Wednesday 31 August 2016

The Great Pretender

This week we were given copies of "Private Eye" of thirty years ago. Looking through the pages I thought it would be a different world. Although names have changed a good deal has not.  Some of them are still all too much with us and were on the politics page, titled HP Sauce, from long ago.

There are a couple of items about the Tories.  One deals with the Tory Action group at the time, alleged to be linked to the then National Front.  Another is about Michael Fallon, now an elder statesman (cough) of the Conservatives and thought by some to have been a choice as successor to Cameron.

It is a rude piece about his personal life and I will not dwell on it, in the next edition one is longer and even riper.  Was he a model for Rik Myall's "Alan Beresford B'stard" of the TV series?  Then as now the backbench Tories were fighting like rats in a sack, but among themselves rather than with the opposition.

The largest item is one about the Labour Party and features Diane Abbott then in line to be elected to Parliament.  It is about her political connections and is quoted below.  The central views of her particular Hard Left group entail dethroning the Monarchy and replacing Parliament by a truly Socialist form of government.

What the article does not say is who would be The Great Leader if all this came to be, so we can only guess.  Looking at the options then it is difficult to resist the idea that Jeremy Corbyn might have been the man.  So when Jeremy became Labour Leader last year he had in fact been a Pretender in waiting, The King Across The Regent's Canal perhaps.

In 1984 to 1985 on the Trade Union side, Arthur Scargill in launching a Miner's Strike had made his bid for greater power as the Leader of the Trade Unions.  Other possible choices were Ray Buckton and Rodney Bickerstaffe, but they were compromised by Scargill's bungling, clearing the way for the London intellectuals (a chronic bout of coughing) which includes Jeremy.

If Jeremy seems careless and dismissive about his duties in Parliament, it is not surprising if he thinks it is an antique due for the dustbin, if a Hard Left Labour government was elected in 2020, given that he would replace the monarch and might be effective Head of State.

Hence the word "Pretender"; so in short his election as Labour Leader was neither an accident nor an aberration of politics, it was always possible if the Left for once got their act together and the others fell out.  A question now is that if Jeremy is the Old Pretender who could be The Young Pretender?

In the quote below the SDP was the Social Democratic Party that split off from Labour and later became what we know as the Liberal Democrats.


"Private Eye", Issue 644, Friday, 22nd August, 1986, page 7.

With election in the safe Labour seat of Hackney South under her belt, Diane Abbott is looking forward to becoming Britain's first black woman MP.

Ms Abbott is currently a press officer for the loony South London Borough of Lambeth.  But she seems less eager to publicise some of her own political views, which are slightly at odds with the soft-left platitudes she propounds on such vehicles as "Question Time" and "Any Questions".

In reality the seductive Diane is convenor of Target Labour Government, a cretinous far-left clique which makes Militant look like the SDP.

An internal document penned by Ms Abbott promises trouble ahead for Kinnock & Co.

"The Parliamentary Labour Party is the citadel of the clique of traitors who have controlled our movement for the past half century or more.  TLG exists specifically to tackle this citadel." she threatens.

The TLG gang wants to see the Queen In Parliament replaced by an emergency joint Labour/TUC special conference as the legislative body.  The monarchy itself will be abolished.

Soldiers, sailors and airmen will be organised into TUC affiliated unions and given the power to arrest senior officers suspected of anti-government activity.

And the present police force will be disbanded and replaced by a force "reflecting the gender and ethnic composition of society", with every member required to join a TUC affiliated closed shop.

While she waits for the forces of historical inevitability to do their bit, Ms. Abbott is doing her best to sympathise on a tiny £20,000 a year salary.


Twenty grand was a handsome pay packet in those far off days.

The Platters from 1955 might sooth the nerves.

Sunday 28 August 2016

The Internet Manifesto

It is Tim Berners-Lee who is credited with the innovation of the World Wide Web.  He took existing computer systems, their data stores and connections and provided a means of linking them together.  Thank you Tim from the billions of us who have cause to be grateful for your foresight.  This post could not have been written without it.

