Saturday, 25 June 2016

#23 NO MAN IS AN ISLAND (except the Isle of Man)

So, the bell tolls for us. There will be blood, and it will be ours, though Europe will be damaged, too, by our exit - possibly fatally. The wilful, self-harming, bigoted stupidity of this vote beggars belief. Millions of words have been written about it, and so it feels as though there is nothing left to say, and mine have fallen on stony ground or been wasted on the converted anyway. Tired of trying to think up more and more persuasive arguments, I have opted for a memorial collection of graphics + some words, to bring them together in one place. I am sure the books on why this has been allowed to happen have already been started. I'm not going to write one, but I think that there are interesting speculations to be made around the topic of Why. What the fuck did we do, to deserve such retribution: our whole world changed by a handful of people angry at their world, as much as Europe.

1)  Perhaps there was a kind of complacency, born of the belief that the Remain course was so self-evidently right that people MUST see this and vote this way. All the politicians, experts, independent think-tanks, the Governor of the Bank of England, World leaders lining up to declare that it was a thoroughly bad idea to leave the EU - against the Leave leadership: oddballs, clowns, opportunists, self-seekers and egomaniacs, backed by a few publicity-seeking media-whores. No contest: no-one in their right minds would vote for that lot, surely? They had no facts, and not even well-thought-out arguments about the consequences of Brexit, just rose-tinted wishful thinking. Surely no contest?

2) Nobody listened to the people, especially outside London. It's not a reliable index, but the number of  Leave posters in windows outside the metropolis was striking. At some point it became a popular movement, possibly when Boris did his spectacular pirouette and jumped on the bandwagon. As he segues into The Serious Politician, he has become a serious threat. He is charismatic and people do like him: he makes populism popular.  There is an uncomfortable parallel with Winston Churchill, also laughed at and reviled as a younger man but who grew in the job, to confound his critics and be loved by nearly everyone. If it comes to a straight fight between him and Gove for the party leadership he will massacre that intensely disliked unfortunate in the first round. Unless the rump of Boris critics threatens to split the party.

3) Immigration: for Remain, this was the hot potato. Political correctness, and the knowledge that it was an Achilles heel, persuaded Remain to gloss over it. But it couldn't be ignored, and the Sun, Mail, Express's daily front pages on Migrants made sure that for much of the public it was the issue, the main, fulcrum issue of the whole campaign. Remain was tame and offered little, and so it looked evasive, even secretive over policy, not helped by Corbyn's honest, principled but politically fissile reference to 'no upper limit on immigration'.  Leave had no scruples on this issue, grossly exaggerated its importance, managed to pull off most of the racist stunts without ever using the word 'race'  just a knowing smile. They knew it was a popular bandwagon that could transport them to victory if anything could, and they exploited it ruthlessly.

4) It has been estimated that in terms of readership, three quarters of the newspaper-reading population was exposed to the daily drip, drip of anti-migrant propaganda from the Sun-Mail-Express-Telegraph-Metro axis. It speaks for itself:


Leave grasped the nettle and secure in the knowledge that it had most of the Press behind it, helped the genie out of the bottle: it became OK once again to 'worry' about non-white immigration so long as you just called them migrants.

5) I am angry at a fundamental and telling gaffe by the BBC: not one incident, but their whole approach to coverage of the referendum.  Yes, they pursued their usual even-handed, balanced approach: meticulously inserting both sides of the argument: whenever a Remain supporter was interviewed a Leave supporter was interviewed in seconds flat, equal amounts of coverage, no inclination of BBC staff in one direction of the other (apart from Laura Kuensberg making it very clear where her sympathies lay and using more aggression and persistence with Remainers). So what's the problem ?  The problem is that the the two sides were not equal, so treating them equally was to elevate Leave hugely above its proper station. Nine months ago Leave was a minority position with virtually no expert support, a pressure group of a minority of MPs with only the likes of Gove and the ghostly presence of IDS at the helm.  By the time the campaign proper starts, the BBC presents them as equally viable, equally credible contenders with equal airtime. Usually minority parties (like the BNP) get a smaller number of party political broadcasts for example. What happened to that rule? A fair representation of reality at this point would have been about 3 Remain broadcasts to 1 Leave. What happened was effectively positive discrimination in favour of Leave. An unfortunate oversight, an unintended consequence of trying to be even-handed? Maybe. Or maybe, in its perilous financial position the BBC simply couldn't afford to alienate its paymasters and decided to back both horses. It was a major mistake which undermined the democratic process. Leave came out First amongst equals, when that equality was manufactured in the TV studio.

