Words

Last week I wrote my article not knowing who’d won the American Election. This week I feel the same.

The strangest and most dangerous aspect of this campaign was that at a certain point words ceased to matter. Mr T could say what he liked, even if it was ridiculous, impossible, scurrilously offensive, or even contradicted the next day. He was a symbol, beyond truth, free of the need most politicians have to make sense. It’s often said that Americans don’t do irony, or they may have queried some of his attitudes: empathy with the underdog from a lifelong boss; promises for better wealth distribution from a spoiled billionaire; diatribes against outsourcing jobs from someone who outsources jobs; fellowship with war veterans from someone who eluded the draft; promises of massive public spending from someone who thinks it’s smart not to pay taxes; business advice from someone who notched up four separate bankruptcies … etc etc. It didn’t matter because his words weren’t what we usually accept words to be. He’s as free to eat them now as he was to utter them. His current emollient tone is no more credible than his raving was, especially while he assembles his wolf-pack to fall on what’s left of decent American values. Meaning is so over.

Most presidential candidates promise change. Administrations, once in power, realise that their country’s problems are mostly insoluble and end up concentrating on damage limitation. Their supporters get disillusioned and wait for the next hustler to come along. But this time the promised change wasn’t based on fiscal policy or micro-management. This time it took on some of the bastions of western civilisation and put land-mines under them. Look, says the Coming Man, we know what we’re supposed to think and say but that’s not really us, is it. We don’t really like foreigners. We can’t trust Muslims. We’re fed up with women talking back to us. We think climate change is just another tax. We don’t want to pay for healthcare for the poor. We’re white, American, and it’s time we came first.

We Brits should complain. We held the dress-rehearsal, we made it alright for high-ranking politicians to utter what everyone knew were bare-faced lies. We allowed racism to lead our debate. We encouraged our poor angry whites to concentrate only on wrecking the existing system, not looking for a workable alternative. The lesson here and in America was the same: when times are tough forget the reasons and point at the foreigner, classic fascism.

In “A Man For All Seasons” one of Thomas Moore’s zealous aides claims that in pursuing the Devil he’d cut down every law in the land. “What then?” says Moore, “When the Devil turns on you, who will protect you then, the laws being down?”

I feel the same about words. They may be tricky, they may talk less loudly than deeds, but they’re all we’ve got. They’re our only channel for human discourse and agreement. Once words are devalued, used merely as weapons, excuses for our most shameful instincts, we’re lost. There’s no basis left for humanity or trust, dignity or thought, only a primary-coloured world of gestures and mob rule. We can’t have that.

 

Consultative

CONSULTATIVE

 “This referendum does not contain any requirement for the UK government to implement its results, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. This is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented …”

That’s not the text of a controversial decision by a group of bewigged judges. It is in fact a quotation from Paragraph 5 of the European Union Referendum Bill itself, as agreed by Parliament last year. That’s what we voted for. What a shame that wasn’t made a little clearer to voters by those whose lies and deceit during the campaign might make even Mr Trump blush. Even Mrs May’s brainless statement that “Brexit means Brexit” isn’t true.

The referendum has other issues in common with the American election. Many ‘Leave’ voters share the Trump idea that the most important thing is to smash up the institutions of the past, before even thinking what to do next. We may be sick of poverty and austerity and the gross inequalities between rich and poor, but will a solo UK be an improvement? Who knows? According to the most sober financial analysts there is no post-EU scenario which doesn’t leave us worse off than we are now.

On the other hand the EU, like Secretary Clinton, doesn’t inspire much public affection either. From its petty regulations to its totally unwelcome push for more centralisation it too often fails to represent what most of its members want. To crawl back to the EU now saying sorry, can’t think what came over us, would be just as unacceptable as ripping ourselves brutally out without a clue what to do next.

There’s nothing anti-democratic in taking as much time and negotiation as necessary to ensure the best possible outcome for our country. The referendum specifically does not “set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented”. The ties between our country and the EU are so complex and intertwined that it might take several years to unpick them all. If it needs that time it’s in all our interests that it should have it.