His great great grandfather was the Rev. Charles Lee, interesting how the Anglican clergy crop up in the families of so many of our leading thinkers and doers.  What has been forgotten is that for a time in the 1860's as incumbent of Holy Trinity Church in St. Pancras he was the local vicar of Karl Marx, who lived just round the corner.

I doubt if he saw much of Karl in church, but I could be wrong.  Perhaps some of his sermons, he was keen on social justice, may have inspired some of Karl's later thinking on the needs of the working classes.  I wonder what Karl would make of the internet and the power it has given to the people, should they care to use it properly?

It was in the 1860's that Karl had a legacy which enabled him to move to a rental a little more upmarket within the general petit bourgeoisie.  His near neighbours at Grafton Terrace had included a noted sculptor, Alfred Head Baily, whose more famous father, Edward Hodges Baily (Wikipedia) 1788-1867, has one work atop Nelson's Column, that of Nelson.  Edward was buried at Highgate as was Marx.

After the move to Maitland Park Villas one next door neighbour, Henry Goddard was a Doorkeeper at the House of Lords, cue any number of bad jokes. On the other side was Edwin Willis, one of the family firm of organ builders, the best in their business.  Anyone viewing the Royal Albert Hall on TV will see one of theirs in its full glory.  "Land Of Hope And Glory" and "Rule Britannia" in musical form.

I have this vision of the Willis's singing hymns ancient and modern round their family organ while the Marx's try to counter the noise with "Prussian Glory" or "Die Wacht Am Rhein" on their piano.  But it is interesting that in all four Census Returns, Karl and Jenny are Prussian and never German whereas Engels in the two seen is German and not Prussian.

The Marx family like the great majority of people at this time, were renting; owning property then as now could as easily become a liability rather than an asset. Their home at Maitland Park Villas was on an estate for which the freeholders were a Maitland family. Whether this had the system of leaseholds common at that time is not known.

But if so, then the Marx family and the others would pay their rent to the leaseholder owners who would have a ground rent to pay to the freeholder.  It was this system in many areas where shorter leases were common that had the effect that when the leases were running out, at the end they became slum districts.  But it could be that the Maitland's kept full control.

As for the Maitland family, the one in the time of Marx would have been Ebenezer Fuller Maitland, items on the web, notably the History of Parliament under the Fuller Maitland name.  He was an MP and a City man, a director of the South Seas Company, believe it or not, the legacy company after its more famous predecessor of a century and more before.

His father was also an Ebenezer Maitland, also a leading City man and a director of the Bank of England.  One wonders about Charles Dickens "Christmas Carol" and Ebenezer Scrooge but this may be pushing it a little too far, albeit that in his time Dickens had a great deal more influence that Marx.  But the Maitland's were involved in charity provision as were many others of their ilk.

The 1860's were a crucial time in business history in that after a great many ups and downs and ruined shareholders, Parliament legislated to create limited liability, triggering vast changes in the nature and purpose of ownership and shareholding.  At a more practical level the discovery of compounding in steam engines drove rapid expansion in sea and rail transport.

Marx relied on others for much of his information, notably Friedrich Engels and the convention is that there perceptions were reliable.  But too often I am not seeing that at all. One idea is that Marx lived in near slum conditions.  This is a nonsense.

Even when at Dean Street in Soho, it may have been a full house but the others there would not have been living in a slum.  It is very possible that in later decades the addresses may have gone down market but in the time of Marx looking at the neighbours etc. and who they were these were not slums by any standard.

Also, one is left to wonder at how much Marx may have understood about the immediate world he lived in and what it was about.  The Round Room Library at the British Museum where he worked may have been full of worthy journals on poverty and the like for him to write his works but it was not his immediate domestic situation.

There was extensive poverty and bad housing conditions in many urban and rural districts together with all the health implications and troubles that arose.  But there was also a great deal of effort among many groups and agencies to tackle it albeit in a way and on the basis of beliefs that were very different.

