Thursday, 23 April 2015


Three disturbing things I've seen on television these past couple of nights. In a BBC 4 programme about a maximum security prison in Russia, a barbed-wire encampment holding multiple-killers, rapists, maniacs and terrorists, the voice-over said the place was seven hours' drive from the nearest town, in a forest "as big as Germany".

They put a camera in one of the guard towers for a crane shot of the the land beyond the prison and the houses for the guards and their families: nothing but trees in every direction. In winter the icy road through the trees looked like a track to one of Dante's circles of hell - perhaps Solzhenitsyn's First Circle. A mother visiting her multiple killer son made a 5,000-mile round trip for four hours sharing an internal phone with her boy. He was in a box with a perspex window.

Not having seen her son for five years - getting there and back was expensive, she said - and in the presence of foreigners with TV equipment, she asked if had seen the earthquake on television. "I don't watch television. There's too much filth," he said. There were too many paedophiles. If they would let him out to murder paedophiles he'd do that willingly, he added quietly. His mother didn't reply but cried silently.

Locked up in box in a forest as big as Germany...

The second thing that disturbed me was Ed Miliband on his own on a rostrum declaring: "I am ready for power." Eyes as big as oysters, marbles, tongue flicking across his lips. "I am ready for power." Dial M for Power. Adrian Mole as Ozymandius. Nothing to do with the media sending him up because I haven't followed the election campaign either in the papers or on the telly. My disquiet was caused solely by that image of Ed Miliband's slowly turning head, the unblinking stare out into the middle distance: My name is Ozymandius, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Okay Ed. Pandora's got the message. You're ready to take the Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award.

Tonight, watching a re-run of Peter Taylor's BBC2 documentary about the black-garbed desert beheaders of Islamic State, I saw bearded righteous brothers attacking images of Ozymandius with sledge hammers. Colossal wrecks, boundless and bare. In part it was a publicity stunt to show the infidels of the Western world how ruthless, how pitiless, warriors of Allah can be.

But when the cameras are switched off they trade these antiquities on the world market for dollars so they can acquire more serrated knives, cages and orange jump-suits for the Western hostages they either hold to ransom or, failing that, ritually decapitate to frighten the godless.

Smashing religious artefacts, destroying places of worship, burning and beheading the enemies of the state...Sounds familiar? I don't suppose the likes of Jihadi John picked that up from Tudor history when they were at university in England? 

IS came out of American detention camps in Iraq. As Sunnis they were treated like dogs by Iraq's Shia rulers, Taylor said. Now in power in areas of Iraq and Syria, they take their revenge, treating Shias like dogs. Forgiveness isn't part of the programme. We live in a political world, where mercy walks the plank. Or sets out to sea in a pea-green boat that sinks off the coast of Italy.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mili-Clint. The Shape of Things to Come.

There was I, getting on with my work, when a wall-screen on the far wall started showing pictures of Ed Miliband in full flow. Evidently the Labour leader was telling a gathering of the party faithful (the Shadow Cabinet were there) that he was "ready for power".

The last time he had the reins of power between his teeth, of course, he was Gordon Brown's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and signed us up to the EU's carbon capture programme. Brownie points if you believe in Apocalypse Now (in 2017). None if you don't.
I got on with my work. When next I looked up Hillary Clinton was beaming winningly at me. Evidently, the former First Lady of the United States intends to pitch for the Democratic ticket in the next Presidential election.

The last time I took any notice of her she was beaming winningly at David Miliband, who was Gordon Brown's Foreign Secretary. Hillary, on the footslopes of the Everest of ultimate power, was President Obama's Secretary of State, 2009-2013.

Head down again, I contemplated the future should these two events come to pass. On this side of the Atlantic, the Miliband dynasty, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Clinton dynasty.

The prospect of Miliband and Clinton in power at the same time will doubtless cause a flutter of excitement among those who view the alternative as likely to encourage the advance of what Heaven 17 call "that fascist groove thing".

Some of them may have second thoughts after a year of sanctimonious trend-setting - those who haven't taken advantage of the job opportunities, that is.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Fandab and Dozy

If the Scottish National Party and the Labour Party do consider a pact of convenience, as has been suggested - perhaps mischievously, perhaps not - their respective strategists should consider what their opponents might make of Nicola - are my heels high enough? - Sturgeon and Ed Miliband appearing on a platform together.

