No. Actually I’m not, mainly because I’d be too worried to put my name forward for anything like that. But I do believe in voting, and I do believe in voting FOR something rather than against. The man on the doorstep says, “You do realise that if you vote that way, then you’ll just be letting in the …. (whoever it is they don’t like).” Well, I take your point, but if I don’t vote for what I believe in, then why am I voting at all?

The sad thing is that after all the rearrangement shenanigans of the past few decades (devolution in all its guises), but without anything happening to the House of Lords, and without any boundary revision, the electoral chickens are coming home to roost – in the shape of the SNP probably. The one area of the UK without representation will now be England. Clever stuff, from you professional politicians there.

But my manifesto, (just in case anyone wants to come to my door with a friendly message) would include:

– clearing up litter
– taxing freesheets to pay for it, and packaging, and chewing gum, and banning plastic containers for takeaway food (like they’ve already done in Oxford, I think)
– adding some graduality to stamp duty and local taxation (whatever they call it these days)
– I’d be scrapping Trident (who else has one? and what’s it supposed to be aimed at?) but beef up the defence budget elsewhere
– oh, and I’d make it much easier to install micro generators in rivers and streams
– get on with HS2 and all the other rail infrastructure that we’ve lost over the past years. Crossrail will be genius. That should too
– lumping more tax on smokers, and probably drinkers too, to pay for the NHS
– if you need to save some money elsewhere, chuck out the benefits for the old, except where they are means-tested, and give anything over to the young; they’re the ones who need the help.

Right.That’s the rant over. Have a good day!

Prompted by a memory, from a long time ago

The wind, or the morning

Sometimes,
Without quite knowing why
My eyes fill with tears
When walking to the station.
It could be the early morning
Or the incisive westerly wind.
But if I had known you would be
Away for the whole summer,
I would have tightened my scarf
And tried to look as though
It was the wind,
Or the morning.

There is something about eccentricity that makes it endlessly attractive to the English.

Canvas opinion for example, on your favourite Dr Who. It has to be Tom Baker with that scarf.

Favourite actors? Brian Blessed perhaps, or for those of a certain generation, Oliver Reed; maybe even David Niven? Sportsmen? George Best, James Hunt?

Say what you will, it can’t be any coincidence that all of these have been touched by a little of the slightly off-centre. (Even David Niven, outwardly sporting the stiffest of upper lips, had a house called ‘Cirrhosis on the River’)

We all love an eccentric, don't we?

We all love an eccentric, don’t we?

 

The masters at the school I was educated at (an old-fashioned Grammar School) were eccentric almost to a man – at least it seemed like it at the time. And I have to say that it seemed an essential component of getting the best results from the motley group of which I was one. A little vulnerability, a demonstration of a side of themselves that was not only outside the framework of ‘rules’ was essential. It created a new and gloriously unpredictable reality – one without fear and if not totally without drudgery, was at least mitigated by something more sublime than ‘results’.

The master who taught me history was one. He never knew anyone’s name and never cared. Pupils were to him ‘large boy’ or ‘small boy’ and on one magnificent occasion in my presence, ‘medium-sized boy.’ His fascination with history led him to appreciate particularly (an appreciation I now share) the delights of ‘CV Wedgwood’ (as she always signed herself). It was racy in the extreme for her to be referred to as ‘Cecilia Veronica’ as my man was known to do.

(CV Wedgwood’s books, The King’s Peace, The King’s War and The Trial of Charles I, are still the most readable and approachable books on the period, Her introduction to Cardinal Richelieu and the French Monarchy is masterful).

But back to the classroom and our history master. He used to play games with us. Not on the sports field, but in class, where he would leave letters from his fiance (rumoured to be a nurse in some distant town) tantalisingly close to the point where they could be read by those in the foremost desks. Of course, they would be snatched away as the occupants of those desks leant forward.

He also had charge of what was known as the ‘General Sixth’ a class generally accepted to be immune to both punishment and learning, condemned to take a set of ‘easy’ O Levels to augment whatever qualifications they had already scraped together.

On one occasion when our eccentric entered their form room, there was no one there. The General Sixth were hiding in the cupboards. This might have caused a showdown with any other master, but our hero showed a perfect understanding of the situation and how it might be mitigated.

Gathering quickly from the rustlings and giggles from the cupboards what was actually happening, the history man said very loudly: “Good heavens. The General Sixth appear to have vanished. I think I shall retrace my steps to the library and then return here in two minutes. I am convinced that then they will all be in their places, and thus escape any punishment, which otherwise would be severe.”

And do you know? that’s exactly what happened.

So, what to read if you at least have some question mark over the case I have set out here? There is only one book for you, English Eccentrics, by Edith Sitwell (the author herself had her moments), will introduce you to travellers, sportsmen, heroes of the hunt, of the table, the stage and the pulpit, who perhaps are not quite of the run of the mill. Curricle Coates, Old Tom Parr, Jemmy Hirst and my favourite, Jack Mytton, the hunting squire who relieved himself of so much money and often led his horse into a nearby cottage to lie in front of the fire after a cold day of the chase.