In the 21st Century we have allowed the followers of Marx and Lenin to dictate their interpretation of history pushing a rapidly changing and developing society and economy into a strait jacket of thinking.  They have made a bedlam of history and perhaps like Marx, cannot understand what is around them or the way it is changing.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Strangers On A Train

The "Traingate" tale has filled the media and the web with fun of many kinds.  So Jeremy Corbyn's media advisers and PR decide to pull a train stunt to beef up the long and boring proposal to "renationalise" the railways.  Given the amount of state money, regulation and franchise details involved the private bit does seem on the small side.

But doh!  Trains these days have modern surveillance systems that allow wide coverage of who travels and how.  Also, they are full of people with gizmo's that might allow a fellow traveller to reach out to the world all at the push of a few buttons.  If Jeremy had done an imitation of Luke Kelly of The Dubliners singing "Paddy On The Railway" it would have gone world wide in minutes.

The Youtube clip of this one is from The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, but perhaps Jeremy is more James Joyce, G.B. Shaw or W.B. Yeats than Luke. Although, if Shaw he might have tried the song from "My Fair Lady", "All I want is a room somewhere...." sung plaintively by Eliza needing houseroom rather than train room.

While on the entertainment route, the contest between Jeremy and Owen Smith as to who offers the biggest disaster for the Labour Party is becoming more and more like something from the old "Steptoe And Son" TV series from the past.  This is where father Albert and son Harold argue about everything, often politics and policy, such as "Tea For Two" from 1970.

The blissful unreality of their debates and beliefs given what happened during the 70's is a poignant reminder that today's notions, or rather yesterday's polished up for the media and an electorate with a dislike of change are no better.  If the Steptoe's were misinformed and determined to impose a past on the future, they were well short of Corbyn and Smith.

There is the question of who the current franchisers are in the discussions of ownership of the railways.  One is Deutsche Bundesbahn, touted as the best and most efficient of systems.  But those of us who take a look at German news now see an increasing number of accidents and crashes.  All that one time German efficiency is a thing of the past and it is beginning to show.

So if either Jeremy or Owen start talking about the German model as to the one to go for it may be time to check the coach services out on line.

At least you won't get politicians pulling stunts next to the toilets.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

A Forgotten Past

One of the features of The Arts is anniversaries of those of the past and long past who have left us their legacies in a form that can inspire and enjoy however long since their lifetimes.

The BBC does a good deal of this, but it can be choosy and it is a puzzle why with some they can go to extremes but others ignored.  One such is Thomas Linley the Younger, 1776-1758 a composer and musician of extraordinary talent recognised by his peers and especially by Mozart.

Born in the same year as Mozart during 2006, 250 years on since his birth, in a flurry of activity we had extensive coverage of Mozart and others but not a hint or mention of Linley.  There is a Wikipedia page and other information dotted about, a couple of things on Youtube, but he is lost to us.

So ten years on I will repeat below an item written then.

1756 - 1778

In Grimsthorpe Lake poor Linley died,
Carried to another Bourne,
His life given to those who knew him,
Together with a wilful posterity.

The generations more,
Two centuries and half beyond,
Only of works, family, name,
And who were touched remembered.

Sheridan, wit, poet, playmaker, politician,
Few of those remain.
Goldsmith, Johnson, Thrale,
The whirling names of London and of Bath.

Boyce and Nardini his tutor mentors,
Nesbitt to mind the money,
Sneyd to smooth the way,
All long lodged in written memory.

There was another, an Austrian of wit,
Few of those remain.
Who shared the music,
The dance, delight, and genius.

Mozart had few years in life,
Enough to create another world,
Rightly honoured, cherished,
As a wonder of the age.

He mourned Thomas Linley,
A fast friend, one of his own,
Allowed him to be master,
The finest memorial.

Who cares now in England?
Only passing ones of blood,
For the rest, it matters not,
The BBC utterly forgot.

Monday 22 August 2016

Old Green Eyes

There's an off pink naked statue on the road to Washington,
There's a well used little White House in the town;
There's a howling winking woman who hates the Mad Old Trump,
And the gods of polling all gaze down.

