Friday 4 December 2009

The American Right Wing

I have never been a member of the American right wing so cannot leave it. But Charles Johnson has and is now -- as he says -- leaving the right. He explains very succinctly here.

There seems to me -- a mere outsider -- to be a huge gap in American political discourse just now. Where can you go if you are a decent,  broadly conservative, easy-going person who believes in basic Amercan values but doesn't want them laced with hatred and nutty conspiracy theories?

Terrifying you all

Ronald Reagan once said...

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' "

How about some more nine word frighteners?

"And now Thought for the Day with Anne Atkins"
"I'm in the sauna with John Prescott, join us!"
"Look Morrisey has come along to cheer you up"

Further suggestions....

Thursday 19 November 2009

Kili Training

The training continues in the Brecon Beacons and other local mountains. It looks like I am ski-ing uphill -- more or less sums it up.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Ugandan Affairs

The art of headline writing lives in this wonderfully schizophrenic tabloid story from Uganda. One can't help but feel the paper's lurid homophobia may be covering deeper tendencies...tongue in cheek or perhaps between cheeks?

Sunday 11 October 2009


The BBC's defence of Radio 1 Newsbeat's kid-glove handling of BNP spokespeople is unravelling. Roy Greenslade's criticisms of the corporation's journalistic failure appear to have been vindicated and now there is worse . I do wonder why the BBC is bending over quite so cravenly to the BNP? I am all in favour of the party being featured on BBC programmes like putting Griffin on QuestionTime. The BNP's lack of ideas and pointless hatreds collapse under fairly modest challenge. The criticism of Newsbeat is that there was no hard questioning, challenge or it seems basic research.

In a small way I experienced the BBC's jitters a few months ago. Asked for my views on a Radio 4 website I decided to contribute to a debate about protestors pelting Nick Griffin with eggs. I simply wrote that this was a time honoured British tradition for dealing with the pompous and unpopular. Of all people, Nick Griffin -- who constantly says that his party is the home of British heritage -- should understand this. My comment was moderated out straight away. Opinions like this clearly have no place on a BBC website. When I complained about the moderator's action I was warned that I was in contravention of the BBC website guidelines and if I persisted could be banned from any future much for the BBC and free speech.

Friends in the North

I have just spent the weekend in the north east of England – beautiful weather and lots of fun in all respects. A highlight for me was seeing the Trinity Square multi-story car park in Gateshead made famous of course by its central role in Get Carter. Sadly dilapidated and slated for demolition by Tesco this monstrous structure has an eerie beauty. When the film was made it was still representative of “space age” modernity. Now it’s an unloved icon in the midst of a city centre desperate to regenerate itself. I wonder how far into the future we will have to go before we fall back in love with 60s and 70s brutalist concrete? Too long probably, or at least long enough for it all to have been dynamited or succumbed to concrete cancer.

I don’t use the term icon lightly. On the whole I am with Jonathan Meades on this exhausted word. But here I think it is right. Everyone will talk about the car park and show it to you with a semi-detached pride. There is a “Get Carter Butchers” in one the nearby down-at-heel retail parades. Taxi drivers jump at the chance to talk about memories of the location filming even if they are probably too young to really remember it. I think it will leave a hole when it’s blown up. It may be the hole of a healed scab or a lanced boil but something will have gone.

I would like to see a rehabilitation into something useful and worthy of local and national pride. A museum and interpretation centre for British Gangsterism is the top canddate right now – perhaps not top of Heritage Lottery Fund priorities.

Monday 28 September 2009

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

My nephews in Cornwall bring in the harvest...

Saturday 26 September 2009

At this time...

Another lingusitic mystery....Why do officials -- airline cabin staff in particular -- like to say "at this time" when they mean "now" or "right now"? I have never heard a real person use this rather strangled phrase. There is of course the officialese user's fear of the single perfectly adequate word, add more, add more and you sound more important. But I don't think that tells the whole story. Will ponder.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Ways with Words

African English and uses of English are sources of endless joy. My two favourites for this trip have been:
"God Help Us Driving School" and "No Wife Video Library"

Maasai Ramadan

My Maasai bretheren do not observe Ramadan. Along with swimming, eating fish, vegetables and chicken (really only for women!) and eshewing beer it is one of the annoyances of living away from the homelands.

Monday 21 September 2009


Ramadan is now over for another year. I sort of half observed it when I was in Zanzibar. I didn't eat during the daylight hours but found doing without liquids a bit tricky in the heat. My conduct clearly wouldn't satisfy a zealot but I felt I was showing some willing as well as shedding the odd excess pound.

The Holy Month is one of my favourite times to go to Islamic countries. It provides an excellent opportunity to meet with local people in a relaxed and peaceful way. When the fast lifts at sundown everyone sits down to eat together. Food is such a great universal language. The preparations take all day -- all the more lovingly carried out by hungry chefs. As with so many other things outside our crazy western fishbowl, the preparation of food is not a chore, rather a communal activity. It's the chance to chat and put the world to rights. It's due reverence to that most basic of human activties, sustenance. Somehow despite the rise of the TV chef, internet recipes and ubiquotous food porn we could do with a dose of such human sense.

Busy Kitchen

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Endless Blue

At home in Wales I look out on the beautiful Towy Valley. In spring and summer the counterpane of fields, trees and hills is stitched together from more shades of green than I could imagine possible. Here on the east coast of Zanzibar we have endless versions of the colour blue. The lagoon, the ocean and the sky -- each brings its own palette of my very favourite colour. Even the language of blue is exotic -- turquoise, azure, aquamarine. They are all there of course and so many more for which we will never shape words.

Pondering, as one does sitting on the edge of the world, I imagine Earth with yellow skies, red grass and a green sky. I can't believe, even after millennia to get used to it, that we would find it quite as "right" as the current arrangements.

Normal Service Resumes

I am back from Africa. The blog silence has been the result of a] poor connectivity in my village in Zanzibar b] my distaste of being one of those travellers who visits paradise but misses it because there was always an excuse to sit at the laptop checking Facebook...

Anyway I did write some rough pieces which I will post over the next week or so. If you like you can imagine I am still there tapping away with all the Facebook saddoes.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Alaskan Invasion

I shall head off and away from these shores before Sarah Palin launches a mercy invasion to save us from the evil NHS and its "death panels". As I said not long ago it is worrying that the most information rich society in human history gets things -- especially facts that can easily be checked --so wrong.

Sunday 9 August 2009

The Non-Sensual Poet

Poets are having a good summer. The Tennyson bicentenary has acted as a well timed reminder of a real master. Keats' house has reopened. Andrew Motion has remained an energetic ambassador post-laureate. And we have even had Rupert Everett mincing about on Byron.

Thomas Rees writes to offer a treatment on Shelley. It's a cracking yarn, as Thomas' usually are, about Shelley's attempts to free the Irish and the Welsh from English rule. The young firebrand had the unusual idea of encasing seditious pamphlets in little caskets he made and then launching them by balloon. Perhaps an eighteenth century version of political Twitters. Anyway when one of his caskets landed into the hands of the secret police Percy Bysse was forced into "exile" in North Wales. There his attempts to radicalise the locals were not met with the enthusiasm he had hoped -- they felt they already had enough poets. He did however see a devil in his garden and get to work on one of his masterpieces, Queen Mab.
Despite eloping with a sixteen year old Shelley was not wildly interested in sex. His passion was for revolution and free thinking. Sadly that means we probably won't see a BBC adaptation of
Thomas' story, not even one with Graham Norton as Shelley.
In the meantme I continue to try and persuade Thomas to write a biography of his godfather, the Cambridge spy Guy Burgess. If he doesn't perhaps I should.

Praying for Rain

Right now not everyone is worshipping the good weather. My uncle and aunt in British Columbia are in the middle of the terrible forest fires that have been ripping through Okanagan and in particular Terrace Mountain where they are. They have been on evacuation alert for some time and thought the worst was over. Last week the wind changed and the fires intensified. People have to act very quickly to avoid disaster -- they managed to evacuate with pets and a few essentials. Everyone is now glued to the weather and fire forecasts hoping the house and home will be safe. A rainy spell would be great.

My cousin Nicole keeps us updated on her blog

Close encounter

My niece Lily has a close encounter with a cricket on the beach today. The meeting went very well and they both enjoyed making each other's acquaintance.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Most viewed...

This story is several months old but is still one of the most viewed on the BBC website. I guess it's easy to see why...

An 18-year-old has secretly painted a 60ft drawing of a phallus on the roof of his parents' £1million mansion in Berkshire. It was there for a year before his parents found out. They say he'll have to scrub it off when he gets back from travelling.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Happy Birthday Mr President

I am normally a great fan of the bottom up communications revolution -- after all this blog is a part of it --but it does have its downside. Sometimes I yearn for proper fact-checked journalism as a source of information. Perhaps in that world we wouldn't find ourselves in the crazy situation where a significant -- and worse of all growing -- proportion of the American people believe a crazy lie. A lie that is easily disproved by fact, common sense and circumstance. I mean the "birther"conspiracy that the USA is suffering right now. The theory is that President Obama was born in Kenya not the USA and is therefore ineligible to be president. It's the sort of daft rumour that demands evidence and as soon as that evidence comes it is dismissed as a conspiracy. The US right wing -- so stung by its crushing defeat in 2008 -- has bought into birtherism to the extent that even senior republicans will associate themselves with the lies. The rumour has been disproved again and again and yet -- fueled by today's incredible communications netowrks -- it continues to gather momentum. I don't really want to add to the buzz except to express my bemusement that the most informed society in history can continue to believe patent untruths. But they do, faked moon landings, Area 51, 9-11, 7-7...and all.

"Evidence" that President Obama was born in Kenya

Award Triumph

My nephew Stanley has won third prize in the Trewennach Horticultural Show (Minature Garden category) for his work "Spooky Island Garden"

Alice at 96

This is my grandmother Alice celebrating her 96th birthday this week.

Another rainy evening...

A lovely weekend but August has been naughty on weekdays, so far. Last night was wet so no walk in the woods. Instead down in the cellar to the dusty DVDs and I chose a Columbo box set. I watched a couple of episodes which I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course they were 1970s ones. It is such a delight to luxuriate in the costumes, interior decor and cars. Wow.

In some ways Columbo was a showcase for LA-style gracious living in the early 70s. Each episode unveiled a lifestyle UK viewers in their small, crowded and damp homes could barely dream about -- swimming pools, views from the Hollywood Hills, butlers, mock stately homes, ultra modernist apartments, fine dining. It was lifestyle almost before lifestyle had been invented.

But I think the king of the cop shows was also remarkably subversive. Firstly, and most obviously, the rich, clever, socially successful were the villains and they were outwitted by the scruffy low paid cop. Then underlying all this is a series of derogatory messages about the then super rich. They are unpatriotic. They always seem to drive foreign cars -- Mercedes, Jaguars, Rolls Royces, Ferraris. Remember this is the time of the first real attack from foreigners on blue collar Detroit. The baddies compound this by eating -- and obsessing about -- foreign gourmet food. That is arch and un-American. Worst of all they always drink brandy. Get this always, check it out. Brandy of course being an imported imposter unlike honest old bourbon.

A further folly of the super-rich is their reliance on up to the minute show-off gadgetry. Audiences saw, for the first time, telephone answering machines, home cinemas, remote control TVs, car phones and a myriad of home automations. But this conspicuous consumerism is also their undoing. Many a Columbo plot turns on one of these supposedly foolproof gadgets not fooling the dear old Lieutenant. The dear old Lieutenant who keeps his old car and even older raincoat.
Sitting here in 2009 we are learning painfully about the unbalancing effect of super wealth on the economy and society. It is more serious even than murders in the Hollywood Hills. Columbo now seems both prescient and quaint. Quaint because its underlying egalitarian message is a belief of the past. Now we have legions of pushy PRs telling us how much we should respect and worship their wealthy and famous clients. A detective and social subversive like Lieutenant Columbo wouldn't get past the electric gates before the slick private lawyers had him taken off the case.

The other way that Columbo subverts is in its narrative construction. It is a whodunnit where we actually know from the very beginning who did it. The pleasure in the storytelling here comes from watching Columbo snare his victim. Despite breaking all the rules it works. It is a real pity TV executives today don't have the guts to depart from their one-track formats and take such risks.

Thursday 30 July 2009

Talkin Blue

Apparently David Cameron doesn’t know what a tw*t is. At last, an explanation for George Osborne’s career.

Hopi Sen

Tuesday 28 July 2009

My favourite villain

A rainy evening last night and I watched a couple of episodes on DVD of Granada's Jewel in the Crown. Despite the mega cast and faithful adaptation it's still not a patch on Paul Scott's quartet of novels. However it is nice to be reminded what TV with ambition and scope was like. Best of all Tim Pigott-Smith's rendition of one of the finest villains in post-war literature - Ronald Merrick. His suburban vowels, repressed campness and all-pervading chippiness are delicious and unforgettable.

Scott managed to come up with something fresh in the footsteps of Forster and Orwell and no-one has ever bettered his portrayal of the brittleness of the British Raj in situ. The social divisions within the ruling class are as acute as the racial ones between the rulers and ruled. It is so well drawn that it is as painful as it is perfect. Scott created his Indian colonial landscape knowing that the original had come to an end. That's what allows us to wallow a little -- it is historical so we need feel no guilt.

Guilt is not an emotion I want to encourage but sadly Scott was wrong in consigning all those colonial attitudes to the past. I am off to Zanzibar in a couple of weeks and could, should I so choose, spend my time being as Merricky as I like. White expat society in Zanzibar, and many other outposts of the poverty and development industry, is as far divorced from local culture and local people as anything in British India . These neo-colonialists will be snooty and condescendingly uncomprehending with me because I choose to spend my time with Africans in Africa. I have "gone native" and that's simply not "pukka". The language may have been tempered but the underlying attitudes are as raw as they ever were. The Neo-Cols really do seem to despise those they lord over. They just wrap it all up in ghastly management speak and KPIs. Whatever the dressing there are still, as Kipling said over a century ago, two worlds which shall never meet. Nonetheless I think I get a better deal with the locals than I ever would with the earnest sahibs and desiccated memsahibs of the poverty industry.

Friday 24 July 2009

Thought for the Day

"There are more important things than being cool"

David Mitchell

Monday 20 July 2009

A Great Discovery

A fabulous local discovery has been the mountains known as the Carmarthen Vans. Have no idea why I have not found them before but only half an hour away and now one of the Kili Team's training spots. You can get several hours of good striding in with enough ascent and descent to feel you have done something, not to mention great views and a lot of nothing and nobody.

False Dentistry

A barrister friend is currently representing an Iraqi dentist from Merthyr Tydfil. It turns out that the client was a senior figure in Sadam Hussein's Baath Party. At home in Wales he had pictures of himself with Sadam and other members of the Axis of Evil. Somehow he escaped justice or retribution in Iraq and washed up in Merthyr. That's quite an achievement but he then managed to set up as a dentist -- entirely bogusly -- and fool the good people of Mid Glamorgan for years. I can imagine a Baath Party sadist ripping teeth out but repairing them...! What can the mouths of Merthyr be like? It is a bit like Radovan Karadic the healer!

Friday 17 July 2009


"On the ratemyteachers website, Mr Harvey from All Saints, Mansfield, had enjoyed a top rated 5.0 from pupils at his school. After being charged by police for hitting one of his students on the head with a heavy object, his score only went down to 3.7. By today, his reputation has rallied, Harvey is back up to 4.6. Which means even though he's up on an attempted murder charge against a fifteen year old pupil, Mr Harvey is significantly more popular with his students than most of the other teachers, average rating 3.6."

Who do I have to hit to get popular round here?

Thursday 16 July 2009

I wrote a little while ago about the complete losers that are white supremacists. I see from the news that one of their number, Neil Lewington, has been convicted of plotting to cause explosions in pursuit of his sick beliefs.

He fits the mould perfectly. It is difficult to find anything"supreme" about him

Age 43 and still living with his mum and dad

No girlfriend
No friends
Lives in a fantasy world
Arrested for urinating on a station
Makes bombs with a child's chemistry set
If that's not enough listen to how his own lawyer described him: "a silly, immature, alcoholic, dysfunctional twit, fantasising to make up for a rather sad life".

Long live the master race!

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Comment of the Month

From Will Self...
"The only way you will catch me twittering is if a live songbird lands in my mouth."

Willard White in Llandeilo

Last night's performance was stunning. Sir Willard performed his "Paul Robeson Re-Explored" set -- songs and readings taking us through Robeson's remarkable life. He was accompanied by a fabulous group --Neal Thornton on piano, the superb Guy Barker on trumpet and the Pavao String Quartet. St Teilo's church rocked, reverberated and rejoiced.

Sitting at the front watching these incredibly skilled performers at work just makes me appreciate true professionals. There is a depth, an ease, a roundedness and above all a "music first" commitment that only comes with all the hard work, practice and experience of pros. Something we may be in danger of forgetting in the scramble for celebrity of our "Britain's got Talent" culture.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Music Week

Llandeilo is alive with the sound of music. Officially the Festival of Flowers and Music began on Saturday. Unofficially I went to see my friend Cush play an acoustic set in the White Horse on Saturday evening. It was a fantastic night, he really knows how to hold the room with just voice and guitar. Cush's band, The Men They Couldn't Hang, has just released a new album which is very good indeed. The title track, Devil on the Wind, will be a new anthem for them. It had us dancing on the tables on Saturday night.

Tomorrow, back on the official side of things, we welcome Sir Willard White to Llandeilo. Perhaps we won't be dancing on the tables (it is in church) but I am looking forward to it immensely. I love the contrast.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Brucie's Bubbles

I am sure Bruce Forsyth can afford to buy posh champagne. I am also sure he got given plenty of nice pressies for his 80th birthday. I am not sure therefore that Jana Bennett's gift meant much in material terms but it was a nice thought which after all is what presents are about...or was it? That nice thought goes rather sour when you find out she claimed the money back from the licence payer. Surely a whip-round among BBC executives could have come-up with both a present and a real spirit of giving -- instead of just taking.

Friday 26 June 2009

BBC Bonuses

I can exclusively reveal that I was once paid a performance related bonus by the BBC. It was a little while ago.

About ten years back I spent 6 weeks in the bush in Africa searching out great white elephant hunters. It was hard, uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous work. Most of the hunters quite categoricaly didn't want to be filmed. We zig-zagged from Zimbabwe, to South Africa and ended up by the Namibia-Angola border. Finally we filmed the kill, by an American big game hunter, of a large rogue bull elephant at very close quarters. I came straight back and worked more days and nights to get a programme ready for broadcast. In the end with planning, the trip to Africa and post-production I worked two and a half months straight, 7 days a week and with a few all nighters. No problem. It was tough and I was very tired but a great experience. The finished programme was good and well received by the critics. It was broadcast all over the world. The BBC was able to show its audience something most had assumed had died out a couple of generations ago. The footage of the elephant hunt is still unique a decade later and I often get calls from producers asking to use it. If the BBC has any commercial sense it should have made some money from this exclusive footage.

After BBC executives -- including Mark Thompson -- had sat around a while waiting to see what everyone else thought (which is what they do) they declared the film a success and awarded me a performance related bonus of £250. After tax and NI I got £125 in my next paycheque. I can't remember what I spent it on. It wouldn't have gone far towards replacing Jana Bennett's handbag.

Thursday 25 June 2009

White Supremacists

I have had the odd insulting comment on this blog from self styled white supremacists. I find these people very peculiar. Is skin colour (which is after all one thing none of us has any control over) the only aspect of their being that they are proud of...? Do they have no achievements of their own, no strength of character, no admirable traits? The answer is invariably no. They have very little if anything to feel supreme about, they are sad, ugly, self-loathing bedwetter types. All they manage to do is to direct their inadequacies into the hatred of others.