6) The Labour Party looked as though it couldn't make up its mind how much it wanted to contribute to the Remain campaign, and by the time it started to get its act together it was too little, too low profile, and too late. Corbyn's part was tentative and equivocal with some unfortunate quotes and not enough of the kind of leadership that would have got the core vote out. Not a distinguished episode in the history of the party. It was after, all the loss of Labour voters in the traditional industrial areas - the supposed Labour heartlands - which was the most unexpected and critical aspect of the voting pattern.

7) The Peasants' Revolt. The Psephologists will have their say in the next few weeks, but from here it looks like the ordinary voters outside London giving two fingers to the politicians, both Tory and Labour, to the Establishment, to the South, and to the middle class on an issue close to their hearts: not just immigration and the EU, but also austerity, declining services, neglect of the regions, and simply not being heard by the political classes who take decisions, far away, for and about them. It feels like a revolt, and I'm guessing that had the vote gone just the other way, and given their spirit, there would have been more alienation, anger and protest. From people for whom the issue is not about the price of French cheese or holidays, but the British being thoroughly fromaged-off by their masters. All of them.

8) Finally, a lot of responsibility lies with Cameron. A stupid, unnecessary, unpredictable, risky political gesture - way too dangerous as a means of deciding such a vital issue. So why did he call it?
Because he had to, because he'd promised to, because that's probably why he won that election. He sensed the public hunger, and the growing unhappiness around the issue (that Leave tapped in to, successfully). So he survived by buying off the electorate with the promise of a people's verdict. Politicians often over-estimate their ability to influence people and control events. He got this one wrong and Brexitgate will be remembered as an own-goal long after Porkgate.


A strategy has already been devised for making up and exceeding all the trade we have lost with EU countries through Brexit. As befits our proud maritime history, it centres on a very large ship, packed to the flight deck with British products and services, British salespeople and diplomats, and British crew. Even the passengers’ entertainment will have a distinctly British flavour with Sir Cliff (half-Indian but we’re very inclusive) providing the cabaret and his friend Sue Barker running nightly sports Quiznites. For it will be a very long voyage calling at practically every port in the world. Despite his recent protestations it will be captained by David Cameron assisted by Paddy Ashdown of the Special Boat Service, and pursered by John Prescott: a dream team, no question.
The ship has been re-named ‘Titanic McArkface’. Even as I write it is being loaded at Southampton with legendary British products and miniature service outlets are being installed in a capacious Mall: Marmite, Oxford marmalade, M&S, Dyson, Aston Martin (many know the cars from Bond films, so they practically sell themselves to the super-rich), BHS (no, scrub that) Shetland knitwear, whisky and haggis (decision pending), Wimpy Bars, Chicken Cottage, Ladbrokes, Poundland, Sainsburys, Duchy products, Eccles cakes, Mr Kipling,Taffi Indian Steel, miners’ lamps, speed humps, British bobbies, Royal Family souvenirs, boxed cassette sets of The Archers: the list is almost endless. Deckspace is devoted to the outdoor aspects of British culture with tiny Wimbledons, Henleys, and Grand Nationals. Jeremy Clarkson & Lewis Hamilton will host a permanent go-kart grand prix involving teams in each venue. There will just be space for a display cabinet housing all the international trophies won by the England football team since 1966.
The British are coming! This commercial and cultural invasion will ensure our place on the map, as a little speck off Europe, but with limitless potential. It is true that no trading arrangements have yet been made with any of the embarkation points targeted, nor indeed permission to land granted. But these things take time. There will always be unhelpful responses from nations who fear the might of British mercantile endeavour, because they fear the competition (Russia: “Our nuclear submarines will sink your ship”; Germany: “we will bomb your ship”; France: “Pff. We will ignore your ship”; America: “You think you’ve got problems, we can trump yours”.) We will rise above them and show our own moaning Minnies what kind of stuff we’re made of. STOP PRESS: we have just received a very welcome invitation from poor Syria (from their International Strategic Incendiary Supplies people), to mount a demonstration of our entire portfolio of arms products, with the promise of firm orders.
Editor’s note: this is no more fanciful than any of the Brexit claims for the ease of making future trading arrangements outside the EU.

"Sometimes turkeys do vote for Christmas......."

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


Seventy years ago I emerged from the birth canal screaming ("Come On You Spurs!!!"). I'm not going to talk about age and infirmity, though it is tempting to reminisce a little. For example, I've noticed a pattern in my relationships with the Other Gender. I'm quite good with the young ones and the very old ones seem to like me, it's just that awkward 8-80 group in between that I have trouble with.