He was known as Mad Old Trump by media Washington,
He was raving far more than they could take;
But for all his foolish sound bites, he was worshiped in the banks,
And the woman feared his spotting of a fake.

He had watched her constant flouncing and the flashing of her teeth,
The fact that his guts were hated were part of his recall;
She was nearly seventy years and firm in her belief
That votes for Trump would be only small.

But he started asking questions and she could not find the words,
So things began to change;

I greatly regret that the rest of this revised version of the legend of Old Mad Trump and the green eye of the little political god has been redacted by literary advisers.

Come to your own conclusions.

Friday 19 August 2016

Left Right Left Right?

It may be surprising but despite many reservations there is a time or two when Mr. Corbyn says things which I can agree with.  He has indicated in an off the cuff comment that there are questions in his mind about the NATO alliance and the high flown talk of it "doing something" about Russia and the Ukraine.  This has been greeted with shock horror in the media.

It is possible he has asked the basic question that if NATO ought to rattle it's sword against its shield and bang a drum or two then who is to do it, that is whose army and with what air support.  It may be that the armchair warriors of the media and politics are thinking of going nuclear for the hell of it, but let us assume non-nuclear.

The thinking is that as the EU has pushed further and further east looking for lebensraum for its administrators and officials, it should now impose its will on the further shores of the Black Sea and The Crimea.  Ah, The Crimea, we have been there before and that did not end well.

So could the master German's be at the front of the line?  Perhaps, but by all accounts your German army of the present day is a lot more Fred Karno than Freikorps.  It is less Prussian Glory and more Strictly Come Dancing without the timing.

The French, well not really, Beau Geste is into interior decorating and the Foreign Legion a lost cause.  The Italians?  No.  The Spanish?  So it has to be the Brit's, again.  Sadly, we are short of numbers.  The enhanced mixed brigade we might be able to muster might be good enough to get there, although this is arguable, but not to do anything and probably would need lifts from Ryanair or Easyjet to return.

As for air support, the Brit's could manage a day or two, the others even as much as a week, so long as no opposition was encountered.  If the Russians could put up a few planes and perhaps unlike the EU  ones with enough ammo' to make a fight of it, that would be a write off.  As for logistical support it would be another Iraq and a lot worse.

Mr, Corbyn may be against any of this purely on principle and there is a good case for thinking that NATO today is not what it was when I served with the colours just after Stalin bit the dust.  There is a better case for looking at just what it is and for and perhaps needs radical reform of purpose, structure, strategy and the other things that have been lost sight of in our new Europe.

We may not like Russia, but apart from the literature, music, opera and ballet etc. we never have and there is a long tradition of opposing Russian empires.  How many men were lost up the Khyber because we feared them moving into India?

But if we or the EU tell us to go out there and do our duty we should question whether it is a duty, or whether, like Bismarck, we should put Realpolitik first.

If you would like another tune, go to Youtube and take your pick of the choices of the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.

But don't forget to duck when the cannon's fire.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Sports Page

Any major sports fest on an international basis, at least in the UK, will bring about the thunder of the hooves of hobby horses being ridden into the ground.  The present Olympic Games in Rio is allowing a choice selection arising from the successes of many of the UK participants.

The Guardian has a piece lauding the medal count as a triumph of central planning, comrades, which we should salute and embrace.  Meanwhile, other press points to the relatively high proportion of people from private schooling and the virtues of accepting elitism as a necessary condition of progress.

Perhaps, but the great age of the old grammar schools were years when the medal count was not as good as we were led to hope for.  While some private schools were organised more fully for sport, the general picture was one of amateurism and something minor in the great game of life.

But that was Britain and if the Olympics at the top end was a battle between the American universities and colleges and the Soviet and Communist East military, so be it.  In those innocent days which lasted until relatively recently, we should take account of the research benefits accruing to the pharmaceutical industries.

