Eclectic Blue

Back home

0 Comments 08 December 2017

A classic fuss over nothing with regard to London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s visit to Pakistan and India. One journalist asked Mr Khan how it felt to be “back home”. The Mayor replied, “I’m from South London, mate.” And so a row about whether this was a racist comment followed. Of course it was no such thing and here’s why.

My mother was from the Netherlands, moving to England in the 1950s. Whilst she adopted the language, the ‘rules’ and traditions of her adopted land, in her heart, Rotterdam was “back home”. Similarly, my grandfather on my dad’s side hailed from Norway. The only thing I could tell about his Norwegian heritage was his name. But it was still “back home”. They were both British and both had roots. Like Sadiq Khan.

If I had gone to the Netherlands or Norway and asked what it was like to be “back home”, I would react in the same way as Mr Khan. In some ways, both countries are home because without my mixed heritage I would not be here at all. I would not regard the question as in any way racist. In fact, I would look upon it in a positive way.

And that’s the point. The question was really about heritage, about roots. I am very proud to have such tangled roots and I am just about still proud to be English. Can’t we argue about something of more importance?

Eclectic Blue

A lazy chancer

0 Comments 07 December 2017

This tweet from the journalist Patrick Wintour:

“Chancellor Philip Hammond: The Cabinet has not yet had a full discussion of what should be the Government’s preferred “end state position” for the UK after Brexit. It’s official. HMG has no agreed destination on Brexit. 18 months on.”

This excerpt from the Evening Standard:

Labour MP Hilary Benn, chair of the committee, said in an astonishing exchange with the Brexit Secretary: “So the Government hasn’t undertaken any impact assessments on the implications for leaving the EU for different sectors of the British economy?

“So there isn’t one for example on the automotive sector?”

“No, not that I’m aware of,” Mr Davis said.

Mr Benn asked: “Is there one on aerospace?”

Mr Davis replied: “Not that I’m aware of.”

Mr Benn said: “One on financial services?”

Mr Davis replied: “Well I think the answer is going to be no to all of them.”

Two rather important things here. 18 months since the EU referendum and the Cabinet has not even discussed its “end state position” for the UK once we leave the EU. After saying the government had carried out impact statements on the implications for the EU, which were in “excruciating detail”, Brexit secretary David Davis now admitted there were none, effectively saying he had lied through his teeth.

What should be, but isn’t, surprising is the tame reaction to these astonishing revelations in the media. We would not expect the Tory house publications like the Mail, Sun and Express to all but ignore these awkward facts but what about the rest of the media? Has the BBC been silenced to such an extent that it appears to offer no serious critical journalism about what has happened? We are not, after all, debating matters of opinion. These are not unsubstantiated rumours or idle speculation about what Davis may or May not have said: what he said is a matter of fact. And he is getting away with it.

My loyal reader will know that I am barely more impressed with Jeremy Corbyn’s wretched Labour Party than I am with Theresa May’s bungling Tories but the main issue is not that of party politics. However, if it was, say, Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott behaving like this in government, does anyone seriously believe the media would not be taking them to the cleaners? But today, the red tops bury the story on their inside pages and the ludicrous Express even heaps praise on David Davis for his “brilliant” riposte to Brexit Committee chair Hilary Benn, the same Hilary Benn who had just shredded what was left of Davis’s reputation. Here is the “free press” at work, the press that enables the rich and powerful to say whatever they like so long as it sits properly with their, in this instance, hard right political views.

In normal times, Davis would be sacked. He’s a lazy chancer who has once again been caught out. Instead, the Sun reports that the friends of Davis are manoeuvring behind the scenes to remove Theresa May as PM and insert their man before Christmas. You could not make it up.

Hilary Benn said this to Davis: “Doesn’t it strike you as rather strange that the Government undertakes impact assessments of all sorts of things all the time, but on the most fundamental change that we are facing as a country, you’ve just told us that the Government hasn’t undertaken any impact assessments at all on the implications for various parts of the economy?”

Quite. And this country is dependent on the likes of Davis to secure the future of our country. Surely even the most slavish Brexiteer must be very concerned about the way things are panning out? If they aren’t, I doubt they are paying attention.

Eclectic Blue

The School Drive

0 Comments 07 December 2017

Chelsea tractors everywhere this morning as I made my way to the local Co-op to purchase my newspaper. (This is what elderly people do.) I have never seen anything like it, at least not since yesterday. Does anyone walk anywhere these days?

One tractor, the size of a bus, I know for a fact had been driven no more than 200 yards to deposit the child near our local junior school. This, surely, can benefit no one, least of all the kids, who really ought to be getting some exercise.

To my astonishment, I joined a lengthy queue of parents and sleepy looking children in order to complete my purchase. I would not pretend this was necessarily an accurate cross-section of parents and pupils but this was all about sugar, fat and salt. Young children clasping energy drinks, sweets and salty objects. This is the sort of thing we were fed in our day when it did not occur to anyone that these might not necessarily be the most appropriate health-giving products to consume.

In the 1970s, kids either walked or got the bus to school. It wasn’t even a discussion. If it rained, we got wet. If it was cold, we got cold. It never occurred to us, or our parents, that we should be cosseted, wrapped up in cotton wool and kept in the warmth 24/7. I’m sorry if this reads like it was so much better back in my day because in many ways that is not the case. However, I cannot imagine this benefits anyone.

My asthma was activated by the 4X4s belching out diesel and petrol fumes and I can only imagine how this affects young, developing lungs. There was even a queue waiting to get in the car park by the school. Can it be that bloody difficult to walk? The way things are going, everyone will be too obese to walk anywhere.

Eclectic Blue

Rabbit rabbit

0 Comments 06 December 2017

Finally, I bowed to curiosity and watched highlights of the second Ashes test between Australia and England. There were few highlights for England fans but plenty for Australians. The absolute lowlight was the commentary.

In the opinion of this humble blogger, the greatest TV cricket commentator of them all was Richie Benaud. No one ever came close. He knew the game inside out and was able to explain it all to your average Joe, like me. And he had eight golden rules for commentating:

Never ask for a statement.

Remember the value of a pause.

There are no teams in the world called “we” or “they”.

Avoid cliches and banalities, such as “he’s hit that to the boundary”, “he won’t want to get out now”, “of course”, “as you can see on the screen”.

The Titanic was a tragedy, the Ethiopian drought a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch.

Put your brain into gear before opening your mouth.

Concentrate fiercely at all times.

Above all, don’t take yourself too seriously, and have fun.

BT Sport’s team failed in almost every department.

For one thing, there are so many commentators. In the old days on BBC TV, there were two commentators – Benaud and Jim Laker – and no summarisers. It worked perfectly well. BBC’s legendary Test Match Special on the radio required more commentators, most of whom were professional broadcasters, and they employed expert summarisers to comment between overs. BT Sport, in common with Sky, has an enormous team of commentators and they are not very good.

BT’s commentators are not very good because they talk incessantly. The female commentator, Alison Mitchell, plainly knows her cricket but doesn’t know when to stop talking about it. If the ball goes to the boundary, she tells us it’s gone to the boundary. If someone hits a good shot, she will announce that it was a “good shot”. If the bowler bowls a short delivery which troubles the batsman, she will tell us what we have already seen. She is not alone – Geoffrey Boycott and Ricky Ponting conducted a continuous discussion when the game was going on – and I say this not because she is a woman, but it drove me mad after a very short while. Precious little insight, plenty of stating the bleeding obvious. Why tell me what I can already see? If I want a more detailed commentary, I can put the radio on.

It was clear that none of BT’s commentators had read Benaud’s golden rules. It was a tiresome riot of cliches and banalities, they did not know what a pause meant, desperately trying to fill every gap with endless waffle, and concentration levels went through the floor.

Nice pictures, nice cricket but as for the commentary: shut up!

Eclectic Blue

Hi Heidi

0 Comments 06 December 2017

Tory MP Heidi Allen’s tearful response to Frank Field’s House of Commons speech about the effects of poverty in our country was a tough watch. It was during a debate on the government’s new benefit, Universal Credit (UC). I make little comment on UC because I don’t know a great deal about it, other than to say the principle is a good one. The wider issue is about poverty itself, which, it may surprise Ms Allen, has been around for a very long time. I know because I have spent almost all of my professional life working with people from the lowest incomes. If she had done my job, she’d have probably started crying and never stopped.

Whilst I definitely came across the feckless and idle, more often than not the people I met were in poverty through little or no fault of their own. Whether they were poor because of a lack of education, because of addiction, because of a chaotic upbringing or simply due to the absence of social mobility – or even a combination of some or all of these conditions – poverty was real. It is one thing to hear report on the telly where people are choosing between eating and keeping warm, sometimes failing to do either, it is quite another to see it.