The vote on 23rd June did not say that Mrs May and her Three Amigos should have the sole say on when and what we do. Parliament should set the agenda and priorities of what we want to achieve, and Parliament should have the final say, bolstered if necessary by a second referendum, on whether we’ve achieved it. That’s the sensible and constitutional way to carry the referendum result forward. The alternative is to bow to the dark threats of racist and mob violence ramped up by such as Nigel Farage, and the most disgusting display of hatred and ignorance I’ve ever seen from the right-wing press. If we’re going to go out for heaven’s sake let’s take our time and do it properly.

I don’t wanna go to Hartlepool…

I DON’T WANNA GO TO HARTLEPOOL

In my week Thursday morning means The Cornishman, and Thursday night means “Question Time”. There’s plenty not to like about the programme, apart from being aired so late at night that it’s easy to retreat from political gibberish into a peaceful sleep. The idea that only politicians have interesting views or that if you have one politician you have to have the whole spectrum of them stifles good argument, though you can imagine the online storm that would fall on the BBC if they didn’t show due ‘balance’. But it’s worth watching just to listen to the audience’s contributions and even the tone of their applause, one of the few ways of gauging what ordinary people are really thinking.

What they’re thinking in Hartlepool kept me up half the night.

Hartlepool has certainly had a tough century of it, beginning when they were heavily shelled by the German Fleet at the beginning of WW1. As a key manufacturing town it took a beating after WWII, losing first its ship-building industry and then, by degrees, its main employer British Steel, losing an estimated 10,000 jobs in all. No town can take such blows with a smile on its face, and when it came to the EU Referendum it expressed its anger and frustration with a Leave vote of nearly 70%. The sense of being forgotten by those in power was one reason, but almost as decisive was the bitter resentment felt when any of the few jobs available were taken by incoming EU immigrants.

Objections to their attitudes from the soft South are regarded as patronising, so even though Cornwall is an equally poor area for employment I won’t go there. What was disturbing was the impression that having won the battle of the referendum Hartlepool seemed to think they’d won the war of public opinion. In the face of speaker after speaker was the fierce self-confidence of a victorious team. What they’d won was a promise to re-align European political and trading arrangements, but what they thought they’d won was something else.

Despite the clear harm that a sudden dislocation from the EU would do to Britain’s economy, they wanted to get right on with it. Any argument for a careful, timely separation was met with derision – “Which bit of democracy don’t you understand?” They, the people, had spoken and they wanted their political servants to carry out their wishes straight away (possibly thinking that no imaginable downturn could make them any worse off).

As for immigrants the hostility on display was naked and ugly. No immigrant, or even well-settled resident of any kind of foreign extraction could ignore the unspoken subtext of Northern Brexit. Get back home. Now. This means you.

There were tolerant voices in the crowd, there was some applause for common sense and thoughtful moderation, but this was shouted down or drowned by the general lowing of triumphant hatred. There was even an enthusiastic roar of support for Donald Trump. In Hartlepool, and by degrees everywhere else, the racist beast is out of its cage, blinking in the unexpected sunlight of what it believes to be democratic approval.

 

 

 

 

Dylan – A fan gibbers…

DYLAN – A FAN GIBBERS…

Penzance was there from the start …

My 6th form gang was a 60s cliché of black clothes, cigarettes, coffee,                                                    parties, flirting, serious serious talks about life, and above all, music. Someone’s brother sent over an obscure record from America and it did the rounds at school. It was just called “Bob Dylan”, a picture of a round-faced young-for-his-age troubadour with an old man’s voice, average musical skills and often borrowed tunes. But there was a spark there, enough for me to take it home and tape it on my old reel-to-reel. Some weeks later my girlfriend invited me over and sat me down, but it wasn’t me she was excited about. “Listen to this!” she says, “You MUST listen to this!” It was “Freewheeling”, and we either listened or talked about it all day. None of us had ever heard anything like it. I even gave a talk about Dylan at school, and some of my lucky friends got a ride up to London to see him on his first tour.

‘Dylan’ soon became a thing of its own, defying the categories we knew; not pop, rock, folk, soul-baring confessional, social polemic, poetry, madness – it was all of these, but in a restless mixture that never stayed still long enough to be defined. For my generation of fans he walked with us through our lives, there in our bedrooms, at our parties, in our small hours, on the beach, in the car, in our heads; though it was always understood – almost part of the charm – that he didn’t care a damn about any of us. But he never let us down. Irrespective of his influences from Dylan Thomas to Keith Richard he was in his own space, raising the bar of what song-writing could do. Aspiring jazzmen are told that Miles Davis is still the one they have to get past. For any song-writer it’s Dylan.

Some huffy commentators have questioned whether it was right to give a literary prize to one who didn’t express himself in books, but most people accept that the Nobel committee were spot on, if a little late in the day. At least he didn’t have to die to receive his due.

It’s been a long, long journey from “Song to Woody” to “Must be Santa”, and like many others I’ve sometimes had to sit it out in respectful silence, but I’m happy to say he changed my life. Film-maker Irvine Welsh, less than impressed, described his prize as “A nostalgia award from the prostates of senile, gibbering hippies” My prostate swells with pride, and I’m pleased on behalf of my fellow SGH’s to tell Mr Welsh that when he produces a film of a tenth the poetry and emotional heft of “Blood on the Tracks” we might take him seriously.

Dylan didn’t ask to be a genius, he just did what he did. Seeing him still endlessly touring with no discernible voice, rattling around from hotel room to hotel room at the age of 75 doesn’t indicate a very contented soul and you wouldn’t want to be him, but it’s so good to see his astonishing talent honoured at last, and at such a level.

How do you like your Brexits in the morning?

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR BREXITS IN THE MORNING?

If you believe what you read there are only two kinds of brexit currently on offer, hard-boiled or soft boiled. Utter nonsense, as we’ll see later, but let’s get those two out of the way first.

Soft-boiled Brexit is perfect for those with very delicate stomachs. It’s the closest thing to none at all, only eaten because there’s really nothing else on the menu. It means a very slow cooking time indeed, waiting several months before you even put it in the pan and then a further two years of slow simmering. At the end of this time it should come out with a little extra tariff and quite loose borders, and be available over most of Europe.

Hard-boiled Brexit is an alternative option, favoured by many with a dyspeptic or choleric constitution. The kitchen technique is known as ‘triggering’. For this the temperature should be turned up, the cooking time shortened, and the lid closed down tight. Any signs of colouration should be discarded. This comes at a higher price and consumers should be aware that it can cause long-term dysfunction in major organs. It will however be very popular in some areas served with a white sauce chauviniste.

As the preparation of this dish is very complex, diners may find themselves served with an inferior product, Scrambled or even Fried Brexit. In such cases lawyers or large firms of accountants may be called in to investigate and you could find your dish extremely cold by the time they have finished picking it over. Delays of up to seven years or more have been mentioned by informed sauces – sorry, sources – by which time it should probably be mercifully despatched into the bin with an appropriate blessing : Brexit Benedict perhaps.

One brexit dish which has so far eluded even our most skilled chefs is Scotch Brexit. No matter how carefully this is approached or how painstakingly put together this seems to resist the cooking process, tending to explode and scatter pieces of brexit everywhere. Other regional variations are hardly more successful. The Spanish Omelette Brexit comes with a sour taste. Even worse, a large container ship which docked at Dover marked “French Brexit Toast – over to vous” was found not to contain foodstuffs at all but the entire edifice known as The Jungle complete with occupants.

The more exotic forms of brexit should also be avoided. These include Pickled Brexit, disgusting to all except the intoxicated, and Devilled Brexit, an even harder and more violent version of Hard-boiled Brexit, see above.

Despite this cornucopia of recipes, as voted for by you in the Great British Brexit-Off, there are many people – almost half the population – for whom it has no appeal at all. Cases of Brexit Intolerance have already been recorded in all parts of the United Kingdom, characterised by outbursts of sighing, tutting and mumbles of “How can people be such ******s”. Sadly this condition cannot be eased by resort to the NHS as they claim to be waiting for an extra £350,000,000 per week (known in financial circles as “A Boris”) before treating anyone. There appears to be no viable cure on the horizon.

Party Nasties

PARTY NASTIES

I was enthralled at Theresa May’s Tory Conference speech. There’s something magnificent about the Conservative Party painting itself in the colours of the common people, rather like watching a hippopotamus pull up a tutu to convince us it’s a ballet dancer. If Jeremy Corbyn had been standing beside her holding an autocue she could not have been more on his message. Tim Farron sings himself to sleep with most of what she had to say. And unlike Mrs Thatcher’s cynical mouthing of St Francis’ prayer before taking up her bloody sword, you can tell that St Theresa really means it. But what would a nice girl be doing in a party like this?

Being a political animal she’s doing the obvious thing. Faced with an open goal it’s time to put the boot in, and so she spots the vacated centre ground and goes for it. But that wouldn’t account for the passionate rhetoric that blistered her followers’ ears in Birmingham. Here are some of the Tory anathemas she says she seeks:

Support for refugees

Government investment in our infrastructure

Crackdown not only on tax dodgers and avoiders, but on “accountants, financial advisers and middlemen who help them avoid paying what they owe”.

Supporting free markets but (gasp) stepping in to repair them if necessary.

Ensuring the powerful and privileged no longer ignore the interests of the people.

Providing affordable housing by building more houses

Putting the rich and powerful ‘on warning’ and telling those who abuse their power ‘we’re coming to get you.’ Battling unfairness, Righting wrongs. Challenging vested interests. She really said all this.

Occasionally the camera would pan around the conference hall. There they all were, the vested interests, the accountants, the tax avoiders, rich and privileged white men, clapping like mad at every blasphemy she uttered. They smiled to each other as if to say ‘Dear Theresa, let her have her day. We can deal with her tomorrow’.

There were some sops to them in the speech, yawning contradictions of which she didn’t seem aware. She wanted ‘Brexit to involve free trade’ but ‘not to give up control of immigration’. In case she hasn’t been listening, every European leader is pointing out that Brexit precludes that aspiration completely. It’s one or the other. We can’t flounce out of the door and start making rules through the window.

She got a tremendous roar when she concluded a section on equal opportunity in education by championing Grammar Schools. They loved that one. She lauded Jeremy Hunt as a ‘passionate advocate’ of the doctors whose future unpaid extra hours he is imposing by law. Like so many people who don’t understand the house market she thinks that private building firms, given the opportunity, will build so many houses that prices will fall to affordable levels – why ever would they? Above all she mocks those who find ‘patriotism distasteful’, while giving baseline xenophobia and borderline racism all the oxygen they’ve ever wanted, even putting their interests ahead of our future economy.

The speech was a true house of cards, sincere in intent, hollow in detail, and sad in its parade of the worthy ideals we’ll never see. Nice lip-service, though. Dance, hippo, dance…

St Artisan

ST ARTISAN

It’s a long time since I caught up with well-known local entrepreneurs Tim and Sally Pondweed, so I called in at the shiny new offices of Pondweed Bespoke Holiday Synergy (Cornwall). I asked Sally what new and exciting enterprises they were involved in.

“You know us” said Sally, “We’ve always had a nose for a gap in the market, and this is no exception. We’ve found a class of visitor whose needs simply haven’t been met until now.” “Really?” I said, “Who would that be? Sports fans? People from Essex? The Chinese?”

“No, you silly thing,” gurgled Sally deliciously, “We’re talking about the filthy rich.”

“Do they come to West Cornwall for their holidays? I thought they all went to the Med, when they weren’t in their holiday homes up in Rock.”

“That’s just the point. They didn’t. But they do now.”

Just than Tim came through and chipped in jovially,  “Yeah, West Cornwall. One of the tourist destinations still worth buying a return ticket to, eh?”  Sally wagged a finger at Tim and said “Now now, let’s not even talk about why Cornwall’s now such an attractive choice. We’ll just be grateful that it is. But the result has been the awful overcrowding we’ve seen this summer, misery, jams, cheek-by-jowl on the beach …” “Can’t get a drink anywhere…” added Tim, “So we’ve done the radical thing.  We’ve bought St Artisan.”

You’ll all know St Artisan, that picturesque harbour village just down the hill from St Bleak. There were rumours that only one permanent resident remained there, but no-one revealed that the village was for sale. “What? All of it? “ I said.  “Every bit” said Sally. “What about the last resident, the old lady?” “We bought her a nice holiday villa in Southern Turkey” said Tim. “She was well chuffed. Or she was when we last heard from her.”

“So what’s going to happen to St Artisan?”

“Well first the big fence,” said Tim, “Trumpy’s got the right idea there. We’ve closed all the rights of way, hired Whiplash SAS-style Security Solutions, fitted the minestacks with CCTV, bought some of those anti-drone microbeam thingies. We’ve got the diggers in at the moment, flattening the ground for…” “The heliport!” broke in Sally with a winning smile. “Yes,” said Tim “Our people can hop over to Tresco whenever they like…” “And so help the local community!” finished Sally, “Something we’re really passionate about!”

“Are you sure they’ll come?” I said doubtfully. “Of course they will,” said Tim, “They don’t want to be staying in places anyone can afford. We’ll have the best hotels, cottages, all the best chefs, Ricky, Ben, Jamie,…” “Local culture,” added Sally, “We’ve booked the Patronisi Kernow Oo-Arr theatre company, the Padstow Rocking Horse, a hot little outfit from Penzance called The Golowan Band, as well as the top stars on their way to Eden…” “Locally sourced food…” said Tim, “Rock Lobster, wild saffron buns, Royal Pasties…” “What are they made of?”  “ Swan” whispered Sally, “But don’t tell Her.”

“And best of all” concluded Tim with a wolvish grin,” They need never go outside the village for anything. In fact – they’ll never see Cornwall at all!”

 

OLD MIKE Class Teachers

OLD MIKE

CLASS TEACHERS

You couldn’t make it up. Not again.

I’ve noted so often that new administrations don’t jump in and start fiddling with, say, Defence, preferring to leave it to those who know what they’re doing. They don’t make instant changes to complicated portfolios like business, transport, environmental affairs. But by golly everyone knows how to run education better than a teacher. Every time new faces step through the ministry doors, teachers all over the country brace themselves for the last massive wodge of changes to be torn up and a sparkling new agenda wished upon them from above.

Not that there’s anything new about Grammar Schools. The earliest are about 1500 years old and they were for centuries the necessary passport for talented and privileged boys – only – to progress to our ancient universities. They taught Latin, Greek, Religious Studies and possibly Law. Students were selected on grounds of class or money.

Ideal material then for Theresa May’s crusade, as expounded in Downing Street, to pull back together the awful inequalities that are tearing our society apart.

Perhaps the new schools will initiate a new curriculum in counter-speaking, how to torture language until it says the opposite to itself. For example:  grammar schools are going to be good news for poor and underprivileged children. They aren’t. They’ll just provide those who need it with a legitimate excuse to send under-performing children off down the road. They say they’ll finally be able to offer all children ‘a good school’. Really? Putting aside the implication that there aren’t any good ones now, where are the good schools for those who don’t squeeze through the gilded gate? They’re not even built yet, and when they are it’ll be to the pre-destined reputation of second-class schools with second-class teachers for second-class kids.

“You’re among the top ten-per-cent!” one of my old Grammar School teachers used to wail at us, usually prior to a scolding. We were. I watched several of my friends – talented in the creative arts, or good with their hands, destined to do jobs the rest of us need, or just not really sure in their early teens who they were or what they wanted – hived off to Lescudjack and Mounts Bay, heads down, lowered in expectation, already tasting the humiliation of official rejection.

It didn’t work.

What about provision for talented kids, I hear you ask, who’s looking out for them?

Well actually, their parents. Or not. That’s the saddest unspoken strand in this debate. Parents can make a huge difference to how kids flourish. The great evils of our time are against them: the lack of permanent housing, the fragile and temporary state of adult relationships, the struggles of hidden poverty, the inequality of opportunity among the sexes – I could be quoting St Theresa here – often exacerbated by the lazy belief that teenagers are impossible to get through to anyway, and are best left to sort things out in the electronic wilderness of their bedrooms. No wonder so many of them are lost. It’s not just because of fashions of government, the idleness of teachers, or the distractions of the net. In every case kids with loving parents who take time to help and support them will always come out best. Kids are for life. It starts at home.

Cornwall’s traffic madness

Do you remember the roads in the 1970s? Oh, the misery, the queues into Penzance stretching back to Crowlas and Marazion, the dreary circuit of rammed car-parks, the laughable idea of even trying to get to St Ives. The authorities tackled the problem at their usual snail’s pace. They built the Penzance by-pass, opened two or three new car-parks with more stringent time allowances and higher charges, installed the St Ives Park-and-ride to make better use of its fabulous railway line, etc etc.  And for a while things got better.

However all I hear this summer, on the street, in shops and everywhere else that people stop for a good moan, is people exchanging awful stories of traffic.

Of course it’s a hardy perennial, as the summer builds towards August, the crowds close in and the weather denies them the beach conditions they long for. We suffer their rudeness, their inexperience of our scary country roads, and their addiction to the 4 x 4 style – presumably they fell in love with the TV image of a deserted moorland track rather than the reality of the enervating crawl down to Hayle’s eastern roundabout in the drizzle with a carful of fractious kids. We can’t really blame them, and it gives us something to grumble about.

But this year there are signs of a real crisis. The crazy decision to re-route the access to Lelant was a classic case of a Planner In The Works, an ill thought-out attempt to fix one problem by creating a bigger one. Cornwall Council, in its Hate Penzance period, proposed something even more ridiculous at St Erth, a massive Park and Ride from which – yes, they really said this – people would distribute themselves all over Cornwall (except Penzance) by train, even back to Truro and St Austell, i.e. they’d drive dozens of miles past a place so they could get on a train back to it.  Some watered-down version of this is back on the agenda and we can only wait and dread.

An even bigger disgrace lurks in the dark vaults of Cornwall Council’s hard-drive: the Sainsbury money. You may remember (or never have known) that Cornwall Council kept back a million plus pounds of the sweetener Sainsbury’s offered Penzance for the privilege of knocking out its heliport and enticing more of its shoppers out of town. This was put aside for a new park-and-ride facility, cunningly placed right beside Sainsbury’s store. The idea that motorists, having crawled down the A30, would abandon their cars within sight of the town was clearly ludicrous, especially as there was to be no actual provision for the ‘Ride’ aspect, no fleet of minibuses but merely directions to the bus stop where they could stand in the rain and wait for the regular bus services. The money still languishes in Cornwall Council’s account and could be so much better used.

What’s to be done? The Lelant-to-Penzance dual carriageway would help. Proper king-sized seasonal park and rides outside Penzance and St Ives would be cheap and work like a dream. Notices of queues ahead, as on motorways, wouldn’t be too difficult to do. But we can’t go on like this. We need some urgent action before our roads are marked on maps: “For Winter Use Only”.

Old Mike – No Way, Cornishman 25/8/16

 

Magbeth!

My play “The Rise and Fall of Magbeth” was performed at the Minack Theatre last week to large and it seems very happy audiences. It was dogged with bad luck before the show – the lead actress dropped out with a week to go and one of the crucial members of the cast had a heart attack at the dress rehearsal!

Despite all that stress the cast made a wonderful job of it. Tamsyn Kelly took over as Magbeth and did far more than fill in the role – she was absolutely brilliant and knocked the socks off the cast as well as the audience. What talent – it’s not easy for an audience to do a standing ovation at the Minack but that’s what she got on the last night, and well deserved. Jess Layton joined the company with four days to go, taking over Tamsyn’s part, and was flawless too. When I was forced to go on stage as well Tim Williams took over the stage management as well as his own part and made sure everything went smoothly. All my family took part too in different ways and even the weather joined in with a moonlit Minack at its most beautiful.

I’m thrilled and humbled with everyone’s hard work and dedication – thank you all so much.

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