Author Archives: admin

General Election

It’s my opinion that everyone should think carefully, irrespective of old party allegiances they may have, before casting their vote in a General Election. As it happens I’m a lifelong Conservative supporter, albeit my patience has been stretched to breaking point by Theresa May over the last couple of years.

Nonetheless at every election I do, sincerely, try to clear my mind of any biases, automatic loyalties and prejudices – and to think as objectively as possible about what’s the wisest choice. Not just for my family, but for our country and our wider society, giving especially careful consideration to the many less fortunate than myself.

I’ve done that this time, and it didn’t take me long to reach my decision. Barring inconceivable unforeseen circumstances, I intend to vote Conservative.

Let me start by articulating some important positive reasons for that choice.

First: Brexit.  While this is widely considered to be the central, defining issue of this election – and in a sense, it is – the important question for me is not whether the UK is better off outside the EU, because that matter was put to the people and settled at a referendum in 2016.

The actual question at hand is whether the people’s instruction to leave should be respected, and fulfilled.

I strongly hold the view that it should, not only because that is the only moral choice when the people have expressed a view on the way they are governed at a referendum, but also because a failure to do so can only lead to a catastrophic, lasting, corrosive distrust in our politics.

Attempts to defy the referendum, particularly by members of parliament on all sides, have already led to bitter division and resentment. My opinion is that this General Election should be seized as an opportunity to heal these wounds, not to twist a knife in them.

The Conservative Party is the only political party fighting this election with both a chance of winning and the will and integrity to deliver on the people’s historic choice.

Brexit apart, I am pleased with the reforms made to our welfare system by Conservative governments in recent years. It seems to me that easy access to handouts had led to taxpayers sustaining a permanent benefits underclass, which is not only a strain on the treasury and on working people who pay taxes, but a reservoir for crime and anti-social behaviour.

I do not want to see the valuable work done by Iain Duncan Smith and others undone by a government with an instinct to buy votes with handouts paid for by other people’s money. Only today I heard an employer state in an interview on Radio 5 Live that the reason Eastern Europeans had taken so many jobs was that the local young British population preferred to stay at home on benefits. I think I’d prefer them to get up and work and pay their own taxes, instead of absorbing mine.

The Conservative Party in government in the current decade has an enviable record. Unemployment in particular is at a historic low; there are a record number of people in full-time jobs. The deficit has fallen from 10% of GDP to around 1.2%, since 2010.

Under the Conservatives there are over 21,000 more doctors and 17,000 more nurses in our hospitals, and a budget increase of £33.9 billion is planned. That’s important, I feel.

Finally – I find Boris Johnson to be a charismatic leader, with a powerful can-do, infectiously enthusiastic approach to government. He stepped up to a difficult challenge in taking the reins of the Conservative Party at a very trying time. He confounded his critics by negotiating the deal with the EU they had condescendingly told us was not possible. And he took courageous and resolute action against those in his own parliamentary party who had betrayed not only their party, but undoubtedly their country as well, by supporting Hilary Benn’s Surrender Act, intended to undermine Britain’s negotiating position with the EU.

Now let me describe the essential negative reason to vote Conservative at this election. I badly want to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is kept well away from the levers of power.

Why? Well I could write a book about that, and you know what? Perhaps I should. But let me summarise a few reasons here.

Firstly – socialism. Labour’s whole schtick of taking public utilities and other industries into state ownership, removing their incentive to perform by eliminating their competition, then crippling them with militant trade unionism. It didn’t work in the ’60s and ’70s, when that mode of government was last in vogue. It resulted in millions of jobs being exported abroad and the collapse of traditional British heavy industry. It punished the taxpayers and led to awful public services. We thought it had died a welcome death decades ago, but apparently it’s fashionable again in some quarters.

Labour’s hard left has an instinctive, reflexive disdain for business and wealth creators.

It seems incredible now, but there was a time when you weren’t allowed to own a telephone. You had to request one from the state communications monopoly, and it remained their property. There were about three models and three or four colours to choose from, and usually you’d go on a waiting list.

In those days, the state owned you. A Conservative government saved us from that nonsense starting in 1979, and I just don’t want to go back there. I must make sure my vote counts against that.

Labour in its current hard-left incarnation is more extreme and controlling than it has ever been. In office, it might very well start to take control of the press, and of education. We could end up with political officers in every school council and media outlet. These people are blinkered fanatics. They would think of closing down the Daily Express or imposing political censorship on the BBC as the moral thing to do.

