Tag Archives: idiocy

On Catching Up

I don’t tend to follow the news much on holiday. Anyway, while I was away and since I got back to the UK, various things have happened.
To take a few. The Bank of England has cut base rates from almost nothing to a bit
less. This means our pensions, which were unaffordable, are now
slightly more unaffordable.
The Government has this summer decided, as a consequence of a vote the
result of which the majority of the country now regrets, that any
attempt to bring the country’s finances into balance is no longer
worth attempting. See the above, re pensions.
A hospital in Grantham is no longer offering a 24 hour A&E service. Not, not enough money, but not enough doctors, however much we are prepared to pay them.
Spending on the NHS is rising by 1 per cent a year. The amount that
needs to be spent, because of our ageing population and our refusal to
stop eating ourselves to death, is rising by 3 per cent plus. This is
going to end how?
A review of the banking system which has run for several years has
come to the conclusion that there is nothing much wrong with the banking
system. The man responsible was on R4 Today defending this conclusion.
Not terribly well.
Nothing that has happened over the past decade would lead one to the
conclusion that there is anything wrong with the banking system,
would it?
The Government has decided to delay the decision to build new
electricity capacity that will be desperately needed in half a decade because it
is always easier to delay a decision than to take one. As it happens,
I think that new Hinkley Point plant is the wrong solution to that
problem. But to solve it, we have to decide to do something. Not
This means the lights will start to go out about when the country runs
out of money and the pensions of people now nearing retirement prove to be inadequate. That will make for an interesting couple of months, won’t it?
Oh, and staff on Eurostar are going on strike over the Bank Holiday, thereby
screwing up any number of people’s summer holidays. Their reason? With no sense of discernible irony, they are unhappy about their work/life balance.
Welcome home.


Abroad Thoughts From Home

Whenever I visit another capital city, be it Paris, Rome, wherever,
there is always a few hours when I get the feeling that something is
different. Something is strange.
Then you realise what it is. It is a normal working day, people are
going about their business. And there are not four or five people
within 18 inches of your face.
It is not normal, you know, this insane overcrowding we put up with in
London. Every single square foot of land built on, and costing an
obscene amount to buy or rent.
Every single piece of public transport full to capacity, and then
some. People queuing to queue to get on. Whole stations shut down
because the crowds are a threat to your safety.
Almost everyone goes around plugged into some device or other, to wall
off the sheer awfulness of what is going on around them.
No one else lives like this, in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin or Rome, from
where we have just returned. You see very few people plugged into
their private space, because their surroundings are quite bearable.
This is the second thing you notice.
This is not normal, the way we live, but we have lived this way for so
long that we no longer realise this. Distance brings perspective.

On The Ten Worst Songs Ever Written

I have been considering what are the ten worst songs ever written. The rock equivalent of Vogon poetry. Not the truly awful songs, those written to be a one-hit wonder to amuse witless, drunk, stoned, E’d up teenagers in Magaluf, or wherever. The Birdy Song, Agadoo, Agadoo. (Is that right? You shudder still, and I can’t quite face looking it up on Wikipedia.)

Or Octopussy’s Garden, just a way of getting the drummer some composing rights. No, those songs that purport to be better, by writers who should know better, but are actually awful. Are absolute rancid dingo’s kidneys.

Probably missed out on the odd one. Or 1,760. I Will Survive? Yes, you danced around your handbag to it. But was it really empowering, as you remembered how you told your last lover to get lost? Or was it vice versa?

