Thursday, 22 June 2017

United Kingdom?


I’ve just been listening to a radio programme about a 15 year old girl from Northern Ireland who needed an abortion but had to travel to England to obtain it, at a cost of several thousand pounds, because it’s still illegal there.  She challenged this through the law, with financial help from family and friends, and last week the Supreme Court of the UNITED Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ruled against her on the basis that residual regional powers outweigh national ones.  I can’t, obviously, challenge their lordships’ interpretation if the law, but I can and do question whether there is really one such thing as ‘the law’ in this so-called country – or indeed whether it can really be called a country any more.

Devolution – the biggest constitutional mistake since 1715 – has had the opposite of the intended effect.  The idea was that different parts of the land had different needs, which they should be allowed, within appropriate constraints, to express and control through their own legislative and judicial bodies.  Fair enough.  Where it went wrong was to do it the wrong way round.  They should have started with the body of law that applied to everyone and then asked the regions to justify their exceptions.  Instead they assumed the exceptions stood and ducked the inevitable outcomes when a Westminster law came to a head-on collision with a Stormont, Cardiff or Edinburgh one.

As it stands, we are neither one country nor are we several.  And it’s not gonna get any simpler…

 

 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Shoddy


There’s a good word, which shouldn’t be needed nowadays but obviously is.  Chambers says ‘origin unknown’, applying to both senses of the word, but I leave aside the wool-weaving one and would like to focus on the meaning we all know, which Chambers, as always, succinctly sums up: ‘badly made or executed.’  (There are several more adjectives in there, which I won’t… oh all right, I will: ‘inferior, pretentious, cheap, nasty, sham, badly made…’ you get the drift…)

I’d intended to rant about the obvious shoddiness we seem to be getting engulfed in, but I see that I don’t need to.  So I will anyway:

I am to be prosecuted for doing 68 mph on a traffic-free dual carriageway where the limit would normally be 70, but has arbitrarily been set to 60.  I’ll be fined £120 and my insurance premium will go up by another £100 or so next year.  The total cost of this, not including human effort and stress, will far exceed any benefit to any person or organisation.  The thinking (if any) that resulted in this outcome can only be described as shoddy.

The people (I assume humans still exist there) behind Facbok, a computer program I sometimes make use of, see it as their role to keep the universe on its toes and themselves at its centre.  They do this by changing their program whenever they suspect another human might have started to grasp it.  Unfortunately, they do this really badly.  Double shoddy.

… and thirdly – oh, I can’t be bothered to do thirdly.  It’s politics. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Transport of Delight?


TfL does not, as you might guess, stand for ‘transport fucking lunacy’.  That’s putting it too strongly; but only just.  I will tell the story.

To travel from Romford to Charing Cross, you need to get a train to Stratford and then change to the tube.  So we bought train tickets for that first leg, assuming we’d then clock in to the tube for the rest of the journey. 

Not so.  Without walking for half a mile, exiting the station and then re-entering it and walking the half mile back, there seemed to be no means of paying for the second leg of our journey.  We asked a nice staff man who didn’t see the problem, and indeed there turned out not to be, as we were just waved through by the weary attendant at Charing X on the flash of a bit of roughly right-coloured cardboard.  Lucky.

Z rightly insisted on a more informed approach to the return trip, so we clocked in at Charing X, exited and re-entered at Stratford, and caught a slow train back to Romford.  (Finding that one was a whole different, which I’m too tired to relate in detail.)

The moral, if any, of this story (apart from don’t go to London from Romford without serious forethought) is as follows:

If you are going to bring a lot of different things together under one name, make damned sure the bits add up to the whole, rather than the whole consisting of the bits.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Caravan Has Legs


Caravan diaries 17.2

Now that Z has her new hip and can do level walking at least as well as I can, I decided a couple of outings were in order.  The first was Lydstep Head, which is a fairly gentle circular mile with great views south and east across to Caldey Island, west towards Manorbier and the wilder coast beyond and, in the last stretch, downwards to what’s now called Lydstep Haven. 

Once upon a time one went (or was taken, to be exact) to this uninspiring shingle beach for a sole purpose – to walk, at the lowest tide, round to the spectacular caves that must, now I think of it, be more or less underneath where we were walking.  Now it’s been turned into a very expensive caravan site, the entrance to which has been made to look like private property (which it isn’t of course, there are no private beaches in this country).  I’ve never driven down to it, but from above it looks horrible.  The walk is lovely, though, and the flowering gorse smelt as coconutty as always.

The other big walk was to Bosherstone.  This is an entirely man-made stretch of lakes created by an obviously mad 18th century aristocrat to grow waterlilies in, and now owned and curated by the National Trust.  (I know they have their faults, but imagine the country without them!) 