The Labour Party in the last parliament showed no particular commitment to delivering Brexit and their present manifesto shows precious little, either. They claim that they will negotiate a credible deal to leave the EU, but most of the senior Labour Party will then ask you to reject it. In other words it’s literally in their interest to negotiate an awful deal. And given that opportunity – of course, that’s exactly what they’d do in my view.

But even if the Leave side won that argument again, as I believe they would – I have no confidence that a parliament dominated by Labour, or by Labour and the SNP, would respect our decision. We’d just have another few years of frustration and delay, perhaps culminating in a third referendum – just to give you another chance to change your mind.

I don’t want a second referendum in the first place; I want whoever’s in charge to get on with honouring the first one. That is already well overdue. And for that reason alone I would vote to keep Labour away from power.

Corbyn’s stance over Brexit in this election has been to adopt a neutral position. The man who wishes to be Prime Minister of this country would not support either side, Leave or Remain. On this most important of issues, he won’t tell you where he stands. That is surely a transparent failure of leadership.

And on that note: let’s consider more carefully the character, judgement and integrity of Labour’s leader. Grim reading follows, I’m afraid.

Jeremy Corbyn supported the Provisional IRA in its lethal conflict against British service personnel and civilians for decades. Some would have you believe that this is a “smear” dreamed up by the right-wing press, but a little bit of research will tell you that it isn’t:

  • Each year between 1986 and 1992, Corbyn attended and spoke at the annual “Connolly / Sands” commemoration in London, held in honour of dead IRA terrorists and “prisoners of war”.
  • He hosted meetings of the ultra-left extremist group Red Action, an organisation that expressed (in its own words) “unconditional and uncritical support” for the Provisional IRA, at his constituency office.
  • He was a member of the editorial board of a hard-left publication which praised the Brighton bombing of 1984.
  • In 1987 he handed a petition to Margaret Thatcher demanding “the immediate transfer of Irish political prisoners to prisons near their homes”. The same year, he stood in a minute’s silence for IRA gunmen killed while attempting to blow up a police station in Armagh, saying “I’m happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland”.

And it’s not just the Provos, of course. Corbyn famously considers Hamas and Hezbollah to be his friends. He laid a wreath in commemoration to the murderers of the Israeli athletes killed in a terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympics.

And when three people were severely poisoned and a fourth killed by military grade nerve agents used in an assassination operation by KGB agents, Corbyn rushed to the defence of the Russians in our Parliament, preferring to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Yet while he lauds and praises armed groups hostile to Western interests and the United Kingdom in particular, he is the first to condemn any armed action undertaken by his own country. Recently a video was uncovered showing Corbyn ranting angrily about an operation carried out by the “lawless” SAS in Basra.

In the event of a Labour victory at this General Election, Corbyn would be in ultimate charge of our armed forces and of the defence of this country. It must surely be obvious that he cannot be trusted with either responsibility.

Consider too Corbyn’s obsession with extreme leftist ideology. When Maduro took over Venezuela in 2013, Corbyn sent his sincere congratulations to him, and to the whole of the Venezuelan people. He appeared at public meetings, cheering on the new regime. “It’s called socialism”, he said. A “better way of doing things”. A few years later Venezuela’s economy was on its knees, with queues forming outside empty supermarkets, hyper-inflation and hospitals going without basic medicine or even soap. That’s what Corbyn’s ideology did to the most oil-rich nation on Earth.

That’s not the sort of judgement I want or expect from a British Prime Minister. Next time you hear Corbyn complain about the way the Tories have run the NHS, have a think about what it must be like to fall ill in Venezuela, under Corbyn’s “better way of doing things”.

What else? Corbyn appointed John ‘Provo’ McDonnell as shadow chancellor shortly after being elected leader. This is a man who once read from Mao’s Little Red Book in the Commons during an exchange with George Osborne, and openly praised what he described as the “bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands”. A man who has on more than one occasion said that he’d like to bring his political opponents to trial as “social criminals”.

In the event that Labour win this election, the disaster-prone Diane Abbott, who also quite openly supported the Provisional IRA in the ’80s, would be our Home Secretary. Jeremy thinks that’s a good idea evidently. I don’t think I do.

And Corbyn appointed Angela Rayner, a woman who left school at 16 without qualifications and who can barely manage a coherent sentence, to be shadow Education Secretary.

Corbyn pocketed £20,000 from Iranian state TV at a time when that country was hanging people from cranes for the crime of being gay. When questioned about this in a Pink News Q&A session, his defence was that this was “not an enormous amount”.

