The operation was set to start at noon so I headed in to see my father for quarter past eleven. In he wandered on his crutches wearing the most ridiculous surgical stockings and dressing gown. His garb invited ridicule but given the gravity of what was to happen I held back.
The "day room" in which we met was communal and so there was also an elderly couple where the wife was set for an op and a middle aged man who broke the elephant in the room by saying that we are all in for the same op are we not? They were. And there then followed a detailed discussion of their symptoms, diagnosis of this particular form of cancer and other matters. My father and I exchanged knowing looks - these are not matters a gentleman discusses in public.
By half twelve it was pretty clear that the Shipmans were running well behind schedule and so it was agreed that I should go back to Shipston to wait. I can tell my kids that I love them and even my wife and of course I tell my cat Oakley every day. But that is not the sort of thing my father's generation say and he is not a touchie feelie sort of guy. But I volunteered the words, "just in case please know you have been a great father" It is true. He brought up me and my two sisters on his own from when I was eight and little N just five.
Rio Ferdinand is on TV tonight talking about how he has to be mum and dad and I feel for the guy. But it is a bit harder when you are not a millionaire - may father would get up at 4 AM to mark exam papers to pay the bills. He has always been supportive and there for me. So he is a great father loved by his children and grandchildren. My father denied that he was a good father, showing an unusual modesty, and then told me I was a good son which I denied more vehemently. We agreed that we hoped that we would have the same conversation another day.
The Shipmans really were on go slow. I called at 4 PM and was told no news, try at 5. At 5 I called again and got the same response, try at 5.30. Finally at 6 I was told that he was awake and being wheeled out into Intensive care. By the time I got there at 7.30 he was cracking jokes with the nurses and laughing away with them. He is on painkillers but happy and will, fingers crossed, go to a normal ward tomorrow. The posh Shipman who Dad had bonded with earlier warned me there could still be complications but so far so good.
Thank you to all who have sent best wishes and to those who prayed for my father. So far, God is listening.
As you know, I head off soon for Greece and will be making a pilgrimage to the tiny village of Anelion in the snow covered Pindus mountains of Northern Greece. The aim is to see if my father's oldest Greek friend, Mike the Vlach, is still with us, as I explained here.
My sister N was, I think, seven when we first visited Anelion and she is today with my father so we chatted about the forthcoming trip. I had been puzzling about the name which means "without sun". My father offered up the Vlach alternative which means the same but which I cannot remember. He noted that Anelion is on the south side of a deep valley, Metsovo - from where I shall walk to Anelion - is on the North side.
Hence Anelion is deprived of sun by the mountains all around it for much of a winter day and so it will be far colder then Metsovo (minus 6 last night, just above zero today). It explains, perhaps, why Metsovo grew into a town and Anelion stayed as a village.
For my sister on that first trip the abiding memory was of her small panda, known by the Greeks as kukla. N was devoted to it and would burst into tears if, knowingly, parted from it for any time at all. On our last day in Anelion we walked with battered old suitcases and with my father carrying N down to the valley bottom and up the other side to Metsovo to catch a bus to Ioannina to begin the journey home.
Miss the bus miss the flights, there were few buses or flights in those days. As we arrived at the bust station N realised that kukla was missing. We searched our bags but it was nowhere. My father being a man who has never missed a train or bus in his life, punctuality being his middle name, had allowed a bit of time but the bus was due in 20 minutes.
It had taken us forty minutes or more to walk to Metsovo but Mike the Vlach started to sprint to see if we had dropped Kukla. He ran down the valley to where the rover flows and then he ran up the other side to his house where Kukla was lying on a bed. He then ran back, arriving a sweaty wreck but able to reach through the bus window and put Kukla into N's hand as we sat waiting for the bus which was, in true Greek fashion, running a bit late, to leave. The story of Mike the Vlach and kukla is one we all know in our family and one we could happily reference in conversation today.
And so our party finally made it through the large blue door which marks the entrance to the house that Paddy built in Kardamili. Turning right along a terrace open on one side we found ourselves with the rest of the group in the library. This was all rather different from the Greek Hovel.
Have I mentioned how the two men met? My father was lecturing at the spectacular fortress of Monemvasia on the vlachs - a Nomadic tribe in Northern Greece. There is no connection at all between the Vlachs and Monemvasia here in the far South so I assume it was some sort of academic junket. Amazingly, thirty folks turned up and one of them - driving three hours to get there - was Paddy. There the friendship started.
My dear wife says that I have too many books. She points out, correctly, that I do not read that much and argues that she should be allowed to give them all to a Charity shop. I say that I will read more when I re-balance my life and become the primary carer for our son. Bedtime reading little one: have we finished that Ayn Rand yet? Okay time for a bit of Mark Steyn. Between Bristol and Greece we have more than enough room, in fact we need more books!