When George Osborne made his cynical distinction between strivers and skivers, it was on the basis of a false premise. No one seriously goes onto benefits as a career choice because generally speaking they are inadequate. Unless the benefit claimant is able to source income in addition to benefits, such as working whilst getting benefits or, in the case of lone parents, having your working partner move in with you without telling anyone, a life of benefits is not a good choice. (Luckily, such frauds are much easier these days as the DWP chooses to go after easy hits rather than major prosecutions but that’s something for another day.)

I have visited the most squalid places you could ever imagine. Damp, dimly lit, freezing cold, filthy dirty, tiny little flats where people raise children and whose children look like extras from Oliver! and eating cheap rubbish from frozen food stores. If you imagine any type of poverty, I have seen it all, here in Bristol, much of which is now hidden behind the hipster invasion that further tears apart the fabric of our city.

Heidi Allen fought and failed to choke back the tears and there were further words of sympathy from those who hold the reins of power. But still tax credits are frozen, still the minimum wage is £7.50 a week, still more people are getting drawn into poverty.

As we said, poverty has always been there. Yesterday’s debate told us nothing new. And what will happen as a result will be nothing new. It will be nothing at all. UC is not the problem: it will be for many the answer. The implementation must be properly done and properly funded and that is where many of the problems are today. If Ms Allen were to get out more, she might understand that what made her cry yesterday was nothing new or unusual.

Eclectic Blue

Sky (and BT) is the limit

0 Comments 05 December 2017

“This would be the greatest Ashes Test match win since Headingley 1981,” says Adam Collins, who is apparently something to do with Wisden. He is referring to the current test match between Australia and England, where England have the chance to achieve a record second innings total to win. He could possibly be right, except that it won’t be remembered for long because hardly anyone is watching.

The 1981 England team included players who are still household names today. Geoffrey Boycott, David Gower, Bob Willis and of course Ian Botham. The current England team does not have a single player who is a household name in his own household. We hear the names Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Dawid Malan, James Vince and Mark Stoneman and, apart from keen followers of Our Summer Game, no one knows who they are. Even the great players like Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson could walk along any High Street and not be recognised. Ben Stokes’ move into the public consciousness was entirely because of an alleged fracas outside a Bristol nightclub.

Cricket has returned to its natural place in middle class, middle aged white England. It remains relatively popular in the affluent suburbs of the country but elsewhere it is dying on its arse. Participation levels, especially since all domestic and international cricket was flogged to Sky, continue to plummet. It will not be young people who stay up all night tonight to see if England can pull off an unlikely win in Adelaide: it will be those of us who were around when cricket was accessible to all through free to air terrestrial television. In 2005, many millions watched the epic Ashes series in England. Next summer, when Australia are not touring, the average viewing figure will be in five figures and even they are falling year on year.

Cricket is ideal for Sky and BT. Although they appear to have paid an awful lot to cover games, cricket is good value. Even your average T20 game lasts much longer than a football match. A test match over five days enables the pay TV company to offer extensive wall to wall coverage with highlights to boot, meaning they don’t have to invest in other sports to put something on the air. Whilst no one can deny that Sky’s coverage, and that of BT to a lesser extent, is very good, I am not sure that terrestrial TV could not offer free to air coverage that was more than acceptable.

But maybe it’s too late. No sport, not even rugby union, is based more on class than cricket. State schools don’t, as a rule, play cricket, inner city clubs are in rapid decline. It is a microcosm of our divided society that you are many times more likely to play cricket for England if you went to private school than if you went to a state school. And all that Sky money benefits mainly the behemoth clubs in the Burbs and not the smaller clubs which are either dying or have died.

Cricket, of course, isn’t dying. No country supports test cricket more than this one and the crowds are still very healthy for limited overs cricket, too. The sport has found its niche, among the affluent white middle classes and to that extent it’s doing very well, thank you very much.

Outside the bubble, the excessive media coverage of this Ashes series is playing to a very small gallery and with the English Cricket Board (ECB) being focused on now much money it can get from Sky and BT this will not change. This might come as a surprise to cricket fans who somehow imagine the whole nation is wrapped up in the excitement of the Ashes. It isn’t. And for as long as test match cricket is kept away from mainstream television, it will become more irrelevant than ever.

Eclectic Blue

The state of this country

0 Comments 05 December 2017

For those of you despairing at the state of this country as Theresa May’s allies in the DUP torpedo the government’s desperate efforts to secure a deal with the EU, please do not be reassured by the only alternative to the Tories, the Labour Party. As we lurch from crisis to possible disaster, we have one party, the Conservatives, at war with itself and another, Labour, standing idly by on the other side of the road. If you are not worried, then you should be.