That's right: The Krankies.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Fox and the Duck, a Fable For Our Times?

While waiting outside the front door of 10 Downing Street today, waiting for the start of the General Election campaign, members of the Fourth Estate saw a fox cross the pavement outside the official residence of the Prime Minister and First Lord of the Admiralty.

Reportedly, Reynard was chasing a duck although on ITV News it appeared to be quite insouciant about the prospect of a duck dinner. They didn't say if the duck was lame. If it was should we assume that the fox caught it and that in the greater scheme of things this means something?

Are these signs and wonders pointing to a Labour, Liberal-Democrat, Green pact seven days after May? A tri-partite coalition, a triple-decker Whopper, if the lastest polls are correct in forecasting no overall control for either the Conservatives or Labour. Why those three parties? Because they are devoted to the European Union and all its works. Continued membership of the greater European empire along with the financial implications of EU climate change, are policies they can all agree on, would be happy to agree on.

In the words of William Blake's The Voice of the Ancient Bard:-

Folly is an endless maze,
Tangled roots perplex her ways,
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but care,
And wish to lead others when they should be led.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Jeremy Paxman: A Little Something For the Weekend?

The interrogation of David Cameron and Ed Miliband, by a typically peppery Jeremy Paxman on Channel 4 followed the interment of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral, a televisual curiosity presided over by an unusually sycophantic Jon Snow.

The purpose of the former programme was to see which of two main party leaders is the likely dead man walking between now and Thursday, May 7. A dramatization of the formation of the Coalition between Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats after the 2010 General Election which was due to be screened was postponed until Saturday night.

At that election I voted UKIP as it was then the only party opposed to Britain's membership of the greater empire of the European Union, an issue of politics rather than trade as even the most earnest Europhile would admit - were he or she willing to submit to a Jeremy Kyle-style lie detector test.

This time round I won't be Ukipping. I'll be voting for the party offering me the opportunity to take part in a referendum on future membership of the EU. As that's David Cameron's party you don't need to masticate three Weetabix to work out which lot that's going to be.

That's not the reason why I sat through most of the Cameron-Miliband show. For old time's sake I wanted to see whether Paxo still had what it takes since retiring from Newsnight (which has yet to find an adequate replacement. One difference between Paxo and his imitators is that he listens carefully and, when he does reply or interrupt, keeps his thrusts short and to the point - sometimes to the point of impertinence. No Brian Walden, he).

He gave both Cameron and Miliband a bit of a mauling on, respectively, food banks, zero hours contract working, debt, immigration and, in passing, the EU. The Prime Minister, perky as a pink pork sausage, the wings of his hair brushed back behind his ears, looked the least discomfited of the two. The Labour Leader, edgy Ed,told that he contrasted unfavourably with his brother David, did his best to laugh it off; but evidently felt he had something to prove by reminding his interrogator of how he had stood up to President Obama, "the leader of the Free World" by not agreeing to the bombing of Syria last year.

The two of them were interviewed separately. Each of them had a separate 18-minute Q&A with the studio audience. Strangely though, or perhaps appropriately, both of them adopted the same style: walking about the stage, addressing interlocutors by their first name, doing their best to be personable, approachable, friendly even. I'd have preferred them to be authoritative, sympathetic but decisive. I don't want a pal in Number 10 but somebody who knows what he is doing and why. A prime minister cannot be all things to all people. More to the point, nor should he try to be. Most people I think can forgive errors of judgement when they are openly and honestly admitted.

Miliband was a bit better at this than Cameron, I thought. He gave a slightly more plausible impression of being sincere, He acknowledged some of the mistakes of principally the three Blair administrations - the war on Iraq, the deregulation of the banks, uncontrolled migration - and added one or two others: the growing inequality gap, for example. About membership of the EU he said he thought the chance of a Labour Government offering a referendum most unlikely, he couldn't see it happening unless there was another significant transfer of powers from Westminster. And he defended Britain's membership by waffling airily about jobs and trade.