Perhaps most disturbingly of all, under Corbyn’s leadership, anti-semitism appears to have found a natural home in the Labour Party, which is one of only two parties found to have met the necessary evidentiary threshold to warrant being investigated for racism by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (the other is the BNP).

In its submission to that organisation, the Jewish Labour Movement – again, not an instrument of the right-leaning press – concluded that the Labour Party is no longer a safe space for Jewish people based on the testimonies of former staff, Labour members and officials.

Several Jewish Labour MPs have been driven out of the party. The MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, was subjected to what she described as a “torrent of anti-semitic abuse” from Labour supporters before she left the Labour Party over its “institutional anti-semitism”.

Corbyn has frequently championed individuals and organisations who have denied the Holocaust.

The activist and social commentator Sara Gibbs – a Labour Party member, not a puppet of the right wing press or the Conservative Party – conducted an extremely thorough investigation into Labour’s anti-semitism crisis, in forensic detail. In it she argues that Corbyn personally holds “deeply rooted anti-semitic beliefs which are too intrinsically held to recognise”. It’s a fascinating (if long) read, and you can do so here:

https://medium.com/@sararoseofficial/everything-i-never-wanted-to-have-to-know-about-labour-and-antisemitism-649b5bc1e576

Asked during an interview to apologise for his failure to deal with anti-semitism, the Labour leader refused to do so – four times.

A common defence made by Labour supporters against allegations of anti-semitism in their party is that they are “smears”. A brief skim through Gibbs’ work will show that they aren’t. The other classic defence is the whataboutery gambit, the yes-but-the-Tories-are-Islamophobic defence.

While there have certainly been instances of Tory councillors and similar making stupid Islamophobic remarks, these have been dealt with promptly and properly. Any suggestion that the Tory Party is a natural home for Islamophobes or that it is institutionally racist is without foundation.

It is true that Boris Johnson once described the burka as “oppressive and ridiculous”, describing those who wear it as looking like letterboxes. I submit that this is a view held by many liberals, perhaps most often by feminists. It’s a view that has more to do with the dehumanisation of women than with Islam, most of whose adherents don’t actually wear one in any case. And actually, in the article in which Boris employed that colourful turn of phrase, he was arguing against the burka being banned.

You can find an article online written by the left-leaning commentator Polly Toynbee in which she speaks of the burka in far more contemptuous, lurid terms than that, yet somehow she is not normally considered an Islamophobe.

But I digress.

I could probably spend another couple of hours writing about Corbyn’s appalling character and judgement. I don’t really want to do that though, because it’s depressing enough already. As a general observation: it’s baffling to me that a Labour MP would spend his career in Parliament campaigning for international terrorist and radical / groups rather than concerning himself with the welfare of working people in general and his constituents in particular.

I’ll wrap up that subject with one last thought. It isn’t lost even on the majority of Labour MPs that Corbyn is unfit to be Prime Minister, or even the leader of their party. The Parliamentary Labour Party voted to support a no-confidence motion in their leader in June 2016. This passed by 172 votes to 40, but Corbyn did not have the integrity or personal dignity to stand down.

So: I’ve explained why I want to vote Conservative in a positive sense, and why I think it important for a person of conscience to vote against Labour.

But what of the Brexit Party, and the Lib Dems? Or UKIP?

Well, briefly: the Brexit Party isn’t standing in my constituency anyway, so for me that’s not even an option. However – their basic stance is that the PM’s withdrawal deal is not acceptable, and they would oppose it. My own view is that it is an honourable compromise that properly achieves the essential purpose of leaving the European Union. They probably won’t get a single seat in the Commons and the great risk is that voting for them splits the Brexit vote, making a fulfilment of the referendum result less likely and risking an extremist / anti-semitic government taking power.

And the Lib Dems? Again there is no possibility that they will form a government, but they might prevent a Conservative government in a hung parliament. In any case their blunt anti-Brexit policy – they would simply cancel it, and pretend the referendum never happened – is obviously a slap in the face to millions of ordinary people who voted to leave, and won that argument in 2016. There’s something rather unsavoury and cultish about their servile devotion to the European Union.

Since Nigel Farage stepped down as leader UKIP have entertained a series of ineffectual leaders, finally lurching to the far right, even hiring Tommy Robinson as an adviser in 2018. I have no truck with or tolerance for that.

I don’t live in Scotland, but if I did, might I vote for the SNP? Well they are fundamentally a single issue party (Scottish independence, of course) with a side order of contempt for the referendum. Their repeated mantra that Scotland voted to remain in the EU is undermined somewhat by the fact that Scotland wasn’t actually a constituency in the EU referendum, and nor is it a member of the EU. They would undoubtedly prop up a Corbyn government. But if, as a Scot, I wanted independence from the UK, I’d vote for them. If I didn’t – I wouldn’t. I don’t have a dog in that fight.

In summary then – on Thursday, I’ll cast my vote  to support our economy and society and to reward a strong record in office.

I’ll cast my vote to defend our Jewish community, genuinely and justifiably frightened of a Corbyn government.

And I’ll be thinking especially too of the poor and vulnerable – people who depend on the NHS; people who can’t afford to lose their jobs to economic failure. People, in other words, who cannot afford to depend on a society broken by socialism.

For them especially I will vote Conservative, and I’ll do that for them gladly.

Please do feel free to share this piece, in whole or in part, on any other forum or social media where it might be useful. I’ve tried to conduct this exercise as scrupulously fairly as possible, and I hope that my analysis might help people who have not yet made up their mind to come to a balanced and sensible decision.

Consequences

Hi again, Theresa.

So: you’re the leader of a mainstream political party. Not only that; you’re the Prime Minister. Your main job, which you’ve promised faithfully to carry out – a promise on which your party was returned to power at the last election (the one you royally fucked up, though we need not dwell on that here) – is make sure your country leaves the European Union.

You repeatedly assure your supporters – for the great majority of whom, this is actually rather important – and anyone else who will listen, that you understand that no deal is better than a bad deal. You promise, emphatically, time after time, that you will take the UK out of the European Union in March 2019.

And then you don’t do that.

Instead – you obsessively push a deal with the EU that is clearly a sham; a Brexit In Name Only that almost nobody wants. Your intention to do this prompts the resignation of a number of senior cabinet ministers. Not unexpectedly, it’s rejected by Parliament – in no small part thanks to those of your own MPs who respect the people’s democratic choice, want to defend it, and are considerably more in touch with your supporters’ wishes and expectations than you are.

You keep trying to crowbar it through Parliament, even after it has been rejected emphatically, three times.

Instead of trying to accommodate those in your parliamentary party who best represent your supporters in their desire to rid their country of the EU, instead you attempt to defeat them, by negotiating with Corbyn and the Labour Party, whom your supporters naturally and quite properly despise.

Let me restate that, because I think it’s important. You opted to collaborate with the racist, terrorist-sympathetic, Marxist hard-left against those in your party who best represent the values of your supporters.

What exactly did you think would happen?

Theresa and the Poison Parliament

So: our leader has promised to resign if she gets her awful deal through, and that – combined with the grim prospect that their fellow parliamentarians might succeed in their attempt to force the British people to stay in the EU against their expressed will – has persuaded the ERG, or most of them, to go along with it.

It’s now clear that the Conservatives’ allies in the Parliamentary DUP will vote against the deal again and that therefore, she’s more likely to fail. But either way – she’s toast.

I can well understand that many will be dismayed at the power a small parliamentary party is able to wield in the Commons, but that’s the way our representative democracy works.  The Lib Dems exploited it. The Greens, God forbid, would jump at the chance. Those are the breaks, folks.

There’s always the possibility of course that the People’s Remain Speaker of the House of Commons will enjoy his moment in the spotlight again, and refuse to allow the vote. He is something like a Premier League referee who thinks that the crowd have come to see him hand out penalties and red cards.  But – greatly to his own chagrin no doubt, that seems not to matter very much now.

As I type this, I’m waiting to hear the results of the “indicative motions” held today in proceedings hijacked by the contemptible Conservative hardline remainer Oliver Letwin and friends.  I have no doubt that what most of our parliamentary representatives will have voted for are the options that most closely resemble staying in the EU – utterly against the spirit of the referendum, and of our democracy itself.  One positive though is that the voting records will be published in Hansard, so these bastards will not be able to hide from their constituents what they are trying to do to them; namely colluding with foreign powers against their wishes and interests.

The PM is under no obligation to take heed of these recommendations of course, if indeed coherent recommendations do emerge. And our enemies at the EU have no power to negotiate our withdrawal with Oliver Letwin, or our parliament. Theresa is still the only game in town.

In fact, what I think many may not realise is that she still has it in her gift to leave the EU without a deal.  Not on Friday, but certainly next month or in May.  She has said that she won’t do that without Parliament’s approval, but of course she’s said a lot of things over the last few years that somehow didn’t turn out to correspond to real life.  There must be a small possibility that she was operating a little Project Fear of her own, to persuade the ERG to back her deal.

And she absolutely should take us straight out of the EU without a deal. It would be a defining, historic act of statesmanship in what has otherwise been a disappointing spell in office. It may well be the best or only way to ensure that the referendum result is respected. It would concentrate minds across the channel. And it would substantially improve our negotiating position with the EU for the various agreements on trade and cooperation that would surely follow, and follow quickly.

So I wonder if there’s a small chance that she will, in the end, do the right thing? Of course this would provoke torrential panty-wetting in the opposition parties who would have us believe that the sky will fall in in the event of a sharp, clean break with the EU – but you have to admit, Theresa can take it. She just keeps on walking into the bullets.

And right now, she doesn’t have an awful lot to lose.

I don’t know if she reads my blog – I expect not, but just in case you do, I’ve written a speech for you, Prime Minister. Change it around a bit if you like but keep the gist, please. Put your own spin on it to close it out.

It is a source of considerable disappointment to me that I have been unable to persuade Parliament to agree to the withdrawal agreement that I have negotiated over these last two years. However, I must tell you that I have decided that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on <insert preferred date here> without a deal. The risk otherwise is that Brexit may never take place at all – and as Prime Minister, I simply cannot allow that to happen. I acknowledge that there may be difficult times in the coming months, but the government will do everything it can to prepare, and to mitigate the consequences.

I also understand that some will be surprised by this, but frankly, no-one should be – it was always my position that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that we would leave the EU with or without a deal – and in the Conservative manifesto for the General Election of 2017, I made an explicit commitment to this <keep a straight face here, please>.

This has been a difficult decision. There are no easy choices here. But let no-one misunderstand that the consequences of allowing Parliament to ride roughshod over the wishes of the electorate, freely expressed during the greatest democratic exercise in our country’s history, would be severe. As Prime Minister, the duty to prevent this rests with me. I simply cannot in good conscience abrogate that responsibility. I will not allow the public’s confidence in our politics to suffer the irreparable harm that would follow a defiance of the British people’s explicit instruction, clearly expressed during the referendum of 2016.

We can only hope.

The Orville

I felt slightly violated when I first read about, and saw still images from a new science-fiction TV programme called The Orville. It looked unbelievably derivative of The Next Generation-era Star Trek.

Then a couple of days ago I read a positive review of it, and I discovered that I have the first episode free with Amazon Prime. So I watched it, last night.

I was right. It is blatantly a Star Trek rip off – so much so though that I realised that this was actually the whole point. It’s an homage.

In this first episode I noticed, for example: a holodeck. A “starship” explicitly referred to as such. A shuttle craft. The starships have warp drive, and although it’s called “quantum drive”, they do the same flash of light BOOM! when the ship goes to warp.

The layout of the ship’s bridge is pretty much the same as any Federation vessel, with two helm officers sitting in front of the Captain’s chair, and a view-screen in front of them. The doors hiss open in exactly the same way. The overall styling is also very reminiscent of TNG and Voyager, especially in the clothing and decor.

The CGI is entirely adequate. It’s about the same standard as Star Trek: Voyager, which considering that series is over 20 years old now is not saying a lot. But it’s definitely good enough. Perhaps I’m misremembering that anyway.

Some of the characters seem a bit thin or even pointless so far, particularly the conniving First Lady from the first couple of series of 24 (Penny Johnson Jerald) – who’s a physician in this one. But perhaps they’ll be fleshed out.

It doesn’t have any of the tradition and gravitas of course of the Star Trek franchise, but the approach is different. They’re doing something different here. It’s played for laughs. It’s pretty much a comedy, to the point where the story is more or less a vehicle for the gags. It reminded me of the old Star Trek spoof movie with Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, Galaxy Quest.

What I’ve seen so far (trailers mainly) of the new, official franchise TV series Star Trek: Discovery does not appeal to me very much so far. It looks rather dark. It doesn’t really seem to have the spirit of any of the old Star Trek TV series.

And neither, for different reasons, does The Orville. But it does at least seem to be a lot more fun. I really liked the first episode and will be giving the rest of the first series a go.

UPDATE: I watched the second episode, and hugely enjoyed it. I love what they’ve done with the Star Trek idea in this series. It doesn’t have the drama, or the emotion, or – if it’s not too grandiose a way to put it – the philosophy of the decades-old franchise on which it is based. But it does have wit, charm and humour in abundance. And it’s done with great affection.

Betrayal

I was relieved and pleased to see Theresa May’s “Chequers plan” – effectively an instrument of surrender to the EU – being shot down in flames by the resignations of Messrs Davis, Johnson and others. This was an attempt to fashion a Brexit in name only, not the exit from the EU that the British people have every right to expect.

Even Peter Mandelson has accepted that leaving the EU with no deal at all would be preferable to May’s humiliating betrayal of the people she was elected to serve.

And yet – I do believe that she could and would have delivered an honourable and clean Brexit if she hadn’t been undermined and frustrated by those in her parliamentary party – even in her own cabinet – who wish to deny the people the choice they made in what was the biggest vote in this country’s history, for anything.

It’s clear now that she has approached Brexit as a damage limitation exercise rather than an opportunity. In other words she has utterly missed the point and the spirit of the people’s historic choice to shape their own destiny.

It’s an extraordinary time in the UK political scene. The spectrum of opinion on the EU and our relation to it seems to cut across the usual left-right spectrum at an awkward angle, defying party lines and making it impossible for either of the main parties to capitalise on it. This has made British politics volatile and unpredictable.

For me the great worry is the potential for the Labour Party, in its present backward, fanatical and extremist form, to take advantage of the current state of chaos. We could find ourselves under the jackboot of a government led by a man who loathes his own country and everything it stands for; a blinkered fanatic who believes in the political homeopathy of socialism, in charge of a hard left administration that might set the clock back 50 years and cause widespread misery – not for the few who could afford to ride out the storm, but for the many.

To undo their damage would be the work of decades. Meanwhile, you could well find yourself going on a waiting list with the state communications monopoly for the privilege of having a new telephone, in a few years time (you wouldn’t own it, by the way – your equipment would belong to the state like it did in the ’70s, and so would you).

The key to the Brexit / Remain conundrum is to remember that the matter has been settled. It was put to a referendum two years ago, and the case for independence and self-determination was won. A solution to the present chaos is not to be found on the wrong side of history.

It will not be found by pandering to the losing side of the defining political argument of our time.

The Tango Briefing

I don’t read books often, but downloaded a novel by the British author Elleston Trevor to my Kindle just before going on holiday to Cornwall, and I finished it in about a week.

The Tango Briefing is one of 19 novels written by Trevor under the nom-de-plume Adam Hall, about an enigmatic British secret service ‘executive’ (agent) named Quiller. Trevor also wrote The Flight Of The Phoenix, which became a famous James Stewart film 50-odd years ago and was remade in 2004. Some readers may also be familiar with a 1966 film, The Quiller Memorandum, with George Segal as the eponymous super-spy.

I particularly wanted to read Tango Briefing because a Quiller TV series was broadcast by the BBC in 1975. It has never been repeated, and the only episode I can remember was based on this book.


This one was written in 1973 and doesn’t have the usual cold war theme. Instead, Quiller has to find a freighter plane with a mysterious, sensitive and top-secret cargo that’s come down in the Sahara, before various Arab government and security agencies can find it.

I found it a frustrating, occasionally irritating but ultimately rewarding read. It’s a cracking story, told in the first person – but bloody hell, he takes his time telling it – in a long-winded, rambling stream-of-consciousness style, sometimes taking in plot aspects that contribute nothing ultimately to the story.

He also has this little trick of taking you by surprise by casually referring to something you haven’t quite found out about yet, for dramatic effect – “it occurred to me, in one of those stray thoughts that pass through our minds at unlikely moments, that it wasn’t a very easy death I was giving him” – Er, what? Oh, right! Even though he’s got you under armed guard, you’re about to kill him!

And it gets a bit wearing after a while.

I honestly think you could improve the book by judiciously removing about 40% of it. It does need an edit. But it won’t get one, and it’s worth a few hours of your time anyway if you’re into this sort of thing.

Actually while writing this it’s just occurred to me, in one of those stray thoughts that pass through our minds at unlikely moments, that I said much the same thing about the 1968 film Countdown when I wrote about it a few months ago. Maybe it’s my attention span.

Bad Bohemian

I’m not a tattoo person. I managed to clock up more than half a century without having one.

But at a British Sea Power gig at Sheffield earlier this year, arms aloft, enraptured by the life-affirming chorus of the brilliant Bad Bohemian, a song from the album Let The Dancers Inherit The Party, I decided that I wanted to make some sort of permanent dedication – a commitment – to the idea of the song, to the band, and to the moment.

At another BSP gig in Nottingham this month I had the same experience and that cemented my intention. So I made the following image, derived from the official video of the song.

From this, on Monday this week, a tattoo artist made an outline transfer which she applied to my upper left arm at her premises in Ashby.