A typical white supremacist

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Iran and USA

Events in Iran are worrying. Thank God the US is being led by someone with a brain who knows how to handle a crisis. Imagine the previous incumbent and his sinister backroom ideologues...actually I would rather not. As I write the Iranian regime is busy attacking the UK, it seems "Little Satan" is the only target they can have a pop at. I hand over to America's 44th President, wise words :

"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost. I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place...This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose."

Saturday 20 June 2009

Losing our Marbles

Reading Mary Beard's expert description of the new Acropolis Museum I am almost tempted to get on a plane to Athens. My past experiences of this city in intense August heat with very little money have not been great. Worse still the collosal disconnect between old and new. I had an imagined (no doubt falsely imagined) ancient paradise of democracy, philospophy, poetry discussed amid pristine architecture. I could not reconicle it with the dirty undignified city creaking its way through the late twentieth century that I saw. I went elsewhere in search of my classical dream.

I did however vow to return when the Elgin -- or as I should say the Parthenon -- Marbles had made their way back to their real home. Now at least people are talking about it again. I don't understand the reticence on the part of the British. Why don't we make a big event out of the return. Let's have a party, a festival of classical culture and most important of all why not a big competition for the world's best artists to reinterpret the Marbles. Imagine the stimuli in the Marbles' stories and themes or in our debts to classical Greece? Give them back with bang. It would be a soft power coup for Britan on the world stage. With the new art and good copies of the originals we would have a fabulous, and this time well-deserved, legacy not to mention tourist magnet. Come to think of it why not do it as part of the 2012 Olympic fesitivities?

Thursday 18 June 2009


Nick Griffin

Baboon's Arse

First Fly Swatter

My God is there anything this man can't do...?

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Waterloo Sunsets

I spent two very enjoyable evenings out in London last week. Because of the tube strike I walked everywhere. It was hardly a hardship as the weather was superb. I had forgotten just how beautiful a summer's evening in the city can be. Watching everyone out -- playing, relaxing, socialising or just ambling home -- shows the human scale of a city, which is after all just a big village.

On Wednesday I was out with my friend Steve celebrating the fact that his book is officially a "worldwide bestseller" having shifted 250,000 copies. On Thursday I was saying goodbye to Carlton who is leaving beautiful London for Sheffield. Having said that when I was in Sheffield in the summer last year it was also very fine.

Night Jack

I have written to the editor of the Times - my goodness doesn't that sound important !! However it was for a serious reason. I wanted to know what the public interest was in unmasking Night Jack, the previously anonymous policeman blogger. I have yet to receive a reply.

I really enjoyed and valued Night Jack's blog and completely understood how he needed to protect his identity. Any large organisation these days, public or private, is paranoid about free comment. Only the thought police corrected banalities of corporate PR are permitted. That is a tragedy. It is only by real and uncensored first-hand testimony can we hope to find out what's going on in our country. The Times and Mr Justice Eady have dealt a severe blow to primary sources like Night Jack. Many now will not risk telling the truth for fear of recrimination from their employers or others with an interest in stifling it. It's a step backwards after some real progress granted by new media pluralism. It is grimly fitting that the decison to undermine free reportage in the UK came on a day when the world is learning about the Iranian fight for freedom from bloggers and twitters.

I would have hoped Times journalists understood that Night Jack was a source who deserved protection. When I worked in investigative journalism this was a tenet of faith. I once faced a judge in the Old Bailey who wanted to send me to prison over Christmas for refusing to divulge a source. Instead the Wapping boys and girls went for a cheap story that will last a day or two. What a price?

Ironically Night Jack won this year's Orwell Prize for blogging (the first one ever awarded). It seems the Ministry of Truth had the last laugh.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Leadership II

David Milliband on the Today programme just now... demonstrated in the most eloquent and persuasive way why he should be leader...except that he was professing loyalty to Gordon...or was he?

Monday 8 June 2009

Very Funny Video

That secret camera in the Downing Street bunker has been in action again. Here is the latest recording. The Supreme Leader is receiving a briefing on the European Election results.

Jackboots to Strasbourg

Well it's nice to discover that the lesser known of the two newly elected BNP members, Andrew Brons, not only fits but exceeds the stereotype of the loony far right.

As with most BNP leaders his motivation stems from a mixture of childish infatuation with Hitler and an equally one-dimensional hatred of black or jewish or moslem or gay people (in fact anyone who is not in the ubermensch category like his good self). Brons was previously an enthusiastic member of the National Socialist movement here in the UK; a virulent anti-semite; and purchaser of swastikas and other Nazi memorabilia. Lederhosen all the way to Strasbourg. In his formative years Brons worshipped at the feet of Britain's post-war National Socialist Fuhrer, the peculiar Colin Jordan.

Jordan -- who sadly went off to Nazi heaven or hell in April this year -- was one of the old boys of my college in Cambridge. He didn't get mentioned very often. In a thoroughly disreputable political career Jordan founded any number of batty fascist parties. He loved prancing round in jackboots and in 1975 he was convicted of stealing women's underwear from a branch of Tesco. In later life Jordan declared that Jesus Christ had been an imposter and the real messiah was Adolf Hitler. It's nice to know that our newly elected MEP has such an illustrious mentor.
Loony Nazi Colin Jordan, posing in a rather fetching brown shirt.


We were told Brown would have to go if Labour polled below UKIP. Now they are saying he can hang on...wounded...direction-less... but with the spurious justification of a jerrymandered "new" cabinet. Is that legitimacy or a desperate tactical shunt?

Surely those in the engine room of the Labour machine must realise they are only prolonging the agony.

Fishy Business

I realise I just posted a picture of Omari with some sort tuna fish. I really hope it's not a blue fin. I am very sorry if it is. I don't want to become this week's chief villain given that I don't even like most fish. Unfortunately marine conservation doesn't rank very highly on a Zanzibari's list of priorities. When I was given a swahili language marine guidebook recently all the locals loved it -- they would spend hours discussing which species of turtle tasted best or exchange recipes for exquisite coloured reef fishes. The fish market in town resembles the contents of an oceanarium -- with its hammerheads, manta rays, marlin and barracuda. It's exciting and probably sustainable if left on the micro level practised by the islanders. The problem with tuna is serious and comes from outside. Japanese and other Asian boats seem to pluck them, and much more beyond, out of the Indian Ocean quite unchallenged. Goodness knows where they end up but I am sure our insatiable appetite for sushi and tuna-sweetcorn sarnies has something to do with it. I have never really understood why fish has this "holier than meat" eco-image. It seems to me that raping the oceans is just as bad as anything we get up to on land.

Friday 5 June 2009

Obama and me

We can be very snooty about text messages as a form of communication but sometimes that concision is quite moving. I got a text this morning from Omari, my housekeeper in Zanzibar. I had sent him a present and he was thanking me. He said "Everyone loves you Mr Adam because you are so kind. We all love you like we love Obama." That has made my day.

Omari with local produce

Thursday 4 June 2009


I just looked at Omar Little t-shirts online. I haven't bought one ... yet...only because I couldn't decide which one. Oh dear.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

European Elections

The Maasai are very clear that we should be voting Plaid on Thursday...

Making Hay

Well my Saturday, my week and my Hay were made by the Alan Bennett and David Simon sessions. Alan Bennett was comforting, funny and rather like a warm bath. Simon a sharp wake-up call for those who value journalism and well founded serious fiction. He was more of an ice-cold shower.

Sitting in the Barclays Wealth Pavillion seemed a little incongruous -- listening to stories from the back streets of Leeds and the mean streets of West Baltimore -- but then again tickets for the National Treasure were £25 so perhaps not. I felt the youngest audience member for AB but rather the oldest for DS. The first group was full of chubby literary ladies falling in love with a gay man considerably older than themselves. The second more like Soho with sunburn.

David Simon was inspirational -- not because of genius but actually because his writing is grounded in decades of experience and acres of painstaking hard work. He lived those streets, he knew the people and the city so what he wrote was real. I do wonder if that could happen in TV here. I suspect he would have been be too old, too serious and be wearing the wrong kind of suit to have been listened to in the executive suites at Television Centre.

Rather than regurgiatate what he said I will let his talk inform -- as a primary source -- my further ramblings on The Wire. But there has been a health warning. Simon remarked -- amid the Omar Little T-shirts -- that we might be getting into the field of "get-a-life-ism". He may well be right.

The day itself could not have been more perfect for late May, particularly the drive home with intense blue light in the sky till after 11 pm, badgers and foxes in the headlights and owls flying off inot the hills beyond.

Friday 29 May 2009

Blatant theft...

I haven't linked to this I have copied it. Here is what A.L.Kennedy (a great writer and commentator with an excellent website) says about the demise of The South Bank Show. It's spot on and I wouldn't attempt to write anything myself in its shadow...

"The South Bank Show's gone. Is this wise? I know SBS didn't involve yelling or tits, and was therefore unsuitable for British television, but I've met so many people who sat at home like me when they were nippers and/or teenagers and had their sanity saved by that show. There we were, possibly feeling we were slightly strange, compared with our surroundings, and there Melvyn was with his diddly theme tune and a weekly blast of things we'd guessed we might like, but ended up loving, along with stuff we'd never heard of and worlds of unimagined possibility – there other people were, imagining those possibilities. When I was young, unsure of most things, buried alive in Dundee and showing no sign of being able to find a job that wouldn't make me crazy and then fired, SBS delivered a weekly jolt of oxygen and hope. To say nothing of it enthusing me about things I'd just plain assumed I wouldn't enjoy. It's our loss if we let it go without at least an equivalent replacement and some kind of thank you.

No, it's particularly the loss of the generation from whom we have already stolen an education system, a functioning and credible democracy and a variety of other things they might have found useful. It's not that I like all children indiscriminately – some of them are appalling – but I would rather they didn't grow up being more than averagely miserable and underfullfilled."

Home Truths

Second home...flipped home...servants' home...this Palestinian boy is playing by the ruins of his family home in Gaza. The house was destroyed by Israeli bombardment earlier this year. The bombing was of course "within the rules".

Thursday 28 May 2009

Trouble in Bromsgrove II

Oh well, it seems Mr Cameron didn't stand by her after all. The curse of the Blog strikes again -- she could only last an hour after my devasting criticism! I wonder how Cameron decides which ones to stand by and which's one theory anyway.

Trouble in Bromsgrove

Why is David Cameron trying to hold onto Julie Kirkbride? The drip, drip of allegations has been fairly constant and it's said that 5,000 of her constituents have signed a petition asking her to go. But for me the simple and killer fact is that she is married to Andrew McKay and must surely take joint responsibility for the misdemeanours he has been punished for. They played the system together so if he was in the wrong so is she, morally at least. How does the marriage vow go again...?

Soup II

Well the borscht was nice, but I am leaving it to "mature" and have a feeling the flavours may be better tonight. I made plenty.

Maasai Misery

The Manchester Maasai have been drowning their sorrows...

Wednesday 27 May 2009


I am going to attempt borscht tonight. My greengrocer had some wonderful looking beetroots so I thought I'd give it a go, never having tried making it before. Of course the complications start when I look for a recipe...Russian, Ukranian, Hungarian, meat or not meat...? I can't really face going onto a foodie website and reading reams of posts about the virtues of South Ossetian borscht over the Kazakstahni version so I am going to try a bastardised Russian recipe as the best I have ever tasted was in Moscow.

The Big Match

I am told, although this is probably erroneous information, that ALL my Maasai friends will be supporting Manchester this evening. Perhaps it's something to do with red -- their favourite colour -- or perhaps it is Juma taking it upon himself to speak for the Maasai Nation. Suffice to say that beer will be drunk and there may be a bit of "bouncing" later on. I will switch my phone off tonight.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

An Audience with Genius

My next excursion to Hay is on Saturday to see David Simon (creator of the Wire). I can hardly contain myself. This year's (decade's?) hero comes to Wales ! I am also seeing Alan Bennett and normally that would be the highlight bar none but in this instance Mr Simon eclipses even our great NT*.

Nice to see, as well, in last Friday's Guardian that I am not the only one that makes poncy comparisons between The Wire and classic literature.

*National Treasure

Glastonbury for Geriatrics?

Thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Hay. Lisa Jardine and Roy Hattersley the highlights. Before I went someone asked: "What sort of people go to the Hay Festival?" Now that is a dificult one. It would certainly be easy to categorise them as elderly Guardian readers -- easy but not correct. A single definition is not possible but there are definitely "tribes": a small dungaree brigade, a lot of linen suits and summer dresses, intellectual power-brokers with BlackBerrys and important calls to publishers, literary groupies and a lot of families. If anything drew them together they were there for the same reason as me, the chance ot spend some time out of the normal rush to listen, think and talk -- books, ideas, politics, food and weather.

Monday 25 May 2009

Festival Fun

Off to the Hay Festival today. It's always difficult to choose which day to go and which events to book on that day. I hope I have chosen well.

Friday 22 May 2009


We have had "it was all within the rules", then "it was all cleared with the Fees Office". Now we are being told that MPs have been suffering from "lapses" of judgement, no doubt there will soon be the confessions that they were struck by "moments of madness".

On the whole I am well aware of human frailties and sympathetic. Of course we all make mistakes. But for years now citizens have been suffering from an onslaught of bossy, punitive government and other authority. In its predatory way excuses are not accepted. We are continually reprimanded and usually fined -- for late tax returns, by speed cameras, for not displaying parking permits on the "right" side of the windscreen. Petty bureaucrats proclaim zero tolerance on all manner of misdemeanours. You are too fat to foster a child, you stole some sweets when you were a kid, even though you are an Old Age Pensioner you can't buy booze without ID. Try asking for clemency here, try proffering simple human error, try explaining your momentary lapse of judgement, try common sense... The citizen has to be perfect under the tyranny of ever more dysfunctional authority. And I haven't even touched on the many more serious incursions on our civil rights and freedoms that we cede every year.

MPs have willingly overseen this sea change in the relationship between state and citizen under Major, Blair and Brown. Why should we forgive them?

Drunk Magic Arsenal

Zaharani is my enthusiastic chef when I am in Zanzibar. He is also one of the star strikers in the football team. Back in 2005-6 I sponsored him through The Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar Catering and Hotel Institute. He graduated with flying colours. When I am there he loves the run of a good kitchen and the budget to buy things like meat and eggs.

Among his mates Zaharani is known as Juju which gives you some idea of what he does when not cooking. As a msungu I can't ask too much about that side of things. If he's away the others say "he is doing Swahili culture" as fine a euphemism for witch-doctory as you will find.

Anyway he called last week to ask if I could buy him an Arsenal shirt with the number 4 and "Jujubwai" on the reverse. If my interpretation of local slang is correct this means something along the lines of "drunk magic" -- strange as he doesn't drink. That I did today and took the shirt in to a man in Llanelli market to get the name and number stencilled on. The man with the machine didn't recognise Jujubwai from the usual Gunners squad: "There again mate it is Arsenal, they have some funny ones."

The Call of Africa

My friend Stephen is off to Africa today. He is taking his teenage son to Senegal and Gambia. I am very jealous, a bit of African heat and chaos would go down well just now. I hope that he keeps us posted on his blog. Stephen is, by the way, a member of one of the world's most exclusive clubs -- he represents 50% of this blog's followers!

Stephen also does proper writing and has an interesting assignment for a newspaper while he's in Africa. His work will start on the premise that the movement of people out of Senegal today is greater than at any time during the Atlantic slave trade. It shocked me. Historians, economists and African nationalists have used slavery's mass forced migration as an explanation of many of the continent's ills. If that left a wound that still festers two or three centuries later, what can the current migration be doing, econmically, socially, culturally? Worst of all perhaps, because this is an illegal traffic we know next to nothing about it. Today's Atlantic "cargoes" are truly the most invisible of people -- in Africa, in transit and at destination. There are not, yet, the equivalent of slave narratives. In the communication explosion of our time where are the Twitter feeds from these people?

Stephen will investigate. I look forward to seeing the results. But ultimately it is here in the destination countries where we must really work to understand and document. These are the people that clean our offices, buses and trains. They are the nocturnals, the cogs so deep in our economic machine that we never see them. I would love to hear their stories but I suspect it is easier for me to heed my own call to Africa than listen here in the West.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Spud You like

I have been feasting on Jersey Royals and now the first Pembrokeshires. Lightly boiled with a little butter and fresh herbs from the garden nothing could be nicer. Mint and parsley are the traditonal accompaniments but I have also been enjoying them with chives, chervil, marjoram and lovage (the latter only in small quantities). I am quite happy to eat these sweet little spuds as a meal in themselves.

Faith in Politicians Restored...?

Yesterday at 7.30 I got off the tube a few stops early and walked into Westminster. Cast in the misty gold of an early summer morning it was difficult to believe this village – and political Westminster really is a village – was home to the skulduggery and shameless greed we have been watching unfold over the past fortnight.

The 45 minutes with Hilary Benn further lightened my spirits. Here was a humorous, honest, committed man untainted by the expenses scandals. We were able to have a good banter about the troubles but there was also no doubt about his senses of serious purpose. It is probably the family heritage but here was someone who still embodies the old fashioned idea of real public service. No doubt there is an ego there, there has to be, but it is subservient to the real task of getting things done. Not getting things “done” for self-promotion, ghastly KPIs or to win a dodgy bonus. Just getting things done because it’s the right thing to do. How refreshing.

My rosy glow lasted about as long as the May sunshine on Westminster. By the time rain was lashing Big Ben I was listening to Hazel Blears and just beginning to understand the complicated world of floating duck houses.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Manchester Maasai

Juma tells me that he has been celebrating Man Utd's Premiership success since Saturday. "Party, Party bwana". Fun all round except perhaps for the goat population...

Amiable Loony

I received my copy of Peter Hitchens' new book yesterday. It is a great pleasure to read good old fashioned polemic. It is a guilty pleasure to enjoy the doom-monger in chief's more absurd theories. It is a surprising pleasure to find I agree with about 25% of what he writes. However I can't help laughing out loud at his notion that because New Labour cabinet members hummed along to the Internationale at Donald Dewar's funeral they were closet Marxist-Soviet-Trotskyite stooges. All of the above with £2000 flat screen TVs perhaps.

Monday 18 May 2009

The Lord of Darkness

Andrew Sullivan wrote an excellent piece in the Sunday Times yesterday. He examined Dick Cheney's high public profile of late. Seeing so much of the former VP is surprising. After all Cheney was the consumate eminence grise, so grise in fact to have been invisible in all but the innermost Washington power suites. Sullivan concludes that his energetic public profile just now stems from fear, fear that he is going to be judged badly by the political elite, the American people, history or perhaps even a judge and jury. Rock on.

I remember a very enjoyable lunch I had back in early 2001 with Peter Jay , amongst many other things, the former British ambassador to Washington. It was just after the Bush inaugration. Peter has infinitely more knowledge of US politics than I will ever have. More to the point he has had real experience -- he remains a friend of Jimmy Carter. However I discussed the incoming Bush administration with him as well as I could. I proffered my observation that Bush seemed so incapable that surely it was Cheney that would run the show. PJ disagreed. He said that people always argued this if they didn't like the President. The VP wasn't a powerful post in any real sense.

I haven't asked Peter if he still thinks that. I will. I don't blame him at all nor claim any prescience. I don't think anyone could have predicted the arrogance coupled with incompetence of the Bush regime. It simply broke all the rules of past behaviour. One of the manifestations was a VP running his own "dark side" administration. We are only learning about it now and I guess there's a lot more to come out.

The Fees Office Excuse

The guilty ones are trying to divert the tide of blame towards officials at the Fees Office. "I acted within the rules" is no longer acceptable as an excuse. The public won't buy it. But they are still whining on about having agreed their misdemeanours with the Fees Office.

I wonder. The officials they discuss these things with are relatively low-ranking civil servants. The one thing you can say with certainty is that MPs are expert in arguing. They have all spent years, decades even, getting their point of view across. They have fought in debating societies, smoke-filled rooms, on doorsteps and many, as lawyers, in the courts. It seems to me a rather unequal battle pitting these professional arguers against expenses clerks. To then blame the clerks for losing aforesaid argument really is low.

Let us hope their tide-turning is as effective as one King Canute's.

Sunday 17 May 2009


I received my BNP election leaflet this weekend. Full of happy smiling white British people -- except as it turns out the wholesome British subjects were actually posed by American and Italian models.

In a darker fantasy I imagined there actually were some BNP MPs and they got caught up (as no doubt they would) in the expenses scandal. So far the bogus claims have been, most reassuringly, running along party lines -- Tories clean their moats and stay in their Pall Mall clubs; New Labour MPs are obsessed with very expensive flat screen TVs; old Labour buy bookshelves; and the Lib Dems go for trouser presses and scatter cushions.

So what would we see from our BNP representatives? Swastika bedspreads, skin-whitening cream, extra tight lederhosen or perhaps entertaining evenings with Max Moseley...?

Saturday 16 May 2009

Masoudi's Underwear Crisis

A call from Masoudi in Zanzibar. He is a young man and an old friend who I am sponsoring through catering college at the moment. "Hamna chupi bwana" he tells me which is "I have no pants". Now this may sound like some naughty come-on but...

... actually the reason he rings me is that he has a problem. No decent pants. Underwear in Zanzibar ranges from the unreliable to the useless. Western pants therefore are one of the most tradable items in the modern missionary's armoury. It is clearly an emergency otherwise he wouldn't ring. Perhaps he is on a romantic quest or maybe he has to change into his chef's kit in front of his peers so wants to show off real Calvins. Anyway I had better jump to it and dispatch some forthwith.

Man Utd v Arsenal

Today's match will divide my village in Zanzibar. There's a very strong Arsenal following but the ubiquitous Manchester fans are probably not far behind in numbers terms. Zanzibaris take team allegiances very seriously.

I am sort of grateful that I lost my mobile yesterday.

Friday 15 May 2009

Last night and The Wire

I spent a very enjoyable evening with old friends in Brixton. We ate and drank well and talked late in the night -- an academic, a scientist, senior civil servant and me. As the glasses and then bottles emptied we covered a heroic range of topics -- the collapse of politics, Berlin, India, the science of happiness, depression and therapies, swine flu and the periodic table.

Later in the evening we discovered we were all Wirers and a sort of relief wave rose over the table. It was a bit like -- I imagine -- the way they used to say "Gentleman you may now smoke" - we at once relaxed and livened into talking about a shared passion. I cannot remember any TV show doing that for years. They asked me, as someone who has a connection with the media, why Britain can't produce anything like The Wire. I bumbled some suggestions but didn't even manage to convince myself. I must have a think.

Becoming a Maasai

I am considering my Africa travel plans for the rest of the year. Maasai Juma wants to take me back to his village for my "initiation". It will be a real treat even if certain aspects are a bit daunting.

I feel very privileged. Juma's father has already given me a cow as a sort of "herd starter pack". He has even asked if I want male or female. Juma tells me cattle are very cheap at the moment so I could build up my herd quite cheaply. He reminds me as well that the current going rate for a wife is 22 cows. Juma's father has also set aside a plot where I can build my hut.

Juma is keen that we drink blood together so that we become proper Maasai brothers. I think I can cope with that. I am imagining it will be warm and slightly frothy straight from the cow's neck. I shall pretend it's a strange herbal tea concoction. I don't like the idea of it cold and semi-congealed so I shall be quick.

The ritual area that does concern me is circumcision. Maasai boys and young men are circumcised in batches somewhere between early teens and early twenties. It is a crucial rite of passage on the way to becoming proper warriors. The circumcision is fairly public, done without any anaesthetic and with ritual rather than surgical instruments. Most importantly the circumcisee must not cry out -- to do so would be most unwarriorly and condemns the squealer to a lifetime of humiliation. Juma had his at twelve or thirteen (African are never very sure about their age). He spent the preceding months cutting and stabbing himself with anything that came to hand to practise the steely nonchalance of manhood. I am not sure I could do so well. I just have to hope that the old, fat msungu* is considered exempt.


* Swahili: Msungu = white person

Thursday 14 May 2009

More African Footie

Whilst Maasia Juma is ecstatic with the way the Premiership is coming to a climax, Gerrardi is distraught. As you may be able to guess from his name Gerrardi is a Liverpool fan. He is really called Mzee Mohammed Mzee.

Gerrardi is a good friend. I feel for him. He does a fairly miserable job on a cargo ship sailing out of Dubai. For less than £25 a week he works 11 months out of 12. The work is hard, bakingly hot, the hours long and he gets to sail to places like Iraq and Mombassa -- pirates or Al Quaida, take your pick. He is an intelligent, charismatic, lively guy and could really contribute to the world. But he has a job which in Africa at the moment is something and Liverpool FC keeps him going...even when they don't top the Premiership. A true fan.

TV Alzheimers

I watched the first few minutes of a BBC documentary last night. It was about an auction rooms and whether a son was going to take over running it from his father thus keeping a family business alive. So far, so good, reasonably interesting. But I soon got tired of being told what it was going to be about. In a feeble attempt to "hook" me and create non-existent tension the voiceiver track kept repeating "will he give up his own life and go home and save the family business...blah...repeat...blah...repeat..." Just get on with it.

Perhaps the producer was suffering from alzheimers and had got caught in one of those dementia conversation loops or is it that the BBC believes these days it is only broadcasting to a senile rump of viewers, too infirm to remember the past 60 seconds or indeed to change channels? Anyway I did, change channel that is. Sadly I will never know the fate of the auction house and its prodigal (?) son.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

A Traveller's Tales

On the way up to London. Decide to sit in the Quiet Carriage. For once it is -- mostly -- just that. Except...we have one of those guards -- sorry "Train Managers" -- who is a frustrated broadcaster or something. Incessant bossy inane messages at full volume. I have complained about this before and was roundly told off that it was "for my own safety". I would happily sign a waiver to say that in the event of an accident I wouldn't sue FGW if I was unable to find the Braille version of the "Safety Information".

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Gordon must go

It's brutally obvious but, just in case of any doubt, Polly Toynbee puts forward a convincing argument for the why, how and when here

Manchester United Maasai

My Maasai "brother" Juma has been in even higher spirits than usual with Manchester United's recent run of success. An avid, even obsessive fan, he has been substituting beer for his usual fresh blood tipple and I have been getting middle-of -the-night celebratory phone calls. Maasai are famed for their ability to stay awake.

Half a century ago Evelyn Waugh* visited the Maasai and remarked on how they had managed to retain their strong culture and customs. With characteristic hauteur they disdained almost everything the West has brought to Africa. The exceptions, Waugh noted, were tobacco, snuff and South African sherry. Not a lot has changed in fifty years but I think we can add Premiership football and mobile phones.

* Published as 'A Tourist in Africa' and highly recommended.

