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[Entries are in reverse date order, latest at the top. Comm­ents and cont­ri­but­ions are wel­come to the em­ail add­ress at the bot­tom.]

Monday 25th December

The last Middle Street Advent windows are done:

So, without further ado ...

Thursday 21st December

I've been struggling to finish off my Italian trip report. I still have 24 hours to complete, but it just won't come out. Possibly the most moving day, so perhaps that's why.

No such difficulty in documenting the 2023 Middle Street Advent windows (and house fronts). Here's the latest batch. Click to enlarge any image.

See the previous tranche of windows here: 👉

Wednesday 13th December

Carols and "hygge" at our marvellous community hub this evening ...

Wikipedia has this:

"Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the city of Siracusa, Sicily. On 13 December a silver statue of Santa Lucia containing her relics is paraded through the streets before returning to the Cathedral. Sicilians recall a legend that holds that a famine ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbour. It is traditional to eat whole grains instead of bread. This usually takes the form of cuccìa, a dish of boiled wheat berries often mixed with ricotta and honey, or sometimes served as a savoury soup with beans.

"Santa Lucia is also popular among children in some regions of North-Eastern Italy, namely Trentino, East Lombardy (Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Lodi and Mantua), parts of Veneto (Verona), parts of Emilia-Romagna (Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Bologna), and all of Friuli, where she is said to bring gifts to good children and coal to bad ones the night between 12 and 13 December. According to tradition, she arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave some coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey and a glass of wine for Castaldo. They must not watch Santa Lucia delivering these gifts, or she will throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them."

Hmmm, a bit gruesome at the end, but mostly it's about light, of which we need plenty.

I sent a WhatsApp message last night to my friend Lucia, who's from the Friulan village of Talmassons. I saw her only a month ago during our recent visit.

Saturday 9th December

The Middle Street Advent windows are coming along nicely:

Off to London for the annual old mates' dinner. Years since I've been to the cap­it­al. Driv­ing, sad­ly, be­cause we have to trans­port a friend grave­ly aff­ect­ed by Park­in­son's. The first time that I've come up ag­ainst this:

Friday 8th December

A second day of Johnson Covid-19 testimony. I still didn't learn anything new. Hugo Keith KC was looking very smart again. Another expensive suit, subtly darker than the day before, thicker material, pricey sheen. A grey silk tie to replace the pinkish one of the day before. Still leaning rakishly on the desk (Or is it a lectern? A podium? Anyway, it's ideal for leaning). Hair combed to glassy perfection (it must be a statement of superiority to the ever more ludicrously tousled Boris), although I notice it's covering an incipient bald patch. Never mind. Ker-ching!

So that's lip service to my Coronavirus Blog strapline. Now for Climate Blog. Last night I scoured the BBC's home page for coverage of COP28. Out of 73 main stories, none mentioned the summit. [STOP PRESS: One article added at 3am - but it wasn't really about COP.]

Still, Christmas cheer is upon us:

Thursday 7th December

It's not a surprise, as I started scribb­ling these pages as Cor­on­avir­us Blog in March 2020, that I was yest­er­day drawn help­less­ly to this:

I'm not sure how much the inquiry will achieve. On bal­ance, it's prob­ab­ly a GOOD THING - thoughts on cost below - in that it scrut­in­is­es and rec­ords the perf­orm­ance of gov­ern­ment in those - the words of the man ask­ing the quest­ions, Hugo Keith KC - "dog days". I've not been surp­rised by any­thing I've heard so far. We know that the UK react­ed slow­ly, we al­ways had doubts about much of the cris­is man­age­ment. The shame of Party­gate has been exp­osed and heads have rolled.

Reluctantly, I note Johnson's clev­er­ness: his con­trit­ion, ad­miss­ions of "I should have twigged" and of being "ratt­led" by Italy, and the brill­iant spin of dread­ful beh­ind-the-scenes lang­uage be­ing perf­ect­ly nat­ur­al among tal­ented people do­ing "their lev­el best" under press­ure from a "once in a cent­ury" phen­om­en­on.

The star of the show has been the dis­play of sub­mitt­ed ev­id­ence on screen, part­ic­ul­ar­ly the Whats­App trails. I man­aged to capt­ure a screen­shot of one, a typ­ic­ally "fruity" - John­son's term - exch­ange bet­ween comms dir­ect­or Lee Cain and ad­vis­er Dom­in­ic Cumm­ings:

Excellent. Confirmation of the potty-mouthed scum that we al­ways sus­pect­ed them to be. And so stup­id. Did they real­ly think those comm­un­ic­at­ions were priv­ate, some­how lost in the eth­er? Did­n't Cumm­ings, an avid ad­mir­er of all things tech, real­ise that this stuff is stored and dis­cov­er­able? My - poss­ib­ly vain - hope is that the kind of con­crete pub­lished ev­id­ence we see in this inquiry and saw before with Party­gate will in some way help to trans­form the base ten­or of our rec­ent pol­it­ics in­to some­thing more dec­ent. People don't want to be gov­erned by in­fight­ing, pol­it­ics-and-power-ob­sessed, self-seek­ing, foul-spok­en mon­sters. We want to be led by the best vers­ion of our­selves. A Des­mond Tutu would be nice.

There's a flavour of the old boy net­work. John­son of Eton and Ball­iol is quest­ioned by Keith of Eton and Mag­dal­en.

The urbane Mr Keith is the very succ­ess­ful Joint Head of Cham­bers at Three Ray­mond Build­ings, named as a "Star at the Bar" in the Cham­bers and Part­ners 2015 Guide, marr­ied to the noble Charl­otte Louise Bul­wer-Long. He app­eared in the Leve­son In­quiry on beh­alf of Reb­ek­ah Brooks, and rep­res­ented Prin­cess Anne when she was in charge of a dog that bit two child­ren in 2002.

What are all those people in their dark suits do­ing in the back­ground, tapp­ing away at their com­put­ers? Some­body puts up the doc­um­ents on screen and high­lights imp­ort­ant ext­racts. But so many? This inqu­iry is not a free ex­er­cise. I'm sure Hugo Keith is bill­ing a few bob. And the whole proc­ess stret­ches way into the fut­ure.

Wednesday 6th December

Still some bits of the Italian report to do, but let's take a break, eh? In­stead, I'll go loc­al. Real­ly loc­al, el­ect­or­al boun­dary changes aff­ect­ing the Trin­ity Ward in which Midd­le Street sits.

The consultation process regarding "Glouc­est­er­shire Coun­ty Coun­cil Draft Rec­omm­end­at­ions on the new el­ect­or­al arr­ange­ments" con­cludes on 11th Dec­em­ber. Ost­ens­ib­ly to bal­ance pop­ul­at­ion num­bers, the prop­os­al is to move Trin­ity out of Stroud. Land­lord Rodda Thomas held a pub­lic meet­ing at the Crown & Scep­tre last Thurs­day at which the over­whelm­ing con­sens­us was that the idea is a non­sense, a rej­ect­ion of comm­un­ity and bel­ong­ing. We in Trin­ity feel part of Stroud, not an ad­join­ing rur­al area.

The alterations map tells a story (click to enlarge):

The town ward names are significant: Stroud Farm­hill & Pag­an­hill, Stroud Up­lands, Stroud Cent­ral, Stroud Vall­ey, Stroud Slade ... and Stroud Trin­ity. That's right, Stroud. Do we bec­ome Bis­ley Trin­ity?

The C&S meeting was reported in the Stroud Times here: Residents meet to oppose plans to 'divorce' Trinity from the rest of Stroud

Rodda with councillors Lucas Schoemaker, David Drew, Sue Fenton and ... I'm not sure

David Drew, former MP and current county councillor (in the centre above), said:

"This is ignorant gerrymandering, designed to even out numbers without any consideration being given to the importance of community affiliations. It makes no sense and will not benefit the residents of Trinity, who will be represented by a county councillor who will have a huge, mainly rural, area to cover, incorporating as it does seven parish councils and three district council wards.

"I don't envy the councillor who ends up with this proposed division as it will be a challenge to attend all the various parish meetings effectively, or know the schools intimately. It will not make for effective local government.

"This is a result of the government's obsession with trying to run representation just around numbers rather than locations, with a 'one size fits all approach'. It is not fair that an urban area such as Stroud is being sacrificed to make the numbers up elsewhere in a rural area that Stroud does not identify with in any way."

Rodda (left in photo) said:

"My pub is one of the many facilities and landmarks in Trinity that are used by the whole of Stroud, and that would be moved to Bisley & Painswick, to be represented by a county councillor who probably hasn't even been to the Crown & Sceptre.

"If I were cynical I would suggest that this is all a ploy to cut off the most left-wing ward in Stroud from the rest of the town - and push out the primarily Labour and Green voters to make Stroud Central easier for the Tories to win at the next county council elections. But if it's true that this is really just about balancing out the number of residents in each division, I still object strongly.

"The Trinity community identifies as being residents of Stroud town. We Stroudies say NO to being cut off from the rest of the town because of some number-crunching paper-pusher who has never even been to Stroud."

If you're a Stroudie, a Trinit-ite, you can voice your op­in­ion here (BE­FORE DEC­EM­BER 11th): Have your say: Gloucestershire Draft Proposals

Here is a summary of the plan: Electoral review of Gloucestershire summary 2023

Here's the full map of the planned Gloucestershire boundaries: Electoral review of Gloucestershire map 2023

Stroud Town Council has already lodged its objection here: Stroud District Council: Objection to Proposed Electoral Boundary Changes

I should note that this is about county bound­ar­ies. It does­n't aff­ect town and dist­rict el­ect­ions. Which is mad in it­self.

Monday 4th December

On we went to Cividale del Friuli. It's a jewel of a little mediæval town, steeped in a long history of settlement and occupation: inhabited in Palaeolithic and Neolithic times, settled by Veneti and Celts during the Iron Age, developed by the Romans (its name changed to Forum Iulii by Caesar), the first capital of the newly formed Lombard Kingdom, dubbed Civitas Austriae (Charlemagne's Italian "City of the East"), adopted by the patriarchs of Aquileia, annexed to the Republic of Venice, and finally ceded to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

We arrived exactly where I wanted to be, the car park in Piazza del Duomo. Just like Udine, I knew where I was, and where we should go.

Now, I've been wondering the last few days, as I've banged on at length about events of half-a-century ago revisited in a three-day trip, why I have this great sense of place and orientation in Friuli. Clearly, in part it must be to do with familiarity: time, frequency, repetition, even the maps on my office wall and on my computer. There are other places in which I know where I'm going: the Balagne region of Corsica, where we have stayed many times at my friend Ian's flat; London, after driving commercially there in the early 1970s; and, of course, the nooks and crannies of the Stroud valleys, where there are many routes to get to the same place, and I know the majority. But there is a particular sense of location in Friuli, and I've now decided why. Going there at the age of 23 was a blessed relief, a huge escape from an extended (hmm ... most of my life hitherto?) period of discomfort, being pulled out of shape: schools I detested, the unsuitability (for me) of Cambridge University, others' expectation and judgment. In short, baggage. I arrived in Udine where nobody knew me, almost nothing about my past. Everybody treated me afresh, at face value, without preconception. Abroad, away from a troubled Britain diminished by industrial strife, a different language. It was tough at first getting to grips with the work and Italian, but over three or four months, starting probably with a hilarious New Year's Eve in the then Yugoslavia, everything turned to fun, and more importantly, contentment. Each discovery was special. Even the earthquake the following May, a tragedy for the region, may have actually deepened the experience, the sense of connection, friendships. Friuli was a gift, a salvation.

So, I knew that first we should walk down the incline from the Duomo to the Ponte del Diavolo, before the bright sun began to sink in the west:

Ben took photos of houses and apartments (one of which is occupied by an old friend) by the bridge and of the Natisone river that flows down through the hills from Slovenia:

Then we walked through streets and alleys until reaching a spot where you look back down the river, then up into Piazza Paolo Diacono, the main square.

It was getting cool now, not many people about, few places open, but Ben still found a book on Friulan cuisine and the cakes that he'd promised himself even before we arrived in Italy, a boozy chocolate and pistachio truffle and a sfogliatella pastry:

Sunday 3rd December

After Artegna, we headed south-east to Cividale del Friuli, planning to lunch on the way. I've been to both towns many times, but I've never taken this road. It cuts along the foot of the mountains through rolling country to the edge of the Udine plain, passing villages whose names end with "-is": Nimis, Attimis, Faris, Faedis. My plan was to find a place to eat in the last of these. The interest is somehow all to the left of you, as the hills rise. Towards Slovenia, that promise of the east which I'd felt for the first time and so strongly back in 1975. Click to enlarge the map:

We parked in the main square of Faedis. Ben had suggested we just walk around until finding the first suitable eatery, but I followed my instinct of drawing on local knowledge - successful the day before in Vittorio Veneto - and collared a young woman who was walking her dog. She suggested the oxymoronically-named - because osteria is usually qualified by vecchia, implying an old traditional inn - Osteria Moderna. She took pains to warn me that it was "just an osteria". Perfect, I said.

It was a mile or so down the road so we moved the car and parked among builders' pick-up trucks. Some of their owners were taking a fag-break at the entrance. Inside it was buzzing. We had to wait at the bar for 15 minutes until a table was clear and were then seated in front of some dodgy erotic decor. We were served a menu fisso by two brassy women of a certain age with dyed hair, leather trousers and impressive busts. Ben chose sausage and polenta. Since returning home, I've found more photos on their Facebook page, with plentiful evidence of karaoke evenings and wild fancy-dress parties.

I've also since found out how close we were to the Slovenian border. Faedis to Robidišče is only 9 miles up a proper bendy road (click to enlarge).

Click to enlarge

Here's the border crossing:

It's really not Italy even on this side of the confine. Some of the names: Pecol, Subit, Stremiz, Reant, Tamoris. Next trip, and with more time, I'll make the journey. Because Robidišče looks like this:

Saturday 2nd December

After four days of my Italian visit rep­ort we may all need a breath­er. How­ever, I warn you that I have­n't fin­ished. It will be back.

As the domain name for these pages is still clim­ate­blog.uk, I thought I'd bett­er ack­now­ledge that COP28 is upon us. I wrote ext­ens­ive­ly about the last two summ­its, with inc­reas­ing dis­may. I'll let cart­oon­ists from ar­ound the world do my job to­day.

There, that's why I've been steering clear of world news.

At least the King was having a laugh with the Greek flag tie he wore during his COP28 speech. I'm sorry, but ... he's still got his marbles.

I'll stick to posting about Stroud Good­will Even­ing last night. The kids and their lan­terns were out in num­ber.

Friday 1st December

The Wednesday of our trip took us up to the 1970s Friuli earthquake zone. I've written separately about the 6th May 1976 event and the weeks that followed in a memoir titled "O Ce Biel", the name taken from the most well-known Friulan song, almost a regional anthem. You can read my account here: 👉

After the earthquake a group of us used to go up on Sundays to the small town of Artegna, 24km north of Udine and close to the epicentre, to give what assistance we could. Here's a recent aerial photo of the town, long restored. I've labelled it with 4 red numbers which I reference below. Click to enlarge the image, to see the detail.

Mid-morning we parked in the open space (1) near the modern municipio and went in search of coffee in the main street. There was a bar (2) on the corner by the path up to the church, but it looked very closed. I saw a man sweeping the street 50 metres away and went to ask him for directions to another venue. "No, no", he said, "it IS open" - or something similar, because he spoke in Friulan which I didn't fully understand. It was, and we went in. Quiet, unpretentious, naff decor, a young girl serving, three men at the bar.

In June 1976 I had met a couple called Gustin and Maria, whose house had been badly damaged. Here's a picture I took of them then, in front of the makeshift hut they'd built. Maria is holding a dog called Scossute, meaning "Little Tremor" in the Friulan diminutive, as she was born the night of 6th May. The parish priest Angelo, who coordinated much of the recovery effort, is on the right. On the left is a young relative.

I approached the men at the bar, explained that I'd been there 47 years before and mentioned Gustin and Maria. "Yes", one said, "they're still alive. Gustin's 97, Maria 93. Ancora lucidi." And said that they lived in the same old - but rebuilt - house just down the main street. With some specific directions that, once again, I didn't fully understand in the Friulan.

We left the bar and went up to the church on the hill behind. I remember a makeshift graveyard for the fallen 35 of the town. Now there's a proper memorial (3). From the dates on each plaque, it's clear that many who died were the elderly who didn't make it out of their homes.

As we came back down, I asked Ben and Sarah to wait in the car, or rather in the bright, warm sunshine. I followed as best I could the directions I'd been given to Maria's house, but without success. I went into a pasticceria and asked again. The woman behind the counter said, "Of course, they're just here", took me by the arm and led me to the door of a house (4) two down from the shop. She rang the bell and left. The intercom crackled, I heard a voice, said my name - and then nothing. Three minutes later, a young woman opened the door. Behind her, Maria appeared down the stairs and came to meet me. I wish I'd taken a better photo.

She recognised me with a little help, and introduced granddaughter Paola, the child of her daughter Nelli, who had been 21 at the time of the earthquake, now a retired firefighter and on holiday in Pakistan! "Charlie", she said, "la mela." Eh? I hadn't a clue what she meant. "The apple"? It turned out that I had given her a little wooden bowl in the shape of a half-apple all those years ago. She uses it for sugar today.

I told Maria, ill-advisedly, that I'd heard in the bar that she was 93. "No, I'm not", she replied briskly with a smile, "I'm only 90." She apologised for not inviting me in as she felt too frail, but we had a hug. Paola asked if she could have a hug too.

Angelo is now an Archbishop.

Thursday 30th November

Day 3 of the Italy trip report. How long is this going to take? I've only cov­ered the first 24 hours so far.

After lunch at Al Sole we headed east for Udine after cutt­ing down to the orig­inal main road or Strada Stat­ale SS13. We stop­ped briefl­y at the house where I lived for two years, Villa Ver­ec­ondi Scor­tecci in Colle Umb­erto. It's now prom­oted on Trip­ad­vis­or and Book­ing.com (photos below nicked from them), all glammed up with swimm­ing pool and hot tub, avail­able for wedd­ings, part­ies and ind­iv­id­ual stays. £95 a night for a doub­le room ain't bad; we'd just paid more in Venice. My apart­ment was part of the sum­mer wing, the left-hand port­ion in the first pict­ure, ent­ered through the arch in the far-right cor­ner of the sec­ond. The Ver­ec­ondi family - my land­lords - were minor nob­il­ity. Great Anglo­philes, to the ex­tent that on the book­shelves in one of their rooms, in a hid­den sec­ond row beh­ind leather-bound Ital­ian lit­er­at­ure, the Count kept eld­er­ly green Pen­guin det­ect­ive nov­els. The fam­ily name is still on the ent­rance door­bell. I rang, but there was no ans­wer. The gate to the court­yard was locked and a very large dog came out to bark at me. I didn't go in.

I couldn't handle the old SS13, pulling off the road at one point when a large truck glued it­self to our rear, "Duel"-style. Ben sat­navved me on a lon­ger but quick­er and more rest­ful south­erly auto­strada route. With­in an hour we were at Chris's house for a long over­due reun­ion (more than 20 years), wel­comed and shown to our del­ight­ful priv­ate quar­ters. An hour to settle and then into town.

Two bars before Daniela's dinner, al Cappello and Grapp­olo d'Oro, both frequ­ented back in 1975/6, bust­ling and noisy, with class­ic Friul­an wines and snacks of prosc­iutto and polp­ette. Sarah ob­served that you would­n't find these places eas­ily if you didn't know where they were. OK, it was a dark Nov­em­ber even­ing, but most don't give much of them­selves away on the out­side. In­side how­ever, it's all warmth, en­ergy and anim­ated dis­course.

Indeed, one of the distinct renewed imp­ress­ions I had dur­ing this visit was of Udine's north­ern-ness. Un­sur­pris­ing, as the Aust­rian bor­der is only 65 miles away. It's not a city of pict­ure-post­card south­ern hill­top charm, more sol­id­ly built, rob­ust, ser­ious. The old Friu­lan cul­ture is one of a hard­work­ing moun­tain folk. There has always been an aff­in­ity with the Teut­on­ic north. You only have to take a look at ad­verts for the fam­ous once-local beer:

He's not Italian, is he?

Wednesday 29th November

On with the Italian trip report.

After picking up son Ben and the hire car from Marco Polo airport at 10am on the Tuesday, we had the whole day to make our way to Udine, aiming to arrive at Chris's house late afternoon. "What about Conegliano?", said Sarah, meaning Cividale (we did make it there, but the next day). So off we went, a short 50km hop north.

I was utterly bamboozled by the hugely expanded outskirts, but we made it up to the castle and its view.

I was a bit shocked by the splurge of building below (naïve of me, it happens in half a century) but remembered with fondness the hills and villages in the distance. I used to drive through them to visit a teaching outpost in Vittorio Veneto, 15km to the north. So we did the same, ending up in Piazza Duomo of Ceneda, the southernmost of the town's two old centres.

Conegliano and Vittorio were part of the second phase of my Italian stay, from 1977 to 1979, nothing to do with Friuli. My partner Sue and I had nowhere to live on our arrival to run the local language school, so we went cruising in search of a place. One afternoon we fetched up in Ceneda's Piazza Duomo and had a drink in the bar. We got talking. The landlady was a charming, friendly, large woman called Giuseppina, her husband a short, grey-haired, good-looking, silent man who went by the name of "Vento" ("Wind"), a nickname earned as a partisan in WWII, celebrated in the mosaic at the entrance door. After hearing of our homeless predicament, Pina said we could sleep upstairs until we found a place. So we did, for a month, behind those green shutters on the first floor.

On this visit, we'd just missed Pina. She died a year ago, Vento earlier. Their children still own the bar although others now run it. As local as ever, tourists entirely absent. School was just out, so students were milling around outside waiting for a bus home. Three carabinieri - military police - were drinking bright pink aperitivi at the counter. Sarah's and Ben's wine cost no more than 2 euros each, my mineral water 80 cents.

I went into the shop next door and fell into conversation with the tobacconist, asked where we might find a traditional local lunch. He drew a sketch of how to get to Al Sole. "It's been there for ever", he said. And also gave me the town map you can see on the table above.

We found the restaurant, with the parking recommended near a fountain opposite. Didn't look very promising, possibly not even open.

Inside it was packed, clearly a favourite dining room. We must have been the only visitors, the rest of the clientele on a standard Vittorio lunch break. Family run: father in the kitchen (although he came out to explain some of the dishes), two brisk and efficient women waiting, a forlorn young man clearing plates. I had delicious crab spaghetti, Ben chose linguine with squid ink.

Tuesday 28th November

I'm finally making a start on doc­um­ent­ing the whist­le­stop jaunt to Ven­ice and Fri­uli earl­ier in the month. It could take a while, cer­tain­ly be­yond today.

Here's the tour map (click to enlarge), with chron­ol­og­ic­al red numb­er­ing:

  • Monday 6th: Fly to Venice (1), hotel stay and seafood dinner.
  • Tuesday 7th: Pick son Ben up from airport, drive north to Conegliano (2) and Vittorio Veneto (3), then east to Udine (4).
  • Wednesday 8th: Up to the 1976 earthquake zone of Artegna (5), then south-east to Cividale del Friuli (7), stopping for lunch in Faedis (6, approximately).
  • Thursday 9th: Down into the bassa Friuli, the village of Talmassons (8).
  • Friday 10th: Return to Venice for flight home, pausing for lunchtime workers' menu fisso in Quarto d'Altino (9).
A blow-by-blow account would make poor read­ing, so I'm go­ing to pick out some sal­ient themes.

First is the passing of time. I arrived in Friuli forty-eight years ago, the ann­iv­ers­ary just gone, 25th Nov­em­ber 1975. Chris Tay­lor - we stayed at his fam­ily home dur­ing this visit - had prec­ed­ed me by a month or two. He rem­ain­ed and marr­ied Dan­iela. Big thanks to them for their great hosp­it­al­ity, com­fort in the sep­ar­ate rest­ored wing of their house, the org­an­is­at­ion of ev­en­ing trips to bars and rest­aur­ants.

Time has in many ways stood still, in other ways not. Wand­er­ing round Venice I had a cur­ious sens­at­ion of not hav­ing left. I knew where I was. Noth­ing sur­pris­ing about a calle here, a sotto­port­ego there. OK, I still got lost, but my int­ern­al comp­ass could point me in the right dir­ect­ion for San Marco, Rialto or Santa Lucia rail­way stat­ion.

Part of it is topographic memory. I have a mental map of Ven­ice, the Ven­eto and Fri­uli right up to the Slov­en­ian bor­der - and in­deed real ones on my off­ice wall. The lay­out of Udine with­in the old ring road is im­print­ed on my mind. Of course, things have changed. I didn't rec­og­nise the out­skirts of Con­egl­iano (we went there by mist­ake at Sarah's sugg­est­ion, when she act­ually meant Civ­id­ale); the am­ount of hous­ing dev­el­op­ment has been en­orm­ous. Out­side Udine there are inn­um­er­able new roads and miles of fresh ind­ust­rial or comm­erc­ial sites.

The most physical example of this memory was on our visit to the vill­age of Tal­mass­ons south-west of Udine. I drove down there every Tues­day and Thurs­day even­ing through the win­ter months of 1975/6 to teach Eng­lish. I used to stop for a snif­ter in Lest­izza; this time we paused for coffee. On con­tin­uing our jour­ney we came to a junc­tion. There was no sign, but my arm muscles palp­ably told me to go left. I had made that turn rough­ly 70 times back then. On ent­er­ing Tal­mass­ons, I knew that my friend Carl­etto's house was hid­den down an un­mark­ed track off one of long roads lead­ing to the centre. I found it at the first att­empt.

Sunday 26th November

Saturday delights in Stroud. Middle-class morn­ing, beg­gars ban­ished.

My favourite bread from Sunshine. Yes, it had my name on it. The large sour­dough rye flies off the shelf, so I res­erve a loaf with an open­ing-time 'phone call. Eye­wat­er­ing price. My priv­il­ege and good for­tune.

The entertainment was a cut above yest­er­day. At least two of us were imp­ressed. My friend Neil went for the big­ger pict­ure, the pan­or­am­ic. I stuck to the det­ail. [En­large by click­ing on the but­ton (bot­tom right with­in the vid­eo play­er). Sound up.]

Saturday 18th November

Friday 17th November

Overpriced, IMHO.

Saturday 28th October

What can you do? The sabres rattle and the death toll mounts. We turned up out­side Tory MP Siob­han Baill­ie's off­ice for 15 min­utes yest­er­day eve­ning. The photos are cour­tesy of the Stroud Times (click to en­large):

Siobhan wasn't there - no surprise - al­though the lights were on in­side the build­ing. As the quar­ter-hour drew to a close a pol­ice squad car pull­ed up. Two off­ic­ers, clad in full batt­le gear, made their way through the crowd (hard­ly) to the front door. After much win­dow-rapp­ing and bell-push­ing a young woman em­erged and was esc­ort­ed to the car. She must have called the cops.

What on earth was she afraid of? Fifty sil­ent cand­le-bear­ing peace­niks, most­ly of pens­ion­able age? Per­haps these days the Tor­ies see threat in a bowl of break­fast cer­eal.

Friday 27th October

Wednesday 25th October

64% of the population by last Friday.

Imagine if the same proportion had to leave their homes in England. That would be 36 million people. Forty-two Birminghams.

It's not much of an escape. Gaza is 25 miles long, from 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide and has a total area of 141 square miles. Gaza City to Khan Younis is 17 miles, 30 minutes by car on a good day.

Most people can't leave the Strip altogether. Into Israel, the sea, Egypt?

Ukrainian refugees were welcomed across borders:

Tuesday 24th October

How much news of Ukraine do you see on the front pages? World cart­oon­ists had a diff­er­ent view a year ago:

Monday 23rd October

You know that I rely heavily on cartoons to ill­ustrate the mad­ness of the mod­ern world, the of­ten twist­ed nat­ure of our pol­it­ics - and some­times for a bit of light re­lief. I feel un­comf­ort­able do­ing so with Gaza. The con­flict and its con­sequ­ences are so bey­ond terr­ible.

It has provoked a wider debate with­in the cart­oon­ist comm­un­ity, in­deed journ­al­ism as a whole. This morn­ing I went to my us­ual source on Twit­ter/X and Mast­od­on, the acc­ount of "Pol­it­ic­al Car­toon". For the first time, there was comm­ent rather than just neut­ral post­ing:

Then I found an article by for­mer ed­it­or of The Guar­dian Alan Rus­bridg­er, both in Pros­pect and The Ind­ep­end­ent:

The stimulus for the piece is the rec­ent sack­ing of an ex-em­ploy­ee: "One of the great cart­oon­ists of our times, Steve Bell, just fell off the tight­rope. His con­tract with The Guar­dian - his and my old paper - was ab­rupt­ly term­in­at­ed after he post­ed on X/Twit­ter a draw­ing of Bibi Net­an­yahu which had been rej­ected by the pap­er's ed­it­ors."

Rusbridger looks at historical clashes bet­ween car­toon­ists and auth­or­ity. His thes­is is per­haps summ­ar­ised in these para­graphs:

"'At stake here is the British trad­it­ion of sat­ire,' wrote Fras­er Nel­son, ed­it­or of the Spect­at­or, who, while dist­ant from Bell's own pol­it­ics, nev­er­the­less def­end­ed him. I won­der if he may be right about a trad­it­ion under threat.

"Are we now living in an age when the right not to be off­end­ed trumps the right to off­end?

"I'm glad to have been alive in an age when sat­ire thrived and mock­ery was cher­ished as well as, some­times, de­nounced."

Here's the full article: Can political cartoons survive in an age of sensitivity - Alan Rusbridger - Prospect 20-10-2023

Sunday 22nd October

What a shame. Defeat snatched from the jaws of vict­ory. Spir­it­ed eff­ort from Engl­and. A thrill­ing game for the rug­by conn­oiss­eur (al­though not for any French who could be both­ered to watch).

Arcane stuff (permission to skip grant­ed). Won and lost through the dark arts of for­ward play, argu­ably in the front row. Props Marl­er and Cole bossed their South Afr­ic­an coun­ter­parts for 55 min­utes, then sub­stit­utes Genge and Sinc­kler (poor Kyle, knocked out in the 2019 final ag­ainst the same opp­os­it­ion) fell foul of the ref­er­ee. In rev­erse cont­rast to the triumph of 2003, when the eld­er states­man Jas­on Leon­ard came on and sort­ed out ref­er­ee Andre Wat­son, who was threat­en­ing to der­ail Eng­land's march to glory. Leon­ard said to his capt­ain, "Trust me, Johnno. We've got to stem the pen­alt­ies and get the ref off our backs. Just trust me." John­son did. Wat­son did, too (Leonard: "Andre, you know me, I won't go up and I won't go down so you won't get any penalties out of me." - Watson: "Thank you very much Jason, that's great."). The pen­alty count stalled, Jonny Wilk­in­son had his drop-goal mom­ent and the Webb Ellis trophy was Eng­land's.

So, a southern hemisphere final, with a rec­ord fourth cup await­ing the vict­ors. Not the party in Paris so des­ir­ed by the hosts.

Saturday 21st October

This is better:

Tonight I shall watch this from behind the sofa:

Friday 20th October

Following on from the historical Arab-Israeli maps I post­ed yest­er­day, I dis­cov­ered three I'd missed. OK, by car­toon­ists ...

It's as difficult as it's ever been to turn the pages of a news­pap­er. As I do so, I find my­self won­der­ing when the con­flict cov­er­age will move on to some other top­ic. And when it does, it seems triv­ial and irr­el­ev­ant. The words - not on­ly about Gaza - of Raf­ael Behr in The Guar­dian yest­er­day res­on­ated:

"I sympathise with anyone who now reaches for the dial when the news comes on. I get the lure of avoidance, which is not the same as apathy. I know plenty of people who are deeply engaged in politics, not (yet) despairing of British democracy, determined to vote at the next election, but who are also finding contact with news media distressing to the point of physical repellence. Compassionate, well-informed, even-handed experts who are qualified to take a view on Israel-Palestine choose their words with painstaking care. Some I know have been left almost speechless by the scale of what is happening now."

Hope for the region is in short supply. And yet without it ...

Insolubik's Cube

Thursday 19th October

Since I both need to know more of the hist­ory of the reg­ion that dom­in­ates to­day's news and also love maps and charts, I've dug out a sel­ect­ion. As ever, you'll need in most cases to click/tap/zoom to see the det­ail. It's worth the eff­ort. The names on their own are an ed­uc­at­ion.

I add no commentary. There's too much comp­lex­ity to cov­er. As we know, it's a story of change, con­flict, in­vas­ion, sur­viv­al. Comp­are it with Eng­land, which has not seen an in­vas­ion (of the mil­it­ary kind) in a thous­and years. Yes, I mean Eng­land, as I don't incl­ude the exp­er­ienc­es of the Irish, Welsh and Scots.

I start with a graphical overview of Palestine's historical sovereign powers.

Yes, really, click to enlarge
1350 BC - Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East

830 BC - Kingdoms of the Levant

320 BC - Alexander the Great conquests

20 AD - Herodian tetrachy

210 AD - Roman provinces

476 AD - End of the Roman Empire

1135 AD - Between the First and Second Crusades

1700 AD - Ottoman Empire at its fullest extent

1916 AD - Sykes-Picot Agreement

1918 AD - End of the Ottoman Empire

1947 AD - UN Partition Plan

1949 AD - Armistice Lines

1967 AD - Before and after the Six Day War

1973 AD - Yom Kippur War - Sinai

1973 AD - Yom Kippur War - Golan Heights

1982 AD - Withdrawal from Sinai following the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty

2003 AD - Israeli and Palestinian settlements (2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza)

2016 AD - Growth of Israeli settlements

2023 AD - Israel's boundaries today

Tuesday 17th October

It's difficult to know how to write a blog against the back­ground of the Israel-Gaza conf­lict.

These are two groups of humans that live under the same sun and sky, occ­upy the same land­scape, over­come the odds to raise fam­il­ies, bel­ieve in a God. Yet they're at each others' throats. You'd have thought that a life of shared exp­er­ience would bring people to­geth­er. Yet it often does the opp­os­ite. North­ern Ire­land. The Balk­ans. Hutu and Tutsi. The clos­est of neigh­bours be­come the fierc­est of en­emies.

The conflict bleeds into our own pol­it­ics and comm­un­it­ies. An in­creas­ed pol­ice pres­ence in Jew­ish neigh­bour­hoods. At the Frank­furt Book Fair the award cer­em­ony for Pal­est­in­ian auth­or Adan­ia Shib­li is can­celled. The Guar­dian has sacked Steve Bell or at least dec­id­ed not to renew his con­tract, all­eg­ed­ly for in­vok­ing the Shy­lock "pound of flesh" trope:

How can I possibly write about my en­joy­ment of the Rug­by World Cup? Here's my att­empt.

We're down to the last four. Dis­con­sol­ate hosts France and much-fanc­ied Ire­land are out. A writt­en-off Eng­land will face South Af­rica in a semi-fin­al. Here is the lat­ter's man-of-the-match Mbon­geni Mbon­ambi on Sun­day night:

A photo unthinkable fifty years ago. Mbon­geni would not have been in the team, re­gard­less of any phys­ic­al or sport­ing prow­ess. He would not have been in France. His child would­n't have trav­ell­ed to wit­ness the cel­eb­rat­ions.

All changed by the belief and ten­ac­ity of these her­oes (OK, Win­nie lost the plot some­what) and their foll­ow­ers:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Albertina Sisulu

After all the suffering, they came up with "truth and rec­onc­il­iat­ion".

On Sunday, Guardian Jerusalem corr­es­pond­ent Beth­an Mc­Kern­an wrote a piece tit­led "Ex­amp­les of Jew­ish-Arab sol­id­ar­ity offer hope in Is­rael: vol­unt­eers of diff­er­ent eth­nic­it­ies are work­ing to help vic­tims of the viol­ence":

"Since the new wave of violence engulfing the region began on 7 October - when Hamas burst through the Gaza security fence and rampaged through dozens of Israeli communities, killing 1,400, leading Israel to declare a war on the strip that has killed 2,200 - some have found hope in the ability of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel to band together. Thousands of volunteers of different ethnicities are working to help victims of the violence and clean up neglected bomb shelters, amid many other efforts at calming the heightened tensions around the country.

"'What is happening right now is fundamentally different to anything we have faced so far, and I think [the week's events] will probably set us back many years in terms of equality and ending racism,' said Sally Abed, a leader of Standing Together, the largest Arab-Jewish grassroots movement in Israel, from the northern city of Haifa. 'My friend lost her brother. We are also in mourning. It is very hard to be a Palestinian citizen of Israel right now, there is no room for our voices, but we are doing whatever we can to preserve a sense of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity and identify triggers for incitement and violence before they spiral.'

"The Negev's Bedouin (traditionally pastoral nomadic Arab) tribes were some of the first to organise volunteer teams, made up of 600 people, to search for missing Israelis. 'We saw that there was enormous chaos and realised we must do something,' said Sleman Shlebe from the village of Bir Hadaj. 'We heard about people missing from both the Arab and Jewish communities, and knew that thanks to our exceptional familiarity with the south we could help. We divided ourselves up in the cars so that there would be people responsible for different things: gathering information, rescuing and administering first aid.'"

Saturday 14th October

I said I wasn't going to write about Gaza, that I had­n't much to add. Still true. How­ev­er, I have nev­er seen be­fore such a torr­ent of car­toon­ist out­put on one top­ic, not just from my fav­our­ite us­ual susp­ects but also from oth­ers round the world whom I've not prev­ious­ly en­coun­ter­ed. They ex­press much of what we must all be feel­ing, and more be­sides. Much bet­ter than I could. No jokes. There are twen­ty-sev­en car­toons post­ed here, with­out ap­ol­ogy. Click to en­large any.

If you're interested in more demo­graph­ic det­ail, here is an ex­tra­ord­in­ary doc­um­ent from the Un­it­ed Nat­ions Off­ice for the Co­ord­in­at­ion of Hum­an­it­ar­ian Aff­airs, dat­ed Sep­tem­ber 2023: OCHA Gaza Strip

Some basic numbers:

The Gaza Strip is 25 miles long, from 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide and has a total area of 141 square miles. It has a 32-mile bor­der with Is­rael and a 7-mile bor­der with Eg­ypt. With a pop­ul­at­ion of 2 mill­ion, Gaza, if con­sid­er­ed a top-lev­el pol­it­ic­al un­it, ranks as the third most dense­ly pop­ul­at­ed in the world.

In a ranking by total fertility rate, Gaza is 34th of 224 world reg­ions. This leads to the Gaza Strip having an un­usu­ally high prop­ort­ion of child­ren in the pop­ul­at­ion, with 43.5% be­ing 14 or youn­ger and a med­ian age in 2014 of 18, comp­ared to a world av­er­age of 28.

Sunni Muslims make up 99.8 percent of the population, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 (0.2 percent) Arab Christians.

The world is watching and wait­ing for horr­or to un­fold. The Is­raeli int­ent is in pub­lic view. The Is­rael Def­ence Forc­es spokes­per­son Lieu­ten­ant Col­on­el Jon­ath­an Con­ric­us stated this morn­ing:

"Our aim is very clear, the end stage of this war is that we will dismantle Hamas and its military capabilities, and fundamentally change the situation so that Hamas never again has the ability to inflict any damage on Israeli civilians or soldiers."

There are constant updates on the IDF Twitter/X account here:

2.1 million followers. Three named: political sat­ir­ist Jon­ath­an Pie, BBC Mos­cow corr­es­pond­ent Steve Ros­en­berg and Elon Musk's some­time-part­ner Grimes. What were the sel­ect­ion crit­er­ia for that trio?

Football comments:

Friday 13th October

I woke from a dream about peace gath­er­ings out­side Gaza, groups from both sides sitt­ing down to break bread. In­stead the Is­rael Def­ence Forces had iss­ued a warn­ing earl­ier this morn­ing to over a mill­ion citizens in Gaza City, all­eg­ed­ly spurn­ed by Hamas:

I don't think I've ever witnessed such a pre-ann­ounce­ment to kill­ing and dest­ruct­ion. Where are the res­id­ents meant to go? South of the Wadi Gaza, app­ar­ently.

This is a war played out and prop­ag­and­ised ac­ross soc­ial med­ia, so vis­ible. The Is­rael Def­ence Forc­es (@IDF) are all over Twit­ter/X:

Thursday 12th October

As has happened frequently dur­ing the life­time of this blog with sim­il­ar­ly terr­ib­le ev­ents, it feels wrong to be writ­ing about any­thing oth­er than Gaza. But what can I add? I'm sure that you've watch­ed or read suff­ic­ient in rec­ent days. So I'll con­tin­ue with what I had plann­ed, even if it seems in­app­rop­riate.

The theme of hope at the Labour Party Con­fer­ence lifted the spirits. (Hope? See what I mean when you place that word against Gaza?)

However, there was something miss­ing, as point­ed out in an email from the Eur­op­ean Move­ment that an­al­ys­ed both Tory and Lab­our gath­er­ings:

"Let's talk about the elephant in the room - Brexit.

"Beyond some unconvincing attempts to defend Brexit by Rishi Sunak, the main party leaders wanted to talk about anything but Europe.

"There was a focus on 'growth', but not the glaringly obvious solution that would massively boost British businesses and make our country an attractive place to invest again. Yes, you guessed it - rejoining the single market so we can once more trade freely with our neighbours.

"New polling suggests that just 18% of those who voted Leave in 2016 think Brexit is going well. Meanwhile, the UK is forecast to have the lowest growth across the G7 in 2024. Brexit is a sinking ship. Yet politicians are either still saying it was a good idea, or ignoring it altogether.

"The political silence on Brexit is still deafening."

The associated decline in intern­at­ion­al rep­ut­at­ion was raised - in a mood of aff­ect­ion and con­cern - by Ir­ish Taois­each Leo Var­ad­kar in ad­vance of meet­ing Sunak at the third Eur­op­ean Pol­it­ic­al Comm­un­ity sum­mit in Gran­ada last week:

"The Britain and United Kingdom that I love and admire, it is the country of the Magna Carta, the country that founded parliamentary democracy and the country that helped to write the European Convention on Human Rights. It does bother me to see the United Kingdom disengaging from the world - whether it's reducing its budget for international aid, whether it's leaving the European Union and now even talking about withdrawing from the ECHR. That's not the Britain I know."

I suppose it's something that Sunak was even there. Plen­ty of Eur­op­eans would like to see the UK eng­ag­ed in Eur­ope once more. It would cert­ainly be part of my und­er­stand­ing of "Brit­ain will get its fut­ure back". May­be Star­mer just has to get this gen­er­al el­ect­ion out of the way. The B-word is simp­ly too tox­ic. Apart from any­thing else, it carr­ies blame. If you tell 52% of your el­ect­or­ate that they were stup­id, would they vote for you? Nobody likes to be called wrong.

In power, with a thump­ing majority, I hope that Star­mer will emb­race the el­eph­ant.

My friend Aidan sent me this cartoon, his borr­ow­ed take on hope and des­pair:

Against the odds, I'm still hold­ing out for har­mony. But where do you find it in the Middle East?

Thursday 11th October

It was always going to be difficult against the backdrop of horror in the Middle East ...

... then it got trickier ...

... and probably broke in his favour. He did well to stay calm, a promising attribute for a future PM. In fact, I thought it was quite a good look, miners' hands coated in black dust, working-man solidarity. Perhaps he didn't want to talk about coal.

Whatever you think of Starmer, his cleansing of the Labour Party, policy shifts, caution, lack of charisma ... there was one hugely welcome central feature of his speech. Hope. These pages are littered with my bemoaning of its loss, the self-inflicted decline brought on by Brexit and base Tory cronyism. Here are some snippets from the speech:

"I believe in this country. I believe in its spirit."

"Turn our backs on never-ending Tory decline, with a decade of national renewal."

"A Britain with its future back."

"People are looking to us because they want our wounds to heal. People are looking to us because they want to build a new Britain."

"We all need the ability to look forward - to move forward - free from anxiety. That's what getting our future back really means."

"Focused at all times and without exception on long-term national renewal."

"We will face down the age of insecurity. Together. Break the stranglehold of Tory decline. Together. Walk towards a decade of national renewal. Together."

"Britain will get its future back."

Clever. A genuine recognition of what many of us have felt over the last decade. Tapping into a desire to be hopeful again.

For the record, here's the transcript (23 pages, but with many line breaks to accommodate pause and emphasis): Keir Starmer's speech at Labour Conference 10 October 2023

Thursday 5th October

Electioneering. Contemplation of the party navel. Cheap shots at opp­on­ents. Come­back kids gal­ore. Lead­er­ship plots. Ditch the green ag­enda. Gov­ern­ment in the in­ter­ests of peop­le and plan­et? Fat chance.

Wednesday 4th October

This is our governing political party ...

... having the other kind of party ...

... while we look on in disbelief ...

Saturday 30th September

Hurrah! They're off to Manchester.

What a warm welcome Sunak can expect. Inside and outside the hall.

If it's not our unelected leader and his new dir­ect­ions, Cru­ella will be mak­ing friends.

The main landing page of the conference web­site is dom­in­at­ed by these sec­ur­ity arr­ange­ments (click to en­large):

Are they anticipating a bomb? Or an ass­ass­in­at­ion? Brigh­ton 1984? I sin­cere­ly hope I will not come to reg­ret those words.

Friday 29th September

This blog started with coronavirus. The word's still in the sec­ond tit­le strap­line above. I thought I'd ret­urn to the top­ic, may­be just for a day. I sus­pect it may not be much of a story.

Covid is making a quiet comeback. I'm not even sure of the cur­rent pred­om­in­ant var­iant. Is it BA.2.86? I down­load­ed the lat­est off­ic­ial an­al­ys­is of that strain and the case vol­ume rep­or­ted does­n't seem to tally with over­all num­bers (see be­low). So I have­n't posted it here.

I have several friends who are presently infected. I woke yesterday with a streaming nose and a sore throat. Before going out into the wide world I did a lateral flow test. Thankfully it was negative; I have a cold and a cough. Then I wondered if my test kit, from a large box handed to me outside Boots at the height of the pandemic, was still valid. I couldn't find any date information until I discovered a tiny hour-glass symbol on the test strip packaging. Next to it were these digits: 202303. I assume therefore that the kit is past its sell-by date. Hmmm, should still be working, I hope.

I reported the test to the GOV.UK website as I have always done. Shouldn't I have received a warning message? Why else would you be asked to enter the test strip number, in this case LME34834897? The system ought to be checking validity, right? Or is the information ignored and deposited in the great digital waste bin of government data?

Here are some latest GOV.UK national (England) statistics:

Local to Stroud:

The numbers surprise me, the national much higher than I'd imagined (although local Stroud much lower, I must know them all), but that's probably because we don't often talk now about Covid cases and deaths, whereas at the pandemic height we were given the details every day on the news, probably knew them off by heart. It's also before we compare with 21 months ago, the winter before last. Cases in England for the last 7 days are 12,187. At the early January 2022 peak they were approximately 147,000, twelve times higher. Deaths are 144, back then they were ~1,130, eight times higher. Different days.

