Thursday, 18 September 2008

Lehman Bros, HBOS etc. - A Nation Mourns

Yes, we were right all along. The whole Thatcherite thang - cutting taxes on the rich, allowing banks to do what the hell they bloody well liked, pretending the government had no legitimate role in the economy - it was all bollocks. Those of us who voted Callaghan in 1979 and Foot in 1983, who have been leant on for decades to admit we'd got it all wrong - well, as we now know, WE HADN'T. The 40% top tax rate was a disaster from the start, bringing in the massive boom/bust cycle which kept the Tories out of power for more than a decade - though sadly not convincing NotLabour governments to reverse it. Given enough rope to hang themselves the banks duly did - though of course those who were really responsible never paid the price, which is being paid as always by ordinary working people. Given that these guys have fucked up our economy while still remaining filthy rich themselves, what are we going to do? They should either give up their ill-gotten gains, or DIE. As they're clearly not going to do the former, how about the latter?

Class War demonstration outside the Stock Exchange, Monday 22nd, 12 noon, Paternoster Square EC4, nearest tube St. Pauls - don't precisely know what this will achieve, but may just prove a starting point and we'll take it from there. But the physical security of the rich now has to be threatened, as they've threatened ours. Let's see some DEAD BANKERS! The forthcoming Winter of Discontent is going to eclipse anything that happened thirty years ago.

Monday, 8 September 2008

The invisible hand gets the shakes....

We're told that government doesn't need to interfere in matters economic. The market is great and will prevail (or something like that). That is, of course, until it might mean important people losing money.

The US government has found it necessary to take over the two big mortgage guarantors, which bear the cute, homely names "Fannie Mae" and "Freddie Mac", which are normally not glossed even in the British press. Now, it could be argued that this doesn't make much difference; in both unlovely acronyms (FNMA and FHMC, since you don't ask) the F stands for "Federal". But, apparently, they weren't Federal until yesterday. What does this mean? That the people who run them were paying themselves enormous salaries on the grounds that they were commercial enterprises while not actually bearing any of the risk, perhaps? Perish the thought. And of course now they are government-run the bosses will go back to public-sector salaries? Well, of course they will.

Sounds rather like our own dear Northern Rock. Its bosses were lending stupidly, knowing that everybody else was risking their neck but that they themselves were risking bugger all, but they knew that the government couldn't let them swing in the wind as an electorally significant number of people would otherwise suffer. Well, any justification capitalism could possibly have rests on the risk-taking of entrepreneurs. This must mean that if things go tits up these people are on their bikes and living in a two-up-two-down terrace. Otherwise we'd be better off having everybody working for the State, drawing shit wages but doing sod all work for them. Less opportunity for disaster, and less hassle all round.

And no-one should ever forget; everyone on a high salary has got it by blagging and status-mongering, rather than by any conceivable version of market forces. And so no harm could ever be done to the wider economy by taxing them to buggery and beyond.

Apologies to the blogosphere for absence

Another long hiatus, in this case caused by the CELTA English-teaching course I’ve just completed.

They warned us at the beginning that the course we were taking was pretty intensive. I took this with a pinch of salt, but discovered soon enough that they weren’t bloody kidding. Haven’t worked so hard for quite a while; it ain’t an easy option, and for people without experience of academic study it may be a bridge too far. One guy dropped out after three days, and I damn nearly dropped out halfway through, but was persuaded back on board. The main problem for me was that, there being no CELTA course in my home town despite its two universities, I had to travel 120 miles every day, and due to unforeseen engineering works (aren’t they all unforeseen?) this meant five hours’ commuting on top of the eight-hour day. Alarm set for 5.45 a.m., and by the time I got home and had had a bite to eat it was getting on for 9. Now some people may be able to get on with written work and lesson planning at that sort of time, but I sure ain’t one of them; too much of a piss-artist for a start. So it was scraping by from start to finish.

Interesting lot of people on the course. I expected them (on the evidence of a mate who’s been in the biz 20 years) to be largely female; in fact blokes had a 10-8 majority. I wasn’t even the oldest on the course – there was a splendidly barmy woman who was pushing sixty. As a seasoned Islamophobe, it was probably salutary for me to be paired with one hijab-wearing Muslim lady for class work, and with another one as my teaching partner. (Both of them were training to teach English to women in the Greater Manchester Muslim community, and one can’t have any objection to that.) In fact one of them I fancied the jilbab off, but it wouldn’t do to mention any such thing.