My new nephew

Teddy Keir Salkeld into the world

Monday 11 May 2009

Expenses -- Who's the worst?

OK so we now know about our elected representatives. What about other professions?

Bankers, of course, are suitably secretive. It would be interesting to find out the things that Fred Goodwin didn't believe he should have to pay for out of his salary. The city crowd are but one example of those who feel they have scaled the heights - can we count MPs amongst these? - to Master of the Universe status. They believe, once there, they shouldn't have to pay the normal costs of life like the rest of us -- all those boring things like non-work travel, food, drink, parties, restaurants, laundry and clothing. Salaries are for banking, expenses for living. It is a strange irony that the more you get paid the less you have to pay for.

Journalists had a terrible reputation but I think the days of cleft sticks and collapsible canoes are over. Much like MPs they used to see it as an entirely honourable supplement to their "meagre" salaries. I had a mate who started on a Murdoch national in the 1980s and in his first month was taken aside by one of the editors and told his expense claims were far too low. His colleagues didn't want management thinking you could do the job on so little. I heard stories at the BBC about the glory days in the 60s and 70s and there were suspicions about some of the star foreign correspondents but I never saw it myself. The BBC chose instead to waste licence payers' money on management consultants and daft celebrity salaries.

There is one professional group, though, with an obsession for maximising expenses and fringe benefits that has shocked me. Not just shock with the egregious way they go about it but -- perhaps like MPs -- a further dose of horror because one had imagined said profession to be driven by vocation rather than pocket-lining. You may be surprised. I was. I talk of aid workers or development workers or whatever the current buzz name is. They are the sort of people you bump into in Africa, ususally in brand new 4x4s.

Now I realise Oxfam, UNICEF, DFID et al probably employ lots of wonderfully committed people putting up with great personal hardships to make the world a better place. I just don't seem to meet them. I meet a parasitic cadre -- usually self-styled consultants, economists or other "experts" -- living in some luxury (servants, long holidays, tax free salaries, colonial style accommodation ...) who write reports in air con offices*. Their "hardship" postings are in capital cities or at least large provincial towns, they socialise with other expats and most of the contact with the people they are "helping" comes from issuing orders to their African servants. With this bunch there is one subject you can always guarantee to launch an animated discourse... discussion of their allowances, expenses and perks. They will talk for hours about per diems, one-offs, hardship grants, education subsidies, air miles and club class travel. They will spend more time concocting elaborate expense maximisation wheezes than ever actually work. And boy do they go on about it. Ask about poverty and they will tell you off for talking shop.

Now when my coins clink into the collecting tin I also hear the business class champagne softly fizzing and the muffled click of laptop keys as another weary consultant labours over another expenses claim.

*Graham Hancock labelled them "Lords of Poverty" in his book of the same name. It is quite an old work now but if anything what it describes has got worse rather than better.

Sunday 10 May 2009

MPs' Greed

I had actually forgotten that Archbishop Carey was still alive -- well alive enough to write a sermon in this morning's News of the World. His outrage, along with everyone else's, is of course right but permit me not to be surprised at the revelations on MPs' perks. Three simple points are all I can add to the debate. They could have easily been noticed a month, a year, a decade ago, but they weren't.
1. When a system is open to abuse, people will abuse it. Really basic.
2. When a group of people, be they MPs, bankers, Hedge Fund managers, come to believe they are extra special, irreplaceable, in fantastically short supply or whatever, their greed will expand exponentially. This is the City bonus delusion. MPs have fallen guilty of just such hubris. I am so tired of listening to the bleating about politics not being able to attract the right sort of people unless it's very well paid. Bullshit. Do we want a bunch of ever more venal vermin running our politics? And look at the queues of people lining up to be selected in every constituency. Being a member of Parliament is a privilege in itself. Sure it's hard work but MPs aren't the only people who work hard.
3. Lastly there was a time when MPs would have compared themselves with the other public service professionals in their constituencies or even the average voter. Now many consort with the super-rich and over paid. The MPs feel poor and undervalued, hence the "making-up" on expenses. Unfortunately this is just one, small, example of the corrosive social and economic effects of the vast inequalities those self same MPs have been happy to promote.

Friday 8 May 2009

Good News

I am an uncle again. Tom and Nikiki took delivery of baby boy this morning, provisionally named Ted.

Thought for Yesterday, Today

Dear Mr Woolas,

What a great impromptu press conference with Ms Lumley. How clever of you to look at once a] starstruck b] liberal and reasonable c] hard on immigration and d] like a little boy who has just been told off for peeing his pants. I wonder how much your Department spends on PR and "getting its message across"?

Best wishes

A voter

Thursday 7 May 2009

The Wire and Shakespeare 2 - Themes

OK so we’ve talked about the Shakespearean range and depth of Wire characters now the tricky area of themes. I hesitate. There are terabytes of web content out there on this subject already. But then again that in itself is testament to there being something worth talking about – as of course in dear old Shakespeare.

I think the most obvious parallel on the themes front is the number of them. Unlike so much we see on screens big and small The Wire doesn't spout a single, simple message. Its themes are layered and interlocking. Just like life, you can find different meanings all over. Shakespeare did that too.

At its simplest The Wire is about a modern American city, Baltimore. Over the five seasons it slowly zooms-out, revealing the interlacing communities, institutions, generations and moralities that make up modern urban life. To me that evocation of a polis or a kingdom is very Shakespearean. It could be Caesar's Rome, Henry's England or even Prospero's (remembered)Milan. It is place as an overarching character and place as ideas. Like Shakespeare's kingdoms Wirean Baltimore has dynasties that stretch back to a remembered golden past. When we look at this kingdom at a tighter level we come to the institutions - be they the Baltimore PD, labour unions, schools or local politics. The Wire explores in great depth the love-hate, nurture-destroy, structure-chaos of our relationship with institutions. Unlike so much screen fiction, bred as it is from the romantic adventurer tradition, here institutions dominate individuals however strong those individuals are as characters. To me, all this echoes Shakespeare's explorations of kingship, dynasty and the institutions of power in his time.

I don't have space for all the other themes nor Shakespeare parallels for each. The point I think is there are overarching themes, season themes, story themes and character themes, not to mention some plainly random ones. This rich mix is Shakespearean. To finish just two themes I value both connected and both around the drugs trade. First, The Wire uniquely, in my experience anyway, shows the drugs business as just that, a business. "The Game" as it's shown pits Barksdale, Bell et al as ruthless entrepreneurs first and criminals second. Look at their decisions, right or wrong, all motivated by commercial considerations. The second theme is the even darker side of the first. It is the agonising irony that the black drug-businessman have become 21st century slave owners (most of the "slaves" being black too). The slaves? Those lines of hopeless, faceless addicts chained to their next fix. They really are owned by those that supply their addiction.

More soon