I didn't expect anyone to challenge these assertions and they didn't. The great interrogator might have interjected, 'hang on a minute Mr Miliband, isn't Britain down by more than £7 billion in its balance of payments with the other 27 EU members?' The closest he came to that was when he chided him for facing two ways on energy providers, supporting higher bills when he was Climate Change Secretary in Gordon Brown's Government and opposing them recently as Leader of the Opposition. Miliband said that didn't mean power companies had the right to rip off the public.    

During the Richard III service a bit of eye-rolling from the pews caught my eye during the address by the Bishop of Leicester, I think it was, to the effect that the dead king was bringing together a diverse range of people. It made me squirm, as did the presence of the Royal Navy and celebrities such as John Sergeant and some of the 'look at me' hats of the women. Only the singing struck an inner chord as did part of Carol Ann Duffy's unusual sonnet (two quintets followed by a quatrain, enjambment and internal rhyming), especially the last bit in which Richard addresses posterity.

Who will the nation bury on May 7? Another Richard, Richard North, has already posted his opinion: Miliband and Clegg. If he's wrong and Cameron fails, the Conservative Party will bury him alive in the equivalent of Bosworth field. Unless of course he falls on his own sword first.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Jeremy Clarkson: Who's Gonna Drive You Home?

So, au revoir Jeremy Clarkson,
not farewell because you have not died -
except in the BBC's estimation.
You crossed the line, they said,
without taking the chequered flag.
Top Gear won't be the same.
Sunday nights won't be the same.
The Cheddar Valley Gazette
won't be the same after splashing
your departure on its front page.
Purveyors of caravans
and supporters of bus lanes
will be celebrating the loss
of your BBC parking spot.
Ditto Argentina.
Perhaps Stephen Fry will replace you.
He once drove a London cab
across the United States.
Why was never clear to me.
Boris Johnson could take over
when he fails to dislodge
head boy Cameron.
Or former Rock singer
Professor Brian Cox.
Either of them
would drive anyone
round the bend,
with or without
a crimson Ferrari.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Sagittarians Rejoice...Revisited

David Archer has heard the voice of his dead father Phil and is now resolved not to sell Brookfield Farm for more than £7 million to a developer. Archers fans, even the fed up ones, rejoice.

The breakfast tables of Britain must have been awash with dropped tears of joy and relief today. We were doing the breakfast and caught the last 20 minutes of the omnibus edition and heard David evidently delivering a calf and ruminating aloud to himself that this was the last one that would ever be born at Brookfield to the Archer family.

The voice of his father came back to him, Phil Archer saying how much he regretted some of the decisions he had made. He was committing the future of Brookfield to the care of David and his wife Ruth. That's when David, quite understandably, broke up. It was a great moment.

More was to follow when he rushed off to tell his mum, Jill, the mother of the nation. The thought of her leaving Ambridge and Brookfield has been too much to contemplate these last few months. Wily old Jill, whose life has always been outward - unlike self-pitying Peggy - understood perfectly the sub-text of her troubled son's distress. Deep down she always he knew he wouldn't, couldn't, tear himself away from his beloved farm.

The likely ructions when his family relations find out that he's changed his mind can only be imagined. Most of them are looking forward to profitably cashing in their shares in Brookfield and setting themselves up for life. Ruth Archer's strategy has been to get David to move to the North East so that she can be nearer her ailing mother Heather. That little problem is easily resolved, of course: the producers can kill off Heather, perhaps Ruth and Peggy Archer while they're at it.

In a disastrously changing world, David Archer's 11th hour change of heart may be of no significance; nevertheless it's good to hear somebody stand up for traditions rooted in the emotions of the heart. David Archer's a man of cattle not the quick buck.

Since posting this, the River Am has burst its banks, spilling into Ambridge and isolating groups of villagers. David Archer, delivered of conniving Ruth who is visiting her mother, finds himself stranded while his daughter Pip is cut off at Brookfield. As though that wasn't enough, the poor chap has had to bed down near or next to Linda Snell, repining her lost furniture abandoned to the waters of the Am. Today's entire omnibus edition, 75 minutes, was given over to the flood and its consequences. Brilliantly done, I thought. Radio at its best. Hooray!