Tuesday, 11 February 2020

From Cheer to Fear

While my childhood in the 1980s wasn't the happiest, I was aware that around me was an optimistic society.

Our hair was big and our pop music was bouncy (if you didn't count The Smiths). A particular favourite of mine was Mental as Anything's 'Live it Up' (below), which never failed to boost my spirits.

We'd somehow successfully navigated the threat of Nuclear war, oil running out and the closure of the pits and most of us looked forward to the future.

Clothes and pop music were eagerly devoured with the lines to all our favourite songs learned from 'Smash Hits' magazine or 'Jackie'. Pop star pull-outs lined our bedroom walls.

No one cared about looking like a supermodel. In fact we only had models. Supermodels hadn't yet been invented. However we accepted that very few people looked like a model and were happy with 'pretty' and aspired, if anything, to 'girl next door' in terms of looks. That winning combination of wholesomeness and prettiness.

Drugs were virtually unheard of in the Irish town where I grew up. Glue sniffing was about it and many of us bought (or were bought) a single of 'Just Say No!' by the Grange Hill cast. Our teachers still walked around with a cane under their arm (at least in my first year) -  gesture enough to keep the vast majority of us in line at school - as we knew they had the power to use it.

When I did school work experience on my local newspaper and was paired with Don, the 'Courts & Sports' reporter, crime was low level. the odd stolen ladder or charity box. Father Ted genre crimes.

While our homes tended to be decorated in various shades of brown and our parents' cars beige, we ourselves were colourful and any clothing, particularly involving a fluorescent zigzag paired with a RaRa skirt, was a must. We also loved experimenting with make up and hair.

We enjoyed thriving shops, libraries, community centres, pubs, cinemas and nightclubs. Banks, Post Offices and ticket offices were plentiful as were jobs. If we wanted something we generally had to work for it and save for it, but that made the acquiring of it all the sweeter. You had to be about 50 with a mortgage to be trusted by the bank with a credit card. Luckily our cheque books and cash did us just fine.

If we had time to feel blue from our busy social lives, we just felt blue for a while. No one called it 'depression' or 'anxiety'.

You had to sit and wait for the phone not to ring to get your heart broken, not have it mercilessly shattered within seconds of checking on your love interest's internet or mobile phone activity.

No one seemed to worry about their weight or what they had or hadn't been blessed with in the body part lottery. Or at least if they did, they never talked about it. Life was for living, for getting on with.

Fast forward to today and we have a society which seems ever more miserable and fearful, even though it's never known more material goods and comfort and enjoys international travel we could only dream of!

We have allergies that kill us (as oppose to merely being a nuisance) and people with anxiety and depression from a young age.

Yes, we have tackled many of our 'isms', but as societal acceptance has grown, other intolerances seem to have risen up to take their place. In the good old days friends could have a difference of opinion without falling out over it. That level of diversity seems to have evaporated. I believe we have also become less caring about each other and more selfish as a nation. I remember people sticking up for each other and helping each other as communities. I remember respect for the elderly. What happened?  And how could social isolation become the number one social ill in an unprecedented era of electronic connectivity?

Social mobility was also important. Now most wealth is going one way - in an upwards direction - to those who already have far too much of it. This is having a crippling effect on the rest of the economy, akin to a tourniquet cutting off the blood supply to the rest of the body. Debt has been turned into credit -  abracadabra!

Our tramps (who often took to the road by choice) have been replaced by homeless in ever increasing numbers.

Addictions of all varieties are skyrocketing and it is not uncommon to find people in their 20s complaining of a level of ill health they might have expected to encounter in their 60s.

As if we needed any more woes, we are warned there is a 'climate emergency' but are not told what we are supposed to do about it, apart from worry and find ourselves fleeced for ever more taxes, greener cars, greener boilers etc, usually within a few short years of replacing the previous for environmental reasons.

The TV news has almost become a no go area with its carpet-bombing of doom and gloom.

Perhaps that is why we still find so much 80s music playing everywhere we go. It reminds us all of how life should be. Buoyant and optimistic. Looking forward to a bright future!

I for one refuse to live in fear. Let's all make this our mantra.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

The Ghost of Stuart Lubbock

It is 19 years since Stuart Lubbock, a 31 year old butcher and divorced father of two, was found dead in TV star Michael Barrymore's swimming pool following an all night party in March 2001, yet Police are no nearer to solving the tragedy.

Of two things they are sure. It wasn't suicide and it was no accident either.

Stuart died of a serious forcible assault causing devastating injuries to his anus, possibly while being choked and drowned at the same time, which would explain the absence of reported screams as he was being attacked (there is some difference of opinion between pathologists).

Police believe they have narrowed it down to three suspects who would have been strong enough to carry out the assault, possibly two of them working together. A fascinating Channel 4 documentary 'The Body In the Pool' has spent two and a half years poring over the evidence and interviewing friends and family, Police, pathologists and journalists in their pursuit of the truth in this still 'live' case.

A £40,000 reward for new information has been offered by Crimestoppers and The Sun in the hope that loyalties will have changed and consciences may have started to weigh heavy in the intervening years. All eight people present that night deny any involvement but at least one is lying and it is highly possible more than one was a witness, if not a participant, in the crime.

Interestingly all the guests were known to Barrymore except Lubbock, who had been picked up that night in a nightclub and invited back to the party with them. It happened like this. Lubbock had gone to his local nightclub with his brother Keith as they did every weekend. At some point Stuart popped to the loo and returned excitedly telling his brother that Michael Barrymore was in there.  Michael Barrymore subsequently emerged and a female friend of Barrymore's invited Stuart Lubbock back to the house for a party. Lubbock's brother was all but ignored as Barrymore and hangers on, now including Stuart, swept out of the nightclub and into a taxi. It was the last time Keith saw his brother alive.

Everyone who knew Stuart agreed that Stuart wasn't gay. If anything he was a 'ladies man' who had struggled to stay faithful to his wife. What they all agreed is Stuart would have been 'starstruck' by meeting Michael Barrymore and probably flattered to be invited to the star's party, keen, no doubt, to tell all his friends and workmates about it on Monday morning. Stuart came across as somewhat naive and trusting.

The taxi driver who drove the group to Barrymore's home in a nearby Essex village was interviewed and said Barrymore seemed drunk as he was unable to walk in a straight line. While he drove them to the house, Barrymore (sitting behind him) leaned forward and mumbled. 'I could do with a f**k.'

What happened next is sketchy, but one of the guests remembered seeing Barrymore rubbing cocaine into Stuart's gums in the kitchen at some point in the night (which Barrymore denies). Barrymore himself talked in a filmed interview of lending swimming shorts to his male guests and putting on the pool lights.

Early next morning one of the guests rang 999 to report a body in the pool. By the time the emergency services arrived, Barrymore had had the body removed from the pool, claiming that he himself couldn't swim, a claim quickly refuted by his ex-wife and many others who knew him.

At first the Police were swayed by their interviews with party goers claiming the death was accidental and did not seal off the house and pool as a potential crime scene, a mistake they later admitted. Police believe that opportunities were taken to remove incriminating items from the scene and from the house, possibly by Barrymore's personal assistant (though he denies this). Certainly the property was cleaned up in between the incident and the Police returning some time later.

When Stuart's inquest came up, interestingly Barrymore hired top QC Michael Mansfield to represent him. It is almost unheard of to bring a QC to an inquest as it is the purpose of an inquest is to establish who someone was, where they died, when they died and how they died. It is not the purpose of an inquest to establish if a third party was responsible and who that third party might be. An inquest is not a criminal proceeding. In the event disagreement between pathologists meant that an open verdict was recorded.

