All Greek?


All Greek?


As the Brexit talks grind on I have taken two views. One that its all to be expected, the two sides will disagree,snipe and  be rude to each other and  in true EU fashion on deadline day the clocks will be stopped and the  adults in the room will hammer out a compromise deal. Acceptable to both sides. So where we are is nothing to worry about, the seeming impasse, the mess ,this is what happens.

But then I’m a Brexit supporter which means in my heart of heart I don’t trust the EU. Naively, sticking to their rule book, they didn’t give Cameron the modest reforms he wanted so he lost the referendum. They haven’t a clue how to handle the anti liberal tendencies in Hungary and Poland. They have are even further off the pace when it comes to the Europe wide refugee crisis. The Euro is profiting one country at the expense of all the others. The countries play sweetheart tax deal poker against each other-the EU is about to Ireland to court for not taxing Apple.

In recent weeks  our not so spring like PM, May has  dual tracked and talked of new initiatives  and money to get Brexit talks going and planning for a no deal,off the cliff scenario. As every time we seem to be making progress the EU smoothies come back and talk of divisions,more clarity, a sense of purpose, realism etc; May is therefore making the right noises. The EU cannot believe with its stronger hand it will not get everything it wants. So we must tell them,it takes two to tango and only one to go it alone.

Which takes me back to Yanis Varoufakis. The  pin up economist ,Greek finance minister who last year wrote a book about the  failure of his bankrupt government to strike an acceptable deal with the EU. The resulting deal has meant a contraction of the Greek economy by 26%, similar unemployment and a continuation of the debt crisis. Hardly a solution. But the EU got what it wanted.

And Varoufakis  tells why, They stall negotiations, they get you on  sequencing, they deliberately confuse you on who to negotiate with, they exploit any divisions on your side,the negotiators are just there to rubber stamp not  negotiate, they wrap you in their net and then destroy you by a 1000 cuts, they will suspend negotiations with the excuse to check. If you  play by their rules you fall into their trap. The solution Varoufakis says is to play hard ball,not to negotiate. Something insecure Greece was in less of a position  to do than the UK.

The amazing thing is that all his predictions made before Brexit negotiations had started have come to pass. It would seem that for both sides its not a question of a hard or soft break but a hard or soft landing as we go off the cliff,no doubt shouting and blaming each other as we are now. For the EU it will be yet another failure, for the UK a very grey, new dawn.

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Period Piece


Period Piece

Part of growing old is that you take the bird feed far more seriously and you go to far more stately homes. Last weekend it was Montacute in Somerset where we were taken with our once neighbours and old friends the Millers.

Going to stately homes is a first cousin of going to old churches, Pilgrimage light, it improves you. History, locality, culture,our nationality, historic anecdote, gawking at wealth and extravagant architecture, pictures as dull as many on most mantelpieces, ridiculous furnishings,great fireplaces, with the popularity of period drama on tv its like  going on set. All this and a parking place, whats not to like?

For me its the historic anecdote. Montacute was one of many homes the well married George Nathaniel Curzon bought to do up and give to the nation. Bodiam Castle being another. No one was more destined for life’s glittering prizes.Silver spoon, Eton, Balliol. He travelled the near and far east as no one else, bright, clever, attractive but like all superior, good looking people loved, admired, resented and  even hated in equal measure.

A well born baron who became The Viceroy of India(1898-05), Foreign Secretary(1919-24)(so much imbetween) and had an American heiress for a wife. Nothing could get in his way of being prime minister when in 1923 Bonar Law’s illness finally made him resign. Bonar Law wanted him, many in the Conservative Party  wanted him, the country expected the smooth,sleek,golden boy to at last be anointed. But others, including George V had  other ideas.

Curzon waited at Montacute for the call. He had put his new wife but not his mistress or  phones into his Elizabethan pile. The local policeman cycled up with the telegram from the king’s aide. It could only mean one thing. Curzon took the train up the next day. As he  trundled up to Paddington  he read the Daily Telegraph strongly in favour of his accession, The Times worried about a peer being PM-especially in this day and age! At the terminus he posed for the photographs. All but done deal.

The king’s secretary was an hour late-hardly a good sign. And so it proved,the king (and others)who didn’t like Curzon, felt that the leader had to be in the House of Commons. The king was in fact already laying hands on Baldwin. Curzon pointed out that this was an insult, a slur,only he had the experience and the support of the party. As he wrote “the cup of honourable ambition had been dashed from my lips.” Legend has it he broke down in tears. But  two days later his up bringing reasserted itself and he agreed to be Foreign Secretary under Baldwin and proposed the PM as leader of the party.