The car park at Bosherstone village being full, we drove round to Broadhaven beach and did the walk from there.  This was not so good, as it involved a long stretch over the beach; walking on soft sand, especially up a hill of it, is tough on the legs, heart and lungs.  But we made it back to the car, the village and the Govan Arms for lunch.  I was pleased to see that the scenic cameos my friend Graham Hurd-Wood had painted in his youth were still hanging on the wall.

On our last day, we’d intended to leave first thing, but the weather was so great that we delayed and instead went to Colbey Woodland Garden, another local NT property.  The garden is fine – what it says on the label, more or less – but they do need to have a look at their signage: I won’t bore you with details, let’s just say that if you have a ‘red’ walk on the map, a few red signposts along the way might help…

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Last Midsummer Banquet - The Chairman


Int, artificial light

A  Government office. 

Six officials – five male, one female – sit round a table, debating tactics.  Two of them never speak, just nod, smile and take notes.  The Chairman is clearly in control, and is clearly insane.

Chairman:

(calming hand motions):  Please, please ... please.  We are more than prepared to listen to everything anyone might conceivably have to contribute.  (smiles round the table)  What we are not prepared to do is admit that I’m wrong.  Is that clear?

Official #2:

Um –

Chairman:

What have we achieved?  We outlawed, let’s see, illegitimacy, unemployment, most diseases – in short, anything that costs us money – but our greatest achievement has been uncertainty.  Uncertainty.  Our greatest achievement has been that now, nobody can be sure what is or is not permitted!  We must find ways of sustaining this.

Official #2:

Sustaining uncertainty?  That’s a bit of a difficult concept to sustain, I mean I’m not quite certain about that but, um 

Chairman:

We must sustain uncertainty.  It sustains stability!  If they have an absolute, like these Banquets, if they have this, this Walpurgis night on which anything seems to be permitted, then they focus on the opposite, the other three hundred and whatever days on which nothing seems to be – they focus on the notion of prohibition – and that’s the last thing we want, is it not? (he looks enquiringly round the table)

Official #1:

Your point is well made Chairman.  Just on a niggle of detail, Walpurgis night is actually the thirtieth of April, not Midsummer’s –

Chairman:

So we’re agreed I think.  (Silence)  That is to say, nobody disagrees with ... us?  (More silence) 

Official #1:

Agreed.  Nobody quite disagrees?  But – more like … not quite entirely agree?  Entirely? 

Official #2:

Entirely!  I mean exactly.  I mean precisely!  (glances at Official #4) I mean, Norman, you’re the expert in all this sort of stuff –

Chairman:

Gentlemen, gentlemen – and madam of course – we do need a consensus here.  I’ve stated very precisely what that is, and I expect you to agree with me.  That’s my final word I’m afraid.

Official #1:

Did you say ‘afraid’?

Official #3:

Just run it up once more, for a little lady please?

Official #2:

Oh come now Sykya, no need to patronise –

Official #1:

All the same I think I’m behind Sykya here.  My issue is one of presentation.  We need a short sharp bang bang bang one two three bullet approach here –

Official #3:

Has it come to actual bullets then?

Chairman:

(He bangs the desk - it sounds like a gunshot):  Very well.  Bullet one (bang).  Music as a panacea has failed.  Diluted to a cheap substitute for the real economy.  Bullet two (bang).  We are out of money.  We cannot afford any more of these Banquets.  Bullet three (bang).  Research shows that the Banquets, in their support of the idea of ‘free’ music as a calming influence, have actually had the opposite effect, have actually induced what I might call terrorist activities –

Official #2:

Hardly terrorism though, is it?  A few bricks, scrawls on walls … even playing guitars isn’t quite –

Official #1:

So we need to kill free music.

Official #3:

Which means killing the Banquets.

Chairman:

(bang)  Bullet four. 

Official #2:

Wasn’t it ‘bang bang bang’, that’s three, not –

Chairman:

The solution. (smirks)  Loyalty oaths.

Perplexed glances whizz in both directions round the meeting.

Official #3:

Hang on.  This is new.  You have never mentioned loyalty oaths –

Chairman:

No, of course, I do apologise, this is freshly minted new-laid slashing edge thinking.  Let me explain.  Before being allowed to leave the Banquet Hall, each participant will be required to sign a document renouncing their rights to any future events of this nature, or, or they get – (makes circular shrugging hand gestures)

Official #3:

They get?

Chairman:

Well …  Arrested?  Amputated?  I don’t know, I’m policy, it’s up to you people to put the flesh on it –

Official#1:

Flesh?  Hmm ...

Official #3:

Killed?

Chairman:

(a final gunshot table fist bang):  I want them.  They’re an irritant.  Grit under the foreskin.  I want them.  (stares at Official #4)  Norman.  Implement.  Kill music. 

