The Curmudgeon


Friday, April 30, 2010

Economics, Ethics and Flying Half-Bricks

Those who dabble in the real world to the extent that they are aware, say, of the inadvisability of stepping into a concrete yard from the top of a ten-storey building, might possibly find something a bit anomalous in the announcement by Britain's biggest banks that doing the opposite of what led us into our present difficulties could lead the country into difficulties in the future. The banks are worried because certain quaint but dangerous crypto-Marxist voices are arguing that it is imprudent to gamble with money you haven't got, particularly when all three of the parties to the next government are planning to punish the taxpayer so enthusiastically that almost any pleasurable anticipation of another bail-out seems a little optimistic. The banks are worried that if the new regulations are too stringent they will be unable to lend to businesses and householders while maintaining their executives and shareholders in the style to which they are accustomed.

Let's give our moral compass a bit of a needling, shall we? A gang of hoodies, the spawn (just to make it easier) of unmarried, arguably non-indigenous parents, are playing a game of pass-the-parcel with half a brick serving as the parcel. When the half-brick cannot be passed any further, whoever is holding it simply throws it over their shoulder whereupon it crashes through the ground-floor windows of the nearest three-storey house which (just to make it easier) is owned by a hard-working businessman who makes regular donations to a mainstream, centre-neoliberal political party. Eventually there are no half-bricks left, so the hoodies threaten to break every window on the second floor unless more are supplied. Thanks to government intervention, more bricks are placed at the hoodies' disposal. These bricks were intended for the construction of a conservatory in which to keep the businessman's handicapped daughter chained up in more scenic surroundings than those to which she has hitherto been accustomed; but one of the duties of government is the making of tough decisions which balance the needs of the vulnerable against the requirements of the people in big boots. The hoodies resume their game of pass-the-parcel, breaking fewer windows than before because the ones on the first floor are harder to hit than the ones on the ground floor. However, the game is disrupted yet further when some builders turn up and start asking for their bricks back so that they can go and "build something".

What - in the immortal words of Ed Balls - is the right thing to do? Should the hoodies be rounded up, dressed in orange jackets and forced to clean up the mess they've made? Should the builders be told to find something more constructive to do than driving house prices down by reducing demand? Or should the businessman be forced to carry all the bricks out of his own house and restore them to the hoodies so that the game can continue?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Voivode

An extract

It was the physician, Priglot, who saw Hades first. He was in the observatory as the ship approached the sphere of Venus, his left eye pressed to the small translucent pane in the window. He could not see Venus, because the captain had placed the ship so that the circle of adulterers, which the crewmen called the lovers' hold, was nearest the planet; the observatory was facing in exactly the opposite direction.

The great circular window was almost entirely opaque: a magnificent construction of stained glass depicting the star which had guided the wise men as it hovered over the stable. Priglot was staring through a much smaller, blue-tinted circle, set at the very centre of the star, surrounded by its golden radiations and the royal purple of the sky. Sometimes, particularly when he found himself restless during his sleep periods, Priglot would come up to the observatory simply to admire the window.

In order to view the cosmic mysteries beyond, it was necessary to ascend the sloping wall of the observatory, using the carven steps provided for that purpose, and to pull the lever which released the viewing-bed from its niche in the ceiling. The viewing-bed was really little more than a hinged plank, wide enough for a man to lie on, with one end close enough to the window for the occupant to see out through the translucent circle. It felt like a makeshift measure. The viewing-bed had been incorporated into the Persephone's design at a fairly late stage; Priglot had heard that the alteration had been made at the insistence of the church authorities, because it was not considered seemly that those looking through the centre of the star should have their feet on the same level as the image of the Saviour's birthplace.

Priglot shifted on the plank. He took his left eye away from the glass, rubbed it and placed his right eye there instead. He was watching the sun, and it was easy to grow tired. At the moment, strange to think, he was probably the only man on board who had eyes for the ship's destination. The rest of the crew would all have their eyes on Venus; at least, all those not directly involved in the manoeuvre that would catapult them on the next stage of their journey.

Priglot had seen and heard his fill of Venus during the weeks it had taken them to get here. The forty adulterers in the lovers' hold had seemed to grow more restive and more obscene with every day they travelled; recently they had been quieter, though not, it seemed to Priglot, from resignation to their fate. A sort of sensual languor had come over them; they were pallid and thin, yet their lips were red, their eyes sparkled. Some of the crew members detailed to look after them had come away almost hypnotised. Undoubtedly the planet's influence was to blame; and Captain Bloss, prompted no doubt by the monk, Father Christopher, had decreed that no-one but Priglot and his servant, or a crewman in company with Priglot, was to go anywhere near the lovers' hold. The arrangement had pleased the crew, who had long ago begun to find both of the ship's holds more unnerving than amusing; but it had not pleased Priglot, who besides his normal duties had to feed and water twenty men and twenty women, clean up after them and ensure that they were properly restrained; and all with the help of a single, usually dim-witted assistant. At Father Christopher's insistence, the men took turns accompanying Priglot, according to a rota drawn up by the monk; which meant that Priglot's helpers were as lacking in experience as they were inadequate in number.

Priglot sighed, and shifted on the plank. He had made protests to Captain Bloss, both in and out of Father Christopher's presence; but whatever the captain's nominal authority, it was the monk who commanded the ship. Without the blessing of his church, as everyone knew, the Persephone could never have left the ground. Father Christopher's position was like that of a priest of the wind gods aboard an ancient galleon; he would be unassailable unless something went wrong, and perhaps not even then. Priglot thought of the monk thrown overboard, into the airless void between the spheres. When they dragged him to the holds for jettison, where would the crewmen put him? When the captain pulled the lever and Father Christopher tumbled out, towards which of the planets would he fall?

It was upon this thought that Priglot observed a small dent in the edge of the solar disc. The smile which had creased his stubbly cheeks flattened out abruptly, and he took his right eye away from the window and put the left one back. Even after he had blinked several times, there was no doubt about it.