Now  it gets déjà vu. An election was called. The Tories lost their majority, Baldwin lost his job and Ramsey McDonald was called to the Palace. A vote of no confidence led to yet another  election-the third in two years.  Baldwin and the Tories swept in,but Curzon was nowhere to be seen, dished again.  Within a few months in March 1925 he was dead.

Montacute was house was built and lived in by the Phileps family from1598-1911. Originally they had done well out of the dissolution of the monasteries. From 1911 it was let, Curzon had the lease 1915-25. The National Trust took it over in 1931.





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Dr Foster is a Monster

Dr Foster is a Monster.

The BBC series,Dr Foster was an everyday story of middle class  divorce. Successful man leaves hard working wife for a younger trophy  bride ,the  first extremely bitter wife now has to care for teenage  traumatised son . She plots revenge. Gets it, new  wife leaves with baby, ex husband  falls apart and  contemplates suicide. Spoiler alert. Teenager does a runner.

Fine, good “fun”-if not for all the family, but worried  wives should like it.

Divorces I have known.

Successful man goes for new employee younger piece, but in the end loses children from wife one and then business and wife two. In another  the wife decides to destroy husband and throws all her resources at the court,is only partially successful, husband walks off with new squeeze,wife  financially and emotionally destroyed takes ten years to recover.

One wife left behind decided that the only way was to kill the new love interest. Spent many weeks  weeping and plotting but in the end decided against and threw herself into her job and children.  Ends up friends with ex. Another took to regularly  having a few drinks and then phoning up the ex asking him to reconsider. After a few years this  became a form of harassment which  embarrassed not only her friends but her and she stopped. Another felt her husband leaving was a cry for space rather than change and was surprised when he popped up buying a new home with his latest flame.

One man ditched by the mother of his child took to stalking the  ex. Phone calls, every hour on the hour. That wasn’t enough.He would stand at the corner of her street. There were threats. Spookily the lady would drive 100 miles and he would appear along side while driving on the motorway. So the Fosters are  not alone  in   behaving badly after being given the sack, being told they are no longer the one,the life time partner they had supposed. Love maybe a stove that burns you when its hot, but divorce can be a forest fire that consumes everything in its path.

My parents were divorced. Like most children I was traumatised and had to be sent to boarding school to learn less emotional values. My mother married her long time lover and had a relatively successful second  marriage. My father on the rebound married a much younger lady and had a very unsatisfactory marriage which resulted  in his heavy  drinking and four pretty messed up children now adults. My sister divorced her sick and aggressive husband who died six months later.

Does all the anger come from the “natural” response to losing a mate,life long partner,the father/mother of your children; or does it come from divorce being a sign of sexual and social failure,a symbol of rejection? In the States its so normal that there are full time organisers of “divorce parties”. But everyday you read of some tragedy, as one or other the parties in a separation finds the situation impossible  and  resorts to extreme violence. If I can’t have her,no one can.

As for every day story of middle/upper class divorce ,how about.Onassis’ remark “Without women there is no point in money.” Yoh. Aint life grand?














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May by December

May by December

I know he is a good  general but is he lucky? Asked  Napoleon. Luck is a capricious lady and those that have her on their side can play the game of their lives, bluff, beat better players and know that whatever the shit they will come up smelling roses.

But when luck deserts you… you are always off the pace, your opponent who is a  joke runs rings and the crowd who once sang your praises now laughs  in your face. Luck can only be a lady for so long..

Kinnock fell  on the Brighton beach while posing for  soon to be victory(but wasn’t) pictures. Milliband stumbled was he left BBC’s Any Questions podium. Why do I remember, the same way I  never forget Major losing it with his bastards speech, Brown picking on the wrong lady to call racist. Suddenly the feet are not only made of clay but don’t seem to get left and right in the correct order. The cloud of luck ,fortune deserting and moving elsewhere.

So with Theresa May’s coughing fit. Fortune had  already dug her a dark hole and now she was cast deeper. The speech which was to relaunch her  leadership just showed she is cursed, yesterdays mistake, how long, how often to be repeated  ,her followers now have to ask.

Luck, fortune as the above show are not only remembered but seen as ,if not symbolic then as symptomatic of losers in losing form. All sports fans know that successful players/teams have more than their share of good luck, fortune.The ancients would have talked about the intervention of the Gods. Maybe losers try harder and therefore make more mistakes, the seeming effortless superiority of winners is part of their charm.

May got the job by her opponents  taking each other and themselves out, luck smiled broadly,a new Boadicea was born. Events moved on and she has shown she is not up to it.  Lady Luck has gone awol. She may stagger on as many wounded premiers do,like drunks on their way home , but leaders don’t stumble,fall or cough. They stride . The waves don’t push them over but part obediantly. We want to feel confident in our leaders not sympathetic.