Which brings me to some things which bother me about Barrymore;
  • His first reaction was to flee his own house when the body was found.
  • When challenged as to why he had not entered the pool to get Stuart out he claimed he could not swim (subsequently contradicted by those who knew him well). It would also have been odd indeed for him to buy a house with a swimming pool and keep a collection of swimming trunks around if he could not swim.
  • Items were removed from the property (including a pool thermometer and door handle) which may have played a part in the death
  • Barrymore hired a top QC to represent him at the inquest.
  • In 2002 Barrymore demanded another investigation into Lubbock's death and tried to claim Lubbock's internal injuries must have been inflicted in the hospital. A Police investigation showed this was untrue.
  • Barrymore has said it was just 'another night' which happened to go wrong, as if such an incident doesn't warrant a fuller explanation or Stuart were somehow partly responsible for his own death.
  • Having initially been questioned and cleared. after a second arrest and questioning six years later, Barrymore tried to sue the Police for £2.4m in 2018, claiming they had ended his career through 'unlawful arrest'. He won nominal damages.
However aside from the unsavoury nature of the case, I believe it is Barrymore's own lack of answers and deep remorse for the fact a young man died at his house which have effectively ended his career.  Some expectation that the passage of time means that somehow yesterday's news doesn't matter anymore. In fact he is even 'harassed and bullied' over the Lubbock death making Barrymore the victim!

Yes, he may never have been charged but Barrymore was a family entertainer and his many fans would have been appalled at the scandal surrounding the Barrymore brand, not least that there has been no proper closure for the poor Lubbock family.

Doubtless Barrymore is sorry and wishes it had never happened, but he comes across as feeling sorry for himself most of all.

The ghost of Stuart Lubbock has clearly not finished its work for the loss of Barrymore's lucrative career is surely the worst possible fate he could face and every attempt to re-start it has backfired over the years.

In a recent press conference Essex Police made it clear that they believe someone present at the party killed Stuart Lubbock and they are still confident that they will apprehend the murderer.

For me the most horrifying aspect concerning this alleged murder is that it may have been committed, not for money or revenge, but for fun. For kicks.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Corona virus? Use a hankie!

While I was born some decades after WWII, my grandparents almost made me feel as if I had lived through it with them. I almost have palpable memories, even if they are genetic, rather than lived experience.

Sometimes when modern life goes a bit too insane or paranoid I seek refuge in the common sense of those times.

How did the message 'Coughs and sneezes spread diseases' become out of date exactly?

Why did they stop fining people for spitting in the street when TB (tuberculosis) can still be spread this way, and is actually back in the UK again after a long absence?

I can only assume we must have become careless and complacent, losing our laws, common sense and manners when antibiotics were invented and multiple vaccinations came along, assuming they could save us from all ills.

Pre-antibiotics, common sense, rigidly enforced, was all there was. And a bar of carbolic.

So far it seems the Corona virus has killed no more people than the average flu outbreak. The scary bit is the unusual strain of it, the fact there is no vaccine and no anti-viral medication.

In reality there are plenty of people who WON'T get it, even if it spreads worldwide because their immune systems are too strong or they are symptomless carriers. As with any disease it is the vulnerable who are most at risk, the very old, the very young and those with pre-existing conditions or who are poor or malnourished. Those with compromised immune systems, in other words.

So before we go nuts stockpiling masks, goggles and spacesuits, why don't governments go back to basics in their nationwide emergency measures? When governments actually start introducing nationwide emergency measures, that is.

Fine everyone who coughs or sneezes without using a handkerchief or who spits in the street.
Insist that everyone from the very young to the very old washes their hands at every opportunity and train all cleaning staff to pay particular attention to door handles, light switches, toilet flushes and everything else likely to be touched by multiple persons in public places. In fact I am staggered we have not had foot-operated WC flushes and handbasin taps for years, like many Italian cities do.

Enforcing sensible behaviours and encouraging people to look after themselves (and each other) will surely rid the world of this virus quicker than anything else, and until it either burns itself out, as viruses eventually do, or an antidote is found.

Good personal hygiene should never go out of fashion, irrespective of how many antibac chemicals and medicines are invented.

Another aspect of WWII, sadly forgotten, is the equally useful saying 'Keep Calm and Carry On.' It is both unhelpful and downright irresponsible to allow or facilitate mass hysteria. The virus of fear can be just as deadly.

Finally a friend and journalist - Fleur Kinson - offered the following thought which I quote in full; 'Why hasn't the World Health Organization forced the end of the Chinese market practices that cause ALL of these modern epidemics? Swine flu, bird flu, SARS and all the rest have been born in crowded Chinese markets where live and slaughtered animals are clumped together with people in unhygienic conditions. It is known and anticipated that all these new epidemic viruses arise in these environments in China. Why has no international agency forced the Chinese to adopt difference practices? Countless lives across the world are affected. We know where these things start, so why don't we stop those environments?'

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Abortion Stall

Yesterday I was walking through the middle of Brighton when I noticed an array of gory-looking poster display boards ahead. At first I assumed they were slaughterhouse scenes and it was some kind of animal rights stall but as I drew closer I realised it was a display of human foetuses in various stages of abortion around a leaflet table.

'Brave.' I thought. (Brighton is not exactly liberal about subjects like anti-abortion, for all its 'anything goes' ethos).

I noticed several people standing around poised with leaflets at the ready and did my best to dodge them.

One slightly built well-dressed lady in her sixties collared me though.
'It's ok.' I smiled. 'I'm not a fan either,' smugly assuming this would let me off the hook.
Instead her eyes widened and she rounded on me. 'So what are you DOING about it?' she demanded.
'Erm. Nothing. It's none of my business what other women do.'
'Really?' Her eyes flashed at me. 'So if you lived next door to a young child and heard it being abused every night, you would do nothing, would you?'
'Of course not. That's hardly the same thing.' I replied, somewhat stunned.
'Life is life!' she replied emphatically. 'Thousands of babies are being murdered every day. Cut up in the womb alive, their body parts sold, and people like you are doing nothing. Most women don't even know what happens. They are not being given all the choices. The BPAS is supposed to advise them but it's really just an abortion clinic. So is the Marie Stopes'
'Look, bad stuff happens every day. I replied. We can't possibly campaign against all of it. It's just not possible. And ultimately it's none of my business what other women do with their bodies. I just know it wouldn't be right for me,'
'At least take these leaflets and read about what you are walking way from.' she insisted. I took the leaflets and she let me go.

I walked away marvelling at her tactics and whether she really believed they worked. It was tempting to be rude to her, but despite the steeliness of her resolve, I detected a mental fragility as well in her desperation to convert. I wondered what her back story was. Had she had an abortion and then regretted it? Had someone close to her? Had she been denied a grandchild? Had she been a doctor who performed abortions who switched sides or was she simply a staunch Christian?

I didn't read the leaflets but I didn't throw them away. Later on I recycled them in my local Library next to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service leaflets on abortion, by way of offering some balance.  Maybe she had a point. Adoption seems to have become a dirtier word than abortion these days, but it's nevertheless still an option, Perhaps its waning popularity has something to do with the  trend of modern women desperate for fertility treatment claiming they 'couldn't love a baby unless it was genetically mine'.
I really don't understand this at all.
My cat is not genetically mine, but I love him unreservedly!
Personally I have always thought it would be a good idea to have women desperate for a baby and women desperate to get rid of an unwanted baby share the same clinic waiting room and be kept at least an hour waiting for their appointments. A lot of human suffering, cost and heartache might be saved if they all got talking to one another and realised they were all human and all suffering though what they did and didn't want. It used to be commonplace for adoption within families for example where an unmarried woman who 'got into trouble' would hand the baby over to a married sister or aunt who would raise it as her own, but with the mother still in the child's life. Yes, there were forced adoptions as well, but those dark days are long gone. There is no shame in being an unmarried mother nowadays, and plenty of support available, in most cases.

Notwithstanding there actually IS a market in aborted baby parts for stem cells, skin grafts and everything else, so abortion is a worldwide racket, and arguably the biggest reason why pregnant women find it so hard to access independent advice.