Norman’s face springs into a rigid, fixed grin, transfixed with terror.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Last Misummer Banquet (introduction)


Text on blank screen:

 

Once upon a time in the future, in a part of what was once Britain ...

 

Commentator:

(voice over, concurrent with the text, which fades with the sound): Once upon a time in the future, in a small part of what was once Britain …

As the text on the screen fades away, whispering half-audible voices mutter conspiracies:

Conspirator #1:

... the most subversive power in the land ...

Conspirator #2:

... subversive, must be ...

Conspirator #1:

... banned ...

Conspirator #2:

... must be banned, yes, the most subversive power, yes ...

Conspirators:

... must be    Music!

Text on screen flashes and slowly fades

 

MUSIC!

Ext, day

A huge pile of guitars, keyboards, drums, every conceivable sort of musical instrument, stacked up on a patch of waste land.

Close up of a Machine pointing a gun-like appendage at the instruments, which burst into flames.  We see this bonfire from several viewpoints.

Fade to blank screen

commentator:

(voice over): So, music was banned. 

Obviously, you can’t do that.  It’s like banning hearing and breathing.

So after a while, they back off a bit.  OK, some music can be allowed.   Conforming to defined guidelines, mechanically constructed in officially approved music factories, by suitably trained mechanically qualified ‘resources’  – well OK, that can be allowed. 

But don’t try it on your own, don’t try it at home.  Unauthorised music, human music, that stuff’s well and truly banned!   

Well, after another while – a very little while – they saw that people might not like this either, might get a bit, let’s say, fractious.  So, it was decreed that each year, on Midsummer Night, there will happen A Great Banquet!

Text on screen flashes and slowly fades

 

A Great Banquet!!!

 

Fade up shadowy images of huddled conspirators.  Voices over:

Conspirator  #1:

… a Great Banquet, in a Great Banquet Hall –

Conspirator #2:

… everyone invited, things might even be permitted  

Conspirator #1:

… even their own music 

Text on blank screen

 

THEIR OWN MUSIC?

 

Commentator:

 Their own music?  Allow them their own music?  Human music?  For a few hours a year?  Bad idea!

Ext, day.  twilight

The bonfire of the musical instruments.  Shadowy figures dart in and snatch more or less unscathed guitars, drums, saxophones, gongs, dulcimers being salvaged and snuck away to secret hiding places.

Fade to blank screen

Ext, night and day: split screen

Dissolving close-ups of people learning to play their stolen musical instruments; raiding parties stealing stuff from shops, fuel depots, etc; people cultivating, harvesting, cooking, eating their own food ...

Text on blank screen

 

Some years later

 

Commentator:

Very bad idea!

 

*


Text on blank screen

 

June twenty-fourth, this year

Crash on soundtrack.

Commentator:

So, is this going to be the Last Midsummer Banquet?

 

Title on logo screen:

 
The Last Midsummer Banquet

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Caravan diaries (cont'd)


We had to collect some chickens from Herefordshire and bring them back to Norfolk, so the obvious thing to do was go to Reading, go to Pembrokeshire, open up the caravan, stay there for a few days, go to Herefordshire, pick up the chickens, go to Reading, and come back to Norfolk.  And so it came to pass.  About thirteen hours driving in all, but I don’t mind that.

Opening up the caravan is usually straightforward – you put the drain taps and the shower mixer back in, sweep up the dead flies, clean the green gunge off the outside walls and cut the grass.  This time, normality had gone slightly adrift.  The grass hardly needed cutting (Joseph has a new mower, which goes almost all the way up the slope in front of the van, which used to be entirely my responsibility). Far less green gunge than usual (the overhanging sycamores have been fairly ruthlessly pruned, although not enough for my liking – they’re still above ground level, vile weeds).  No dead flies at all (once some years ago I could hardly see the carpet for them, which was when I started spraying with Raid or Flit on departure, which helped but a few would still get through). 

The plumbing, though, proved unusually problematic.  Joseph had told me, ages ago, that the thing to do in the autumn was unscrew the four drain taps and just remove them.  Of course, he now denies this, and tells me I should have been following a whole different procedure, the detail of which is too boring to relate… anyway, I had several leaks, the last at about 3 a.m.  But once he’d fixed the underlying cause – a crossed thread – all was well and dry, and the problem will never happen again.

After that, it was just as it’s meant to be.  We walked through the tunnels to Saundersfoot (I wanted to make ghosty noises in the long one, like when I was eight, but didn’t want to scare Z), had a nice fish lunch at the Mermaid (now rebranded the Beach View, which is more accurate but less romantic, but otherwise unchanged in twenty years), walked around Tenby, watched the pale everchanging colours of the flat calm sea, failed to connect to the internet… everything as it should be.  No rabbits so far.

The chickens are gorgeous.  Z will no doubt tell you all about them.