What are we meant to do? Not a great deal unless it's getting a jab. You can follow the familiar precautions.

Here's the email response from my lateral flow test:

Here's the GOV.UK guidance:

There is advice rather than instruction. "There are no COVID-19 restrictions in the UK. If you have COVID-19 you should try to stay at home." Try? Even Boris might have managed that. "You do not need to take a test or quarantine when you arrive in the UK." Remember needing up-to-date PCR tests, vaccine certificates, simply not travelling? We kept our children away at Christmas, much to the dismay of son Ben, back from Bilbao and staying with daughter Ellie in Bristol. The understanding was that Covid could mean death, particularly for the old and vulnerable.

According to the media the new boost­er vacc­in­at­ions have been brought for­ward. At my age I'm el­ig­ible. In the past I've been not­if­ied, rec­eived an in­vit­at­ion. Not this time. I rang my GP sur­gery and asked the re­cept­ion­ist how the proc­ess was man­aged. She said, not ans­wer­ing my quest­ion, "While I've got you on the 'phone, let me book you in." I'm go­ing to the clin­ic on Sat­ur­day week.

We'll see what happens as autumn deepens into winter.

Overnight change of subject ...

Skip this if you've had enough of my defence of Richard Osman. Particularly the long quote from a Miranda Sawyer review of an earlier bit of his work. I'm really just posting for my own records. In my defence, there is behind it all a debate to be had about what is good writing or broadcasting. I think that's what interests me most.

Nicholas Lezard of The New Statesman has responded to my protests at his dismissal of Osman:

Miranda Sawyer was less than fulsome in her praise (The Guar­dian, 4th Sep­tem­ber 2021, quot­ed in full be­cause I could­n't ed­it and still rem­ain faith­ful to the argu­ment):

"Richard Osman is a lovely man, dedicated to what was once known as 'the gaiety of the nation': everything he works on, from Pointless to House of Games to The Thursday Murder Club, is clever, cheery and mainstream. (Disclaimer: I don't know Osman. He might be appalling behind closed doors. Perhaps we should ask his cat.) His best creations are instantly familiar, as though they've always been there, and Osman has simply given them a nice polish and brought them to our attention. Much harder than it looks.

"Which brings us to his new Radio 4 show, The Birthday Cake Game, in which a panel of three try to guess the age of a celebrity who's having a birthday this week. The premise is familiar in a couple of ways: first, it's a lazy weekend breakfast game for newspaper readers - 'Ooh, guess how old Peter Mandelson is today! What do you mean, who?' - and second, Osman first hosted it as a (non-BBC) podcast called The Birthday Game, which came out in late 2019. You can't hear it now; presumably it's been blocked for rights reasons.

"Anyway, that's it. That's the show. The panellists get three points for guessing the right year, one point for a year either side and nothing otherwise. On Tuesday's first episode, Osman was as engaging as ever, gently teasing TV presenter Jayne Sharp when she wasn't sure what sport Lennox Lewis was famous for. He also tried hard to involve the listeners - 'play along at home!' - and one got to phone in so that the panel could guess his age too. I did play along, and got five points (bang on for Fearne Cotton, a year out for Richard Gere and Antony Gormley, go me). But really, this is thin stuff.

"To be fair, the Radio 4 6.30pm 'funny' slot has long been a tricky one to conquer, and several excellent comedians and writers have wilted in its glare. But its most successful panel shows are far smarter than this: Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and The Unbelievable Truth all require wit and ingenuity, for panellists to dazzle with the swiftness of their brains. There's not much room for biting repartee when all they have to play with is a celebrity's age or whether they actually know who's being discussed. The Birthday Cake Game seems like a daft, Ken Bruce-style feature given 20 minutes too long."

It doesn't sound like Osman's finest half-hour. "Thin" is right. Sub­ject too narr­ow, quite a way the oth­er side of triv­ial. This is def­in­ite­ly a high­brow/low­brow de­bate. I've now read the judg­ments of three crit­ics, journ­al­ists with two pub­lic­at­ions that I res­pect, who ess­ent­ially don't find ser­ious val­ue in what Os­man writes or pres­ents. I get it. I my­self am app­all­ed by much of the "light ent­er­tain­ment" that fills our tel­ev­is­ion screens. Not "broad­sheet" stuff, but "tab­loid". After four Thurs­day Mur­der Club vol­umes, I'm ready for a break - and Os­man him­self, clev­er as al­ways, is tak­ing one. How­ev­er, I will not ren­ounce the pleas­ure I got from the Coop­ers Chase re­tire­ment vill­age gang. Clev­er, laugh-out-loud, heart­warm­ing­ly brave in the treat­ment of diff­ic­ult sub­jects. Light but laud­able. As I search for my next bed-time read­ing, I could do with some­thing sim­il­ar.

Thursday 28th September

What is it with The New States­man crit­ics and Rich­ard Os­man?

Nicholas Lezard, in his art­ic­le of 17th Sept­em­ber "My lat­est ail­ment is Mild Ex­asp­er­at­ion With Ev­ery­thing", ref­er­enc­ed the Thurs­day Mur­der Club ser­ies as he out­lin­ed his new­ly dis­cov­er­ed con­dit­ion:

"I very much enjoyed Anna Leszkiewicz's takedown of Richard Osman in last week's magazine. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I posted a link to it on a social media platform; and all hell broke loose. I was accused of snobbery, of envy, and even, by extension, of taking the bread from up-and-coming writers' mouths (the reasoning: the millions made by Osman and other extremely popular writers means publishers can nurture new talent).

"I let the arguments spool out. Osman's only crime in my book, so to speak, is writing badly. I tried to give him a go once, I really did. I was feeling a bit under the weather, and thought a little cozy crime would fit the bill. But I felt I had read enough Agatha Christie (her output is wildly variable and there is always the risk of a racist remark) and I practically know all the Sherlock Holmes stories by heart. So why not a bestseller? There must be some merit to it. After all, Lee Child's Reacher books sell by the skipload and they're great.

"So I picked up the first Osman novel. I lasted about ten pages before giving up. It was the style: the kind of writing a clever ten-year-old might produce.

"Finding absolutely everything a mild pain in the bum is itself a pain in the bum. Never mind Richard Osman."

Now, both Lezard and Leszkiewicz - the "2Ls" here­aft­er - can write. Acc­omp­lished scribb­lers. It's the job to crit­ic­ise. They're right not to shy away from bold ex­pos­ure of short­com­ings. But ... "Writ­ing bad­ly"? "Clev­er ten-year-old"? Too much in my view. There's some­thing spite­ful about those cuts. Del­iv­er­ed from a smug vant­age point of self-con­ferred sup­er­ior­ity.

I've just finished "The Last Devil to Die". I enj­oyed it, al­though less un­equ­iv­oc­ally than the prev­ious three in the ser­ies. Part­ly bec­ause the 2Ls had punct­ured my del­ight in the earl­ier books, which may be a trib­ute to their crit­ic­al ac­um­en, or a dent­ed con­fid­ence in my own judg­ment. But I still laughed out loud, was moved by Os­man's hand­ling of dem­en­tia, love and death. Does every book have to meas­ure up to "War and Peace"? In the last years I've read yards of print about John­son, Brav­er­man, Put­in, Trump, Musk - must my life, my daily mood, be dom­in­at­ed by such people? I app­rec­iate Osman's light touch, his aff­ect­ion­ate take. Af­ter a life­time of read­ing and study, can I be so wrong to en­joy his books? I ab­sol­ute­ly ref­ute the ass­ert­ion that Osman can't write, or only like a young ad­ol­esc­ent. Those rem­arks are clos­er to in­sult than an­al­ys­is.

Still, plenty have voted in favour. As Lez­ard says, "He can dry his tears with money."

The numbers are reflected in other ways. Joyce, the ex-nurse of the myst­er­ies, strugg­les with Insta­gram. Some­body - was it Os­man him­self? - has set up a spoof acc­ount. I logg­ed in last night:

That's her dog, Alan. Joyce is always bak­ing. 35,000 foll­ow­ers!

This will infuriate the 2Ls further:

For the first time ever I watched the show a coup­le of days ago. It's a triv­ia quiz. It's not high­brow. The cont­est­ants are not in­tell­ect­uals. Yet the quest­ions are chall­eng­ing en­ough. How close can you get to Gal­il­eo's birth date? When was the first park­ing met­er inst­alled in Lon­don? None of it add­ress­es the mean­ing of life, solves the world's crit­ic­al issues. So? To win, you have to know far more than is in­it­ially app­ar­ent. I was sur­pris­ed how I had to dig back in hist­ory, est­im­ate, app­ly log­ic.

1pm: Stop Press

Wednesday 27th September

Brexit has made fools and cow­ards of them. Mugs of the rest of us. Vict­ims of too many. Los­ers all.

Yet slowly but surely:

Tuesday 26th September

I once saw an interview with the late poly­math Jon­ath­an Mill­er - theat­re and op­era dir­ect­or, act­or, auth­or, tel­ev­is­ion pres­ent­er, wit, med­ic, co-creat­or of the ground­break­ing 1960s Bey­ond the Fringe with Peter Cook, Dud­ley Moore and Alan Benn­ett - in which he talked about his stam­mer. He des­cribed how he of­ten felt that he was faced with a riv­er or torr­ent of lang­uage flood­ing tow­ards him. In the flow he could see the swir­ling app­roach of a trigg­er­ing con­son­ant and would have to dev­ise a way to deal with it:

"It always got troublesome when I was on trains or buses, having to ask for my fare; and then there were all those circumlocutions that I had to go through. The awful thing about stammering is that you never know which consonants are going to be fatal ones. You think that you've got it all taped - avoid 'T's and 'D's today and it'll be alright. Then, suddenly, you find that you'd be tripping up over an 'N'."

As I prepare for our nostalgic visit to Ven­ice and Fri­uli - son Ben bought the flights as a birth­day pres­ent - at the beg­inn­ing of Nov­emb­er, I'm dev­ot­ing some time to a ref­resh of my It­al­ian. I att­end a conv­ers­at­ion group in Stroud, I ded­ic­ate a per­iod most days to on­line Duo­lingo.

I've realised that I have my own vers­ion of Mill­er's im­ped­im­ent.

It's the subjunctive. Since the day I first went to Italy 48 years ago - maybe a litt­le lat­er, as the verb mood wasn't my in­it­ial prior­ity - I have always feared (too strong a word, maybe felt a back­ground un­ease) its im­pend­ing use. As the mom­ent app­roach­es I've man­uf­act­ured work-ar­ounds, ways to cir­cum­nav­igate the corr­ect app­lic­at­ion.

Enough, I thought, this is silly. Time to con­front the beast. I bought:

I've browsed the relevant chapter. There's plen­ty of ex­plan­at­ion of when and why, but dis­app­oint­ing­ly no ex­plic­it in­struct­ion on how to form the mood. I'm hav­ing to trawl the in­ter­net. Is that the mod­ern way? An old-fash­­ioned book may not add­ress your needs, you have to go on­line to be sure of find­ing the ans­wer to a spec­if­ic requ­ire­ment. Still, there's a lot of other in­ter­est­ing mat­er­ial to keep me busy for the next month.

During those first years in Udine, 1975 through 1977, we Eng­lish teach­ers, inc­lud­ing Chris, my host for the up­com­ing trip, used to frequ­ent a bar called Da Brando - sad­ly now closed down for reas­ons of poor hyg­iene and dil­ap­id­at­ion - typ­ic­ally after our last class at the lan­guage school where we worked. I've writ­ten about it in a mem­oir here: 👉. I prob­ab­ly did my break­through lear­ning of It­al­ian there, often into the ear­ly hours, gen­er­ous­ly ass­ist­ed by a group of reg­ul­ars who tol­er­ated my halt­ing prog­ress in the lang­uage. I rem­emb­er tell­ing - it must have been when I'd reach­ed an app­rop­riate level - one of their num­ber about my diff­ic­ulty with the sub­junct­ive. Dur­ing the next two hours, pure­ly for my bene­fit, he man­aged to weave count­less ex­amp­les of its use into our con­vers­at­ion. Such ex­tra­ord­in­ary kind­ness. Some of it stuck, but I really should­n't have wait­ed this long to fin­ish the job.

Monday 25th September

A call to action at the weekend:

Quite a turnout:

Disappointment in broadcasters:

But one was there:

Age shall not dim commitment:

Sunday 24th September

Brilliant and heart-warming from my favourite cartoonists.

Enraged by this ...

... they got together ...

... and produced:

You can read more about the Prof­ess­ion­al Car­toon­ists Org­an­is­at­ion (PCO) here PCO website and at the 38­Deg­rees web­site here The Great British Colouring Book, where you can also supp­ort and don­ate to the col­our­ing book proj­ect, help fund dist­rib­ut­ion.

Saturday 23rd September

If you'd appreciate a concise ass­ess­ment of Sun­ak's green row-back, list­en to this And­rew Marr int­er­view with Stroud's eco-ent­rep­ren­eur - or "eco-zeal­ot" - Dale Vince. It's all there (4 min­ut­es 32 seconds): cars, house-buil­ding, boil­ers, meat tax.

I can think of no more cogent comm­ent­at­or, none as well-equip­ped to expl­ain it all to us: succ­ess­ful en­ergy bus­in­ess own­er, has lived most of his life camp­aign­ing for en­vir­on­ment­al causes, comm­and of the num­bers, pol­it­ic­ally and med­ia sav­vy, art­ic­ul­ate, rich en­ough to say what needs say­ing. Mind you, our only Tory friend Ann does­n't like him. Thinks he's a scruff.

Most of us are faced with what feel like exp­ens­ive dec­is­ions, ag­ainst a back­drop of con­fused pol­icy and mess­ag­ing. How should we repl­ace our eld­er­ly pet­rol car? (Shhh, must­n't let her hear, the old girl's just flown through the MOT.) The re-charg­ing in­frast­ruct­ure for a Vict­or­ian terr­aced street in an old mar­ket town isn't there. The gas boil­er's the same as when we moved here in 2009. What about solar? Again, diff­ic­ult on a 3-stor­ey 1873 house, and two pan­el prov­id­ers at least have al­ready turned us down. How should we ins­ul­ate? The gov­ern­ment needs to be ser­ious, comm­itt­ed and clear in its plans and supp­ort. Scramb­ling for votes is a scan­dal­ous dig­ress­ion, wil­ful neg­lig­ence. There should be no need to diff­er­ent­iate; all par­ties ought to pur­sue a comm­on and coh­er­ent green agenda with un­swerv­ing vig­our. How dare they quib­ble and post­ure over such an issue? The harsh truth, of course, is that we per­son­ally won't be ar­ound when the shit hits the fan - or the sea spills over, the for­ests are torch­ed, the air chokes us. What use is 2050 to me? It's all about the next gen­er­at­ions.

Talking of age, I could have cursed Anna Lesz­kiew­icz for her rev­iew of Rich­ard Os­man's "The Last Devil to Die" (see my obj­ect­ions to her thes­is here: 👉) as I read the first chap­ters. All I could see was her clev­er but heart­less demo­lit­ion of Os­man's "form­ula" and style.

With relief I was pleased to find a reb­utt­al let­ter in the New States­man from Paul Kirk­ley of Cam­bridge, un­der the head­er "Mak­ing Crime Pay":

"Anna Leszkiewicz's hatchet job on Richard Osman and his readers (The Critics, 15 September) showed contempt for ordinary people - many of them, like me, presumably also New Statesman readers - and our dull little lives, watching Inspector Morse, eating at Pizza Express and shopping at Robert Dyas. Personally, I find Osman's books funny and quietly wise on the human condition. What's more, I rather enjoy the success of this working-class, visually-impaired kid from Billericay who has made a career simply by being ferociously bright. More power to him, I say."

Thank-you, Paul. You'll be glad to know that I'm back on track by page 160, laugh­ing out loud.

"Quietly wise on the human condition". One of the stand-out bless­ings so far of this lat­est myst­ery is Os­man's ex­plor­at­ion of dem­ent­ia, brill­iant­ly on occ­as­ion from in­side the suff­er­er's head. Step­hen, hus­band of the Mur­der Club's ex-MI6 ag­ent Eliz­ab­eth, is fad­ing fast. "Ret­urn­ing to the stars, an at­om at a time." As she trav­els back to him one night after a vis­it to Lon­don, Eliz­ab­eth refl­ects on her marr­iage - and love:

"Had she really understood then that those were the best of times? That she was in heaven? She thinks she did understand, yes. Understood she had been given a great gift. Doing the crossword in a train carriage, Stephen with a can of beer ('I will only drink beer on trains, nowhere else, don't ask me why'), glasses halfway down his nose, reading out clues. The real secret was that when they looked at each other, they each thought they had the better deal."

Call Osman glib, call me soppy. I don't care.


Just picked up these ...

A tweeted response from Osman reviewer Anna Lesz­kiew­icz:

OK, Anna, truce called.

Despite singing the praises of internet service provider Fasthosts, I'm not getting that jolly to a beach in the Phillippines:

Friday 22nd September

Yesterday I had a small go - with help from the cart­oon­ists - at Keir Star­mer and his ov­er­tures to Mac­ron, his ap­ol­ogy of a res­ponse to Bre­xit. My dig was light­weight stuff, I can now ass­ure you. Last night I went to the Stroud Brew­ery for a show­ing - it's not on gen­er­al release - of "Oh, Jer­emy Cor­byn - The Big Lie". It's a 2023 piece by Plat­form Films, dir­ect­ed by Chris Reeves, which ex­am­ines the purg­ing of Cor­byn and many other mem­bers from the Lab­our Par­ty. Here's the trail­er (just un­der 2 min­utes):

Starmer emerges as an absol­ute snake, "a dan­ger­ous, dis­hon­est man". There's plen­ty that res­on­ates with me, par­tic­ul­ar­ly af­ter the rej­ect­ion of Doina Corn­ell in Stroud as pot­ent­ial parl­ia­ment­ary can­did­ate, which was foll­owed by res­ig­nat­ions of loc­al Lab­our coun­cill­ors. Piv­ot­al to the an­al­ys­is is that huge­ly diff­ic­ult sub­ject, the acc­us­at­ion of anti-sem­it­ism in the party and the way in which out­rage at the beh­av­iour of the state of Is­rael was con­flat­ed with hat­red of the Jews.

I'm filled with dismay. Where do we find a wor­thy opp­os­it­ion to the Tor­ies, who are so there for the tak­ing? Where is the per­son who will gen­uine­ly do the RIGHT THING, not dis­card prin­cip­le in pur­suit of pow­er for its own sake? Greens and Lib­Dems will cry, "Look at me!". Which brings us to our schler­ot­ic first-past-the-post sys­tem, the per­sist­ent imp­oss­ib­il­ity of a prop­er rep­res­ent­at­ion that might bring new ideas, vit­al change.

Too much to say in today's short blog. Mean­while, on the oth­er side - how much is there to diff­er­ent­iate, one won­ders - the little rich boy also puts win­ning a vote be­fore tack­ling the big issue.

Thursday 21st September

Against the backdrop of "The Great Not­ic­ing", it app­ears that ev­ery­body is now try­ing to cosy up to Eur­ope, part­ic­ul­ar­ly to France. Sunak pleads a mig­rant deal, Charles and Star­mer beat a path to Mac­ron. Yet none of them can bring him­self to say that Brex­it was wrong. Star­mer could drive the prov­er­bial coach-and-horses through the ab­ject Tories on the sub­ject, but he can neith­er bear nor dare to do so. Under the guise of res­pect­ing the dem­oc­rat­ic vote, terr­if­ied of al­ien­at­ing the red Leav­er, he, like Sunak, tink­ers sheep­ish­ly with Eur­op­ean ties.

John Crace in The Guardian yesterday:

"Bonjour, Monsieur Macron," said Starmer.

"Vous pouvez call moi Emmanuel."

"I've got you un petit cadeau. An Arsenal shirt."

"That's un peu merde. What's avec le 'Visit Rwanda' logo? I bought you some cufflinks."

[Chat ... agreement that the Tories are toast ...]

"Let's call it un jour," said the president. "I've got choses a faire."

"I haven't," said Starmer. Before strolling off to a nice bistro with Rachel Reeves and David Lammy. Time to tuer before heading home on the Eurostar.

It's true:

In a brutal switch of topic ... I tweeted my app­rec­iat­ion of Fast­hosts (see yes­ter­day):

They replied:

Good, still providing employ­ment in Glouc­est­er. While also off­shor­ing in a 168-is­land prov­ince of the Phill­ipp­ines. I know which I'd pick as my base. Will they of­fer me a trip?

Wednesday 20th September

Honestly, skip today if computers aren't your thing. I mean it. It's all about tech­nic­al iss­ues with my web­sites that I need­ed to re­solve. That said, it's also a wel­come story of good cust­omer ser­vice, with a bit of loc­al hist­ory thrown in. I'm go­ing to carry on be­cause the ex­per­ience made me happy.

I mentioned recently that I've been up ag­ainst bus­in­ess­es who really don't seem to care about the sat­is­fact­ion of their cust­om­ers. We bought a van to supp­ort our daugh­ter's dog bus­in­ess which broke down after five days; the sit­uat­ion is now res­olv­ed, Ellie has a work­ing veh­ic­le, but only after two months of ex­cept­ion­al stress. Our din­ing room ceil­ing coll­apsed three weeks ago; the in­sur­ance com­pany has done noth­ing but att­empt to wrig­gle out of any res­pons­ib­il­ity. So it was with some grat­it­ude and am­aze­ment that I ran into some­body yest­er­day who found me a sol­ut­ion for which I had­n't ev­en asked.

Now I have to explain. I have three main web­sites. The one you're look­ing at now is clim­ate­blog.uk. If you click on the little red "home" house at the top, you'll be tak­en to char­lie­lew­is.uk, an um­brel­la "por­tal" which then points to other ramb­lings, in­clud­ing o-ce-biel.com, my 1970s mem­oir of the Fri­uli reg­ion of north­ern It­aly.

My concern has been one of security for vis­it­ors. I can ass­ure ev­ery­body that there's noth­ing dod­gy about my sites, they­'re clean as a whist­le, but your brow­ser may well not bel­ieve that. This site has been prot­ect­ed with what's call­ed an SSL cer­tif­ic­ate. [Just a brief ov­er­view ... SSL (Sec­ure Sock­ets Lay­er), or TLS (Trans­port Lay­er Sec­ur­ity), is stan­dard tech­nol­ogy for sec­ur­ing an int­er­net conn­ect­ion by en­crypt­ing data sent bet­ween a web­site and a brow­ser (or bet­ween two serv­ers); it prev­ents hack­ers from see­ing or steal­ing any in­form­at­ion trans­ferr­ed, in­clud­ing per­son­al or fin­anc­ial data.] In short, it's a GOOD THING, re­ass­ur­ance for the user. When you acc­ess a safe site you see some­thing like this in the add­ress bar, a pad­lock and the https - s for sec­ure - pre­fix:

OK, so I'd already bought an SSL for this site. But the other two, while per­fect­ly safe, would have looked to you like this:

Right, I thought, buy two more SSLs. They cost £40+ a year each. Could I do bet­ter than that? I con­tact­ed my ser­vice pro­vid­er. I've been us­ing them for more than twen­ty years, both for cus­tom­ers and my own per­son­al use.

Time for the local history. The company was start­ed in 1997 by Cyp­rus-born And­rew Mich­ael, then 17, or­ig­in­ally as a part of his A-level IT pro­ject at St. Ed­ward's School in Chel­ten­ham. He need­ed a fast fib­re-op­tic in­ter­net conn­ect­ion into his home in Charl­ton Kings which at the time inv­olv­ed digg­ing up the road and resulted in a bill of £30,­000 (I can't be­lieve that fig­ure, but it app­ears in ev­ery rep­ort) which he paid from his moth­er's cred­it card acc­ount with­out her know­ledge. The comp­any went pub­lic in 1999 and was sold to Germ­an serv­ice prov­id­er Un­it­ed Int­er­net for £61.5 mill­ion in 2006, nett­ing Mich­ael £46 mill­ion for his 75% stake. By then he was 26. His moth­er had for­giv­en him.

They make the usual promises:

Click to enlarge

The difference is that it's true. I don't know where the supp­ort staff are these days - still head­quar­ter­ed in Glou­cest­er, some­where in your time zone, work­ing nights in Bang­al­ore? - but I've al­ways man­aged to get through on the 'phone and had my prob­lems re­solved. I pref­er to use their on­line chat ser­vice, as I get a trans­cript of the con­ver­sat­ion.

Here is yesterday's inter­act­ion, ver­bat­im. Rem­em­ber, I was won­der­ing how best I might pur­chase two SSL cer­ti­fi­cates priced at £40-ish each. I had an in­it­ial res­ponse with­in 10 seconds of op­en­ing the chat. There were pauses for think­ing and typ­ing be­fore each bit of dial­ogue. Lots of check­ing and doub­le-check­ing from me. I give per­miss­ion once again: if this is all gobb­le­dy­gook to you (it's pretty bon­kers that I'm even post­ing such mat­er­ial), just skip it. All you need to know is that it end­ed with me a happy chappy.

Fasthosts Customer Support
Chat By Chat (Lyn-Mae) (19/09/2023 12.10 PM)

L-M: Good morning, Charlie. My name is Lyn-Mae. How may I help you?
CL: Lyn-Mae, I have three main active domain names, and a Momentum hosting package that covers all three. I have an SSL certificate on one domain but not on the others. Am I right in thinking that the SSL certificate is attached to domain names, not to packages?
L-M: The SSL is included in the Momentum hosting package.
CL: I think the primary Momentum domain is climateblog.uk and I have an SSL certificate for that domain. But the SSL doesn't cover the two subsidiary sites?
L-M: No, it will not cover your 2 additional sites.
CL: So, in a sense, the SSL is not included in the Momentum package. I have to buy 3 SSLs?
L-M: The SSL is included in the Momentum hosting package. However only 1 free SSL is included.
CL: So I must buy 2 more?
L-M: Yes, if you wish to secure your other sites. Can you please confirm if your websites are WordPress websites?
CL: No, they're pure hand-built HTML.
L-M: I see. We can upgrade your hosting to a Scale hosting package where the SSL is free for a lifetime for 3 websites. It is only £12 per month + VAT.
CL: Now you're talking! That's only a couple of pounds more than I'm paying now for the current Momentum package, right?
L-M: Yes, that's right.
CL: Excellent. Can you just recap for me 1) what I'm paying now (I can't switch to look at my account details at the moment) and 2) what I would be paying if I upgrade to Scale?
L-M: Here's what you're paying us presently: SSL every year = £42 including VAT; Momentum Web Hosting every month = £13.20 including VAT; plus renewal of your domains.
CL: And with the upgrade to Scale?
L-M: Switching your hosting to Scale, you only have to pay £14.40 per month including VAT. There is no need for you to pay extra for the SSLs (annual) for your other websites.
CL: This is a no-brainer, isn't it? If so, let's do it.
L-M: I can actually do it right now, and there is nothing to do at your end. Since there is no email involved, it's a smooth process.
CL: So, to summarise ... I move to a Scale package (for the extra £1 a month) and SSL is applied to the 3 sites in the existing Momentum package. I will still have to renew the domain names individually.
L-M: Yes, that's right. You still have to renew your domains individually.
CL: OK, please do it.
L-M: For the SSLs, please allow a few hours for them to take effect.
CL: I don't have to do anything, do I? Both charlielewis.uk and o-ce-biel.com will have SSLs attached when it all goes live?
L-M: There is nothing to do at your end and we will have attached the SSLs to your 2 extra sites once the hosting is active. Since you just paid for your Momentum package, the upgrade is only £0.35.
CL: Great. And thank-you. Can I have a transcript of this chat, please?
L-M: Sure, I will send it to this email: charlie_c_lewis@hotmail.com. Anything else I can help with in the meantime?
CL: No, that's quite enough success for now :-)
L-M: You take care and thank you for contacting Fasthosts today.
CL: Bye.

'Charlie Lewis' disconnected.

Result! Whoopee! 35p! If I hadn't had this ex­change with Lyn-Mae, in which she (I ass­ume) off­er­ed a deal I didn't know ex­ist­ed, I would have spent £84 buy­ing two SSLs. Not bank-break­ing num­bers, but sat­is­fy­ing none­the­less. All act­ivated as we spoke/chatt­ed. Con­firm­at­ion and rec­eipt (for the prince­ly 35p) em­ails with­in min­utes.

That's what I call service. Argu­ab­ly Fast­hosts lost one-off rev­en­ue here - I hope it doesn't count ag­ainst Lyn-Mae, in­deed I pray the opp­os­ite is true - but they ren­ewed my cust­om­er loy­al­ty, which will res­ult in more jam tom­orr­ow. I've al­ready spread the word here.

If you now go to the websites I ment­ion­ed you should­n't get any err­or mess­ag­es. If you do, let me know.

Tuesday 19th September

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the shift in pub­lic and med­ia res­ponse to the eff­ect of Brex­it on our lives. Some more on the sub­ject yes­ter­day in an art­ic­le by Nes­rine Mal­ik in The Guar­dian - I know, we need to hear the ack­now­ledge­ment from oth­er sources too - tit­led "It's the 'great not­ic­ing', as right-wing­ers acc­ept that 'Brit­ain is brok­en'." (full text, 4 pages, here: The Great Noticing - Nesrine Malik - The Guardian 18-9-2023)

Do I feel better that I'm not alone in my view? I think so. I'm very pleas­ed to learn that the shift is called "The Great Not­ic­ing":

"The 'Great Noticing' is ... a new era when pointing out Britain's prob­lems is no longer 'doing the country down', or 'sabotaging Brexit', but a fresh realisation that must be communicated with appalled urgency. There can be no admission that Britian's decline has a history - at a pinch that, if it does, it must be very short indeed, starting perhaps with the hopeless Rishi Sunak, who has had the bad fortune of being the last one standing when the music stopped. The collapsing concrete in our schools, the sewage in the water, the NHS waiting lists, the expensive trains and poor service, these all must have come about at 'breathtaking' speed. For it to have happened any more slowly than seemingly overnight would extend the decline's roots to, well, everything - to austerity, to privatisation, to deregulation, and of course, to the very people who bet the farm on Brexit and Johnson, and now must make it clear that the problem wasn't their poor judgment, but a sort of bad gambling streak that befell the nation."

Yes, now the Tory press is on board, or has come up with its shiny new dis­cov­ery, all is val­id crit­ic­ism:

"Right-wing journalists and publications who have cheered on and defended the government's excesses and Brexit extremism for many calamitous years are now sorry to report, like Lucky Jim arising with a colossal hangover, that things are bad."

So ...

"The jig is up. If there's any solace to be gained from the wretched experience of the past decade or so, it is that the decline has been happening in plain sight for so long, so obviously to those who were willing to see it, that even the most rehearsed performance by those who refused to do so will fall flat."

Let's hope.

A bonus of the online article is that link ref­er­ence to "Lucky Jim" and hang­overs, a jewel I'd for­got­ten for years, and in my ab­stin­ence a dist­ant mem­ory:

Click to enlarge

Sunday 17th September

I got my copy yesterday. Down to Waitrose - I am con­demned for this, you'll see be­low - af­ter break­fast to get the free Guar­dian, armed with scis­sors to cut out a coup­on. I couldn't find one, so took the whole news­paper to WH Smith. I was surp­rised to see that the shop had al­ready red­uced the price from £22 RRP to £11. Dis­count now eff­ect­ive­ly not requ­ired I still went to the cash­ier, ment­ioned the Guar­dian offer and showed him the paper. He'd heard about the deal and searched for the cou­pon, with­out succ­ess. "No bother," he said, "I'll take off the extra pound man­ually." Which he did, and also gave me my comp­lem­ent­ary "The Sign of Four" by Arth­ur Con­an Doyle.

In Wednesday's blog, I asserted that there is a mood abroad to dim­in­ish the succ­ess of Osman and The Thurs­day Myst­ery Club. Sure en­ough, in this week's New States­man Anna Leszk­iew­icz has a rev­iew titl­ed "Rich­ard Os­man's bland Brit­ain" (6 pages: Richard Osman's Bland Britain - The New Statesman - Anna Leszkiewicz), with the strap­line quest­ion "How did the TV pres­ent­er's term­in­ally twee stor­ies of death and Wait­rose be­come the best­sell­ing nov­els in the UK?"

Ouch. The review is raspingly rude, comp­reh­ens­ive­ly dis­miss­ive.

First, she outlines the money made. Do I detect envy, or an acc­us­at­ion of un­worth­in­ess? And we're all mugs to infl­ate Os­man's wealth?

"The Thursday Murder Club series has sold over four-and-a-half million copies and earned Osman's publisher, Viking, more than £35m. The first novel in the series, The Thursday Murder Club, was the bestselling title of 2020, and is the only book to have sold a million copies in the year of its release. The follow-up, The Man Who Died Twice (2021), is one of the fastest-selling novels since records began, and in 2022 the third instalment, The Bullet That Missed became the fastest-selling adult fiction hardback from a British author since records began - though the latest instalment, The Last Devil to Die, could surpass it. The film rights to the series have been bought by Steven Spielberg, with, Osman reassures us, a very famous cast to be announced - so The Thursday Murder Club's multimillion-dollar film franchise, presumably starring anyone still receiving residual cheques from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, should be coming soon to a theatre near you."

Cheap dig at the thespian national treasures: Judi Dench, Mag­gie Smith, Bill Nighy, Cel­ia Im­rie, Pen­el­ope Wil­ton and the rest. No rec­ogn­it­ion that they can act a bit.

There's a charge that Osman's output is noth­ing but an art­if­ic­ial con­struct:

"If his TV background has informed his novel-writing at all, it is in the supremacy of the formula: find something that works, and give it to your audience again and again.

"Like its predecessors, The Last Devil to Die is around 400 pages, broken into roughly 100 very short, dialogue-heavy chapters, each one ending on a punchline, revelation or cliffhanger. Osman alternates between the close third-person and diary entries by Joyce - an odd decision, as the two forms are almost indistinguishable in style, tone and humour: self-consciously British and intentionally bathetic, juxtaposing the banal, the quaint and the domestic with the implausible, or the gritty.

"Which is to say that Osman has one joke, repeated hundreds of times. Imagine: a little old woman, out to lunch with a drugs baron! A granny with a gun in her bag!"

It's all too low-brow for Leszkiewicz. The local chief con­stable of the story has writ­ten crime novels, tried by one of the Big Four char­act­ers:

"Joyce gives one a go. 'I only picked it up because there's a Hilary Mantel looming on my bedside table, and I didn't feel up to it yet.' Low effort, low stakes, low reward - for those times when you don't feel up to Hilary Mantel, there's always Richard Osman."

Miao! It looks to me like Anna is a fully paid-up mem­ber of the chat­ter­ing class­es, steeped in in­tell­ect­ual snob­bery. A "TV pres­ent­er" can't be a prop­er writ­er, can he? Host of a "triv­ia show", a "back­ground in puzz­les and games" ... they're not acc­ept­able qual­if­ic­at­ions, are they? Worst of all, "Os­man is, by all rep­orts, an ex­treme­ly charm­ing, nice man."

The article is well-written, the rev­iew­er has a crit­ic­al acu­ity that could un­pick the Great Pac­if­ic Gar­bage Patch. From a range of per­spect­ives her thesis is val­id. And yet. Some­how her brain is sup­er-en­gag­ed, but not her heart.

You'll know from my prev­ious scribb­lings that one of the reas­ons I've so en­joyed the books is that I often don't "feel up to" read­ing any­thing ser­ious, dark or hope­less, par­tic­ul­ar­ly bef­ore sleep. Ev­ents, and med­ia rep­ort­ing there­of, in the last sev­en years have batt­ered us into a deep state of gloom. The news we read or watch has grown im­poss­ible to digest. A diet of clim­ate threat, glob­al strife, ec­on­om­ic fail­ure, rac­ism and pol­it­ic­al corr­upt­ion is not good for the health. And that's just the press cov­er­age, let alone the act­ual lived ex­per­ience of mill­ions.

Leszkiewicz clearly feels we should only read the high-brow, grapp­le with the grim. One look at the cover of the New States­man - BTW, a great org­an of the Fourth Est­ate, oth­er­wise we wouldn't have a sub­script­ion - iss­ue in which her art­ic­le app­ears ind­ic­ates the prob­lem.

Really, more Truss? I don't think so. Not today, thank-you.

Above all, there's one ack­now­ledge­ment crim­in­ally ab­sent from the rev­iew. That the books ex­ude warmth, laugh­ter and aff­ect­ion. We all need them, the world does. "Term­in­ally twee"? Fine by me. It's the last thing that's like­ly to fin­ish us off.

Wednesday 13th September

A bit rambling today, but anyway ... a couple of things, oddly conn­ected.

On Monday we remembered 9/11 and all who died, the twen­ty-second ann­iv­er­sary.

Like Kennedy's assassination, most of us will rem­ember where we were. I was go­ing in­to an aft­er­noon meet­ing at the Hol­iday Inn on the Bris­tol ring road. I walk­ed into the entr­ance lounge where a large flat-screen TV showed im­ages of a burn­ing sky­scrap­er. As so many others must have, I thought: "A dis­ast­er movie? Really? At tea-time?" I soon found out the truth.

Martin Amis wrote in The Guardian a week lat­er, in an art­ic­le tit­led "Fear and Loath­ing":

"For those thousands in the south tower, the sec­ond plane meant the end of ev­ery­thing. For us, its glint was the world­flash of a com­ing fut­ure."

He included the article, renamed as "The Sec­ond Plane", in a 2008 non-fict­ion coll­ect­ion of ess­ays with a vol­ume title of the same. The sixth art­ic­le is "The Last Days of Muh­amm­ad Atta" from The New York­er, April 2006. It imag­ines the ev­ent, un­til his death at 8:46am, from the pers­pect­ive of Atta, who pil­ot­ed the first 'plane, Ame­ric­an Air­lines Flight 11. The second was Unit­ed Air­lines Flight 175.

Late Monday night I watched a 2008 History chan­nel doc­um­ent­ary (avail­able on You­Tube) called "102 Min­utes That Chang­ed Am­er­ica", which dep­icts the att­acks in near-real-time using prim­ar­ily raw foot­age from am­at­eur cit­iz­en journalists. Very pow­er­ful. Then I dug ar­ound some more. I found this com­preh­ens­ive graph­ic­al time­line from the est­im­able vis­ual­cap­it­al­ist.com (click to en­large):

I also found while digging through old photos a few days ago this pic I took in 1985:

Now for the other thing, and the connection.

Earlier this year I wrote how Martin Amis's death trig­ger­ed an imp­ulse to imp­rove my read­ing hab­its, a det­erm­in­at­ion not to waste time on less­er auth­ors' work. The start­ing point, all I could find in the lib­rary, was "The Sec­ond Plane" and it was a succ­ess. I was dazz­led by the writ­ing, if un­cert­ain about his post 9/11 take on Is­lam.

Since then I've been disappointed. I've att­empt­ed his "Mon­ey" and "Lon­don Fields", ab­and­on­ed both after 70 pages. Int­ric­ate and horr­id, clev­er and un­pleas­ant. I can't cope with the con­tent. When I read in bed at night I don't want my head to be filled be­fore nodd­ing off with ug­lin­ess. It does noth­ing for the qual­ity of my sleep.

Not so the Thursday Murder Club. It is with del­ight that I ant­ic­ip­ate pub­lic­at­ion to­mor­row of the fourth in the ser­ies:

Is it great writing? I bel­ieve so. Int­ell­ig­ent, witty, eff­ort­less, play­ful, char­ming, smile-out-loud aff­ect­ion­ate. Just the job. Sweet­er dreams.

Jake Kerridge had this to say in The Telegraph on 30th August:

"Richard Osman's first three Thursday Murder Club mysteries are among the 10 bestselling hardback novels since UK records began; I suspect only nuclear Armageddon or an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant plague can prevent this fourth entry in the series from muscling onto the list. Clearly no other novelist working today can come up with anything to match the pleasure of spending time with Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim and Ron as they pore over the details of unsolved murders in the Jigsaw room at Coopers Chase retirement village.

"Much of the books' success stems, I suspect, from the fact that we live at a time in which many enterprises, from banks to radio stations, prefer to lose customers by the shedload rather than acknowledge that the elderly exist and may have different requirements from younger people. Osman has taken the trouble to work out that many of us are old, and that many more of us are reluctantly aware that we will become old in the blink of an eye; his putting the elderly centre-stage is an obvious idea that seems, in today's climate, rev­ol­ut­ion­ary."

Hmmm. It's just because I'm old, is it? I don't care. The RRP stat­ed by pub­lish­er Vik­ing is £22 for the hard­back, but I shall be straight down to Wait­rose on Sat­ur­day morn­ing for my free copy of The Guard­ian, then on to WH Smith to red­eem my vouch­er:

I sense there is an incipient urge spreading to take him down a peg or two. Osman-envy. The Brit is wary of success. Not me.

Tuesday 12th September

At whichever department you look, this is the wrong gov­ern­ment. Count the fail­ures, the mis­guid­ed pol­ic­ies, the del­us­ions, the stup­id­ity ... count the use­less Tory Min­ist­ries be­low:

In short:

How many did you identify?

Sunday 10th September

Wow. This cheered me up. And a mill­ion or two oth­ers, I'm sure. Spir­it and det­erm­in­at­ion from Eng­land. I need­ed it. What sur­pris­es me is how much. My sense of nat­ion­al shame has gone so deep in rec­ent years.

On the face of it, George Ford 27 Argentina 10:

In fact, while he was outstanding, I've rare­ly seen a game won so clear­ly by the "front five", the big ugly men in the scrum whose work is of­ten un­sung and which we don't un­der­stand. They dis­mant­led their opp­os­ite num­bers. Or won by an­ger, at being writ­ten off by ev­ery­body - incl­ud­ing me - bef­ore the tour­na­ment, at their mate Cur­ry be­ing red-carded. You could see the res­ult in the eyes. Steely res­olve in the Eng­lish, shell-shock in the Arg­ent­in­ian. A vict­ory sealed by a piano-play­er, eng­in­eered by the piano-shif­ters.

Trivial, I know, compared with the news from Morocco.

Saturday 9th September

It's becoming too much to bear. Front cov­ers from diff­er­ent hues of pol­it­ic­al jour­nal. Is this now a cons­ens­us?

Can't read any more. I'm off to watch cycl­ing. The Tour of Brit­ain comes through town today. Stage 7 Tewk­es­bury to Glouc­est­er, a 106-mile loop that takes in Winch­combe, Cir­en­cest­er, Minch­in­hamp­ton, Tet­bury, Yate, Wott­on-under-Edge and Stroud. Here are det­ailed instructions and tim­ings (var­iab­le, dep­end­ent on av­er­age speed): Tour of Britain 2023 Stage 7 route 9-9-2023. And a map of the route:

Friday 8th September

At the risk of losing you alt­og­eth­er - you are of course free to go - I have to re­vis­it the new Stones' sin­gle "An­gry".

I am unsure about the video. Then yest­er­day I thought, "May­be it's a dis­trac­tion. Why not just lis­ten to the song?"

So here it is. If you're int­er­est­ed, sound and bass up, the best big noise you can man­age. If you lis­ten only to a min­ute, you'll get the point.

'Angry' - The Rolling Stones

Keith Richards has always understood what's im­por­tant. No frills, no need­less show­ing off. It's the riff. The word came up of­ten in the Hack­ney Emp­ire int­er­views two nights ago.

Reviews have been mostly positive:
  • The Times: "I've heard 'Hackney Diamonds'. It's the best Roll­ing Stones al­bum since 1978."
  • The Telegraph: "'Angry' is The Roll­ing Stones' best sin­gle in 40 years."
  • The Guardian: "A classic Stones riff and strut­ting rhythm, Jagger is in up­roar­ious form."
The rock-solid drumming belongs of course not to Char­lie Watts (ex­cept for two tracks re­cord­ed prior to his death), but to his re­place­ment, who joined the band with the bless­ing Char­lie gave be­fore he died: "Steve Jor­dan's the man". He's been ar­ound for a while, met Watts first in 1978. He has an en­viab­le ped­ig­ree, has drummed for big names: Stev­ie Won­der, the Blues Broth­ers, James Brown, B.B. King. Also a high­ly succ­ess­ful re­cord prod­ucer, he has worked with Rob­ert Cray, Buddy Guy, Herb­ie Han­cock, Boz Scaggs. Not just any­body.

There has been criticism that his prec­is­ion lacks the jazz-der­ived swing of Watts. Cert­ainly not the sim­plic­ity. I stum­bled upon a vid­eo of him per­form­ing al­one to a rapt aud­ience on Vic Firth's "Art­ist Spot­light" You­Tube chan­nel. You may not want to watch over 5 min­utes of drum­ming, but try a bit. It's not a big-arena Roger Tay­lor, Gin­ger Bak­er or Carl Pal­mer virt­uoso ex­trav­ag­anza. In­stead, it's pure, sym­path­et­ic and fit-for-pur­pose. On a mod­est rig just like Char­lie used.

Here are some comments from viewers of the clip:

"I seriously feel bad for people who do not real­ize how great this is."

"His groove can make the dead get up and shake a leg."

"It's a little known fact that met­ro­nomes prac­tice time-keep­ing by play­ing al­ong to Steve Jor­dan."

"Steve Jordan has pushed simplicity to its most com­plex edge."

"Timing, groove, fluidity, style, dyn­am­ics. Wow! This guy's got it all."

"Dang! He gets so many awesome tones out of a rath­er small set."

"Fills bring the thrills, but grooves pay the bills."

"Carry on for Charlie. Having Char­lie's bless­ing speaks vol­umes."

What a fit with Richards. Comm­itt­ed not to self-pro­mot­ion­al in­dul­gence but to the over­all feel and succ­ess of the mus­ic. Charlie was right.

Overnight thoughts: And I reckon I was right about the vid­eo. It gets in the way (may­be be­cause it's ad­mitt­ed­ly very watch­able, col­our­ful, er­ot­ic), too much about the 50-year sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll myth­ol­ogy of the Stones, not en­ough about the mus­ic. As Syd­ney Sween­ey writhes on the open-top red Merc through an LA land­scape, the band app­ear, from their young­er years, on bill­boards lin­ing the route, not as their to­day's selves. The vid­eo is un­bec­om­ing of the now el­der­ly men and their true qual­ity. I'm being a killjoy, aren't I? But my point is that they can play, reg­ard­less of their age. At the heart of what they do and have done is love and res­pect for the mus­ic. It's the riff.

Thursday 7th September

I'm uncertain about today's topic. How much more do you really want to know beyond what you've already heard? I'm going ahead for one reason only: I find it extraordinary that three men would put out a rock n' roll studio album at their respective ages of 79, 76 and 80.