Recently I read '40 Years of Murder', the autobiography of one of the forensic giants of the 20th century, Keith Simpson. In the 1950s, a badly decomposed body, dressed in the remnants of a summer dress was brought to his pathology lab. She was identified by the dress fabric and the necklace as the wife of a young BBC executive who had gone missing several months previously in the summer. It was hard at first to ascertain the cause of death, but Professor Simpson eventually found enough soft tissue in the womb area to detect a mass of salt water. Her womb had been perforated by an illegal abortionist. The Police interviewed her employer and it emerged she had had an affair with him, fallen pregnant and he had arranged a private abortion for her. She had died shortly after the procedure and her employer arranged with the abortionist to dump her body in a shallow grave in a nearby forest. Unusually both were brought to trial and were convicted of manslaughter.
While abortion will never be risk free, at least its legalision prevented many more horror stories of this nature.

I suppose the biggest thing which puzzles me about abortion is why we have so much of it in a country with free contraception available to all and no shortage of sex education in schools and on TV.  I could understand it more if we lived in a third world country or a country where contraception was prohibited for religious reasons.

Prevention will always be better than cure though, and in an overpopulated world, our government should start offering tax incentives to remain child-free or at least limit numbers through proper family planning. We also have plenty of kids languishing in children's homes and on the street desperate for families/couples who claim to love children to adopt or foster.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Is Prince Harry a victim of Coercive Control?

Prince Harry, one of the world's most eligible bachelors, is introduced to a stunning charismatic American actress with a megawatt smile. He is beguiled. They have things in common. They are both the products of broken marriages, they are both used to being in the spotlight, he as a Royal, she as a successful actress. Perhaps she won't be fazed by dating him as many girls are when they realise what is involved. Moreover he notices elements of his late mother, Princess Diana, in Meghan Markle - her ever photo-ready star quality, her stated desire to do good in the world, her troubled family background, her independent spirit and her sense of fun. Then there is Meghan's need (and hunger) for the limelight, also just like his mother, and much as this turned out to be a double-edged sword for Princess Diana.

Prince Harry has had relationships before, often for several years at a time, usually with horse-loving blonde home counties types. But never has a girl changed his personality before.
He has always remained (and emerged afterwards) as the same happy go lucky bloke with the cheeky ready smile, universally liked and popular with everyone who encounters him. Caring too and committed to patronisng many worthy charities in the memory and footsteps of his late mother.

This time things are different.

Reader, he married her.

At first everyone is delighted and charmed. Here is a genuine 'breath of fresh air' joining the Royal Family, American and mixed race to boot.  Stylishly dressed and made up on every occasion in modest yet figure flattering designer outfits, Meghan's joining 'The Firm' will surely bring the Royals into the modern age, if Prince William marrying Kate Middleton, another commoner, several years previously had not.

Meghan has a brief 'starter marriage' behind her, but she loves dogs and children and alarm bells were slow to ring, unless of course you count her rather unorthodox wedding where she called many of the shots on everything from choice of preacher to flower arrangements with the royal band excluded, notwithstanding her side of the chapel was decidedly empty, except for her mother Doria.
Her estranged father gave some embarrassing media interviews begging her to reconcile with him, joined eventually by her equally embarrassing elder step-sister, but this provoked public sympathy rather than otherwise as her relations were clearly 'on the make' looking to cash in on Meghan's new Royal status, unlike her mother, who remained quietly dignified.

All in all though, this marriage looks like it will be a major and internationally unifying union, a reboot to any stuffy notions about the Royal Family and a clear sign that it has learned from the tragic saga that was Princess Diana's life and is embracing new and more progressive times.
Trolls and cynics abide in manageable numbers at this point.

Fast forward 19 months since the wedding and Prince Harry;
1. No longer sees his former friends
2. Is no longer close to his brother William, who had always been his closest ally
3. Following an unprecedented seven week hiatus away from his birth family over the festive season and holed up with Meghan in Canada, he has come home to be rude to his beloved Grandma, the Queen - a move to separate him from his country? Tellingly baby Archie has been left behind in Canada - collateral in the face of any obstacles against stepping down from Royal duties...?
4. The latest is that Prince Harry has voiced fears for his 'mental health', which suggests a man torn - perhaps between two ultimatums: ie; 'It's me and the baby or your family. Which are you going to choose' v 'It's your family or your wife and baby. Which are you going to choose?' It may not be a decision to step back for him so much as an agonising dilemma with unbearable pressure and conflicts of love and loyalty on both sides. And of course his family is no ordinary family. Not as easy to turn his back on as, say, Meghan's father was for her.

Too fantastical to believe?

Well I am not the first to comment on the personality change in Prince Harry from easy going bloke up for a laugh and a joke to worried looking 'Prince of Woke.' He has changed everything from his style, attitude and habits to his diet, and all since he met Meghan. This is a classic sign of being in a coercive relationship. Coercive relationships work a bit like a cult. A predator targets someone they wish to manipulate, charms and convinces them that they are what they need/all they need/their soulmate and it's them against the world, plays on their weaknesses and exploits them. Their target can be highly intelligent but still possess emotional vulnerabilities (Harry lost his mother at a young age for example and will always feel that void). A predator will then begin to convince their target that friends and family are bad for them or don't have their best interests at heart like they do, just by sowing seeds of doubt in their minds or playing on a perceived fault or failing in a friend or loved one until it becomes a full blown estrangement or feud.

This behaviour is more common than people think, hence there are now laws against coercive control in the UK and it is classified as a form of abuse in a relationship. Coercive control doesn't always involve physical or emotional violence (or taking charge of a target's bank account and keeping them short of money) either, just manipulation and the victim slowing losing control of their life and sense of self and sanity as divide and rule takes effect. It can be perpetuated by either gender and either gender can be a victim.



In Meghan's case she has gained a real Prince along with a title, a baby and a world stage for any woke charitable foundation she cares to found. She is known the world over (which she wasn't as an actress) and has also gained a bevy of powerful celebrity friends including Michelle Obama, the Clooneys and the Beckhams, people she probably wouldn't have been best buds with otherwise. Moreover she has gained money and a share of the Duchy of Cornwall pie, just as her career in Suits was probably nearing its final season and her acting career about to wane. There is now talk of book deals, Netflix films and a whole host of projects being lined up on the back of her brief career as a Royal. Harry, as the potential victim, also has a subconscious trigger for playing along - here is the independent woman he loves breaking free from the Royals but attempting to keep her status, just as his beloved mother tried to a generation ago, only she was not allowed to emigrate with him and William as the direct heirs to the throne.

So what evidence is there?

Apart from obediently pulling the plug on her lifestyle website and personal social media accounts for the sake of Royal protocol when she got engaged, how hard has Meghan actually tried to be a Royal, knowing it was a complete lifestyle change, incompatible with being the strong independent feminist she claimed to be, and doubtless well briefed by Harry and others as to what she would be letting herself in for?

Has she even realised there is a difference between being a celebrity and being a Royal and that the two are mutually exclusive? Is she trying to create some kind of hybrid in MeghanMania  world? Just as there is a difference between environmentalism and conspicuous consumerism including private jets and mashed avocado and the two are mutually exclusive.

1. She stage managed her own Royal wedding and refused to let her father attend, rather turning it into a celebrity-laden gathering to showcase herself and her marriage and substituting her own choice of preacher, music and decorations. No Royal bride has ever exercised this level of control over a Royal wedding.
2.She arrogantly turned down a plush apartment at Kensington Palace insisting that Frogmore Cottage be refurbished to her taste at huge public expense.
3. Meghan retained her Manhattan PR agency throughout her courtship and marriage. Why? What possible use could she have for them in her new permanently changed life as a member of the British Royal Family?
4. She had the Sussex Royal website created a full 9 months before the announcement they wanted to step back from Royal duties and move to Canada.
5. She had various friends leak her 'struggles' within her new role, akin to Princess Diana's 'cries for help'.
6. She upstaged Princess Eugenie's wedding by announcing her pregnancy on the same day.
7. She upstaged Harry by appearing at a presentation he was hosting and making a cringe-worthy speech of her own, even though not scheduled to do so.
8. There was the extravagant jet-set baby 'shower' in New York bankrolled by the Clooneys
9. There was the strange pregnancy without end where everyone waited for weeks for an announcement and even the date and venue of birth kept changing (to the point there were suspicions of a surrogate).
10. Then baby Archie was hidden for weeks, cameras not even allowed at the Christening.
11. There was the embarrassing 'Not many people have asked if I'm ok' interview in the midst of their African tour, which seemed to be more about them and their first world problems than the deprivation all around them.
12.There was a free holiday at Elton John's gaff by private jet, after which Sir Elton infamously claimed to have offset the carbon used via a donation to an environmental charity (a claim that backfired).
13. She guest-edited Vogue with a feature 'Forces of Change' featuring many of her inspirational women friends without seeking Royal approval.
14. There was the 7 week break from Royal duties and spending Christmas with the Royals as tradition expects.
15. There is now the extraordinary announcement that they intend to 'step back' from Royal duties and emigrate to North America without prior agreement or negotiation with the Queen and on their terms - ie keeping Frogmore cottage and other Royal perks, despite claiming to wish to become financially independent.
16. Finally there was the telling comment from Prince Harry's own lips; 'What Meghan wants Meghan gets...'