Paddy certainly had books. There are those in neat bookshelves as below and then just piles and piles of books in every room. My stepmother and I started to hunt for what would really please Dad, sight of a copy of his book on the Vlachs which he gave to Paddy. It was like hunting for a needle in a haystack and eventually we gave up. But my father was still in the library with folks hanging on his every word. Or at least that was what he said was happening as we collected him and started the trek down the long path.
At this point he was propped against me for support as we edged down the hill. On the other side was a middle aged American lady who appeared to think that she had just met the real thing. My father told an old joke about his bad greek once leaving him boasting that he had 25 penises ( he meant chickens) and the lady roared with laughter. Maybe I did too the first time I heard it but that was many incantations ago. Eventually we reached the car and the lady departed sadly.
We Winnifrith men, like Paddy himself, we know how to pull the birds in Greece.
My two sisters are a politically correct duo with a tendency to be rather earnest. Both work in the public sector and are married to half Germans - the Krauts. It is fair to say that we take a rather different view on more or less everything. Of course we are all united in having one father who turns 78 today. Happy Birthday Dad.
My younger sister in particular has "form" when it comes to uber-PC presents. I think it was two years ago that for Christmas she gave her husband membership of the Labour Party. One can only imagine his delight as he unwrapped a party membership card and a personal letter from Ed Miliband. A year later she gave my father a certificate saying she had bought a tree outside Coventry Hospital in his name to make the world more carbon neutral/combat global warming. Hmmmm.
I am reminded of the fairy tale of the King who asks his three daughters for a present. Two gie him gold and daimonds, the youngest gives him salt. And so I am not sure what PC gold my father has received this morning from my sisters. From me there is a promise that when I see him on Saturday I shall bring alcohol and nicotine - he has always loved the odd cigar and right now, why the hell not have a few more?
I did try to fit into the family by telling him that I was sending him a certificate saying that a tree in the Peruvian forests now bore his name for his birthday and we were thus doing our bit to preserve global bio-diversity and combat global warming. He said thank you in a almost genuine way but seemed mightily relieved when I said that this was a late April's fool and that the Mrs and I would, as per normal, be gifting him vice rather than virtue.
Of course my father's most helpful tip on life is that you only need three socks. Wash one a day in rotation and you will never go wrong. Having three different socks can make the process even more idiot proof. That is not my father's tip, although he is often seen in odd socks, but it is me trying to take this way of living forward.
Another handy tip from my father is to wait until you are in Greece - or even better Albania - to have your hair cut since it is much cheaper. You save money both by waiting a few extra months until your next trip which might make you lok a bit scruffy but that is often the way of Winnifrith men anyway. Then you save again as haircuts over here are very cheap indeed.
And thus I wandered into one of the posher saloons in Heraklion this morning and for £11 had my hair washed, cut, washed and styled and two weeks chin growth turned into designer stubble. A nice young lady with large breasts and tight leather trousers, pressed my head into her cleavage and massaged my skull gently as a key part of this process. I am not sure what the point of that was but I did not object. All for £11 - a bargain.
My father will be reading this in horror. He will be on the phone shortly to say that the last time he had his hair cut in downtown Tirana or in a lowly barbers shop in a rough district somewhere in Cyprus it cost him no more than £4 and that I am losing the plot. Of course he has rather less hair than me, did not have the shave and that skull massage while clasped to the cleavage was certainly worth a bob or two.
It is just Dad and myself here in Shipston right now. My father wishes to watch the news and Dad's Army. Sadly my stepmother has, in the name of progress, bought a new TV. It has two remote controls. My Mrs bought us one with three. And as with her boxes of torture my father and I have now been struggling to get the screen to show anything other than "no signal" for half an hour.
Bring back the good old days when you switched the TV on with a button on the box and - after it warmed up - changed channel with another button on the box say both Tom Winnifriths. We are united in not liking progress and now await the arrival of a "young person" , that is to say my Mrs, to show us what to do.
Bingo! My father has pressed all the buttons and we have a new screen up saying DVB-T. Not - as he admits "a total success" but variety at least.
The great day of reckoning arrives and as I wander along the road towards the Pearly Gates I catch up with my father who with his stick and poorly knee has been making slow progress. We chat and before long we meet up with St Peter.
Inside heaven we can see that it is just like Donegal in the summer. Green, wild but stunning. There is Brian O’Driscoll chatting away amiably with Darina Allen who is cooking up an amazing supper for all. Seamus Heaney is reading poems to Michael Collins. It is a free land. But St Peter shakes his finger and says that my father and I have been found wanting. I think that it is a bit harsh on the Old Man but accept that I have sinned and St Peter ushers us down a little path with a sign marked Purgatory.
As we prepare to enter Purgatory we can hear from inside drunken fools baying about Chariots while other imbeciles belt out the greatest hits of Max Boyce. I feel a tap on the shoulder and it is St Peter. Fear not he says, suffering the unbearable crowing of both English and Welsh rugby supporters on the same day will not last long. You are only in purgatory for a short while. I smile. But then St Peter adds, it will just feel like eternity.
In the days of my youth the, then, five nations was about playing for a mythical triple crown or a mythical Grand Slam. Being the “Champions” did not come into it. And so for me this year’s event is really over. I hope that Ireland beats Scotland but I do not care about mathematical permutations as to who is Champion? The era of league tables is modern rugby, a business not a sport.
In my youth Ireland only ever competed seriously for the mythical wooden spoon. Occasionally at a windswept and rain sodden Lansdowne Road our grim pack of forwards would grind out a surprise win against somebody. Just now and again an Ollie Campbell or a Tony Ward would emerge and we might run in the odd try from the backs and allow ourselves to dream.
But Irish rugby has historically been about dreaming, about heroic failure and defeat. The modern era has been a bit of a shock to us all. And so 2015 will be forgotten quickly. We put the arrogant Old Enemy to the sword in Dublin which is always a good thing but in the end we waited 60 years for my father’s second Grand Slam and it is those sort of events that I count my rugby life by.
As to my daughter who has been brought up by her Welsh speaking mother Big Nose to become a total cottage burner, the post-match text was really not appreciated. Beating me at table football last week (being Welsh she cheated) was bad enough, but crowing about the rugby is really very poor form.
My dear daughter, I understand that you and your mother have a chip on your shoulder because you and your countrymen remain the colonial servants of the English and come from a nation of welfare-addicted dwarves who must blame their servility and poverty on everyone but themselves and are thus naturally bitterly jealous of a free and proud nation such as Ireland. I understand that the nation that regards as its cultural icons Shirley Bassie, Aled Jones, Max Boyce and Ruth Madoc from Hi Di Hi, naturally suffers a chronic inferiority complex when it thinks of the nation that produced Wilde, Joyce, Behan, Beckett, Heaney and of course Saint Bob Geldoff.
My dear daughter, and Big Nose, I know that as Islington based Welshies you have romantic notions of life back home but that your hearts must sink every time the train passes the Severn Bridge and you gaze out on estates of grim social housing, where the kids have no shoes, on deserted mines, steel works and on factories that lie empty. And that you wish that your vassal colonial outpost could boast the glories of the wild untamed mountains, fields and bogs of God’s chosen land.
But really, is this any way to treat your old Dad?
PS If that text was not from you I am sure that Big Nose was crowing anyway and I still have not come to terms with the table football.
Shame on Paul Scott and other folks for thinking Greece was hot in winter. It is freezing. In this podcast I cover the actuality of snowfall in Greece and a few stories of my father, my Great Uncle David Cochrane and my own travels - including today's trek from Athens to the Greek Hovel - in Greece.
The map below might assist you in following what I am talking about.
Back in the 1960s my uncle visited the Mani on his first honeymoon. Oddly he and his wife were joined by another couple and within months his wife had run off with the other man. That is an aside. It took my uncle more than two days to get from Athens to the Mani so remote and cut off was the region.
Here in Kambos the dirt track to Kardamili became a road back in 1965 (two years after that fateful honeymoon), roads south from there were built later. The man who brought this peninsular to the attention of the wider world was Paddy Leigh Fermor, a truly amazing man once described as a mixture of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Gerald Durrell.
Though incredibly clever, Paddy was no academic and so after being expelled from school (issues with a young lady) in 1933 he walked through Europe to Greece. Along the way he noticed that something was not quite right in Germany. When war broken out he signed up immediately and was sent into Greece since he spoke the language fluently. His most heroic exploit was in Crete where – with the partisans – he captured a German general on the North of the island and transported him across Crete to the South where he was lifted off by British Destroyer. The film, based on the episode, has Leigh Fermor played by Dirk Bogarde
In the war Paddy’s code name was Michalis. After the war he stayed on in Greece fighting with the Royalists in the Civil war. He refers to this in his two classic books on Greece The Mani and Roumeli. The latter is about Northern Greece, the area about which my father writes and so on the only Winnifrith family holiday to Greece which I did not go on, there was a long visit to Paddy’s house.