My chief complaint is the media wipeout of other news.  Unless you are a dedicated web searcher, for the vast majority relying on main media, all sorts of strange and interesting things could be happening that our leaders can avoid either telling us about, or later that the relevant issues arose during the Olympics.

Beyond this there are strange things.  John Major had been brought out from an attic of history, dustier than most, to be praised for his foresight and work in created a national lottery, gambling for all at a price, that has funded so much of the basic provision for the preparation of contestants.

The effect is that the lottery is entirely voluntary, nobody has to buy a ticket, so we can claim that this is truly a people's success.  That it entails unbridled elitism in that we are only concerned with the winners must appeal to one group of political philosophers or another, but I am unable to work out which.

Perhaps they have gone for a walk.  It was in the 1948 London Olympics where UK men won only a handful of medals, none gold, that Tebbs Lloyd Johnson, picture above, aged 48 took a bronze in the 50 Km walk.  To this day, he is the only Olympic athlete I have ever known.  He was an amateur in the sense that his wife ran the boarding house and he earned income as a handyman.

A far cry from the world of "Chariots Of Fire", which for many is their basic source for past Olympics.  But in some ways the Olympics are and have been a living fiction.  To claim them for central planning and a triumph of Trotsky thought is to claim that this is the way to run and economy and society.  Yet the nature of the individuality of those involved is diametrically opposed to this.

To argue that elites are good if we give them most of the money is wrong headed.  The contestants are mostly able to perform as a consequence of particular physical and genetic advantages.  I doubt that eugenics is the best answer to all our political and social problems, history suggests otherwise.

As for schools, if you have around the country a few schools that have careful selection requirements arising from sports etc. being a central feature of their specialisation, then inevitably, these private schools will see a higher proportion of their people gaining medals.

It might be better if we do want to watch and enjoy the spectacle, the excitement and the rest of people contesting to win the great prize in their field, we should do just that.

We are paying for it, so just ignore all the nonsense.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Walk And Ride

Our Prime Minister, Theresa May, is walking up hill and down dale in Switzerland and perhaps consulting with her private bankers in a welcoming gasthaus off the beaten track.

If she and her entourage are staying in one their excellent hostels to economise on expenses does the security man have the top bunk or the bottom one?

Might there be an assignation with President Putin at the Rheichenbach Falls, if so, which one will get the push?

While this is going on we are advised that this means that Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson is in charge of the shop and till.

Is it at all possible that something adverse is about to happen?

Monday 15 August 2016

Singing For Their Supper

Among the many and various people doing blogs about their working lives is Jessica Duchen, a lovely lady, and indeed a widely admired music and arts critic.

But there are times when she causes eyebrows to be raised.  Recently, she has been doing heavy duty operas at Munich and in Switzerland, Wagner at his most noisy and the directors of new productions at their most imaginative, or deranged according to opinion.

This I quote from her blog of today:

Parsifal at Bayreuth, the new and fervently anti-religion production by Uwe Eric Laufenberg, with Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role. The editors have entitled this one, with perspicacity, 'Twilight of the gods'.

Weirdest moment' goes to the latter evening.

Eating out with friends afterwards, we found ourselves in the same restaurant as Angela Merkel, who had been at the opera too, and she was perfectly friendly when some members of our group bounced up to her to explain how desperately sorry and embarrassed we are about Brexit.


If Angela is such a keen Wagner fan as well as determined to impose a particular kind of European unity and enjoys evenings out at shows that have humanity descending into violent chaos as well as the destruction of the gods, then Brexit cannot come soon enough.

As for Jessica and her friends perhaps this means they should stick to the local Turkish takeaway.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Delivering Policy

Time is short, but if you do have it to spare Automatic Earth today,
Sunday 14th, here for the full list  has a choice selection on offer to cure you of optimism.

This is short and to the point explaining one way how it could all get a lot worse.  But the picture was interesting, how goat teams were used for deliveries in Washington DC in 1917.

Things have become less efficient since then.

Friday 12 August 2016

Trains Can Be Catching

The picture above, as most will know, is "The Hay Wain", painted by John Constable in 1821.  He died in 1837, not long after the first steam train clattered along between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830, which drew on earlier attempts at rail transport.