Then when I gave her the nod, she made it permanent with a scary motorised needle device and black ink. It extends down my upper arm from near the shoulder, down toward the elbow. It’s 120mm in length.

It took about 40 minutes. It was bloody painful. Not agonising, but definitely an ordeal. I started to feel dizzy and sick after the first 10 minutes or so. She told me this was an adrenalin reaction, and normal. I recovered after a couple of minutes and was OK after that, but I was extremely glad when she told me she was finished.

All a bit grim at first with redness and soreness and traces of blood smeared under clingfilm, but I have taken great care of it with simple soap, moisturiser and Savlon as recommended by the artist, and it looks rather good now. The skin where the letters are indelibly printed has started to go a bit dry, itchy and flaky – all normal of course – but it’s no longer sore. It’ll take another week or two before it’s healed and settled in.

I must say she did an excellent job – very accurate and very neatly executed.

It’s pretty discreet. Under a t-shirt, you either can’t see it at all, or only the last couple of characters are visible – depending on sleeve length, of course.

Even so I must admit I did go through a WHAT HAVE I DONE TO MYSELF phase for a few hours on Tuesday. But that has passed; a mere period of adjustment. For sure, there’s a certain dichotomy with my urbane, middle-class professional self-image. But that only enhances the appeal. I’m very pleased with it.

And anyway, in the words of the song which inspired my, er, body art – what’s done, is done – and there’ll be no redemption.

Oh, Don’t let us die
While we are still alive!

 

 

 

Paddy McAloon

I was idling around the shops in Newcastle City Centre, as was my occasional wont at the time, on the afternoon of 9th of April 1988, thirty years ago today. I’m sure it was this date, because it was a Saturday, and Grand National day.

I went into a greetings card shop, near Grey’s Monument – perhaps thinking of my brother’s birthday later that month, though I can’t actually remember. Half a minute later I looked up from the rack of cards through which I had started to browse and noticed, perhaps ten feet in front of me, the unmistakable figure of Paddy McAloon, the singer and songwriter of Prefab Sprout, one of the greatest and most critically acclaimed British bands of the 1980s. I was a huge fan.

That he had caught my attention had not gone unnoticed, and he met my eyes with what may have been a look of slight concern.

PADDY MCALOON!” I blurted, hopefully not too loudly, but possibly unnecessarily. After all I knew who he was, and so did he.

He raised a fingertip to his lips and gave a dramatic “SHHHH!“. This was quick-witted comedy gold, because there were only two of us in the shop at the time, save a middle-aged woman at the till.

I strode over and struck up a conversation. I think I started by telling Paddy how much I liked From Langley Park To Memphis, his band’s latest album, released less than a month earlier. He told me that he’d just been in JG Windows, a nearby music shop, where he’d seen two girls buying a copy of it. He’d strolled over to say “that’s a nice record!” to them, but they had stared back blankly. Perhaps my own enthusiasm to chat to him made up for his lack of recognition a few minutes earlier. I like to think so.

I asked about Protest Songs, an album which had been due to be released years earlier but of which there was as yet no sign. He was endearingly apologetic about this, and said that it would be released eventually – as indeed, of course, it was. I told him that I very much enjoyed Tiffany’s, one of its more memorable songs. “Oh, you’ve got that, have you?” he replied, perhaps slightly suspiciously. I had recorded it from a BBC broadcast some months earlier.

After a couple of minutes, I thanked him for taking the time to chat, and left. He was very friendly and pleasant. In fact, I found him charming, articulate, urbane.

Countdown

Late one evening in November 1979, my roommate Chris and I returned from the pub to find several of the other students with whom we shared a house gathered around the communal television, watching a man in a spacesuit wandering across what looked (a bit) like a lunar landscape.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Giant steps are what you take!” exclaimed one of my fellow residents by way of a reply of sorts, cleverly referencing the Police single Walking On The Moon which had been released earlier that month.

It was in fact Robert Altman’s 1968 film, Countdown.

I only caught the last ten minutes of the film, unfortunately. But I promised myself I’d watch the whole thing one day and last night, I did.

The events of the years which followed it have made something of a mockery of this film, which concerns a secret backup project to Apollo called Pilgrim, hurriedly put into operation when it’s discovered that the Russians are planning to land a man on the Moon before NASA. One of the Apollo 3 astronauts, a geologist called Lee Stegler (James Caan), is given three weeks to prepare to go to the Moon on the Pilgrim spacecraft, where he must locate a special shelter due to land there a few days before he does. Once he does get there he is to stay put, receiving supplies from Earth every couple of months until an Apollo mission can be ready to come and bring him home.

Since the Moon shelter completes its mission to the Moon either automatically or under remote control from Houston, it’s unclear why they couldn’t just have strapped him into it before take off, to save sending a second spacecraft. He could have sat reading magazines and sucking boiled sweets while the computers and boffins on the ground did all the work.

The first part of the film – dealing with Mrs Stegler’s dread and anxiety, internal politics and infighting at NASA, will he be ready in time, will the Soviets get there first and all that – is actually a bit dull, predictable and overdone. I understand that the British release of this pic was 30 minutes shorter (I watched the original 101 minute version) and I doubt that the plot suffered in the slightest at the hands of the editor’s knife.

Nonetheless I quite enjoyed the whole thing, especially after our hero blasts off for the Moon.

Of course it’s impossible to watch this film without experiencing it as taking place in a sort of bizarre alternative universe, and I don’t just mean the ’60s. Altman’s depiction of Man’s first steps on the Moon is utterly different from the actual event that took place about a year after the film was released, but for me, that only served to make this part of the film more unsettling and compelling.

Stegler just climbs down from the hatch in the subdued lunar gloom and sets off on foot to look for the shelter. No TV camera, no speech, no Buzz Aldrin, no radio contact with Earth. Despite clear shadows on the surface it’s somehow almost dark, adding to the general feeling of isolation and eeriness. He doesn’t actually know where the shelter is apart from its rough location. He lied to Mission Control when they asked him to confirm that he’d sighted it from lunar orbit.

While hiking across the surface of the Moon, Stegler finds that the Soviets did get to the Moon first, when he comes across the wreckage of a Russian Moon lander and the bodies of three cosmonauts, wearing helmets emblazoned with ‘CCCP’. This made me laugh because the surface area of the Moon is about twice that of the continent of North America, and even allowing for the notion that the Russians were aiming for the same general area it seems fantastically improbable to me that he’d simply happen upon them.

Does he find the shelter? It’s quite a watchable film, so I won’t spoil the ending. You can always Google it.

By the way, giant steps are not what you take when Walking On The Moon in this film.

Mice

A couple of months ago I was disappointed to find that a flapjack that I’d left in a frame pack on my bike in the garage had been part-eaten. I was pretty sure it was untouched when I left it there, and I don’t tend to bite through the wrapper when I eat them myself – so the only reasonable explanation seemed to be that it had been “mouse-masticated”, if I may employ a turn of phrase made popular by The Rutles. Or “rodently-chewed”, if you prefer.

I invested in one of these:

I loaded it with four AA batteries, baited it with a small piece of the same flapjack product, left it on the garage floor and switched it on. Sure enough when I returned to it the next day, the LED light was flashing to indicate that it had claimed a victim. The tail sticking out of the little door was a bit of a giveaway as well, to be fair.

I carefully disposed of the electrocuted rodent (a field mouse, I believe) and naively assumed I’d solved the rodent problem in my garage until earlier this month, when I found a pile of what looked like green plastic shavings on a shelf in there. I later realised that an attempt had been made to gain access to a bottle of Lucozade Sport on the same shelf, by nibbling the plastic cap.

I deployed the electronic trap again but also laid out two conventional traps on the floor, all baited with the same irresistible flapjack material. The next morning I was slightly alarmed to find that all three traps had done their deadly business. I had a trio of dead mice to dispose of.

Clearly the electronic trap works very well, but as you can see from the following photograph, which depicts the scene on my garage floor exactly as I found it – the rather less sophisticated mechanical traps seem to be just as quick and effective.

I do recommend these. They’re very sensitive and seem to dispatch their victims quite quickly – and the right-angled sprung bar means that you don’t have to touch the dead mice when you bin them. The bait goes into a sort of recessed cup that forces the mouse to activate a trigger flap surrounding it when they try to get it.

I was encouraged to see that both traps had whacked the mice right across the back of the neck. It must have been pretty quick. Assuming they’re consistently as effective as this I can’t see the point of buying an electronic one, really.

I’ve re-armed the traps and left them ready to do their lethal work for a few days now, but they haven’t done so. It looks like I got them all.

When I lived in a flat in London in the ’90s I had to deal with a mouse problem, and I bought a humane, non-lethal trap. I entered my kitchen late one evening to find that it had been “sprung” – its little door had snapped shut, which I assumed meant that I’d caught a mouse. I drove the trap to a wooded area a few miles away but when I came to release my little visitor, I found that the trap was empty. At one time I never would have used a lethal trap but now it just seems to me to be the easiest solution for everyone concerned, probably including the mice.