The students were delightful. As they can’t charge people for practice lessons given by the likes of Muggins, these lessons were offered free, and quite a mixed bag they attracted. Not as many Asians as I’d expected and rather hoped; just a few orientals, and rather more strong silent North Africans, with the odd Hispanic. There was also an ancient Russian woman – God only knows what she was doing there; the first time she attended our class she sat on her own giving off the occasional impassioned diatribe in Russian and frightening the daylights out of the young students sitting around her. But both we and the tutors were jolly kind to her – personally I’m prepared to cut a lot of slack for someone who grew up in Russia in the early days of Stalin – and she settled down and became quite amenable.

The organisation of the course was a bit chaotic, but after enough of us had complained they got their act together and made sure we all got through. On balance I’m glad I did it, but wouldn’t want to do it again. Nor have I the first idea where I’m going to use it.

Islamophobia reasserted itself at the end, reassuringly. After the last day of the course the Christian and secular majority wanted to go out on the piss, but we thoughtfully changed this into a Chinese meal to try to be nice and inclusive for our Muslim colleagues. Even so we only managed to bring one of them along, and only after we’d repeatedly assured him that we were going to a restaurant and not a pub. It was one of those buffet restaurants, and once he’d got his plate filled he went to sit down at another table, presumably because it was not on to share a table with people consuming pork and beer. We wouldn’t have even minded that if he hadn’t then scarpered without contributing anything to the bill….Sod ‘em, sod ‘em, SOD ’EM! I’ve no objection to people who don’t eat and drink certain things; but I know dozens of people who don’t drink and will still come to the pub and have an orange juice. If you have to make such a bloody arse of yourself then you shouldn’t complain if we start getting prejudiced against you.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Those who can, do; those who can't, teach

A while back I gave high praise to the late Ian Dury for discarding that glib phrase in favour of "If you can, teach; if you can't, FUCK OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!". Quite right, too.

But now I've been doing a CELTA course in teaching English to foreigners. It's a damn good thing to do; there are lots of TEFL courses, but not all of them are recognised anywhere. CELTA is a seriously good one, and will get you a job more or less anywhere. You can do it part-time over several months, if you've got that long; alternatively you can do it intensively, in a month. It costs about a thousand quid.

It's bloody hard work though. Especially if you're doing it in Britain in the summer when none of the transport works; it's taking me 5 hours a day to do the commute, on top of the very intensive 8 hours' coursework. The trainers are real slave-drivers, in the best sense; switch off for five minutes, and you'll find yourself utterly clueless half an hour later. Now we've started teaching practice, anyone who asks a question is told "Well, we did that last Thursday - weren't you listening?"

Still, it has a real flavour of being worthwhile. I'd recommend it to anyone; what you need is not a job or a career - those just convey you into the hands of some management arsehole - but a skillset, and this is a good part of one.


Spent a week in a part of the world where a bit of sun could be relied on.
I will always remember the most paradoxical verse of the New Testament, probably put in there to show witless evangelicals that you can’t just treat it all as the literal truth. St Paul quotes a Cretan as saying that “all Cretans are liars”, and claims the Cretan is telling the truth. Well, given that most of them are now in the business of fleecing tourists, I suppose the principle of biblical inerrancy has been given a bit of a boost.

In any case, don’t listen to any of these wise saws. On the second evening I went to a beach restaurant offering fresh whitebait. When the sea is about 50 yards away one tends to assume this is all right. But somehow a large part of the next morning was spent hughing my guts up.

On only one morning I went out without my sun cream - ten days later the skin is still peeling off my sunburnt forearm.

Also took with me Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, which contains a fictionalisation of Waugh’s own experiences in the Battle of Crete in May 1941. I hired a car to drive over the mountains from Chania to Sphakia in the tracks of Waugh and Guy Crouchback, whose transport had been less reliable, though not, as it turned out, much less. As it happened, on the way back from Sphakia a tyre burst on us while in the mountains miles from anywhere. I couldn’t reliably find my way much further, so tried to get back down the mountain road to Sphakia. Fortunately I managed to flag down a car full of practical Bulgarians who changed our tyre for us. I should add that by this time it was 7.30 p.m. or so and it gets dark early in those parts. And I’d almost rather be stuck in a hair-raising transport crisis with Corporal-Major Ludovic than with the Iron Buddha.

But you can’t deny that an inhabitant of the North of England needs the odd Vitamin D boost every now and then. And I certainly got that.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Musings on the cricket

Having just moved house and not got my satellite up yet, I have had to go back to the old warhorse of Test Match Special to wallow in cricket as is my wont.
It is in the opening moments of TMS that one realises what Old Etonians are for. As cricket commentators they rule the world. What would English cricket be without Brian Johnston and Henry Blofeld? (Although it must be conceded that Southampton policeman John Arlott was the daddy of them all.)