The alternatives were water and road but steam was going to be much faster and with other potential, especially for freight.  The majority of histories etc. concern themselves with passengers. We know about the great express trains, but almost nothing about the parcels, coal and other freights that used the same lines and had such economic importance.

If you look at the hay wain, it is not a large cart, but it needs two horses and there are two men.  How many miles it might travel in an hour will be perhaps around walking speed at best.  When a long large log was moved from the Sussex Downs to Chatham to become a main mast on a ship of the line, it took two teams of sixteen horses a month with around a dozen men.

Try working out the cost of that. It is easy to see why when railways become a real option why the map of the Atlantic Isles was filled with lines going to the most unlikely places.  Some of it was related to tourism, some strategic requirements, but the bottom line was very often the goods and freight, post and parcels.

There is far less of that these days, it almost all passenger. The trouble with passengers is that the adult ones, notably commuters, have votes.  As their railways are important to much of their basic movement from place to place, travel by rail is a serious issue.  The upshot of this is state subsidy of not just running costs, but capital costs and their debt liabilities.

After the depredations of two world wars there was a kind of sense in nationalising the railways in the late 40's.  The trouble was that the existing bosses became the new bosses and the engineers got off the financial leash.  Think several thousand words about the organisational, financial and policy chaos that resulted.

Mrs. Thatcher, opposed in principle to state control and seeing what a gruesome shambles the whole operation had become came to the view that privatisation was better and so the money should follow the performance and this was to be financial.  But a major problem then was that the old rail trade unions were still in being.  The last of the dinosaurs perhaps, but still with a nasty bite and a hefty kick.

The last generation has seen therefore a muddle of state, private companies, now not so private but more related to financial corporatism, passengers with more advanced ideas about service and reliability, an ageing track and buildings etc. network badly in need of repair, and voters now more alive to their personal needs.

A marriage made in hell, you might say.  In the meantime our politicians and for that matter uncivil service have ducked and dived and given out vast fortunes in order to be able to avoid decisions or action before the next election.  Shout railway at one them produces the auto response of promising a new high speed non stop line from Southend to Stranraer.

There have been a number of improvements and new additions in all this time.  One feature has been progressive new more advanced rolling stock, work on the signalling systems and track and other work, largely almost on an ad hoc basis, but some progress.  But the trade unions are still with us and do not like change.

Back in the 1970's I bumped into the buffers of Ray Buckton (1922-1995 see Wikipedia) a time or two.  I liked him and had some railway work in my CV for him to chat.  But he was a man not of his time, but a past one and another never to be.

The union he represented may be a shadow in terms of numbers.  The trouble is that they are still capable of bringing more to a halt than just a few trains at the moment.

And everybody pays whether they ride the trains or not.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Putting The Boot In

With football under way again for the new season the media is giving coverage to the latest news, scandals and massive money deals that underpin the circus.  In many minds the question is asked, could this be better regulated?

This means international bodies in the world of today and we already have one, FIFA, which has attracted a lot of the wrong kind of attention recently.  If being able to bend the ball is a key skill for a leading player, then bending of another kind has been the speciality of the people at FIFA.

This brief and readable post in "The Political Economy Of Football" gives space to Gerard Clark's article in The Journal Of Civil Society which puts the issue into a broader context. In the picture above of Everton FC in 1891-92, note the man with the top hat. It simply repeats an ancient truth for the followers of football.

Follow the money.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Lend Me Your Ears

BBC2 had a curious art programme this week entitled "The Mystery Of Van Gogh's Ear".  A researcher writing a book, soon to be in the shops, on the subject of the artist in Arles, Bernadette Murphy, resolved differences in the story of the mutilation of his ear and his time in that town.

Jeremy Paxman, our great Inquisitor, was hauled in to ask the questions we all wanted to know the answers to, or rather those the script writers thought would keep us watching.  Van Gogh is an easier one to ask awkward personal questions about than the Albigensians or for that matter St. Bernadette of Lourdes.