So the pride of place goes to the entirely blameless Peter Starstedt…

  1. Peter Starstedt: Where Do Go To (My Lovely?) Probably a nice guy. That combination of faux sophistication and dimwit reportage… “I remember the backstreets of Naples/Two children covered in rags…” Plus, extra points for that bit that goes, “Just for a laugh, Ha Ha Ha.”
  2. Charlene, I’ve Never Been To Me. “I’ve been undressed by kings, I’ve seen things that a woman is never meant to see.” The inside of a male toilet? More faux sophistication. (Dishonourable mention to Helen Reddy, I Am Woman, here.)
  3. Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody. Actually, anything by Queen, save perhaps Killer Queen, which has a nice riff. Mercury was by all accounts a good guy, too, and generous with his money. No one who takes music seriously likes Queen, though.
  4. Bonnie Tyler.Total Eclipse Of The Heart. Does anyone have any idea what this woman is shrieking on about? (Dishonourable mention, that one about the woman who has just had sex for the first time. “All together in the afterglow…” “If only my first love could be my last.” Memory, thank Great Cthulhu, fails me on this one. Most people’s first experience of sex is really not worth thinking about, or writing a song about.Was that also Bonnie Tyler?) PS: Er no, Kiki Dee. Amoreuse? I literally cannot be bothered to check the spelling.
  5. The Rolling Stones. We Love You. Enough said. I used to be criticised in the 60s for preferring the Stones to the Beatles. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong. The most cynical track by a band that three decades later set new standards for money-grubbing cynicism.
  6. Starship. We Built This City. From the utopian free love, free dope, free music of Paul Kantner’s (RIP) Jefferson Airplane to stadium MOR sludge. A song often cited as one of the most irritating of all time. (Dishonourable mention, Marty Balin’s Caroline, from Jefferson Starship. “I had a taste of the real world/When I went down on you, girl.” Oh, fuck off. PS, actually this was Miracles, I am now reminded. Caroline is a marginally better song. Just about.)
  7. David Crosby. Almost Cut My Hair. Almost made a point about freedom, personal responsibility, etc. Instead, wrote rotten song. (Dishonourable mention Mind Gardens, from The Byrds, Younger Than Yesterday. A truly horrible noise, David. How did you go to this to, If I Could Only Remember My Name?
  8. Peter Tosh. Legalise It. “Legalise it. Don’t Criticise It…” Do you have anything else to say? Anything coherent?
  9. Bob Marley. Three Little Birds. Always hated this.Don’t know why. Stupid, stupid melody, damn fool lyrics. No one who was not of Marley’s stature – Exodus, No Woman, No Cry – could have got away with this.
  10. Bruce Springsteen. Downtown Train. “Now I work down at the car wash/Where all it ever does is rain…” Er, Bruce that is because you are standing under the car wash. Great songwriter, but even Homer nods.
  11. Have I missed anyone out?

On Italy, And Hunky Priests

We have just returned from Rome, of which more anon. (I have found a cure for my obsessive fear of flying, which is to write throughout the process. Will get around to posting my latest short story in due course.]

I am reminded, though. of one oddity of this Catholic nation. In bookshops and on street booths you can buy calendars. Cats of Rome, with little kitties pictured on the Forum. Views of the sights of this great city. Or of hunky priests.

I recall these now, from earlier visits. Each month there is a new one in the calendar. February’s is Federico, say, who smoulders out of the picture, all dark good looks and four o’clock shadow. And his grey robes and dog collar.

Then March, and Umberto, ditto, smouldering good looks and four o’clock shadow. And dog collar. Priestly pin-up of the month. There is just one problem with this picture, is there not? He’s a priest. He’s not actually on the market, shall we say? By definition.

Still, women, I assume, must buy these and enjoy looking. Good for them. Actually, priestly abstinence is a relatively late development in Catholicism, and of little scriptural relevance.

Odd thing, religion. No offence intended.


On Labour, And History

In the first ballot for the 1976 Labour leadership contest, I am reminded, the candidates were Jim Callaghan, Tony Benn, Anthony Crosland, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and Michael Foot. Say what you like about these. Crosland helped destroy the education system. Foot – well, they subsequently had to wait three decades to find a leader who was worse.

This time round we get Jeremy Corbyn. Angela Eagle, a politician so charismatic that when she held her press conference to launch her leadership bid the entire press corps left half-way to report on the doings of someone they had never heard of a fortnight ago. You can see it here:


Oh, and Owen Something, a person whose sole qualification for the job is that he is Welsh.

It is like the aftermath of some terrible First World War battle, is it not, when all the officers are killed and the regiment is led by dim second lieutenants fresh out of Sandhurst? Excepting of course Theresa May, whose spell as Home Secretary suggests an inability to crack down on the real Bad Guys and a willingness to infringe on civil liberties in a botched attempt to do so. IMHO. Time will tell.

