Union as it exists today is unstable and probably unsustainable. But it will be tragic indeed if it collapses under the weight of its own contradictions only to yield to the petty and xenophobic forms of national neoliberalism that are currently the most forceful alternative to neoliberal economic integration.

What Europe and the world require are more internationalist alternatives based on popular sovereignty, solidarity, the improvement of workers’ conditions and the rights of citizens. Sadly, at this time there are only very few voices making such demands.

Unquote.

If the EU and Brussels become too much of a problem for the more stable and developed world, perhaps India might help to resolve matters by sending in The Yellow Boys, that is the 1st Bengal Lancers, once Skinner's Horse, to take over Berlaymont.

Skinner was of Scots-Indian parentage and a formidable soldier and general.  Perhaps it would be the only way today for the UK or the Scots to make an effective impact in Europe.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Warm Words





The hot and sticky weather coinciding with a busy spell does not make for a good temper or considering things coolly.  It might result in a rant that is wrong or something that on careful consideration and a modicum of research was better not said.

So a link will have to do and the one chosen is interesting.  It is George Monbiot in the Guardian, who again, you may like or hate him, at least he writes clearly.  This one is about the environment and what he feels are the insanities of the present.

It is also about short termism at its worst, the present scale of lobbying at its worst and some of the unintended consequences at their worst.  The picture above is Renoir's "Pont Aven", we camped there once.

Try not to get hot and bothered if you read it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Friends And Neighbours





Born before the air raids of Madrid and Guernica and a child of the Blitz and the nuclear age my memories and experience have left me with many uncertainties.  So the latest debates about Trident and its missiles are nothing new.

After the Army,  where I handled high security files in a key field formation, I was in London for the high days and clamour of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  At my place of study when CND paraded only a handful of us were not among them.  We did our best to maintain the bar takings in their absence.

Consequently, the present debate about Trident is one that I have mixed feelings about, not least, I wonder, how much of my taxes have gone to keep it going.  Is it a necessity?  Is it needed to claim a place at the table of Great Powers?  Is it past its time?  Or is it a large long established job creation project?

This week the debate has been muddled up with the status of the Leader of the Opposition and the vote to be taken about whether Jeremy Corbyn should be replaced.  In the picture above he is on his feet in the House of Commons but what is interesting to me, at least, is that Dennis Skinner is at his left hand.

Around four decades ago, I recall an occasion in a former stately home in South Yorkshire when the great and good of the Labour Trade Unions and Left had come together for a conference.  Claiming trade union status, of a sort, I had turned up and blagged my way in for the good free food and hospitality.

At one stage the talk shifted to whether the then Labour Government could be "persuaded" to agree to nuclear disarmament.  The only other person in the place who said nowt and kept his head down was Roy Mason, in The Cabinet at the time.  Times, it seems, do not change.

Dennis was for banning and total disarmament, a prophet before his time.  In the UK we are almost there for total, apart from Trident, and he has had little to do with it.  It is not owed to the Left or to the humanity first groups, it is down to the short termism, financial operations and the wishful thinking of our politicians.

It is said we might need to keep Trident because we have little or nothing else to call on.  But as for times changing the relevant questions might.  One is who is to be nuked?  Are we still talking Russia, or are there others who could be on the target list?

Brussels?  Berlin?  Beijing?  Baghdad?

Monday, 18 July 2016

Singing For My Supper




That inimitable pop group "The Scaffold" had a major hit with the song "Lily The Pink", long ago when I used to polish my shoes, wind up the clocks and watch, and wear a tie.

Another one was "Thank You Very Much", a satirical piece which was well received by the younger proletarian classes at the time.

One of the mysteries left to posterity was the question of what exactly was "The Aintree Iron" of the lyric which has excited much debate, notably in the pages of The Guardian, and many contrasting opinions.

Here is the song at two and a half minutes.  But I know Aintree well and once lived adjacent to the racecourse, where in 1937 the then Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth gave me a wave, as King George and she passed our house on their way to The Grand National.

The answer is a simple one, especially if you know the railway layouts at the time.

Disused Railway Stations has the answer, as you might expect.

Is there much going on out there at the moment?

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Growing Pains





Could we have sympathy for poor old Jeremy Corbyn?  There he was, one of the younger generation of Old Age Pensioners, being active and keeping up with his interests, the allotment and the affairs of his local Allotment Society.  He had a job as a back bench MP, but could leave it mostly to other people and did not need to fill up his diary with tiresome and unwanted business.

But by one of those errors pensioners are prone to make, trying to help or do a favour, he allowed his name to go forward for election as Leader of the Labour Party.  He was assured that he was only there to make up the numbers and allow an unloved disregarded minority a voice and perhaps a chance to tip a critical balance.

But those doing the voting, did not just see what seemed to be a benign old chap doing his best, which in reality wasn't much, but also a person who ideas chimed with their own.  His beliefs are those of Morgan Kavanagh as rewritten and edited by his old house mate Karl Marx to fit the new changing economic and industrial age of the later 19th Century.

So Jeremy suddenly found himself with a full diary, with scarcely space for caring for his growing brussels sprouts, having to contend with the mass media in full cry and stand up on TV facing not  statesmen or thinkers but politicians who were skilled trained PR men who would stop at nothing to push their financial interests.

Worse still was that behind him were ranks of so-called Labour Members of Parliament, Blairites who disliked and distrusted him even more that the PR professionals he was up against.  In many ways they were more Tory than the Tories and it is signal that the new Tory Prime Minister is almost one of them in any case.

So just at the time when he might have been able to smote the Tories hip and thigh, as Kavanagh might have said, this lot of niggardly neoliberals are forcing another leadership ballot on the Party causing doubt and confusion all round.  Who will stand and who will win is open to opinion and your favourite bias.

For Jeremy as he longs for his leeks and lettuce is seems possible that he could win again, when perhaps he really wants to lose, but the sort of person he would lose to is probably the last person he would want to lead the Party.

Who would be a politician?