Also, as art has been relegated from BBC schedules in recent years, one on Van Gogh can supply the necessary blood, violence and other shock horror elements now de rigeur.  At the end we had seen and heard a lot of Paxman, something of Murphy, but not a lot else.  The descendants of the lady concerned connected to Van Gogh wisely stayed silent and detached from the whole business.

We finished up discovering that indeed the ear was lopped off by Van Gogh himself and were told who the lady was after a tour of the local brothel district.  As it happened she was not a lady of the night, but an under age cleaner.  The doctor in the case was given due coverage and there were a lot of pretty pictures of the local ladies in traditional costume.

There was also a bull fight in the Arena at Arles, a place I have visited, it had an interesting aroma, where we were fully informed about the significance of bull's ears in the ceremonial of the bull ring and what happened there.  Stock footage was used to great effect even although in Van Gogh's time they did not kill the bulls, but hey there, who's worried about getting that wrong if we have some real blood?

A few shots of his art were shown and a desultory attempt made to explain his style and technique.  The viewer was left with the impression that while he may have been a significant artist he would never have made it as a decorator.  In any event it was said that he only sold one painting during his life.

This made me wonder.  If he was very short of the readies are there paintings of which there is no record that he may have given to creditors and put in an attic somewhere, or could still be hanging on a wall unrecognised.  One's that could not be got rid of because it was grannie's or looks nice with that wallpaper?  Someone, somewhere might have a few million Euro's just behind the telly.

So there is our TV art of the 21st Century, a low level detective story where not much is detected and claims to change the course of Art History when in fact some interpretations might need minor adjustment.

Poor Van Gogh, he suffered a great deal, but at least he did not have to watch the programme.

Monday 8 August 2016

Ground Control To Major Tom Again

The text of this comes from a post of the same heading on 7th November 2012.  Tell me the old, old story.


Now that the US Presidential Election is won and lost it will be about 30 months before the process begins for the selection of candidates for the 2016 election.  In the UK it is perhaps 25 months before the next election of 2015, if not sooner, if the Cameron administration collapses.

If that election is inconclusive or left in a state of confusion by the Scottish Question, then there are a number of intricate uncertainties ahead.  Germany has an election due next year, what that might come up with is also not certain.  So this leaves France with newly elected Hollande as President more or less as the only long term one amongst them.

I exclude Russia, China, India and Brazil from all this because they may well have a lot to think about at home and in their own areas rather than bothering with the coming and going in the West.  Given that President Obama is not enthusiastic about UK or European matters, the West probably has a leadership vacuum.

But to be a leader internationally, you need to be in control and secure at home.  But because of globalization, the ongoing effects of the financial crisis, the divisions opening up in many countries of incomes, identity and beliefs it is arguable that none of the governments of the West have much real control.

The situation is that in most places the political elites will be hanging on desperately, bidding for the money and support of a limited number of wealthy and secure international companies and trying to play off one group against another to retain some authority and ability to make decisions.

If some things go against them, or there are either events or developments that are seriously disruptive, there are all the pre-conditions in place for serious difficulties of one sort or another.  At the moment, the USA might just be able to manage a real war, but none of the others could without politically imploding.

The same applies to financial management and control.  This is now outside the real capability of our governments.  Because too many let it rip and then did too little too late and now cannot agree effectively to deal with all the problems that arise they face serious tax deficits along with major spending commitments.

This is not sustainable.  So by the time all the next elections come round it is very likely that they will be going on when there is either a crisis about to unfold or one already under way. 

None of these governments will be able to handle it.  Also, none of them seem to have policies for energy, food supply, water, or the management of disease that add up. 

In 1969, David Bowie came up with “Space Oddity”, also known as “Ground Control To Major Tom”. It might well remind us that it all can become too much.

There ain’t no ground control any more Major Tom, so just keep going.


Where are you when we need you, Major Tom?