David Niven’s memories of Hollywood are published in Bring on the Empty Horses, The Moon’s a Balloon and others.

The King’s Peace, The King’s War and The Trial of King Charles I, by CV Wedgwood, are published by Penguin.

English Eccentrics, by Edith Sitwell, is published by Pallas Athene.

Shaving in front of the mirror this morning prompts a memory of schooldays and the continual skirmishing between those in authority and us, who wanted perhaps a slightly more avant garde style of hair than might conveniently be tolerated. Part of this involved rules about sideburns. The headmaster gravely intoned in assembly one morning that we were to be allowed to grow them, but only as far as something called the ‘grotis’. Someone behind me asked my pal Phil what he had just said, having misheard because engaged in negotiation regarding the loan of a Rolling Stones LP. Phil, who was contemplating his incomplete geography homework, said, without looking up, “You can grow your sideburns down to your scrotum, mate.” Phil was often an impromptu genius with words, labelling a certain rugby team ‘Featherlite Rovers’ and a gentlemen’s outfitters, “Aquascrotum.” One can quite easily discern the rails on which our minds ran at that time.

I’d rather go to an average play than a great film, and so much good live performance in London. Really makes the capital come alive.

From 1997, an imaginary incident At Heaven’s Gate…

At Heaven’s Gate

Grappelli fiddled.
Bremner snorted.
‘So who did you play for then?’
Back came the reply.
‘Hot club de France.’
At which, without hesitation,
Bremner took his legs from under him.
In memoriam
Billy Bremner and Stephane Grappelli – died December 1997

When I was at school in the 1960’s, things were a lot different.

I think there was one black kid in the entire school and you were looked on as something vaguely exotic if you happened to be Roman Catholic. It is probably my generation that is voting UKIP (for their sins) and while I couldn’t ever join that particular bandwagon (a one-issue party, and even that one issue I can’t sympathise with) there are a few things that I’d like to air about religion.

The one thing, it seems to me, that unites Judaism and Mohammedism is their unreserved commitment to separateness. Even if you wanted to join their club, they have set themselves up as formidably difficult to add yourself to. And I don’t think you could say the rules were there for any other reason but exclusivity.

Clearly, there are those who believe that the stuff about pork and shellfish is there as a matter of public hygiene, even if only a matter of public hygiene that was live as an issue hundreds of years since in the Middle East. Well, cling to that view if you will, but when bright (and not particularly crusading) individuals like Stephen Pinker (‘How the Mind Works’) hold a contrary opinion, then it might just be time to revisit your position.

There can’t really be too much informed debate about this; the rules of these religions are pretty much a kind of spiritual mercantilism, there to separate Muslim and Jew from the rest of us. (Probably other religions too take the same kind of approach, but I’m less aware of them).

This, it seems to me, is a dangerous position. For the potential Little Englander out there, it could be seen as adding fuel to the flames. For the potential racist, it’s QED; not us, but them.

I don’t want to criticise anyone’s beliefs – go and worship the great fluffy bunny if that’s your thing – but when you set your religion up to be exclusive to you and you don’t allow people out or in, then that is dangerous. Worse if you start to persecute those who have ‘gone over the wire’ into the arms of some other spiritual faith. Worse too, if you don’t allow other religions on your geographic patch.

Personally, (I was at University in the 70’s in Belfast), I’ve had enough of one religion saying that it holds a monopoly on wisdom. I’ve seen enough of the results those ideas bring. And if one thing could happen to save mankind from itself, it might just be that shutting off the religious impulse (a vain gesture to achieve fairness in a demonstrably unfair world – just my view) would be it.

When the gap between rich and poor gets too big, people get angry and often irrational. How else can you explain UKIP?

When the gap between rich and poor gets too big, people get angry and often irrational. How else can you explain UKIP?

A long time ago, when I was at school in Guildford, we were doing an experiment in which we measured the strength of paper.

To do this, we Sellotaped an elastic band to the paper, then one of us pulled, while the other measured how long the elastic got before the paper ripped.

Of course (and at this distance of time, I can’t really remember whether I was holding the ruler or the paper) but somehow we conspired to let the elastic go just as it caught around the end of the ruler. I don’t think we could have done it on purpose if we’d tried, but the ruler arrowed across the room and shattered the glass of the locust tank. The air became thick with insects. The scene, suitably enhanced by one of our number standing on a stool and screaming, resembled a scene of biblical revenge for some ghastly misdemeanour, for which only a plague would do.

Cue a change of scene to 21st century Europe, and elastic of a different kind is being stretched.

This time the elastic runs between rich and poor, and while there mostly always is a certain amount of tension between the two, these days, the elastic is getting taught, and that’s not a good thing, for you, me or anyone, because, sure as locusts are locusts, once that elastic gets near breaking, some kind of mayhem is bound to ensue.

It’s not just a case of bankers’ bonuses, though the fact that they still ‘don’t get it’ is certainly a contributory factor. Fat cats all across business are saying to themselves that, heck, they’ve worked pretty hard recently (a lot of the time resisting pay demands) and that as night follows day, they need that big pay rise.