The Tories may of course obey Hilaire Belloc’s famous line “Never let go of the hand of Nurse, For fear of finding something worse.” Which of couse they already have, found something worse, that is.





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Pub Quiz? Non Ego

Pub Quiz? Non Ego.

I think I am bright. Good A levels. A good degree. Writing for national newspapers for 35 years. Smart guy. That’s what I thought, until  I did pub quizzes. 50 odd questions, nowhere man, hardly a clue. Mastermind I can do, but pub quizzes, along with cross words, chess and bridge make my brain hurt and put me at the bottom of the class. Where I don’t like to be.

I remember the first one. Holidaying with the kids in the  Yorkshire Dales the local had a pub quiz. Lets do it,I’ll show these tykes. Are you sure dad? Oops. Team Thompson came a distant  last. For me pop music stops at 1970 and Coronation Street with Elsie Tanner, no questions about modern politics or English history,I was from a different planet.

I read that since they started in the 1970s more than 20,000 pubs now do these quizzes. All the local in my road do one. They may have dropped darts and cribbage but as way of getting punters  through the door pub quizzes are very much part of the scene. And with half the population now going to university pub quizzes fit in with the new demographic. Working class games of skill out, middle class education in. And with so many quiz  shows on TV the idea that knowledge of all sorts is there to be tested is established. Then of course there is the “civilised” reason  to go down the pub,meet a few friends and have a drink or two.

These obvious thoughts came to me as I agreed, last night, to join in the Winchester House quiz night. Thirty odd tables, 100s taking part. My team of which I was a junior part came a noble fourth. The questions I got were Bermuda(flag),London( most Olympics),John Surtees(double world champion) and Seven Sumurai( film recognition).  Should have got the name of the lawyer character  in To Kill a Mockingbird.. Good fun but they still hurt my brain.


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Generation Game


The Generation Game


Why do so many family generations struggle to get on? They want to get on, they are after all family ,but there are problems. Sometimes mountain sized. Like in David Storey’s  The Russians are Coming (which I saw last week) where the three educated, white collar children come back to visit their parents-he a retired coal miner ,she a nagging housewife on their 60th anniversary. The marriage  divide immediately shown, the parents are unhappy and put up with it, two of the children are divorced. How Storey mined his own life-grammar school, professional rugby playing,art school educated-successful London based playwright and author-but struggling to make sense of his working class family life.

When I worked on the phones at Age Concern a large number had broken off relations with their adult children because of disagreements with or about partners.

The move from dependent child to independent  adult has some obvious Freudian pitfalls, so obvious that most easily avoid them. Where dependence isn’t  cast off, there can be  difficulties in changing the relationship gears. More difficult is the difference in generations. They are on the move,we have found our place. My son travels to New York for business,I get excited when we have a woodpecker on the bird feed. I remember  feeling that my parents thought I was shallow and I thought they were boring,this maybe a constant. But we are family, within reason we make an effort, we handicap the differences.

Which between modern generations continue to grow. Not just technology but society changes. The tolerance of different cultures, colours, sexualities is easier for those who have lived  all their lives in the modern environment. When I grew up gays were at best a joke ,transgender never heard of and coloureds did not appear until I was well into my teens. I still feel I am basically a liberal but increasingly I find right wing views drifting in like  unwanted sewage.

But with my  grown up  children there are not only the differences of interests,energy and wavelength. As most grow older they become more pessimistic, more worried about the future. This  is often translated into lecturing the young about fatal change. When, recently deceased ,95 year old Goeorge moaned to me about change I would agree with him and talk of “The lack of outsides loos,the end of cholera,lice,polio, no more children going to school without shoes, his old age being spent in a centrally heated two bedroomed house with a 40 inch tv and healthcare on tap.” When I was a young man I was reminded that without an Empire British youth would be restricted in its future. Times change,as do opportunities,not necessarily for the worst. This at least I know.

In the end the idea that one can be friends with your children is slightly ridiculous. I have found loving my chidren is a lot easier than liking them. Though strangely , that is beginning to happen.

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Should I Care

Should I care?

59 are shot dead in random shooting in Las Vegas

1000s refugees drown trying to get to Europe

80 died in Grenfell Tower  fire

8 die in crash on Motorway

2 killed at Marseilles station

700 injured in Catalan referendum

23 die in Indian train crash

400,000 Muslims massacred in Burma

250,000 die in Syrian civil war

Au pair murdered down the road.

Do I care? Why do I watch?


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