"There is no doubt about it," he informed his fellow officers - Captain Bloss, Father Christopher, First Mate Milin and Baloran the navigator - an hour after the lovers' hold had sent its troublesome cargo somersaulting towards Venus. The clatter of the opening doors had been followed by a brief, barely noticeable jolt, not violent enough even to shake Priglot from his precarious perch on the viewing-bed, as the Persephone's course altered towards Mars. Almost as soon as the ship was stable again, Priglot's servant had arrived with the expected summons to the captain's cabin, where he found the other officers engaged in mutual congratulation. After a tactful interval, Priglot felt obliged to broach the subject of his discovery.

"A new planet?" Captain Bloss, goblet in hand, stared at Priglot with his small unwavering eyes. "Could it hinder us?"
"We cannot be certain at this stage whether it really is a planet, properly speaking," Priglot said modestly. "It may be a moon, or a comet. Certainly it is too small to be seen from earth, assuming it passes regularly in front of the sun. In order to determine its size and behaviour, I shall have to make further observations. Now that Providence has relieved me of some of my other responsibilities," he inclined his large head respectfully towards Father Christopher, "I hope that I shall be able to expedite this new task with efficiency."

Father Christopher sipped water and said nothing. Milin, the First Mate, told Priglot that the crew had cheered lustily when the lovers' hold was opened, and several of them had rushed to the portholes to try and see the adulterers spinning off towards Venus as the ship moved away. There had been no sign of the lassitude and superstitious fear which had afflicted so many crewmen since the launch; all of which, thought Priglot, only went to prove that the burden of his onerous chores during the past few weeks had been nothing more than a vindictive monkish whim.

"I am happy to hear that their spirits are quite restored," he told the First Mate. "Perhaps, at some moment convenient to you both, you might make the good news known to Father Christopher."

Milin saluted and turned away, looking hurt. The effect of the adulterers on certain of the men had annoyed him almost as much as it had Priglot; he had taken it as a slight upon his authority, and he had accompanied Priglot with a will whenever his turn on the rota came up, by way of setting an example. But the Mate was as omen-ridden as any sailor, and more pious than most: he had expressed grave disquiet about the lovers' hold, about the Turks' hold and about launching the Persephone on the eve of All Hallows, papal blessing or none; and he spent entirely too much time in the company of the monk.

Baloran, the white-bearded navigator, told Priglot that the Persephone's distance from earth had not resulted in any detectable shift in the apparent position of the stars, and that if matters continued after this fashion it might one day be possible to use the stars for interplanetary navigation. Priglot nodded politely and hoped that Baloran would not begin speculating about the possibilities inherent in the presence of a newly discovered heavenly body. Baloran was the oldest of all the crew; he had written several books on the subject of navigational theory, and Priglot, who had read none of them, sometimes suspected that his conversation consisted largely in reciting them from memory.

"The manoeuvre today went well, I understand," Priglot said, as soon as Baloran paused to sip his wine.
"Indeed, yes," Baloran said. "Captain Bloss is to be congratulated. We opened the hold at exactly the proper distance, as calculated by the good Father and myself. It was all very satisfactory."
"Master Milin has told me something of the crew's satisfaction," Priglot said. "Did you chance to see anything of the sinners as they fell?"

The monk heard that, as Priglot had intended. Father Christopher hovered behind Baloran as the navigator mumbled about having been too busy consulting with the captain. "I saw them," Father Christopher said; "or some of them, at least. Like your discovery at the sun, they were silhouetted against the planet as they fell."
"You didn't see their faces, then?"
"No," said Father Christopher; "only their shapes, and those only briefly. They disappeared into the clouds around the planet. But supposing I had seen their faces, Doctor; would they have told us anything of use? I should hate to think that my lack of observation had deprived the expedition of some valuable knowledge."
"I merely wondered if there were any anomalies, any changes," Priglot said. "We know so little of conditions out here; the most seemingly insignificant fact may be of incalculable value."
"It seems to me that, however small our knowledge, with the help of heaven we are progressing rather well," said Father Christopher; and, as always, Priglot had no choice but to bow his head in humble accord. As the church's envoy, invested with full rights to convert, crusade, absolve, anathematise and otherwise treat with any of God's creatures whom they might meet upon their way, Father Christopher had been given the exemplary privilege and trial of personally lighting the fires for the act of faith that bore the Persephone away from earth. Having set the flames at north, south, east and west, in order to board he had climbed up the column on which the ship rested; climbed up the tallest structure ever created by man, climbed through the thickening smoke and the screams and wails of the embedded heretics, whose purifying agonies would bear the ship aloft.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You're Not Thirsty, You're Sampling A Marketing Strategy

The demands of the water supply market are expected to grow by twenty per cent in the next five years, according to something called Global Water Intelligence. The demand, of course, is not that of the people who utilise the moisturising resources in question, but that of the private companies which intend to take over the supplies and then sell them back to those who can afford them. As we all know, it's more efficient that way: "If you have a contractor and the contractor doesn't deliver you can beat him over the head", according to the publisher of Global Water Intelligence, who seems to have a somewhat idealised view of the typical relationship between private contractors and those who are supposed to regulate them. The CEO of the moisture division of Black and Veatch noted that "it takes a bit of pressure off the local officials if they can shift that to somebody who's less impacted by the politics"; in Standard English, this means that politicians, who are nominally accountable to the public and suffer occasional personal inconvenience and curtailed expenses thereby, often find it helpful to offload their responsibilities onto corporations which are not accountable to the public and, in the event of profit margins expanding from the merely injurious to the insulting, tend to have more money with which to outspend their captive markets in the courts. Nevertheless, despite all the advantages of moisture privatisation, there is still widespread opposition because supplies are still "seen as a life-giving public service", rather than as just another commodity like public transport, health, education and, soon enough, the air that we breathe.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Legitimacy and Otherwise