This post was described in FESS (discarded before publication, when the book was thought to be too long) as 'self-indulgent'. Moi? Surely not. It is a bit, but if you can't do that on your 70th birthday.....

My legacy to the teaching profession, after 35 years’ hard labour at the chalkface, is a trick, a survival strategy for everyone who is confronted with a group of students for the first time, in a seminar, who through inhibition or ignorance simply won’t talk (but this applies to some other social situations not just education). Apparently they would rather sit there mute, looking at the desk or their shoes, in a rising tide of collective embarrassment, than venture a single comment or word out loud. You have almost exhausted your list of questions or prompts to stimulate discussion for an hour and there is still 53 minutes to go. Nightmare. And all you’re asking is for them to introduce themselves to the group: “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you” as Julie Andrews sang. Not. It’s a cultural thing, we don’t traditionally teach ‘public speaking’ in schools and British people are reserved and famous for it. What threw it into fine focus for me was teaching some visiting American students in the hour before I had a standard seminar group of final year British students.  The Americans never stopped talking: their attitude was ‘What I have to say is good, so I’m going to say it, even if you’re speaking at the same time’. Occasionally I could get a word in, just to conduct and orchestrate the discussion. It was a delight. Then I would walk down two flights of stairs to the British seminar. The atmosphere that greeted me was a little like Swindon Railway Station platform on a particularly grey, damp morning in February. My heart would sink: another hour’s purgatory.

So I determined to start with the First Years and try to establish good habits from the off. If they didn’t/couldn’t have that much to say about social psychology, what could they talk about? I know, everybody’s favourite subject, themselves. But you can’t just say ‘talk about yourself, you’d get one stumbling sentence about where they lived, the family members, and the dog. There had to be a vehicle that would open them up. A flash of insight: this is exactly what castaways found themselves doing on Desert Island Discs, where they have to choose 8 records for an involuntary stay on a deserted island. A pedagogic miracle was born, the DID Task. I asked them to choose 5 records and make them relevant to major events or periods in their lives; ten minutes preparation and then showtime.

It starts hesitantly, then starts to take off as the other students warm to the speaker, identify with them, find things in common, love or loathe their choice of records, learn about their lives and begin to discover the people they will they will spend a lot of their next 3 years, and in some cases become their friends for life. Brilliant. Except when a young woman said “I’ll go first, I want to get it over with. Last week my twin brother died of cancer. Bridge Over Troubled Water was his favourite song, so I’d take that to remember him by” and then was overcome with emotion and cried with an intensity you seldom hear. The group froze, horrified; I wanted to give her a cuddle but was inhibited by the unwritten rules about physical contact with students, and my decision to ignore that was pre-empted by the woman next to her next to her doing so, who later became an inseparable friend for the rest of their time in college.

Not withstanding this, and the fact that I found the task almost impossible to do myself, on my landmark birthday I have chosen the self-indulgence of being interviewed by Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. I've skipped the biography at the beginning, you can always read FESS.

KY:   Now David, your first record:

DM: I’ve chosen ‘Apache’ by the Shadows: it was the first song my boyhood band (neĆ© ‘group’) ever performed in public. We were great. A kid called Eric Clapton asked to join the group but we told him to come back when he could play more than three chords…never heard of him again.

KY: Sure you did...

DM :If you slow it down you can make it quite soulful, like ‘When my guitar gently weeps’. I played lead with such deep feeling that you could see the tears rolling down the audience’s cheeks – or maybe that was tears of mirth when I messed up the solo on the next number.

 It can be quite stirring. It would get you up in the morning, to throw off your palm leaves, and go chase some little hogs along the shore with a sharpened stick in one hand and a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup in the other (sorry to my veggie friends, I’m trying to add a little local colour here). I’m assuming that there were crates of ketchup on the ship and I paddled one to the shore. For me, the record is a quick way to feel 14  again instantly, though why would you want to? Horrible time. But it all turned out alright

KY: I’ll let it go, but I noticed you sneaking in extras: yellow card next time. Choose your second disc, please
DM:  My next one is a complete contrast. I have many connections with Wales. My father was born in Wales (Land of my Father's) in Port Talbot, like Richard Burton (whose father taught my Dad maths) through to Michael Sheen and Rob Brydon. Three of the best years of my life were spent at university in Cardiff, and North Wales draws me back and back to walk in Snowdonia and climb Tryfan, my favourite  mountain. Here Richard Burton reads the opening of Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas's work of genius.