"Hackney Diamonds", named after the East End slang for broken glass, is to be released on 20th October. The single, first song on the album, is "Angry".

They're still up to their marketing tricks. They first posted an advert in the Hackney Gazette:

"Est. 1962". That's the point, isn't it? They've been with us for 51 years and are still doing it. Except for Charlie, although he's on two tracks that were recorded in 2019. Bill Wyman came in to help a bit too. But not Brian Jones.

Then there's the teaser website for the single at dont­get­ang­ry­with­me.com. I could­n't res­ist vid­eo-cap­tur­ing it (no aud­io). A litt­le joke at the fans' ex­pense. An age for the song to app­ear, with a slow-mov­ing pro­gress bar and mess­ages of "STILL LOAD­ING" and "EX­PER­IENC­ING HEAVY TRAF­FIC", a "PLAY" butt­on, a few sec­onds of the int­ro and then a syst­em crash. I've short­en­ed the rec­ord­ing to only the last 35 sec­onds bef­ore the site blows up. You can hear the clip in the sec­ond vid­eo und­er­neath.

Peeking behind the scenes at the website code, I found that the author Matthew Govaere had inserted the iconic tongue in his notes. Why would he bother? I guess that getting involved with the Stones is special for anyone.

Here's the official video of "Angry". I'm interested to know what you think.

Is the raciness appropriate for these old boys? I supp­ose the Stones were always about the raunch from their earl­iest days. Indeed the video uses grin­ding perf­orm­anc­es from the past rath­er than any­thing from to­day. BTW, the woman is Syd­ney Sween­ey, the Am­er­ic­an act­ress best known for her role in the HBO drama ser­ies Euph­or­ia. There's an air of last hur­rah about it all. A summ­ation, hist­or­ic out­fits, ic­on­ic cov­er art. This could eas­ily to be the fin­al off­er­ing.

According to the interviews on stage at the Hackney Empire launch, Keith and Mick fiddled with the songs in Jamaica, met up with Ron in New York and finished the album off in Los Angeles. Ron said they'd be taking it on tour. Old school rock n' roll jet-setting. Where do they find the energy?

The Hackney event can be seen for the moment on the band's website: The Rolling Stones

Wednesday 6th September

When my fancy turned to the Rugby World Cup yes­ter­day - yes, time to switch off for the un­in­ter­est­ed - I imm­ed­iate­ly thought of my Ir­ish friend Brian Walsh. We share a love of the game. I have­n't seen him for quite a while and dec­id­ed to rect­ify this neg­lect. Bef­ore I man­aged to pick up the 'phone, he rang me.

He explained why he'd been out of action. Some months ago he was diag­nosed with col­on can­cer. Since then, he's spent a con­sid­er­able am­ount of time in Glouc­est­er Roy­al Hosp­it­al. They removed a large chunk of his gut and now he has been given the all-clear. Brian showed his cust­om­ary dark hum­our in tell­ing the tale. His con­sult­ant was called Jon­ath­an Cutt­ing, who in turn int­ro­duced the surg­eon who perf­ormed the op­er­at­ion as "my knife­man".

Never has the Walsh family motto seemed more app­ro­pri­ate:

With great relief, we shall watch some rugby together.

Brian remembered that I usually have a bet on the opp­os­it­ion as a way of all­ev­iat­ing the pain if Eng­land do badly. This time, with Eng­land ex­per­ienc­ing a bleak run-up to the tour­na­ment - Fiji? - he sugg­est­ed that I might change my app­roach. His sus­pic­ion was that Engl­and may well do bett­er than exp­ect­ed while rec­ent perf­orm­anc­es must have imp­roved odds at the book­ies.

I checked. Here are the prices for all 20 part­ic­ip­at­ing coun­tries at Bet365:

11/4 New Zealand; 3/1 France; 10/3 South Af­rica; 5/1 Ire­land; 11/1 Aust­ral­ia; 18/1 Eng­land; 22/1 Arg­ent­ina; 40/1 Wales; 50/1 Scot­land; 90/1 Fiji; 500/1 It­aly, Jap­an, Sam­oa, Tonga, Geor­gia; 2500/1 Port­ug­al, Chile; 4000/1 Nam­ib­ia, Ur­ug­uay, Rom­an­ia

I have put a small wager on England at 18/1.

There is wisdom in Brian's assertion. Four of the teams above Eng­land in the peck­ing ord­er are in the other half of the draw.

In the preliminary group stages, here is what England face:

England face a tough test in the Arg­ent­ina game this Sat­ur­day. But two teams go through to the next stage, so the task looks surm­ount­able - with due resp­ect to Japan and Samoa. And then you're into the last eight.

Other analyst predictions look even rosi­er for Ire­land:

I'm delighted for Brian.

And for me there's the release that comes with low exp­ect­at­ion. Eng­land can on­ly imp­rove their cur­rent lev­el 🙏 I can't rec­all a time when the team was so free of such a bur­den.

Tuesday 5th September

You may want to skip today if you're not a fan of rug­by union. Al­though there's more to the game, for me any­way, than the sight of 30 brok­en-nosed men knock­ing lumps off each other in pur­suit of a ball that does­n't bounce prop­er­ly.

I would normally be super-excited by the pros­pect of the Rugby World Cup starting in France this Friday. Sad­ly, I shall be supp­ort­ing a post-Brex­it ap­ol­ogy of an Eng­land team: for­lorn, un­fort­un­ate, un­im­ag­in­at­ive, soul­less, with­out dir­ect­ion. So far from the dist­ant glory of Jonny and John­son down in Aust­ral­ia twen­ty years ago. A des­erved ref­lect­ion of a nat­ion that self-impl­od­ed in 2016. Oh, come on, I hear you say, that's a bit of a stretch. Not in my book. And it's a view you'd ex­pect from me, is­n't it?

There's still much to anticipate. Two front run­ners are of course memb­ers of the EU, a res­urg­ent and joy­ful Ire­land and proud hosts France. The play­er to watch is dim­in­ut­ive pock­et batt­le­ship, mag­ic­ian and tal­is­man­ic French lead­er, Ant­oine Dup­ont.

He has a heart-warming back-story, ev­ery­thing you would want to hear about local lad made good. From the rug­by heart­land of the south, the small town of Cast­el­nau-Magn­oac in the Hautes-Pyr­én­ées.

That's the family hotel in the se­cond pic­ture, closed in 2012 but still bear­ing the name. I can feel Dup­ont's conn­ect­ion to his roots, the civ­ic pride that will sure­ly be on dis­play this month in that square.

Here are the tournament sched­ule and dai­ly plan­ner (click to en­large):

Here's a combined PDF of the same: Rugby World Cup 2023 Match Schedule and Planner

Monday 4th September

Is it my imagination or has there been an in­crease rec­ent­ly in Brex­it refl­ect­ion? Even re-ass­ess­ment on the Leave side? Rec­og­nit­ion of its mis­er­able eff­ect on the nat­ion, our rel­at­ion­ship with the rest of the world and the qual­ity of our pol­it­ics. It could be just the news­pap­ers I read, the solid­ly Rem­ain­er pin­ko press.

It began with this Apple news feed forwarded by my friend Aidan:

What questions come into your head? Did this gard­en­er think that Brex­it was only about hol­id­ays? With a pers­on­al stake in It­aly, why did he vote to turn his back on Eur­ope? Now, with the coun­try in a shamb­les part-gen­er­at­ed by the ref­er­end­um out­come, he's go­ing to em­igr­ate? I'm sure you have more ast­on­ish­ment to add.

I tracked down the original article by Silvia Marchetti in Saturday's news­pap­er (3 pages): Ashamed to be a Brexit voter - Silvia Marchetti 2 September 2023. It turns out that his fam­ily roots are in Sic­ily and he's on a miss­ion to rec­ov­er his Ital­ian leg­al sta­tus:

"I could kill myself for being so stup­id, my pro-Brex­it vote con­trib­ut­ed to the may­hem the UK is now in. It nev­er occ­urred me to that my hol­id­ays in It­aly could be aff­ect­ed ... and I'm even half It­al­ian.

"All the blah-blah from many pro-Brex­it pol­it­ic­ians and comm­ent­at­ors made me bel­ieve that the UK, in its mill­en­ary hist­ory, had surv­ived and turned into an 'ec­on­om­ic giant' thanks to its is­ol­at­ion and in­de­pend­ence, hailed as its great­est powers - as if we could thrive on­ly by gett­ing rid of Eur­ope.

"I should have claimed my Italian pass­port when I was a teen­ag­er. Now I would­n't be in such a mess."

You know from these pages that I con­sid­er Brex­it a per­son­al aff­ront. Bey­ond the mind­less sep­ar­at­ion from Eur­ope, we have had to wit­ness the mor­al dec­ay of our nat­ion since 2016, argu­ab­ly long before. 13 years of Tory mis­rule.

Our challenge is to reverse the decline. So I'm pleased to see some ser­ious jour­na­lism - yes, I know, all in my camp - that seeks to un­rav­el a dec­ade or more of mis­gov­ern­ment and hold those res­pons­ib­le to acc­ount. The first step is to und­er­stand and ack­now­ledge the shit­show. Then we can do it diff­er­ent­ly. I can't bel­ieve that any­body tru­ly wants to live in this coun­try in its pres­ent state, to tol­er­ate what we have wit­nessed since 2016. Naïve maybe, but that's the only way I can face the fut­ure.

I'll start with a piece by Luke Hard­ing in The Ob­serv­er yes­ter­day tit­led "In­sid­er port­rait of a nat­ion in dec­line", rev­iew­ing "Pol­it­ics on the Edge: A Mem­oir from With­in" by for­mer Con­serv­at­ive MP Rory Stew­art (4 pages: Insider portrait of a nation in decline - review by Luke Harding).

'I felt increasingly exhausted and ashamed': Rory Stewart in London, June 2019.

Some snippets (of the review):

"[The book] is an excoriating account of a dys­funct­ion­al gov­ern­ing sys­tem. At ev­ery lev­el - back­bench MP, sen­ior min­ist­er, perm­an­ent sec­ret­ary - Stew­art finds shal­low­ness where there should be depth, vap­id­ity inst­ead of ser­ious­ness."

"Disillusionment was swift. MPs were un­int­er­est­ed in pol­icy, he dis­cov­ered. In­stead, they were ob­sessed with scan­dal. He found 'imp­ot­ence, sus­pic­ion, en­vy, res­ent­ment, claus­tro­pho­bia and Schad­en­freude'. Cam­er­on made speeches about div­ers­ity. But he filled his priv­ate off­ice with white shirt­ed old Et­on­ians, drawn 'from an un­im­ag­in­ably nar­row soc­ial group'.

"Truss prized 'exaggerated simplicity' ab­ove 'crit­ic­al think­ing', 'pow­er and man­ip­ul­at­ion' over 'truth and reas­on'. Stew­art ob­serves that this 'new pol­it­ics' off­ered 'un­teth­ered hope' and 'vague­ness' in­stead of acc­ur­acy. Truss was all­er­gic to 'cau­tion and det­ail'."

"Truss is weird, Michael Gove silkily dup­lic­it­ous, and Bor­is John­son an 'ego­tist­ic­al chanc­er'. Stew­art re­calls vis­it­ing John­son in his for­eign sec­ret­ary's lair - a red-cheeked fig­ure whose eyes rad­iat­ed 'fur­tive cunn­ing'."

Uplifting to hear this from a Tory, al­though we know he is now far from the cur­rent fold. As Hard­ing com­ments:

"After a memoir of such blistering frankness, there is no way the Cons­erv­at­ive party will have Stew­art back. West­min­ster is poor­er with­out him, a wan­der­er turned prime min­is­ter man­qué. The world of ideas and let­ters is richer."

[9am STOP PRESS: I've just heard Stewart on the To­day prog­ramme. He arg­ues that the most imp­ort­ant change requ­ired, cent­ral to what he is try­ing to say in the book, is ref­orm of our "schler­ot­ic" el­ect­or­al syst­em to make room for new part­ies and ideas. First-past-the-post is a kill­er. Now there's a chall­enge.]

Andrew Rawnsley, in the same Observer issue, ext­ends the theme in a com­ment­ary tit­led "For all Rishi Sunak's des­ire to be a big world play­er, Brexit has ens­ur­ed a walk-on part" (5 pages: Brexit has ensured a walk-on part - Andrew Rawnsley Observer 3rd September 2023).

'Serious tensions': Sunak with Narendra Modi at the G7 Summit May 2023.

The discussion here is on the UK's pos­it­ion in the wid­er world ... post-Brex­it. With self-ex­clus­ion from Eur­ope, we see the cosy­ing-up to em­erg­ing pow­ers.

"As a cash-strapped, midsized power in a dang­er­ous­ly un­pred­ict­able and un­stab­le world, the UK needs to be smart at mak­ing and keep­ing friends, esp­ec­ial­ly with other lib­er­al demo­crac­ies with sim­il­ar val­ues. Which brings us to our near­est neigh­bours. Rel­at­ions with EU coun­tries have be­come less pois­on­ous since Mr Sunak moved into Num­ber 10. Yet there's still a dist­inct frost. Mr Sunak has been un­requ­ited in his des­per­ate des­ire to sec­ure a ret­urns ag­ree­ment with the EU cov­er­ing migr­ants cross­ing the Chan­nel or us­ing other un­auth­or­ised routes.

"Brexit has made Britain less relevant to the EU, and to all the other sig­nif­ic­ant play­ers of the world. There's no esc­ap­ing that bit­ter truth, how­ever many air miles Mr Sunak clocks up."

The final analytical piece that has caught my eye is com­ing up next Mon­day 11th Sep­tem­ber at 9pm on BBC2 and av­ail­able on i­Play­er, Laura Kuenss­berg's three-part doc­um­ent­ary series "State of Chaos".

Kuenssberg promotes the series:

"The referendum result triggered years of tur­bul­ence in our pol­it­ics - chaos in­side the Con­serv­at­ive Par­ty and Par­lia­ment, with Prime Min­ist­ers com­ing and go­ing in quick succ­ess­ion. I want to take view­ers beh­ind the scenes to show them what really happ­ened, and ask wheth­er after all the craz­in­ess, pol­it­ics will ever be the same again?"

I shall watch with interest.

Click to enlarge

Sunday 3rd September

This time it's a gap of 60 years.

When I was ten, dur­ing the sum­mer hol­id­ays I used to wake frequ­ent­ly at 6am, go round to the house of my near-neigh­bours Sim­on and Nig­el, throw stones at their bed­room win­dows, then cycle down to­geth­er to the banks of the Riv­er Sev­ern in Worc­est­er and fish until break­fast time. Rare­ly caught a thing, and when I did it was us­ual­ly a tiny dace.

Yesterday we made our third visit to Hares­combe Fish­er­ies between Stroud and Glou­cest­er, down nar­row lanes off the Cots­wold es­carp­ment, a ser­ies of lakes packed most­ly with carp.

I've had to re-learn all kinds of old tricks, and some new ones brought about by ad­vanc­es in ang­ling tech­no­logy. How to "snell" a hook to a line. Make a "perf­ect­ion loop". Attach a rubber float stop. Made poss­ible by You­Tube vid­eos, helped by the in­form­ed staff at the treas­ure trove of Lobby's Tack­le in Stone­house.

With a song in my head:

Taj Mahal sings Fishin' Blues

Now for some honesty. It's lovely up at Hares­combe, a dec­ent res­embl­ance to an idyll, but there are frust­rat­ions for a 9-year-old with only one goal in mind. Cur­ious­ly, when I was a kid I wasn't too both­er­ed by the pauc­ity of my catch. I just loved be­ing by the riv­er. Not Mar­lie. He wants fish. Part­ic­ul­ar­ly when the old boys at near­by pit­ches are pull­ing in 10lb carp by the rod- and net-load. You have to emp­loy care and att­ent­ion. If you don't, it all ends up with tang­led lines and snag­ged hooks. Fix­ing these set­backs is part of the game. I sus­pect the sport is most pop­ul­ar among the anal ret­ent­ive (alb­eit friend­ly and help­ful) with a love of gad­get­ry. You would­n't bel­ieve the am­ount of kit on dis­play at Hares­combe, nor the ext­ra­ord­in­ary range of equ­ip­ment for sale in Lob­by's. Per­haps I should incl­ude my­self in the demo­graph­ic. I am am­used by the bits and pieces, and en­joy the ex­per­tise and pass­ion of the dev­ot­ee.

A couple of final admissions.

Sadly it was I who caught the fish pict­ured above. Oh well. At least Marl­ie net­ted it.

I'm also less keen on catching fish now. The cruel­ty as­pect. And you're not prov­id­ing for the table. It's all catch-and-rel­ease at the fish­er­ies.

We'll see how we get on.

Saturday 2nd September

The boys have concluded their van trip. From Biz­kaia in­to Ast­ur­ias, south-west through Cast­illa y León, up into Gal­ic­ia ... and back to Bil­bao.

We have been treated to a WhatsApp photo di­ary. I am post­ing the full un­ex­pur­gat­ed gall­ery. Click to en­large any image.

Brief mention of some ravishing landscape, but the comm­ent­ary is most­ly an ex­haus­tive cel­ebr­at­ion of the menú del día. I love a menú. It can be pretty bas­ic fare, for ex­amp­le what bel­ow look like bisc­uits in cust­ard. Sarah asked whet­her the bisc­uits came out of a pack­et. Ben repl­ied: "It's a 3-course meal that costs €14, so yes, out of a pack­et. And 'nat­ill­as' sounds bet­ter than cust­ard." 14 euros! And that incl­ud­ed agua and vino tinto/­blanco. The proof is in the pict­ure of the menu board half­way down. What's more, there were some of my fav­our­ite dishes on off­er: polbo á feira, trad­it­ion­al Gal­ic­ian octo­pus; nav­aj­as, raz­or clams; mor­ro, pig snout; lang­ost­in­os, prawns; merl­uza, hake. Could you even buy such in­gred­ients to make your own equ­iv­al­ent meal at home for the same price?

Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Ben with coffee in Tierra y Mar Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Ben on campsite with mountains and breakfast
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Ben lunch with ham hock and cauliflower Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Ben lunch of hake pimenton and potato
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Nikko lunch of stewed lamb and chips Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Nikko rice pudding and Ben tiramisu
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Nikko sitting on wall by wooden bridge Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Nikko pushing a shed
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Balcony with view of mountains and forest Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - View through trees of sun below cloud
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Menu del dia signboard Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Blood pudding breakfast
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Ben and razor clams Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Pulpo and meatballs
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Ben standing at outside bar with cafe solo Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Flan-like custard
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Sardines meatballs and chips Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Cheese salad and bean soup
Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Natilla biscuits and cheesecake Ben and Nikko Galicia road trip - Meat stew and chips

I hesitate to say this, because Ben is emph­at­ic­al­ly his own man, but there are like-fath­er-like-son things go­ing on here. Liv­ing and work­ing ab­road in an ind­ep­end­ent-think­ing proud reg­ion (for his Basque Country read my Friuli), speak­ing Span­ish (Ital­ian), chas­ing down loc­al food, seek­ing out rem­ote nooks and cran­nies, down­ing a quick café solo (esp­resso) at a stand-up out­side bar, eat­ing a morcilla saus­age (biroldo) for break­fast. I've said it bef­ore: I need to get out there more. Ben's not go­ing to live in Eng­land any time soon. What's to stop me, a long week­end every one to two months? OK, it's the dread­ed Easy­jet from Bris­tol to Bil­bao, but then I can stay in my fav­our­ite pens­ión in the Casco Viejo, pot­ter along the coast or into the hills, speak another lang­uage, be Eur­op­ean ... and en­joy that menú del día.

Friday 1st September

Surely nobody can take this lot seriously?

What hold has he got over Rishi? Same club? Does he int­er­view well? Is it the mast­ery of det­ail he has shown at Trans­port, the Home Off­ice, Bus­in­ess and En­ergy?

Thursday 31st August

The British motorway service station is a dis­mal place, isn't it?

Your starting point is poor ... in a car, on a dull and crowd­ed 3-lane road, prob­ab­ly in the mid­dle of a long jour­ney, tired, sore bum. You need a break and you'd pref­er some­where nice to stop, rel­ax­ing, dec­ent grub. Well, you're not go­ing to find it at a stan­dard Moto, Road­chef or Wel­come Break.

I base my observations on Reading Services. It's the one we've vis­it­ed most in the last year, usu­ally en route to/from Gat­wick Air­port to col­lect/del­iv­er fam­ily memb­ers fly­ing - a BAD THING in itself - from/to Vienna and Bil­bao, or go­ing on hol­id­ay our­selves.

First you need the toilet, right? You guessed, at Read­ing they're loc­at­ed as far from the front entr­ance as it's poss­ible to go, thus ens­ur­ing that you have to pass all the conv­en­ience shops and food fran­ch­ises. Names like Bur­ger King, Costa Cof­fee, KFC, Kris­py Kreme, Tango Ice Blast. Just where you want to buy a sat­isfy­ing and heal­thy snack. Plas­tic furn­it­ure and plas­tic food.

It can be done another way.

Gloucester motorway services: terrace, lake and eco-roof - click to enlarge

Yes, you're at Gloucester Services, run by the West­mor­land fam­ily in part­ner­ship with Glouc­est­er­shire Gate­way Trust, a comm­un­ity dev­el­op­ment char­ity.

The toilets are within 30 yards of the entrance!

Here's what the website says:

"We are a family-owned motorway services business that celebrates the people and produce of Gloucestershire.

"We prize real food made with skill and integrity. In our Kitchen we cook food from scratch using real ingredients, just as you would cook it at home.

"We work with more than 130 producers within 30 miles.

"In our Farmshop we celebrate the wealth of creativity and talent in our locality and our region. We champion farmers, growers, butchers, bakers, potters, patisserie chefs, chocolatiers and cheesemakers who share our commitment to handmade and authentic produce.

"We have a dedicated fish counter, patisserie counter, cheese counter, deli counter and butchers' counter, where our trained whole-animal butchers take pride in preparing locally sourced native-breed meats."

OK, these are marketing weasel-words, but the place IS diff­er­ent. While ret­urn­ing from Tewk­es­bury yest­er­day, we popped in for hot choc­ol­ate and cake. Here's my smart­phone photo gall­ery. I'd like the pics to be shar­per, but you'll get the idea. Click to en­large any.

A peaceful terrace out by the lake, the roar of M5 traf­fic al­most masked by land­scap­ing. An airy and spac­ious vaulted food hall, built in taste­ful - and sust­ain­able, I imag­ine - wood. It really is a "wel­come break". The dis­plays don't look like any­thing you'd find in an ord­in­ary mot­or­way serv­ices. They don't even res­emble the shelves of a sup­er­mark­et. How much pack­ag­ing can you see? Any main­stream brands? Of course, you would­n't want to do your week­ly shop here; the prices are "prem­ium". There again, to comp­are like-with-like, most serv­ices pile on a much high­er marg­in than reg­ul­ar stores. I don't care. The cake was del­ic­ious.

For a closer look, here's the website: Gloucester Services website

If you're interested in more back­ground, here's a vid­eo (2 min­utes):

Westmorland have other sites: Cairn Lodge (Happ­end­on) - M74 J11 and J12 via B7078; J38 Truck­stop - M6 J38; Rheged Centre - A66, A592 round­about; Tebay - M6 bet­ween J38 and J39.

One final observation ... on the demerit side, I'm af­raid. Still too many cars, too many roads. You only get to visit the serv­ices if you're in the wrong form of trans­port. A silk purse out of a sow's ear?

Wednesday 30th August

Connections, memories. It only takes a name, or two in this case. Seems to hap­pen more these days. A func­tion of anno dom­ini?

Sons Ben and Nikko have been on the road again, to­geth­er in the van. Mot­or­ing west from Bil­bao into Ast­ur­ias, then south ... and west again to­wards Gal­ic­ia.

Nikko sent this WhatsApp message last Sunday: "Just passed Rib­ad­es­ella, head­ing in­land away from the rain."

Here it is, at the mouth of the river Sella, hence the name.

The boys were back, or very close to, where we had a fam­ily hol­id­ay in 1995. Nikko was 14, Ellie 9, Ben 7. Near­ly thir­ty years old­er now. We camped for a fort­night just off Playa de Vega, six miles west of Rib­ad­es­ella, where we shopped.

Much as I love that landscape and treas­ure our time there, you can see from the sod­den ground why Ben and Nikko were try­ing to esc­ape the rain this last week. That 1995 hol­id­ay was wet more of­ten than not. One day, in search of sun­shine, we took off into the Pic­os de Eur­opa, get­ting into a cab­le car in dense fog and rain, emer­ging to brill­iant blue skies.

I had been in Ribadesella long before that, in the first week of Aug­ust 1968. Aged 16, trav­ell­ing with my boy­hood friend John Ray­er, I took the train to San Seb­ast­ian and then bussed or hitched into Ast­ur­ias. When we got to the est­uary town there was a full-blood­ed cel­eb­rat­ion in prog­ress, La Fiesta de Les Pira­gües. At the same time there was the trad­it­ion­al 15-km can­oe race, the Desc­enso Int­er­nac­ion­al del Sella. Here's a photo from the 2023 event:

Unbelievably, and completely unplanned, we bumped into friends from Worc­est­er Canoe Club who were comp­et­ing. Without succ­ess, I'm afraid, as they'd over­done it at the fiesta the night before.

Back to the recent road trip, Nikko's next Whats­App up­date ... and the sec­ond name: "We camped in Cast­illa y León, on our way to south­ern Gal­ic­ia."

In 1968, after a week in which John and I roamed along the coast, the plan was then to meet up with my first girl­friend, Helen, who had spent a month in León study­ing Span­ish. I can't rem­emb­er where we were re-un­ited ... but we weren't. She inf­ormed me that we were no lon­ger a coup­le - I don't deny my part in this split - as she had met a local lad called Al­ber­to. Hmmm. This made for a very diff­ic­ult rem­ain­der of the hol­id­ay, all the way back to Lon­don Vict­or­ia. Part­ic­ul­ar­ly for poor John, who had to put up with a pair of warr­ing teen­ag­ers.

Ever since, I have wanted to burn León to the ground. As I've said, all I need is the name. OK, tod­ay's ref­lex is an inf­in­it­es­im­al fract­ion of my 16-year-old rage, but the word still prov­okes a mur­der­ous flick­er. How can that be? Time to move on, eh?

Overnight thoughts. If memories are to be a thing, there must be some les­sons to be learnt here, even if I risk roll­ing out self-ev­id­ent plat­it­udes. Cher­ish the good and seek to create more of the same. Learn from the bad and disc­ard. Reg­ret drags you down, re­in­forces a mod­el that serves no use­ful pur­pose. Inst­ead, bott­le the exp­er­iences that brought joy and ad­opt them as a temp­late for what to do next. Any­way, that's the plan.

Monday 28th August

I have SO enjoyed this:

Some cracking lines from her "Bye, Rishi" letter (5 pages, FFS): Nadine Dorries resignation letter 26-8-2023

"I have continued to work for my constituents faithfully and diligently to this day."

"You flashed your gleaming smile in your Prada shoes and Savile Row suit from behind a camera, but you just weren't listening."

"... Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss were taken down ..."

"Why is it that we have had five Conservative prime ministers since 2010, with not one of the previous four having left office as the result of losing a general election?"

"... the political assassination of Boris Johnson ..."

"... the democratic process at the heart of our party has been corrupted ..."

"Since you took office a year ago, the country is run by a zombie Parliament where nothing meaningful has happened. What exactly has been done or have you achieved? You hold the office of prime minister unelected, without a single vote, not even from your own MPs. You have no mandate from the people and the government is adrift."

"... you have completely failed in reducing illegal immigration or delivering on the benefits of Brexit ..."

"Bewildered, we look in vain for the grand political vision for the people of this great country to hold on to, that would make all this disruption and subsequent inertia worthwhile, and we find absolutely nothing."

"History will not judge you kindly."

Flippin' 'eck, who needs enemies?

It's not at the level of the Buffoon or Vlad, but this is our governing political party.

Sunday 27th August

Extending yesterday's world-gone-mad theme. No ap­ol­og­ies for over­load. Tell­ing moments in hist­ory, whether dem­ocr­acy or aut­oc­racy. And so think the car­toon­ists. First, the Buff­oon ...

... followed by Vlad ...

Saturday 26th August

It's a cartoonfest of utter lunacy out there.

In the West, the Orange Buffoon ...

To the East, Vlad the Mad ...

In the middle, they meet ...

But sanity is available down the road at the Hat & Stick ...

Friday 25th August

Local drama for the last 24 hours. The living room ceil­ing coll­apsed.

A lucky escape. Last weekend grand­child­ren Marl­ie and Ell­ie spent time on the sofa right un­der­neath. Can't bear to imag­ine what the fall­ing plas­ter chunks would have done to them.

The whole ceiling will have to come down. Other parts are al­ready threat­en­ing to do so, so we can't sit in the room.

It looks like original lath and plaster, or at least the lath. 150 years old. A dec­ent inn­ings.

Thursday 24th August

Yep, been ignoring the political news. Thought I'd better check progress.

Nope. Same useless tossers.

Although you can always rely on the Daily Star:

Wednesday 23rd August

Looking back at my piece on Madrid in 1980, I'm left with the quest­ion: "How did we ...?"

Nine of us met for an early dinner at Café Nap­ol­ita in St. Werb­urghs yest­er­day even­ing to say fare­well to son Nikko and his daugh­ter Ellie, who have been vis­it­ing from Vienna since Fri­day. Ori­gin­at­ing from Stroud and three other loc­at­ions we all got there on time at 7pm, and the table had been booked. How? Ob­vious:

In Madrid, there were maybe 40 of us with­out these. We got to school ev­ery day, made it to group rev­iew meet­ings, met for drinks, went to the Prado, had Fri­day night din­ners to­geth­er in a rest­aur­ant and paid in pes­et­as (no Euro, no ATMs, no Goog­le Pay), took the trip to Cuenca and found a pens­ión (no Trip­Ad­vis­or), booked and bought flights and trains home. Again, how? We must have done it in per­son, used a pub­lic tel­eph­one, left writ­ten mess­ages, cashed trav­ell­ers' cheques at a bank, vis­it­ed a trav­el ag­ent. The old-fash­ioned idea of mak­ing a ver­bal arr­ange­ment, maybe not­ing it in a pap­er diary and then stick­ing to the agreed dates and times. Un­im­ag­in­able now. And it's not only the young, but pens­ion­ers like me too. Un­less you really have­n't got a smart­phone, in which case I have no idea how you get by.

Son Ben was the only family member miss­ing from our Nap­ol­ita meal. That's bec­ause he was at the Basque Aste Nag­us­ia (Sem­ana Gran­de in Span­ish and "Big Week" in Eng­lish) fest­iv­al in Bil­bao. Trad­it­ion­al mus­ic and danc­ing, rur­al sports such as wood chop­ping and stone carry­ing, the streets lined with food and drink tents.

Via smartphone video and WhatsApp, right?

Tuesday 22nd August

One word is all it takes.

Son Ben's partner Soph sent me a book for my birth­day, the 2016 "El Sil­enc­io de la Ciu­dad Blanca" by Eva Gar­cia Sáenz de Urt­uri, al­though I'm read­ing it in trans­lat­ion, so "The Sil­ence of the White City". It's a det­ect­ive story set in Vit­or­ia-Gast­eiz, the seat of gov­ern­ment and cap­it­al of the Basque Coun­try and the prov­ince of Ál­ava. The city is only an hour's drive south of Bil­bao, so I vis­ited on the last trip to see Ben and Soph.

On page 119 of my edition, chief prot­ag­on­ist Insp­ect­or Unai López de Ay­ala expl­ains the ins­ul­ar­ity of Vit­oria:

"Anyone born more than thirty miles away is what my grandmother used to call 'el forastero'. It's a word straight out of an old Western movie, but you can hear it in all the villages in Álava. If two pilgrims on their way to Santiago pass through, they're outsiders, even if they're only from Cuenca."

Cuenca. Off I go.

In autumn 1979 I returned from four-and-a-half years teach­ing English in Italy to emb­ark on a 1-year Post­grad­uate Cert­if­icate in Ed­uc­at­ion (PGCE) at the Inst­it­ute of Ed­uc­at­ion, now part of Univ­ers­ity Coll­ege Lon­don, in Engl­ish as a For­eign Lang­uage. That's right, hav­ing al­ready earned my liv­ing in the field, I was now study­ing for a prop­er qual­if­ic­at­ion. It seemed a bit after-the-event, but in fact exp­er­ience was a pre-requ­is­ite of ad­miss­ion. This made for an int­er­est­ing stud­ent coh­ort. Most of us had been to diff­er­ent parts of the world. We weren't call­ow youths just packed off to uni­vers­ity by our par­ents. I was a mem­ber of what we called the "28 Club" - after, I pres­ume, the doomed rock-and-roll "27 Club" - and sev­er­al of our numb­er were older.

In February 1980 we all headed off for a six-week teach­ing pract­ice in Mad­rid. I was very fort­un­ate. We were ass­igned to diff­er­ent schools or coll­eges. Most of my coll­eagues would teach in the morn­ings, but I only had a 2-hour class every day between 4 and 6pm. This meant that, while the others were busy prep­ar­ing in the even­ing, I was free to roam ar­ound the centre of the city, en­joy a pleas­ant din­ner. I used to fin­ish with a café solo and fund­ad­or at an outdoor bar-kiosk on the edge of Plaza del Dos de Mayo. Next day a leis­ure­ly break­fast, prep­ar­at­ion, maybe some lunch, off to school - and still free after 6:30pm. So priv­il­eged - and most­ly at the tax­pay­ers' ex­pense.

We lived in basic but com­fort­able acc­omm­od­at­ion around the centre. I shared a small flat in the Ed­if­ic­io Trib­un­al ap­art­ment build­ing off the bust­ling street of Fuen­carr­al with an ecc­ent­ric char­act­er called Mich­ael Ivy. He had driven down to Mad­rid in his mother's met­all­ic-brown Vaux­hall Chev­ette. Un­att­ract­ive and un­cool, but a car none­the­less, and Mich­ael was gen­er­ous with its use. He sugg­est­ed that four of us should spend a week­end in Cuenca, the charm­ing med­iaeval city two hours east of Mad­rid, perched on a lime­stone spur above the Júcar and Huécar riv­ers, fam­ous for its well-pres­erved casas colg­adas or "hang­ing houses".

The four of us - Michael, me, a woman called Jul­iette, and this blog's Ir­ish corr­esp­ond­ent - set off on the Sat­ur­day morn­ing and enj­oyed a mem­or­able week­end: bright Febr­uary/March days, class­ic squares, cobb­led streets, dinn­er in a fam­ily rest­aur­ant, a stroll down by the rivers. Plus one amus­ing in­cid­ent.

As part of our studies we foll­owed a BBC Span­ish lang­uage course called "¡Dígame!" - "Tell me!" It made sense: you're going to teach a lang­uage, exp­er­ience what it's like to learn one.

The TV course was set in Cuenca and inv­olved int­er­act­ions with loc­al people. One int­er­view was with a priest at the Cath­ed­ral who rev­ealed that some of his flock were less than dev­out.

Michael was keen to track him down - and succ­eed­ed. Un­ab­ashed, course book in hand, he conf­ront­ed the priest: "Is it true what you say here, that many of your cong­reg­at­ion fall short in their dev­oc­ión?"

I can't rem­em­ber his res­ponse. How­ever, my Irish corr­es­pond­ent rec­alls that we asked a pass­er­by if the priest was right about the lack of spir­it­ual comm­it­ment in the city. He ans­wered sarc­ast­ic­ally: "¡Y él prim­ero!" - words to the eff­ect: "And he's the worst sin­ner of them all!"

He was blessed with an on-the-spectrum ten­ac­ious streak, our Mike. An­oth­er friend un­kind­ly gave him the nick­name of "Bind­weed".

Special days.

Monday 21st August

So, why did the Lionesses lose? Or, inversely, Spain win?

Here's a start:

To my untutored eye, Spain a) kept the ball better and b) knew what to do with it when they did.

Which takes us back to:

Tiki-taka, a style characterised by short pass­ing, move­ment and main­tain­ing poss­ess­ion, was cent­ral to the trans­form­at­ion of the Span­ish men's nat­ion­al team that led to vict­ory at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. It was also ev­id­ent in man­ag­er Pep Guar­dio­la's Barc­el­ona team of 2009 when winn­ing six tit­les in a seas­on, el séxt­uple. Int­er­est­ing­ly, Guar­diola him­self had broad­ly dis­av­owed the tac­tic by 2014, when he had this rant:

"I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka. It's so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition's goal. It's not about passing for the sake of it. Don't believe what people say. Barça didn't do tiki-taka! It's completely made up! Don't believe a word of it!"

What I think I saw yesterday was a leg­acy tiki-taka res­idue of which Guar­diola would now app­rove. Yes, Spain did keep poss­ess­ion, there was some sharp pass­ing ... and yet they had "clear int­ent­ion ... of mak­ing it into the opp­os­it­ion's goal". It must have helped - OK, the maestro has long since moved on through Mun­ich to Man­chest­er - that seven of Spain's start­ing 11 play for Barc­el­ona, where they'd know all about the ev­olved method.

We cont­in­ue to search, a chance sad­ly missed, for the el­us­ive goal:

Sunday 20th August

The greatest pleasure of the England women's prog­ress to Euro 2022 victory and their world cup fin­al to­day is the sheer del­ight they exp­ress in what they do, capt­ured per­haps in that mom­ent when Chloe Kelly stripped off to her sports bra - now framed at home, we und­er­stand - and wind­milled away in cel­eb­rat­ion after scor­ing the winn­ing goal last year.

The first part of the title to Emma John's art­icle in The Guard­ian yest­er­day said, "Engl­and's Lion­ess­es have rest­ored joy to the beaut­if­ul game". John quoted Bar­on­ess Camp­bell, the FA's dir­ect­or of wom­en's foot­ball: "People say to me, 'You've brought the beaut­if­ul game back', mean­ing this is like foot­ball used to be." There app­ear to be many ad­mir­able qual­it­ies beh­ind the joy: pass­ion, ded­ic­at­ion, to­geth­er­ness, resp­ect, risk-tak­ing, free­dom and more.

The second part of John's title was: "But for how long?" Right now we need to bott­le and hold on to the pleas­ure, even inn­oc­ence, of the wom­en's ach­ieve­ment, be­cause the men's game dem­onst­rates a hor­rid alt­ern­at­ive out­come.

Brazilian Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is mov­ing to Al-Hilal of the Saudi Pro League. Acc­ord­ing to Bar­ney Ronay of The Guard­ian, his cont­ract incl­udes: a £138m sal­ary; three sup­er­cars (Bent­ley, Ast­on Mart­in, Lamb­orgh­ini); four Merc­ed­es G-Wag­ons; a lux­ury chauff­eured van to be kept "avail­able at all times"; a house with three saunas; a pool "at least 40 metres long"; seven full-time work­ers incl­ud­ing a sous chef to work with Ney­mar's own head chef; a guar­ant­eed supp­ly of açaí juice and Guar­aná drinks in his fridge; a priv­ate plane; and all exp­enses for his 30-strong ent­our­age.

Saudi Arabian club football, funded by the state, is buy­ing its way to the top, tow­ards creat­ing a league to rival the Prem­ier, La Liga, the Bund­es­liga, Serie A, Ligue 1. The coun­try's sov­er­eign wealth fund, dir­ect­ed by Crown Prince Moh­amm­ed bin Sal­man, will take cont­rol of four of the king­dom's top foot­ball clubs; the Pub­lic Inv­est­ment Fund (PIF) will own 75% of Al Itt­ihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal.

They need to consider altern­at­ive names for their comp­et­it­ions and awards, don't they? Foss­il Fuel League? Pet­ro­doll­ar Cup? Black Gold Boot? Human Rights Watch Play­er of the Year?

"Small boys in the park, jumpers for goal­posts?" Gimme a break.

This morning we should treas­ure a more root­ed man­if­est­at­ion of the game.

See you on the other side.

13:04 pm

Oh well.

Saturday 19th August

I skipped yesterday's blog because I was crunch­ing num­bers and ran out of time. After post­ing friv­ol­ous (no worse, I hope) rem­arks on Thurs­day about the place of the blonde pony­tail in the Lion­ess line-up, I thought I'd bet­ter do some res­earch.

I am not the first to be curious about the eth­nic mix of the team. In July last year, Engl­ish foot­ball coach and form­er play­er Anita Asante wrote an art­icle in The Guard­ian titled "Lack of div­ers­ity in Eng­land Women squad will stop many girls from dream­ing". In October 2020, the She Kicks women's football magazine ran an investigative piece: "Why are there so few Black Eng­land wom­en foot­ball­ers?"

I'd argue that the issue is vis­ible to all. Here's a team photo from UEFA Women's EURO 2022:

Before I go on, a few words about terminology. It's an ever­chang­ing mine­field and I'm al­most cert­ain not to get it right. But I've looked. I quote from GOV.UK's web­page, "Writ­ing about eth­nic­ity":

"In research, 'people from a black Caribbean background', 'the black ethnic group' and 'black people' were all acceptable phrases. 'Blacks' was not. We don't say 'mixed people' or 'mixed race people'. We usually say 'people with a mixed ethnic background' or 'people from the mixed ethnic group'.

"We do not use the terms BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) and BME (black and minority ethnic) because they emphasise certain ethnic minority groups (Asian and black) and exclude others (mixed, other and white ethnic minority groups). The terms can also mask disparities between different ethnic groups and create misleading interpretations of data. In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended that the government stop using the term BAME."

The obvious point here, echoed in the two art­ic­les ment­ioned above, is that the prop­ort­ion of black play­ers in the wom­en's team is sub­stant­ial­ly low­er than in the men's. My source is the off­ic­ial Eng­land Foot­ball web­site, where Gar­eth South­gate's and Sar­ina Wieg­man's 23-mem­ber sen­ior squads are listed.

In the men's 23, nine are black or "people with a mixed eth­nic back­ground". That's 39.1%. For the rec­ord, they are: Bukayo Saka, Callum Wilson, Eberechi Eze, Kalvin Phillips, Kyle Walker, Marcus Rashford, Mark Guehi, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Tyrone Mings. In the women's team, there are 2, or 8.6%. They are Lauren James and Jess Carter.

Why? In contrast, France reached the quar­ter-fin­als of Euro 2022 and their 23-wom­an squad cont­ained 15 black or brown (Anita Asante's word) play­ers. 65.2%, very close to two-thirds. It's an Engl­ish thing. Rep­eated, I'm sure, in other coun­tries.

Asante suggests there is a demo­graphy-and-geog­raphy fact­or. Most int­ern­at­ion­als come from the elite Wom­en's Sup­er League, the wom­en's teams of the big Prem­ier League clubs, and their excl­us­ive train­ing grounds have ...

"... moved mainly to leafy new suburban or semi-rural training facilities away from cities in places like Surrey, Hertfordshire and Cheshire. There's an awful lot less money in the women's game and many young black girls, who often live in inner cities, can struggle to reach out-of-town training grounds. Whereas a leading men's club might arrange for a male academy player to be transported from school to training and then back home, that option almost certainly won't be there for the girl whose parents are unable to ferry her back and forth."

She goes on to say that "there is the lack of und­er­stand­ing about cult­ur­al barr­iers in some black ... comm­un­it­ies where there are of­ten a lot of diff­er­ent press­ures for girls to con­form to gen­der norms." I'll stick my neck out and opine that un­til rec­ent­ly you would have seen black boys rather than girls en­joy­ing a kick-about in the local park.

Time and history play a part. The English First Div­is­ion was found­ed in 1888, sup­er­seded by the Prem­ier League in 1992. The FA Women's Prem­ier League Nat­ion­al Div­is­ion started in 1991, repl­aced by the Women's Sup­er League in 2010. Yes, the men's game has been around for a lot long­er, and the infl­uence of black players has had the chance to grow. The Eng­land Foot­ball On­line web­site has a full list of the 106 BME (EFO's term) play­ers to have rep­res­ented Eng­land up until 19th June 2023. Viv And­er­son of Nott­ing­ham For­est in 1978 is deemed the first. It might have been Jack Les­lie 53 years earlier. He was chosen for the Eng­land squad in 1925, but den­ied an app­ear­ance when the sel­ect­ors dis­cov­ered his her­it­age. The Foot­ball Ass­oc­iat­ion pres­ent­ed his fam­ily with a post­hum­ous hon­or­ary cap, 98 years after he was called up, bef­ore Eng­land's Euro 2024 qual­if­ier against Ukraine.

Viv Anderson and Nottingham Forest win the 1979 European Cup:
Jack Leslie playing for Plymouth Argyle in the 1920s:

[A bit of an aside. If you're interested in foot­ball, take a look at the EFO list with all its detail: (8 pages) . I am so grate­ful to all those people - where do they find the mot­iv­at­ion and time? - out there who com­pile stat­ist­ics for me to scru­tin­ise, on any topic im­ag­in­able. On the other hand, I will never reg­ain the lost hours I nerd­ish­ly spend man­ip­ul­at­ing their out­put to make it fit into a spread­sheet.]

Back to the present. I'm pretty sure that eth­nic div­ers­ity in the wom­en's game will catch up with the men's in time. In one incl­us­ive resp­ect it's already ahead, the prop­ort­ions are inv­erted. Many more lead­ing women foot­ball­ers are open about their sex­ual­ity, that they are in same-sex rel­at­ion­ships. Pink News stated on 12th July:

"Almost 12 per cent of the 736 players competing this year identify as lesbian, bisexual, queer or non-binary. So far, the known total of 88 LGBTQ+ players more than doubles the number who played in the 2019 tournament in France. The LGBTQ+ sports website noted that, while, during the past four years, the number of teams taking part has grown from 24 to 32, the number of out women more than doubling 'reflects the growth of acceptance' in the sport.

"Most of the out players are from countries that are more accepting of LGBTQ+ identities, including America, Europe and the host nations, with Brazil being the most publically LGBTQ+ team looking to lift the trophy. Nine out of 23 of Brazil's players identify as LGBTQ+, including the legendary Marta Vieira da Silva - best-known by just her first name - who is playing in her sixth World Cup. Australia and the Republic of Ireland both have eight out players, while Sweden has seven. England's team features four out players: Lauren Hemp, Jess Carter, Rachel Daly and Bethany England."

OK, I imagine we've had enough of numbers. It's only a game, right? To be enjoyed tomorrow. Go Lionesses!

Thursday 17th August

Splendid result. If you're a Pom. In their backyard. Best since Jonny in 2003.

I'm not a committed football fan, but I enjoyed this game. Some exqu­is­ite pass­ing and four great goals. Pass­ion, skill and det­erm­in­at­ion by the buck­et­load.