The Metropolitan Firearms and Headbangers' Club has deigned to publish the report by the head of its internal complaints bureau into the death of Blair Peach, whose skull was bashed in by a member of the Special Patrol Group, the Met's elite anti-protest squad, during an attempt to undermine St George's Day. Although it has taken a mere thirty-one years for the report to be published, there are few surprises. Certain officers lied in order to obstruct the investigation, and Commander John Cass, who had the unpleasant task of preparing the whitewash, strongly recommended that they be charged with perjury, presumably so that an appropriately sympathetic judge could instruct the jury in the legal and ethical complexities of the matter. Nobody was charged. Cass concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone for the killing and that Peach pretty much deserved what he got. Nobody was prosecuted. Although Cass registered concern about officers having unauthorised weapons, nobody was prosecuted for that either. The inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, and the elite anti-protest squad continued on its merry way to the Ian Tomlinson incident last year. Sir Paul Stephenson, the present commissioner of the Metropolitan Firearms and Headbangers' Club, supported the release of the report after Tomlinson was fatally assaulted by a member of the elite anti-protest squad - now renamed the Territorial Support Group, apparently in an effort to de-toxify the brand by conflating it with our brave boys in the Territorial Army. Commenting on Peach's little accident, Stephenson said he was sorry that officers had behaved badly, and even sorrier that "we haven't brought it to that definitive point where we can absolutely say what happened, why it happened, and what was the legitimacy or otherwise of that", which appears to be Sir Paul Stephenson's version of the ever-convenient open verdict. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Firearms and Headbangers' Club is now a "completely different" force, as is shown by the rigorous inquiries which they undertook after one of their officers was caught on camera assaulting Tomlinson from behind and after their various self-exculpatory stories of the incident were exposed as false. Unlike the Peach investigation, these inquiries have been so rigorous that they too have resulted in nobody being charged; but at least we know that times have changed sufficiently for the Metropolitan Firearms and Headbangers' Club to get away with killing people at protests whether or not the said people happen to be involved in the protesting.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Very Small Leaflet

Labour's election propaganda has duly arrived; and it is, as one might expect given all they've got to boast about, the smallest portion so far. It is the size of a compliment slip, smaller even than UKIP's A5 flyer, let alone the Lib Dems' folded A4 sheet and the Conservatives' fake newsletter. It appears to have been dropped through the door after an attempt at face-to-face canvassing, since it is inscribed "Philip - sorry I missed you". Oh, well.

As on her website, Alison Moore's solution to the problem of defending New Labour's record in office is simply to avoid mention of it. If one wishes to visit the alternative planet where Labour has been fighting for justice, helping poor people, greening the economy and bombing only the unrighteous for the last decade or so, one can always read their manifesto; but for all one can gather from the leaflet, the election on 6 May will be purely a local affair. There is a pledge to "work for a sustainable environment", although it is not clear whether this will entail supporting or opposing the Glorious Successor's plans for cuddly coal, sustainable uranium and indefinitely expandable airports; but aside from this, not a single national issue is mentioned - not war, not constitutional reform, not torture, not faith schools, not the economy, not transport, not Europe, not immigration, not child imprisonment, not the City and its little games, not the database state, not even Tony's chum Rupert Murdoch. The website says something about being proud of the NHS, which means precisely nothing: Daveybloke and his Cuddly Coulson will happily emulate New Labour and throw in a bit of NHS with their immigrant-bashing and dead-child-waving as long as they imagine it will gain their party votes; though I suppose the absence of the usual tripe about savage cuts that won't affect frontline services is something to be grateful for. The slogan on the leaflet is "Putting local people first", and the promises are to defend our local hospitals and police teams, support our children and families and fight for a fair deal for our older people - as opposed, presumably, to defending, supporting and fighting for those in Hendon or Chipping Barnet or Islington North or even, perish the thought, sticking up for the interests of that miserable gang of warmongers, incompetents, nonentities and common criminals in Whitehall.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Another Day, Another Leaflet

Another leaflet has arrived, this one from the Liberal Democrats and addressed to me personally - a courtesy which did not occur to UKIP or the modern Conservative party, perhaps because the concept of an electoral register is a bit too trendy and twentieth-century for them. How far Labour's campaign can be personalised will doubtless depend on which databases have been lost on whose laptops this month. (The Liberal Democrat candidate is also, predictably, the only one who has bothered replying to an email inquiry about support for constitutional reform.) The leaflet mentions Labour only once, on the back page, and then only to say that the Liberal Democrats got more votes at the last elections; intentional or not, the implication behind this - that Labour are so hopeless that attacking their record would be a waste of energy, like kicking a dead rat or debating the BNP - is really rather cheering. The Conservatives' commitment to the NHS is highlighted with a few judiciously quoted headlines about Daveybloke meeting privatisation campaigners, Andrew Lansley accepting donations from a private contractor, and the ever-brilliant Daniel Hannan, underlined with the question "What else aren't the Conservatives telling you?" Like the Conservatives, the Lib Dems promise to protect frontline NHS services, invest in schools, put more police on the beat, lower my tax bill and balance the country's books; unlike the Conservatives, they also promise to put solar panels on public buildings and to put a stop to Conservative plans to scrap the sheltered housing warden service. I am also informed that the Lib Dems "run many of our biggest cities including Liverpool, Sheffield and Bristol" where their conduct has doubtless been exemplary, although examples are not provided. Oddly enough, although the leaflet promises "real change across Britain today", there is no mention of constitutional or electoral reform and the only reference to Tony's wars is a pledge to give our boys a fairer deal.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flourishing in Shadow

The first piece of genuine election propaganda has arrived, from the United Kingdom Independence Party. I have also received a leaflet from the Conservatives, but that was before the election had been called, albeit at a point when the orgasm was decidedly building. The Conservatives have evidently ditched Andrew Mennear as insufficiently concerned with the modern Conservative values of slickness and glossiness, and their candidate this time is one Mike Freer, whose slick and glossy leaflet was "Printed and delivered at no cost to the taxpayer", the negative being in red. The rest of the text is white, the background blue and the nearby Tory Oak green, which may or may not constitute a chromatic tribute to the flag of Belize. The leaflet includes an interview with Daveybloke, who is shown in a candid pose which must have taken ages to get right, looking through some papers with a faintly disgusted expression on his face. "David Cameron at work in his House of Commons office", says the caption, in case we thought he was playing darts or supping Guinness from a can. The interview is the usual blather about the need to cut everything except frontline services, the need to freeze public sector pay in order to protect jobs, the need to ringfence NHS spending so that the taxpayer can make an appropriate contribution towards NHS privatisation, the need to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime (by "strengthening families, reforming schools and getting people back to work", thus getting rid of all the divorce, education and benefit claimants which have wrecked our once mighty economy. Mike Freer used to be a banker) and the need for cleaner sources of energy, partly because of the planet and floods and things but mostly because it's profitable: "above all, there will be a multi-trillion pound global market for green goods in the years to come". Daveybloke is asked about the London Haystack but scoots hurriedly away and onto the more comfortable subject of punishing people.

The UKIP leaflet is mercifully shorter, but has a ghastly yellow-and-purple colour scheme and a logo consisting of a £ sign where the middle stroke has been replaced by the letters UKIP. They may burble on about immigrants, crime and, well, about immigrants and crime, but their only real interests are keeping the monarch's head on the stamps and keeping the pound sterling as it was in the days of Churchill, Shakespeare and Alfred the Great. They also believe, it appears, that crime is out of control (it isn't), that the Human Rights Act is a criminals' charter (it isn't), and that councils and police are persecuting motorists (they aren't). We are promised "zero tolerance on crime and criminals"; although there is a regrettable lack of specifics, so it's difficult to tell whether, for example, UKIP intends doing anything Nurembergian with Tony and his chums. Since Nuremberg is a foreign place like the Hague and the United Nations, it seems unlikely. Anyway, while crime is being wiped off the face of the earth (by taking police away from motorist persecution activities and putting them back on the beat), UKIP will also "give much more help to the most vulnerable in society - children, elderly and the disabled", presumably by redistributing the £45 million a day which at the moment is being "wasted" in Brussels. This would enable us to "give young people student grants not student loans", and would also ensure that the student grants were in real pounds not euros, which would be very jolly indeed.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's About Fair And Unfair

The economy is growing at about half the rate predicted by Gordon's little Darling; the official unemployment underestimate is approaching the magical Thatcherite three million; the Government, the Opposition and the Conservatives all plan to be tough on benefit claimants, tough on refugees, tough on crime (real and imagined), tough on poor people, tough on the internet, and tough on those teachers and medical personnel who lack the good sense to work for private companies. All this toughness is necessary because the economy is in a fragile state. The economy is in a fragile state because of the greed and stupidity of certain professional gamblers, whom the Glorious Successor and his little Darling punished by throwing some thousands of millions in taxpayers' money at them. Fortunately, they are unlikely to starve this year, either. Well, that's a relief.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blessed Are Those Who Get Caught, For Repentance Shall Be Theirs Eventually

It appears that the Catholic Church is less averse to scientific method than is generally believed; at least in England and Wales, where centuries of Protestant goodwill have doubtless induced a perspective not readily accessible to the senior executives at Vatican Incorporated. Having witnessed Head Office's attempts to excuse a long and sordid history of institutionally condoned child abuse by pointing the finger at other churches, and then by blaming it all on media gossips, the Jews and homosexuality in turn, the church in England and Wales has applied Occam's razor and discovered that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however inexpedient, must be the right thing to say. Accordingly, the Archbishop of Westminster, whose first reaction to the revelations was to heap praise on the culprits, has issued a spontaneous and unsolicited statement of contrition, a mere matter of months after the ugly truth came out. The statement also said that the church will condescend to work within the law from now on, since the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak has authorised it to change its ways.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Six thousand millions and to spare:
Why value those? They're hardly rare.

There's too much unprecautioned rut,
And hence the market has a glut.

Some mother's child or children's mother
Drops dead, and then there is another.

It grows a bit, puts on some fat,
Then sires, or squeezes out, a brat.

It cannot raise the one it's got;
Breed more? Another two? Why not?

Therefore fear not man's common fate:
Your loss will not be very great.

And if you haven't left an heir,
You've left the world a bit more fair.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Foundations of the Twenty-First Century

An extract

Sunday 9 April 1989

The train ran on time, setting off at six-fifteen and pulling into Waterloo Station precisely on schedule, at eleven thirty-one, after a journey of five hours and sixteen minutes. It could never have happened in Grandfather's day, as Mother would say if she were here.

I spent most of the journey watching the other passengers. There were only a dozen of us for the College, and of course we have no uniforms, which I suspect was a source of some grief to a few of the others. It is certainly a paradox that some of the most distinguished branches of the folk community services must adopt the most undistinguished appearance in order to function; I'm certain that several in our party were grieving at the loss of their cadet uniforms - those absurd red-and-whites which two months ago they couldn't wait to shed, and which would draw jeers of "Baby beef!" and "Tenderloin!" from any soldier in sight.

Still, I must admit that the twelve of us standing on the platform in our civilian clothes can hardly have been an inspiring vision. We were all dressed in our best, of course, and as the son of Harold Cullen and the grandson of Sidney Cullen I was better dressed than many; but I still felt a pang of relief that no-one from the garrison was there to see us off, let alone share the journey with us. Even the guard's and porters' uniforms seemed to embody a certain enviable authority.

Robertson suggested that we turn our anonymity to advantage by monitoring the passengers in one carriage each. Several of us immediately agreed, although some of the young cadets took a little more persuading. They seemed to think they would be expected to carry out an arrest or two by the time we got to London, and Robertson had to expend considerable time and patience explaining that it would simply be an amusing exercise to break the monotony of the trip, and good practice besides.

My own carriage was nearly empty. A pair of businessmen in expensive suits looked up at me as I entered, then resumed their conversation, the fleshy middle-aged one apparently lecturing the fleshy young one about the inefficiency of some aspect of the preparations for the Centennial. My German was adequate for as much as I could hear; but even the elder one was speaking in a rather low tone, so that once the train started I could barely hear a word. The only other passengers, aside from myself, were an elderly woman with two children and a soldier apparently on his way back from leave. The children, a boy and a girl both wearing Young Folk armbands, were about twelve and nine, too young to be the woman's own; possibly she was their grandmother. All three seemed subdued and, as far as I was able to observe, they never so much as noticed my presence. The soldier, an infantry corporal, was lounging with his feet on the seat opposite. He had put his pack beside him, next to the window, and had his arm around it as though it were a child. He dozed for most of the trip, opening his eyes only when his ticket was inspected and he was requested to take his boots off the seat.

At Crewe more people got on: four men in RAF uniform, who immediately started playing cards, and two civilian families with half a dozen children between them. The families were acquainted with each other, the grandmother joined in the conversation, and I gathered that they were on their way to London for the Centennial; the old woman made a remark about it being impossible to celebrate properly in the provinces. She used the word jubilee, and one of the men corrected her; but I remember little else.

The other cadets had similar experiences. Robertson told me later, after we were billeted, that his carriage was so packed with tourists he could barely be sure of their numbers, let alone their nationalities or descriptions. "I hope they give us cameras for the job," he said. "Or at least let us take notes."
"Of course they won't let us take notes," I said. "When did you last see anyone taking notes in public?"
"They'll train us to do it unobtrusively."
"They're more likely to train our memories," I said. "Teach us how to tell who we should watch and who we can afford to ignore, and then train our memories to hold the proper information."

We have been billeted in a private flat because all the students' barracks have been requisitioned for the tourists. An official from the College met us at Waterloo and hurried us all onto a bus, along with several other parties of cadets, before we had time to get our bearings. When the bus was full, he switched on a microphone and informed us, in as many words, that the overfulfilment of the residency situation has rendered unavoidable the utilisation of appropriate lodgings from the civilian sector. We were reminded of the importance of taking our responsibilities seriously, and told that we would be driven to our various lodgings, where we would be permitted to rest for the remainder of the day; following which our orders are to report to the College at precisely three o'clock tomorrow afternoon for the start of our induction.

The civilians who provide the lodgings are actually veterans of the armed forces and the folk community services who have volunteered their rooms and receive payment from the authorities for housing us. Robertson and I are sharing one bedroom in this rather small, dark flat, while another bedroom is occupied by Greenwood and another cadet whose name I don't know. Although there has been no time for any but the most cursory introductions, our landlord seems an interesting type. He is in his late sixties or early seventies: certainly old enough to remember the War, and quite possibly old enough to have taken part, if not in the fighting, then at least in the work of national revitalisation which followed.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Cleaning Up After Us

The conquest of Everest by western civilisation and market forces has led to the usual difficulties: lots of rubbish and a number of bodies which the natives are now finding it necessary to clean up a little. The natives speak a local Tibetan language in which, since they don't know any better, the mountain is called Chomolungma; and at least one of them blames global warming for the melting of the snow which has concealed many of the trappings of western civilisation until now. Fourteen years ago a disaster near the summit killed three Indian paramilitary police and five real people, causing fierce arguments over the commercialisation of mountaineering on Everest (which, Britain's leading liberal newspaper takes care to inform us, is the world's highest peak), despite the fact that commercial mountaineering is one of the few pastimes available to distract the natives from their poverty, civil strife, misgovernment, leeches and the World Bank.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Still Belching Forth

The leaders of Britain's two and a half major political wings of the business community took it in turns today to pledge firm action on Europe as the Iceland volcanic eruption continued to spew black clouds of doom into the national Press.

A long and tedious article in the Observer equated the financial losses incurred by airlines, and the inconvenience suffered by holidaymakers, businessmen and satellite dish owners, with the "chaos" of the French Revolution, and raised the spectre of food shortages in its second paragraph before qualifying the panic-mongering in its twenty-second paragraph.

The Prime Minister promised urgent action on the problem of volcanoes. A battalion of scientific advisers who claimed that the Government's proposed £3bn programme to divert relatively non-dusty air into the alveolae of hard-working families would be "impractical" were summarily sacked this morning.

The Leader of the Opposition, Nick Clegg, criticised the Government's lack of vision and promised urgent action on the problem of volcanoes. "We'll give those volcanoes a shorter, sharper shock than Thatcher gave Britain's thugs," he said, before urging disaffected youth to vote for him.

The Conservatives blamed the disruption on Government incompetence, Brussels meddling, public sector waste, BBC bias, the insidious Dr Fu Manchu and the tax burden on married couples, which a spokesbeing said meant that some married couples could be out of pocket by as much as £3.00 per week despite being married couples.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Daveybloke Does Topical

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has become the first of Britain's two and a half major political leaders to join the tsunamic blitz of metaphorical vulcanology which has darkened the skies of British journalism since the Iceland eruption.

Daveybloke said that Britain was in desperate need of action to remove the "black cloud" of deficit by pulverising public services and stimulating an Eyjafjallajökull of private investment from the harsh, rocky crater of austerity.

Daveybloke was warning the little people about the need to get things done and proclaiming that the Conservatives are the party to do it.

Daveybloke noted that a hung parliament would mean "a bunch of politicians haggling", as in a democratic society where compromise and coalition are the usual way of doing things, rather than "deciding" and then inflicting their decisions regardless, as is the normal British practice and the Conservative Party's birthright.

Daveybloke said that politicians in a hung parliament would be "fighting for their own interests", an unprecedented and potentially unhealthy development among British politicians.

Many poor and weak countries suffer from coalition governments, and between 1940 and 1945 Britain itself was governed by a coalition which nearly prevented Winston Churchill, the Greatest Ever Number One Greatest Briton Ever, from winning the Second World War.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Another Modern Martyr

That the Barons should never be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand.
1066 And All That on the provisions of Magna Carta

Another lunatic has taken his employers to court for being unwilling to re-write his contract in accordance with the whims of his daddy in the sky, and has now gone squealing to the Court of Appeal. The "devout Christian" (he is not, you will note, a militant Christian) was working as a relationship counsellor, but felt that certain types of relationship were not worthy of his guidance. His employers, Relate Avon, fired him; an employment tribunal upheld their decision; and now the Court of Appeal is being threatened with civil unrest and lectured by Lord Carey, who recommends that only judges with a "proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues" should be permitted to adjudicate on whether Christians have a legal obligation to abide by the legal terms of their employment. Also, "the fact that senior clerics of the Church of England and other faiths feel compelled to intervene directly in judicial decisions and cases is illuminative of a future civil unrest", rather than illuminative of anything peculiar about senior clerics in the Church of England and other faiths. And another thing: it is "but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment by Christians", much as it is but a short step from allowing priests to marry to allowing homosexuality to allowing polygamy, paedophilia, bestiality, Richard Dawkins and who knows what all. What a very precarious existence it is, morally and otherwise, when one's church is assured of representation in the country's highest legislative body and one's soul is safe for eternity.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

That Debate

MODERATOR (oozing)
And our next spontaneously-generated electoral infotelevisual opportunification stimulus as approved for leader responsivity by all three of the responding leaders and their special advisers is: what is your view on fairness? Prime Minister, since you answered twenty-two per cent of the last question, under the first-past-the-post system you have the right of first response. Your view on fairness, please, and no dissembling if you will.

Well let me just say this our record on fairness (smiles) is perfectly clear over the past thirteen years Britain has gained fairer (smiles) schools fairer (smiles) hospitals a fairer (smiles) immigration system and a fairer (smiles) deal for hardworking families who play by the rules and stay out of trouble and don't support terrorism and don't frighten policemen and don't spread hatred my personal respect for fairness (smiles) was among the values taught to me by my parents who taught me all the personal values I have personally sought to value in my personal life and policies and fairness (smiles) is certainly one of those values and I certainly value it personally and I think the whole cabinet and party and indeed the country are with us on this.

MODERATOR (oozing)
And now if the Leader of the Opposition would care to impart...

Well of course fairness is an indispensable attribute of any civilised society and of course the modern Conservative party believes in fairness but the real question is are we prepared for a change and has our fairness been properly distributed under the present Government and is it the role of the state to ensure fairness in a centralised bureaucratic Stalinist manner or is fairness rather an attribute of normal ordinary human beings like me and the little people and speaking as a bereaved parent with a pregnant wife I believe that the modern Conservative party can be trusted to trust the people of Britain to deliver fairness wherever it is required in a responsible and trustworthy fashion.

MODERATOR (oozing)
And now the other one...

Well of course I disagree violently with both the previous speakers although fairness has been a central plank of Liberal Democrat policy for -


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Perverse Fixations

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who plays secretary of state when the sixteenth Daddy Goodspeak plays at being a national leader, has blamed the paedophilia scandal on homosexuality, presumably in the hope that this will work a bit better than blaming it on secularism, the media or the Jews. Unfortunately, his remarks have unleashed "a plethora of outrage", according to the Independent's religious affairs correspondent, who does not know the meaning of the words peddle and bemoan. The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales claimed that, despite the objectively disordered nature of homosexuals, "there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to child sexual abuse", and that paedophilia is the result of "the sexual fixation of the abusers, and not their sexual orientation". A Vatican spokesreverend was good enough to offer an interpretation of the cardinal's words which, like the words of the Saviour on martyrdom and money, are not to be taken as general affirmations; and then said that most of the abuse was carried out by homosexual priests. All in all the Church of Rome, in its own special way, appears to be having just as gay a time over homosexuality as its Anglican mutant offspring.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ask Not What Lord Ashcroft Can Do For You...

Daveybloke, the Cuddly Conservative, has been imparting to the little folk what a wonderful journey we're all going to get when our domestic policy is being run by Lord Ashcroft and the Daily Mail and our foreign policy is being run in concord with Michal Kaminski and his chums. "No more harking back to bygone days", Daveybloke burbled, before quoting a particularly sanctimonious speech by the bygone American president who escalated the state terror in Vietnam to the full-blown and glorious crusade with which Operation Iraq Liberation is so often compared. "Let's make this the biggest call to arms the country has seen in a generation," Daveybloke burbled further, which in a more vacuous context might be seen as somewhat lacking in tact or else as slightly alarming, depending on whether one sees Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives as being mainly ridiculous, like George Osborne, or mainly unpleasant, like George Osborne. Daveybloke burbled that the party of William Hague and Chris Graybeing stands for the "idealists that the Liberal Democrats will inevitably disappoint because they cannot win this race" since, as everyone knows, the whole point of idealism is whether you win or not. Daveybloke burbled that it was time to inform New New Labour that it was not about you, the government, but about we, the people, and that it was time to say to rampant individualists that it was not about them, the individual, but about we, the people. Thus we, the people, will be asked (sic) to curb our rampant greed and retire earlier, on a purely voluntary basis, for the good of the country; while the Daveybloke administration will be cutting Big Government, National Insurance contributions and state pensions, on a purely voluntary basis, for the same noble purpose. Although Daveybloke does not intend to reform the voting system or to put the City on a leash or to indict any non-foreign war criminals or to stop throwing taxpayers' money at large corporations in return for worse services and higher bills, he does intend to permit voters to hold a referendum on any local issue if they can afford to mount a borough-wide campaign and get five per cent of the local population to sign up.

Monday, April 12, 2010

O Joy, An Election Campaign

O joy! an election campaign!
What a wonder! what balm for the brain!
Let us jabber and grin
Till we're all of a spin,
And then we can do it again!

An election campaign! oh what larks!
The burbles, the boasting, the barks!
The script boys inflating
Our leaders' debating
With airily witty remarks!

An election campaign! oh what fun!
Now we'll see how those parties can run!
There they go! Deary me,
It's a shame what you see
When you don't have your hands on a gun!

An election campaign! oh my heart!
Let now all our boredom depart!
They've been at it, you know,
Since these five years ago,
And yet this is only the start!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

British Values, Roman Rubbish

The Ministry of Unfitness for Purpose, which generally has so much to say for itself on moral subjects, has come over all coy about some Roman and Etruscan artefacts which the Italian government claims were stolen. The artefacts, some of which show signs of not having been professionally cleaned, have been in the collection of one Robin Symes, a dealer with a record of bankruptcy and alleged shady dealings which has doubtless inspired a certain fellow feeling in the corridors at Whitehall. The Italians have asked for the records of how the artefacts arrived in Britain; the British Government has a legal obligation to provide these records, but has so far failed to do so. The Italians say uncharitably that this is "unhelpful", despite the British Government's long and fragrant record of adherence to international law. In fact, from all we know of the Home Office, it is more than likely that nobody knows whose laptop the records are on, much less what they say or whether the said laptop is still in the possession of its rightful owner. Consequently, the Ministry of Unfitness for Purpose has demanded that Italy hand over evidence that the artefacts "were in fact stolen", while hastily arranging to sell them off in order to cover Robin Symes' unpaid taxes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cuddly But Tough

Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives, of course, are only cuddly when cuddliness is the right thing to do. When toughness is the right thing to do, they can stop being cuddly and be tough instead. Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives are going to be tough on public services, tough on unions, tough on waste, tough on immigrants and, once they've shunted a few million more people out of gainful employment, they're going to be tough on those too. Daveybloke's Cuddly Minister for the Prevention of Idle Poor People has announced that "while the whole country is tightening its belt it's scandalous that thousands are managing to defraud the taxpayer out of billions". It is not clear who among Daveybloke's Cuddly Cabinet or their chums in the City are tightening their belts at the moment, but the point about defrauding the taxpayer is well taken. The head of policy at the Child Policy Action Group noted that benefit fraud costs the taxpayer somewhat less than payment errors by the benefit agencies, and that the taxpayer is saved fourteen and a half times as many billions as are lost through fraud because the benefits system has such high levels of bureaucratic malevolence built into it that many people don't claim what they're entitled to. He also mentioned tax fraud, which costs the taxpayer thirteen and a half times as much as benefit fraud but inexplicably receives somewhat fewer tabloid headlines. Hence Yvette Cooper, the Glorious Successor's Minister for the Prevention of Idle Poor People, has responded to the Conservative foghorning with the claim that New New Labour are already being even tougher on benefit fraudsters than Daveybloke's Cuddly Conservatives intend to be.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Back Burner

The World Bank has approved a loan for a state-owned South African company to build a large coal-fired power station. The United States, which is deeply concerned about climate change when other people are causing it, protested against the loan by not voting against it. The United Kingdom, which believes that climate change can be prevented through the use of cuddly coal and sustainable uranium and has spent the last seven years helping the United States to kill Middle Easterners in the name of perpetuating its dependence on fossil fuels, abstained along with the US; as did Italy, Holland and Norway. A spokesbeing for the World Bank said that despite the efforts of the US and Britain "it was not an easy decision", and that "everybody recognised the concerns about climate change, but this was a balancing act". The survival of the species is, after all, only one of many problems with which the business community has to concern itself, and like other minor matters it must occasionally be disprioritised in favour of profiteering.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Hitching a Ride on the Popemobile

In the wake of the attempt by the Glorious Successor and Jailer-in-Chief of Juveniles to mobilise the child abuse vote, Daveybloke the Cuddly Conservative has had a bit of a chat with the Catholic Herald in order to woo the coathanger vote. Being a moderate, Daveybloke supports a "modest reduction" in the time limit for abortions, because of "the way medical science and technology have developed in the past few decades", and despite the agreement of every medical body in the country that the present limit should be maintained. Evidently Daveybloke subscribes to the Alan Johnson school of scientific awareness, at least so long as he is talking to the Catholic Herald. Daveybloke is also in favour of forcing the terminally ill to suffer as long as possible, and is presumably inclined to be tough on crime by prosecuting anyone who seeks to help them end their lives. Asked whether he believed in resurrection, Daveybloke answered "Yes, but I sometimes struggle with the big leaps"; which, despite the image it conjures of people bounding out of their graves like Boris Johnson not quite getting the hang of being dead, is slightly more sensible than the Nicene Creed and a good deal more concise.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

O Joy, An Election's Been Called

O joy! an election's been called!
Let our bliss from the rooftops be bawled!
With non-fact, non-figure,
Fibs petty, fibs bigger,
Let us now be most merrily mauled!

An election's been called! what a beaut!
Now Joe Public is no longer mute!
On a wild voting spree
Between fiddlers three,
He can choose a nice man in a suit!

An election's been called! lovely stuff!
Hearken! here comes the talk that is tough
As our Dear Leaders vie
For their slices of pie
And excrete steaming mountains of guff!

An election's been called! frabjous day!
April showers of shit into May!
All those promises deep
That they don't have to keep -
An election's been called! oh, hooray!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Understanding A Little More and Condemning A Little Less

The Aegis Trust, which campaigns against genocide, crimes against humanity and suchlike aspects of British foreign policy, has urged the British government to do more about prosecuting its fellow war criminals. A special unit was established by the Thatcher government, which probably thought war crimes were something committed exclusively by continental Europeans (in Asians, Africans and Argies it's just their natural barbarity coming out); the unit was conveniently disbanded during the late 1990s, but the Aegis Trust thinks we could do with reviving it. The UK Border Agency has managed to expel over five hundred war crimes suspects along with all the children and cancer victims; fifty-one cases have been referred to the Metropolitan Police, but they have apparently been too busy squeezing, smacking and shooting the British population to worry overmuch about some foreigners who were probably doing a wonderful job under difficult circumstances. The head of campaigns at the Aegis Trust astutely compared war criminals to white-collar criminals, another variety of malefactor towards which the Government has consistently displayed a high degree of sympathy and understanding: "You need arrests to prove that the law is a 'credible deterrent'," he said, although he does not seem to have explained why the Glorious Successor, his Minister of Justice or any of his cabinet and other enemies should be interested in deterring the sort of people who engage in shady business practices or who butcher civilians on fictitious pretexts.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Exegi Monumentum Aere Perennius

The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, has irritated Muslims, Christians and prudes by commissioning a forty-nine-metre bronze statue to commemorate the country's half-century of independence. Some imams have registered an aesthetic objection to the Thoracic Renaissance style which was beloved of both Nazi and Stalinist artistic commissars; while Christians have been annoyed by Wade's comparison of the statue to Christ. Since the statue depicts a man, woman and child emerging from a volcano, this does seem a bit of a stretch. Others are apparently worried that the youth of Senegal may be led astray by the sight of a fifty-three-yards-high metal woman in a thigh-length skirt. Wade has also been criticised for spending £17 million on out-kitsching the Statue of Liberty while the residents of the capital city suffer floods and power blackouts. Then again, Wade has a clear idea of the statue's function: tourism and nationalistic boastfulness. That is more than can be said for the creator of our own Millennium Dome, which is unlikely to last as long, which cost forty-six and a half times as much and for which no actual purpose has ever been discovered.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

That Mask Just Won't Stay On

Daveybloke's Cuddly Minister for Boot Camps, Chris Graybeing, has been caught making discriminatory remarks about hotel owners, claiming that people who run hotels on the high street have fewer rights than those who offer bed and breakfast services from their own homes. Graybeing takes the view that "if it's a question of somebody who's doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn't come into their own home", while on the other hand Graybeing really doesn't think it is right in this day and age "that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes". Presumably the discrimination arises because hotels are bigger establishments and deal with larger amounts of money, in which the nasty, slimy, corrupt homosexual currency can be discreetly hidden until it is carried in AIDS-proof bags to the laundry. By contrast, the white Christian hard-working families whose bed and breakfast establishments are their castles, and whom Daveybloke's austerity bonanza will force to scrimp and save for every penny, can claim no such protection. Some of these deserving little tradespersons may even be forced to carry the homosexual money around in their personal wallets next to their own buttocks, or even give it as pocket money to those of their children whom they hope will grow up to be bankers, parliamentarians and other varieties of successful benefit claimant. Graybeing does not seem to have made clear his feelings about the rights of bed and breakfast entrepreneurs who object to blacks, Irish, dogs, Muslims or women who dress the wrong way; but it should be possible to make an educated guess.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

There's Always Miliband

The leader of the Labour Party, Lord Mandelbrot the Infinitely Recurring, has jumped in with his hobnailed brothel-creepers to try and defuse any suspicion that a Labour election victory would mean five more years of Gordon Brown. Interviewed by the Murdoch Times, Lord Mandelbrot said that Labour might "go five more years or four or three, or however many it is, with the person they know and can depend on", depending on whether the new New New Labour parliament includes anyone less incompetent at making a Putsch than Hazel Blears, James Purnell, Charles Clarke, Butcher Hoon, or Patsy Hackitt the Nurses' Friend. On the other hand, it appears, Gordon has been doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances, being the only party leader with sufficient courage and grit to force those on lower salaries than himself to pay for his mistakes.

Daveybloke, meanwhile, has promised Torygraph readers that he will be a new Thatcher, handbagging all and sundry until the Great has been jolly well put back into Britain. Daveybloke summarised New New Labour's legacy as "our economy wracked by debt, our social fabric torn apart and the political system mired in sleaze", which is not at all the way the party of the poll tax riots, the three million unemployed, the Short Sharp Shock, the Westland scandal, Saddam Hussein's supergun and Cecil Parkinson would have left matters. Daveybloke promised "quietly effective" government, which may or may not be a coded pledge to sack William Hague, who is not effective, or George the Progressively Osborne, who is neither effective nor quiet. Daveybloke also reiterated his long-broken promise to dispense with "crude party politics", which is almost certainly a coded pledge to form a coalition, should circumstances require it, with the Liberal Democrats, the Ulster Unionists, UKIP, the British National Party, Robert Kilroy-Silk or anyone else with whom Daveybloke may find it necessary to jump into bed.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Agree With Thine Adversary Quickly

With his usual brilliant timing, the Glorious Successor has answered a questionnaire from a magazine by saying that Benedict's League of Divine Paedophiles is to be congratulated "in particular" among the country's various religions for helping "the least of these" - a reference to the Saviour's party political pep talk in which he promises life eternal to those who feed, clothe and visit people who manifest the same peculiar apocalyptic proclivities as the Saviour did himself. Emulating the humility of the Saviour and of the Saviour's chum Tony, the Glorious Successor also compared himself to the "good Samaritan", who did not pass by on the other side but who instead took money from the poor and used it to construct a PFI hospital in which medical aid for the victims of mugging was withdrawn on the grounds that the funds were needed for repaying Samaria's national debt and the customers should have been more careful anyway. The Glorious Successor rejected the idea that "religion should somehow be tolerated but not encouraged in public life" on the grounds that such an attitude would entail a community "stripped of values" - a particularly unfortunate case to make for the Christian churches, which were born in misogyny and anti-Semitism and spent the twentieth century leaping into bed with Hitler, Mussolini and various younger choirboys. The Glorious Successor also said that his policy on "family finances" derives from his own positive experience of marriage rather than anything from which the rest of the country might possibly benefit.

Daveybloke, answering the same questionnaire, made his usual enigmatic pronouncement about "our broken society" (Daveybloke, like certain other spiritual healers, frequently appears to confuse Britain with Somalia or Zimbabwe), and burbled that bribing people who hate one another to bring up their children together "has a key part to play" in mending it.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Law's Delay

The Crown Prosecution Service's delay in finding someone to acquit of either the fatal assault on Ian Tomlinson or the disinformation campaign that followed has been criticised by various persons who have failed to empathise with the business of doing a wonderful job under difficult circumstances. A minute's silence was observed by Tomlinson's widow and son and a crowd of about fifty; police closed the road but did not use the kettling tactics which did such a wonderful job of preventing trouble during the G20 protests last year. Perhaps because some of the women in the crowd were more than half the size of the officers on duty, nobody was smacked in the face or hit with a baton, either.