KY: Surprise us with something different again.

DM:   Easy. Bob Marley, ‘No woman, no cry’.  It’s such a perfect song, so rounded, so compact and yet open-ended, so you could go on singing the chorus till your baby went to sleep (of whatever age). Marley was a genius and a man of his people who brought so much pleasure and did a lot of good. Saw him live once at Hammersmith and the energy he gave out was like a warm bath. Love the sentiments of the song, too, I’ve been there and I kind of feel the ‘no cry’ bit is wishful thinking.

KY:  OK , what’s number 4?

DM: The only woman that’s made the cut, as it happens. Tracey Chapman: 'Baby Can I Hold You'. Wonderful voice, phrasing, great songs, no hype or showybizness, just the shy smile and the feeling, the commitment and the integrity of her performances. Saw her live at Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert in Madison Square Garden, where all the stars sang him one of his songs: she chose ‘Times are a changing’.

KY: I love that, too, I always compare the choices with my own. Number 5?

DM:  Another song which mixes the emotions in performance:  George Harrison’s song ‘Something’ sung by Paul and Eric Clapton (plus George’s son, Dhani) at George’s Memorial concert at the Albert Hall. It’s a beautiful song, sung with huge affection for one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and it is very hard to keep back the tears, but so what? The ukulele accompaniment is a master-stroke and helps to flip the song into optimism.  There's another song first, but I'm not counting that.                    

KY: I wish I had been there, The Beatles were such an important part of all our lives it felt like losing family, almost. We're up to 6 now:

DM:  Sure. Moving on, into sad territory again. Paul Simon and many African musicians got into trouble when they produced the album ‘Gracelands’ because of the apartheid boycott. But I’ve long believed it to be one of the most important albums in the history of popular music. It kicked off the appreciation of World Music.  Melodically, rhythmically and creatively it is outstanding, quite apart from its huge intercultural significance. It’s simply a masterpiece. I could have chosen almost any track, there is not a dud one to be found on the album. But I’ve chosen the title track because it contains some Paul Simon lyrics which I find melancholic and piercing, but so very good that they are almost a source of pleasure:

“Losing love is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you fall apart,
Everybody feels the wind blow…”


KY: The end is in sight: number 7 please

DM  What became one of the best-known pieces of classical music in the world at Italia90, the World Cup Finals in Italy in 1990:  Nessun Dorma.  Soaring, triumphal, thunderous, agonising like some huge wave gathering up the people and, in the end, depositing them gently on the beach. The over exposure, I suppose, took something away from it, but  25 years on, it has recovered. You can hear it without mentally preparing for England to lose on penalties to the Germans again. Just. And the fact is that it is luminously beautiful – and probably introduced more people to opera than anything else, ever.

I envisage standing in the shallows at sunset, looking out to sea, and singing this at the top of my lungs, and when I finish, beautiful succulent fish start to swim out of the deeps, and waving white flags, throw themselves onto the beach in surrender. Enough, enough.

KY: I thought you had a good voice as you were humming along to the records.

DM: Pas du tout. If my singing voice was a footballer it would have a wooden leg.

KY: The last one – often the Big One that people single out if they could only take one. What’s yours?

DM:  Simple. ‘Idiot Wind’. Bob Dylan’s tour de force on the ‘Blood on the Tracks’ album. Possibly on any of his albums. It will be played at my funeral, and the congregation – both of them – will be astonished at how inappropriate my choice has been. But later they may understand that its chaos, its desperate love and its rage and fury are a better slice of my inner life – and many people’s lives – than if I’d picked ‘My Way’ as so many do. The song drives forward, time after time, slides back then renews the assault. There is humour, blood, frustration and truth in abundance and when he talks to his lover “in all her raging glory” you can see her, deep auburn haired, beautiful and just beyond his reach, and probably always will be. I was a massive fan of Dylan from 1963 – 78, and then sometime after that he lost me. I still treasure the early work, still believe that he was the most important singer-songwriter of the 20th century, I just couldn’t follow him on his particular path; interestingly he recently confided in an interview that that was when he started to lose his way. But his catalogue before that was matchless, and Idiot Wind one of the very best songs, and there would be endless fascination unpicking the imagery, the references, and peering into the darkness behind them.

And I would be able to play all his songs on my one luxury object, which is a red Fender Stratocaster, preferably before they went Japanese. It’s the ultimate rock guitar, and though there are others just as good, all my icons have chosen the Strat.  There is a problem with electricity and amplification, I know, but I’m thinking solar power and maybe a 3-D printer that was being smuggled inside the tomato ketchup crate, so I can print myself an amplifier – and of course a boat.