The big pluses are how public acc­ept­ance and part­ic­ip­at­ion have grown, and the infl­uence both the Lion­ess­es and Mat­ild­as will have had on the young. Only a little while ago I might have said, "They're really quite good." I could hear my own cond­esc­ens­ion, and I'll bet that the maj­or­ity of male foot­ball foll­ow­ers said some­thing sim­il­ar. Yest­er­day show­cased the break­through, the dist­ance trav­elled. 75,784 packed out Stad­ium Aust­ral­ia, 91.3% of the att­end­ance at the clas­sic men's rugby un­ion world cup fin­al bet­ween the two coun­tries in the same arena 20 years ago. There wasn't a glo­bal wom­en's soc­cer comp­et­it­ion un­til 1991, sixty-one years after the in­aug­ur­al men's ev­ent. FIFA was still rel­uct­ant to best­ow their "World Cup" brand on that tour­na­ment, which was off­ic­ially known as the "1st FIFA World Champ­ion­ship for Women's Foot­ball for the M&M's Cup", after the spon­sor Mars's but­ton-shaped choc­ol­ates.

OK, I have one further dodgy thought. Is the blonde pony­tail a sign­if­ic­ant ad­vant­age for the England hopeful?

Does the coach, even subconsciously, favour the fashion?

No, of course I would never diss the est­im­able Sar­ina Wieg­man. The plau­dits have rained thick and fast:

Even the King tossed in his ha'p'orth:

I didn't have him down as a football man. And he's got to keep the Auss­ies on­side, hasn't he?

This coming Sunday BBC1 from 10am UK time, kick-off 11am. I'll be there. Will Charles and Cam­illa be in front of the box at High­grove?

Wednesday 16th August

Tough day ahead, arduous for­ward plan­ning. Son Ben bought me a sweet birth­day pres­ent in July, flights back to Venice and Friuli in ear­ly Nov­emb­er with him and Sarah. He arr­anged it secr­et­ly with friend Chris Taylor in Udine. A chance to show Ben some old haunts, 47 years on. I've just got to pick out things I'd like to do, places to see, book a B&B in Venice. May­be some­thing like this ...

No. 1 vaporetto on the Grand Canal, Venice:
Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Venice:
Piazza delle Erbe, Udine:
Da Pozzo, Udine:
Cividale del Friuli:
Up the Natisone river:
Hills beyond Cividale, towards Slovenia:

OK, the sky may not be so blue and I won't be getting in the Natisone, but hey ... more time in Pozzo's.

First world challenges.

Tuesday 15th August

Even I, as I seek to protect myself from the grim news and pol­it­ics of the day, have not­iced the trag­edy in Hawaii. One can only feel the deep­est sym­pathy for those who have lost fam­ily and homes.

I allowed myself to look on Twitter ... I mean X ... for dir­ect rep­orts. I really wish I hadn't, as it only conf­irmed my friend Aid­an's ass­ert­ion of two days ago: "Obj­ect­ive truth lies dead on the kill­ing floor of Amer­ic­an pol­it­ics." An over­whelm­ing MAGA ass­ault on Biden, cond­emned for rel­ax­ing on a beach in Del­aware, for his care­less resp­onse to the journ­al­ist's quest­ion, "Mr. Pres­id­ent, any com­ment on the ris­ing death toll in Maui?"

What do you expect from lordsofwar.life? "Insp­ired by vet­er­ans & patr­iots with a thirst to rest­ore our coun­try to great­ness, the Lords Of War move­ment was born. For the People. By the People." Yes, Biden is prone to a gaffe, but no ment­ion of the fed­er­al res­cue pack­age that he prompt­ly auth­or­ised.

Monday 14th August

Click to enlarge

Suella ... Cruella ... Legionella.

It must have taken some training to reach this level of comp­ass­ion­less stup­id­ity. Did they all go to an excl­us­ive fin­ish­ing school? The And­ers­on-Truss Acad­emy of Wick­ed­ness and In­ept­it­ude?

I've referred in recent days to the dold­rum in which I've langu­ished for a while. Yest­er­day I had a real sense of "it's not just me" - which came as a rel­ief, al­beit one taint­ed with dis­may. I've come to the conc­lus­ion that many of us are close to break­ing point in the face of this coun­try's self-infl­ict­ed mor­al, ec­on­om­ic and dip­lom­at­ic dec­line. Both friends and pub­lic comm­ent­at­ors.

It's been going on so long. Seven years since we turned our back on Europe. Did you see Will Hutt­on's art­icle in The Ob­serv­er yest­er­day, titled "Let's stop kidd­ing our­selves we're a rich nat­ion and get real ... the UK's gone bust"? A bleak fin­ance-centred an­al­ys­is of how far we have fall­en: (4 pages) 'Let's stop kidding ourselves' - Will Hutton - The Observer - 13th August 2023

In our continuing correspondence since Thurs­day's crick­et, Grah­am Pow­ell sent me the 127-page coll­ect­ion of let­ters he has writ­ten to The Ind­ep­end­ent since 2016, with these words:

"In lieu of a blog, I started in my pol­it­ic­al desp­air and in­dign­at­ion to write let­ters to the Ind­ep­end­ent - like you to get things off my chest. Now a com­puls­ion - some might say ob­sess­ion - it's now close on 50,000 words - about 70% of them have been printed. Butt­er­flies wings I guess."

So, not alone.

All of us have been trying to rise above the mis­ery and squal­our. There's been a comp­reh­ens­ive deb­ate on our old mates' Whats­App group ab­out the ben­ef­its/draw­backs of esc­ap­ism, cent­red on the rel­at­ive mer­its of the fin­est crime thrill­er writ­ers. This was my post:

"My escapism goes even further. Alongside the distress with which I wake up to our venal and incompetent government, the shame that I feel living in the New Meanness of England, I can no longer face for my bedtime read the heavy-duty crime novel. Just too grim. And that's from someone who from his reading birth has been a devotee of Hammett, Chandler, the McDonalds, McBain and the rest. One of my releases has been a different sort of detective story."

And here they are (click to enlarge):

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

Have you read them? As the marketing spiel procl­aims, mill­ions have. For the last month they have tick­led and trans­ported me. Charm­ing, clev­er, wit­ty, silly, life-aff­irm­ing. You fall in love with the char­act­ers - the author clear­ly al­ready has - in and ar­ound the rest home sett­ing insp­ired by Os­man's moth­er's own. After fin­ish­ing one sect­ion of the third book, I act­ually said out loud to my­self, "That ... is the best chap­ter I have ever read." The books have sent me to sleep with a smile and a light heart.

Sunday 13th August

One of the things friend Graham Powell - see Worc­ester crick­et and the Big Pink yest­er­day - and I, along with most of you I'm sure, agreed upon dur­ing our con­vers­at­ions last Thurs­day was the daily diff­ic­ulty of deal­ing with the pol­it­ic­al back­ground to our lives. He noted how I'd sign­alled the intent in New Year res­ol­ut­ions at the top of this year's blog to throt­tle back the att­ent­ion, the ment­al house­room I've aff­ord­ed to the venal, in­comp­et­ent and mor­ally bank­rupt scum­bags that have blight­ed our nat­ion for long­er than I care to ack­now­ledge, cert­ain­ly since the 2016 aberr­at­ion. To an ext­ent I've done so, part­ic­ul­ar­ly in rec­ent weeks, but, as Graham said, it's diff­ic­ult to ign­ore the events of the day ... if we're go­ing to change things. To take the batt­le to the en­emy, you have to eng­age, for which you need to be inf­ormed. So I thought last night that I'd better ren­ew my scrut­iny of curr­ent aff­airs.

Perhaps I shouldn't have turned to cartoons to gauge the mood.

Click to enlarge

These people aren't fit to govern. It's they who should­n't have the right to abode. As much hum­an dec­ency as a sept­ic tank. They are a gen­uine threat to our ment­al health. I feel it every day.

You don't need to hear from me any more than you already know.

So I'm left to save myself once again and switch to an­oth­er top­ic. Noth­ing that will impr­ove the state of the nat­ion, I'm af­raid. Pure ind­ulg­ence, pers­on­al am­use­ment and pleas­ure. Feel free to skip.

Coincidence. Connection. I mentioned both yest­er­day. In the last fort­night I've had a num­ber of exp­er­iences that have taken me back five dec­ades. All about Cam­bridge Un­iv­ers­ity. To which I have ret­urned only once in the last 45 years.

At the cricket Graham reminded me of one cur­ios­ity. We both read English at Camb­ridge, al­though he was at Clare Coll­ege and I at St. John's, and grad­uated in 1973. We could/should have met at the Engl­ish Fac­ulty, a like­li­hood dim­in­ished by my rare att­end­ance. We didn't. No, it's only through the trips to Worc­ester in rec­ent years that we have come to know each other. Yet - Graham's main point - with my sur­name in­it­ial of L and his of P, we must have been with­in cheat­ing dist­ance as we sat our fin­al exams in the same hall.

A self-evident reflection, I know, but you can't wind back the clock to do something different, can you? Like suggest to Graham that we go for a coffee after a lecture. Then we'd have been sitting at New Road this week saying, "Do you remember ...?".

Nearly two weeks ago my friend Mark Jarvis invited to me to dinner in Bath. He was also at St. John's. The occasion was to meet his then roommate Tony Llewelyn, who was visiting from Glasgow. Tony and I worked out that it was 50 years to the week since we had last met, at my 21st birthday party in Worcester held in late July 1973. He was still barefoot and wearing shorts. We agreed that we shouldn't wait an equivalent period before getting together again.

The following Saturday I was in Waitrose and recognised a face. "Dave!", I called, but he didn't respond. "Dave Thackray!", I tried, and he turned round. I said, "Charlie Lewis, the St. John's Old Buttery Bar, probably late 1970". I knew he was in the area, as I'd seen in the local newspaper that he'd received an OBE for his role as Head of Archaeology at the National Trust (he retired in 2012) - but we'd never met since university. A pleasant chat about what we'd been doing for 52 years. He said he'd lost touch with a mutual friend, and I've since been able to track down the friend's address through my old roommate Ian ... owner of the flat in Corsica where we've just had our family holiday. Unfortunately, I can't pass it on. Dave and I agreed to meet, although not for the beer we'd once often enjoyed, as both of us have foresworn alchohol for some years. However, we forgot to exchange mobile numbers. And I still don't know where he lives, although I suspect Nailsworth.

Maybe ten days ago, I opened the front door and Sarah Dunant was getting into her car directly outside. Do you know her writing? Perhaps the novels featuring female private eye Hannah Wolfe, or those about women's lives in the Italian Renaissance? I heard her recently on Radio 4, and in the past she presented on The Late Show and Night Waves. We only rubbed occasional shoulders at Cambridge, mostly because our friendship groups intersected. I called out, "Hello, Sarah", she looked up and replied, "We've met". "Yes," I said, "51 years ago in a Footlights pantomime, it's Charlie." "My God, half a century ...", she winked, "... how's it gone?" She said that she's big mates with neighbours across the road. I revealed that two other local close friends rented her house nearby when they had to move out of their own property because of building work. "We must all get together ...", she suggested brightly and drove off. I suspect she may have forgotten the idea by the time she reached the bottom of Middle Street.

What's going on? I have an uneasy feeling that somebody is telling me to put my affairs in order. Or, less gloomily, that it's time to make the most of connections with other people, rather than letting the opportunities slip by.

Back to political cartoons briefly. Despite the oft­en grim cont­ent, through them I frequ­ently stum­ble on a nug­get that would oth­er­wise not have crossed my path. I've writ­ten bef­ore about how my fav­our­ite Brit­ish cart­oon­ists ack­now­ledge their debt to pred­ec­ess­ors (see my post of 27th March: 👉). At the top Steve Bell has the insc­ript­ion "After Will­iam Dyce". Not a cart­oon­ist, but a Scot­tish paint­er (1806-1864) ass­oc­iat­ed with the Pre-Raph­ael­ites and inst­rum­ent­al in the dev­el­op­ment of pub­lic art ed­uc­at­ion in the UK. Bell takes as insp­ir­at­ion Dyce's piece "Peg­well Bay, Kent - a Rec­oll­ect­ion of Oct­ob­er 5th 1858":

Click to enlarge

Saturday 12th August

Today ... more on The Band, with pers­on­al input from friend Grah­am Pow­ell. Hist­ory, coin­cid­ence and conn­ect­ion.

Let's start here:

It's the Big Pink. The description below comes from the Camp Crip­ple Creek (more later) web­site. "Up on Crip­ple Creek" is the fifth song on The Band's sec­ond al­bum.

"'Big Pink' is a house in West Saugerties, New York, loc­ated at 56 Parn­ass­us Lane (form­er­ly 2188 Stoll Road). The house was newly built when [Band bass­ist] Rick Danko, who was coll­ab­or­at­ing with Bob Dylan at the time, found it as a rent­al. It was to this house that Bob Dylan would ev­ent­ual­ly ret­reat to write songs, play them and exp­er­im­ent with other songs in its large base­ment. The 2-track rec­ord­ings made by them, as a sort of audio sketch book, came to be known as 'The Base­ment Tapes'. These tapes were circ­ul­at­ed among other mus­ic­ians at the time and hits were made of 'Too Much of Noth­ing' and 'Mighty Quinn' as rec­ord­ings by other artists, Peter, Paul and Mary and Man­fred Mann resp­ect­ive­ly. The house became known loc­ally as 'Big Pink' for its pink sid­ing. Memb­ers of Dylan's band (with Dylan him­self writ­ing one and co-writ­ing two) wrote most of the songs on 'Music from Big Pink' at or around the house, and the band then adop­ted the name The Band."

Jog any memory? Did you own the album (LP?), ever heard of it? I can't find mine. Bob Dylan did the paint­ing on the front cover. I don't rec­all exact­ly how my copy looked, but these snap­shots are of the front/back/cent­re­fold of eith­er the or­ig­in­al or 1973 re­issue. The col­ours may not be prec­ise­ly as you rem­emb­er them, if you do. Click to en­large:

Graham was at the Worcestershire County Cric­ket New Road ground on Thurs­day. A group of us try to meet there every year. In truth, the day is never just about cric­ket. Shared food (del­ic­ious quiche, Graham, and I'm sorry I never moved on to the frit­tata) and drink. Disc­uss­ions range wide­ly, which is as it should be, for, in the words of Trin­id­ad­ian Marx­ist int­ell­ect­ual C. L. R. James, "What do they know of cric­ket who only cric­ket know?" Graham and I exch­anged thoughts about proj­ects, pol­it­ics, writ­ing ... and he asked after this blog.

Having seen the piece on Robbie Robertson yest­er­day morn­ing, he sent me these words:

"On visiting Andrew - elder son - who lives in NYC, he sprung a surp­rise - be­ing a Dylan head like his father - by book­ing a week­end stay at 'Big Pink'. The prop­erty can be booked for short and long stays and prov­ides sole acc­omm­od­at­ion with per­iod acc­outre­ments - comb­ined with guided visits into the Base­ment to see where Bob and The Band fore­gath­ered for the lay­ing down of the epon­ym­ous tapes. Won­der­ful loc­at­ion and a spec­ial exp­er­ience for which I rem­ain mass­ive­ly grate­ful."

Here are photos from their 2019 visit. Click to enlarge any:

You can read more about the Big Pink and Camp Cripp­le Creek here: Big Pink and Camp Cripple Creek website

I love the idea of this stuff. When the memory of a sound that enth­ralled be­comes some­thing you can see and touch. The man­ual type­writ­er on the desk. The black dial tel­eph­one, each number ass­oc­iat­ed with three lett­ers. A 1966-67 dir­ect­ory. Did you see the words in the top left-hand corn­er of the "Mus­ic from Big Pink" back cover? "STEREO: PLAY­ABLE ON STEREO AND MONO PHONO­GRAPHS". This is emot­ion and lived sens­ory exp­er­ience made tang­ible. It's my hist­ory. In the years that The Band were act­ive I grew from boy to man. Ar­ound the time I turned 18, I passed within a few miles of Big Pink, jeans and T-shirt, ruck­sack on my back, thumb out. That sum­mer, as I hitch-hiked all round the USA and Can­ada, the music WAS me, the int­er­ior "I'm free!" sound­track that acc­om­pan­ied me on my jour­ney.

One last thing. A speech by Eric Clapton as he inducted The Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. I'm not a big fan of Clap­ton desp­ite his fac­il­ity with a guit­ar, main­ly bec­ause he's an un­re­con­struct­ed Tory who once spouted rac­ist filth on stage of an int­ens­ity that would have em­barr­assed Enoch Pow­ell, of whom he was an ad­mir­er. How­ever, in this inst­ance he's surp­ris­ing­ly art­ic­ul­ate, hum­ble, res­pect­ful, self-depr­ec­at­ing. His words emph­as­ise what an est­eemed pos­it­ion The Band held in the music of that time and bey­ond, sem­in­al in the emerg­ence of what bec­ame known as Amer­ic­ana.

The Big Pink and West Saugerties are near Wood­stock. That's where Clap­ton must have gone. The Crack­ers was the coll­ect­ive name given to the play­ers on the Base­ment Tapes.

Friday 11th August

This is a bit spooky.

On Tuesday I posted on our old mates Whats­App group, for no reas­on other than I love the song, a (not very good qual­ity) video of "The Weight" by The Band, writ­ten by sing­er and guit­ar­ist Rob­bie Rob­ert­son and rel­eased 55 years ago on Aug­ust 8, 1968 ... al­though I didn't know that when I posted. The song feat­ured in Mar­tin Scors­ese's 1978 film "The Last Waltz", but the perf­orm­ance bel­ow is con­sid­ered the def­in­it­ive vers­ion, sep­ar­ate­ly rec­ord­ed in a sound stud­io around the same time as the fare­well conc­ert in the film, which was held on 25 Nov­emb­er 1976 at the Win­ter­land Ball­room in San Fran­cis­co. The leg­end Mavis Staples guests al­ong­side her father Roe­buck "Pops" Staples and two sist­ers. By the end you should be sing­ing along to the chor­us. Most of us have a go at the trail­ing harm­on­ies too.

Did you catch Mavis's whisp­ered comm­ent right at the very end? You can just hear it with the vol­ume up. I agree.

I got back from the cricket day out in Worc­est­er yest­er­day even­ing and saw this head­line:

The next day. Something in the air? I swear there was noth­ing that prompt­ed me to find the song in my head and hunt down det­ails on Tues­day. My friend Mark comm­ent­ed when I point­ed this out: "I not­iced that too. Bet­ter rest­rict your post­ings to les art­istes déja morts, or young and fit ones."

Are you a fan of Playing For Change? The organisation is explained on its website Playing For Change website:


"Playing For Change was created to inspire and connect the world through music. The idea for this project came from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.

"Traveling around the world inspired us to unite many of the greatest musicians we met throughout our journey. These musicians come from many different countries and cultures, but through music they speak the same language."

My friend Diana in Lux­em­bourg sent me a link yes­ter­day - I wond­ered if this were more spook­iness, but it turns out that a friend who is the same age as Robertson and a devotee of The Band alerted her - to the 50-year cel­eb­rat­ory PFC vers­ion of "The Weight". Rob­bie con­tri­buted.

Thursday 10th August

No time to blog today. Off to Worcester for the annual cricket trip. Tickets bought, hamper packed.

A couple of things to keep you amused, both sent to me by son Ben.

Click to enlarge

Wednesday 9th August

That's right, ain't much bloggin' goin' on.

There's just been too much crap around, driving me into what my Irish correspondent calls the doldrums. I didn't want to moan, so I stopped writing. Then yesterday my friend and loyal reader Alf Florio passed by the front door, we had a chat and I thought I'd better get back into gear. The blog sustains me, so why would I deny myself the pleasure and release? Maybe it'll help to break through the gloom. Apologies for the whinge. I'll try to add some smiley stuff afterwards.

It started with the personal.

More specifically, this:

Recognise it? Of course you do, it's a clogged Diesel Particulate Filter. DPFs are mandatory in our clean-air-zone world. Don't get me started on Uxbridge.

Have you ever fallen foul of one? We have now. I won't give you chapter-and-verse, maybe later, just a summary to be going on with. Aiming to support a major opportunity for daughter Ellie's dog-walking business, we invested in a new, much larger van. Went to a reputable dealer, not some dodgy Jack-the-Lad, 90% 5-star billing from Trustpilot. Money changed hands - all done electronically while in Corsica - and Ellie joyfully drove the van away nearly six weeks ago. Three days later DPF warning lights came on, with instructions not to drive. It's been in one of two garages, admittedly under warrantee, ever since. Still waiting. Ellie's had to fight the vendor at every stage to get things done, like for them to organise a replacement vehicle. All the while dealing with two children and clinging on to new customers. OK, I'll stop for now ... but oh, the stress, dismay, even despair. And heart-threatening rage.

To look beyond the personal, I thought I'd catch up with the cartoons. Despite the wit, there's scant relief. It's not a silly season. It's a shit-show. Talking of which, the weather hasn't helped ... or has it?

Nice link, Matt, precipitation to poo. Even better, biblical downpour to refugees:

Which brings us to Cruella and more excrement:

This really gets to me. Who wants to live in a mean country? By the way, I think the cartoon map incorrectly includes Scotland and Wales in its accusation.

What's more, the same government that fails to address properly the migrant question ignores the weather warnings everywhere and feeds the fat cats:

Do you see what I mean? Not a great backdrop to daily life. And I haven't even mentioned Trump.

Where to look for solace? Like many, I took some heart from an Ashes summer, even if the desired overall result was naturally scuppered by rain in Manchester. The series began in the Crown and Sceptre (or at Edgbaston for 25,000 ticket-holders) at 10:30am on Friday 16th June. On the first day of every home Ashes landlord Rodda and his cricket-loving mates start an assault on the Prosecco. I got there at 2:30pm ...

I was there at the end nine days ago, the breathtaking late afternoon conclusion of the 5th Test at the Oval, no, the Crown & Sceptre again. A dream finale, of a kind only made possible in the context of an old-fashioned game lovingly transformed by the bright new Bazball approach. Who would have thought that Stuart Broad's superstitious switch of the bails would be followed immediately by his taking of the last two Australian wickets? Earlier, he'd hit his final ball as a batter in Test cricket for six. The last ball he bowled took a wicket. Then he walked off with Moeen Ali (I've been a big fan, particularly during his time at Worcestershire), who had enjoyed a day of success in the closing hours of his "red ball" international career, redemptive after frequent disappointment. I nearly missed the final match-winning dismissal; I had to leave to visit a friend in Bath. As I passed the bar on my way out, someone said, "Is that your bag, Charlie?" I'd left it by my chair, so went back to fetch it and had to sit down again in order not to obscure others' views of the television. Next ball, Broad "nicked off" Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey to his English counterpart Jonny Bairstow, another redemption after dropping catches all series. It was over ... and now I could really leave.

Captain Ben Stokes - another journey into the light from the Bristol nightclub affray of 2017 - was questioned about his team selections, notably the aforementioned keeper Jonny Bairstow, who couldn't catch a cold in previous games, but batted on occasions with startling effect. Stokes was unapologetic: "We pick people for what they can do on their good days." The thought takes my breath away. It changes entirely how a player may deal with the anxiety of competition. No wonder the team have played without fear.

Another moment that brought a smile. On Monday I had a hot chocolate at the popular Felt Café between the canal and River Frome while I waited for my car to be valeted - for the first time in my life.

Little chance of a fried egg sandwich in Stroud, eh?

Saturday 29th July

Following on from yesterday, the discussion of the Musk offspring X Æ A-12 went mini-viral on our old mates' WhatsApp group.

His mother, Canadian singer Grimes, aka Claire Elise Boucher, tweet­ed an expl­an­at­ion of the name two days after his birth:

If you prefer a more readable version, here is The Ind­ep­end­ent's sum­mary:

"Grimes explained that the first 'X' is a reference to the unknown variable commonly used in mathematical sums. 'Æ', which comes next, is the Elven spelling of AI, which is shorthand for artificial intelligence and translates to 'love' in several languages such as Mandarin and Japanese. Next in the name is 'A-12', which Grimes explains is a precursor to the aircraft SR-71, which she and Musk love because it is 'great in battle but non-violent'. The A in 'A-12' is also short for Archangel, which Grimes says is her favourite song."

The article went on:

"Grimes has revealed that she and Elon Musk had to change the name of their baby to comply with Californian law. Names must be written on birth certificates 'using the 26 alphabetical letters of the English language', although apostrophes and dashes can be included."

The official name became X Æ A-Xii, app­ar­ent­ly bec­ause the Rom­an rep­res­ent­at­ion "ii" is OK. Maj­or rev­is­ion, eh? Much more acc­ept­able in the school play­ground.

Here's a photo of the little mite - called X for short:

Come on, own up, how many of you with children wrote on your baby's face with a felt tip pen?

Musk and Grimes had a second child in Dec­emb­er 2021 via surr­og­ate, Exa Dark Sid­eræl, nick­named Y.

At least they used letters this time.

Perhaps we can expect a good parenting book soon.

Friday 28th July

It really is the Not-so-silly Season.

I can't decide which or whom I loathe more. The banks, spec­if­ic­ally Nat­West's Coutts with its el­it­ist qual­if­ic­at­ion crit­er­ia - or the prick who eng­in­eered the mis­er­ab­le ab­err­at­ion of Brex­it ... and kept his MEP pen­sion.

Here's the Coutts 40-page Farage dossier if you fancy a peek:

Then there's a man who doesn't know what to do with his wealth.

What kind of nutter would pay $44 bill­ion just to re-brand from the ic­on­ic bird to his own ob­sess­ion with a let­ter?

A bloke who called his son X Æ A-12, that's who.

No thought in the heads of these idiots that we might be working together for a fairer society and the wellbeing of the planet.

Fuck 'em.

Thursday 27th July

Sunday 16th July

In defiance of the weather, Middle Streeters had their party. Sun­ny mom­ents bet­ween heavy show­ers:

Almost a private event. It happened between our house and the pub (a clear winner):

Last dance below the bathroom window, embracing the rain:

Saturday 15th July

Not looking great for the street party. Pitch inspection at 12 noon. Could be moved under the roof in the pub.

Not a good precedent ...

Friday 14th July

Getting ready for this tomorrow:

We're going long this year. After the family stuff is done ...

Little chance of our missing the action. It's all happening outside our front door and in the pub opposite. The daytime DJs are drawing power from our house.

Not the best of weather predicted, so a call has gone out for gazebos. We haven't far to run for cover.

Wednesday 12th July

Tuesday 11th July

Why are there so many East­ern Eur­op­ean tenn­is princ­ess­es play­ing at Wim­ble­don? Ryv­it­ak­ina, Rib­en­at­ova ... I can't keep up. Oh dear, I know, not very PC.

Of course, I've had to take a closer look. First of all, I need to come clean about what I int­end by East­ern Eur­op­ean. My def­in­it­ion is a bit old-fash­ion­ed, jingo­ist­ic even, a touch Charge-of-the-Light-Brig­ade. A sort of any-nat­ion-out­side-NATO-bef­ore-en­large­ment or prev­ious­ly-ass­oc­iat­ed-with-the-Sov­iet-bloc choice. Any­where to the right of Ger­many and It­aly on the map comes into cont­ent­ion.

Of the 128 women who played in this year's first round, by my rul­ing 51 were East­ern Eur­op­eans - 39.84%. OK, West­ern Eur­ope wasn't far beh­ind with 39 - 30.47%. I still think 51 is a lot, part­ic­ul­ar­ly when you con­sid­er rep­res­ent­at­ion from other reg­ions: North Am­er­ica 23 (17.97%); Asia 8 (6.25%); South Am­er­ica 3 (2.34%); Af­rica 2 (1.56%); and Ocean­ia 2 (1.56%).

Looking beyond the east-west division, for the wom­en at least Wimb­le­don is a Eur­op­ean event - 70.31% of the play­ers. I won­der what the prop­ort­ions are at the other slams.

I have no answer to my own initial question. Years ago, before the Berl­in wall came down, I would have point­ed at state sup­port and cruel train­ing reg­imes. Now I don't know.

Monday 10th July

I didn't see a single political cartoon for the dur­at­ion of the Cors­ica trip. Would've been a bit sad if I had. Came back to the silly season.

There again, this isn't silly. Like those un­acc­omp­an­ied kids don't des­erve cheer­ing up?

I've caught up with recently discovered loc­al Glouc­est­er­shire cart­oon­ist Viln­iss­imo. Has he been away? Exp­er­ienc­ed some­thing sim­il­ar to my hor­rid ret­urn jour­ney from Bast­ia dis­cour­tesy of Easy­jet?

Sunday 9th July

Family all settled back in their far-flung homes. Ben sent photos of his wacky off-grid Bilbao farmhouse.

Saturday 8th July

Another thought about returning from holiday.

Like most people, I used to come back from a family summer trip and go into work the next day. On one occasion I even had to curtail the break and bring forward a ferry booking from northern Spain in order to attend a hastily arranged board meeting, you know, one of those fight-your-corner summits it was better not to miss. Perhaps I shouldn't have checked my email while away. As it turned out, it was the right thing to do. But the last days of the holiday were tainted, the memories soon faded.

I didn't have to go into the office yesterday. Nor today. Not ever again.

I still have the rest of summer to do whatever I want. Batteries recharged and no workplace trials to drain away the benefits.

Sometimes I wonder how I ever went to work.

Friday 7th July

I woke this morning with a start: "When must we leave to get to the air­port on time?"

For the first time in weeks I haven't a press­ing out­come to org­an­ise. The Cors­ica trip requ­ired diff­er­ent arr­iv­al and dep­art­ure times for eight people from three coun­tries. Dur­ing the hol­id­ay I drove to or from Bastia Por­etta air­port four times, to Calvi the same. All the usual plan­ning requ­ire­ments: flights, hire car (and ex­cess cov­er), pers­on­al ins­ur­ance for the fam­ily, book­ing our B&B. Earl­ier last month the same with our mini-trip to Dieppe: ferry cross­ings, acc­omm­od­at­ion, places to eat. In the back­ground sort­ing out the purch­ase of a van for daugh­ter Ellie.

I feel some relief. Here I am near the beg­inn­ing of an Engl­ish sum­mer with space to breathe. The sun is shin­ing. A priv­il­ege, of course. First world chall­enges.

Thursday 6th July

Back home to a marked drop in temperature:

Holiday photo report. Kids and grandkids stayed in the Alg­aj­ola flat bel­ong­ing to friends Ian and Ali, the sen­iors in B&B U Cast­ellu across the Place du Chat­eau. Click to en­large any image.

Promenade and sea in front of the flat, mountains inland:

Breakfast terrace at our B&B U Castellu, view of Place du Chateau:

Family pizza on the front:

Frolics in the sea, R&R in the fig tree:

Up into the hills. Sheep on the way to Aregno, bar in the village square:

Surf and turf. Squid at Ile Rousse market, pig roast in Lumio:

Last night dinner at farm restaurant L'Aghjalle:

Monday 19th June

Intermittent posts for two weeks, maybe? Or none at all if I can resist. The advance guard is already in situ.

Second half of June and not overcrowded? Le Chariot is normally rammed. Looks promising.

Sunday 18th June

Joyful celebration of a life in Bristol yesterday for grandson Marlie's Dad:

I hope Marlie felt the love in the room. 200 people rooting for him.

Preparation intensifies for Tuesday's departure. Son Nikko and his daughter Ellie travel from Vienna today.

Martin came with us one year, before Marlie was born. This is his son's second visit.

Saturday 17th June

Little blogging time as priority goes this week­end to fam­ily comm­it­ments. Tod­ay we're go­ing to a cel­eb­rat­ion-of-life mem­or­ial for a young rel­at­ive who died dur­ing the pand­em­ic and whose fun­er­al was there­fore rest­rict­ed. Our att­end­ance was only poss­ible via Zoom. We're hav­ing a par­ty now it's all­owed.

I leave you with some reading material. At least there are some deserving cases in the King's Birthday Honours List (156 pages): King's Birthday Honours List 2023

Friday 16th June

  • Committee of Privileges final report full text (106 pages): House of Commons Committee of Privileges - Matter referred on 21 April 2022 - Conduct of Rt Hon Boris Johnson - Final report 15-6-2023

Thursday 15th June

Tomaso Montanari, rector of the Univ­ers­ità per Stran­ieri di Siena, mourns:

"È vero che Berlusconi ha segnato la storia, ma lo ha fatto lasciando il mondo e l'Italia assai peggiori di come li aveva trovati."

"It is true that Berlusconi made history, but he did so by leaving the world and Italy much worse than he had found them."

Peter Brookes recalls his earl­ier port­ray­als of Il Cav­al­iere:

Berlusconi triggers the impulse in Brookes to ster­eo­type Ital­ians, non è vero? In a sim­il­ar way to how Bid­en stim­ul­at­ed Ir­ish tropes dur­ing his Ap­ril vis­it to Ball­ina: 👉

Wednesday 14th June

Today's item does not appear on the home page of the BBC website, nor that of the online Guardian.

Yet the virus dominated our lives for at least a year and caused so many deaths. I used to post these charts from the Fin­anc­ial Times (in con­junct­ion with Johns Hop­kins Un­iv­ers­ity) al­most every day. Here's the lat­est; dis­play of new data stopped at the end of 2022. A cum­ul­at­ive tot­al of 175,­000 Cov­id-rel­at­ed fat­al­it­ies in Eng­land.

I am bound to mark yesterday's opening of the Cov­id-19 Inqu­iry. Cor­ona­vir­us is why I start­ed this blog. I have­n't any part­ic­ul­ar view or take on the proc­ess. I'll just post some rel­ev­ant res­ources.

First, here is the official inqu­iry web­site - not GOV.UK pages bec­ause it is an ind­ep­end­ent pub­lic ev­ent est­abl­ished un­der the Inqu­ir­ies Act (2005). There are time­tables, trans­cripts, doc­um­ents, vid­eos, det­ails of part­ic­ip­ants: Covid-19 Inquiry website

Next, there are the "Terms of Ref­er­ence", stat­ing the aims and scope of the inqu­iry. There are two vers­ions: the stan­dard form­al text Covid 19 Inquiry - Terms of Reference formal text and an "easy read" alt­ern­at­ive with graph­ics Covid-19 Inquiry - Terms of Reference Easy to Read version.

One part of the process is "Every Story Matters":

"The pandemic affected every single person in the UK and, in many cases, continues to have a lasting impact on lives. Every one of our experiences is unique and this is your opportunity to share the impact it had on you, and your life, with the Inquiry."

Inquiry Chair The Right Hon­our­ab­le Bar­on­ess Heath­er Hall­ett DBE expl­ains (3 min­utes 30 sec­onds):

You can have your say here: Your Story Matters - explanation and form

I listened to the start of proceedings, tit­led "Mod­ule 1: Res­il­ience and Prep­ar­ed­ness", on Radio 5 Live as I drove up the M5 to Birm­ing­ham yest­er­day morn­ing. A vid­eo was played; I of course on­ly heard the audio. Mov­ing, harr­ow­ing pers­on­al test­im­on­ies. Here's the video as pub­lished on the inqu­iry web­site (17 min­utes 37 sec­onds):

We're told the inquiry could last for 3 years. I have no idea what it will ach­ieve. Fur­ther dis­cred­it Bor­is John­son? Or con­firm him as vacc­ine sav­iour? I don't think the pre­det­er­mined int­ent­ion is to be pun­it­ive, to find fault and all­oc­ate blame. The lang­uage and tone used is all about bal­ance and dis­pass­ion­ate scrut­iny. How­ever, there is an und­er­ly­ing ack­now­ledge­ment that not every­thing went swimm­ing­ly. We were caught un­aw­ares, more so in the UK than in reg­ions such as the Far East. The in­it­ial Brit­ish gov­ern­ment res­ponse was slow, even ind­ec­is­ive. Rem­em­ber the cont­rast­ing plaud­its rec­eived by Jac­in­da Ard­ern for her go-hard-go-ear­ly app­roach. Above all, there is a comm­it­ment to show res­pect for the dead, to all who suff­ered - hence "Ev­ery Story Matt­ers". The fin­al state­ment of the terms of ref­er­ence is: "Iden­tify the less­ons to be learned ... to inf­orm prep­ar­at­ions for fut­ure." Let's hope so ... bef­ore some­thing sim­il­ar strikes.

Tuesday 13th June

Dramatic hailstorm in Stroud and Middle Street yest­er­day ev­en­ing. Floods at the bot­tom of town. A river in the lane beh­ind our house. Poor neigh­bour Kat's roof failed, the ground floor and cel­lar awash.

Hmmm. Extreme weather event?

Monday 12th June

Sunday 11th June

It's weird how something you notice one day comes up ag­ain very short­ly aft­er­wards, a quite spec­if­ic ref­er­ence or top­ic. I'll expl­ain later.

Also, I'm going to be a bit of a killjoy.

Yes, Manchester City beat Inter Milan 1-0 to lift the UEFA Champ­ions League urn in Ist­an­bul's At­at­ürk Ol­ymp­ic Stad­ium last night, compl­et­ing the clas­sic seas­on treb­le along­side the Prem­ier League tit­le and the FA Cup, only the sec­ond Engl­ish club to do so, after their neigh­bour Manch­est­er Un­it­ed in 1999. A tri­umph for their Cat­al­an man­ag­er Pep Guard­iola, al­ready a ser­ial win­ner with Barc­el­ona and Bay­ern Mun­ich, and the first man­ag­er ever to ach­ieve the cont­in­ent­al treb­le twice.

Congratulations all round. He's a great coach and has got the best out of a tal­ent­ed group of play­ers.

However, with apologies to the blue side of Manch­est­er, it doesn't come close to many other succ­ess­es in much more un­like­ly cir­cum­stanc­es. I think of the in­comp­ar­able Brian Clough with Der­by Coun­ty and Nott­ing­ham For­est (the Eur­op­ean Cup, prec­urs­or to the Champ­ions League, twice).


It's the money. And here on cue is the link I ment­ioned at the top. Abu Dhabi. I wrote two days ago about the dodgy conn­ect­ions bet­ween ADNOC (Abu Dhabi Nat­ion­al Oil Comp­any) and the pres­id­ency of COP28. Manch­est­er City are owned by UAE royal Sheikh Mans­our bin Zayed Al Nahyan through the Abu Dhabi United Group.

The injection of emirate cash has trans­formed City's slumb­er­ing fort­unes. The Champ­ions League win is a pet­ro­doll­ar vict­ory, a foss­il fuel trophy.

The club is not alone in its financial makeup, part­ic­ul­ar­ly the over­seas in­vest­ment. A close look at the fund­ing of next season's Prem­ier­ship re­veals these prim­ary sour­ces of own­er in­come at 17 of the 20 clubs, their geo­graph­ic­al or­ig­in and bus­in­ess sec­tor. I was start­led by this:

Kroenke (Denver, Colorado), sports and ent­ert­ain­ment - Ars­en­al; Fort­ress (New York City), inv­est­ment man­age­ment - Ast­on Vil­la; Fid­el­ity Nat­ion­al Fin­anc­ial (Jack­son­ville, Flor­ida), real est­ate and mort­gages - Bourne­mouth; ALK C­ap­it­al (New York), inv­est­ment - Burn­ley; Eld­ridge Ind­ust­ries (Green­wich, Conn­ect­ic­ut) and Clear­lake Cap­it­al (San­ta Mon­ica, Cal­if­orn­ia), equ­ity in­vest­ment - Chel­sea; Fubo­TV (New York), stream­ing and dig­it­al med­ia - Cryst­al Pal­ace; USM (Mon­aco), Russ­ian hold­ing comp­any, min­ing and tel­ec­omms - Ever­ton; Flex-N-Gate (Urb­ana, Ill­in­ois), supp­lier of mot­or veh­ic­le comp­on­ents - Ful­ham; Fen­way (Bost­on, Mass­ach­us­etts), mul­ti­nat­ion­al sports hold­ing con­glom­er­ate - Liv­er­pool; ADUG (Abu Dhabi, UAE), sov­er­eign wealth inv­est­ments - Man­chest­er City; Glaz­er fam­ily, First All­ied Corp­or­at­ion (Roch­est­er, New York), comm­erc­ial real est­ate - Man­chest­er Un­it­ed; Pub­lic Inv­est­ment Fund (Riy­adh, Saudi Ar­ab­ia), sov­er­eign wealth - New­cast­le Un­it­ed; Cap­it­al Mar­it­ime & Trad­ing Corp­or­at­ion (Pir­aeus, Greece), ship­ping - Nott­ing­ham For­est; SPMC Group (Saudi Ar­ab­ia), pap­er manu­fact­ur­ing - Sheff­ield Un­it­ed; Tav­ist­ock Group (Bah­am­as), inv­est­ment - Tott­en­ham Hot­spur; Energ­et­ický (Prague, Czech Rep­ub­lic), en­ergy - West Ham Un­it­ed (with Dav­id Sull­iv­an, Welsh for­mer porno­graph­er); Fos­un Int­ern­at­ion­al (Shang­hai, China), mul­ti­nat­ion­al cong­lom­er­ate hold­ing comp­any - Wol­ver­hamp­ton Wand­er­ers.

For me, this doesn't square with the old not­ion of supp­ort­ing a loc­al foot­ball team, the shared exp­er­ience of and conn­ect­ion to a place. Work all week in a fact­ory and then get beh­ind the lads on Sat­ur­day. At least For­est Green Rov­ers is owned by a near­by ent­repr­eneur. Dale Vince's home at Rod­bor­ough Cast­le is a hand­ful of miles from the club ground above Nails­worth and his off­ice is at the bot­tom of Stroud town. He goes to mat­ches, tweets the res­ults. Last night, Sheikh Mans­our made only his sec­ond app­ear­ance in 15 years at a City game. I don't get it.

And, of course, FGR is funded by prof­its from green en­ergy, not foss­il fuels. In fact, my mon­ey. I'm an Eco­tri­city cust­omer.


I can hear you ask, "What about the other three clubs?" Here are the owners:

Brentford - Matthew Benham, Smart­odds and Match­book gamb­ling; Brigh­ton and Hove Alb­ion - Tony Bloom, sports bet­ter and pok­er play­er; Lut­on Town - Paul Ball­ant­yne, form­er­ly of Gen­es­is Inv­est­ment Man­age­ment.

I should also add that Brian Clough spent a rec­ord £1 mill­ion for Trev­or Fran­cis to join Nott­ing­ham Forest. Fran­cis scored the win­ner in the 1979 Eur­op­ean Cup fin­al against Malmo. It's rum­our­ed that the act­ual am­ount was £999,­999, so that Tre­vor would­n't have to carry the tag of be­ing a £1m play­er. Still, that would only be worth £7.34m to­day. Real Mad­rid have just ag­reed to pay Bor­uss­ia Dort­mund £88.5m for Eng­land's Jude Bell­ing­ham.

Saturday 10th June

  • Full text of Johnson's MP resignation letter:
  • Johnson's PM resignation honours list (GOV.UK):
  • Johnson's PM resignation peerages list (GOV.UK):

Friday 9th June

Climate Blog. I haven't written much on the topic in rec­ent months and yet it's still the URL for these pages. I changed from Cor­on­av­ir­us Blog when app­rop­riate, so should­n't I do that again? I think not, for two reas­ons. First, clim­ate should be front and centre of our thoughts. Sec­ond, the earl­ier switch inv­olv­ed a huge tech­ni­cal effort which I don't have the time and incl­in­at­ion to rep­eat. I'm pleased there­fore that to­day iss­ues and news have popped up that requ­ire some att­ent­ion.

The Sunak and Biden "Atlantic Declaration" cont­ains some clim­ate elem­ents, such as UK acc­ess to US green fund­ing. For what it's worth:

Green MP Caroline Lucas has announced that she's step­ping down: "As the threats to our prec­ious plan­et bec­ome ever more urg­ent, I want to conc­ent­rate fully on these acc­el­er­at­ing cris­es. I have there­fore dec­id­ed not to stand for parl­ia­ment ag­ain at the next el­ect­ion."

Stroud and Ecotricity "tycoon" Dale Vince has been on the Just Stop Oil slow march in West­min­ster. After that he went to talk to LBC's Andrew Marr. It's a well-worth-watch­ing cog­ent and comp­ell­ing exch­ange, but long, so I'm putt­ing it at the bott­om of today's post should you have time. Mean­while, here's a short clip (1 min­ute 5 sec­onds) of Vince with the loud­hailer:

Then there's the biggest joke of all, the pres­id­ency of COP28 to be held 30 Nov­emb­er to 12 Dec­emb­er 2023 at Expo City Dubai. The pres­id­ent-des­ign­ate is His Exc­ell­ency Dr. Sult­an Ahm­ed Al Jab­er. He's also chief ex­ec­ut­ive of the Abu Dhabi Nat­ion­al Oil Comp­any (ADNOC). Here he is with his man­age­ment team:

Click to enlarge

Looks inclusive, doesn't it?

How about these photos on the ADNOC web­site show­cas­ing their work - a pet­rol stat­ion, the Shah gas plant exp­ans­ion and a $245 mill­ion up­grade to their main oil lines:

They scream carbon-neutral, right? Still, Al Jaber is the UAE's spec­ial env­oy for clim­ate, so that's OK. There are really no links between ADNOC and COP28.

Back to Andrew Marr and Dale Vince in conversation. Al­though 9 minutes long and slight­ly aff­ect­ed by an ann­oy­ing syn­chron­is­at­ion glitch, it's a use­ful round-up watch, touch­ing on Car­ol­ine Luc­as's ann­ounce­ment, fund­ing of Just Stop Oil and the Lab­our Party, the aff­ord­ab­il­ity of green en­ergy and how our pol­it­ic­al syst­em gets in the way.

Thursday 8th June

We went to see the angel, legend and mist­ress of her craft Bonnie Raitt in Ox­ford last night. So much to say. To give you the idea, here she is on Jools Holl­and's "Lat­er Live" in 2016. Three min­utes of tot­al comm­and. She's 73 now and grooves as yest­er­year. The band can play too. Turn the sound up.

I only heard about the gig on Monday. A mus­ic Whats­App group friend had post­ed a piece on How­lin' Wolf and Bonnie which set me scurry­ing ar­ound the Int­er­net, and there were the tour dates. Here are her words from the Febr­uary 1999 edit­ion of Guit­ar World:

"If I had to pick one person who does everything I loved about the blues, it would be Howlin' Wolf. It would be the size of his voice, or just the size of him. When you're a little pre-teenage girl and you imagine what a naked man in full arousal is like, it's Howlin' Wolf. When I was a kid, I saw a horse in a field with an erection, and I went, 'Holy shit!'. That's how I feel when I hear Howlin' Wolf - and when I met him it was the same thing. He was the scariest, most deliciously frightening bit of male testosterone I've ever experienced in my life."

I spent much of Tuesday brushing up my Howl­in' Wolf imp­ers­on­at­ion. Wore my loud­est shirt. To no avail. Bonnie did­n't see me.

If the above sounds a bit fruity, it's only part of the story. She can do raw, but she also comes ac­ross as kind and comp­ass­ion­ate: a camp­aign­er for soc­ial just­ice, supp­orts poor­er art­ists, treas­ures her friends, ack­now­ledges her band and road­ies, val­ues other mus­ic­ians. She must know every­body (the list of her coll­ab­or­at­ions never ends), and if they need a class sing­er or guit­ar­ist, they call for Bonnie. Eff­ort­less­ly - or so it app­ears - at the top of her game. And I found out last night that she's very fun­ny.