Radio Four’s Today programme obviously majored on the current EU fiasco and was heavily criticised for not including spokespeople from either the Tory Party, the DUP or Labour. Typical biased BBC, some people were saying. But it was not quite as simple as that. As the presenter Nick Robinson pointed out, all three parties were asked to supply spokespeople and all declined. In a purely political context, I can understand, though not condone, the decision of the Tories and the DUP to stay off the air. Labour’s absence is inexcusable and illustrates yet again just how unsuited the party is for government.

The strategy, if that’s what it is, to do nothing but wait for the government to collapse may be appealing, again in political terms. Clearly, Corbyn’s top team – and what a top team it isn’t, with assorted Stalinists, Marxists and the reheated Bennite comrades of the 1980s calling the shots, or not as the case may be – has concluded that it is not necessary to actually have a Brexit policy of their own. After all, that is precisely how Labour conned its way to a surprisingly good defeat in the last general election. Let the Tories implode and our day will come. What an insult to the electorate.

Let us be clear about this: Jeremy Corbyn and his fellow comrades are Brexiters pretending to be remainers, which is the precise opposite of Theresa May. Corbyn barely bothered to campaign in the referendum and should bear a huge responsibility for the vote to leave the EU. The comrades have always opposed the EU because they see it as an obstacle to socialism in one country. You know, the socialism that has worked so well in Cuba and Venezuela. The EU, to the comrades, is a bosses club. They get round their dislike of the EU by saying next to nothing about it. This is nothing less than a dereliction of their duty.

Today is one of the most listened to and influential news programmes anywhere in the media. It enjoys huge audiences and impacts on the agenda for the rest of the day’s news. With the government in turmoil, it beggars belief that Labour could not be bothered to put forward anyone to offer an opinion. With the other main players making a tactical decision to stay away, Labour was facing an open goal if it had fielded one of its better spokespeople. Instead, they stayed away.

What a shambles this is. A weak, incompetent and divided government gazing across the House of Commons at a once great party, now led by political dinosaurs who have never had an original idea in their lives and have never sought, or been considered by others, for serious responsibility in government or opposition, with a leader whose only qualification for leadership was as chair of the Haringey Council housing department in the 1970s.

The head banging faction of the Tory Party has now aligned with the hardline extremists of the DUP and Theresa May is now boxed in. And at the same time, her majesty’s opposition is in political hibernation. This is going to get far worse and there are no signs it will get better in the foreseeable or even unforeseeable future.

This is no time for “I told you so” politics. Both remainers and leavers foresaw these issues, especially regarding Northern Ireland, the only difference being that the leavers told us they would be easily solved. Worse still, the country is now being run by am unholy combination of the Corbynite hard left and the Farage/Johnson/Gove hard right headbangers whilst the rest of us can go hang.

No wonder this country is so divided. No one seems to trying to unite us, to seek out compromises, to get together on the common ground. The country is devoid of vision, competence and leadership from all sides. Things can only get worse.

Eclectic Blue

Sound affects

0 Comments 05 December 2017

In attempting to escape the endless chatter on the media about Brexit, I found myself tuning in to Test Match Special on BBC Radio Five Live to listen to commentary of the second Ashes Test match between Australia and England. A gentle half an hour or so of Aggers and Tuffers might lift my mood. No chance. You could barely hear the commentators above the constant din of the self-styled Barmy Army.

If you find football’s England band a tiresome and highly irritating distraction from the game itself – and trust me I do – they have nothing compared to the Barmy Army. On and on they go, belting out tiresome dirges and chants, rewording of famous songs, occasionally containing the odd swearword, providing an unwanted distraction from the main business of the day, the cricket.

Worst of all, they are not only tolerated by the radio commentators, they are encouraged by them. In years gone by, the Barmies informed a listening public that the Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson was “shite”. Aggers and co found all this hilarious and every time they struck up another drunken song, they made sure the listeners knew all about it. The Barmy Army attract as much attention as the players.

It is not clear to me why on earth a large group of affluent men and some women would fly around the world to experience one of sport’s enduring spectacles only to sing tedious, sometimes foul-mouthed songs. Whereas cricket used to be played in front of little more than a murmur, it now sounds more like a PDC darts tournament, albeit without the humour. To be fair, if I was able to afford the air fares and hotel accommodation to Australia, the very last thing I would do is follow the cricket around.

TMS is still worth a listen but I do wish they’d switch off the sound effects.

Eclectic Blue

Up the creek

0 Comments 04 December 2017

The almighty mess that is Brexit today became clear even to its most enthusiastic supporters. Close to a deal on citizens’ rights the “divorce bill” and, we thought, the Irish land border situation, Theresa May pulled the plug at the last possible second. And why, because the DUP will not accept any kind of deal in which Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. What and who the hell did May think she was dealing with? I despair.

Theresa May has today said that Northern Ireland can, to all intents and purposes, remain in both the Single Market and the Customs Union whilst at the same time pretending they won’t. This is pathetic politics by a pathetic prime minister who proves on an increasingly regular basis that she is wholly out of her depth and not up to the job. I find it hard to believe that it somehow escaped May’s attention that the DUP is as hardline as a unionist party as you will ever find. The love child of the ‘Reverend’ Ian Paisley does not do compromise. In offering a special deal for Northern Ireland and not anyone else May has opened up Pandora’s Box.

Almost immediately, London Mayor Sadiq Khan chimed in to say that as London had voted remain in the referendum that it too should be given a special deal to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, as of course did the Welsh and Scottish governments. I would expect Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees to be in touch with May to ensure she includes Bristol in these special arrangements.

On the face of it, you might find this amusing but in reality it isn’t. In the 2017 general election, May threw away her parliamentary majority, expecting to win a landslide victory. She now depends on the hardline climate change denying, anti-abortion fanatics of Northern Ireland to prop her up in office. Potentially, she now faces a massive choice.

May can either decide to seek agreement with the EU over Northern Ireland, regardless of how her erstwhile partners in the DUP react to it, or she can abandon the whole thing and allow the whole of the UK to leap off a cliff. My preferred course of action would be to not leave the EU in the first place, but if we must, would it not be possible, even at this late stage, for a compromise to be offered?

How about all of the UK, and not just Northern Ireland, remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union as we leave the EU? Yes, I know there are huge differences between those of us who wish to remain and those who want us to go it alone and hope for the best (that’s the real choice, isn’t it?) but how about meeting somewhere in the middle? And allow individual Brits the opportunity to accept some form of associate EU citizenship to enable people to continue the benefits they now enjoy, whilst Brexiters can buy their British passports and get in the border queues with everyone else?

This is going to end in another general election, isn’t it, and I confidently predict another hung parliament to follow this one. The referendum called by David Cameron on EU membership which was called purely to deal with the issue of Europe once and for all stands to destroy the Tory Party and, if we are not careful, the entire country with it. We’re a long way up Shit Creek now and the paddles have all been lost.

Eclectic Blue


0 Comments 04 December 2017

I am not surprised that Sir Elton John is in shock following the death of his mother. She was a fine age, 92, that’s for sure and many of us would take that if offered it today, but you are talking about the loss of one of the most important people in your life.

My mum died in 1999. I don’t remember the date, not even the month. My stepfather was too ill to register the death, arrange the funeral and all the rest of it, so I did all that stuff. The last decade or so of her life had not exactly been pleasant for her, fighting as she did with the aftermath of a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. It was smoking that ruined her life, it was smoking that ended it. I knew one day I would get that phone call to say I should come to see her straight away because she was dying but instead the call came to say she was dead. So I know what Sir Elton was going through.

“Is that Richard?” said the owner of the care home where my mum now lived. (No matter now I tried, I could not persuade him to call me Rick.) This had to be serious. He had called me a few times before but never when I was at work. He got straight to the point. “Your mother’s dead.” It wasn’t quite as blunt as that, but I would not have cared if it had been. I have never approved of terms such as she had “passed away”. “Oh my fucking God,” I didn’t say. I mumbled something to the manager and drove to the care home. By the time I arrived, the body had departed. I didn’t expect to be here when I woke up that morning.

How long did the shock last? It ended the moment I called her brother who did not appear to be remotely bothered. He had never once come to visit his sister in the UK so this was hardly a shock. I hated to be the one who had to tell him she was dead and started to cry until I realised that the mourning was all mine. Somehow, everything became clear to me. For the first time in a few hours, I could think straight. I told him that was the end of our relationship and followed it up by writing a letter confirming I was not writing whilst consumed by grief. How very odd. I never cried again. I had lost my mother who had brought me up virtually single handed and yet there was an odd sense of relief alongside the loss. Yes, I wanted her to live forever but my God the pain she suffered from over 20 years that stopped her from evening leaving the house wore me down. Seeing a close relative suffering unbearable pain is not an experience I would recommend.

Sir Elton’s millions won’t make up for his own loss. As we keep saying, no one gets out of here alive and his mum was no exception. And soon, before you know it, you have become the oldest person in the family and your own mortality becomes clearer than ever. My thoughts are with Sir Elton. 92 or not, the absence forever of your mother is something you never really get over.

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