I don't doubt the newspaper scrutiny has been an irritant and bane to the Sussexes, but they have not helped themselves with their strange self-entitled behaviour and refusal to play ball and throw some bones to the press in terms of the standard event pictures and interviews they would expect to participate in as Royals. And let's face it they have also failed to play ball and work with the Royal Family itself, despite being members of it! It is a bit like actors accepting roles for a long-running play but then refusing to follow the script. Harry knew the drill when it came to how to play the media, but has clearly been overruled by his wife. As for Meghan, she is no shrinking violet when she wants media attention. And she clearly does want to play a centre stage role in the world.  It just has to be on her terms.

One thing is for sure. Harry has not been wearing the pants in this relationship. Meghan has been the driver from day one and she definitely has an agenda, even if she has made some ill-judged moves and gaffes along the way, and Meghan is definitely at the heart of her own agenda.

It will be interesting to see how the Sussex story plays out from now on. I suspect the plans to break free from the Royal Family but still enjoy Royal perks will backfire for this couple somehow.  I thought Meghan would wait until at least baby no. 2 before making such a dramatic move, though I assumed it would be in the form of a marriage split rather than trying to disrupt the actual core structure of the Royal Family.
I also suspect she won't hold onto her current level of power and influence, over either Harry or the world. When all is said and done Meghan is no match for the Queen, whatever she tells herself.

Laura King © 2020

Megxit! Who needs The Crown?

Amazing how news that Harry and Meghan are 'stepping down' from Royal duties and decamping to Canada can wipe Brexit, the Australian bush fires, Prince Andrew and the Iran jet strike and potential war situation off the face of the news.

It's almost a welcome relief.

Interestingly opinion seems sharply divided on the Royal couple.

Is he a loving husband protecting his innocent wife and son from constant scrutiny and media attack, particularly after what happened to his mother?

Is she a scheming manipulator who married him for wealth and influence and, having (allegedly) separated him from his friends and family, is now seeking to separate him from his country...?

Younger friends in particular seem aghast that anyone would marry for anything other than love, but people continue to marry for all sorts of reasons and always have. Wealth and influence is definitely up there in the top three reasons people choose to marry.

Others cite 'racism' as the real reason Meghan has been given such a rough ride by the press since marrying into the Royal family.

I disagree. I think most people liked her to start with and considered her a welcome 'breath of fresh air' entering the Royal Family rather than the one woman tornado she turned out to be.

I think it is Meghan's behaviour which has led to her unpopularity. Her refusal to accept that marrying into the Royal Family involved sacrifice and accepting a new life of tradition and conformity (albeit not preventing her doing charity work and expressing herself in other ways.). She has singularly failed to grasp what Kate Middleton learned early on, and despite Kate's willingness to be a mentor.

Following some unconventional celebrity Royal wedding decisions (not agreed with the Palace) Meghan refused to accept the plush Royal apartment offered to them at Kensington Palace, instead insisting that Frogmore cottage was refurbished to her personal specification at huge public expense. Then there was her love of expensive designers and jet planes, her proselytising on the environment while continuing to consume like there is no tomorrow. The weird drama of the pregnancy, the lavish jetset baby shower in New York, the long wait where no one was allowed to know when the baby was born, see it for several weeks or even photograph the christening, but were fed the odd Instagram clue and finally, body part photo of baby in black and white! Then the happy interlude of the Africa visit involving the strange self-obsessed interview followed by the long 6 week break from the Royals over Christmas. And now this announcement, apparently without consultation with the Queen. Or indeed negotiations as to how their future life apart from the Royals, but still Royal, would work.

Meantime Prince Harry has turned from a popular happy go lucky sort of bloke with a cheeky grin and lots of friends into, as one newspaper called it, a rather strained looking 'Prince of Woke' who doesn't get to do blokish things any more. He has changed in every way from his personal style to his diet. Moreover he wouldn't have dreamed of being so disrespectful to his beloved grandmother or dismissive towards his brother before Meghan came along. Meghan is clearly the driver and pants wearer of this relationship.

I am sure the newspaper scrutiny has not helped the Sussexes, but they have not helped themselves by their refusal to play ball and throw some bones to the press in terms of the standard event pictures and interviews they would expect to participate in as Royals. It is a bit like actors accepting roles for a long-running play but then refusing to follow the script. Harry knew the drill when it came to how to play the media, but has clearly been overruled by his wife. As for Meghan, she is no shrinking violet when she wants media attention. And she clearly does want to play a centre stage role in the world.  It just has to be on her terms.

What has Meghan got out of the marriage so far?  A world stage on which to express her 'wokeness', and launch her charity foundation ambitions from, money and prestige (except perhaps in UK), a Prince, a baby, and a whole new set of celebrity friends (apparently she scarcely knew the Clooneys before inviting them to her wedding). She has also got close to Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, the Beckhams and assorted other celebrities through her short career as a Royal.

Now, like an unwise defendant, they are representing themselves in the media via their social media, often with corny or badly-put together press releases, riddled with inaccuracies. This is not doing them any favours either, along with eschewing all sensible advice and counsel from third parties, including the Queen herself.

They also claim to seek 'financial independence' despite the fact they will need to rely on Royal protection from the public purse for the rest of their lives, wherever they live. True, Harry had some inheritance from his mother and Meghan earned good money in Suits, but apparently the majority of their current income comes from Charles's Duchy of Cornwall estate coffers.

It also appears they want to remain on the same income despite no longer performing even the few Royal duties they were performing.

Meghan having gained so much from this marriage, and been the driver of so many decisions, I refuse to believe she is any kind of victim. Moreover she has been rude and disrespectful to the Queen and displayed more than one instance of breathtaking arrogance and lack of manners for which there is no excuse. Doesn't she think her poor mother-in-law has been through enough and given her age? Does Meghan really imagine that the whole world revolves around her and she has no responsibilities to anyone or anything herself?

Meghan or (Me-gain as some have unkindly put it) is no victim. Arguably she knew exactly what she was doing when she married Prince Harry, and will gain an awful lot more before this saga is over.

Or as another friend put it; 'Either she didn't read the JD (job description) or she has been a deliberate disruptor and social climber all along.'

Thursday, 2 January 2020

The Politics of Homelessness

In late Summer, flowers and a couple of photographs appeared sellotaped to the wall tiles outside my local supermarket, along with chalked messages on the pavement 'RIP' and 'Always loved'.

The photographs showed a pretty young woman with red hair, in one dressed up as if going to a fancy dress party, in the other, donned in hospital gown, identity bracelet on wrist, bending over a cot holding a baby's finger, but looking into the camera.She had apparently lived outside the supermarket, homeless.

A gofundme page was duly set up to raise money for the funeral.

While haunted by this story, I was also puzzled as I walk past the supermarket at least once a day, sometimes more, and never once had I seen this girl, even sitting outside, let alone living. And she was certainly striking enough to make an impression if I had. Nor could I imagine such a girl would have been short of offers of help.

Moreover it had been more than a year since anyone had attempted to sleep outside the supermarket on a regular basis, a young man who had a habit of stuffing the local phone box full of his belongings overnight.

I asked the staff about her. She had sometimes begged outside the supermarket they said, but had never lived on the street outside, and to the best of their knowledge, had not died there either. One was quite distressed that anyone should think they had allowed a helpless young woman to die on the streets outside their shop and was at pains to point out that outreach workers visited the area daily.

Fast forward four months and the coroner's report has just appeared in the local paper.

The young woman *Yvonne turned out to be a 24 year old with a flat in Hove and a young son, although she had apparently known instances of homelessness in her life. She and her partner had taken drugs together one night and he had woken up to find her dead in bed the following morning.

My sympathy immediately evaporated.

Who decided to set up a tribute to her outside my local supermarket and claim she was street homeless, rather than an addict with a home begging for drugs money?

Was her death politicised by putting tributes outside the supermarket, despite the fact that her death had had nothing to do with the supermarket? Apparently cardboard gravestones are now appearing in street locations around Bristol, as if every death is attributable to society's failings, rather than poor life choices (and according to Shelter, two thirds of homeless are homeless owing to addiction issues).

Did those who gave *Yvonne money realise they actually financed her to commit passive suicide?

She had died by her own hand, albeit presumably accidentally, in her own flat leaving a motherless baby behind. And nowadays we are apparently supposed to feel sympathy for 'victims' like this.
Granted, some individuals have difficult and even terrible starts in life (and I speak as one of the former).  But surely, if they then bring a baby into the world, they either give it up for adoption to someone who can look after it or vow the child will have a completely different childhood and life to themselves? What happened to a child as a wake up call and motivator to turn one's life around? What happened to a child as a serious responsibility?

I began to mull on the curious modern cult of victimhood we are seemingly supposed to accept and subscribe to, and in many cases treat as lifelong, rather than a temporary state.

Why too are we supposed to accept this hideous drug culture sprouting up all around us without question as the new normal? How can drugs ever be regarded as 'recreational' when they can just as easily kill or maim as offer a few hours escapism?

Recently I read the autobiography of a forensic pathologist. Tellingly, when he embarked on his career in the early 1980s, he came across his first cocaine overdose death in 1985, some four years after he had qualified and he was very surprised by it. Nowadays it is not unusual for him to come across more than one in a day's work, just from cocaine. And not just young people either, He is increasingly finding middle aged cases on his slab. According to him there has been a seismic shift in the number of unnatural deaths owing to substance abuse over the last few years.

I wonder what Charles Dickens would make of street life today. What novels would he pen? Where would his sympathies lie? Somehow I don't think he would disagree that even poor people are capable of self respect and taking some degree of responsibility for their life choices. Moreover, local hostel places often go unused by those who seem to prefer the streets and are allowed to remain on the streets, despite the law.

Notwithstanding, I regularly support homeless charities, particularly Emmaus, who do an amazing job of full support and rehabilitation (for those who commit to their programme) but I question the efficacy of many other approaches and ideologies. For example every time a local premises doorway or public area is secured from rough sleepers overnight, there are some who deem this 'unacceptable' or 'an attack on the homeless' as if it is perfectly acceptable to sleep in shop doorways or on beaches, open to attack and the elements, rather than in hostels. We also had a local MP who thought 'shooting galleries' were a good idea to facilitate the illegal activity of drug taking! The only people that might help would be park users who don't want to keep finding syringes everywhere, not the homeless.

*Note: I have chosen not to use a photo of the real life street tribute, but this image seemed just as apt,

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Truth Leaks

We live in strange times. There is an almost tangible feeling of something in the air, something afoot, but we know not what and it's an unsettling feeling.

Not that any era ever enjoyed complete stability and security as those who know their history will attest. Like it or not, the world is continually changing, and not always for the better - ie the benefit of humanity. At the moment it sometimes appears to be spinning so fast on its axis as to be in danger of leaving its place in the solar system altogether and even the young are complaining of headaches and mental illness as the sheer pace of life becomes a strain to keep up with.

On a pragmatic level I consider that if my grandparents can survive WWII, most of us will probably survive Brexit, the most off-cited source of present national fear and blame  Yes, it will involve new ways of thinking and seeking new opportunities, but even within living memory we have all been similarly scared within the last generation, ie the 'Year 2000' Problem', when it was believed that computers would not cope with the dates changing to the new Millennium and planes would fall from the skies, there would be food shortages and life as we knew it could well end. Does anyone remember what happened in the event nearly twenty years ago?  No? Well perhaps that says something about the event, not to mention the nature of fear.

And as the millionaire next door has sagely remarked more than once. 'I set up both my businesses in the midst of a recession.'

Of course during WWII we had a government telling us all to 'Keep Calm and Carry On', despite the air raids and the bombs dropping. Rather irresponsibly I see no current government encouraging national calm, but rather stoking national fears and making things worse than they need be. In fact politics have become more Carry On film than 'Keep Calm and Carry On'.

However one chord struck recently when a friend said that the great benefit of living in these unsettling times was that everything which had previously been hidden is now coming out into the open.

Just as the Kennedy Assassination is credited (or blamed for, depending on your point of view) with heralding the dawn of conspiracy theory, the death of a British TV personality Jimmy Savile has unleashed revelation upon revelation and unintended consequence upon unintended consequence beyond anything we could have imagined to reach across the globe. Indeed the unbelievable truth behind his public facade can even been seen in the fall of Jeffery Epstein and all the unintended consequences which continue to emerge from that. Hands up everyone who thinks he committed suicide?  Quite. We have never been less likely to believe the 'official' version of a story than we are now.  Akin to that famous saying; 'Never believe anything in politics until it's officially denied.'

Yes there is plenty of fake news to wade through, but plenty of truth is also leaking out and it has become the age of the leak and the whistleblower.

As for 'fake news' let's say 60% of all news is fake - and that includes sponsored news and advertorials - which indeed makes up a surprising portion of the news in its own right.

Who decides what is real and what is fake anymore?  Those with the money to manipulate the media or a few lone conspiracy theorists? How are people supposed to tell or trust the difference? I think the bottom line is often to ask the question; 'Who is making the most money out of their opinion on this topic?' or 'Where do the vested interests lie?'

Perhaps that's why Prince Andrew's interview at the weekend was such a welcome interlude. For once we were watching something that was so stage-managed and coached, it unraveled before our very eyes. We all knew what we were really watching was a desperate man ignoring all good PR advice (and it turned out that his PR chief had resigned only two weeks prior) and digging a bigger and bigger hole for himself. Yes, it wasn't pleasant viewing and it's not as if most of us previously disliked the guy (or often even gave him a second thought in my case) but there was something refreshingly real in that level of truth leak.

It's interesting to ponder that people only ever search for the truth. No one ever talks about searching for lies.

But to get back to the idea of everything coming out that has previously been hidden, this can only be a good thing for humanity surely, despite the discomfort? And ultimately no one will have any reason left to lie as there will be no human tolerance, appetite or market left for dishonesty. But why do we need lies anyway? Why can't we have a successful, functioning and fair society with jobs and homes for all employing the principle of complete honesty? A much better society no less. It is only the game players who need to lie. Those who seek to subjugate their fellow man for their own advantage.

All counter-arguments and devil's advocates to this theory welcome.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Pillow Fight - a poem

Pillow Fight

When night terrors come knocking
At three in the morning
Don’t lie there and take
What you wouldn’t day awake
As they press all your buttons
Mock all your failings
Find you out as an imposter
Alone in the universe, smaller and lost-er
Pray, pray, pray
To be delivered to next day
To shrug off the shroud
Of dark thoughts aloud
Scare the mares of night
Into flight
Cloven hooves departing as curtains open
Daylight banishes darkness once more
To the other side of the moon
Or so they say
Either way.
The pillow is not your friend
©  LS King 2019

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The War on the Elderly

Free TV licences are set to end.
Free bus passes are regularly threatened.
Most final salary pension schemes have already been phased out and peers now plan to end the triple-lock on pensions.

Any senior citizen unlucky enough to contract dementia has it treated as a separate illness to all other illnesses (under the NHS umbrella) and is expected to pay, even if that means selling the family home they have worked hard for all their lives. They even face a surcharge to subsidise all their fellow sufferers who were not so careful or hardworking.

My generation will potentially be expected to work until 75, irrespective of whether we do a job of manual labour. Working until 75 will also have a cataclysmic effect on all those with elderly parents, spouses, neighbours or grandchildren to care for and result in massive bills to society if they can no longer fulfill all the unpaid roles that retirement facilitates and that society relies on, if it did but realise it. Never mind all the charities and good causes reliant on volunteers.

Moreover if older workers are supposed to retire to make way for the young, how can they?

Few people work for fun. Most people work because they have to.

Meantime those facing retirement are encouraged to 'unlock the equity in your home', having witnessed absolute nose dives in savings interest rates over the years. Notwithstanding the more their resources dwindle the less able they are to take financial risks (ie shares) which might ultimately benefit them.

Even on the leisure side of life there will be unintended consequences. Cruise lines will go out of business as no one will have the time or money to go on long holidays any more. 3rd Generation universities and other institutions and businesses  will become surplus to requirements.

Then there is the NHS being privatised by stealth. That 'freedom from fear' that we all valued for so long. The Victorian Poor Law which took a world war to finally transform into the NHS in 1948. Private health insurance will swipe yet another sizeable chunk from every citizen's budget.
Anyone born pre-1948 inception of NHS was promised care 'from the cradle to the grave.' Class action against the government called for breach of promise?

Finally every financial penalty to the elderly has a trickle down effect in that it renders them less able to support the younger members of their families or leave legacies to them. Already we are seeing a current generation of pensioners who are not as financially 'comfortable' as their parents were. The knock on effect can only get worse, generation on generation.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Wisdom Of J Paul Getty

I have just been reading J Paul Getty's autobiography, 'How To Be Rich', which I picked up in an antique shop.
Despite its enticing title, you don't really learn that much about how to be rich, alas.
Basically J Paul lucked out in the early 20th century oilfields of Oklahoma, though he drilled plenty of holes which didn't strike black gold as well.
Yes he had a good education and got sent to Oxford for two years of it, but his self-made father still made him earn his own money and he spent his early years living out of a battered jalopy, the front passenger seat his office, prospecting (ie drilling) on various leases, some of which paid out, but many of which turned out to be dry holes, spending the bulk of his time with roustabouts and other working men, learning the business from the ground up, literally, getting down and dirty in his overalls.
A few surprises - Mr Getty turns out to be very pro-worker and pro-union. Like Henry Ford he recognised that a workforce needs to be sufficiently well paid for the fruit of their labours to contribute to the economy in their own right. The consumers must be equipped to consume and be customers too. He boasts how he solved a pay dispute with a union within an afternoon, much to the shock of his fellow directors, and even the union itself, who had all mentally prepared for a long siege. His solution to a pay rise demand was simple. He took the balance sheet to the meeting, showed all present that the current profits allowed the pay demands to be met by 50% that year, but the second 50% of the demand would be dependent on how the company prospered in the forthcoming year. This was accepted, and in due course honoured, with the workforce incentivised to the necessary level of productivity.
J Paul was also a firm believer in CEOs donning their overalls several times a year to visit their factories or oil wells, not just for the cameras, but to work alongside their men, making it their business to know their company inside out and the view/views from the factory floor. He personally invented a new drill head retriever tool, which alone made him an enormous amount of money in solving a problem prospectors had had for decades when the screw head became detached at great depth and could not be retrieved, blocking the new hole it was trying to drill. He railed against process assuming more importance than productivity and saw this as the sure route to future business doom or takeover, and witnessed many examples of his theory in action during his long life.
He adored art and felt that the world means very little without the artefacts and writings which outlived most of their civilisations to become their only surviving legacy. He despaired in particular of the American male's rejection of high culture as being 'unmasculine' (a big fear in those days, apparently). He even goes as far as to state:  'The cultural man is invariably a self-assured, urbane and completely confident male. He recognises, appreciates and enjoys the subtler shadings and nuances to be found in the intellectual, emotional and even physical spheres of human existence - and in the relationships between human beings. Be it in a boardroom or a bedroom, he is much better equipped to play his masculine role than is the heavy-handed and maladroit educated barbarian.'
Quite a statement!
No small proportion of J Paul's wealth came from his eye for good art, but it was never an investment for him - he genuinely loved art and collected it for its own sake and the pleasure it gave him. Accordingly the J Paul Getty Trust was created after his death, the world's largest cultural and philanthropic organisation dedicated to the visual arts.
His biggest hobbyhorse however is his fear for humanity - ie the homogenisation of the individual to become as pasteurized (and bland) as milk. He sees this as a disaster not only for the economy but for the future. Human progress depends on the world's free thinkers and eccentrics according to J Paul Getty. They may sometimes be a thorn in society's side, but they are also the innovators and the stimulus every society needs to carry on thinking, debating and evolving. And he himself had been a part of the pioneering world which achieved so much - a maverick. And remained a proud 'individualist' his entire life, who neither wanted nor expected to be approved of for his every opinion.
He accepts the need for sensible structures in society but rejects the push towards regimentation, akin to fascism.
How appalled he would be then that western society is now on the brink of mandatory organ donation, mandatory vehicle tracking, mandatory smart meters, mandatory vaccination and other questionable mandatories, with the prospect of human microchipping just around the corner. As for diversity of politics and viewpoints, that is also heavily discouraged in apparent Western democracies. We also see anomalies like street drugs freely available while Western governments do more to try and drive vitamins and homeopathy underground as alleged dangers to humanity!
His worst fears appear to be coming true, though friends assure me that we will soon be replaced by cyborgs, so that's all good then! Except that no one seems to have twigged that cyborgs won't be consumers yet as they start to replace all our blue collar jobs with more mundane self-service machines.
So patriarchal is this book that J Paul scarcely mentions women at all. It is all about a man's destiny and greatness and a man's obligations to humanity. As a female I could see this as insulting, but with my comedy hat on I choose to think; 'Hooray - he's let us girlies completely off the hook!' Notwithstanding, he was writing this in the days (1976) when women could still afford to be housewives and were strongly encouraged by society to be so and he himself was in the final year of his life at eighty four, a product of his times, as we all are.
On the other hand J Paul was clearly a very progressive and individualist thinker on every other level so, on that basis, I would have loved to have met him. I am sure he would forgive a fellow arts lover for being masculinely-challenged.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Dumb of Smart

There is a legal obligation on all energy companies to complete their smart meter roll out by 2020. This will be pushed back to 2025 at which point county court bailiffs can apparently come round to your property and insist on replacing meters.

After the deadline customers will be openly charged £405 to ‘upgrade’ their meter to  a smart meter, even though we are all paying for them through stealth via our bills anyway.
It is no longer possible to request an analogue meter from an energy company. They do not provide them.

Currently the policy of many energy companies seems to be to deny the best tariffs to customers who refuse smart meters (the legality of which is being explored).

All of which begs the question:

Why does our government care what type of meters citizens have, never mind make it compulsory in a democracy???

1.       They know smart meters don’t save money
2.       They know smart meters are not free – they are added to people’s bills.
3.       They know they are not greener – people who can’t afford to use energy (or who are genuinely environmentally woke) will carry on switching things off and being frugal. The careless or those who can afford unlimited energy will carry on using vast or unlimited energy including to heat up their swimming pools, pool rooms and outdoor jacuzzis and to run their banks of automatic gadgets and lights.

    The following is also well known.

  • .       Smart meters use more energy than analogue meters
  • .       Smart meters can be interrupted or inaccurate if there is not a constant signal.
  • .       Smart meters make it harder to switch energy suppliers
  • .       Smart meters can be monitored to find out if householders are out (data which can easily be sold to criminals by energy insiders)
  •       Meters have to be disposed of at regular intervals as do not readily transfer between suppliers.

There are health concerns about EMF waves and their potential to detrimentally affect plants, pets and people, especially when operating 24/7. At least your microwave is not in use 24/7.
As for the cartoon above, many a true word is said in jest! Our comings and goings will be known to our energy company and who could blame a call centre worker on minimum wage for selling this information on to those who might take advantage while we are on holiday? You can bet the energy company itself will be using this information to take commercial advantage.

I have just heard an advert on the radio for an insidious new 'campaign to help create a smarter Britain', hiring the naive voice of Jane Horrocks to convince us of its planet-saving innocence, albeit with the questionable claim that UK electricity needs are predicted to DOUBLE by 2050.
IS the UK population predicted to DOUBLE in only 30 years?
How can that be, and if we are all going greener/using less?
I think we should be told.

Interesting too how this push towards 'smart technology' is ironically pushing us to use more and more energy whereas analogue and even manual use far less or none - anyone else remember when they used to have to open their own garage door manually, wind down their windows manually, put the sunroof up if it was hot, etc etc and there were far fewer devices of every hue in our homes. Indeed most rooms could get away with one plug socket! This point is also highlighted in my previous post 'The Internet of Things We Might Not Want'

As for Sir Elton John, he appears to think you can make private jet miles disappear simply by making a financial donation to a carbon offset charity!!!!!!!!!

I manage a number of properties in my daily life and those which have smart meters installed are already showing demonstrably higher bills so they are doing the consumer no favours.

According to Fiona Parker's excellent article in yesterday's Money Mail, they are also leaving a lot of customers very angry.... 

Not just me then.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Do We Get the Politicians We Deserve?

Today we got our very own Prime Minister Trump! Brothers by other mothers. Both confirmed liars and sociopaths (that's a psychopath without the axe), they yomp through life believing that everything is there for the taking. And they take it.

And we let them.

Serving the public and being a public servant couldn't be further from their minds. It is all about THEM, not what is best for their country.

But wait. Are we complicit in ending up with them?

Are we so negative and critical and cynical of all politics and politicians that no sane person in their nice mind would now consider putting themselves forward for a lifetime of public scrutiny, criticism, abuse and blame for everything down to the weather?

Has it become a chicken and egg conundrum? What came first the self-serving politician or the cynical voter?

While this particular battle was an internal one inside the Tory party. abstaining from voting seems to be the alarming means of general protest for a growing number of British subjects. But the irony is abstaining is NEVER seen as a protest against whatever array of undazzling potential leaders happen to be on offer. Abstaining from voting is seen as a BIG FAT assumption that you do not care who rules you. Silence should never be mistaken for agreement, but of course it invariably is. And 'don't care got nowhere' as our grandmothers were so fond of telling us.

If we can be exulted to be 'passionate' about a brand of ice cream or a variety of coffee, why so luke warm about the things which should matter most and have the potential to have the biggest effect on our lives? Like our leaders?

Bad things happen when good people do nothing. Whinging about who rules us or Brexit does not count as doing something.

Meanwhile we have open access to all the drugs, booze, porn, gambling, food and online addiction, ie bread and circuses, we could wish for to ensure we remain in our own little bubbles anaesthetised to reality and unlikely to rise up in any meaningful way.

The French Government live in fear of their electorate. We need to follow suit and aim for a bloodless coup or two. When we've all decided what we actually want, that is.

Meanwhile Trump couldn't be happier to have his Little Brit bro' ruling Britain.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Consumerism Will Kill the Earth

Even Extinction Rebellion is conveniently neglecting an inconvenient truth.

We cannot have rampant consumerism driven by limitless economic growth AND save the earth.

They can stop as much traffic as they like, causing as many additional fumes as they like in the gridlock. Here is what ER are NOT campaigning against:

  • The betrayal of the Green Belt
  • All new buildings (predicted only to last 50 years which doesn't even outlive their carbon construction footprint)
  • The demolition of heritage buildings rather than their refurbishment and retro-greening.
  • The failure to tackle empty buildings, brownfield sites and non-dom home ownership.
  • Air conditioning
  • Unnecessary travel, particularly flights
  • Multiple holidays per year
  • Single season fashions
  • Moulded shoes which cannot be repaired
  • Food miles
  • Food waste
  • Computers, tablets and phones having to be regularly disposed of and replaced when their software is 'no longer supported' by manufacturer.
  • Smart meters NOT saving either money or the environment and costing energy to run
  • The scrapping of all old but reliable energy meters in 'smart meter' favour. Plus the scrapping of smart meters when switching suppliers.
  • The 'smarting' of all analogue systems, which then require disposal of analogue systems and have a lot more to go wrong with them thus contributing to their short lives.
  • Hot tubs
  • Jacuzzi's
  • Personal swimming pools
  • Banks of lights in every property and premises.
  • Built-in obsolescence in manufacturing
  • Vehicles written off which are perfectly repairable after accidents but deemed 'economically unrepairable' by insurers who do not wish to pay out for repairs
  • Cars which require front moulded units to be replaced every time a headlight needs to be replaced
  • Non recyclable 'energy saving' bulbs
  • Single use plastics, among other single-use items
  • Unnecessary fireworks (ie when it isn't New Year or Bonfire Night)
  • Chinese lanterns
  • The fall of the school bus and rise of individual journeys to drop children to/from their schools
  • Unnecessary commuting to work
  • Multiple vehicle ownership per household
  • Building new estates where there is no existing infrastructure
  • Charges on rubbish dumps, encouraging fly tipping
  • Barbecues
  • Unnecessary gadgets and other goods.
  • Overpopulation
  • Lack of cheap, reliable and plentiful public transport.
  • 'The Internet of Things' which will encourage unprecedented consumption in getting people to link their every gadget to the internet!

Finally, while there is much each consumer, sorry, individual, can do, it is OUR governments who permit all of the above to be produced and sold and do nothing to discourage overpopulation.

We also need to remember that most people only modify their behaviour when they have to.

Poor people are generally automatically careful in their consumption. Wealthy people have no fear of the bills and will probably carry on wasting as many resources as they can without a second thought.

Limitless economic growth is not sustainable. On any level. Fairer wealth distribution and sensible reproductive levels are what is needed. Along with economic stability worldwide. We give ourselves the right to control animal populations when we deem them to be overbreeding (and by and large animals are far more sensible than we are and will only breed according to what the land can support) but fail to control our own numbers, and at the morally appropriate juncture, creation.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Dr Mary's Monkey by Edward T Haslam

I have just read one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read, if not the most extraordinary.

It all starts when a young boy, a native of New Orleans, becomes fascinated by the unsolved murder of one of his doctor father's colleagues, a high ranking cancer specialist called Dr Mary Sherman, a woman who once bounced him on her knee.

She is discovered one morning in July 1964 after reports of smoke emanating from her apartment. Naked, a pile of smouldering underwear has been placed upon her and set alight. She has stab wounds to her heart and genitals suggestive of a sexual motive.

But strangest and most horrifying of all, her right arm is missing and part of her ribcage is burned through where she is lying. How could a minor fire cause this level of damage? Moreover her neighbours had heard nothing overnight through the thin walls of the apartment block. His father is sent to identify the body and is clearly traumatised by what he sees, but won't go into detail with young Ed.

It is only as he grows up that Ed learns these details and starts to be party to various clues and rumours in the community, making sporadic notes. His father dies of cancer when Ed is scarcely out of his teens, but his last words are to warn him to be careful, knowing of his curiosity.

Decades pass and Ed lives a normal life, but every so often a new clue or new piece of the story presents itself and Ed duly writes it down. A pivotal moment comes when he gets a job at a local newspaper office and is sent to meet some men who wish to know if the newspaper might be interested in their files. He feigns innocence and disinterest, but what he sees is dynamite, including pro-Cuban tape recordings featuring Lee Harvey Oswald, the prime suspect in JFK's assassination.