Saturday 6 August 2016

Honours Even

As someone who has never been in line for any honour or award, the latest row is of academic interest.  Also, if the Honourable Company of Charladies award their Golden Kneepads of the Year to a member that is their business.

My only wish is that the when the media, arts and acting people do the same it would not be the sole issue of the news of the day.  If aliens did ever decide to land and sort us out they would only have to find the date of one of these ceremonies and we would never know.

The notion of awards and honours have been with us for a long time.  Perhaps the ancients honoured their mammoth hunter of the year.  Back in the 15th Century it is likely that in the Guild of St Anne of Balsall, the member Shakespeare's and Cumberbatch's were happy to recognise those who did most for the sick and the poor.

We are told that the resignation honours of departing Prime Ministers is a relatively recent innovation.  Certainly, it added to the strains on an already creaking system of handing out recognition and awards.  It has become such a sundry collection of items that it is little wonder that it defies rationality or logic.

But how far did those qualities ever exist?  We may like to think of a golden past when they did but digging deep it becomes more and more unlikely.  Basically, there are titles and awards.  Check out the titles and you see very many handed out in the past which raise eyebrows.

My favourite in this is Good King Charles II. One of the most striking collection of titles were handed out to ladies of his court, see picture above.  They were a comely group of lovelies and were a lot more fun that his devoutly religious Queen. Today, a great many of our aristocracy and other upper classes can number one or more of them in the ancestral files.
But monarchs come and go and their views and impact could be very different.  William Pitt the younger was free with peerages it is said and King George III in no position to refuse.  King George IV was easy going, King William IV open to favourites etc.  Queen Victoria was another matter.  Keen on detail, alive to the need to keep the reputation of the monarch and critical by nature, Prime Ministers did not have an easy ride.

King Edward VII was very different, so King George V who followed him certainly had reservations, but this was the age of Lloyd George, Maundy Gregory and the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act of 1925.  But political generosity lived on, winks and nods included.

King Edward VIII might have made some interesting choices, had he been allowed to.  King George VI was quite particular and very well informed on medals and honours but still at the mercy of his ministers.  One feature relating to the House of Lords is forgotten.  That is that the Scottish peers were fixed to a certain number, but this was avoided by the simple device of awarding a subsidiary English title that allowed a seat in The Lords.

Our present monarch has had to deal with a motley collection of Prime Ministers who have had some very individual ideas about what honours, titles and awards are for and who should get them.  As in money and other things we have endured a full half century of inflation and debasement.  Didn't we all have a lot of fun in working out why who got what in Wilson's time?

Recently, it has become much more Alice in Wonderland, that is curiouser and curiouser.  The detail is spared, if only to avoid the attentions of no win no fee libel lawyers.  Despite being something of a traditionalist in many matters, my view is that this nonsense has now gone on far too long and is damaging what is left of The Constitution.

Because the issues have not been addressed as they arose in the past because of politics, yet again we are in the unhappy position of quite radical change being needed with major effects.  This means it will be a lot harder and nastier to achieve, short of a revolution.  Indeed we might recognise major achievements and contribution, but what do we scrap and what will be the new?

Personally, I would leave the military awards alone, they have long had functioning controls that work comparatively well, allowing for the difficulty at the margins of deciding which deserves what.  Also, I would have a separate system for sports with perhaps four or so levels and maybe different sections for achievement and contribution to running them and community work.

As for the rest, peerages included, they would go in their present form and be replaced by six or seven levels, with sections for different forms.  The Order of Merit and Companions of Honour for example would be top level or category with others with a clear stratification down and with sections.  This would finally bring about the end of Empire, although very late in the day.

A major constitutional impact of this would be the end of the House of Lords at last and facing up to the question of the second chamber of Parliament, what it is for and how it functions.  This has been left on the shelf for half a century and it is time to deal with it because the stink is smelling the House out.

All those with titles and awards at present hold them for life and be recognised, but none in the future would be hereditary.

What will matter is the procedures for nomination, the nature of examination of worth, who recommends and who decides.  Whoever can work this out deserves to be one of the first in the top level of honours.

Any ideas?