The audience comprised many of my age, in­ev­it­ab­ly. Conv­ers­at­ion with those ar­ound me rev­eal­ed that we'd all foll­owed the same bands and play­ers for 50 years. The man in front said: "We've been so lucky to live through this per­iod of mus­ic­al hist­ory." True. I'm grate­ful.

Wednesday 7th June

Back from the nostalgic visit to Newhaven in East Sussex and a 24-hour hop to Dieppe.

The weekend was planned for Sarah and her brot­her Kev­in to ret­urn to the scene of their child­hood hol­id­ays, spent in a cara­van called Gra­cie on Far­mer Bowles's field beh­ind the New­hav­en cliffs and on the pebb­le beach bel­ow. They and their moth­er Sheila spent six weeks there every sum­mer, with fath­er Jack com­ing down for the week­ends after he'd fin­ished work in the Wimb­le­don Nat­West bank. Elect­ric­ity supp­lied by an "acc­um­ul­at­or", light­ing by gas, wash­ing in the sea exc­ept for a week­ly vis­it to the pub­lic baths.

I then hijacked the adventure by sugg­est­ing a ferry trip to Dieppe for a fish din­ner on the Sat­ur­day night. How much time do you need in New­hav­en? More on that as we prog­ress. I draw my con­clus­ions at the end.

We've done some Int­er­net digg­ing. This is how the camp­site and its shop looked (the sec­ond pict­ure cour­tesy of Fran­cis Frith, and oth­ers bel­ow) back in the day:

Did we find it? You know the answer. Farmer Lewis Bowles (born in Dor­set in 1896, died 1986) had, I hope, a hap­py ret­ire­ment. Meech­ing Court Farm is now a gat­ed comm­un­ity of 156 dwell­ings called New­hav­en Heights, run by nat­ion­wide Berk­eley­parks ("loc­ated in 21 count­ies through­out Engl­and and Wales, dev­el­op­ing park home liv­ing since 1955") for the over-50s. On a mid-aft­er­noon tour of the est­ate on a hot sun­ny day, I count­ed one pers­on out­side.

The beach promenade and cafe drew crowds in the 1960s:

The promenade is still there ... as a car park. The san­dy beach is shut. The cafes didn't do any trade last week­end.

Kevin has written:

"A bit of research has revealed that Newhaven's concrete seafront area is owned by a French company based in Rouen - Newhaven Port and Properties. They are the people who closed access to the sandy beach, much to the ire of locals. Neither the company nor the Town Council can afford to repare the steps, and anyway the sea in that area is said to be unsafe for swimming because of pollution from the ferry operations."

Before I move on, a couple of positives. The Hope Inn is still go­ing at the sea­front; we had a dec­ent fish-and-chip lunch on Fri­day. At the other end of Fort Road is the exc­ell­ent West Quay Cafe. It was bounc­ing short­ly after 8.30am on Sat­ur­day morn­ing as we tucked into a full-cooked bef­ore the next stage of our jour­ney. We met a ret­ired couple from near­by Sea­ford wait­ing like us bef­ore open­ing time; they break­fast there three times a week.

On we go to the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, the Côte d'Albâtre.

Transmanche Ferries it says, so you'd think with that and the name of the ship it would be French. No, it's Dan­ish: acqu­ired, owned and op­er­at­ed now by log­ist­ics parent Det Fore­nede Damp­skibs-Sel­skab (DFDS), trans­lat­ed as "The Unit­ed Steam­ship Comp­any", bec­ause it was found­ed in 1866 with the mer­ger of the then three bigg­est Dan­ish steam­ship firms. The Côte d'Albâtre was built in 2005 by De Hij­os De J Barr­er­as De Vigo, Spain. No Engl­ish inv­olve­ment at all.

I've not been on a ferry for over 20 years. It was a treat. Wond­er­ful not to pass through an air­port. I'd forg­ott­en just how much I enjoy the exp­er­ience, above all be­ing on deck to wit­ness de­par­ture and arr­ival man­oeuv­res at the ports. Com­fort­able seat­ing, dec­ent bar and rest­aur­ant (our vis­it slight­ly shad­owed by a gagg­le of voc­al Brit­ish lorry-driv­ers). Comp­et­ent and friend­ly ad­min­ist­rat­ion at both ends, free park­ing (we trav­elled as foot pass­eng­ers) right out­side the New­hav­en term­in­al buil­ding.

I was amused by one sign. Pre- or post-Brexit? A kin­der migr­at­ion pol­icy?

Dieppe has an active seafront. Not a tourist-trap jewel, but pop­ul­ar and well-used. Later, on Sun­day, we walked along the prom­en­ade, shared with early morn­ing jogg­ers and cycl­ists, friends in conv­ers­at­ion, conc­ess­ion­aires open­ing up their stalls. There's an int­ern­at­ion­al kite-fly­ing fest­iv­al: Dieppe Cap­it­ale du Cerf-Vol­ant.

Back to our arrival. A short taxi ride to our large, airy and taste­ful Air­bnb ap­art­ment in the centre. Ablu­tions and out for ear­ly even­ing drinks at the half-timb­ered Café des Trib­un­aux in Place du Puits-Salé, "Salt Well Square".

Now to my one error of organisation. The fish dinner. I didn't real­ise until we got home how much this had repr­es­ent­ed the pinn­acle of the vis­it to me, part­ic­ul­ar­ly as Kevin is a comm­itt­ed gour­met. I'd ear­marked a couple of prom­is­ing places: the rec­ip­roc­al­ly-named Le New Haven and Le Turb­ot (and other fish, I pres­ume). How­ever, I didn't book, part­ly in an att­empt to back off from over-orch­est­rat­ing what was not really my week­end, and also bec­ause Trip­adv­is­or ind­ic­at­ed an arr­ay of opt­ions; we could stroll and I could let the others make the dec­is­ion.

When we got to Le New Haven, it looked great - and it was full, even short­ly after 7pm. Never mind. The rest­aur­ant is in a par­ade of fish eat­er­ies on the harb­our­side Quai Henri IV and we ate acc­ept­ab­ly at an­other.

I got up early the following morning and went in search of croiss­ants. I found two boul­ang­ers open at 7am (queue already formed) - yes, on a Sun­day. Del­ic­ious.

Conclusions. Uncomfortable. Newhaven and Dieppe are 75 miles apart. The same sea, the same white-cliff geol­ogy. Yet one town is sadly run-down, the other prosp­er­ous and charm­ing. There's al­most no­where to dine in the form­er, an emb­arr­ass­ment of choice in the latt­er. New­hav­en High Street offers poor ret­ail opp­ort­un­it­ies; Grande Rue in Dieppe has many, most of them local ind­ep­end­ents, very few chain stores. I'm baff­led. Why should this be? Reg­ret­fully, the old slur comes into my mind: "What's the best thing about New­hav­en? The ferry to Dieppe."

I'll finish with one story in which the poor old Engl­ish port has the edge.

Wikipedia has lists of "notable people" for both Dieppe - about 35 - and New­hav­en - only 7. How­ever, one of those ass­oc­iated with New­hav­en is a fam­ous past­ry chef:

I leave the explanation to the Sussex Express of 22 May 2013:

"The Vietnamese Ambassador Vu Quang Minh presented Newhaven with a three foot high bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh last weekend.

"It celebrated the links between the town and Ho Chi Minh, who worked as a pastry chef on the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry, before his rise to power.

"Hopes are high this could mark the beginning of a closer relationship between the port town in East Sussex and Vietnam in South East Asia.

"The Mayor of Newhaven Julie Carr said: 'This lovely, enjoyable event marked the beginning of what we hope will be a long and fruitful friendship between Newhaven and Vietnam, resulting in exciting business, tourism, educational and cultural opportunities for the town. This could significantly contribute to the regeneration of Newhaven.'"

Hmmm. Vietnamese investment for a revived New­hav­en espl­an­ade? Sounds like a prop­er glob­al-Brit­ain Brex­it "opp­ort­un­ity". There's no sign of it a dec­ade after Mayor Carr's expr­ess­ion of opt­im­ism.


I've just had a thought. Three years ago none of this would have been poss­ible. These pages were then titl­ed "Cor­on­av­ir­us Blog". We'd reached the mile­stone of 40,000 UK Cov­id-rel­ated deaths. I had no con­fi­dence that we might esc­ape the vir­us's clut­ches. The roll-out of vacc­ines lay six months ahead.

Thursday 1st June

Suspending the blog for a few days as I head off on a brief ex­curs­ion, to incl­ude, I hope, a fish din­ner in Dieppe. I was ready with all man­ner of gloomy ob­serv­at­ions to make tod­ay when I was surp­rised by the gen­tle hum­our of "Vil­niss­imo" cart­oons. Based in New­ent, Glouc­est­er­shire. A much bet­ter au revoir. Here's a sel­ect­ion (click to en­large any):

Visit the website for many more: Visit Vilnissimo

À bientôt!  

Wednesday 31st May

On and on and on ...

Tuesday 30th May

A couple of local "fails".

First from the Green Party, the latest news­lett­er to drop on the door­mat.

This was the second headline:

Hmmm. It can't be a big story, can it? Dead quiet. Or is this their vot­er demo­graph­ic? Voices of sup­port from the grave?

[OK, it's about a better future for the chap­el in the grave­yard at the top of town, a love­ly spot with an unp­ar­all­el­ed view of the hills, right ac­ross to the Riv­er Sev­ern. Also "plans for cam­eras to mon­it­or the cem­et­ery's wide var­iety of wild­life".]

Meanwhile, Waitrose had a meltdown over the week­end. Lit­tle veg avail­ab­le due to a "dist­rib­ut­ion prob­lem".

In fact, it wasn't local, but national. Not a short­age of supp­lies at dep­ots, nor of lor­ry-driv­ers, but ... com­put­er said no. A sys­tem up­date was del­ay­ed which prev­ent­ed prod­ucts from being picked for del­iv­ery in the ware­houses.

Aha! An AI software module that shot it­self in the foot? Stick to homo sap­iens, Wait­rose!

In the Stroud store's defence, they put a man­age­ment person on the door to apol­og­ise for and expl­ain what had happ­en­ed. They also iss­ued a vouch­er at the check­outs. I went in three times over the long week­end, most­ly to get the free news­pap­er, so have these:

Beneath the large-print prom­ise is the condition:

A bit cheap, I think. The idea of having to spend more - rarely do I reach £30 at a vis­it, may­be just at Christ­mas and Eas­ter - to get the £5 seems coun­ter to the spir­it of an ap­ol­ogy, their "lit­tle thank you from us to you".

One last thing and then I'm done (I can't bel­ieve I'm writ­ing about shopp­ing again). As I've said here bef­ore, my veg comes from Stan­combe Beech Farm up the road (no sup­ply glit­ches from field to shop, scant comp­ut­er dep­end­ence) so I was un­aff­ected by the Wait­rose mal­funct­ion - and there­fore un­des­erv­ing of my £5 vouch­er, I sup­pose. When I first found out about the prob­lem on Sat­ur­day morn­ing I rang up the farm to sug­gest they put some­body in the Wait­rose car park with a sign, a kill­ing to be made. Far­mer Ash­ley Dick­en­son said they were in­und­at­ed - the thought had al­ready got ar­ound.

Monday 29th May

More news from Europe, this time Austria. Nikko has been spend­ing the week­end in Vel­den am Wörth­er­see, a pop­ul­ar lake­side hol­id­ay res­ort - in a sea-free coun­try you have to get your water fix in­land. A train ride down from Vienna tow­ards the mount­ains and the Ital­ian bor­der. His girl­friend Ahoo had an art exh­ib­it­ion in the town, so they were put up in a hotel ov­er­look­ing the lake. [Writer's note: verb tense un­cert­ain­ty issue here, as I'm not sure whet­her they're still there or have al­ready gone home.]

During a stroll on the front, they spotted this, "Sun­day serv­ice on the wat­er" as Nikko called it:

It's clearly a popular ministry. Kirchenschiff means "nave" or "trans­ept". Here's the same 2023 pub­lic­ity taken from the web­site, prom­ot­ing Sat­ur­day Geist­liche Ab­end­mus­ik ("Spir­it­ual Even­ing Mus­ic") and Sun­day morn­ing open air Got­tes­Dienst ("Church Serv­ice"), and worship in progress.

Nikko's WhatsApp messages and photos have pulled at the heart strings. As he said, "only an hour and half's drive to Udine!" In­deed, I often made the rev­erse trip in 1975/6/7, up the old Strada Stat­ale SS13, also named the Pont­ebb­ana be­cause the town of Pont­ebba is at the north­ern end bef­ore you cross the Aust­rian bor­der.

Here's a Google Earth map (3-country junct­ion, bor­ders in yell­ow: Italy, Aust­ria and Slov­enia), with Udine at the bott­om left and Vel­den am Wörth­er­see top right. It's litt­ered with stamp­ing-ground place names (you'll really have to click/zoom to see the det­ail): Civ­id­ale just east of Ud­ine, scene of the splen­did wine fest­iv­al and one of my fav­our­ite places in the world; Kob­ar­id (in Ital­ian, Cap­or­etto) over the bor­der in Slov­en­ia (then Yug­osl­avia), where I'd go on a Sat­ur­day for half-price meat; Bovec, the site of a mem­or­able New Year's Eve in 1975 at the Hot­el Kan­in (the name taken from the moun­tain beh­ind, also marked on the map); Tarv­is­io, from which I coined the exp­ress­ion "Tarv­isio Bus-Driv­er's Foot", der­ived from the twitchy - yet pers­ist­ent and rhyth­mic - acc­el­er­at­or cont­rol of the said early morn­ing ski-coach driver; and Vill­ach, min­utes from Vel­den am Wörth­er­see and whose sign­if­ic­ance to me I will expl­ain below.

Those white-marked peaks have a special place in my mem­ory. On a clear day you can see them from Ud­ine, in­deed from fur­ther away to the south in the Bassa Friuli, even from Ven­ice. I vivid­ly rec­all the mom­ent I first saw them in late Nov­emb­er 1975, when the sun came out after the disp­ir­it­ing­ly grey and dis­mal days foll­ow­ing my arr­iv­al. I'd never lived any­where near moun­tains. "Wow", I thought, "this will be int­er­est­ing." And it was.

So ... Villach. One late Sunday evening, after a day spent with my friend Gowan in Ven­ice, I caught the last train out of Mest­re to get back to Ud­ine. It was the "Rom­ul­us", the Rome to Vienna expr­ess, which inc­id­ent­ally passed right beh­ind the tall em­bank­ment wall opp­os­ite my flat. As I was tired, I climbed into the over­head lug­gage rack to sleep. Of course, I slept right through Ud­ine. The next thing I knew an Aust­rian bor­der guard was prod­ding me with a rifle, dem­and­ing that I get down. I didn't have my pass­port with me - it wasn't in the plan to go to Vienna - so he was less than pleased. He put me on the Italy-bound plat­form - yes, it was Vill­ach stat­ion - with inst­ruct­ions to get on the first train back to Udine. It didn't come for hours, prob­ab­ly the early morn­ing milk train. I got home about 6am.

Should you be interested, I've written - with cont­rib­ut­ions from friends - about all this in a mem­oir titled O Ce Biel, the name taken from the first line of the un­off­ic­ial Friuli reg­ion's anth­em O Ce Biel Cjisc­jel a Udin, "What a beaut­if­ul cast­le at Ud­ine". The plan when writ­ing it was to get all this old stuff out of my syst­em so that I could stop bor­ing people with the stor­ies. Oh dear, it doesn't seem to have worked. One word from Nikko and I'm off again. Anyway, here's the mem­oir: Visit the 'O Ce Biel' website

Sunday 28th May

I said yesterday in discussing AI that my concerns were not for me but for the next generations.

I'm not sure I should worry about son Ben. If you live substantially off-grid, how would AI ever get its mitts on you? His present home is a traditional Basque farmhouse on a hill outside Bilbao. It's squatted. Indeed it's not clear who and where the owners are, or even if it's owned. No rent. All the utilities are connected, but no billing takes place - at least, no demands ever reach Ben. Land to grow vegetables, chickens for eggs.

Yes, it looks scruffy - or shall we more gener­ous­ly say rustic? In mit­ig­at­ion, brother Nikko - whose hyg­iene stand­ards are cons­id­er­ably high­er than ours; on one visit to Stroud he went into town and ret­urned with the gift of a new toil­et brush (oh, the shame!) - has stayed there and given it a clean bill of health.

AI doesn't impinge on simple pleasures. Ben requested a cheese-making book for his birthday:

He sent pics yesterday of his first venture, making féta. Here are some of the steps.
  • Buy milk from the nearby town of Mungia. A dep­art­ure from the trad­it­ion­al, using cow's rather than sheep's.
  • Add culture and rennet, start the separation process:
  • Drain off the whey and add salt:
  • Form shape and press ... before brining for a week:
  • Next day, use leftover whey to make ricotta:

AI is a threat created and delivered by technology. Steer clear of that and it ain't gonna get ya. There you are, problem solved.

Saturday 27th May

Conscious of growing public awareness of and con­cern about AI, I've been stash­ing away rel­ev­ant cart­oons in my when-I-have-a-mom­ent fol­der. Here's a sel­ect­ion I've found so far. Not only by the fam­il­iar Brit­ish cart­oon­ists in resp­onse to our nat­ion­al news but also from fur­ther afield.

From what we see here, why are we scared?

It all surely starts with the old anxiety about peop­le being repl­aced by rob­ots, bec­om­ing red­und­ant, not being requ­ired any more. It's a big thing in a world where we often def­ine our­selves by our work, paid or un­paid; it und­er­pins our sense of use­ful­ness and worth.

This fear intensifies when we get to thought. Not just do­ing, a mach­ine tak­ing over a pract­ic­al funct­ion, but think­ing ... that we can be out-thought by a non-hum­an dev­ice, or repl­aced as think­ers (cf. Rodin above). It gets worse - this was expr­essed by Geoff Hin­ton when he rec­ent­ly quit Google - if you con­sid­er the mult­ipl­ier eff­ect, that you can link and scale up lim­it­less in­tell­ig­ent dev­ices to ach­ieve great­er speed and comp­lex­ity of thought than we mort­als can poss­ib­ly ach­ieve. It's one thing to lose our phys­ic­al pre­em­in­ence - but to lose our minds as well?

Then there's the what-if-we-don't-know, that we can't see the act­iv­ity of AI. Like the robot above tell­ing you that it's not a robot. Or the opt­ic­ian who bel­ieves that he's in com­mand by runn­ing the eye test when act­ually his client knows that it's the test­er who's going to die.

Falsification. Lack of authenticity. The painting ascr­ibed to an art­ist that is really an AI creat­ion. The conv­inc­ing stud­ent diss­ert­at­ion prod­uced by a cont­ent gen­er­at­or, un­det­ect­able to the hum­an ex­am­in­er. As a slight div­ers­ion, while we're on this sub­ject, and bec­ause today has inv­olved cart­oons, I not­ic­ed yest­er­day that the Cart­oon Move­ment - an on­line plat­form bring­ing tog­eth­er prof­ess­ion­al ed­it­or­ial cart­oon­ists from all over the world - has joined a cam­paign to dem­and that media out­lets ref­rain from us­ing AI-gen­er­at­ed cont­ent in their pub­lic­at­ions. Here's the logo:

Things are not what they appear to be. We don't know if they are or they aren't. It's like sol­id ground crumb­ling ben­eath our feet. Or a desc­ent into mad­ness, an AI-ind­uced dem­entia.

There's the force-for-good-or-evil debate - one that's as old as time. Have the motor­car and the comp­uter given more than they've taken away? The human race has made some ab­ject cock-ups; could AI do a bet­ter job? One of the cart­oons I found sugg­ested that it might:

The underlying disquiet is about loss of control. Our core hum­an ass­umpt­ion has al­ways been that we're in charge, for bet­ter or worse. Is that about to pass? Our ev­ol­ut­ion­ary proc­ess - see the from-ape-to-robot cart­oon above - will concl­ude as the art­if­icial ousts the nat­ur­al. Game over for us prim­ates.

Am I bovvered? Possibly, but for future gen­er­at­ions. I will almost cert­ain­ly esc­ape AI's grim­mest man­if­est­at­ions - if that's what they turn out to be.

Friday 26th May

Tribute to Tina Turner by Spanish cartoonist and illustrator Joaquín Aldeguer

Yesterday I promised (threatened?) more of Tina. So here we go. There's a lot: photos, tweets, video. Pick what grabs you. At least you should be Tina-ed out by the end and will be able to let her rest in peace.

Tina Turner made everybody smile. The voice, the songs, the hair, the legs, the out­fits, the stage pres­ence, the surv­iv­or ... the rad­iance. She couldn't dance for toff­ee, but we loved her strut just the same. The vol­ume and int­ense warmth of the trib­utes pour­ing in since Wed­nes­day even­ing have left me in no doubt just how big a talent and phen­om­en­on she was. "Glob­al sup­er­star" is a term tarn­ished by over­use, but it un­equ­iv­oc­ally app­lies to her. She packed out huge stad­ia from Amst­er­dam to Rio. Right now you could prob­ab­ly hear some­body humm­ing a chor­us from one of the hits any­where in the world.

Peter Lindbergh photo of Tina on the Eiffel Tower in 1989

She kept illustrious musical company and was usually at the centre:

Keith Richards, Tina and David Bowie

That's right, against all the odds Keith is the last one stand­ing.

The Twittersphere has been the preferred forum for paying hom­age (aside: it still sad­ly rem­ains THE veh­ic­le, un­like Mast­od­on where I've seen noth­ing). Tributes above all from her peers: rock, soul and mus­ic­jour­no roy­alty:

This sounds like one person, so it's presumably Otis Williams, the only original Temptation in the current line-up. Born in 1941, a couple of years younger than Tina - so he was there in the 60s.

Going back to the early days, here's Janis Joplin root­ing for Tina on the Dick Cav­ett (what a nump­ty ... you'll see why) show in 1969:

Time for perf­orm­ance action. Quite lengthy chunks, so you may want to dip in and out.

She could make an entrance. Here she is arr­iv­ing at the Divas Live char­ity conc­ert at New York's Bea­con Theatre on April 13th, 1999. Out of the limo and on to the stage for "Simp­ly the Best" (5 min­utes 38 sec­onds):

This is the all-time showstopper at the Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas on 28th Oct­ob­er 2000. She inv­ites dev­ot­ed fan Don­ov­an on stage to ass­ist with "Proud Mary" (11 min­utes 48 sec­onds):

I'll leave the final words to Tina, in a 2019 BBC int­er­view with the then arts ed­it­or Will Gomp­ertz (short­en­ed vers­ion, 5 min­utes 13 sec­onds):

"Thoroughly happy" ... "Death is not a prob­lem for me, I real­ly don't mind leav­ing."

Godspeed, Tina.

Thursday 25th May

Where else can I start? This is a shock.

RIP Tina Turner 1939-2023

The tributes are pouring in. More to come from me, maybe tomorrow.

Meanwhile - no shock - this is what I originally wrote for today. It's a cruel contrast. We've lost the radiant, life-affirming Tina ... yet this scumbag just won't go away.

He was in Las Vegas yesterday at the SCALE Global Summit:

Click to enlarge

35 minutes, eh? For how much?

What's SCALE all about?

Click to enlarge

Money, right? Where rich people meet other rich people and make even more money.

Wednesday 24th May

The English novelist Martin Amis died last Friday.

This portrait by photographer Ulf Andersen stared out at me from Mon­day's art­icle in The Guar­dian by Lisa All­ard­ice titled "Damn, that fool can write!" - a quote from Irish writer and Amis fan Anne En­right.

It's an interesting face. Patrician, contrary, sens­itive, sens­ual, a little seedy, diss­olute? No wonder he's been called the Mick Jag­ger of lit­er­at­ure. I was intri­gued.

Since Monday I've ploughed through yards of trib­ute, obit­uary and rev­iew. A little expl­osion has gone off in my head, some­thing hith­er­to bur­ied or dorm­ant. I've nev­er been a great read­er desp­ite Engl­ish and Hist­ory be­ing my strong­est sub­jects at school and study­ing Engl­ish Lit­er­at­ure at Camb­ridge. In truth, I did al­most any­thing but study Eng­lish at Camb­ridge, burnt-out from int­ense study at school and mind-blown by a gap year spent roam­ing the USA just post-Wood­stock. Amis was one of the "Class of '83", those hon­oured by the Camb­ridge-based Granta lit­er­ary mag­az­ine in its in­aug­ur­al "Best of Young Brit­ish Nov­el­ists" list, along­side others such as Will­iam Boyd, Sal­man Rush­die and Ian Mc­Ewan. I was only dimly aware of Granta while an und­er­grad­uate; in my defence it langu­ished in the dold­rums dur­ing the early 1970s due to fin­anc­ial diff­ic­ult­ies and stud­ent ap­athy - incl­ud­ing my own. I was more fam­il­iar with the Granta pub on the River Cam near Coe Fen.

His first novel, The Rachel Papers, was published in 1973, the year of my graduation. It passed by me, then otherwise occupied. He was only three years my senior; he has been a contemporary, we shared 70 years of life. In that time I've been aware of his work, but no more. As my grand­mother once said of Bel­gium (actu­ally, I'd been talk­ing about Bol­ton, but she mis­heard), "I don't know Belgium, Charles, but I know OF it."

I've never read an Amis book and now feel comp­elled to do so. Yest­er­day I logged on to the Glouc­est­er­shire Libr­ar­ies web­site and res­erved three of his works: Money (1984, based on Amis's exp­er­ience as a script wri­ter on the feat­ure film Sat­urn 3), Lon­don Fields (1989 comic mur­der myst­ery) and The Sec­ond Plane (2008, on the sub­ject of the 9/11 att­acks, terr­or­ism and Mus­lim rad­ic­al­is­at­ion).

I'm excited. His friend Rushdie said Amis was unique; "it was un­wise to try to im­it­ate him." I've come to him late, in­deed post mor­tem. Rush­die reass­ures me: "He used to say that what he wanted to do was leave be­hind a shelf of books - to be able to say: 'From here to here, it's me.'" I can look for­ward to work­ing my way along the shelf.

The library website revealed that there was one nov­el avail­able in Stroud, but it could­n't be res­erved. I went down there and spoke to a lib­rar­ian. She said it was in the "Fast­track" sect­ion which cont­ains books that can only be borr­owed for a week. We went over there and could­n't find it. She sugg­ested I look at the ad­join­ing "Ret­urns" shelf, as it can ind­ic­ate pop­ul­ar choices. There was Klara and The Sun by Nob­el Prize win­ner Kazuo Ish­ig­uro - who was also a mem­ber of the "Class of '83". "OK", I thought, "that'll do." And took it home.

Some proper reading after years of uncomm­itt­ed dall­iance. A new dir­ect­ion - or is it a re-awak­en­ing? - in my lat­er years.

Amis said of writing: "It seems to me a hil­ar­ious­ly enj­oy­able way of spend­ing one's time." In a small and mod­est way, I rec­og­nise that. Al­though I'd incl­ine tow­ards "abs­orb­ing". As with rid­ing Yel­lie the bike round town, it takes me out of my­self.

Tuesday 23rd May

Warm weather, out and about in the sunshine, trips planned to northern France and Corsica ... and the Tories on the run? The mood is lighter. It's not just me, is it?

Witnessing the last seven years has been an opp­ress­ive­ly long haul. Can we really see the el­ect­or­ate beg­inn­ing - the loc­al el­ect­ions said yes - to rej­ect the mean­ness, dis­dain for prob­ity in pub­lic life, supp­ort of vest­ed int­er­ests, rules-for-them-but-not-for-us, Brex­it in­san­ity ... of a rot­ten-to-the-core Cons­erv­at­ive party?

The concern is whether an opposition can really stick it to the Tories. We have end­ured so many missed opp­ort­un­it­ies to bury them. Starm­er is terr­if­ied of al­ien­at­ing any and every voter, dares not pres­ent bold early plans that would clear­ly lay out the path to a fair­er, kind­er, more dec­ent Brit­ain. The risk of such a lack of clar­ity and cour­age is that you squan­der this piv­ot­­al mom­ent to put the big things right, at prec­ise­ly the time when the pub­lic may real­ly want to wel­come change, a dep­art­ure from sleaze and in­equ­al­ity.

At a local level I'm worried. Last year I was dism­ayed by Star­mer's rej­ect­ion of the then Stroud Dist­rict Counc­il lead­er Doina Corn­ell's appl­ic­at­ion to stand as the next Lab­our gen­er­al el­ect­ion cand­id­ate. High­ly resp­ect­ed - and much writ­ten about in this blog last year (if you're int­er­ested, click on the "2022" head­ing at the top and search the page for "Doina"). A waste - although she's now very act­ive as Stroud Migr­ant Champ­ion.

Simon Opher was selected as the safe - un­like­ly to offend - choice. I wrote here 10 days ago about his first pre-elect­ion flyer and its bodged (QR code and web URL fail­ure) inv­it­at­ion to take part in a survey: 👉

He did reply to my by-ret­urn-of-post email - I thought they might like to know right away that their IT was buggered - inf­orm­ing him of the err­or ... but over five days later:

"Sorry about all this. I think the initial qr code on the first outcard do not now connect. We have printed new ones now. Would you like a link to the survey by email."

Great. The card on which you spent campaign funds and care­fully put through my door doesn't work. And ... ok, I guess email is meant to be quick and dirty, but I reckon comm­un­ic­ation to a pro­spect­ive vot­er should be acc­ur­ate and gramm­at­ic­al. Was he in a rush? No time to read through, even once, what he'd writ­ten? Case doesn't mat­ter? Can't be both­ered with a quest­ion mark? It bodes ill.

I confirmed twice (no answer in six days to the first att­empt) that I'd like to rec­eive the sur­vey link by email. He resp­onded:

"Sorry I'm still trying to get the link from regional office. I'll send as soon as I receive."

Saints preserve us. If he doesn't get his act tog­ether, the Greens hack off their usual chunk of the anti-Tory vote, the Lib Dems return to the fray - they with­drew in 2019 - and in­cumb­ent Siob­han Bail­lie succ­ess­fully re-woos the young farmers down by the River Sev­ern ... I can't bear to think about it.

Nationally, what might we get? Prev­ail­ing wisdom says:

Oh dear, I started out all positive. I supp­ose that the Tories are at least gett­ing squeezed.

Monday 22nd May

Much as I applaud this weekend's Stroud food festival ... oh, to be in Bilbao. Son Ben has been mak­ing pint­xos and of course send­ing us the pics (click to enl­arge any).

Similar to tapas, Basque pintxos are trad­it­ion­ally served on a small slice of bread with a tooth­pick that pierces them through the midd­le. Pint­xo means "spike" or "thorn". The Span­ish verb pin­char means "punc­ture". The term has broad­ened out to refer to any small and tasty snack. The Casco Viejo or old town of Bilbao is crammed with bars serv­ing them, as is the large Rib­era mark­et over­look­ing the river Ner­vión.

Various pintxos:

Various tortillas:

Octopus, potato purée and pimentón:

Octopus and prawn skewers:

Egg mayonnaise, prawn and olive skewers:

Deep fried chard stems stuffed with ham and cheese:

Tuna mayonnaise and red pepper tortilla:

Looking at these has made up my mind. Given that Ben is un­like­ly to ret­urn to this coun­try any time soon and my heart lies in Eur­ope, I'm go­ing to have to visit much more often. The same goes for Nikko in Vienna and my friends in Friuli.

Sunday 21st May

Yesterday morning the food festival was in full flow in Stroud. Town closed to traf­fic, party at­mos­phere, warm sun­shine, street food, at least one dod­gy stall name. I did a tour on Yel­lie the el­ect­ric bike.

In the afternoon to grandson Marlie's post-birth­day par­ty for friends, first at Durs­ley pool and then for pizza at the wacky "Ion­ian" Greek-Ital­ian rest­aur­ant on the banks of the A38 south of Goss­ing­ton; you can see more det­ail and phot­os from our visit last year here: 👉. I'm pleased that they're still going, as they were under threat from Stroud District Council. Maybe our petition helped?

It's weird that as soon as you feel the sun on your back you can't rem­emb­er win­ter any­more.

Saturday 20th May

Reasons to be cheerful. The 52% is shrinking by the minute.

Sadly, if anyone could screw it up ...

Friday 19th May

It's here again.

Talks, demonstrations - not that kind, the Public Order Act will see them off 😡 - and, of course, food and drink every­where. Out­lets open at 4pm today, from 10am tom­orr­ow and Sun­day. The Farm­ers Mark­et runs as norm­al on Sat­ur­day from 9am to 2pm.

Here's the map (click to en­large):

It'll be busy - the weather is set fair - particularly in Fawkes Place to the side of the Sub­script­ion Rooms, where the street food vans are found. Here are two photos from last year:

Here's the full programme guide: Stroud Festival of Food and Drink 2023 Programme

Granddaughter Lola and friend Ava went down to Fawkes Place in 2022 and bought the place up (see my report and more photos of last year's event here: 👉).

Thursday 18th May

Grandson Marlie was nine on Tuesday. We had a gath­ering of family and friends at his house in Bristol.

What do you organise for a boy who's capt­iv­ated by world maps and flags? When he's with us in Stroud he draws them for hours. A whole lot bet­ter than a screen add­ict­ion, part­ic­ul­ar­ly as he loves the ass­oc­iat­ed facts and fig­ures. I've learnt masses from him.

The results end up covering the wall of the stair­case up to the first floor:

His mother Ellie asked me to write a country quiz for the party. The part­ic­ip­ants would range in age from 9 to 79. Quite daun­ting to make it right for every­body.

Fancy a go? Here are the first 15 questions:
  1. What is the richest country in the world? (GDP per capita)?
  2. Which is the only country to have no white, red or blue in its flag?
  3. What is the largest country in the world, by area/land mass?
  4. Kimchi is the most popular food of which country (hint: or 2 countries)?
  5. Which country's flag is white and red and has a large leaf at its centre?
  6. Which country's flag is white and red and has a cross showing a dragon being killed?
  7. What is the smallest (in land mass) country in the world?
  8. Pho is the traditional dish in which Asian country?
  9. Which country in the world has the most islands? a) Canada b) Greece c) Sweden
  10. Which two nations share the longest land border in the world? a) USA and Canada b) China and Russia c) Brazil and Argentina
  11. Only two nations have their country's map on their flags. Which? [2 points]
  12. Which country's flag has two red stripes, one white stripe and a cedar tree at its centre?
  13. Which country has the largest population?
  14. What is the largest (in land mass) country in Africa?
  15. Which country's capital is closest to the North Pole?
Thankfully, it worked. Marlie was in his element and nailed it. The adults some­times strugg­led but were happy for him. He gen­er­ous­ly off­ered hints to them.

Here are the answers: Answers to grandson Marlie's country birthday quiz

How did you get on?

Wednesday 17th May

Tuesday 16th May

A moment of quiet grat­it­ude yesterday. Hot choc­ol­ate out­side a café in town in peace and warmth. Not a car in sight, no opp­ress­ive bust­le, sun on my face. It's not Tusc­any, there was no Greek harb­our-front prom­ise of kala­mári and rets­ina, but it's hard not to like a place where nob­ody both­ers you, char­act­ers abound and you can see the hills from dead centre of the High Street.

Monday 15th May

I keep an odds-and-ends folder on my computer where I put nugg­ets of int­er­est that are not go­ing to app­ear imm­ed­iate­ly in this blog. The plan is to ret­urn there when I'm less ex­erc­ised by other press­ing matt­ers of church and state. I rarely do. Today is an exc­ept­ion. Soon­er than I exp­ect­ed.

This has been nagg­ing at me for five days, a phen­om­en­on thrown up by nat­ure, yet other-world­ly, miles away - lit­er­ally and spir­it­ually - from the woes of West­min­ster, a wel­come coun­ter-bal­ance.

Last Wednesday The Guardian ran a short piece on sound expert Jeff Rice. He's been recording a tree. Or a group of trees:

"Known as Pando - Latin for 'I spread' - the 47,000 genetically identical quivering aspens in south-central Utah are considered to be a single organism, with the 'trees' actually branches thought to be connected by a shared root system. A vast living entity, thousands of years old, that covers 43 hectares (106 acres) with a dry weight of about 6m kg, making it, putatively, the Earth's heaviest living organism."

So, if you fancy a little diversion, look no further than the "Friends of Pan­do" (FoP) web­site - click on the emb­lem:

Visit Friends of Pando
Or here are the FoP guide Friends of Pando guide and map Friends of Pando map.

Sunday 14th May

It has a kind of symmetry, doesn't it? Sweden will host Eurovision next year, 50 years after Abba triumphed. Appropriate flag colours too.

Finland's second-placed Käärijä - Jere Pöyhönen at birth - deserved the top spot in my opinion by virtue of having eight dots above his stage name - more dots than letters - with a further four in his real one. It must be a record.

The first extraordinary thing about the contest is that an object of ridicule has become an international phenomenon and an expression of political solidarity. A royal even played the piano. Not content with last weekend, she had to get in on the act.

The second stand-out feature is that the competition is one of only two ways post-Brexit Britain can bear to collaborate with Europe. The other of course is war.

No tears shed for the UK's Mae Muller, I'm afraid. Dismal topic and lyrics.

When you said you were leaving
To work on your mental health
You didn't mention the cheating, yeah
You kept that one to yourself
I got so mad, was gonna
Cuss you out outside your house
For everyone to see
Wanted to trash your Benz, tell all your friends
How cruel you were to me, to me, to me

Nitpicking aside, it was a joyful hilarious event.

Saturday 13th May

Friday 12th May

This dropped on the doormat yesterday. Click to enl­arge, also for the em­ail fur­ther down.

Glad to see that an opposition to the Tories is al­ready out on the streets. Dec­ent sent­im­ents, if tick-box obvious. I was sorry to miss the can­vass­ers, bec­ause I had quest­ions for them ... pos­it­ion on Brex­it, Star­mer U-turns, "Blair 2.0" ideol­og­ic­al clean­sing of the par­ty. Luck­ily for them I was­n't there to ans­wer the door.

I thought, "At least I can do the sur­vey." It didn't go well, and I told him so:

Mind you, if they're struggling with IT comms, will he get the email?

Inauspicious start, eh?

Talking of surveys ...

Thursday 11th May

Just over three weeks ago on Wednesday 19th April, I wrote about the anger felt by the Irish world-wide comm­un­ity tow­ards cart­oon­ists, most­ly from the UK, who empl­oyed stereo­types - lep­rech­auns, step­dance, pints of Guin­ess, cod Irish acc­ents - to mock Joe Biden's visit to Ire­land, part­ic­ul­ar­ly to his anc­est­ral home of Ball­ina. See my rep­ort here: 👉

Last Tuesday was Europe Day, the ann­iv­ers­ary of the Schu­man Dec­lar­at­ion signed on 9th May 1950. The dec­lar­at­ion, pres­ent­ed by French for­eign min­ist­er Rob­ert Schu­man, prop­osed the creat­ion of a Eur­op­ean Coal and Steel Comm­un­ity, whose memb­ers would pool coal and steel prod­uct­ion. The ECSC (foun­ding mem­bers: France, West Germ­any, Italy, the Neth­er­lands, Belg­ium and Lux­em­bourg) was the first of a ser­ies of supr­an­at­ion­al Eur­op­ean inst­it­ut­ions that would ult­im­ate­ly bec­ome to­day's Un­ion.

Martyn Turner of The Irish Times took the opp­ort­un­ity to rec­ogn­ise Eur­ope Day while tak­ing a swipe at those off­end­ing cart­oon­ists. Click to en­large.

Here are the top two countries in the world in terms of GDP per head of pop­ul­at­ion as stated by the Int­ern­at­ion­al Mon­et­ary Fund, the World Bank and the Un­ited Nat­ions. Again, click to en­large.

That's right, funny old Ireland pushing right up the league table to jost­le with the über-Euro­crats. I can test­ify to the wealth drip­ping from Lux­emb­ourg; see the acc­ount of my rec­ent vis­it here: 👉. Cur­iously, Rob­ert Schu­man was a Lux­emb­ourg nat­ive, born in the Clau­sen dist­rict of the city in 1886. He seems to have known which way the wind was blow­ing.

And unshackled, liberated Blighty?

How in 2016 did 52% (of a 72% turnout), in prec­ise numb­ers 17,410,742 UK vot­ers, man­age to make such a great dec­is­ion? It has trans­formed the coun­try. Unlike poor Ireland, languishing in the EU.

My Irish correspondent's son took this photo in Dublin two nights ago:

Wednesday 10th May

I woke to a mild internal backlash against my own comm­ents about the cor­on­at­ion, part­ly promp­ted by a note from my Irish corr­esp­ond­ent, whose obs­erv­at­ions quoted in these pages on the treat­ment of Ire­land by the Engl­ish hard­ly dem­onst­rate a flag-wav­ing roy­al­ist dev­ot­ion: "What­ever the plus­es and min­uses of the mon­archy, I do hope that Charles will con­tin­ue to speak out about conc­erns that we all share, e.g. Rwanda. After John­son, Truss, Sunak and their dem­ent­ed supp­ort­ers, Charles looks like one of the few safe pairs of hands around."

Stephen Fry, celebrity invitee to the West­minst­er cer­em­ony, made rel­at­ed rem­arks on Sat­ur­day about the ben­ef­it of hav­ing a non-el­ect­ed head of state. Its most likely alt­ern­ative would be a pol­it­ic­al app­oint­ment, which - roughly - half the pop­ul­at­ion might app­rove and the other half cond­emn. Charles will not be plot­ting pers­on­al ad­vance­ment; he's made it to the top of his own tree. The only meas­ure of his succ­ess, the inner sense of a job well done, will be one of which he is acute­ly aware: serv­ice to the nat­ion. The mon­arch - yes, by an acc­id­ent of birth, and there's noth­ing new in the arg­um­ent - can stand above the put­rid self-int­er­est shown by too many of our rec­ent el­ect­ed rep­res­ent­at­ives. He has al­ready ack­nowl­edged that he can­not be so pub­lic­ly voc­al about maj­or iss­ues as he was when Prince of Wales, but it's impr­ob­able that he won't seek to infl­uence.

He's going to be here for a while, so we'd better harn­ess his un­doubt­ed des­ire to make a cont­rib­ut­ion for the good of all. His track rec­ord on clim­ate, int­er-faith harm­ony and supp­ort for the young is un­chall­eng­able. There's not a great deal we can do about him being a priv­il­eged toff. I stand by all my comm­ents of yest­er­day. They come from my dis­like of the imb­al­ance and div­is­ion in our society, of which the mon­archy is a vis­ible her­ed­it­ary example. But there are other more dang­er­ous off­end­ers wor­thy of our prot­ests.

Time to move on. A planet to save, a general elect­ion to be won. I like to think that there has been a bright­en­ing of the sky to diss­ip­ate the sleaze and inc­omp­et­ence of rec­ent years. The loc­al el­ect­ion res­ults were a start. Trump got nailed yest­er­day.

The coronation cartoons have continued to dribble in, but they should stop now. I can do with­out Steve Bell's lat­est, expl­oit­ing the King's - pres­um­ably med­ic­al - cond­it­ion of swoll­en fing­ers. A cheap shot.

Tuesday 9th May

It's over. You may have noticed that I've been less than rev­erent about the cor­on­at­ion. We've not watched any of the tel­ev­is­ion cov­er­age in this house­hold ex­cept for un­av­oid­able news pieces. There's been little ev­id­ence in the Peop­le's Rep­ub­lic of Stroud that any­thing out-of-the-ord­in­ary has been go­ing on. Just a min­im­al att­empt at bunt­ing out­side the Bis­ley House pub opp­os­ite which wind and rain blew down in the first hours of Sat­ur­day. I have read an­al­ys­is, al­though most­ly in the left-lean­ing press. Part of me hasn't wanted to be that grump who does­n't cel­ebrate the hist­ory, pag­ean­try and good causes esp­oused by the mon­ar­chy. I have no par­tic­ul­ar des­ire to be at odds with friends who draw pleas­ure from the whole mal­ark­ey. But it has made me un­comf­ort­able at best. I try to und­er­stand my reac­tion here.

I don't identify with the royals. I recog­nise that they live and breathe and ex­per­ience emot­ions like the rest of us, but little that they do bears any res­emb­lance to my fam­ily. All those big houses on which they've never strug­gled to pay the mort­gage. A flun­key al­ways at hand, even when you have a melt­down over a leaky pen. The Wales trio of child­ren groomed to a honed per­fect­ion with wealth and priv­il­ege. The adults wear clothes we'd never cons­id­er, tweeds and foot­wear that remind me of what you can glimpse at Chelt­en­ham races, peachy cord­ur­oys and hack­ing jack­ets. Then the voices and acc­ents. I find it hard to list­en to Charles's stran­gul­at­ed vow­els.

There's much to admire in the support of good causes. However, it feels like a don­at­ion from on high, a guilty obl­ig­at­ion of the haves to the have-nots. The royals are locked in a per­pet­ual strug­gle to conn­ect to the "people" - bec­ause their lives are so diff­er­ent, a prod­uct of in­her­it­ance acr­oss the cen­tur­ies. Little was earned through mer­it, much more a res­ult of feud­al skul­dugg­ery. It all goes against my guid­ing princ­iple of how our coun­try should be run: "priv­ate suff­ic­iency and pub­lic wealth".

I have difficulty with the echoes of Empire in these events. My life­time - which matches almost exact­ly the reign of Charles's mother - has argu­ably seen a dec­line in Brit­ain from its perc­eived pos­it­ion of maj­or world infl­uence. That's only if you see Emp­ire as a touch­stone of Brit­ain's Great-ness, if you view strength as dom­in­ion over others. Did we have the right to plant a flag in coun­tries round the world in order to real­ise ec­on­om­ic and pol­it­ic­al ad­vant­age? I don't think hang­ing on to the trapp­ings of the past helps Brit­ain to grow in new dir­ect­ions. I always felt that pre-Brexit we might have lost the Emp­ire but we had gained Eur­ope. Then - I haz­ard a theory - the very people who cher­ished all that pink on the map dec­id­ed to aban­don our hard-won place in the union of Eur­op­ean states.

The ceremonials were impressively executed, the sense of hist­ory to be env­ied ar­ound the world. Charles and Camilla have had their day in the spot­light and - 'though I cringe to look upon Their Weird­nesses - I don't begr­udge them that. I'm sure he loves her just as much as the day he marr­ied Diana.

Monday 8th May

Top 4 Mastodon toots from my inbox this morning. No comment.

Sunday 7th May

Coronation (and local election) cartoon roundup. Click to en­large any im­age (or chart bel­ow).

Plus comparative analysis of the cost of Eur­op­ean roy­als from Dan­ilo Sup­ino of Italy's Corr­iere Della Sera. Det­ail of how the mon­archy is fun­ded in diff­er­ent coun­tries. Publ­ished this week, dates of data coll­ect­ion un­cert­ain - Queen Eliz­ab­eth II app­ears in the last list, as does Harry. But you get the idea. Thanks, Mike.

Royal salaries from the public purse:

What does the monarchy cost per cit­iz­en head? Ass­ume per ann­um?

How much does the Buck House operation cost?

How much do the English royals work?

Read the full article - most browsers will offer transl­ation - here: Read Corriere article on cost of the monarchy. You could find out why there's a zero against Liech­sten­stein in the first chart.

Saturday 6th May

In memory of the Friuli earthquake 6th May 1976

Friday 5th May

Overheard in the estimable Cytek bike shop yest­er­day morn­ing while I was hav­ing the brake pads on my Ped­ego repl­aced, an­oth­er cust­om­er of my years said to own­er Shane, "I don't want any troub­le on Vent­oux."


That's right. Next week he's leaving St. Malo to ride to Nice, rough­ly 850 miles (~1,370 kilo­metres), tak­ing in the 6,263 feet (1,909 metres) prov­enç­ale Tour de France sum­mit along the way. As you can see, the peak is above the tree line.

Those of you of a certain age may remember the trail-blaz­ing British cycl­ist Tom Simp­son. He died on Vent­oux during the thirt­eenth stage of the Tour on 13th July 1967.

Cycling Today has this account:

"Near the summit of Ventoux, the peloton began to fracture. Simpson was in the front group before slipping back to a group of chasers about a minute behind. He then began losing control of his bike, zig-zagging across the road.

"A kilometer from the summit, Simpson fell off his bike. Team manager Alec Taylor and mechanic Harry Hall arrived in the team car to help him. Hall tried to persuade Simpson to stop, saying: 'Come on Tom, that's it, that's your Tour finished', but Simpson said he wanted to continue. Taylor said, 'If Tom wants to go on, he goes'. Noticing his toe straps were still undone, Simpson said, 'Me straps, Harry, me straps!'

"They got him on his bike and pushed him off. Simpson's last words, as remembered by Hall, were 'On, on, on.' Hall estimated Simpson rode a further 500m before he began to wobble, and was held upright by spectators; he was unconscious, with his hands locked on the handlebars. Hall and a nurse from the Tour's medical team took turns giving Simpson mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before Tour doctor Pierre Dumas arrived with an oxygen mask.

"Simpson was declared dead later that afternoon after being airlifted to Avignon Hospital. According to the autopsy, Simpson had amphetamines and alcohol in his body, which, combined with diarrhoea, oppressive heat and the gradient of Ventoux, contributed to his death."

Shane told me that he's done Ventoux half-a-dozen times. From Sun­day he's cycl­ing in the Pyr­en­ees, in June the Dol­om­ites.

I was plotting the flattest route for my 2-mile (3.2 kilo­metre) jour­ney home on an elec­tric bic­ycle.

Tuesday 3rd May

So "Godfather of AI" Geoff Hinton - his great-grand­father George Boole inv­ented the epon­ym­ous alg­ebra, so he has prev­ious - quit Google and can now speak freely. Some reg­ret about asp­ects of his work on art­if­ic­ial neur­al net­works, and anx­iety that we've reached the tip­ping point where the comp­uter gen­uine­ly bec­omes brain­ier than the hum­an.

Hmmm. So anybot could produce this blog, right? In mild panic I thought I'd hunt down and test an on­line AI cont­ent gen­er­at­or. Top of my Google (sans Geoff) search was Tool­baz.com. I asked what it could do with four quest­ions - and post the resp­onses here verb­at­im. See what you think.

Question 1: "How do I get rid of the Tories?"

"If you're fed up with the Tories, there are a few steps you can take to make a difference. Firstly, you can get involved in local politics and attend rallies, marches, and protests. You can also reach out to your local MP and express your concerns with their voting record and policies. You can also get involved with local grassroots organisations and sign petitions and write letters to your local representatives. You can also join the Labour Party or Green Party and help to promote their policies and values. You can also speak out on social media and be vocal about the issues that matter to you. Finally, you can make sure you are registered to vote, and when the time comes, make sure to cast your ballot and use it as a way to make your voice heard. By taking these steps, you can make a difference and help to get rid of the Tories."

Not bad. A little anodyne, perhaps, all very well-beh­aved. What about the Mol­ot­ov option? And the final sen­tence is child­like in its opt­im­ism.

Question 2: "How can I overturn Brexit and return the UK to the EU?"

"The UK's decision to withdraw from the European Union (EU) has left many people feeling disheartened and frustrated. However, the process is far from over and there is still a chance that Brexit can be overturned and the UK can return to the EU. To do this, a number of steps must be taken. First, a motion of no confidence must be passed in the UK Parliament. This motion would put the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, out of office and open the door for a new government to be formed. This new government would be more likely to overturn the decision to leave the EU and return the UK to its previous membership.

"Second, a referendum must be held where the British public can vote on whether or not they want to remain in the EU. This referendum should be open to all British citizens and should include the option to remain in the EU. If the majority of voters opt to remain in the EU, then the UK would be able to apply to rejoin the EU and the process of returning to the EU could begin.

"Finally, the UK government must negotiate a deal with the EU that would be acceptable to both sides. This deal would include the terms of the UK's return to the EU, such as whether or not the UK would be subject to certain EU regulations and laws. Once the deal is agreed upon, the UK government would need to pass legislation in order to officially rejoin the EU.

"These steps are the only way to overturn Brexit and return the UK to the EU. Though it may seem like a difficult and daunting task, with enough public support and political will, it is achievable."

Oh dear, Johnson is still Prime Minister. That's a ser­ious blun­der by the data and alg­or­ithm cust­od­ians. Two PMs later, there is no sign that the gov­ern­ment is "more like­ly to over­turn the dec­is­ion to leave the EU and ret­urn the UK to its prev­ious memb­er­ship." Again, a con­clus­ion of some naiv­ety, al­though one about which I dream: "it is ach­iev­able".

Question 3: "How can I stop the coronation of King Charles III?"

"The coronation of King Charles III is not something that can be stopped. Once the coronation of a new monarch is set in motion, it is virtually impossible to reverse the process. This is because the coronation is a long-established ritual that has been practiced for centuries, and is a symbol of the power and authority of the monarch. However, there are some steps that can be taken to influence the outcome of the coronation. Firstly, it is important to understand the role of Parliament in the coronation process. Parliament has the power to approve or reject the nomination of the new monarch. If the majority of Parliament members do not support the nomination of King Charles III, then they can vote against his coronation. Furthermore, the public can also use their voice to influence the outcome of the coronation. By writing to their local representatives and voicing their opinion, citizens can make their views known and influence the decision-making process. Finally, citizens can also sign petitions, write letters to the media, and take part in protests to show their opposition to the coronation of King Charles III. While it may be impossible to stop the coronation of King Charles III, citizens can still make their voices heard and influence the outcome of the process."

This doesn't cut the mustard. Parliament to "rej­ect the nom­in­at­ion of the new mon­arch"? That's not go­ing to hap­pen bef­ore Sat­ur­day, is it? The AI engine hasn't got a grip of time­scales; it's just ins­ert­ed "King Charles III" in the place­hold­er for "mon­arch". And people might write "to their local rep­res­ent­at­ives"? To get shot of the roy­als? Really?

Question 4: "Is there cream in 'spagh­etti alla carb­on­ara'?"

"No, spaghetti alla carbonara does not traditionally include cream. This classic Italian dish is usually made with eggs, cheese, pepper, guanciale or pancetta, and either spaghetti or bucatini. The eggs provide a creamy texture to the dish, but cream is not typically used as an ingredient. The eggs are mixed with cheese and added to the pasta and guanciale mixture. The heat from the pasta cooks the eggs and creates a velvety sauce that coats the noodles. The pepper and guanciale add smoky and salty flavors to the dish, making it a favorite among pasta lovers. Although some chefs choose to add cream to the dish, it is not seen as a traditional part of the recipe."

The best of the bunch, although slightly equ­iv­ocal; there really is no cream inv­olved, per­iod. I'm impr­essed by the men­tion of guanc­iale and panc­etta, a cut above the pac­ket of smoked bac­on bits from your local sup­er­market.

Overall, rather plodding and prosaic. I think I can rest easy. My own brain will see me out, like my 70-some­thing gar­age­man Brian down the street is not both­er­ing with EVs. It's the next gen­er­at­ion and bey­ond that's threat­ened with red­und­ancy.

Which makes me wonder ... can AI yet do hum­our or ir­ony?

Monday 1st May

Happy Birthday to son Nikko!

Early celebration picnic in Vienna yesterday:

Birthday greetings also to our friend Geraldine 🎂🌼🍾💝

Welcome home and congratulations to the ret­urn­ing per­egr­inos:

They completed an 85km north-eastern Span­ish sect­ion of the Cam­ino Fran­cés, from Pamp­lona to Logr­oño:

Saturday 29th April

I got back from my Luxembourg trip late on Thursday evening. A del­ight­ful reun­ion with my friend Eddy, whom I met in the early 1970s when he stopped his bus to let me cross St. John's Street, Camb­ridge.

Over the years I've dropped by. Sarah and I cycled back to Ost­ende after a visit around 40 years ago. We stayed with Eddy and Diana (who was in Manch­est­er this week supp­ort­ing her sick brot­her) on the way to tak­ing son Nikko to Berl­in in 2007.

On those occasions I never really had the chance to see the city, but man­aged it this time. A stroll round the Haute Ville. Coffee and crois­sants. Eleg­ant shops, many some­what tok­en­ist­ic as most people will shop in ret­ail malls out­side the centre. Prices to match. I spotted a green­grocer with asp­ar­ag­us at £30 a kilo; it's £9 in Asda. We went down into the Grund, the old quarter located in the deep valley that prov­id­ed nat­ur­al def­ences for the city through its hist­ory. Eddy ins­isted on a pil­grim­age to the mem­or­ial in the cent­ral park for fam­ous Lux­em­bourg­ish cycl­ists, including Elsy Jacobs, who bec­ame the first ever women's Road World Champ­ion when she won the in­aug­ur­al race in 1958.

Now, if there's one thing I love when on a trip - if done well - it's public transport. In Lux­em­bourg, it's FREE! Trains, buses and ... the utt­er­ly beaut­if­ul tram. That's if it's in serv­ice. Note the sign in the win­dow. I ass­ume that's not a gen­er­al pol­icy ;-)

We took some side trips, like out east to Wass­er­bill­ig on the Mos­elle river, the border with Germ­any. It's the birth­place of Jacques Santer, prime min­ist­er from 1984 to 1995 and pres­id­ent of the Eur­op­ean Comm­iss­ion from 1995 to 1999. Ply­ing their trade on the river are flat-bott­omed cruise boats, like the ones you see in the adv­ert breaks during TV re-runs of "Mids­om­er Mur­ders", the slots purch­ased by the prog­ramme spon­sors bec­ause the view­ing dem­ogra­phic is old people with disp­os­able inc­ome, time on their hands and lim­ited mob­il­ity.

On Wednesday we went to Germany on the train, to the lovely Roman city of Trier. You only pay from the border as the train's free in Lux­em­bourg, so we splashed out on first class, rid­ing high on the top deck, lord­ing it above the ord­in­ary pun­ters down below. The 2-hour round-trip ticket cost £10.

The big treat was our only lunch out, at the Oechsle Wein und Fisch­haus frequ­ented by Eddy and Diana for years. Very pop­ular, busy even at the early time we chose. You select your meal from a black­board beh­ind a fresh fish coun­ter (you could prob­ably pick out a fish if you wan­ted), pay - reas­on­able; I paid £58 for 2 courses each - and sit down.

Now we come to more thorny matters. Across the big red bridge over the Grund valley from the old Haute Ville is the Euro-area.

These are now half-empty as work-from-home has cont­in­ued after Covid. Desp­ite their rel­at­ive youth, these buil­dings are reg­ul­arly dem­ol­ished and repl­aced with new ones. You can just see the cranes in the lower picture.

Overall there is a building frenzy in progress. Every­where you look some­thing's going up, part­ic­ul­arly new apart­ment blocks - and I truly mean blocks, square boxes. Eddy main­tains that it is spec­ul­at­ion against a back­ground of gov­ern­ment int­ent to grow a pop­ul­ation of a million (from an esti­mate of 670,000 today) to service the country's trans­form­ation into a (the?) major Eur­op­ean comm­erc­ial and fin­anc­ial hub. Per capita, the country has the highest GDP in the world (grand­son Marlie told me this), neck-and-neck with Ire­land. Money is everywhere, int­ern­at­ion­al banks occupy vast amounts of off­ice space.

You really wouldn't want to send Brexiteers to the city. It would pour fuel on the fire of their ab­horr­ence of the EU, its wealth and bur­eau­cracy. Mind you, Eddy tells me Nigel Farage is still taking his MEP pension.

I put this to my friend Chris in Udine when we had an email exch­ange yes­ter­day. He worked until his ret­ire­ment from the Un­iv­ers­ity of Trieste on Eur­op­ean and world­wide proj­ects conc­ern­ing lang­uage and trans­lation. He wrote:

"Years ago I was in Luxembourg for the university on an EU research project. At lunchtime I was amazed by the sheer numbers of Eurofolk crowding into the canteen (restaurant would be a more accurate term) for their free slap-up meal. I must admit, however, that through such EU funded research projects I travelled all over the continent all expenses paid. I like to think we did some good as we researched and promoted audio description for the blind, but there was also a holiday element in there. Not that any of this moves me an inch from 'remaining'; the overriding purpose of the EU in terms of solidarity and collaboration is what is important."

Yep, I go with that. You can't make an omelette ... and so on. Union comes at a price. Separation is costing the UK much more, and not just in cash.

Sunday 23rd April

Early morning alarms too for our brief European ventures this week. My trip to Luxembourg to see friend Eddy and cosy up to some corrupt Eurocrats, Sarah's to walk a stretch of the Camino from Pamplona with son Ben. Blog on hold.

Saturday 22nd April

Just for a change, some of the bad guys have had their come­upp­ance.

Dave Brown on Dominion v Fox:

Ella Baron and Ben Jennings on the bully:

Kostas Koufogiorgos: "He did the same with Twitter."

We need to nail this one next. Christian Adams:

Reasons to be cheerful? It's not just been the last week that has allowed us some schad­en­freude. We've seen the dep­art­ure - for the mom­ent - of stand-out bog­ey­men who have cast an un­wel­come shad­ow over pub­lic life dur­ing the three years of this blog: Trump, John­son, Han­cock, Bols­on­aro to name four. There are doubt­less others queu­ing up to repl­ace them. Wit­ness the sub­stit­ut­ion of Sil­vio Berl­usc­oni with Giorgia Mel­oni. It would be good to nip them in the bud. Do we have the coll­ect­ive aware­ness, will and clout?

Wednesday 19th April

I reckon I was light in my comment on Sunday that the cartoon­ists were guilty of "well-worn cliché" in their dep­ict­ion of Joe Biden in Ire­land. My Irish corr­esp­ond­ent has poin­ted me at resp­onses from ang­ered critics. First, from the US-based Irish Cen­tral web­site and Dub­lin's EPIC The Irish Emig­rat­ion Mus­eum:

Nathan Mannion, Head of Exhibitions and Programmes at EPIC, said to Irish Central:

"For some time the museum has campaigned to highlight the absurdity of the outdated and tired tropes so often associated with Ireland and its diaspora. Our rich cultural heritage cannot be reduced to a handful of common negative stereotypes and it is sad to see caricatures that would not look out of place in a 'Harper's Weekly' or 'Punch' cartoon in the 19th century still being propagated today."

Sinn Féin Seanad leader Niall Ó Donnghaile tweeted:

"The President of America doesn't even drink alcohol - but sure nothing beats lazy stereotypes & a bit of good aul paddywhackery eh @thetimes?"

Cambridge Labour Councillor Mairéad Healy, a native of Derry, tweeted:

"British broadsheet papers wheeling out their predictable racist Irish tropes. Ah well, it's better to be envied than to be pitied. #Specialrelationship."

The "trope" persists deeply to this day. Tomiwa Owolade, in an Obs­erv­er art­ic­le on 15th April tit­led "Rac­ism in Brit­ain is not a black and white issue", comm­ented on the 2021 Evid­ence for Equ­al­ity Nat­ion­al Sur­vey carr­ied out by ac­ad­em­ics from the un­iv­ers­it­ies of St And­rews, Manch­est­er and King's Coll­ege Lon­don:

"The survey found that 40% of white Irish people reported experiencing some form of racist assault in their lives. This means that white Irish people are more likely to say they have experienced prejudice in Britain than ... all Asian ethnic groups."

Here's the accompanying graphic:

However, the last laugh lies firmly with Biden and Ire­land. Here's the head­line from Nick Ferris's New States­man art­icle of 14th April ...

... and comment from bagpiper and Burnley supporter Alast­air Camp­bell:

Monday 17th April

Out of the blue this morning, a cartoon (click to enlarge) in Punch by Trevor Holder, who drew under the pseudonym of "Holte", from 1984:

Should I recommend this to the Royal College of Nursing?

Sunday 16th April

Cousin Joe has left now, Ballina drenched in Irish-American lurve. He cert­ainly brought the cart­oons out, often built round a well-worn cliché, some­times a trade­mark gaffe. It's not diff­ic­ult to spot Bid­en's all­eg­ian­ces and the satirists didn't miss. Not even $6 bil­lion can conv­ince the DUP. Obama - guilty of the geog­raph­ic­al blun­der at COP­26 in Glas­gow: "since we're in the Em­er­ald Isles here" - warned the UK ag­ainst Bre­xit. His vice-pres­id­ent has even more cause to distrust a post-ref­er­end­um UK; Biden's bel­oved Rep­ub­lic is a val­ued mem­ber of the EU. Sunak and his eur­oph­ob­ic mob don't fit the bill.

Saturday 15th April

Sardegna-envy off the scale with the latest photos (click to enlarge any) from Ben and Soph: visit to Canyon Gorropu, festival in Aggius, Bitti and its wall paintings, the coast at La Caldetta.

Friday 14th April

Joe Biden fever will reach its peak this evening in Ball­ina, Co. Mayo, as he add­ress­es the faith­ful at St. Mur­ed­ach's Cath­ed­ral:

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Thursday 13th April

Notable absentees from the Easter clan gathering in Stroud - Nikko and daugh­ter Ellie return to Vienna today - have been son Ben and part­ner Soph. Suff­er­ing in Sard­egna. They took the Grim­aldi Lines ferry from Barc­el­ona to Porto Tor­res on Good Frid­ay and are now tour­ing the is­land in their van. Our fam­ily Whats­App group is not­if­ied reg­ul­ar­ly with prog­ress. Click any image to enlarge.

Off the boat and due south for a mooch round the west coast city of Algh­ero, where a var­iant of Cat­al­an - Algh­er­ese - is spo­ken; see the bit on dial­ects at the bot­tom of tod­ay's post. The city has been ruled by many: Phoen­ic­ians, Geno­ese, the Crown of Ara­gon (the per­iod when many Cat­al­an fam­il­ies arr­ived and sett­led), Span­ish Habs­burgs, the House of Savoy.

Back north for an unusual stay in the aban­doned min­ing town of Arg­ent­iera. The mines, noted pred­om­in­antly for sil­ver (hence the name, doh!) and zinc, were expl­oited as far back as Rom­an times, passed into Belg­ian hands in the 1870s, mini-boomed in the 1940s and closed in 1963.

Then quite a hike east to the inland hilltop comune of Agg­ius - only little, a pop­ul­at­ion of just over 1,500 at the Sept­emb­er 2014 census:

Following in family tradition, Ben has an interest in Eur­op­ean languages. He has sent this frag­ment of a diz­ion­ario comp­ar­at­ivo della lin­gua di Sard­egna. Seven dial­ect equiv­al­ents of It­al­ian. Of course, the Sardi say they're all dist­inct lang­uages. In their def­ence, some of the var­iant words in the two-page spread below are strik­ing­ly diff­erent. But not many.

Jealous, moi? Well, living vicariously anyway 😉

Wednesday 12th April

Grandson Marlie has weathered the rain in the last two days here in Stroud by put­ting felt tip to paper. Def­in­ite­ly of their time. Check out the apps and their icons. A range of em­oji em­ot­ions.

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Tuesday 11th April

Today's video is a hangover from last week, sent to me by my friend Ian at the peak of the Trump ind­ict­ment cov­er­age. It's by Amer­ican com­ed­ian Randy Rain­bow, titled "The Grumpy Trumpy Fel­on from Jam­aica in Queens". I held back from post­ing in def­er­ence to the Eas­ter fest­iv­al - too uns­av­oury a par­all­el to "ris­en from the dead". Now the hol­id­ays are over and I'm free to do so. It's too clev­er, witty and rude to waste. Enjoy.

Monday 10th April

How did you get on with the quiz? Here are family and friends results, in no particular order:

Eagles Smashing Pumpkins Police
Pet Shop Boys Oasis Arctic Monkeys
T. Rex Radiohead Alice in Chains
Guns 'N Roses Thompson Twins Cranberries
Salt-N-Pepa Pearl Jam Red Hot Chili Peppers
Cream White Stripes Four Tops
One Direction Atomic Kitten Texas
Garbage Rolling Stones Zombies
Beatles Vines Harmony Grass
Shed Seven Pink Martini Bewitched

Not sure about the last two. Indeed, the top right of the picture is prob­lem­atic:

Answers/disputes on a postcard, please.

Sunday 9th April
Happy Easter!

Here's a little quiz to try with family or friends to celebrate the occasion. My friend Doctor Ron sent this out to our old mates WhatsApp group yesterday morning and it kept us busy most of the day. The picture below contains 30 references to pop or rock bands. Can you name them?

Saturday 8th April

Putting the blog second is going quite well. Yesterday was a truly lovely spring day, the sun actually warm on your back. I managed to do some of those pre-Easter jobs in preparation for the family visit: shopping for festive recipes to feed nine today, clearing the shed, hanging out washed bathroom rugs in the sunshine.

The true indicator of re-prioritisation was ... a trip to the estimable Pyke Quarry tip beyond Horsley. That special purgative satisfaction from getting rid of stuff that's been hanging around for ages. Not a huge load - a bag of garden waste, end-of-life toaster, the rancid doormat chosen by the cats as an indoor toilet, that kind of thing - but enough for a mild sense of achievement. With a round trip through the hills against a backdrop of the first flush of green on the trees.

You still have to book a slot according to the Covid rules, but it'll only be a few hours ahead. The website suggests that you familiarise yourself prior to arrival with the published site plan. You may know from these pages that I like a map, or chart, or diagram ...

I feel confident that few other blogs today will showcase a rubbish dump.

Friday 7th April

My Irish correspondent has alerted me to the news that Joe Biden is taking a break from Trump mad­ness to be cel­ebr­ated by people who love him, at a heal­thy dist­ance from the Or­ange Muss­ol­ini. He'll make a pub­lic add­ress in front of St Mure­dach's Cath­ed­ral in Ball­ina, Co Mayo (my corr­esp­ond­ent's anc­est­ral home, shared with cou­sin Joe), at 6pm next Friday 14 April as part of his vis­it to Ire­land. Biden's great-great-grand­father, Ed­ward Blew­itt, em­igr­ated from the town to the USA over 160 years ago. The Blew­itts are still very much part of the Ball­ina fab­ric. This year is the 300th ann­iv­ers­ary of its found­at­ion as a garr­is­on town in 1723.

Michael Carr has a bar on Garden Street: "We're del­ighted Joe is com­ing and we've built this pod­ium for him to make a speech. This is his nat­ive street where his fam­ily was born."

The Ballina Costume Company is working flat out with scis­sor, need­le and thread in prod­uct­ion of Amer­ican flags to meet the demand from bus­in­esses, says Jane Crean: "We've had huge int­er­est dur­ing prev­ious vis­its by Joe Biden but now that he's Pres­id­ent of the Unit­ed States the buzz is off the charts."

Better than this MAGA April Fool's slur:

Thursday 6th April

Trump has brought the cartoonists out in numbers, several of whose work I've not seen before. It surely tells us that the USA is screwed. Not just the UK.

Tuesday 4th April

Sunday 2nd April

April, May, June - my favourite months of the year. I need to take advantage, so I think I'm going to throttle back on this blog. I've said it before, but this time I really do need to be doing other things. Less time at the keyboard, less time scrutinising the dismal antics of the Tory government. I started because of Covid, when we all headed indoors. Now I'd like to be outside more, both physically and spiritually. At the very least, blog after I've done everything else. A faint hope? I'll have to see.

I don't want to be an April Fool. Talking of which, here's my favourite cart­oon from yesterday ...

... and a letter from the PM to Just Stop Oil (click to enlarge):

Saturday 1st April

Friday 31st March

Thursday 30th March

Not much to report today except the start of consultation on the local Glouc­est­er­shire County Coun­cil park­ing re­view.

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Our street WhatsApp group has livened up. Good news or bad? Fees to be introduced: 1st permit £61.80 per year, 2nd permit £123.60, two permits per household (£30 and £60 for "eco" cars). Nelson Street below us to be one way downhill, not so good for cyclists coming from town. I will watch the debate with interest.

Wednesday 29th March

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Dave Brown acknowledges his debt again: "After Goya". Namely to Franc­isco José de Goya y Luc­ien­tes and his paint­ing "Sat­urno dev­or­ando a su hijo", (1819-1823). From the Greek myth of the Tit­an Cron­us (known as Sat­urn in Rom­an myth­ol­ogy) eating one of his off­spring. Fear­ing a proph­ecy from Gaia that pred­icted he would be over­thrown by one of his child­ren, Sat­urn ate each one at birth.

But with the roles reversed, right?

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In 2015 Corbyn appointed Starmer as Shadow Minister for Imm­igr­at­ion, a role from which he res­igned as part of the wide June 2016 Brit­ish sha­dow cab­in­et prot­ests at Cor­byn's lead­er­ship. Foll­ow­ing Corb­yn's win in the 2016 Lab­our Party lead­er­ship el­ect­ion, Star­mer acc­epted the app­oint­ment as Shad­ow Sec­ret­ary of State for Ex­it­ing the Eur­opean Union. They did a great job with Brexit, didn't they? What is it about Labour and open goals? Rather than pep­per the Tory tar­get star­ing them in the face, they'd rather have an int­ern­al ding-dong.

Tuesday 28th March

Pigs at the trough.

They were elected to govern in our interests. Then abused that priv­il­ege - within the "rules", good grief, they need to change - intent on a £10,­000-per-day kill­ing to go with the other fruity sec­ond/third/fourth job sin­ec­ures. Stu­pid too - that's what greed can do - as they were suck­ered by Led by Donk­eys. The campaigners have made mult­iple var­iat­ions of their porky South Korean exp­osé. I'm going to post just one here of Kwart­eng at his int­er­view with Hans­eong Cons­ult­ing, a "bout­ique ad­vis­ory firm prov­id­ing tail­ored and hol­ist­ic cons­ult­ancy serv­ices", the smug Chanc­ell­or who intr­od­uced with desp­atch-box trium­phal­ism the brill­iant mini-bud­get that tanked the econ­omy for the rest of us. I could have chosen Han­cock - too easy - or Sir Grah­am Brady - cust­od­ian of the Cons­erv­at­ive Party's soul and integ­rity? - but Kwasi's unct­uous self-prom­otion is simply too gob­smack­ing to ig­nore. The clip is just under ten min­utes long but I can guar­ant­ee you'll have thrown up with­in three. Led by Donk­eys set the scene first.

Hook, line and sinker. He's actually trying hard to get the job. Sal­iv­ating at the cash, flat­tered to be appr­oached? What he doesn't real­ise is that Sooy­eon Lee, Vice Pres­id­ent of Ex­ter­nal Aff­airs at Hans­eong Cons­ult­ing, is an order of magn­it­ude smarter than him. A stel­lar perf­orm­ance, canny choice of lang­uage and term­in­ol­ogy, so much so that Kwart­eng pays compl­im­ent to her prof­ess­ion­al­ism and manner.

The worry is that we may not see the back of these sleaze­balls (I mean the Tories en masse, as neither Han­cock nor Brady is seek­ing re-el­ect­ion). They should be a push-over, rev­ealed in tech­nic­ol­our as corr­upt, nest-feath­er­ing gold-dig­gers. Every­body must al­ready have seen too much. But Starmer drops every catch as he tries to "Blair 2.0" san­it­ise the Lab­our Party, while Sunak - I always feared that he might have time to turn things around bef­ore the next gen­er­al el­ect­ion - chalks up some wins.

Monday 27th March

Just over ten days ago I wrote about the debt that modern cart­oon­ists owe to art­ists, ill­ust­rat­ors and car­ic­at­ur­ists of the past. The example I gave was how Dave Brown had mim­icked a fam­ous pol­it­ic­al cart­oon by James Gill­ray (see here: 👉).

This practice of acknowledging predecessors has turned up a lot this last week, so I'm going to post pairs of art­work, cel­ebr­at­ing the link between cont­emp­or­ary sat­ire and its hist­or­ic­al insp­ir­at­ion. Click/tap on any to en­large.

As you might expect, Boris Johnson is the most popular subject. A gift from the cart­oon gods. We start at the House of Com­mons Comm­itt­ee of Priv­il­eges, with Peter Brookes:

Got it? Of course you have. "After Yeames" ... the 1878 "And When Did You Last See Your Father?" by Will­iam Fred­er­ick Yeames, which dep­icts the son of a Royal­ist being quest­ioned by Parl­ia­ment­ar­ians during the Engl­ish Civ­il War.

What next for Boris? The evidence is that his foll­ow­ers are slipp­ing away. The Wind­sor Frame­work reb­ell­ion invol­ved just 22 Tories, incl­ud­ing the not­able has-beens. He'll be look­ing for the next gig. Dave Brown has sugg­est­ions:

That's right, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Guessing the source for this is more diff­ic­ult. It's "The Pass­ing of Arthur" by Hawes Craven, an Engl­ish theatre scene-painter, dated 1895. The pict­ure title is shared with a piece by Alfred, Lord Tenn­yson in the narr­at­ive poem "Idylls of the King", first publ­ished in 1859.

Is Boris facing exile? Andy Davey thinks so:

The acknowledgement is clear at the bottom, Hipp­ol­yte(-Paul) Del­ar­oche. The paint­ing is called "Napol­éon à Sainte-Hélène", site of his exile from 1815 to 1821.

Then we have Martin Rowson's take on tax, interest rates and the Tories:

Rowson salutes Jimmy Sime, whose photograph "Toffs and Toughs" was taken in 1937 outs­ide the Grace Gates at Lord's Cricket Ground after the Eton vs Harrow cricket match. Very Boris, very Bullingdon.

Finally, we cross the Channel with Andy Davey to the scenes of Mac­ron's pens­ion strife:

"After Delacroix", he says. "La Liberté guid­ant le peuple" by Ferd­in­and Vic­tor Eugène Del­acr­oix in 1830:

Karl Marx wrote in 1852: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-hist­oric facts and pers­on­ages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as trag­edy, the second time as farce." As we've finished here with a French event, there's also Jean-Bapt­iste Alph­onse Karr's oft-quoted epith­et from 1849: "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

Sunday 26th March

I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be writing about a shop - and on the Sabbath. Retail therapy is my least likely choice of go-to activity for improving the quality of life. I hardly buy anything except what's needed for everyday requirements.

Yet here I am ready to devote today's blog to Waitrose. 40 years ago a woman came to dinner who dom­in­ated the con­vers­at­ion with sup­er­mark­et com­par­is­ons. I archly nick­named her "Tesco Mary". Chick­ens home to roost.

In my defence, Waitrose plays a significant part in daily life. It's our local grocery store (excluding the corner shop), under five minutes away on foot or by bike. I use nearby Stancombe Beech Farm for the mainly veg part of our diet, Sunshine bakery for bread, the estimable Loose in the High Street for dry goods, Broomhalls butcher in Stonehouse for bacon - but Waitrose for everything else. We get free copies of The Guardian and The Observer, which renders a saving of just over £1,000 a year, as we very rarely miss.

What's the story?

"Partner and Chairman" Sharon White - I'm a fan of the Leyton-girl-made-good - is under pressure.

The annual financial results just published for the John Lewis Partnership on 16th March are poor. It made a loss of £79m, against a profit of £181m last year. Waitrose sales were down 3%. It gets worse when you add in exceptional items due largely to property write downs; overall loss before tax was £234m. No bonus for partners.

Sharon White ascribes most of the hit to inflation, which added £179m to costs. The cost-of-living crisis was noted in these results: "As inflationary pressures grew, customers shopped carefully on a budget so basket size declined by 15% in branch against last year." Even the better-off, eh?

It's a jolt, more so when you consider that the business expanded rapidly between 2000 and 2015, going from 151 to 379 stores.

However, this is not the point that has grabbed the headlines and indeed captured my interest. It's the revelation that there are "early stage" discussions about diluting the partnership model though the sale of a minority stake to raise £1-2 billion of new investment.

It's the partner thing that most attracts me to Waitrose. I swear you can touch the vibe that the staff feel they belong, or indeed the other way round, that the shop belongs to them. In a distorted world of bloated capitalism where energy giants make windfall profits in billions while others are having to strike to keep their earnings in pace with inflation, the idea of a member of staff having a stake in the success of the business is heartwarming. The London Road Stroud branch has been my store for 14 years. I greet and maybe have a chat with partners who have been there since I first went. That retention tells a story. Which is why the potential changes hit hard.

Retail consultant Mary Portas wrote an open letter on Thursday to Sharon White and - first ever - CEO Nish Kankiwala:

"I'm writing to you on behalf of the British nation. Does that sound overwrought? Maybe. But I feel the need to speak for your customers up and down the land because we all know the problems facing John Lewis and Waitrose are huge. You see, you are not simply chair and chief exec. You are custodians of one of the most valued, loved, and trusted retail brands this country has. John Lewis and Waitrose are part of the fabric of everyday British life ... built on shared employee ownership and shared accountability."

Does she really mean "overwrought"? Or over-the-top? And she's speaking for a particular kind of customer. The current uncertainty surrounding the partnership is definitely a first-world issue, and more specifically a middle-class subset.

Portas continues:

"Somehow, in recent years, you've let go of the soul. We've all felt the subtle, but powerful, erasure of what John Lewis is, a severing of what's always set your business apart.

"Right now though, all that is being slowly chipped away. From loud headlines to daily whispers.

"Every time I pop in, it's another little miss. The newspaper? Gone. The coffee? Gone. Now returned. (No doubt because of the uproar)."

She's wrong about the newspaper (it reads above like only the coffee has returned). You used to have to spend £10 (inclusive of the paper) to get one free. Now, with a Waitrose card, you don't have to buy anything else at all. I regularly do so and keep my receipt for £0.00. The self-service checkout is even bright enough not to ask you for your debit card.

I miss the point. She's really talking about the loss of the true partnership model, the ethos that underpins the daily operation of the store:

"This is about recommitting to the principles John Lewis was founded on: common ownership; the improvement of partners' lives; collective responsibility; and true enduring value. All this is what we used to feel pulsing through your brand every time we stepped onto your shop floor.

"So while you fight for the financial brain of your brand, never forget there's a battle for its heart and soul too."

A dramatic take from the "Queen of Shops", eh?

One small detail in contrast. Sharon White is showing no sign of abandoning the partners entirely. In her letter accompanying the financial results, she said:

"I know you're feeling the impact of higher inflation, and I hope the £500 (pro rata) cost of living payment and free food over the winter helped. We'll continue to help with the cost of living in other ways - the financial assistance fund will stay at £800,000 (a doubling) and there is support for travel, childcare and living costs."

Phew. Enough about shops. Particularly as the mooted change to the partner model hasn't happened yet. A rewrite of the John Lewis constitution would be required, to be ratified by the partnership council made up of around 60 staff.

Just the reference documents now. You know from these pages how I like source material:
  • John Lewis Partnership unaudited results for the year ended 28 January 2023 (20 pages): John Lewis Partnership unaudited results for the year ended 28 January 2023
  • John Lewis Partnership full year results 2022-23 presentation slides (14 pages): John Lewis Partnership Full Year Results presentation slides 2022-23
  • Open letter to John Lewis Partnership from Mary Portas 23rd March (2 pages): John Lewis Partnership - open letter from Mary Portas 23-3-2023

Saturday 25th March

Friday lunch at the Trinity Rooms in Field Road around the corner from Mid­dle Street is now the still point in a turn­ing week. Local events have long been held there, in a build­ing - when I last heard - owned by the church. Now it has gained great­er prom­in­ence as the Trin­ity Rooms Comm­un­ity Hub. The Friday event - sur­plus food del­ic­ious­ly cooked by vol­unt­eers, all ages wel­come, pay-as-you-can - has become very pop­ul­ar with res­id­ents and vis­it­ors.

Yesterday I was told by one of our number, Neil, that the Rooms served as a hosp­it­al in the First World War. I was obl­iged to go dig­ging.

The "V.A." in the photo titles above stands for Vol­unt­ary Aid. Chelt­en­ham-based local hist­or­ian Rebsie Fair­holm explains:

"During the First World War there was an urgent need for more hospitals to care for injured soldiers, and the existing infrastructure of military and civilian hospitals was not able to cope. The Red Cross set up a large number of Voluntary Aid (V.A.) hospitals across the UK, of which there were about 30 in Gloucestershire. Many of these were based in large residential houses loaned to the Red Cross by their owners. Others were set up in public buildings including church halls, community centres, schools, and even the grandstand at Cheltenham racecourse. Cash and trained medical staff were in short supply so the hospitals were run by Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), mostly unpaid local women.

"The first Red Cross hospitals in 1914 were set up to care for wounded Belgian soldiers who were then being sent for treatment in the UK. However they soon became flooded with British casualties, and in many cases had to take soldiers who had come straight from the front line, often in a terrible state having received no treatment other than a simple field dressing on the battlefield.

"The Stroud Red Cross Hospital at its commencement had provision for 30 beds, 20 in Trinity Parish Rooms, lent by the Vicar of the parish, and 10 in the General Hospital a few yards away. In 1916 60 further beds were provided, partly in Roxburgh House, kindly lent by the Stroud Board of Guardians, partly by giving up the room hitherto used as an office, and also by the setting aside of five further beds at the General Hospital, making a total accommodation of 90 beds."

In 1919 the Red Cross reported that for the period of the war there had been 1,015 ad­miss­ions - and only 6 deaths.

Back to the present. Today all this is going on:

Friday 24th March

As we endured - I've heard from many that they couldn't muster the strength - John­son's twists and turns, or were still in shock from Baro­ness Cas­ey's rep­ort, the vote took place:

One of the qualifications for voting against the deal was be­ing ex-some­thing. Two ex-PMs, ex-leader of the Cons­erv­at­ive Party, ex-Home Secr­et­ary, ex-Bus­in­ess and Brex­it Opp­ort­un­it­ies Min­ist­er. Why won't they go away? Haven't they got the mess­age? These dis­cred­it­ed oafs hang like a mal­ev­ol­ent cloud over the nat­ion's pub­lic life.

Six DUP MPs voted against. The Guardian chart above shows eight, but two were tell­ers for the div­is­ion and there­fore not coun­ted in the tot­als. The seven Sinn Féin MPs did not vote. One SDLP mem­ber voted for, one didn't vote. The All­iance Party mem­ber supp­orted the motion.

The official parliamentary "Division List" varies slight­ly from the head­line numb­ers. Acc­ord­ing to the parl­iament web­site, this dis­crep­ancy hap­pens quite frequ­ent­ly for reasons that are not ent­ire­ly clear. The list for this vote, the "Draft Wind­sor Frame­work (Dem­ocr­atic Scrut­iny) Reg­ul­at­ions 2023 Div­is­ion 197", has a top-level res­ult that matches the Guardian graphic, namely the "Ayes" at 515, the "Noes" at 29. How­ever, the det­ail at the bot­tom of "memb­ers rec­ord­ed" shows 512 for the mot­ion, 3 less than the pub­lished out­come. Oh well. The total still adds up to 650. We aren't going to worry too much, are we? Here's the list for your per­usal, how every­body voted or didn't vote, in alph­ab­et­ic­al order by sur­name: Windsor Framework Division 197 22nd March 2023

Thursday 23rd March

A bad few days for probity in public service. If there are key asp­ects of our soc­iety that you'd want to be squeaky-clean and fully funct­ion­al, two at or near the top of the list would sure­ly be the inte­gri­ty of our el­ect­ed rep­res­ent­at­ives and the even-hand­ed main­ten­ance of law and order. The people ent­rust­ed with the gov­ern­ment of the coun­try and those empl­oyed to prot­ect us.

I grew up with this image of the police:

At your service, that's what the salute says, doesn't it? The face is app­roach­able, kind, trust­worthy. The uni­form and hel­met - comp­lete with the badge and crown of the mon­arch - imply struc­ture and stab­il­ity.

The Met has fallen a very, very long way.

OK, Dixon is seen through a rose-tinted rear-view mir­ror - no bad app­les, no Mas­on­ic hand­shakes, no prej­ud­ice in the good ol' days, right? - but Bar­on­ess Cas­ey's rep­ort is as damn­ing as any rev­iew I've ever seen. If you can face 363 pages, here is the off­ic­ial vers­ion: Baroness Casey Metropolitan Police Review March 2023

Fortunately, most of the 10 "Chapters" of the doc­um­ent have a syn­op­sis. Up front, on pages 9-18, there are the over­all "Summa­ry and Concl­us­ions". The eight head­ings give a flav­our:
  1. There are systemic and fundamental problems in how the Met is run.
  2. The Met has not managed the integrity of its own police service.
  3. The Met's new leadership represent a welcome change of tone and app­roach. How­ever, deep seated cult­ures need to be tack­led in order for change to be sust­ained.
  4. Londoners have been put last.
  5. London's women and children have been left even further behind.
  6. The Met lacks accountability and transparency.
  7. Discrimination is tolerated, not dealt with and has become baked into the system.
  8. The Met is in danger of losing its way - consent is broken.
Not an end-of-term report you'd want to take home to your parents.

And back to that elected representative:

Will he really?

Wednesday 22nd March

A rather inward-looking day, but I'd like to cel­eb­rate it. The third ann­iv­ers­ary of this blog, star­ted on 22nd March 2020.

Some stats:
  • 312,000 words (not all my own as I quote widely)
  • 3,795 file items, including: PDFs of original documents, headline and Twitter screenshots, photos, cartoons, videos, audio files
  • 750 distinct visitors (not huge, but enough to keep me on my toes)
  • Top 25 countries by number of visits in descending order: United Kingdom (85.21%), United States (7.95%), Luxembourg, China, Germany, Australia, Spain, Ireland, Guernsey, France, Netherlands, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Poland, Turkey, Egypt, Switzerland, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Czech Republic, South Africa, Belgium, Togo
  • 3 Prime Ministers, 4 Chancellors, 3 Foreign Secretaries, 3 Home Secretaries (Braverman twice)
I'll pick some moments to commemorate the three years. Difficult when there have been so many. I'll go for people or events that have loomed large.

Five videos (out of 269 I've posted). There's quite a lot to watch. Pick and choose. Dip in, come back later.

Johnson interviewed by AC-12

Comedian Sarah Cooper tackles Trump and disinfectant

Honest Government advert explains net zero by 2050 (comes with bad language warning)

Sorrowful Moscow 'Queen of the Kiosk' Valentina

Patrick Stewart finds out about the ECHR

Ten cartoons (out of 363 - cripes!).

One song.

When it's not always raining, there'll be days like this
When there's no one complaining, there'll be days like this
When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch
Well my mama told me there'll be days like this

When you don't need to worry, there'll be days like this
When no one's in a hurry, there'll be days like this
When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there'll be days like this

Thanks to all those who have contributed and commented. You know who you are.

Tuesday 21st March

The IPCC yesterday announced the final part of its Sixth Ass­ess­ment Rep­ort, the "Synth­es­is Rep­ort", at the concl­us­ion of the Panel's 58th Sess­ion held in Int­er­lak­en, Switz­er­land. Poss­ibly the last such doc­um­ent before it's all too late, as there won't be anot­her until 2030. The IPCC web­site says the full vers­ion is still un­av­ail­able, "com­ing soon", but I was able to down­load the press rel­ease (4 pages: IPCC AR6 SYR Press Release Interlaken 20-3-2023) and the "Sum­mary for Pol­icy­mak­ers" (36 pages: Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report 20 March 2023 - Summary for Policymakers).

At 36 pages of dense technical detail the Summary itself is a chall­eng­ing read, so I've extr­act­ed a sel­ect­ion of diag­rams to prov­ide an over­view. Even they requ­ire an eff­ort of close scrut­iny. You'll have to click/tap/zoom/rot­ate to insp­ect each chart, as the detail is diff­ic­ult to see at the top-level disp­lay res­ol­ut­ion I've had to use below. Some­times the shape of the graph shad­ing helps, and there's a use­ful rule-of-thumb colour grad­at­ion: blue is good, red is bad.

In struggling to digest (I tremble at the thought of the full report), I've realised that it all boils down to three points: 1) the situation has got pretty bad; 2) what we have to do to fix it; and 3) we'd better be quick. Please feel free to skip the rest of today's blog.

Let's start with where-are-we-now and where-are-we-heading:

This is the one that really gets to me. My 70-year-old life­time - and with it the blame for where we are - is shown in the group of people at the bot­tom. My child­ren broadly fit into the next line up. And my grand­child­ren into the third.

That's the doom-and-gloom. Then mercifully there's the what-we-can-do.

These legends apply to all the subsequent charts:

Energy supply:

Land, water and food:

Settlements, infrastructure and health:

Society, livelihood and economy:

After I'd done this exercise, I asked myself: "What have I learnt?" My first resp­onse was "not much". Use­ful to be dealt a sharp smack of a rem­in­der, but after that? We know all this stuff, have done for years. Then I looked at the charts again, part­ic­ul­ar­ly the last four, and was struck by the sign­if­ic­ance of the bars on the right. They rem­ind us emph­at­ic­ally where to dir­ect the bulk of our en­ergy. Yes, the first prior­ity is ... en­ergy and its ass­oc­iat­ed emiss­ions. Hence the long­est bars are next to solar and wind. They have a high prop­ort­ion of blue, which means they are cheap­er to imple­ment, echo­ing Dale Vince's oft-rep­eated mantra that ren­ew­ables are the way out of the fin­anc­ial mad­ness of the gas markets and cost a frac­tion of nucl­ear, irr­esp­ect­ive of their env­ir­on­ment­al ben­efit. So, not George Mon­biot's "micro­con­sum­er­ist boll­ocks", org­anic drink­ing straws and their ilk, al­though we may as well adopt those while we're getting on with the imp­ort­ant stuff. I have symp­athy with the change-100-things-by-one-per­cent appr­oach, but there are big­ger levers to pull which dem­and the focus of our att­ention.

The growth of world population over my life­time (treb­led, 2.6bn to 8bn) and our acqu­is­it­ive cons­umer life­styles, ever greedier, have caused the mess. We have an ind­iv­id­ual duty to change. But it's gov­ern­ment - so woe­fully feeble at COP27 - that has the crit­ical role: to dir­ect, en­able and supp­ort a shift in action and att­it­ude, above all to cont­rol pow­er­ful vested int­er­ests. That's why the UK lead­er­ship is so short-sighted and negl­ig­ent in its cont­in­ued inv­est­ment in fos­sil fuels. It's a mon­et­ary stick­ing-plast­er knee-jerk to Putin and ener­gy in­sec­ur­ity rather than a sust­ain­able long-term plan for hum­an­ity. And I won't even start on the Tor­ies' ref­usal to add­ress the energy comp­any prof­its with wind­fall taxes. Rub­bing each others' backs, noses in the trough.

UN secretary general António Guterres:

"This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track clim­ate eff­orts by every coun­try and every sector and on every time­frame. Our world needs clim­ate act­ion on all fronts: every­thing, every­where, all at once."

Extinction Rebellion Global on Mastodon:

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report ins­ists there are mult­iple, feas­ible, and eff­ect­ive opt­ions curr­ently avail­able to slow the pace of clim­ate change. Foc­using on clim­ate res­il­ient dev­el­op­ment, with an emph­asis on ren­ew­able en­ergy and low-carb­on el­ect­rif­ic­at­ion. But we need to do that NOW."

Kaisa Kosonen, Greenpeace International:

"This report is definitely a final warning on 1.5C. If governments just stay on their current policies, the remaining carbon budget will be used up before the next IPCC report [due in 2030]."

Monday 20th March

You're accused of war crimes against children on Friday.

On Saturday night you visit a regen­er­ated kids play­ground in the city you dest­royed. Gleam­ing new apart­ments, a shiny SUV, prist­ine climb­ing frames.

This is proper Orwellian dystopia. A message to your own people that the "spec­ial mil­it­ary oper­at­ion" has trium­phed, an act of salv­ation, of re­newal. In the land of Double­think and New­speak.

Sunday 19th March

Saturday 18th March

Stroudies, please join us this morning!

All you people in London, Glasgow and Cardiff ...

It's no wonder we all want to move to Ireland. Listen to pres­id­ent Mich­ael D. Hig­gins talk­ing on St. Pat­rick's Day about the link bet­ween the pat­ron saint and migr­ation (cour­tesy of nat­ion­al broad­cast­er Rai­dió Teil­ifís Éir­eann):

A compassionate statement from the head of state in supp­ort of migr­ants, del­iv­ered in the gent­le lang­uage of emp­athy.

Ireland teaches us how to take a different dir­ection to the app­roach of the Ill­egal Migr­at­ion Bill. Going back as far as the anc­ient Bre­hon Laws, there is a spirit of kind­ness built into the cul­ture. Hav­ing suff­ered opp­ress­ion, dis­place­ment and disc­rim­in­at­ion them­selves - "No Irish, no blacks" - the Irish can read­ily ext­end wel­come to the stran­ger, the desp­er­ate and dis­poss­essed. In prac­tic­al terms, wit­ness the country's rapid - in cont­rast to West­mins­ter's lab­oured, del­ayed eff­orts - res­ponse to the Ukrain­ian ref­ugee crisis, enab­led by its much-val­ued memb­er­ship of the EU and the built-in prov­is­ion of the 2001 Temp­or­ary Prot­ect­ion Dir­ect­ive (see my 2022 report here: 👉). The Irish dias­pora was sub­ject­ed to abuse and den­igr­at­ion in its adop­ted home­lands. Now the country sets an example in human rights. And its rugby team, number 1 in the world, is poised to win the 6 Nations Grand Slam - as it beats England in Dublin this afternoon.

Friday 17th March

An epilogue? Gary Lineker has changed his Twitter prof­ile photo to one of him stand­ing by the George Orw­ell statue and quot­at­ion at BBC Broad­cast­ing House:

Orwell's words come from the proposed but never used pref­ace to Ani­mal Farm. Brit­ish libr­ar­ian and Orw­ell­ian scho­lar Ian Angus - he helped set up the Orwell Arch­ive at UCL - found the orig­inal manu­script in 1972; it was event­ually publ­ished in the Times Lit­er­ary Supp­le­ment on 15 Sept­ember that year with an intro­duct­ion by pol­it­ic­al theor­ist and demo­crat­ic soc­ial­ist Sir Bern­ard Crick, with a title of "The Free­dom of the Press".

The abandonment of the preface was all part of the struggle to get Ani­mal Farm publ­ished. Orwell wrote the book between Nov­emb­er 1943 and Feb­ruary 1944. The manu­script was init­ially rej­ected by sev­eral Brit­ish and Amer­ican publ­ishers, incl­uding one of Orwell's own, Victor Goll­ancz, which del­ayed its publ­ic­at­ion until August 1945. Too hot to handle. Orwell, a dem­ocr­atic soc­ial­ist him­self, was a critic of Jos­eph Stal­in - parod­ied in Nap­ol­eon the pig - and Stal­in­ism, which he saw as a corr­upt­ion of the orig­inal soc­ial­ist ideals. Curiously, given the current conf­lict, in the pref­ace of a 1947 Uk­rain­ian edit­ion he expl­ained how esc­aping the comm­un­ist purges in Spain taught him "how eas­ily tot­al­it­ar­ian prop­ag­anda can cont­rol the opin­ion of en­light­ened people in dem­ocr­atic coun­tries". The nov­ella was pol­it­ic­ally un­comf­ort­able for the powers-that-be at a time when WWII Britain and USA were allied to the Soviet Union.

Now, we don't want to get into trouble by rep­lic­at­ing Lin­eker's 1930s Germ­any theme with comm­ents on Stal­in's atroc­ities, do we? Nor risk an "un­patr­iot­ic" re­proof should we suggest that the Ill­egal Migr­at­ion Bill smacks of tot­al­it­ar­ian­ism. But, as Alas­tair Camp­bell said amidst the throes of #Gary­gate, there's more than a whiff of "creep­ing auth­or­it­ar­ian­ism" in the air.

A cheeky snipe, Gary. I like it.

Meanwhile, Happy St. Patrick's Day! Joe Biden, of Mayo roots, gets this crys­tal bowl - made by mas­ter craft­sman Seán Daly of Din­gle Crys­tal - from Taois­each Leo Var­adkar.

All eyes on the 15:30 at Cheltenham 🏇🏇🏇

Thursday 16th March

Click to enlarge

"Schrödinger's Rabbit" is a bit of a challenge, isn't it?

I didn't watch the televised budget proceedings, but caught up with the Hans­ard trans­cripts. The Chanc­ell­or del­iv­ered the bulk of his add­ress with­out int­err­upt­ion exc­ept for two brief jabs from Labour.

On the importance of getting over-50s back to work:

Jeremy Hunt:
For too many, turning 50 is a moment of anxiety about the cliff edge of ret­ire­ment rather than a mom­ent of ant­ic­ip­at­ion about an­other two dec­ades of ful­fil­ment. I know this my­self. After I turned 50, I was rel­eg­ated to the Back Benches and planned for a quiet life, but instead I dec­ided to set an exam­ple by emb­ark­ing on a new career in finance.

Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda)(Lab):
How's it going?

Jeremy Hunt:
It's going well, thank you.

On the extension of childcare provision:

Jeremy Hunt:
From September 2025, every single working par­ent of under-fives will have acc­ess to 30 hours of free child­care per week.

Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield)(Lab):
You'll be gone by then.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing):
Order. Mr Perkins, stop it.

Here's the Hansard transcript of the Chancellor's "Financial Statement and Bud­get Rep­ort" (20 pages): Financial Statement and Budget Report - Hansard 15-3-2023

Wednesday 15th March

At last some respite from #Garygate. Just before the story broke I was about to el­ab­or­ate on my love of cart­oons, their place and imp­ort­ance in Brit­ish sat­ir­ical hist­ory, when a comp­lete coin­cid­ence mat­er­ial­ised in my Mast­odon account. I'll explain.

While ruminating on the topic pre-#Garygate, I was of course led back to James Gill­ray. A car­ic­at­ur­ist and print­maker born in Chelsea in 1756, he was a pion­eer. Often called the "father of the pol­it­ic­al car­toon", he was noted for works sat­ir­is­ing George III, Nap­ol­­eon, prime min­ist­ers and gen­erals.

Here, in what Martin Rowson - whose 'toons I have posted frequ­ently here - speak­ing in the 2005 TV series "The Sec­ret of Draw­ing" called "prob­ably the most fam­ous pol­it­ic­al cart­oon of all time", is Gill­ray's 1805 "The Plumb-pudd­ing in danger; or State Epic­ures taking un Petit Souper", sub­titled "'the Great globe itself and all which it inh­erit' is too small to sat­is­fy such ins­at­iable app­et­ites".

Click to enlarge

The compelling quality of cartoons for me is how they cap­ture the ess­ence of a sit­uat­ion, pol­it­ic­al or soc­ial, in visual form. OK, yes, they would, wouldn't they? They're pict­ures. Doh! Ser­ious­ly 'though, when you're strugg­ling for words to make sense of world events, cart­oons can cut straight through the fog. "Aha, that's spot on!" At the same time, a grim or ang­er­ing piece of news is all­ev­iated by humour. Gallows perhaps, but it helps navigate the day.

Gill­ray's print is a sat­ire on the over­tures made by Nap­ol­eon in Jan­uary 1805 for a re­conc­il­iat­ion with Brit­ain, which came to noth­ing; indeed, the Battle of Traf­al­gar took place later that year in Oct­ober. Much of the fun is in the det­ail. British Prime Min­ister Will­iam Pitt the Younger, wield­ing a three-pronged-trid­ent-like fork to symb­ol­ise mari­time super­ior­ity, is carv­ing a chunk of sea to the west of the Brit­ish Isles marked "Ocean". Nap­ol­eon, the "little corp­oral", is slicing off the land mass of Europe with his mil­it­ary sword.

Martin Rowson went on to say that the piece "has been stolen over and over again by cart­oon­ists ever since." Which is where we come to the theft that dropped in my inbox.

As #Garygate took hold, Sunak was cosying up to Macron in a "mom­ent of reun­ion". Sculptor, pol­it­ical cart­oon­ist and drum­mer Dave Brown prod­uced this, "Le Dan­ger des Pet­its Bat­eaux or Where's the Beef?":

Click to enlarge

The debt is acknowledged at the top left beneath Dave Brown's sign­at­ure: "after Gillray".

I don't need to go on, do I? Petits bateaux and all that.

Tuesday 14th March

"Oh no, not another day of #Garygate?", I hear you say. You'd be right. But I'm bound to close it off with one more piece now that a deal, however interim, has been struck. I will, natch, illustrate with cartoons, of which there has been a huge number. To think that I ever said I'd give them up.

Yes, different perspectives.

It started here, although the card should be yellow:

I've posted material from the furore in the last three days. First thing yes­ter­day morn­ing Lin­eker pub­lish­ed this quar­tet of tweets:

I'm disappointed. "Fight the good fight, together". Really? Thanks to Tim Davie? OK, Gary doesn't apol­og­ise, rec­ogn­ises the sol­id­ar­ity of his coll­eagues, rep­eats his con­cern for ref­ug­ees. How­ever, I'll admit to the hope that the BBC hier­archy and Tory influ­encers would get a right drub­bing. Is there a chance that will come? I'm dub­ious. In the inter­view I posted yest­er­day, Lin­eker's mate John Barnes said:

"Well, of course a compromise will be had. They'll come back together. The profile of lots of people will be raised, the profile of the BBC will be raised, they'll do the right thing and the status quo will be resumed very shortly with everybody happy."

It's true that the BBC has had a shock. No broad­caster likes to see holes in the sche­dule:

Plenty of commentators have declared Lineker vindicated, to Gary the spoils. I sus­pect he's emb­arr­assed by the epis­ode; never int­ended to att­ract all this att­ent­ion with his orig­inal off­end­ing - to the BBC - comment. And also broke one of his own three rules on tweet­ing, as he rev­ealed in the 2021 inter­view I posted on Sat­ur­day 👉: "I don't tweet when I'm angry". There was at least ser­ious emot­ion beh­ind "imm­eas­ur­ably cruel policy". His 8.8 mill­ion foll­owers, including the on-high-alert BBC thought police, will be watch­ing closely to see how he abides by the guide­line agree­ments, the deg­ree to which he is muzz­led.

On balance you'd probably say the BBC has come off worse. More crit­ic­ised by the left, under great­er threat from the right. Syst­em­ic and phil­os­oph­ical issues to resolve. Maybe an ex­ist­ent­ial battle on its hands. If you susp­end a fav­our­ite son for exp­ress­ing his priv­ate opin­ions on a plat­form that has nothing to do with your org­an­is­at­ion - he never impl­ic­ated Auntie - you're gonna run into trouble. Dumb move. The BBC could have done with­out the last four days.

Storm in a teacup? Sound and fury about the utt­er­ances of an ex-foot­baller? The iss­ues behind it all are much big­ger that that and they may have come into shar­per focus for many people through this face-off, alth­ough sadly not all. Ref­ug­ees are deal­ing with lives that have been torn asun­der and des­erve the most hum­ane cons­id­er­at­ion. They are dem­on­ised, and that is enc­our­aged - even init­iated - by in­app­ropr­iate language. A point exp­ressed by John Barnes in yest­er­day's int­erv­iew, and what Lin­eker was actu­ally say­ing in his ref­er­ence to 1930s Germany.

Divided opinion:

Monday 13th March

After two full days of blogging #GaryGate it's probably time to move on. Looks like it'll all be over soon, according to the Mirror and other organs this morning:

I do hope he doesn't climb down too far. Yest­er­day's Ob­server head­line held such promise:

Still, quite an impact for a lad who helped run his dad Barry's fruit and veg stall in Leicester Market and was told by a teacher that he would never make a living at football. I can think of few, if any, other people who have given such prominence to the refugee question in 47 words.

As my last lengthy related item, if you've got the time (5 minutes) and haven't already tired of the matter, listen to the ast­ute obs­erv­at­ions by another ex-foot­baller, the wond­er­ful John Barnes. Remem­ber his heady days at Liver­pool, the 1984 Mara­cana goal, the Anf­ield Rap? Hmmm ... prob­ably not.

As Barnes says, "This should not be about Gary Lin­eker and the BBC pund­its supp­ort­ing him, this should be about the refugees."

Sunday 12th March

Gary Lineker in selfie with fan while watching his beloved Leicester City
Fan raises placard of support at Leicester City

Go to 38Degrees to sign the Mirror petition supporting Gary Lineker

Saturday 11th March

Friday 10th March

Just a bit more on this.

Look at the first page of the Illegal Migration Bill 262 2022-23, "[AS INTR­OD­UCED]" ... on Tuesday last. (If you can't see the det­ail at nor­mal res­ol­ut­ion, click/­swipe/­zoom/­what­ever to do so.) Here's the full text of the Bill (66 pages): Illegal Migration Bill 262 2022-23

She knew she was on dodgy ground, didn't she?

The Bill's preamble starts:

Here's a flavour of the section headings:
  • Duty to make arrangements for removal
  • Disregard of certain claims, applications
  • Powers of detention
  • Disapplication of modern slavery provisions: persons liable to deportation
  • Inadmissibility of certain asylum and human rights claims
  • Cap on number of entrants using safe and legal routes
OK, this is legislation targetting illegality, but still I'm struck by the tone and intent. It's all about capture, control, limit and expulsion.

In contrast (I posted the relevant documents yesterday) ...

Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

Article 32.1 of the UNHCR Convention says:

Contracting States shall not expel a refugee lawfully in their territory save on grounds of national security or public order.

These are about rights, protection and welcome.

There is no substantive emphasis in the Bill - it's no sur­prise, I know, argu­ably not even the right place for it - on the urg­ent supp­ort requ­ired by desp­er­ate people in small boats. It's mostly about the perc­eived threat they pose.

The government strategy is based on eliminating the people smugglers by dissuading their customers from the purchase of the cross-Channel service, because the help sought will not be available on arrival. But who suffers?

It's so back-to-front, inside-out, missing the point. I've been wrestling with a suitable analogy. My best stab is a trifle sinuous, but I'll give it a go.

Imagine a good old-fashioned milk round on a residential town street. A milk-snatcher has been at large, stealing bottles from the doorsteps. To combat the thief, the local bobby recommends that the dairy suspend delivery - there'll be nothing to take, no point in the snatcher trying any more. Who is worst affected by this action? Mostly the local townspeople; they now don't have any milk. Will the suspension inconvenience the baddie? Unlikely. He'll find something else to do, somewhere else to go, change his target to bread or children's sweets; the wrong 'uns will always find a way. What's needed is concerted focus on this offender, root him out and bring him to justice without further troubling the innocent. Mean­while help the residents with their milk shortage.

I can't let this next pass without a mention. What have we come to when it takes an ex-England-footballer to make the front pages with his disapproval of government policy? Material courtesy of Lineker himself, cartoonist Peter Brookes and artist Cold War Steve.

Thursday 9th March

I'm not qualified to comment on the legal­ity of the Migr­at­ion Bill. Others are. Like Chris Daw, King's Coun­sel at Linc­oln House Chamb­ers. Listen to his take on Sky News yest­er­day (1 minute 37 sec­onds):

Everything he mentions came into being in the after­math of WWII, at a time when nat­ions were det­erm­ined to prov­ide for a safer and more just future. As I've frequ­ently ment­ioned in these pages, Brit­ain's Cons­erv­at­ive war hero Win­ston Church­ill was a lead­ing part­ic­ip­ant in such init­iat­ives, among them what later became the Euro­pean Union.

I'm going to post some of the relevant doc­um­ents. Not be­cause you're going to read them all - al­though that would be a sal­ut­ory exp­er­ience - but because they exist. They emerged in black-and-white from that post-war era in which gov­ern­ments were driven to build a better world. Hard-won gains for hum­an­ity.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (plain text from UN.ORG, 8 pages): UN.ORG Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217A Paris 10 December 1948 (facsimile reproduction of the above, 9 pages): United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217A Paris 10 December 1948
  • UNHCR Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (56 pages): UNHCR Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951
  • European Convention on Human Rights Rome 4.XI.1950 updated to August 2021 (34 pages): European Convention on Human Rights Rome 4.XI.1950 updated to August 2021
Braverman would rip these up.

The UNHCR asked her to re-think immed­iately after Tues­day's parl­iam­ent­ary sess­ion: "We urge the Gov­ern­ment, and all MPs and Peers, to rec­ons­ider the Bill and inst­ead pur­sue more hum­ane and pract­ical pol­icy sol­ut­ions." See the full text of the UNHCR state­ment (2 pages): UNHCR Statement on UK Asylum Bill 7-3-2023

Wednesday 8th March

There's a lot to digest from Braverman's House of Commons pres­entation of the Ill­egal Migr­ation Bill yest­er­day. I built a PDF tran­script from the Hans­ard web­site last night. Here it is, 42 pages cov­er­ing the one-hour-50-min­utes sess­ion of state­ment and quest­ions: Illegal Migration Bill Commons session Hansard 7-3-2023. If you have time, it's worth a browse. Brav­er­man's bit occu­pies the first 3 pages, Yvette Cooper's res­ponse the sub­sequ­ent two.

There were some very interesting contributions. I'm tempted to quote them, but I wouldn't know where to stop; you'd be better off reading the transcript yourself. So, just a few impressions. It was a very polarised debate. I guess that's the nature of adversarial politics, but this had extra bite and acr­im­ony. An issue that divides the House and the country, fuelled by both ideology and emotion. Braverman did not hold back from pouring acid scorn on opposition naysayers. It's clear that the Tories are determined to "Stop The Boats" (a three-word slogan again) by whatever means fair or foul. Yes, it's one of their top five priorities. Put crudely, it reflects the Brexit split between keeping the outsider at bay and embracing the wider world of humanity.

As ever, the cartoonists capture some of the flavour that I haven't time to explore here:

Tuesday 7th March

Home Office statement on 31st January:

"The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by mak­ing these dang­er­ous cross­ings is plac­ing an unp­rec­ed­ent­ed strain on our asy­lum system.

"Our priority is to stop this illegal trade, and our new Small Boats Oper­at­ion­al Comm­and - bolst­ered by hund­reds of extra staff - is work­ing along­side our French part­ners and other agen­cies to dis­rupt the people smugg­lers.

"The government is also going further by intro­duc­ing leg­is­lat­ion which will ens­ure that those people arr­iv­ing in the UK ill­eg­ally are det­ained and prompt­ly rem­oved to their coun­try of or­ig­in or a safe third country."

From Care4Calais yesterday:

"Tomorrow [now today] the Government is expected to launch its most drac­on­ian anti-ref­ugee leg­is­lat­ion yet, as Rishi Sunak bids to make the UK off-limits to any ref­ug­ees other than those his gov­ern­ment hand-picks.

"It is anticipated that under the new laws, people arriving on small boats will:
  • Have their asylum claims made automatically 'inadmissible'
  • Be subject to mass detention
  • Be removed to a third country as soon as practicable
  • Be permanently banned from returning to the UK
  • Be unable to use family rights laws to stop deportation"
Statement from the Fire Brigades Union, endorsed by 14 others including GMB, UNISON, RMT, NUJ, ASLEF, Equity and the Mus­ic­ians Union:

"In recent weeks, we have seen an alarming rise in vio­lence and int­imi­dat­ion org­an­ised by the far right against ref­ug­ees and ref­ug­ee acc­omm­od­at­ion.

"The government is complicit in these attacks. The Rwanda policy does not make sense as a means of stop­ping small boat cross­ings - and it is fail­ing on its own terms - but it fits with a long-run­ning camp­aign of rhet­or­ic and dem­on­is­at­ion.

"The people to blame are politicians, bill­ion­aires and big corp­or­at­ions, not mig­rant work­ers or ref­ug­ees forced to live in temp­or­ary acc­omm­od­at­ion. The anti-refu­gee camp­aign off­ers no sol­ut­ions to the real prob­lems faced by the depr­ived comm­un­it­ies they are often targ­et­ing. The ans­wer is sol­id­ar­ity, not scape­goat­ing.

"As trade unionists, we know whose side we are on when we see far right mobs att­ack­ing ref­ug­ees and pol­it­ic­ians play­ing the mood music. We send our sol­id­ar­ity to Care4­Calais and all groups fight­ing for ref­ug­ee rights, and we sup­port the call for safe and legal routes into the UK. We call on workers and trade union members to show their sol­id­ar­ity and to mob­il­ise against the far right."

Monday 6th March

I was pleased to see that I'm not alone in my dismay - and, I admit, am­use­ment - at the dep­osed and disgr­aced ref­using to go away.

I stumbled across some surprising back-story to Sue Gray. She's married to Northern Irish country-and-western singer Bill Conlon. In the 1980s they ran a pub called the Cove Bar outside Newry. There you are, a seamless link to the Windsor Framework. Here's a January 2022 piece written by David O'Dornan in the Belfast Telegraph:

"Friends of Ms Gray say she is unlikely to hold any fears about taking on the Prime Minister and other senior figures, given that she stood up to armed republican terrorists in the past.

"They revealed that when she was running a pub in Newry, Co Down during the Troubles in the 1980s, she was not frightened when confronted with what was a potentially life-threatening situation. They explained that she said that one night she had a very heavy cold and one of her staff wanted to get off early and she closed the bar down. She drove the person home - the person lived out in south Armagh - and she was coming back in the Camlough Road after having dropped her staff member off.

"She came across a light in the middle of the road and was ordered to stop. She thought initially it was the Army; she didn't realise the guy was a paramilitary.

"He said to her, 'We want the car, get out.' And she just bluntly refused and said, 'No.'

"Taken aback, he replied, 'What?' And then he turned round and said to her, 'Oh, you're f***ing English as well?'

"And just as the situation looked like it was set to escalate, a voice came out of the darkness and said, 'That's Sue Gray from The Cove, let her go on.'"

You're never going to watch it all but I have to post this anyway. Bill Con­lon sings "Irish Ramb­ling Man". He has a good voice.

Their son Liam is the current national chair of the Labour Party Irish Society. He is also an active member and vice chair of Lewisham West and Penge Labour Party. Aha, a link to Sue's new job if it runs in the family. A left-wing stitch-up indeed 😉

Sunday 5th March

Serious and silly today.

First, some further thoughts on the Windsor Framework. I posed the question of benefits for the EU to my Irish correspondent, who kindly wrote:

"I have no real idea what the EU is expecting to gain from the Windsor Framework. Perhaps the steadying of the Good Friday Agreement? Particularly since all Western European countries and the US need to be as stable and united as possible vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine. Could Biden and the US government have given Ursula von der Leyen and her team a gentle nudge in this direction? And the EU will have wanted to give its full support to the Republic of Ireland, now a much-valued member of the bloc. Or maybe it could be a first step in coaxing the UK to return to the EU fold? Especially given the disastrous free fall that the country appears to be in, what with 3 prime ministers, 4 chancellors, endless cabinet changes and an economy going down the tubes as a result of Brexit. Maybe it is more desirable for the European bloc to have a stable neighbour across the Channel.

"I found the 'Brake' part of the deal interesting because the DUP can only have a say in applying it on any new EU trade laws if they are actively participating in the Stormont government. And then only if a substantial number of other Stormont MPs agree to a need for applying the brake. The ingenious bit is obliging the DUP to be actively in government before they can call for the brake. If they try to carry on refusing to participate in the Stormont power sharing, they will be left out in the cold.

"This DUP business is making the Sinn Fein party in NI look angelic at the moment. They must be polishing their halos as we speak."

And later ...

"It has just occurred to me too that given the strong historic links between Ireland and the US, especially with the current President having deep Irish roots, Ursula and the EU team may see Ireland as the ideal go-between EU country for bolstering the European bloc's relationship with the US. Defence commitments apart, the Brexit mess has left the UK an untrustworthy, burnt-out shell of what it once was on the world stage. Perhaps a new special relationship could be emerging: US - Ireland - EU. With Ireland as the transatlantic stepping stone."

Very interesting.

See my brief November 2020 coverage of Joe Biden's County Mayo con­nec­tion here: 👉

Back to the trivia. Hancock keeps on coming:

Not quite so comical once you consider his position and the pain through which Jane and Joe Public were going.

Quarantine? For the Health Secr­et­ary and the Cab­in­et Secr­et­ary/­Head of the Civ­il Serv­ice ... it was a laugh-a-min­ute:

Social distancing with Gina. For Hancock and his media adviser ... it was all about being caught:

It gets worse when you see the longer exchange:

Click to enlarge

The benefit of these revelations is that we are rem­ind­ed - like we needed our mem­or­ies jog­ging, right? - of the true nat­ure of John­son and his mob: arr­og­ant, con­tempt­uous, self-serving, above-the-law, venal, in­comp­et­ent ... a criminal waste of space. Lest we forget.

Saturday 4th March

All-of-a-sudden it's Silly Season again. What's trig­ger­ed the rec­ent ref­us­al of dep­osed lead­ers and their disg­raced cron­ies to go away? A kind of Trump-fol­low-my-lead trend.

After Boris, none more so than the snogger.

No hint of apology. Such wounded umbrage. Betrayed by Isabel. Oh how they des­erve each other.

Then the once irreproachably independent Sue Gray gets a new job.

And the royals are at it too.

For Stroudies ... on a completely different note ... Stroud Valleys Artspace (4 John Street) is holding a party from 3pm this afternoon, a fundraiser in aid of victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria:

Friday 3rd March

I said I'd finish off yesterday's ruminations on the Windsor Framework. It feels like other news has already pushed it down the agenda - MI5 and Manchester, Hancock and WhatsApp, racism and Yorkshire cricket - but for the sake of completeness ...

I left it with Sunak's feverish sales pitch in Lisburn:

"Northern Ireland is in the unbelievably special position, a unique position in the entire world, European continent ... privileged access, not just to the UK home market, which is enormous, but also the EU single market ... nobody else has that. No one. Only you guys - only here, and that is the prize."

Greeted by mockery in some quarters ...

Labour MP Chris Bryant:

"Sunak says how wonderful it is that Northern Ireland gets privileged access to the single market. I'd like that for the rest of the UK."

Anti-Brexit campaigner Femi Oluwole:

"Rishi Sunak just spent 2 minutes boasting about how Northern Ireland is the 'most exciting investment zone on the planet' because it has full access to the UK and EU market. You know ... like we did before Brexit!"

Oxford foreign policy expert Dr. Jennifer Cassidy:

"You mean the 'extraordinary opportunity' that was available to the ENTIRE UK before Brexit. That opportunity?"

My final thought on this - for now - may well show ignorance. Why did Ursula von der Leyen shake hands on the deal? What's in it for the EU? Northern Ireland, Stormont Brake and all, gets to block EU laws it doesn't like. Does any signed-up member state of the European Union have that privilege? Is it just an act of generosity, to assist with peace in Ireland, to tolerate the absence of a "hard border"? In the interests of the Republic? I still have to find an answer. Help me if you can.

We wait to see how much objection the DUP can raise, the "odious flat-earthers" in the words of my Irish correspondent.

Thursday 2nd March

So, will they? I took a look at their April 2022 document "Our 5 Point Plan for North­ern Ire­land: Re­move the NI Prot­oc­ol". Here it is for ref­er­ence (8 pages, three of sign­if­ic­ant text): Read the 2022 DUP NI Protocol positioning statement

Its primary stated ambition was: "See the Prot­oc­ol repl­aced by arr­ange­ments that rest­ore our place with­in the Un­it­ed King­dom." These must meet their 7 tests:
  1. Fulfil Article 6 of the Articles of Union, which requires that everyone in the United Kingdom is entitled to the same privileges.
  2. Avoid any diversion of trade.
  3. Not constitute a border in the Irish Sea.
  4. Give the people of Northern Ireland a say in the making of the laws that govern them.
  5. Result in no checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain or from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
  6. Ensure no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom unless agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.
  7. Preserve the letter and spirit of Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee requiring the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland for any diminution in its status as part of the United Kingdom.
What do you reckon? Did you sneak a peek at the Wind­sor Frame­work (posted on Tues­day)? Looks pretty close to me. Needs Stor­mont back in op­er­at­ion, but that's part of the purp­ose of it all, right?

The DUP now scrutinise, taking their time I'm sure.

There's complexity, as ever with Northern Ireland, still to grasp - part­ic­ul­ar­ly for me. To my shame, I've real­ised that my und­er­stand­ing of the situ­ation since Brexit has been thin. It prob­ably shows. I've not been watch­ing close­ly, my att­ent­ion taken by all those other issues that have dom­in­ated these pages - Covid, climate, Trump, #Party­gate and more. I have some catch­ing up to do. And it's not just NI-cent­ric mat­ters, but also impl­ic­at­ions for the rest of the Union.

Let's start with Sunak's excited post-Windsor procl­am­at­ions at the Lis­burn Coca-Cola fact­ory (27 seconds):

As my Irish correspondent has commented, "Scotland, and maybe Wales too, will be fum­ing at their own ex­clus­ion from the EU."

[Work in progress ... more to come, probably tomorrow]

Wednesday 1st March

Tuesday 28th February

They've been digging up the bottom of our street for over a year. Currently it's major sewage works. I've successfully negotiated my way past them on my bike all that time. Yesterday they finally got me. Came a purler on loose gravel. Some operator error involved, braking hard downhill as I hit the loose stuff. Nothing broken thankfully, bruises and grazing.

Sunak and von der Leyen shook hands on a Northern Ireland deal. There's still a twixt-cup-and-lip way to go. Convince the DUP.

We have to be pleased that the promise of the Windsor Framework (here you are - 29 pages: Read the official Windsor Framework) will make life better for North­ern Ire­land and hope­ful that it will prot­ect the Good Fri­day Agree­ment (ano­ther orig­in­al doc­um­ent for your ref­er­ence - 36 pages: Read the 1998 Belfast Agreement). To its cred­it Lab­our has said there'll be no play­ing pol­it­ics with app­roval of the deal.

However, fanatically unrepentant "Remoaner" that I am, as far as I'm conc­erned it misses the point. None of this neg­ot­iat­ion, none of the six years of dis­agree­ment would have been nec­ess­ary had we stayed in the EU. Even with the trum­pet­ed res­ol­ut­ion THERE'S STILL A BLOODY RED CHAN­NEL.

Ireland to the south has already taken advantage of the UK's EU dep­art­ure, resp­onded to the un­work­able short­com­ings of the "land bridge". Just over two years ago (on 3rd January 2021: 👉) I wrote about the launch of a new Rosslare-Dunkirk ferry ser­vice prov­id­ing a dir­ect freight route bet­ween Ire­land and France. Since then the ferries have mult­ipl­ied. Journalists Jon Henley and Rory Carroll picked up the theme in last Sunday's Observer in a piece titled "'Brits are suff­er­ing but for us it's boom time': how Brexit boosted French and Irish ports". The art­icle states:

"Rosslare Europort was an underused facility with just six sailings a week to the continent, all into Cherbourg. Now it has 30-plus, to Cherbourg, Le Havre, Bilbao, Dunkirk and Zeebrugge - a fivefold increase that has led to record overall freight traffic. Weekly sailings from Cherbourg to Irish ports, meanwhile, will by this summer have more than doubled to a round dozen, with Irish Ferries sailing four times a week to Dublin, Stena Line six times a week to Rosslare, and Brittany Ferries also returning to the Rosslare route after a long absence.

Retired Irish customs officer Colm Lambert said from his bench overlooking Rosslare port:

"They're coming in from France, Spain, Belgium, Holland - it's great to see. Brexit has made an awful difference to here. Boris Johnson did Rosslare a favour."

That's right. England bypassed, grayed-out. The Brexit opportunity was meant to be the UK's. It turned out to belong to Ireland ... and good luck to her.

This may be over the top, but I feel it strongly. Brexit didn't come with the warning that it was bad for your mental health. The last six years have filled me with a background sense of loss, of waste, of being ripped from the rest of Europe. My hope is that such gloom will lift as more and more people recognise the folly of wishing to be separate. One odd plus from the Windsor glad-handing was the apparent warmth between Sunak and von der Leyen. "Dear Rishi", she gushed. If it brings us all closer, I won't diss the sentiment.

Monday 27th February

Bated breath:

I like the new Banksy Ukraine stamp. Except that it has only app­eared bec­ause of a war and hardly cools the conf­lict. Acc­ord­ing to the Huff­ing­ton Post, the ex­clam­at­ion at the bot­tom left is a cont­ract­ed expl­etive which trans­lates into Eng­lish as "FCK PTN!" Hmmm ... has a post­age stamp ever been iss­ued before with such a mess­age?

(I need help to validate this. The initial letter of each three-letter word is the same in Uk­rain­ian, but not in trans­lat­ion. "PTN" is right acc­ord­ing to Google Trans­late.)

Here are some other Banksy works around Ukraine. Each has a det­ail photo and an acc­omp­any­ing one of its set­ting. Click to en­large any:

Sunday 26th February

Rest day.

Visit of Vienna-based son Nikko to see brother Ben in Bilbao going well:

Saturday 25th February

Friday 24th February

Went to this event yesterday evening:

A heart-warming experience. A great turn-out, the Boston Tea Party café taken over comp­lete­ly for the quiz, maybe 70 people, all ages. There was bound to be a pos­it­ive at­mos­phere, wasn't there? You wouldn't get nay­say­ers turn­ing up. No fans of Suella Brav­er­man.

It was my first ever quiz. Not the point, but our team - I'd never met the oth­ers bef­ore - did OK. 70% right, a B+. The win­ners man­aged 80%. We had a clean sweep of Brit­ish Prime Min­ist­ers 1945-1999. Couldn't name any pop­ul­ar music after 1980. The big­gest frust­rat­ion is half-know­ing an ans­wer. The win­ning jockey of the 2022 Chelt­en­ham Gold Cup was Rachel ... yes ... Black­more ... no. And I'd even won a few quid on her victory.

I must get out more. Cheltenham is only 40 minutes away, yet it felt - at least the grand Regency bits - like a different world.

Thursday 23rd February

I taught IT to young adults at Stroud College some years ago. By mis­take. When the new build was prop­osed I cont­act­ed the col­lege to enqu­ire whe­ther I could offer con­sult­ancy help with the des­ign and impl­em­ent­at­ion of the comp­uter net­work. As the IT dire­ctor was extr­emely comp­etent - I found this out later - he didn't need my ass­ist­ance. How­ever, the next week I got a call from an acad­emic mem­ber of staff ask­ing if I wanted to teach. It wasn't what I really wanted to do, but I still went to see the head of dep­art­ment and ended up teach­ing a bunch of young adults the next Mon­day - for three years. Just one morn­ing a week. It turned out to be a priv­ilege, to find out what was happ­ening in the heads of an age group I wouldn't other­wise meet. They were also very kind to me, the old git, which took me by surp­rise.

We used to start the class with what I called "Small Triumphs". These kids were in a kind of last chance sal­oon after the school system had failed them - the old fur­ther ed­uc­at­ion res­cue miss­ion - and didn't have a great sense of ach­ieve­ment, at least not in their stud­ies. So, the idea was to drag some­thing pos­it­ive out of them, how­ever small, of what­ever desc­ript­ion, from their exp­er­iences of the prec­ed­ing week. What stor­ies they had to tell.

In the midst of the UK's political madness and the woes of the wider world, I rec­kon we need to ack­now­ledge these mini-wins more than ever. I had one yest­erday.

Do you ever fall foul of auto-renewals? You know, like when your car ins­ur­ance comp­any auto­mat­ic­ally takes the next year's prem­ium (incr­eased of course) before you've made the eff­ort to rev­iew - good old comp­are­the­market.com - whe­ther you should stay with them. My elec­tron­ic diary is dense­ly and ob­sess­ive­ly pop­ul­ated with rem­ind­ers not to let ren­ewal and cont­ract dates sail by. Well, I all­owed one past me two days ago. My web­site host­ing prov­ider took next year's dom­ain name fee for cor­ona­virus­blog.uk, which I don't use any more. Dammit.

I emailed them to ask if I might revoke the ren­ew­al imm­ed­iate­ly and claim a ref­und. They'd obl­iged once before. This time I got a flat re­fus­al, prec­ise­ly be­cause they'd al­ready done it on that other occ­as­ion - as a cour­tesy, they said. I wasn't pleased, given the amount of bus­in­ess I have put their way. Time to get on my high horse, ass­ume my most aggr­ieved and pomp­ous tone. I wrote:

"I am seriously disappointed. I have used your dom­ain and host­ing serv­ices for my pers­on­al web­sites for around 15 years. Not only that, I have ful­filled all my cust­omer web­site needs through you - which will not show on my acc­ount. This must amount to thous­ands of pounds/dol­lars. I have rec­omm­ended your comp­any to many other people and org­an­is­at­ions. I think your refusal to acc­ede to my £14.39 requ­est is petty in the extr­eme, poor rew­ard for my loy­alty."

I expected another brush-off. But no. Result!

A minor victory ... so, OK, a minor cel­ebr­at­ion is in order. Sadly, I'm not conv­inced. I know I'm going against the point of our class­room strat­egy, but I really need to conc­entr­ate on big­ger fish. Tri­vial fixes, no prob­lem. The lar­ger stuff ... why can I put those off? Beats me.

Wednesday 22nd February

Perhaps I ought to concentrate on the sabre-rattling and truth-spin ...

Click to enlarge

... but not today; it's all too mad and I'm sure you've seen enough. So instead I give you four min­utes of laugh­ter and joy­ful brill­iance. [Best to watch full-screen by click­ing on the button (bottom right within the video player) once you've started. Or any other way you norm­ally do this on a dev­ice with other than a desk­top-sized dis­play.]

He's Polish mime artist Ireneusz Krosny: Visit Ireneusz Krosny's website - says it's not secure, but seems OK

Click to enlarge

Tuesday 21st February

Two weeks ago I posted publicity 👉 about the Stroud festival showing of the remarkable film about a remarkable woman, "The Seeds of Vandana Shiva". We went on Saturday. Everybody seated at the pre-screening meal was given this flyer (click to enlarge):

All about "The Big One", a change of direction for Extinction Rebellion, as explained on the XRUK website:

"XRUK has changed its approach to meet this moment. The Big One - in April in Westminster - is different from anything XRUK has ever done before; this time it's about attendance, not arrests.

"What is The Big One? Politicians would rather take fossil fuel donations than prevent climate chaos. It's time for us to let them know how we feel about this and that 2023 is the year for drastic climate action. In April in Westminster, thousands of people will gather peacefully around the House of Parliament to tell the Government that we can't afford this anymore. Thousands have already gathered at picket lines and demonstrations this year to demand fairer working conditions. Multiple world crises all linked by the crisis in governance. There are no fair conditions on a planet wrecked by climate and ecological disasters. It's time to demand an end to the fossil fuel era and for a citizen-led transformation towards a fair society that includes reparations."

Visit the XR Big One website here: Visit the XR Big One website

While we're talking about a change of approach - in this instance it's more a shift in sentiment - did you read the sentencing remarks of District Judge Wilkinson to Just Stop Oil Birmingham Esso Fuel Terminal protestors at Wolverhampton Magistrates Court last week?

"It's abundantly clear that you are all good people. You are intelligent, articulate and a pleasure to deal with. It's unarguable that man-made global warming is real and we are facing a climate emergency. Your aims are admirable and it is accepted by me and the Crown Prosecution Service that your views are reasonable and genuinely held. Your fears are ably and genuinely articulated and are supported by the science.

"When the United Nations Secretary General gives a speech saying that the activity of fossil fuel companies is incompatible with human survival, we should all be very aware of the need for change. Millions of people, and I do not dispute that it may be as many as 1 billion people, will be displaced as a result of climate change.

"No-one can criticise your motivations. You all gave evidence that was deeply moving. I certainly was moved. The tragedy is that good people have felt so much, without hope, that you feel you have to come into conflict with the criminal justice system.

"Thank you for opening my eyes to certain things. Most I was acutely and depressingly aware of, but there were certain things [I wasn't].

"I say this and I mean this sadly, I have to convict you. You are good people and I will not issue a punitive sentence. Your arrests and loss of good character are sufficient. Good people doing the wrong thing cannot make the wrong thing right. I don't say this, ever, but it has been a pleasure dealing with you.

"You should feel guilty for nothing. You should feel proud that you care, have concern for the future. I urge you not to break the law again. Good luck to all of you."

The defendants were convicted of trespass, given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of between £250 and £500.

Monday 20th February

The NI Protocol idiocy rumbles on. Years of self-infli­cted imp­asse, need­less econ­om­ic dam­age, dis­com­fort and chaos for the north­ern Irish.

Listen to Michael Heseltine on the bigger picture in a Channel 4 int­er­view from some years back (2 minutes):

From the mouth of a Tory grandee. Following in the trad­it­ion of Win­ston Chur­chill, co-arch­it­ect of a un­ited Eur­ope.

The generational point makes my blood boil. You will know from these pages that I cons­ider Brexit a pers­onal aff­ront. My fam­ily is Eur­op­ean. Fort­un­ately, our sons live that exper­ience. This week Nikko from Vienna is visit­ing Ben in Bilbao. You can't stop them, Little Englander.

Heseltine's view is statesmanlike, isn't it? A sense of hist­ory, stand­ing above petty ins­ul­ar conc­erns. I dream that one day Brexit will be seen for what it is, a mind­less aber­rat­ion. I cert­ain­ly int­end to beh­ave as if it never hap­pened.

Sunday 19th February

I've written before how I semi-abandoned Twitter in favour of Mastodon. No regrets, particularly as I retained my Twitter account so that I could still hear from the bad guys. The best thing is the quality of "toots" that reach me from previously unknown sources. I don't yet know how the algorithms work, but they reliably pick up on my interests, say, in social justice and climate. Intelligent stuff, often well-written, a far cry from the plague of Twitter dross I used to endure. The content moderation is strong - I get nothing grossly offensive, no hate rants.

Here's an example that dropped on my e-mat yesterday from Canadian teacher Sylvia Duckworth, her take on a have-versus-have-not world:

Click to enlarge

It's not a perfect summary. You might disagree with some of the categories and examples. But it reminds me of how we need always to pay attention to the imbalances and inequities of our world, how they have an impact across all aspects of life.

Marginalisation. That's where the help is needed. OK, here's a leap that may be a bit of a stretch, also perhaps a little trivial. On Saturday morning at 10am we had a litter-pick to clean up the street - and a chance to rub shoulders with neighbours. I've never understood litter. Why would you go to an attractive place and then drop rubbish so that it was no longer pretty? If I watch what happens in Middle Street, the litter comes from those who don't have a connection, in most cases ... the marginalised. Buy a cheap portion of chips in the Big Fish in Nelson Street, eat them walking up the road towards the top of town, chuck away the styrofoam box as you pass our door. No connection to the comfortable residential area through which you're passing. Why should you care when you have little stake in society?

Back to the little pleasures of Mastodon. The daily poems of Brian Bilston. Light, quirky. They raise a quiet smile.

7am. An England victory early in the fourth day:

An extraordinary transformation under positive leadership. Not since 2010 have England won six Tests in a row. For Ben Stokes, this was his 10th victory in 12 Tests as captain. Only Lindsay Hassett, who succeeded Don Bradman as Australia captain in 1949, can match Stokes's speed to 10 Test wins.

Saturday 18th February

08:00am. Cheerful news for this cricket lover from the other side of the world:

My only disappointment is that I'd hoped to ease into the day with Test Match Special and an early cup of tea. Instead ...

What can they be thinking?

Friday 17th February

I've missed a few blog days through weariness of news. Nat­ion­al lead­ers are crack­ing under the strain too, it would appear: first Ard­ern, then Sturg­eon. If pol­it­ic­ians - they chose to make it their bus­in­ess - find the prof­ess­ion un­pal­at­able, what chance have we got?

Reporting of world events reaches even the very young. Grand­son Mar­lie drew this diag­ram of the Uk­raine-Rus­sia war yest­er­day, off his own bat (click to enl­arge). A con­flict blend of flags in the mid­dle, Uk­rain­ian feat­ures on the left, Rus­sian on the right, res­ult at the bottom.

Click to enlarge

Congratulations to Christian Adams on managing to get two dep­art­ures into one cart­oon:

Sunday 12th February

Still no time for proper blogging, so I'll have to bor­row again from the est­im­able Peter Brookes.

World Leaders:

Zelensky visit:

Saturday 11th February

Bit of a blog hiatus. First, I've found it dif­fic­ult to com­ment on any­thing as we wit­ness the trag­edy in Tur­key and Syria. Second, we're in the mid­dle of a visit from bro­ther-in-law Kevin, which dem­ands max­im­um com­mit­ment to meal prod­uct­ion. One sea­food ris­otto succ­ess­fully del­iver­ed, on with the next creation.

So much excellent material in the Zelensky visit. Time for just one cartoon:

One tiny detail in the above. Sunak's shoelaces are tied in neat little bows. Johnson's are undone.