On Southern Trains, And Brexit

Odd how unconnected ideas sometimes come together. We were travelling on Southern rail over the weekend. This is officially the worst rail franchise in the country, the operator having been given permission to scrap hundreds of services a day because there are not enough staff to man them – or because the staff are constantly pulling sickies as a form of industrial action. Depending on who you believe.

There is a long-running dispute with the union over removing the guards from the trains. You can wave to the new rolling stock all ready and standing at Three Bridges as you go past, assuming you can get onto the train in the first place.

Our train out was, needless to say, cancelled. We were told to change at Brighton – except that we were not allowed to use the next train there. Against the rules. Wait for the next one. More delay. It is fair to describe the attitude of Southern staff as unhelpful. This has been a long running scandal, with passengers stranded for hours day after day.

Go to the information desk to ask what you do now, and there are two policeman standing there ostentatiously. They are there to prevent trouble – there have been ugly scenes, demos, one man was recently escorted from Victoria Station, itself a warren of temporary barriers put up to combat the persistent overcrowding.

People are understandably angry. Lives are disrupted, for months on end now. The fares are enormous, and the recent change to the timetable is designed to prevent them from claiming refunds. We have the forces of law and order standing by to prevent protests getting out of hand, because those customers have no levers they can pull, no power to compel those who run the service to do so properly.

It is that sense of powerlessness, the sense that there is nothing people can do to change a system which is weighted in favour of those who sit in offices somewhere out of their reach and control their lives, which led to the recent regrettable referendum vote. People who feel they have no power will do anything.

Abusing disgruntled Southern staff is not the solution, but it is all they can do. Most of us have felt like that at some time or another. Equally pointless is a vote to leave an economic union they may barely understand, whose consequences are unknowable and probably self-destructive.

On Tax, And Thucydides

As the story about mass tax evasion via Panama was running, I was reading a review of the book by Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister, the other day. Not terribly good, by all accounts, but the title struck a chord.

Varoufakis uses the second half of a quote from Thucydides. The full phrase is, The Strong Do What They Will And The Weak Suffer What They Must.

Thucydides was talking about a war two and a half millennia ago. Today the strong pay what tax they will, and the weak what they must. The weak, that’s us.

None of us with any experience of finance will have been remotely surprised about Panama. We know that there is a booming industry in London and elsewhere, but much of it in London, that allows the rich to pay as little as possible in tax.

“What do you do for a living?” “I help rich people get off paying tax.”

On Shane Warne, And Evolution

I am enjoying the ridicule Shane Warne has attracted with his comments on evolution. The former Australian cricket international claims to think we were helped to develop into intelligent creatures by aliens, and not as a result of evolution.

His argument is that we evolved and the monkeys we evolved from didn’t. If it had been evolution, both would have developed intelligence. No idea how seriously he takes all this.

Set aside the fact that we did not evolve from monkeys, but both of us evolved from a common ancestor. The idiotic idea that because not all animals evolved, none can have done so is easy enough to refute.

People do have difficulty with evolution, don’t they? Do we still retain the Victorian belief that it is somehow demeaning to have evolved from more primitive beings?

Or do people just not understand science? How many times have you heard someone, often quite intelligent, say, well Einstein’s/Darwin’s/whoever’s theory is just a theory, isn’t it? It’s not like it’s been proved yet.

This is the result of linguistic confusion. Scientists use the word theory for any construction of ideas that explains all the facts. No one sensible doubts Darwin or Einstein.

In common parlance, though, “theory” is often used disparagingly, as in “crackpot theory”.

Anyway, Warne is to evolutionary theory what Richard Dawkins is to spin bowling. Though Dawkins is, I read, quite knowledgeable on cricket.

PS: Warne’s comments are the daftest I have heard since someone opined on Twitter the other day, in all apparent seriousness, that the recent floods in the UK were not down to excess rainfall but all those immigrants, whose additional weight was causing the UK to sink.

On Google, Tax, And Ageing Relatives

Someone I know who is self-employed has just asked, via Twitter, why she has to pay tax at a rate of 20% and Google, which is significantly richer, has to pay at 3%. Let me explain.

It is because it is easier for HMRC to extract tax at 20% from a private individual or small company than it is to extract it, at any rate at all, from a global corporation. Such corporates pay tax on a largely voluntary basis, at a rate they calculate is the barest minimum level to prevent consumers from becoming so disgusted that they boycott their services. Or burn down their head office.

Let me explain further by example, though for reasons of privacy I will hedge around some of the details. Several years ago I took over the financial affairs of an Ageing Relative. Said AE had become incapable of looking after these for themselves, and those finances were in a mess.

To do this requires obtaining something called a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). This takes some months, because there are certain understandable safeguards put in place by the law to stop the young raiding their Ageing Relatives’ bank accounts. The process was made more difficult by the incompetence of the solicitor involved.

One of the AR’s problems was the lack of a tax form for some years, partly because of carelessness and partly, more recently, because of lack of the necessary ability. As a result, HMRC wanted a form filled in by the deadline that year, even though AR’s financial incomings and outgoings were awfully simple and easy to track, consisting of two private pensions and one state one.

I could not fill in that tax form until I got that LPA. Also, I needed some information about those pension payments for the relevant year from HMRC. There was a delay on the LPA. HMRC was unhelpful, to say the least, in providing that information.

As a result, I missed the tax deadline by some months. Once the form was in, HMRC issued a notice fining me £800, to come out of AR’s assets.

I rang and explained the reason for the delay. It was physically impossible for AR to fill in the form, and once this became obvious, it took me some time to put myself in a position to do so for him. In part because of delays by HMRC.

The tax man I spoke to said, quite fairly, that I had a good point and should appeal. Now, guess to which body appeals against the actions of HMRC go? Indeed, to HMRC, which in its wisdom decided its earlier decision was the correct one. Odd, that. The fine was paid.

It is easier for the tax authorities to extract money from someone who was, during part of this process, literally on their death bed than to extract it from the likes of Google, Amazon, etc, etc. This is why we pay and they don’t.

On Mindfulness, And Peak Guardian

A couple of years ago I tried out the currently modish meditation technique called mindfulness.

This involves training yourself to become aware of your body and your feelings, setting aside ten minutes or so a day to focus on sensations, noises and what you are experiencing. Its proponents say it can be used as a form of therapy to fight mental illness, or as a simple process to improve mental well-being.

It has been adopted and endorsed by a range of celebrities. I found it did not seem to make much difference to me, nor did I see much effect, good or bad, when I dropped the practice after a few months. I suspect the perceived benefits may in many cases be down to the placebo effect. Those benefits are, in any case, hard to measure objectively.

Now an attack on mindfulness has appeared in The Guardian, for some reason. The piece claims mindfulness can cause panic attacks or a full-fledged psychological breakdown, and interviews people, unidentified, who have experienced this.

This seems, from my experience, implausible. One of the benefits, I suspect, is bringing the practitioner to a fuller awareness of his or her surroundings. We live much of our lives on automatic pilot. We all know the sensation of engaging in a pleasurable action without really being aware of it, of getting half-way through a meal or a casual drink and then realising we haven’t really tasted anything because we are not aware of what we are doing.

Any process that allows us to better experience such sensations, rather than wasting them, must be a good thing.

I am no psychologist, but I suspect The Guardian has merely turned up a few people with existing psychological conditions that worsened and attached the blame to their undergoing mindfulness – the practice is often diagnosed in such cases. It’s our old friend causation again – event B follows event A but is not necessarily caused by it.

The Guardian piece comes with a political spin attached. We are told the main business promoting mindfulness is worth £25 million. No indication how this sum is reached, but the implication  will be picked up by the paper’s readers. A business, therefore obviously bad in itself.

We are told, again without substantiation, that employers are forcing their staff into mindfulness sessions as an alternative to doing something about excessive workload, poor morale or bad management. It is being considered as “a route to heightened productivity.” Again the spin is obvious.

Oh, and the NHS is promoting the practice because it’s cheaper than other psychological therapies. It’s “the cuts”, you know.

It is, and you can believe me on this, impossible to “force” someone to practice mindfulness. All very Peak Guardian, then. Set it up to knock it down, with a political, anti-business spin. Mindfulness has previously been attacked by practitioners of organised religion as a fake one, a cult. It is not that, either, and comes with no spiritual baggage.

Hmm. With enemies like that, I am rather coming around to the idea again.