It has to be said that “Sir” Geoffrey Boycott is also a delight, if only for depth of self-absorption and utter lack of self-awareness. It’s great when one of the other commentators winds him up to an outburst of quite incredible pomposity; once the mechanism is set in motion it will rattle on with eye-popping absurdities, which are lovably rather than irritatingly amusing as one realises there is no malice behind them. (My father met him once and found him absolutely charming.)

A grossly predictable defeat at the hands of South Africa. I don’t think our players are any worse, especially as their star all-rounder Jacques Kallis didn’t do very much, but we have no idea of tactics or strategy.

Start with the selection. No complaints in principle about Darren Pattinson, although he may turn out to be one of those bowlers we always seemed to have in the Nineties, who would roar in full of sound and fury and never even look like taking a wicket. The idea that there were other people ahead of him in the queue is ridiculous; a place in the team is nobody’s right – next thing you know they’ll be taking it to an industrial tribunal when they get dropped. The silliest thing was saying he shouldn’t have been picked because he grew up in Australia – where do they think Kevin Pietersen grew up? We’re going to have to rely more and more on English-qualified players who grew up somewhere else; how can you develop cricketers in a country where every green space has been sold off to developers and it rains all bloody summer?

Tim Ambrose battled gamely this afternoon, but he isn’t a Test No. 6. Surely the wicketkeeper issue should relate to the bowling strategy. If you play four bowlers, then you play six batsmen and the best wicketkeeper you can find; if you need five bowlers then you need a No. 6 batsman who can keep wicket competently, i.e. the nearest you can get to Alec Stewart. Right now that means Matt Prior or just possibly Colonel Mustard.

Anyway, the South Africans have far worse problems. Makhaya Ntini bowled OK in this game, but he wasn’t much cop at Lord’s. Boycott, looking for trouble, tried to put Shaun Pollock on the spot on whether Ntini should have been dropped; Pollock, to his credit, made no evasions. The dropping of Ntini would have precipitated an official enquiry, and would have taken a lot of justifying, as he is the only real black guy in the team. (Actually I think Makhaya should be investigated for discrimination himself: left-handers, like myself, are a persecuted minority when he is bowling. He bunnified Trescothick on his last visit and got Strauss with a real bastard yesterday.)

Anyway, we were rubbish. A Test captain batting at 3 should not get himself out in the penultimate over of the day. James Anderson played brilliantly as night-watchman, and then got hit on the head. Often medical and tactical imperatives clash, but in this case they pointed in the same direction; he should have gone off and got his head together. He’d done his job, holding out for nearly two hours, and should have come back in his real No 9 position to bat with the sublime Stuart Broad. Anyone could have predicted that Anderson would be out in no time if he stayed on the field. Full marks for courage, but discretion is the better part of valour.

Pietersen was a disgrace. There are times (Twenty20 springs to mind) when a five-ball 13 is just the ticket. When the task is to bat for two days to save the match it’s just silly. No doubt it felt good to get to 13 in four balls. But Fred Flintoff, who’s also not normally one to hang about, did more good by taking 68 balls to reach the same score. KP ought to get dropped for that, like Boycott once was for scoring 246 in about six months. Except we don’t have the depth of batting to make that feasible...

Maybe Broad will make a No. 6 one day – after all he now averages 41 in Tests, and that was only his second not out. The only problem is that his recent bowling has been nothing to write home about.

The one glimmer of light it that I was expecting to miss the last day of the match as I’m flying to Crete tomorrow, and now I won’t.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Faith in Humanity?

I have devoted more time than I’m really happy with to the subject of utter bastards – occasionally one needs to remind oneself that there is another sort of human being and one meets them now and then – but it can’t be denied that bastards do tend to thrust themselves on one’s attention.

We’ve all had horrible disappointments in love, and there’s no point in telling your children to expect anything else – but I have to say that Enormous Oaf 2’s first great fuck-up broke some sort of record (unless it’s always like that for the younger generation – in which case God help them).

EO2 is nineteen, and got into his first proper relationship four months ago. He was very happy, but also sensible and realistic; he knew, and had discussed it with his partner, that it might be better to cool things when he goes to university in October, as who knew what might happen after that. So that the relationship might end did not come as a shock; what did come as a shock was that, after his boyfriend rang to tell him he’d found someone else, the “someone else” was then given the phone to tell EO2 that he could fuck off. Asking to talk to his hitherto boyfriend to ask why, he was told by the new bloke that he ever got in touch again he’d get battered, the guy knew where he lived etc. etc.

Now EO2 is getting phone calls from his ex’s number, but isn’t answering them, partly because he doesn’t know whether it’s the ex or the ex’s new bloke, partly because even if it is the ex he’s got nothing to say to the cowardly bastard.

We all know relationships break up, but if that’s how the younger generation are splitting up, God help them, as I said before.