Once upon a time, someone suggested that anyone in a company couldn’t be worth more than 200 times the lowest paid worker. That sounded like good sense to me, so much so that it resides with many other good ideas, under the corporate carpet.

And while board members award themselves more and the London property market goes from red- to white-hot, has the stock market, which measures directly the amount of value they have been able to generate, kept pace with their salaries?

The answer of course, is that while the stock market has done pretty well recently, it hasn’t kept up with what directors of Britain’s companies have signed off for themselves.

Stoked by the competitive myth (‘If we don’t keep our valuable people – of whom I happen to be one – we’re going to hell in a hand cart’) and fanned by the people who really benefit from all this (corporate head-hunters who have a vested interest in seeing salaries and other payments leap into the stratosphere), what the men at the top get paid starts smoking like an uncooled fuel rod. They can then only lean back on the line of last resort: ”it’s still a lot less than a footballer”.

It might not matter so much if we all feel like we’re doing well, but of course, but we don’t.

We’ve all had to restrain ourselves because, for some reason, we’re all in this together. Except we’re not. MP’s claimed their duck houses and second homes and the really rich headed for schemes like that Icebreaker thing that Gary Barlow used – just one of the many elaborate fiddles that prove once more my own philosophy of life and tax, which is this.

You’ll never soak the rich, because they’ll find a way round almost anything. That’s why this top rate of tax thing hardly matters except to anyone who wants to wave a flag of one colour or another. The poor are virtually untouchable too, because if you don’t have anything, it’s difficult to take it away. No, taxes have always been paid by us, the people in the middle, and it’s when we sense injustice that there is a leaking sense of meltdown.

And injustice is all around. From the mantra that says that judges (for example) have to be paid more, because we need judges and they have to have incentives. So why are nurses paid so badly? Are they irrelevant? No, but there are more of them, so more expensive to appease. No one needs to bribe a nurse, do they? But it might be worth offering a judge something, or a policeman, or an MP, or an (unelected) Lord? See my point?

And it is corruption is the final link in this chain. The lack of it is the only thing that stops us from becoming a banana republic, and even that division has been wearing thin.

Tony Blair and Mr Ecclestone’s Formula One advertising reprieve? The latest cash for questions lark? The policemen who can’t tell right from fraud (like the ones who accused Andrew Mitchell)?

These are admittedly microscopically thin ends of thick wedges that end up in the bloated maw of (for example) Mr Berlusconi, a convicted charlatan who managed to rule Italy for 20 years. In between is the Eurozone and its near criminality – farm subsidies to non-existent farmers, even the Euro-sceptic MEPs who keep taking the money and to show their disgust, don’t turn up to the institution that pays them.

It all reeks of corruption, and what’s more worrying is that it is the people that we are told we should respect who are responsible for it.

No wonder electors want to give politicians a wake-up call. But voting UKIP is a decision that smacks of turkeys voting for bigger meals at Christmas.

And if all of that is allowed to go on, then that locust tank is going to be shattered and all of us will be sitting around with some unpleasant insects.

 

Hey, Ranulph Fiennes! I really do not propose to turn my head at your ridiculous antics. You are a generation too late to be crossing Antarctica, even if you can’t think of another way to earn a living than by thrusting your sad existence on the rest of us. You’re not alone of course. “The Book” has become the last resort of the unemployable, and its adjunct, the breakfast television sofa is today’s equivalent of putting one’s organs in a blender. Please. Go and boil your head if you want to, but don’t dump the awful experience on me.

This referendum thing is something that the Scots must attend to themselves. I don’t propose to chip in on one side or the other, though I suppose if they do vote for independence, it will leave what’s left of GB looking a bit sparse and distinctly unbalanced. And what indeed would we do without their periodic invasions for sporting occasions and the like?

A long time ago, in the era of the ‘Home Internationals’, I remember popping in to an off license somewhere on Kensington High Street. It was about noon on the Saturday when the Scots were playing England at Wembley. In the doorway of the shop was a huge smell of a whisky-soaked Scot, wrapped in a kilt. He grudgingly moved out of the way to let me in. On my way out, having secured my purchase, he grunted at me. “What way to Wembley, pal?” I didn’t like to tell him it was a bit of a walk and pointed to the North West. He made a lunge for the bottle I was carrying, but it was half-hearted. He followed it up with, “No chance of a lift then?”

A couple of years later, I went to the game with my pal Robert. It quickly became obvious as we approached the ground, that we would be in a minority. Possibly 89,500 of the 90,000 attendees were Scots. We kept our mouths shut. Fortunately, there was little to celebrate from our side or theirs.

The subsequent demise of Scottish football seems to imply that the Scots should be reaching out, rather than looking inward, but that is a question for them, not me. Troubles at Rangers and other clubs have their roots in personal greed and money-laundering I suspect. The lack of talent on the pitch is a worse symptom of disease.

But whatever the outcome of the referendum, I wish them well, even if I can’t quite forgive my (Scots) English teacher at my Grammar School in my youth from inflicting Robert Burns on us all under the guise of literature. Ivor Cutler, of course, had his own revenge (Life in a Scotch Sitting Room) and that should really be enough.

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