KY: And your book?

DM: I’m assuming that this programme is contemporary enough to allow a Kindle or similar? So I’ll go for the collected works of Philip Roth (a mere 35 books or so). I’ve followed him since his first novel. No writer has given me more pleasure or deserved more admiration. He was recently described as the greatest living writer in the English language. No quarrel there, I have argued the same thing for more than 20 years. Sadly he won’t live very much longer but his legacy is one which would sustain me in my solitude for a very long time

KY:  Thank you, David.

DM: More than a pleasure.  

There are times when I get more talkative: the Gemini’s drive to communicate gets the upper hand. This is not just in ordinary conversation, I talk more generally,  including to people I don’t know (aka strangers). I don’t mean that I walk along the street declaiming to the general public, laughing and joking out loud: that’s hebephrenic schizophrenia (but without being flippant, if you had to have schizophrenia, that is definitely the kind I would choose. Some enjoyment is definitely preferable to the anguish involved in most disorders). No, what I do is just strike up conversations, or have a little banter with people I encounter, whether at supermarket checkouts, on the Tube, or wherever, in a way that I wouldn’t normally. Of course, some people will shrink from this unexpected contact: but very few, most are agreeably surprised and the spontaneous conversation is the more enjoyable for breaking the British taboo on such things.

One of these conversations had an enduring effect on my life. Snappy Snaps opened a branch in Mortimer St near PCL’s Wells St building. Being the pre-digital age, I took my colour negative film in there for processing. I would enter the shop by the front door, not drive my car through the window as George Michael did to the Hampstead branch.

The manager  in Mortimer Street was a guy called Noel Knower, an anglicised Sri Lankan, I believe. When he told me his name I just resisted the temptation to say “that’s a bit of a no-no," because no-one likes their name being a joke. He was a very personable man so I would stop and chat for a while, or later fetch coffees for us both in quiet periods.

Knower by name, knower by nature. One time he said to me: “David, if you could have one wish what would it be?” Well at the time I was getting very strapped for cash, and so I said rather flippantly “A million quid would be kind of useful right now”. He said “No, you know that’s not the right answer to anything, try again”.  I was getting the general idea and I said, “Good health?” . He replied, “Closer but not the right answer, try again”.  I thought hard and said, “Happiness?”. He smiled and said “Close but not it. I will tell you: you should wish for a positive attitude. Because if you have that, all the other things you’ve wished for will follow.”

It is true, pretty much. It begs some questions, like how do you get such a frame of mind, particularly when you most need it, feeling low or without energy and drive. It’s a prescription which is a goal not a ready-wrapped solution. A decision to highlight what is best about a situation or thing or person, to put on a positive spin, to see the advantages not the pitfalls in a plan. Taken to extremes, there will be some scrapes if you over-reach yourself, maybe some embarrassment at a plan failing, publicly. But it is essential to any project because it will stretch you to achieve, beyond what you have already achieved.  William Blake said “Who shall say that a man’s reach shall not exceed his grasp”. The Four Tops (almost) said “Reach out and You’ll be There”.

Big birthdays tend to start a review process: not just what's happened to you in your life but what's happened in the world. For example my father was born in 1911, when cars were few and far between, the Titanic was about to sink, followed by 'The war to end all wars' and the Russian Revolution. He died in the early 90s as the Iron Curtain rusted and collapsed, computing was changing life for the masses, and the density of motor vehicles brought motorways to a standstill. It's almost impossible to comprehend the rate of change in human affairs. In my own lifetime, since 1946 the rate of change has accelerated further: for example, from food rationing, to the explosion of takeaways at one extreme to fine dining at the other - and back to food banks. Here are some of the changes during my span:


    'What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!' Hamlet.   Sadly, women had not yet been invented aT this time, apparently, but they've turned out to be    bloody marvellous, too.

When the history books come to be written about this period, Brexit will be seen as a kind of madness in which too many members of the British public were influenced by the Sun/Mail/Express axis of the Press into following the most hated man in recent British politics, a Trumpalike showman so convinced of the Leave case that he was arguing for Remaining, in public, two weeks earlier and a saloon bar raconteur who thinks the World will rush to trade with us if we Leave (even though we cut ties when we went in, and much of our current trade is because we are in. Gove and Boris want No. 10 (Gove is losing already), and this was a vehicle to ride there. If you can't make up your mind, think of it this way:

I love sport, particularly football, but this cartoon strip is right on the button: