Getting Socialism’s house in order

So it looks like Mette Frederiksen is the new Danish Social Democrat leader now that Mrs Kinnok has been dethroned. I had hoped for her last time the Soc Dems chose a leader but she was pipped at the post by Mrs K, of whom I’d never heard at the time. She’s got a hard job ahead.

Now it’s time for our own Labour Party to get their act together and find a leader with stature, who is strong enough not to let Cameron’s bully boys get to him or her. Unfortunately, the other day, on the Labour Party website, I read what the individual canditates have to say about themseves and what their main stances are and a bigger bunch of political lightweights and wets I have never seen. If I had to choose, Corbyn, the unreconstructed trade unionist, is the only one with any backbone and Yvette Cooper the only woman among the contenders sly enough and with enough political nouse to take on Cameron.

What is clear though is that both the Danish Social Democrats and our own Labour Party will have to get their own houses in order before they can even think of putting up a cohesive opposition.

They shuold get a move on.

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Le Weekend – The French occupy Sandwich (again)

Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once…. it was Le Weekend in Sandwich today …well, it will be tomorrow too otherwise this would just have been Le Samedi. This is the one weekend when the dastardly French get their revenge for Crecy and Agincourt by taking over the Cinque Port of Sandwich and selling lots of lovely French things to the inhabitants of Perfidious Albion. I’ve tried to capture the atmosphere and give the impression that we might just as well have been on the Pas de Calais somewhere. Not all the traders were of the Gallic persuasion either. M Jonny et Mme Lindsey of the lovely Goats that Dance coffee emporium were dressed for the occasion and there was an interesting spinning lady from Deal who told me she just spun/span/spinned or whatever, just for the fun of it – in fact she just lived for spinning.
Lots of nice nice colourful and tasty things to eat and a brocante vibe generally across the whole town.
The only thing I missed was a wine tasting. Next year, peut etre (sorry, no French accents …or letters for that matter.)D7K_4074

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Finally! A clear explanation of why we should stay in the EU.

The Guardian survey reveals that most Britons would like to leave the EU, but as I have always suspected, this is because they don’t really understand what the EU is or does, and why it is important for the UK to play a more central role rather than extricate itself. This is the kind of analysis I have been missing since the beginning of the ‘Brexit’ debate. The UKIP trolls should read it for a bit of perspective. But they won’t, of course.

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Page 3 or not Page 3 – the end of an anachronism

Even Rupert Murdoch described it as ‘old fashioned’ and for once, I tend to agree with him. In some respects, along with the Pirelli calendar, once ubiquitous to all mechanics’ workshops, Page 3 is a throwback to the 70s when naked breasts were a relatively recent phenomenon having only just been only liberated from their bras a few years previously. But although modern feminists will insist, and with my post-feminist glasses on, I agree with them, that Page 3 is yet another example of the objectification of women, I am wondering whether there also isn’t a cultural subtext to the demise of the Page 3 titpic that goes a bit deeper.

I was thinking about this the other day when I decided to have a listen to my rather ancient copy of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland – you know, the nudie one? Although it will forever be associated with him, Hendrix disliked the photograph and never approved it. It was taken while he was on tour in the USA and by the time he got back to England the damage was done. The strange thing is that then, as now, when you peruse the artistically lit and posed cover featuring around 20 naked women, there is nothing sexy about them whatsoever. Apart from a smudge of makeup on one or two of the girls, they are just extremely normal women of varying shapes, skin shades and sizes. There are no come-hither looks or coquettish smiles, just a group of women au naturel staring directly at the camera with an almost Mona Lisa-like composure and lack of expression. And in case you were in any doubt, one of them is holding a copy of Hendrix’s previous album, Axis Bold As Love and another of the great man himself.

Photographer David Montgomery says that the Sunday Times art department who were responsible for the shoot, simply went out and collected girls from Soho clubs and asked them if they wanted to be on an album cover. They were offered three pounds with knickers on, five with them off and without any hesitation, says Montgomery in a recent interview with well-known fashion photographer, Rankin, “Whoosh…off they came”.

But irrespective of whether Hendrix liked the photo or not, it has since become one of the iconic images of a period that has had such an enormous influence on contemporary society. Now the Sixties are long enough in the past to engender nostalgia and I’m just wondering whether Page 3 doesn’t in some way fit into that category too?

Feminism as a movemernt or idea has also undergone many changes since those early days when going bra-less (there is no concrete evidence that anyone actually burned one) or even topless was seen a sign of female emancipation. I spent many years in Denmark, where toplessness on the beach and even in city parks was considered perfectly normal. Sex too, was more freely available than in the UK I had left behind, with women often taking the initiative. Although there has always been more equality between the sexes in Scandinavian society, many Danish feminists saw their liberated sexuality as a form of empowerment and in a sense this is how I see the Electric Ladyland ladies. Staring straight at the camera saying “So what, we’re naked, unashamed and in charge of our lives”. But of course, what happened was that instead of embracing feminism and the changing role of women in a modern society, demonstrated in my perhaps naïve interpretation by the Hendrix album cover, the Sun subverted the good intentions of feminism when it introduced Page 3. So, instead presenting a challenge to the status quo of the male dominated society, it was reinforced in the traditional guise of the workplace pin-up.

Back in the 70s, in almost any male workplace next to the Pirelli calendar or the poster of the tennis girl scratching her naked bottom, you would find copies of The Sun. The masthead proclaims that it is “The People’s Paper” and indeed it has always been thought of as a largely working class newspaper. But where is that traditional working class today? The means of production has largely disappeared: no more coal mines; no more iron and steel works; no more automotive industry. So, for me, the Page 3 argument goes beyond feminism and the objectification of women. I see the entire newspaper as an anachronistic symbol for the destruction of the working class, traditional industry and the means of production. The world has changed, but somehow the Sun still thinks it’s 1975. Thus the end of Page 3 should also signal the end of the Sun itself.

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Plagued by idiots

Today I have been plagued by idiots and beset by grocery disappointment. Firstly, I was looking forward to two decent sized jobs, both of which were cancelled because the clients didn’t want to pay me proper money. I then spent the rest of the morning trying to find a human being to speak with at a mobile telephone company that has continued to try to take money from me in spite of my having closed the account and paid it off three months ago. I ended up in a three way telephone conference with my mobile agent in Lewes and a Russian bloke at a call centre, who didn’t give a name but whom Andrew of Lewes Mobiles kept referring to as ‘Vodafone chap’. Needless to say, in spite of my ranting and Andrew’s diplomacy that, were he employed by the UN would have solved the Ukranian crisis in a twinkle, Vodafone Chap continued to have no idea about the query and just kept saying I still owed then £77, which I didn’t. In the end to shut the idiot up I paid the bill and will hopefully get a refund when they discover the fault is theirs. Which is like suggesting the Pope may not be what his job description indicates.

So I went food shopping to Sainsbury’s to get over the telephone imbecile and stock up on basics: parma ham, anchovies, long spaghetti, Jordan’s Granola, cans of tomatoes and butter beans for my favourite cassoulets and fabadas,etc. Then I felt an urge for smoked salmon and quails eggs with celery salt for lunch, as one does. The salmon was easy enough to procure, although I was surprised to find only one pack left…and as for quail’s eggs…nada. What is up with these places? I would have thought that with Christmas done and dusted, the shelves would again have been groaning with all the fruits of the orient and also those closer to home – quails eggs, for example. Perhaps most of the quails have been shot for Christmas and the survivors are too shell-shocked to lay at the moment. But no matter, I thought. I will proceed to Sandwich and visit my butcher for some venison and couple of decent steaks as well as the quails eggs (I know he has them) and then pop into the French shop where they make the excellent rye bread I like to eat with a bit of olive tapenade and an anchovy or two.
But yet again I was thwarted! The butcher’s was closed and there was nary a breadcrumb in the French shop – the woven artisan bread baskets were as vacant as a vacant thing. What is it with these people I say again! Not a sliver of beef nor a haunch of venison, a sourdough loaf or rye baguette. The world is out of joint.

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Two Christmas Tales

Christmas 1964 and we were at my grandmother’s for Christmas as usual. The house was a huge old stone-built vicarage and had a sweeping staircase and a balustrade that looked down into a hall where the Christmas tree was. I already had a sneaking suspicion that Father Christmas didn’t exist and tonight I was going to prove it. As the witching hour approached, I was lying awake waiting for present-delivering noises. Sure enough from below there came a rustling sound and hushed voices. I sneaked out and peeked down and as expected, there was my dad placing a large square box under the tree with what I was sure was the Dansette autochange record player I was after. Was I disappointed? Not really. I had reached the age where my rational mind had seriously begun to question the existence of 1000 year old blokes dressed in red, who could swan around the world in about 24 hours delivering presents to millions of children, and not get either breathless with the physical exertion or pissed with all the sherry consumed en route. My four year younger sister sleeping in the bed next to me was of course oblivious to all this and I was at least gentleman enough not to spill the beans. Yet my unmasking of Father Christmas also marked another change. I somehow sensed that I had entered into the mysterious world of adulthood and it felt ok. Present haul? As hoped: a red and grey Dansette auto changer with room for 10 singles, a copy of “Teatime in Tokyo” by Helmut Zacharias and his orchestra – for some reason my dad considered suitable pop music, and a purple “Remo’ jacket like the Beatles wore. Paradoxical that my dad didn’t consider the Beatles music but was prepared to buy me a collarless Beatle jacket. Horrible thing it was in retrospect.

Fast forward to Christmas 1996 and my 6-year old daughter has already begun to doubt the existence of Father Christmas. I suspect this may have been something to do with the fact that we had already had a pre-Christmas in Denmark at her Danish grandparents’ and she had reached an age where she could work out that if ‘Julemanden’ could arrive on the 22nd December in Denmark especially for her when everybody knew he came on the 24th and on the 25th in England, then her parents were either extremely influential, getting him to turn out three days before his allotted time, or there was something seriously dodgy about the discrepancy between present delivering dates. She was beginning to feel the wool was being pulled over her eyes.

As I put her to bed at my sister’s on the 24th, I said “Aren’t you lucky having two Christmases! I wonder what Father Christmas will bring you here in England?” “It’s all right daddy, you don’t have to pretend, I know Father Christmas doesn’t exist,” she said, in what I felt was a rather patronising tone of voice for one so young. However, it was obvious that the game was up. But I’m a sentimental geezer and felt somewhat saddened by this loss of innocence. I loved my little girl and wanted her to stay little just a bit longer. Already a plan was forming. “Would you like him to exist?” I suggested. ” Well it’s a nice story, but I know it’s not true. The thing about St Nicholas is a nice story too,” she added, giving her poor deluded dad another metaphorical patronising pat on the head. When did she become so cynical? This is what education and having rationalist, left-wing, Guardian-reading parents does to children, I thought. So she’d managed to make the connection between apocryphal quasi-biblical stories of charitable early Christian bishops, the Jolly Christmas Postman and the possibility that it was all bollocks. “Supposing I could prove it to you?” “Well you can try, daddy, but as long as I get either a horse or that dress I wanted, I’ll believe whatever you like. But I know it’s you really.” The horse was definitely out and she knew it. And the dress had already been bought. “Well, we’ll see,” said I mysteriously, and kissed her goodnight.

After a suitable period has elapsed, and after having agreed on a subterfuge with my sister in which Christmas cake and sherry were set out and a plate of biscuits for Rudolph, artfully crumbled to give impression of hungry reindeer, I took the video camera and filming as I went, began to re-create the magic of Christmas for my refusenik daughter.

First I went into the sitting room, the camera acting as my eye. The door opened and there was the half drunk sherry and the crumbled biscuits. “Wow, he’s been!” I said melodramatically, camera panning to the tree where all the presents lay glittering and Christmassy, “..and look at all the presents.”

Now this has always amazed me: how children manage to ignore the fact that during the week or so up to Christmas, presents have begun to build up under the tree, yet they are still able to suspend their disbelief on the actual day and believe that somehow Father Christmas brought them. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s just me.

“I’d better go and tell Auntie Julia,” I said conspiratorially into the camera microphone and went up stairs. I knocked on my sister’s bedroom door, which she opened dressed in her finest flannelette Christmas pyjamas. “Has he been yet?” she asked with over-exaggerated theatrically. “Yes,” I replied, “And he’s left all the presents, drunk his sherry, eaten his mince pie and Rudolph has eaten the biscuits!” “Wow!” Said sis, “I’d better come down and have a look.” So down we went again, me as cameraman, following my sister who would turn around occasionally, put her finger over her lips and say, “Ssshhh!” We did the whole rigmarole in reverse, like Going On A Bear Hunt… ” back down the stairs,” …. “oooh look…all the mince pies are gone,” ….”oooh look he’s drunk his sherry…”….”oooh look at all the presents…” I knelt down and looked at a big box, turning over the gift tag. “And look at this. It says Emma! I wonder what it is?”

The next day after we’d opened all the presents and had five minutes to ourselves in Nanny’s sitting room, I showed her the film and we had a laugh and talked about belief and childhood. I asked her when she first realised that Father Christmas didn’t exist: “I don’t think there was a time,” she said. “Maybe when I was about four. I just sort of gradually realised, but at the same time wanted it to be true.” Isn’t that how we all feel?

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Buggery! (knew that would make you look)

As a curiously worded illustration not only of the fact that history repeats itself but also that politicians have always been illusionists, here’s the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Sir Philip Chetwode speaking in 1919: ” …the habit of interfering in other people’s business, and of making what is euphoniously called ‘peace’ is like buggery; once you take to it, you cannot stop”.

Perhaps I should explain. I’m reading a book called The Long Shadow which links the Great War with subsequent history. Many of the events leading up to and following The First World War bear immediate comparison to the state of the world today. I’m thinking especially of the way in which our current crop of inept politicians seem not to have learned any of the lessons of history and keep making the same mistakes. I keep thinking…’Why didn’t Blair/Bush/Obama/Cameron/Putin, et al, see that coming. Haven’t they read anything?’ Then I came across the above quote which kind of says it all really.

And as an addendum: Much as I am not generally given to liking American television dramas, I do like Homeland, although I have a hard time believing that such a vulnerable woman could end up in the senior position she has. Unless they’re all bi-polar, which could explain why the whole world is such a monumental fuck up at the moment.

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