Saturday, 28 February 2009

On Liberty

This week The Times commissioned a lyrical piece by Philip Pullman on freedom and the British electorate's bovine attitude to it to mark the Convention on Modern Liberty. The ever-alert Englishman noticed that having published it, they then pulled it from the web. Someone complained. Surely not the government?

The web being the web, it cropped up in a few places. So, to increase its circulation, here it is. It's worth reading.

Are such things done on Albion’s shore?
by Philip Pullman

The image of this nation that haunts me most powerfully is that of the sleeping giant Albion in William Blake’s prophetic books. Sleep, profound and inveterate slumber: that is the condition of Britain today.

We do not know what is happening to us. In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness - the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys.

We are so fast asleep that we don’t know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation - after all we have an Established Church - or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?

The new laws whisper:

You don’t know who you are
You’re mistaken about yourself
We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless
We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you
And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised

The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street.
This is what the new laws say about that:

Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity
Whatever your opinions are, we don’t want to hear them
So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are
And we do not want to hear you arguing about it
So hold your tongue and forget about protesting
What we want from you is acquiescence

The nation dreams it is a democratic state where the laws were made by freely elected representatives who were answerable to the people. It used to be such a nation once, it dreams, so it must be that nation still. It is a sweet dream.

You are not to be trusted with laws
So we shall put ourselves out of your reach
We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition
You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them
You do not need to hold us to account
You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?
Who do you think you are?
What sort of fools do you think we are?

The nation’s dreams are troubled, sometimes; dim rumours reach our sleeping ears, rumours that all is not well in the administration of justice; but an ancient spell murmurs through our somnolence, and we remember that the courts are bound to seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we turn over and sleep soundly again.
And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth
Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours
We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on
We do not want to hear you talking about innocence
Innocent means guilty of things not yet done
We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence
You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt
We do not want to hear you talking about justice
Justice is whatever we want to do to you
And nothing else

Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don’t mind if we are. They don’t think we care about it.

We want to watch you day and night
We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you
We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people
We can see you have abandoned modesty
Some of our friends have seen to that
They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible
In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide
We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural
We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things

One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:

We know who our friends are
And when our friends want to have words with one of you
We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need
It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law
It is for us to know what your offence is
Angering our friends is an offence

It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.


And those laws say:

Sleep, you stinking cowards
Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms
Freedom is too hard for you
We shall decide what freedom is
Sleep, you vermin
Sleep, you scum

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Good Grief

Had I been brave enough, I would have posted this yesterday. Guido's instinct was initially sound, but he then spoiled it by recanting after listening to the sombre announcements that took the place of PMQs. Now that Matthew Parris has put his head above the parapet, I can say what I wanted to say yesterday.

The world has come to a pretty pass indeed if the death of Ivan Cameron is deemed to be worthy of over a third of the news content at 6pm and 10pm. Apart from the celebriddy aspect - his Dad's famous, so it's a human interest story, otherwise we wouldn't bother - it spawned some bio pieces on Cameron himself (he sees the NHS through the prism of Ivan's life and death, otherwise he's too much of a toff to have noticed what really happens in the NHS, yadda yadda, this is Nick Robinson for BBC News. "Thanks Nick; that was our political editor Nick Robinson" namecheck namecheck). Further, it spawned some pieces on cerebral palsy and epilepsy, which were not in any way news items, more 'background' to support the central theme of the news.

Of course my heart bleeds for the Camerons, who anyone can see are normal loving parents for whom this is a complete tragedy. As normal parents would, they'll be hating every minute of the media circus. We knew about Ivan's disability only because of Cameron's position as Leader of the Opposition. Lesser MPs would have avoided the requirement to be 'open with the public' about it. Perhaps Cameron's openness was all the more because he was proud of his son and didn't want to be seen as reticent about his condition. But he didn't do any more parading of his children than any other party leader. I saw a piece from 1970 on the web this week which had a teenage mid-Harrow Mark sweeping out the empty Thatcher swimming pool in Kent.

Parris is right; we shouldn't have stopped the show for Ivan. Cameron's absence notwithstanding, PMQs should have taken place with Hague substituting. The death of Ivan Cameron was not in itself of any relevance. He deserved no more, nor less than the dignity and respect that we afford the soldiers who lose their lives defending the interests of this country.

Our politicians might behave like Z-List celebrities quite often, or even turn into Z-Listers (stand up Galloway, Paddick, Currie!). But the current leaders of our main parties are in the business of politics, and nothing more. The political wheel keeps turning, regardless of infant mortality, and PMQs, in its (weak) role as a means of holding the Government to account, should not be stopped for a display of mawkishness. Single sentences of dignified regret and respect was all that was called for.

For Ivan, this is a merciful release. RIP.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Binman Cometh

Al Beeb, our national broadcaster, is labouring under the misapprehension that very many Britons give a twopenny toss about Binman Mohammed, the Ethiopian tourist who thought Afghanistan was a clever destination in 2001. Discovering that the Kandahar Holiday Inn had been reduced to rubble, the golf course turned into a field hospital, and that Hertz had run out of Vauxhall Astras, he high-tailed it to Karachi, where he seems to have got his passport mixed up with a mate (perfectly innocently), and tried to leave the country with the wrong (horror!) passport. Coulda happened to any of us!

Binman, of course, has a residency permit for Britain, a country he likes very much, except for its government, its customs, and its people (apart from the many thousands of his fellow asylum seekers who also like Britain very much, except for its government etc etc).

Al Beeb, therefore, has decided to treat the wretched confused tourist as a British National - not, I think, because of any feeling that this country sees him as One of Our Own, but because he racked up a good few airmiles between Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Cuba, where he did orange jumpsuit porridge for a few years. During this time, he was asked some searching questions about his holiday schedule of 2001, and the techniques used might have made his eyes water.

He was accompanied at his news conference this afternoon, having arrived at Northholt (by private jet, natch), by a lawyer who couldn't have looked more of a lefty if he had dressed like Rik Mayall in the Young Ones. Clive Stafford-Smith (no amount of Staffords can disguise the fact that you are a Smith, Clive) is a professional Yewman Rights burka-follower, and - I submit, Your Honour - a man quite taken with the prospect of embarrassing his country whilst pushing the Legal Aid £50 notes into his trouser pockets.

Perhaps I am wrong and you all do care, deeply, about poor Binman and agree that Al Beeb should be treating him just as it would treat Ron from Runcorn or Wayne from Wincanton.

Well, do you?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Mushy Peas and Daily Mash

Lord Fondlebum of Boy has been having an überflounce in New York.

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, has attacked the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, the American coffee giant, in a foul-mouthed tirade for talking down the British economy.

Howard Schultz, who built the coffee chain which is now struggling in America, said in a television interview last night: “The concern for us is Western Europe and specifically the UK. The UK is in a spiral.”

Lord Mandelson later said, within earshot of journalists: “Why should I have that guy running down the country? Who the fuck is he?"

The (excellent) Daily Mash has the answer to his question.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Don't Faint

The old adage is proved again: give 'em enough time and they'll come round.

The Beeb's biodrama of the glorious Margaret has been seen by Letts of the Mail, and it does not look, walk, or quack like the lefty chippy duck it promised to be.

True, Lindsay Duncan, who I rate as a terrific actress, said that she 'hated' Thatcher before she made the film, but - blow me! - found that there was a bit more to her than the typical knee-jerk luvvie attitudes which were, I suppose, the only views on Thatcher poor Duncan had ever heard.

So, having planned to watch the prog next week through gritted teeth, green-ink pen in hand, I'm now looking forward to it.

Reagan first, Margaret second.... the left-wing view of history is gradually being revised. Give it twenty years, when Iraq is a lovely place to live and friendly to its neighbours, and they might even show Dubya as the kindly, thoughtful, far-sighted statesman that some of his friends assure me he is.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Golfing Nun

A nun walked into Mother Superior's office and plonked herself down in a chair. She let out a sigh heavy with frustration.

'What troubles you, Sister?' asked the Mother Superior. 'I thought this was the day you spent with your family.'

'I did' sighed the Sister. 'And I went to play golf with my brother. We try to play golf as often as we can. You know I was quite a talented golfer before I devoted my life to Christ.'

'I seem to recall that,' the Mother Superior said. 'So I take it your day of recreation was not relaxing?'
'Far from it,' snorted the Sister. 'In fact, I even took the Lord's name in vain today!'
'Goodness, Sister!' gasped the Mother Superior, astonished. 'You must tell me all about it!'

'Well, we were on the fifth tee...and that hole is a monster, Mother - a 540 yard Par 5 with a nasty dogleg left and a hidden green... I hit the drive of my life. I creamed it. It was the sweetest swing I ever made. It flew straight and true, right along the line I wanted...and it hit a bird in mid-flight!'

'Oh my!' commiserated the Mother. 'How unfortunate! But surely that didn't make you blaspheme, Sister!'
'No, that wasn't it,' admitted Sister. 'While I was still trying to fathom what had happened, a squirrel ran out of the woods, grabbed my ball and ran off with it'

'Oh, that would have made me blaspheme!' sympathized the Mother.
'But I didn't, Mother' sobbed the Sister. 'And I was so proud of myself! And while I was pondering whether this was a sign from God, a hawk swooped out of the sky and grabbed the squirrel and flew off, with my ball still clutched in his paws!'

'So that's when you cursed,' said the Mother with a knowing smile.
'No, that wasn't it either,' cried the Sister, anguished, 'because as the hawk started to fly out of sight, the squirrel started struggling, and the hawk dropped him right there on the green, and the ball popped out of his paws and rolled to about 18 inches from the cup!'

Mother Superior sat back in her chair, folded her arms across her chest, fixed the Sister with a baleful stare and said...

'You missed the f***ing putt, didn't you?'

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Police Bashing the Bishop

Plod overreacts again. Reading the story, it appears that the chaps were in no danger whatsoever, and like this sort of thing. Plod felt the need to handcuff the bish as they led him away from his property, and then kept the god-botherer banged up in the local nick for more than a day. Did any charges follow? Did they fuck.

They really don't make it hard for us to despise them, do they?

My correspondent in the Yoo Ess has sent me the following, believed to be of a discontented ex-Lehman banker, relieving himself down the country chimney of Dick Fuld, the arrogant arsehole who turned down many bids for the troubled bank, and ran it into bankruptcy.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Blossom Dearie, RIP

How many of us are au fait with the great Blossom Dearie? Clive James is. Perhaps he is the only poet to have mentioned her in verse. Clive James, a poet? Yes, amongst his other talents. I remember reading a memorable paean to his wife on their anniversary about five years ago, and being a good (and idle) chap, I've looked it up for you.

Idle is an old romantic at heart, and will, as with all Valentine's days, make the lady idle a morning cup of tea in bed, put the loo seat down after use, order and collect the Chinese takeaway on Saturday evening, to be eaten, incongruously, with a bottle of Pol Roger.

Here is Clive James, pouring his heart out in most un-antipodean fashion.

Anniversary Serenade

You are my alcohol and nicotine,
My silver flask and cigarette machine.
You watch and scratch my back, you scrub me clean.
I mumble but you still know what I mean.
Know what I mean?
You read my thoughts, you see what I have seen.

You are my egg-flip and my ego trip,
My passion-fruit soufflé and strawberry whip.
When the dawn comes to catch you on the hip
I taste the sweet light on my fingertip.
My fingertip?
I lift it to my quivering lips and sip.

Homecoming Queen and mother of our two
Smart daughters who, thank God, take after you,
This house depends on what you say and do —
And all you do is wise and say is true.
And say is true?
True as a plumb-line or a billiard cue.

On from Byzantium to Cooch Behar
Our Messerschmitt two-seater bubble car,
Laden with foie gras and with caviare,
Follows the shining road to Shangri-la.
To Shangri-la?
With Blossom Dearie singing in the bar.

When the sun fades, the Earth will fly away.
Tell me it isn't happening today.
I have a debt of happiness to pay.
I die if you should leave, live if you stay.
Live if you stay?
Live like a king, proud as a bird of prey.

My share of Heaven and my sheer delight,
My soda fountain and my water-sprite,
My curving ribbon of a climbing kite,
You are my Starlight Roof, my summer night.
My summer night?
The flying foxes glide, the possums fight.

You are my honeydew and panther sweat,
The music library on my private jet.
Top of the bill, we fly without a net.
You are the stroke of luck I can't forget.
I can't forget?
I'm still not ready for you even yet.

You are my nicotine and alcohol,
My Stéphane Audran in a Claude Chabrol,
My sunlight through a paper parasol,
My live-in living doll and gangster's moll —
And gangster's moll?
Mine the fedora, yours the folderol.

The ring is closed. The rolling dice we cast
So long ago still roll but not so fast.
The colours fade that we nailed to the mast.
We lose the future but we own the past.
We own the past?
From our first kiss, a lifetime to the last.

(Spectator, April 9, 2005)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Send Three and Fourpence, We're Going to a Dance

I'm driving into the snowdrifts of the Berkshire Downs to watch the idle girls' acting brilliance over the next couple of days at the school's Drama Weekend. So I'll leave you with a compo. It's not strictly Chinese Whispers, even though I have used the classic CW as the title of this post. (For overseas readers: A WW1 message from the front started out as "Send reinforcements, we're going to advance". By the time it had been passed on to HQ by three or four field radio operators, it read: "Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance").
No, it's more to do with cynical lefty manipulation. The post a week or so back about BBC doublespeak resulted in a comment thread which gave imaginary examples of lazy oafish overpaid Beeboids coming up with headlines giving a completely different story than the full text. Susan Watts of Newsnight was, of course, doing this deliberately, to suit her Man-Made-Mumbo-Jumbo-Global-Warming agenda.
For some reason idle became the subject of these bogus headlines. I found myself, inter alia, scratching my nuts, worshipping Satan, pleasuring Alsatian bitches. Here is a full example:
Idle is said to have a passion for gardening, which does wonders for his crippling asthma. "Nothing better than to see a flower bed without a weed, " he breathlessly pants.
BBC reports: Idle says "I've weed my pants"
So there you have it. Show your creative side, and at the same time put yourselves into the running for a cushy BBC journo's post, with loads of dosh, unlimited expenses, and a gold-plated pension.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


Every year I get an email from a mate in the City. Some junior trader he knows fills the boring days between Christmas and New Year in the office by trawling through the list of Bloomberg users/subscribers and putting out the annual Best Names list. Here they are, in no particular order. My favourites are the ace French trader at #11, Fabienne Cretin; #23 John Kokkinias, poor bastard, and finally, surely a throwback to Carry On Sailor, at #13 Ginger Seaman.


Old Bond, New Bond

Rory Sutherland is an ad man who writes a column in the Speccie. I liked the way he put his view on the 007 question in his last column:

I try hard to like the new, darker James Bond, but I miss the camp insouciance of the earlier films. If you’ve grown up with the type of 007 who briefly interrupts a bout of exotic love-making to sabotage a Russian spyplane with a champagne cork, it’s hard to warm to a character who spends most of the film engaged in the kind of fighting you’d expect to see in a pub car-park in Maidstone.

The Tuscan, when he is not spivving insurance scams to unwary Florentines, or knitting baby boots, takes this sort of thing seriously. Perhaps this will flush him out.

What do you think? Connery or Craig? M as an ex-admiral or as a career-woman civil servant? Bags of smoking and misogyny, or perfect pectorals and a banana-hammock? I think I know the answer to the debate: who can name me ONE memorable quote from the new, 'ard-as-nails, testosterone-frenzied version of the franchise?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Build-Your-Own Bus Ad Slogans. Idle's Efforts:

Make your own here. H/T Devil's Kitchen, OH, Lil

For overseas visitors to this blog: the original was a strange ad paid for by an atheist group, which went: 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life'

Crazy Music, Crazy Guy

Ted Nugent, rock star and avid longbow hunter from Michigan, was being interviewed by a French journalist who was an animal rights activist. The discussion came around to deer.

The journalist asked: 'What do you think is the last thought in the head of a deer before you shoot him? Is it, 'Are you my friend?' or is it 'Are you the one who killed my brother?'

Nugent replied: 'Deer aren't capable of that kind of thought. All they care about is: what am I going to eat next, who am I going to screw next, and can I run fast enough to get away. They are very much like the French.'

End of interview.