Bit by bit Ed uncovers the fact that New Orleans has been a secret centre for monkey research since the 1950s involving the mutation of viruses, possibly with the aim of causing a quick-acting cancer to assassinate President Castro during the Kennedy era.  Simultaneously these viruses play a part in the development of the polio vaccine, in the early batch, with disastrous results, and latterly in a sense that could have given rise to the modern cancer epidemic, and even AIDS, as they manipulated viruses creating retroviruses far beyond their understanding, or ability to fully contain, using the new secret particle accelerator machine, a machine Ed comes to suspect of having electrocuted Dr Sherman, either accidentally or deliberately, leaving her colleagues with the horrifying task of having to finish her off and deposit her body at her apartment, making it look like a random murder to hide their top secret medical experiments.

The CIA, the FBI and the Mafia all play a part in this story and all turn out to have nationally-significant roots in New Orleans, including Lee Harvey Oswald, who was also a resident. However the central character appearing to bind everything together is the shadowy Alton Ochsner, founder of the biggest medical clinic in Louisiana, former president of the American Cancer Society and able to boast friends in the highest political spheres, and not just statewide.  He has also been granted special national security clearance for a project of national importance, but what?

There are times in Ed's life when he tries to turn his back on the story, which has now grown to gargantuan proportions from the unsolved murder of a scientist, to secret government laboratories, monkey viruses, a unique plot to kill Castro, a worldwide cancer epidemic, AIDS, the CIA, the FBI and the Mafia and now Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

It all sounds far too incredible to be true and yet the more you read, the more monsters begin to emerge from the sultry Louisiana swamps.

The first version of the book came out in homespun form in 1995, but has grown ever since as new pieces of information come to light and new witnesses come forward. This is no slick production by a seasoned hack or a journalist out for a quick buck, but one man's reluctant life's work on a story he felt deserved to be shared with the world, and at no small risk to himself. Many of the central characters have died before their time after all. It is even suspected that nightclub owner Jack Ruby (who shot Lee Harvey Oswald before he could testify) was injected with quick acting cancer cells to ensure his own death (and thus silence) shortly after. Certainly the researchers who worked on the secret cancer project seemed to be as expendable as their lab animals.

Interestingly 60 Minutes made a documentary on Dr Mary's Monkey, but it was pulled at the last minute with no explanation.

Ed Haslam doesn't ask the reader to believe his book but to join him in asking the questions contained therein. Starting off with questioning the bizarre murder of a renowned scientist which was quickly shut down and never investigated, no suspects, no arrests, no credible explanations.

That said, he provides an impressive array of evidence for many of his suppositions and demonstrates that the official version of events can be just as unbelievable when held up to the light as any alternative version of events we might not wish to believe.

This book has been unputdownable - akin to several thrillers rolled into one. If just one part of it is true, it would still be an incredible story.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Farewell Avon

They say every girl loves a bad boy. Avon was mine. I was eight. He was thirty seven. It could never be. And I'm sure my fantasies growing up in small town Northern Ireland were suitably PG.

Almost sure.

But he left a lifelong and indelible impression on my young mind. It was Avon I tried to channel every time I wanted to take a risk in life, albeit not always successfully. He who showed me that life was not necessarily black and white. You couldn't always tell the goodies from the baddies.

I didn't notice or mind that the space guns bore more than a passing resemblance to hair dryers or that the sets occasionally wobbled. I couldn't wait for each week's episode. The only annoyance was how Avon the anti-hero would chase Servalan across the universe each week, dispatching numerous creatures and henchmen at no small cost to his own life as he foiled her evil Federation plans, only to end up close up and personal with the perfect chance at the end of the episode; 'Kill her!, kill her!' King the merciless, urged. But no, he would always kiss her instead. Yuck! And how dare he kiss a girl who wasn't me!

I thought Servalan was the most evil woman in the universe. Then along came Margaret Thatcher.

I was tremendously saddened to hear of Paul Darrow's sudden death last week. Another part of my childhood gone. I couldn't believe he was 78 and felt even sadder to read of the terrible health issues he had suffered in his final years. Yet he had kept working right to the end, enjoying a new career as the sardonic voice of Jack FM, later Union Jack FM radio, triumphantly. 'Playing what WE want!' to the next generation of fans.

I have just been reading Mr Darrow's autobiography 'You're him aren't you?' which is an absolute delight. Almost a performance, rather than a book, where he is aware of his reader and their intelligence at every step, with frequent asides, just for us. This gives the book a three dimensional aspect a bit like when the painter Lowry included figures looking into the picture as well or Turner added that unexpected red lifebuoy into the foreground. I can't believe this tome seems to have escaped rave reviews with its sharp but witty insights, its marvellous theatrical insider stories and its very honest observations of the double-edged (not to mention extremely fickle) sword of fame. On being introduced to Liberace as a young actor, Paul received the sage advice 'Never forget your fans.' And he never did, remaining grateful for them for the rest of his career.

Unfortunately once the era of the avuncular smurf-like BBC producer (often ex-WWII military) who was happy to take a risk on a sci-fi series they knew little about, because they knew enough to know the kids liked that sort of thing passed, it fell to the shiny-suited bean counters of the 90s who refused to take any risks to make commissioning decisions. This spelled the end for many exciting new series, or even the resurrection of the original in years to come, the notable exception being Dr Who.

Blake's 7 was a ground breaker in many ways. It was the first time the bad guys were allowed to win, the first time heroes were allowed to be killed off, not least Blake himself, the first time so many principal cast members were replaced and yet the series still enjoyed viewing figures of over 10m per episode, and even benefited from regular injection of new cast blood. It was also a very sexy series full of stunning space outfits, much though things never seemed to go beyond a passionate kiss.

Moreover it made the telling point that a humanitarian (Blake) can end up unintentionally killing a lot more people through being soft (ie letting the bad guys live) than Avon did through being a killer (when he wasn't kissing Servalan that is).

Blake's 7 was the brainchild of Terry Nation who had also played a pivotal part in Dr Who and wanted to experiment more with the Sci Fi genre. America had Star Trek and Star Wars after all. Why shouldn't Britain have Blake's 7? And not filled with goody two shoes either.

Paul goes into an entertaining commentary on each episode, later detailing his increasingly frustrated efforts to resurrect the series, hampered by Terry Nation's premature death, and subsequently the bean counters who refused to take risks. Meantime as everyone grew older and the chances of resurrection grew slimmer, he penned several Blake's 7 novels and created radio plays based on the series, aided by enlightened company, Big Finish Productions, who decided to capture the audio play market.

But let not the scores of real life plays and TV series he appeared in both pre and post Blake's 7 be forgotten, not least Dicken's Dombey and Son. Then there was the surprising career highlight for Paul of playing Elvis Presley onstage, including singing his hits, for which he received many and extraordinary reviews.

Paul comes across as a dream dinner companion. Entertaining, honest, empathetic, wickedly funny, innovative, flirty, self-deprecating, but nobody's fool. From his first days at school we see the beginnings of an individual who thinks outside the box and who is not afraid to break the rules. However he is gentlemanly enough to do no more than subtly allude to the many conquests he must have enjoyed, almost inevitable in his line of work, even if he did manage to politely dodge the young fans at stage doors begging to have Avon's babies! Fellow actress Janet Lees Price was his wife and rock of 48 years, until her death in 2012.

Interestingly Paul's agent retained him 'just in case Jeremy Brett turned down a part.' Sadly Jeremy Brett never did. Much as I also love Jeremy Brett, and consider him the definitive screen Holmes, I would have been fascinated to see Paul Darrow as Sherlock Holmes. I think he would have brought his own brand of enigmatic menace to the role. Then again, he would also have made a sublime Dr Who, had he not been too well known as Avon. Starring roles can rule out so much and that is their tragedy. Every actor yearns for one, but conversely not to be typecast, even though like true love, it seldom happens twice in a lifetime. Very few actors can jump from one starring role to the next (or have the good fortune to) without getting snagged and then pigeonholed. The likes of John Thaw and Judi Dench somehow managing to be the exception to the rule.

So to sum up, all actors really want is to be loved and remembered according to Paul, and he goes on various witty flights of fancy musing how he might be remembered after his death. Well Paul, with this fan you got both. Thanks for making my childhood that bit more tolerable.