Thursday 9th February

I was ready with jokey topics today. Not after watching the news:

Wednesday 8th February

Tuesday 7th February

Time for some forward-planning. Stroudies, have you booked your tickets?

Stroud Film Festival partners - click to enlarge

The official dates are March 3rd-19th, with some early "preview" events starting on 17th February (I know, why not make that the opening day?). The programme is spread around venues: Lansdown Hall, Long Table, Wotton-under-Edge Electric Picture House, Trinity Rooms, Hawkwood, Stroud Brewery, Subscription Rooms, Goods Shed, Museum in the Park, Stroud Valley Arts.

To give a flavour, here are three of my choices. I already mentioned the first a week ago, but it's worth repeating.

Woman faces up to might of food corporations. No-brainer:

"The Seeds of Vandana Shiva"
Saturday 18 February 5:00pm to 9:30pm
The Long Table Brimscombe Mill GL5 2QN

"Just who is Vandana Shiva? How has one woman managed to have such a profound impact on the debate around agriculture, food, farming and bio-engineering? How did she become Monsanto's worst nightmare? The Seeds of Vandana Shiva explores the story of this extraordinary woman: agriculturalist, quantum physicist, activist and social justice icon, how she stood up to the corporate Goliaths of industrial agriculture, rose to prominence in the seed saving and organic food movements, and now is inspiring an international movement for change.

"This event is being held in partnership with THE LONG TABLE who will be offering a pre-screening delicious meal, Long Table style. Introduced by Cllr Robin Drury-Layfield, the evening will include a panel discussion with special guests chaired by visual artist Ritu Sood."

Anything with Mark Rylance:

Friday 24 February 7:30pm to 9:30pm
Electric Picture House Cinema Market Street Wotton-under-Edge GL12 7AE

"A special preview of the new film starring Mark Rylance and Rory Alexander, set and filmed around Gloucester. Inland is a modern folktale that explores the fractured identity of a young man after the mysterious disappearance of his mother. Guided by a father figure and old friends who care deeply, his journey through the dreamlike spaces of rural England bring him face to face with the loss that haunts him in ways he could never have expected.

"Afterwards writer/director Fridtjof Ryder and producer Henry Richmond talk about their stylish and enigmatic new drama, which received its world premiere at the 2022 London Film Festival."

Because it was made by my neighbour Holly Antrum:

"Yes to the work!" - Women's Art Library documentary
Saturday 11 March 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Museum in the Park Stratford Park GL5 4AF

"The Women's Art Library presents insights into the feminist links between art and education. Commissioned by Art360 Foundation. 30 minutes. The screening is followed by a conversation led by two locals - writer and curator Jean Boyd with the film's director, artist and filmmaker Holly Antrum."

For the full programme and tickets visit the festival website: Visit the Stroud Film Festival 2023 website

Monday 6th February

Mostly random-ish follow-up today to bits I've posted recently.

The bid by John Lydon - aka Johnny Rotten - to represent Ire­land at the Euro­vis­ion song con­test has come to an end. He ann­ounced last month the hope to per­form with his band Pub­lic Image Ltd a new song, "Hawaii", which is ded­ic­ated to Lydon's wife Nora who is liv­ing with Alz­heim­er's dis­ease. Dublin's four-piece band Wild Youth won the vote on Friday night. I never thought 45 years ago that I would one day be writ­ing this word sequ­ence: Johnny Rot­ten ... carer ... wife Nora ... Alz­heim­er's. Sad. None of it part of the punk story.

The Shell profit scandal inevitably featured in Dale Vince's lat­est Zero­carb­on­ista. It's always worth a listen. I've posted the full audio here (27 min­utes) ... for when you're doing the wash­ing up ... tak­ing a break for a cup of tea ...

"We're a bit sweary today in this bumper episode as the world's gone bonkers. We review what's going on with the UK's latest Prime Minister and consider how the government became anti-wind at the same time as offering £600m to steel producers. Shell have made £32bn of profit when we're in an energy crisis - what the hell is going on? Then Bristol Airport got permission to expand this week too."

Although Forest Green Rovers have yet to win under their new man­ager, he can be pleased that the lib­er­al chat­ter­ing clas­ses are now tak­ing him to their hearts. If you read The Guar­dian you will have seen the Jour­nal inter­view on Friday (Duncan Ferguson interview - The Guardian 3-2-2023 - 5 pages). The art­ic­le rev­eals that we can reas­on­ably exp­ect a visit here in Glouc­est­er­shire from Real Mad­rid and their man­ager Carlo Ance­lotti, 4-times winner of the Champions League:

"One of those Champions League winners was Carlo Ancelotti, who respected Ferguson's opinion. The two remain close and Ferguson recently visited his former boss at Real Madrid. 'I saw all my exercises on the training ground. Him and his son [assistant coach Davide] are like magpies - they've taken all my exercises,' Ferguson jokes. 'I've worked with Carlo a great deal.'

"Ferguson is not the only one at Forest Green with close links to Real. Vince has been advising the club on sustainability and use of pesticides. Could this lead to a friendly at The New Lawn? 'I would love that - it would be absolutely fabulous,' Ferguson says. 'Why not do it over in Stroud? If there is a gap in the calendar, I am sure Carlo would facilitate that.'"

So, no vegan burger yet. He needs to conc­ent­rate on that before work­ing on a Real Mad­rid game.

Truss has started the process of justifying the actions that brought the coun­try to its knees. This week­end saw her first major out­ing as self-apol­og­ist:

Click to enlarge

Blames everybody else. Claims she had the right idea. Fort­un­ately, the rest of us know that she is a dim, in­comp­et­ent, self-seek­ing and arr­og­ant twerp.

One last thing today. On Saturday, I pondered if the Green New Deal and Labour's Great Brit­ish Energy were "pie in the sky" ideas. Now, we know what the expr­ess­ion means - but where does it come from? The most com­mon expl­an­at­ion I've heard is that it app­eared in a 1911 song by Joe Hill, Swed­ish-Amer­ican lab­our act­iv­ist, song­writer and mem­ber of the Ind­ust­rial Work­ers of the World (IWW, familiarly named the "Wobb­lies"). Called "The Prea­cher and the Slave", the song was writ­ten as a par­ody of the hymn "In the Sweet By-and-By", a dig at the Salv­at­ion Army's prom­ise of reward in heaven rather than on earth. The "pie" ref­er­ence is in the chorus:

Long-haired preachers come out every night

Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right

But when asked how 'bout something to eat

They will answer in voices so sweet

You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land in the sky

Work and pray, live on hay

You'll get pie in the sky when you die

If you fancy listening to the song, here's a live 2005 vers­ion by Utah Phill­ips. He intro­duces it with charm­ing and inf­orm­at­ive bits of back­ground - and reh­ears­al for the aud­ience:

Holding a message for Sunak, right? Plus ça change.

Sunday 5th February

Poor sporting outcomes for this household yesterday:

Except that I did my usual trick of placing a small wager on the opposition to ease the pain of an unwelcome result:

Saturday 4th February

Campaigners Green New Deal (GND) must have known that I was raging against Shell yesterday because they sent me an email:

"Sickeningly, Shell has just reported its highest profits in its 115 year history. That's £32 billion made from fuelling the climate crisis and destroying people's lives.

"This display of corporate greed at a time when people can't afford their bills or to pay their rent shows that this Government has no interest in protecting us. Rishi Sunak and his pals are actively inflaming the crisis by green-lighting more fossil fuel projects and handing out tax breaks to polluters.

"It's hard news to digest. But we think this is the time to be speaking about solutions to fix this crisis, like bringing in a sustained windfall tax and democratising energy.

"We know these solutions are the antidote to the current profit-driven and climate-wrecking energy system. Because when communities have control, they can distribute energy in the interest of people and the planet."

Labour MP and GND Champion Clive Lewis explains why we should bring energy into public hands (1 minute 15 seconds):

Pie in the sky? Yet Labour has moulded its hopes around Great Brit­ish En­ergy. "Nat­ion­al­is­at­ion" is a diff­ic­ult word in a Brit­ain still shaped by That­cher, a nation der­ail­ed by Bre­xit.

Friday 3rd February

Apologies for gloom today, folks, but I'm oppressed by the over­whelm­ing evid­ence that the wrong people are in charge. Fat cats, war­mong­ers, xen­oph­obes. Why do we let them? There are bill­ions more of us.

Does it have to be this way?

As Elvis Costello sang (and Nick Lowe wrote), "What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?"

Alternatively - and with belligerence - I'll borrow from the words of Glen Matlock's new song that I posted on Wednesday 👉: "Ain't gonna let this go until there's someone's head on a stick."

Maybe both.

Thursday 2nd February

Third birthday:

Click to enlarge

It's the conversation at the bottom-right that gets me:

"Who would have thought?"

"Anyone with a brain?"

It's one of the uncomfortable background effects of Brexit that I'm obl­iged to bel­ieve that more than 50% of my comp­atr­iots (maybe less now) are ... stupid. Every­where I go in England I run the risk of half the people I meet not shar­ing a view of Brit­ain that would make me proud. Not a good found­at­ion for daily life.

I am however pleased that cartoonist David Squires of The Guar­dian fin­al­ly caught up with us local folk (see the news here:👉) as he con­sid­er­ed Ever­ton's new choice of man­ager:

And this is a great drone (I presume) shot of the New Lawn in For­est Green with Amb­erl­ey on the right hill­side bey­ond and Stroud in the dist­ance:

Click to enlarge

Wednesday 1st February

There's no easy way to spin a positive escape from this. Unless you're Jacob Rees-Mogg: "When was the IMF fore­cast last right?"

Here's the published document, "World Economic Outlook Update January 2023", (11 pages): Read the IMF World Economic Outlook Update January 2023

Brexit is not mentioned. But this contrast is made:

"Growth in the euro area is projected to bottom out at 0.7 percent in 2023 bef­ore ris­ing to 1.6 per­cent in 2024."

"Growth in the United Kingdom is projected to be -0.6 percent in 2023, a 0.9 perc­ent­age point down­ward rev­is­ion from Oct­ob­er."

Is that October comment an acknowledgement of the Truss melt­down and sub­sequ­ent Hunt meas­ures/U-turns, what the IMF calls "tigh­ter fis­cal and mon­et­ary pol­ic­ies"?

More entertaining and certainly more outspoken was Glen Mat­lock, orig­inal bass player with the Sex Pis­tols, int­erv­iewed early yest­er­day on BBC Break­fast. He has a new al­bum com­ing out, "Cons­equ­ences Coming", which car­ries the com­ments below:

"The album was written and recorded in Britain over the last 18 months or so with a posse of seas­oned but on point perf­orm­ers. All done during the deb­acle that is Bre­xit and the rise and fall of the tur­gid Trump epis­ode in the US. These songs refl­ect my take on the whole sorry mess that has ensued.

"Now the wheels of the music business can sometimes move at a lug­ubr­ious, glac­ial pace, and some­times the moment might be lost but seeing no break in the clouds or clear light at the end of the tun­nel, sure­ly the only dem­and on people's lips should be that there are 'Cons­equ­ences Com­ing' for the fat headed oafs who have foisted their asin­ine warped sens­ib­il­ities on us."

He was on the programme to talk about the new single, "Head On A Stick". The BBC red sofa pres­ent­ers desp­er­ate­ly wanted to get him off pol­it­ics, but he wasn't play­ing. Here's the off­ic­ial video, with some fur­ther words from Glen:

"Peeved at the predictable but ultimately point­less pol­it­ical lurch to the right that has happ­ened in the West over the past few years, one which has been aided and abetted by the vested inter­ests of a client press, I put pen to paper and plect­rum to guitar to comp­ose a song that's a call to arms, a wake up alarm and primal open your eyes scream.

"It might be easy to be wise after the event but some saw where we were headed and in the words of Pete Seeger att­empt­ed to ham­mer out a warn­ing. We always thought it can't happen here but it sadly most def­in­ite­ly has and heads should just­if­iab­ly roll ..."

He also reminded us during the interview that Johnny Rotten was/is a Brex­iteer ... and, having become a U.S. citizen in 2013, voted for Trump.

Punk largely passed me by, as its heyday coincided with my residence in Italy. The Ital­ians weren't a nat­ural fit with the music and move­ment. What, dress badly, hold no views on food and pay little att­ent­ion to good wine? It wasn't going to hap­pen. I did how­ever once cause a minor stir by going to an eleg­ant and del­ic­ious Ven­eto fancy dress dinner as Sid Vic­ious. Who replaced Mat­lock as bass player when Glen and Johnny fell out.

Stop Press: My Irish correspondent has reminded me that it is St. Brigid's Day. Celebrate. From GOV.IE ...

"In Ireland, the first of February marks the begin­ning of Spring and the cel­ebr­at­ion of Lá Fhéile Bríde, St Brigid's Day. Like many of other feast days of the Irish cal­end­ar, Brigid pre­dates Christ­ian­ity - her roots lie in the Cel­tic fest­ival of Imbolc, the feast of the god­dess Brigid, cel­ebr­ated at least five mill­ennia ago. In old Irish, Imbolc means 'in the belly', a ref­er­ence to lamb­ing and the ren­ewal Spring prom­ises."

Tuesday 31st January

This is uplifting, a beacon of light amidst the chall­eng­ing gloom of climate threat and food pov­er­ty, a wel­come coun­ter­point to the rot­ten ant­ics of the gov­ern­ment. We've just been inv­ited by friends to an even­ing at The Long Table, as worthy a Stroud inst­it­ut­ion as you can get.

Stroud Film Festival
The Seeds of Vandana Shiva
Saturday, 18 February 2023 5:00pm-9:00pm

"How did the wilful daughter of a Himalayan forest cons­erv­ator bec­ome Mons­anto's worst night­mare? The Seeds of Van­dana Shiva tells the rem­ark­able life story of Gand­hian eco-act­iv­ist Dr. Vand­ana Shiva, how she stood up to the corp­or­ate Gol­iaths of ind­ust­rial agr­icul­ture, rose to prom­in­ence in the seed sav­ing and orga­nic food move­ments and is insp­ir­ing an int­ern­at­ion­al crus­ade for change. The Long Table are del­ight­ed to be part­ner­ing with Stroud Film Fest­iv­al to host this screen­ing of The Seeds of Vand­ana Shiva, a film which res­on­ates so strongly with our aim of incr­eas­ing local food res­il­ience and put­ting food at the centre of the comm­un­ity.

"Pre- screening, we will be serving a del­ic­ious meal, Long Table style, which will of course be pay-as-you-can."

Here's some more blurb from the Long Table website:

"The Long Table was founded by Tom Herbert and Will Mansell in an old Brims­combe ware­house in 2018. This happ­ened after Tom met with Will Mans­ell of The Grace Net­work, of which The Long Table is now a key part. They shared a mut­ual dis­may of how soci­ety is doing food badly, leav­ing people un­well and lone­ly. Shame­ful­ly, one third of all food grown and prod­uced is never eaten. And so a new kind of Com­mun­ity Int­er­est Comp­any was born, with a team from a vari­ety of soc­ial roots that shared one vision. Our aim is to make loc­ally sourced and lov­ing­ly prep­ared food avail­able to every­one, reg­ard­less of their soc­ial or fin­anc­ial back­ground. Something we now call Food Equa­lity."

Visit the website here: Visit the Long Table website

Monday 30th January

How telling that the number one story yesterday should have been about the sack­ing of the chair­man of the Cons­erv­at­ive Party. Not news of econ­omic prog­ress, a break-through scien­tif­ic dev­el­op­ment nor just­ice ach­ieved for a des­erv­ing ord­in­ary person. Nope. Just self-seek­ing Tory sleaze and dis­hon­esty.

What a shame that I should have been scouring the GOV.UK web­site not for use­ful guid­ance or exp­lan­at­ion but for the off­ic­ial #tax­gate letters sent by Sir Laurie Mag­nus, Rishi Sun­ak and Nad­him Zah­awi. Yes, they are there ... but what a waste of time and money, doc­um­ent­ing the trans­gress­ions of our lead­er­ship rather than their ach­ieve­ments. I'm sure you've seen them but for the record here they are: Magnus to Sunak Letter from Sir Laurie Magnus to the prime minister 29 January 2023, Sunak to Zahawi Letter from the prime minister to the Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi 29 January 2023 and Zahawi to Sunak Letter to Rishi Sunak from Nadhim Zahawi 29-1-2023.

Sunak said:

"It is also with pride that I, and previous Prime Ministers, have been able to draw upon the services of a Kurdish-born Iraqi refugee at the highest levels of the UK Government."

Zahawi commented in reply:

"I arrived in this country fleeing persecution and speaking no English. Here, I built a successful business and served in some of the highest offices in government."

Which privilege he then abused.

This is the government hell-bent on making more diff­ic­ult the lives of the des­per­ate seek­ing sanct­uary.

Sunday 29th January

The joke's (almost) over now. No first match fairy tale victory, cruelly denied in extra time:

I reckon Big Dunc told the lads to get stuck in:

Meanwhile, I have the answer to my vegan question of two days ago:

"The earth is warming up, isn't it?" No shit, Dunc.

Would this have helped tired FGR legs in the dying moments of the game? Son Ben sent a photo of Thursday's birthday lunch in Bilbao:

Saturday 28th January

Friday 27th January

Football and Forest Green Rovers again today. Apol­og­ies to those not int­er­est­ed - but it's quite a story.

A bit of background for the uninitiated. "Big Dunc" - 6' 4" - was in his play­ing days a rob­ust No. 9 for Scot­land and most prom­in­ent­ly for Ever­ton. Good with his head, both on the pitch and ...

... off. Here's a chunk of his Wikipedia entry:

"Ferguson has had four convictions for assault - two arising from taxi rank scuffles, one an altercation with a fisherman in an Anstruther pub, and one for his on-field headbutt on Raith Rovers defender John McStay in 1994 while playing for Rangers, which resulted in a rare conviction for an on-the-field incident. The first incident led to a £100 fine for headbutting a policeman and a £25 fine for a Breach of the Peace, while the second resulted in a £200 fine for punching and kicking a supporter on crutches. He was sentenced to a year's probation for the third offence. For the 1994 on-the-field headbutting, he received and served a three-month jail term for assault."

Ferguson was burgled in 2001 and 2003. On both occasions the robbers were hospitalised. They clearly hadn't done their homework.

Sounds ideal. It's going to be a scrap to avoid rele­gat­ion from League One, so we need a bit of a braw­ler. I like his sec­ond nick­name even more: "Duncan Disorderly".

It gets better. According to ClassicFM and other sources, little-known Fin­nish comp­oser Osmo Tapio Räi­hälä ded­ic­ated one of his works to the centre-forward. It's called "Barl­innie Nine", pres­um­ably a ref­er­ence to HM Pri­son Barl­inn­ie where Ferg­uson served time and his Ever­ton shirt number. The orch­est­ral piece was prem­iered on the same day in 2005 that Ferg­uson scored the only goal in a game against Man­ches­ter United, Ever­ton's first win over ManU in 10 years.

It's true. Räihälä said:

"I got the idea for it when he was facing jail and had just become something of a cult figure for Everton. It takes into account the contradictions in him: he has an aggressive side but there is a lyrical undertone, as the fact that he keeps pigeons shows."

I don't expect you to listen to all 12 minutes of the prem­iere perf­orm­ance, but for the record here it is, on 20th April 2005 at the Fin­land­ia Hall, Hels­inki, play­ed by the Finn­ish Radio Symp­hony Orch­est­ra, cond­ucted by Sakari Oramo:

The appointment has gone down well with the FGR faith­ful on the Twit­ter­sphere. Ann­ounc­ed the day after Burch­nall dep­art­ed, Dale Vince must have had this in the pipe­line. A canny move? I'm off to the book­ies to find out what odds I can get on FGR escap­ing the drop. I should have gone two days ago.

Has anyone told him he's a vegan from now on?

Thursday 26th January

Oh dear. Forest Green Rovers hit the buffers.

Manager pays customary price.

Too much red:

It didn't stop Dale making a trip to Vienna last week (OK, he went by train) to give Arnie some diamonds.

Maybe that's why FGR are bottom of the league. Distracted by bling.

Chris Taylor writes from Udine:

"Meanwhile Udinese have refound their winning ways (Samp­doria 0 Udin­ese 1) and are resp­ect­ably well above half­way in the Serie A table. I and my son-in-law will be at the Stadio Friuli on Monday night to see what they can do against Verona. Watch this space."

Alè Udin!

Happy Birthday to son Ben in Bilbao!

Wednesday 25th January

This poster went up in a Middle Street window two days ago:

As you can see at the bottom right, the Stroud Red Band will be playing. Their web­site exp­lains:

"We are an extension of the London Big Red Band, which has been in existence since the 1980s. Like them we play music from the heritage of the labour, socialist and international solidarity movements. We play at demonstrations, marches and benefits when we can."

"Tunes in the repertoire: Di Shvue ('The Oath', the song of the Jewish Workers' Bund), Zog Nit Keynmol (WW2 Jewish Partisans' Song), The White Cockade (for which the words of the Red Flag were originally written), I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free, One Love ..."

Here we come, sadly, to some evidence of conflict in Stroud. I wrote in Dec­emb­er last year about opp­os­it­ion to the pedd­ling of The Light news­paper in the High Street 👉. You will have not­iced in the pos­ter at the top that cert­ain groups are not invi­ted to the mem­or­ial event on Sun­day: "Every­one is wel­come - except for Holo­caust den­iers, anti­sem­ites and their apol­og­ists". I saw on YouTube these plac­ards disp­layed by supp­ort­ers of the Stroud Red Band as they busked in town:

It will be deeply regrettable if the Stroud (Mis)InfoHub go large on this over the week­end (the off­ic­ial mem­or­ial day is 27th Janu­ary, this Friday). They wouldn't show up on Sun­day, would they? Please no.

To read more about this weekend's events you can visit the web­site of the Holo­caust Mem­or­ial Day Trust (HMDT), a char­ity est­abl­ished and funded by the UK Gov­ern­ment, by click­ing below:

Visit the HMD website.

The HMDT has a theme for 2023 of "ord­in­ary people". It's a prov­oc­at­ive thought:

"Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, join murderous regimes. And those who are persecuted, oppressed and murdered in genocide aren't persecuted because of crimes they've committed - they are persecuted simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group (eg, Roma, Jewish community, Tutsi). Ordinary people were involved in all aspects of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution of other groups, and in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Ordinary people were perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses - and ordinary people were victims."

Here is the full text of the theme document (6 pages): Read the 'Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 Theme vision'

It contains a beautiful comic-strip image from the grap­hic novel "Irm­ina" by Mun­ich-based Barb­ara Yel­in, which I high­light here (click to enlarge):

Tuesday 24th January

I've been trawling the international output of the pol­it­ic­al cart­oon­ists on the top­ic of Jac­inda Ard­ern's res­ign­at­ion. There has been plenty of crit­ic­ism dir­ected at her in words - jump-before-push, econ­om­ic cris­is, ris­ing viol­ence - but I can't find any from the cart­oon­ists, apart from the two below (the first rep­eat­ed from Friday), both of which are comm­ents on other world lead­ers rather than an att­ack on her. The sket­ches of her are not very flat­tering, but the joke and dis­dain are firmly aimed at the rest. Very unus­ual. Norm­ally - look at the stuff above tar­get­ting Sunak and cronies - any weak­ness, any whiff of hyp­ocr­isy, any inc­omp­et­ence is exp­osed with merc­il­ess glee. The abs­ence of such scr­ut­iny speaks pos­it­ive vol­umes about her.

Sadly, we are left with the sleazeballs.

Sunday 22nd January

My dreams get odder every night.

This time I was an airline pilot. On my first flight from some­where in the Mid­dle East I was forced to crash land. Also on the sec­ond. Before the third - there seemed to be no move to ground me pend­ing in­vest­ig­at­ion, I was straight back into the pilot's seat - I felt obliged to give the pass­eng­ers a choice. "This is your cap­tain speak­ing. I can­not rel­iab­ly ass­ure you that you will arr­ive at your dest­in­at­ion in the nor­mal fash­ion. All of you who would pref­er to take an­oth­er flight, please feel free to leave the air­craft now." On this occ­as­ion I landed in a New York sub­urb, the nose of the 'plane nest­ling in an apart­ment be­long­ing to a large Ital­ian fam­ily tuck­ing into pasta and meat­balls. They welcomed me with a gen­er­ous portion. "Vieni, mangia!" No cas­ual­ties at any stage, no drama.

I can't begin to find an explanation.

Saturday 21st January

They don't get any better, do they? New crap every day.

The seatbelt error is just dim, isn't it? Broad­cast a jolly level­ling-up video that shows my mist­ake, why ever not? Zahawi and tax - we expect this kind of Tory slime. The car batt­ery fiasco is, how­ever, the long-term out­come of wil­ful, syst­emic and idea­log­ic­al incom­pe­tence. Thatch­er­ite dest­ruct­ion of our mot­or-man­uf­act­ur­ing cap­ab­il­ity had al­ready left Brit­ish­volt with no nat­ion­al cust­om­ers. Given the barr­iers to trade and log­ist­ics raised by Brexit, which Eur­op­ean car maker would choose to buy from go-it-alone Blighty?

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Friday 20th January

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Letter to 8-year-old Lucy - click to enlarge

Tuesday 17th January

Absence from the blog­osphere for a few days. I've had a lurgy. Not Covid, nor 'flu, just the common cold. Still reas­on­ably deb­il­it­at­ing. Un­help­fully, I've not been able to keep awake in the day, nor manage to sleep at night - conn­ected, of course. Friends and neigh­bours have said that their dose went on for weeks. Mine's still here, but I hope it's fading now.

Grandson Marlie put up with me for the weekend. I barely went out. Fort­un­ate­ly his cur­rent pass­ion is suit­able for in­door act­iv­ity:

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He came up with all kinds of "extension" activities: guess-the-flag, draw-the-flag, how-many-flags-do-you-know-with-stripes. There's a whole lot of story and detail behind each flag, like date adopted or who invented it. What's behind the selection of colours and shapes?

Half of Marlie's ancestry is Jamaican:

The flag was adopted on 6 August 1962, Jamaican Independence Day. 60 years to celebrate this summer. There'll be a party, won't there? The 1962 int­erpr­et­at­ion of the col­ours - "hard­ships there are but the land is green and the sun shin­eth" - was up­dat­ed in 1996 after a rev­iew init­iated by then prime min­ist­er P. J. Pat­ter­son to (cour­tesy of Wiki­ped­ia): "Black rep­res­ent­ing the strength and creat­iv­ity of the people which has all­owed them to ov­er­come diff­ic­ul­ties, gold for the wealth of the coun­try and the gol­den sun­shine, and green for the lush veg­et­at­ion of the island, as well as hope."

I thought I'd got Marlie with one question, but he knew the answer! It is curr­ent­ly the only nat­ion­al flag that does not cont­ain a shade of the colours red, white, or blue. Hmmm, shade of white?

Here's a quiz question for you, the answer to which is contained in previous pages of this blog. What are the only two national flags that display the country's map?

Friday 13th January

At the Goodwill evening before Christmas Stroud Dist­rict Tog­eth­er with Ref­ug­ees (SDTwR) ran a stall in Lans­down Hall. Vis­it­ors were inv­ited to write a mess­age of sup­port to ref­ug­ees and hang it on a tree. Nine­ty-one people did so. Here are two pict­ures, the first in the hall, the second after the tree was moved to the Christ­mas tree fest­ival in the par­ish church of St. Lawr­ence (click to enlarge):

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Jude Emmet of SDTwR has recently drawn this to the att­ent­ion of Stroud Cons­erv­at­ive MP Siob­han Bail­lie:

Dear Siobhan,

Firstly, may I wish you and your family a happy new year.

At the Goodwill Evening held in Stroud on 2nd December, our group Stroud District Together with Refugees (SDTWR) displayed a Christmas Tree and invited passers by and shoppers to write a message of welcome to refugees and asylum seekers who have overcome appalling hardship and difficulties to reach what ought to be the safety of this country. We set up our stall and tree in the Lansdown Hall and waited to see what the reaction would be from Stroud residents. We were there for about two hours.

During that time, just about everyone we approached wanted to write a message, and we were heartened to see that every single message was a positive message of welcome. By the end of our time, 91 messages were hung on the tree and we would like to share them with you (below).

I hope you will celebrate with us the kindness and outpouring of love that the messages show. We are proud that Stroud is so solidly supportive of the refugees and asylum seekers who arrive on our shores. We therefore urge you to commit to working towards safe routes to reduce the need for anyone to make these perilous journeys.

Yours sincerely,

Jude Emmet
(Stroud District Together with Refugees)

These are the messages that were hung on the tree:

1. Welcome to England.   2. Welcome to Stroud. Hope you feel safe and happy xx.   3. You are so welcome here; I hope you settle in well x.   4. Welcome to everyone who needs a home!   5. Assume good will / Judge others by the content of their character.   6. You are so welcome here in Stroud.   7. Dear refugees, wherever you come from you are welcome here.   8. I hope you find warmth and kindness.   9. You are welcome here.   10. Refugees always welcome here!   11. Welcome to Stroud💖.   12. Welcome to everyone seeking sanctuary in Glos!   13. Wishing you love and peace.   14. My heart goes out to you all, much love xxx   15.   Warm welcome, may you always feel at home. We need you xx.   16. Welcome all. The people of this country are not the government.   17. You have been through so much - we are here to welcome you and support you.   18. We are all migrants💖!   19. We welcome refugees.   20. Welcome! Wishing you a warm and wel­com­ing time💖.   21. We'll enjoy a colourful Stroud with contributions from lots of different backgrounds.   22. Hope you feel happy soon.   23. Rest in peace in Stroud.   24. Thinking of you all💖.   25. You are all WELCOME here x.   26. I love and I will look after you.   27. You are so loved x.   28. Thinking of you all with love and welcome arms.   29. Welcome and good luck!   30. Welcome in Gloucestershire!   31. Refugees, we don't care where you're from everyone is welcome here!   32. Love💖.   33. The warmest of welcomes to you xxx.   34. Make yourselves a home here!   35. A warm Stroud welcome to you all x.   36. Welcome home💖love💖.   37. Hello, you are safe here.   38. Welcome! We hope you enjoy your Christmas in Stroud.   39. You are welcome everywhere, be brave.   40. Thinking of you for a better 2023, welcome.   41. We welcome you with love and warmth xxx.   42. Love knows no borders / everyone always welcome x.   43. Our very best wishes to all refugees.   44. You're welcome to stay.   45. Welcome to Stroud x.   46. Welcome.   47. Hope Hope Hope and Love.   48. Warm wishes and welcome.   49. Good you are here. Welcome. May the new year bring better times.   50. Come on in💖!   51. We welcome you all into our hearts xx.   52. The warmest of warm welcomes to one and all with love x.   53. Refugees one and all we welcome you! We welcome your experience, skills, culture, language. You enrich us all!   54. Welcome to Stroud xx.   55. Love and peace this Christmas in Stroud🌠.   56. May Stroud be a place of safety, welcome and support.   57. Wishing all new lives filled with peace and happiness!   58. You are very welcome here - as a child of refugees I hope you feel safe and at home.   59. Welcome.   60. Welcome to this part of the world.   61. Welcome/Hello! A warm welcome to you. I truly wish you a bright day and joyous future. You are always welcome.   62. Welcome to the UK! Hope you find all the things you need here! Welcome.   63. Welcome to the UK, hope you like it.   64. Welcome and safe haven here.   65. We are all migrants. We welcome you with love x💖.   66. May all the luck and kindness come to you.   67. Hope you find safety and peace here.   68. Wishing you good luck and success.   69. Welcome to Gloucestershire. I hope you're made to feel welcome.   70. We love you xxx/💖💖💖.   71. Hope you find peace here. Lots of love xx.   72. We welcome refugees here!   73. May the rainbow appear for your thoughts x.   74. We wish you well you are welcome here!   75. Welcome to Stroud!💖Hope you will find peace and happiness xx.   76. All are welcome because we are all one - karibuni!   77. My arms are open to welcome you xx.   78. You are safe, you are welcome, you are loved.   79. Welcome to Stroud.   80. Goodwill to all refugees.   81. So many people welcome you here💖.   82. You are welcome to Stroud. I hope you stay safe and happy this Christmas.   83. Merry Christmas! Sending lots of love and care xxx.   84. Welcome to UK - may you find a good life here!   85. Season's greetings and welcome to all.   86. You enrich our country / peace and love x.   87.🌞There is always beauty ar­ound us🌱.   88. Welcome refugees, we love you all.   89. Refugees, good luck. I hope you find peace and happiness.   90. Selamat Datang [Mal­ay/­Ind­on­es­ian: "Wel­come"].   91. You are so loved.

Stroudies, be proud. Refugees, welcome.

Thursday 12th January

RIP Jeff Beck (24 June 1944 - 10 January 2023, aged 78). Rem­emb­er the Yard­birds? Guit­ar­ist's guit­ar­ist: made an art of dis­tort­ion, picked with his thumb, mas­ter of the wham­my bar (aka groov­ing stick), tone to die for (and now he has). Here he is with anot­her old diva perf­orm­ing one of my fav­our­ite songs, Cur­tis May­field's 1965 "People Get Ready":

People get ready, there's a train a-coming
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming
You don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

People get ready for the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board them
There's room for all among those loved the most

Now there ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances are thinner
'Cause there's no hiding place from the Kingdom's throne

So people get ready for the train a-coming
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming
You don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

It's always the "diesels" that get me.

Wednesday 11th January

Eleven days into the New Year and I'm going to abandon my self-imposed moratorium on cartoons. I admit defeat. A few have leaked into the blog in the last days, but here's a whole lot more. The cartoonists say it for me, save me wrestling with prose - and most of all make me laugh. That's a gift I can't spurn, a smile rather than despair or anger.

I wonder at how the English press busies itself with the really important issues. Harry, do we need to know? (With apol­og­ies to my Irish corr­esp­ond­ent, who comm­ented: "Good to see that the blog is a Harry-free zone.")

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Then this charade bled across into ... the Virgin Orbit fiasco ... and threats to Sunak's authority:

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Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world the usual nutters are at large:

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Tuesday 10th January

I haven't written about Covid for a long time, exc­ept in a hist­or­ic­al sense. But it's still around. We're "liv­ing with" the virus at a diff­erent level. Anec­dot­al Middle Street int­ell­ig­ence tells me that it's rife in Glouc­est­er Roy­al and even in Stroud Hosp­ital round the corner. After a lunch with 20-odd people from our walk­ing group last Sat­ur­day, a friend tested pos­it­ive, so others have done a lat­er­al flow. I've got a mild cough and cold, but have had a neg­at­ive result two morn­ings in a row. It's a while since I repor­ted one of these:

Looking back through this blog, I counted occ­urr­ences of the words "cor­on­av­ir­us" and "Cov­id". In reverse order:

2023 - 3 (we've only just started);
2022 - 80; 
2021 - 380; 
2020 - 315 (I began the blog on 22nd March).

Consider this ONS report of causes of death in England published at the end of November last year:

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Covid is in eighth place. Other conditions demand greater concern.

Contrast the above with three charts - not a like-for-like comp­ar­is­on, but ind­ic­at­ive of the change - I posted two years ago in the first two weeks of Jan­uary 2021:

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At the time we were in deep shock. Very frightened. I didn't know how we'd get out of it all. Except the vacc­ines were just about to roll out. NHS staff were work­ing round the clock at con­sid­er­able pers­on­al risk. Bar­on­ess Mone had made £mill­ions out of PPE cont­racts. Check out the red num­bers below:

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Monday 9th January

Some minor reflections on social media, specifically rel­at­ed to the deb­ate about the Twit­ter-mon­ol­ith-owned-by-evil-Musk versus Mast­od­on-or-any-oth­er-eg­al­it­ar­ian-de­cent­ral­ised-un­corp­or­ate-plat­form.

I'm enjoying Mastodon. I like being part of the right-on san­dal-wear­ing free-open-source-soft­ware comm­unity. How­ever, as I've expl­ained before, I've kept my Twitter account open for one pas­sive reas­on alone - so that I can hear from or about people I don't like, horse's-mouth from the other side. I only act­ive­ly "toot" on Mast­odon.

For example, I learnt yesterday that you can buy this cal­end­ar, for £13.95 via Amazon. Don't worry, I def­in­ite­ly won't be mak­ing a pur­ch­ase. Far too much for a relatively small joke, and Amazon? ... no thanks.

It was JR-M himself who alerted me to its pub­lic­at­ion through his Twit­ter acc­ount:

Beyond this, I benefit from direct unfiltered access to his views. Here's a selection tweeted in the last two months:
  • The ripe fruit of Brexit is ready to be harvested.
  • Boris Johnson was a great Prime Minister who ought to have stayed longer.
  • Removing EU law and igniting the deregulatory bonfire is the route to economic growth.
  • Dealing with the ECHR's overreach must be part of the solution.
  • Merely an anti-motorist, cash raising ploy:
Hmmm. You're right, maybe I really don't need Twitter at all.

Sunday 8th January

I'm allowing myself one cartoon today:

There's a reason for this choice which you can't possibly guess.

Before going to university in 1970 I spent six months at a "prep" Ivy-League-feeder school - Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire, USA - as an exchange student. Not an altogether comfortable experience, as I bridled at its smug sense of privilege, and shouldn't really have still been at school (you can read my account here: 👉). However, I made some great friends. One was a lovely young man, kind, caring, laughing, easy to be with. He had a dramatic mane of thick long black hair, a heavy black stubble on his chin. His name was Harry Cocaine.

Why "Cocaine"? His antecedents had migrated from Greece in the early 20th century. The story goes that the immigration official on Ellis Island looked at the family name Kokkinis, thought it wouldn't do and renamed them Cocaine. He must have had a good laugh with his wife when he went home.

Harry has since reclaimed the original name. In 2003 he - I don't know where he was in the intervening years, apart from studying at Amherst - joined the family firm founded in 1924, Table Talk Pies ("America's Favourite Pie"), in Worc­est­er, Mass­achu­setts. Yes, we shared the same home town name. He became chief exec­ut­ive in 2015 when his father Christo died. The company website suggests that he is still in charge.

Here's a Boston TV station report on a new factory they opened up:

I envy him - or I would have done in the 1970s when I was lorry-mad - the fleet of semi-trucks:

So here's the plan. Harry and I said an emotional farewell 52 years ago and haven't been in touch since. I have no idea why I failed to maintain such a friendship. Tomorrow I'm going to send him an email at Table Talk and follow that up with a 'phone call a couple of days later. There's a risk. If I manage to connect, will he still remember me? What the hell, I'm going to try anyway. Nothing ventured ...

Saturday 7th January

No great desire to comment on anything today. Harry? Oh, pur-lease. Nope, it's time for the first Mapfest of 2023. In descending order, from serious to silly, informative to downright foolish. Click/tap to enlarge any.

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Alasdair Rae - Map of global population density

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Strategic Forecasting Inc - Population density map of China and Asia

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Amazing Maps - Countries surrounding Poland pre-1990 and post-1993 - all change!

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Amazing Maps - Parts of the Republic of Ireland are further north than Northern Ireland

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Amazing Maps - Map of the Internet in 1969

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Amazing Maps - Map Kiwi - Nobody lives here

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Amazing Maps - Straight 13,500km line from Liberia to China without crossing an ocean

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Terrible Maps - What pedestrians look like across Europe

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Terrible Maps - Iceland to Ireland

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Terrible Maps - Railway map of Antarctica

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Terrible Maps - Roman air bases in 2nd Century AD

Friday 6th January

Whoopee! The Iron Maiden postage stamps have been ann­ounc­ed, av­ail­able from 12th Jan­uary. You can pre-order now - hurry! rush! - at the Royal Mail shop: Buy Iron Maiden stamp sets. Click/tap to enlarge all images below.

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Hmmm ... still with the head of Queen Liz II. Planned for some time, then? A whiff of hoax? Apparently not. Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood said: "It's incredible to think that Her Majesty, may she rest in peace, saw these and lent her iconic silhouette to them."

This is my kind of news, perfect for a lighter 2023. Not only snaps of band gigs over the years, but also a sel­ect­ion hon­our­ing "mas­cot" Eddie:

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The Maiden website explains the four above:
  • 'Iron Maiden' Eddie: The stare that started it all. Born in 1980 - on the cover of the band's debut album.
  • 'The Trooper' Eddie: The unforgettable artwork for one of Iron Maid­en's great­est hit sing­les and, more rec­ently, the logo for their award-winning beer.
  • 'Aces High' Eddie: Reimagined as a fighter pilot for a song hon­our­ing the RAF serv­ice­men who def­ended Brit­ain during the Sec­ond World War.
  • 'Senjutsu' Eddie: Samurais, feudal Japan and flashing blades insp­ired this kat­ana-wield­ing war­rior, from the band's most recent album.
Just what you'd want to stick on the Christmas thank-you let­ter to Aunt Dor­othy, right?

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I have never wittingly heard an Iron Maiden song, nor watched a video, let alone been to a gig. BUT ... I have been flown to Cors­ica by lead singer Bruce Dick­in­son, who used to moon­light as a pilot for char­ter air­line Astr­aeus in his music down­time. I dis­cov­ered yest­er­day that we att­ended the same school; he was six years my jun­ior ... and sens­ibly got expel­led.

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Maiden commissioned an Astraeus 757 as transport for their "Some­where Back in Time" tour in 2008 and nick­named it Ed Force One ... driven of course by Capt­ain Dick­inson:

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Click or tap to enlarge

Thursday 5th January

Some days you need a little something to get going. Oliver Reed called his first drink a "heart-starter". I've listened to this the last two mornings:

"Don't ask me what I think of you,
I might not give the answer that you want me to"

RIP (25th July 2020) Peter Allen Greenbaum. Off his head, bless 'im. Danny Kirwan - typical of Green, the greatest English blues guitarist, that he let other people play the lead solos on songs that he had written - is also sadly no more. But I still have a copy of the "dustbin" album:

Jeremy Cedric Spencer - maracas in the video above - is still playing:

Wednesday 4th January

Please indulge me today as I go personal and reflect on the family visit at Christmas ... and beyond ...

What pleases me as much as anything is how the children thoroughly reject in thought and action the mean-spirited concept of Brexit ... and embrace Europe, indeed the world. The boys also seem to have adopted my liking for offal (warning for those who are not fans of seriously anatomical food, see below).

Nikko was back from Vienna with his daughter, who is half Serb­ian Vien­nese. He ret­urned to Aust­ria in time to cel­ebr­ate New Year in the wilds of Slov­akia with his girl­friend, who is Iranian. The food included meze and Basque haggis, a present from Ben.

Ben and partner Soph are heading back to Bilbao today. They man­aged a trip while over here to rem­ote Powys, stay­ing near Mach­ynll­eth in the house bel­ong­ing to our friends Liz and Martin White­side. To date there is no "hard border" at Chepstow.

Meanwhile, I'm still here in Stroud. But about to put my Christmas gift from Ben in the slow cooker ... morcilla and alubias de Tolosa:

To hell with the 2016 referendum 🖕

Tuesday 3rd January

Just one map today. In 2022 the planet's (human) pop­ul­at­ion pas­sed 8 bil­lion. Where are we all? Click/tap to en­large this chart (cour­tesy of Vis­ual Cap­it­al­ist) - then zoom-and-scroll or what­ever you usu­ally do:

Monday 2nd January

This new year I've decided not to do a summary of the previous twelve months. We all know too much about it al­ready. Inst­ead - the only look­ing back I'll do - I'm post­ing a char­ming and ing­eni­ous Sgt. Pep­per "in mem­or­iam" trib­ute by grap­hic art­ist Chris Barker to many (187) of those we lost in 2022. A pic­ture, numb­ered key and list of names. You will have to "click to enl­arge" to see the det­ail, pref­er­ab­ly on the larg­est screen you own.

Sunday 1st January

I hope you all had a good Twixmas.

Resolutions, eh? I've decided that I have only one, which I will apply to all of those others I have carried forward from previous years with cons­um­mate pro­crast­in­at­ion. "Do it dif­fer­ent­ly". This means that when I falter, for example when tempted to break the promise I've made to go to the gym, I'll seek a way to get round my obj­ect­ions or sub­stit­ute an equa­lly ben­ef­ic­ial alt­ern­at­ive.

The Christmas break has been marked in this house by a not­able abs­ence of news cons­ump­tion, with cons­equ­ent lift­ing of the spirits. Kids, cooking, eating, visits to the local, breezy out­ings on the common. Precious little "dooms­croll­ing". Al­though I've spoken in these pages about the effect of dig­est­ing grim media output in recent years, I'm late in coming to this term, which Mark Bara­bak of The Times def­ined as "an exc­ess­ive amount of screen time dev­oted to the abs­orp­tion of dyst­op­ian news." Odd, because it grew out of lockdown-induced Covid pand­emic dist­ress, which is where this blog started. It was one of the "words of the year" chosen by the Oxford Dict­ion­ary in 2020. Mer­riam-Web­ster had this at the time:

"Doomscrolling and doomsurfing are new terms refer­ring to the tend­ency to cont­inue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is sad­den­ing, dis­heart­en­ing, or dep­ress­ing. During times of crisis and un­cert­ain­ty, some of us pay more att­ent­ion to the news, looking for ans­wers. And this might not surp­rise you, but we have to say it: a lot of the news is bad. And yet we keep scrol­ling, keep read­ing art­icle after art­icle, unable to turn away from inf­orm­at­ion that dep­resses us."

Guilty as charged. So ... do it differently.

I can't ignore world events, nor should I. That would be "news avoid­ance", anot­her phen­om­en­on I've missed that has grown in the nearly three years of this blog. It's a nat­ur­al reac­tion for many - I've been temp­ted - but not neces­sar­ily a good thing, as evid­enced in the title of a Sept­emb­er 2022 paper I spot­ted - "How News Feels: Anti­cip­ated Anx­iety as a Factor in News Avoid­ance and a Bar­rier to Pol­it­ic­al En­gage­ment", by Benj­am­in Toffa, Univ­ers­ity of Min­nes­ota, and Ras­mus Kleis Niel­sen, Univ­ers­ity of Ox­ford (19 pages): . No need to read this rather tur­gid bit of res­earch, I've only pos­ted it for comp­lete­ness - it was the idea and title that caught my att­ent­ion.

I don't want to be politically disengaged but I need balance this year. Con­cent­rate on use­ful act­ion rather than mood­ily over-obs­erv­ing, like giving sup­port to Stroud's refu­gee camp­aign group, any­thing that will remove the Tor­ies from off­ice, mit­ig­at­ion of Brexit damage.

I may throttle back my love affair with political cartoons. Here's just one for the New Year, courtesy of Kevin "Kal" Kall­augher, cart­oon­ist for The Econ­om­ist and the Balt­im­ore Sun. I intend to give less mental house room to these people (click to enlarge):

© Charlie Lewis 2023
Email: charlie_c_lewis@hotmail.com
Mastodon: @charlieclewis@mastodonapp.uk