The Mani is part history but draws on a walk that Paddy and his wife undertook through the peninsular in the early 1950s. At that stage walking was what you did. There were no roads. To get down the peninsular it was simpler to travel by boat.
Paddy was rather rude about Kambos, the second village on his trek. He cannot hide how dull he finds it and how glad he is to leave. On the other hand he cannot hide how he falls in love with Kardamili the moment he spots it and it was there that he built a house. The locals all knew him as Michalis. A social fellow he smoked 80 a day, drank more than his fair share of ouzo and though married retained a lifelong interest in les femmes.
The Mrs and I fell in love with Kardamili too, as we arrived there one late summer evening. Having no real beach it has been spared the tourist plague and ribbon development of Stoupa a few miles down the coast. But it is a town and for reasons that I will discuss later our experience there was not entirely happy. Its buildings, Venetian and onwards are stunning and it has a charm of its own. If I had to live in a town here it would be Kardamili.
But it has tourists and that changes the nature of any place. Kambos has no tourists. We are just a village in the road between Kalamata and Kardamili. There are some charming old stone houses on the back streets but no-one could say that Kambos is picturesque. But it is Greek. Or rather it is Maniot. Life here has not changed in the way that it has in the towns and villages by the sea. There is no crime – other than the murders – folks all own olives and will be working at least some of the time on the land. There is no need to learn English and they look after their own. In the hills around Kambos there are wonderful places to visit, to walk to for there is no other way to get there.
The Mrs and I first met lovely Susan Shimmin from the Real Mani in Kambos – at Eleni’s taverna – as it was a half-way point between Kalamata and Kardamili. Susan lives one village away in Stavrapoula. Whilst we were charmed from the first moment by the friendliness of Eleni and her husband Nikos, we were simply passing through as Paddy did back in 1952. Kambos did not grab us. We did not fall in love with it on sight.
We fell in love with the Greek Hovel, notwithstanding meeting a snake on our first visit. But Kambos has grown on the Mrs. It entranced my guest this summer who is keen to return to a place where she is remembered fondly. And I feel at home here. It took a while. Falling off my bike at 3 MPH in front of the Korounis taverna helped. Struggling, but publicly succeeding in tackling the frigana has demonstrated that I am not just a tourist. My commitment to come back for the Olive harvest and to work on it rather than just supervise Foti is clear.
Next Spring, work starts on formally rebuilding the Greek hovel. I had a good meeting with Eleni (that is Eleni the architect daughter of lovely Susan and a woman who has to be the biggest snake coward in the whole of Greece, not lovely Eleni from Kambos) on Monday. By next summer there should be at least one room that the Mrs deems habitable and she too has fallen in love with this place. So as soon as UK-Investor show is out of the way….
For any number of reasons I have to regard Paddy Leigh Fermor as a total superstar. But I wonder if he was around today might he take a rather more charitable view of my home village of Kambos.
As one leaves the small Mani town of Kardamili the road starts to climb steeply. On the edge of town there are a couple of fish restaurants, some slightly newer housing including the house that Paddy Leigh Fermor built for himself. My family stayed there once as my father knew Paddy – it just happened that this was the one family break to Greece that I did not go on.
Paddy left his house to the Greek State to turn into some sort of writing school. You would have thought that after a lifetime here he would have known better. It is slowly decaying, neglected by a State that although bankrupt can still afford to give anyone with a couple of olive trees an annual grant of 500 Euro.
The first of the fish restaurants as one heads up the hill is the favourite of the Mrs and I. The food is great, the wine flows, the waiters are friendly and efficient and the view over the cove below is magnificent.
On one side of the cove is a small working harbour used by fisherman. At night you can see the lights on the boats as they chug slowly home. A jetty provides a breakwater for the waves although nothing much happens o it other than bridal parties posing for photos. At the far end of the cove is a concrete jetty which is totally empty. If you have seen the film Before Midnight the final scene was filmed there as it became a seaside bar for just one night.
And so the other day we wandered down to the cove along a small road with not a human in sight. At the bottom we were greeted by a white goose, a white duck and a rather fat mallard male. The goose stared at us rather stupidly. The white duck ignored us. But the mallard started to follow me in a gentle ambling sort of fashion.
The Mrs thought this rather sweet and cried out “pudding” which is her pet name for my cat Oakley whom she adores. But while Oakley is sweet the duck was not. Encouraged by the thought that it might be, I leant over to touch it at which point t moved swiftly forward and bit my leg. The Mrs thought this very funny. I moved off at a swift pace but the duck pursued me keen to have another go.
“Bloody hell I am six foot tall and eat duck. You are a duck” I said to myself, turned, faced the enemy and kicked the air in front of it. The duck beat a hasty retreat, the Mrs was still laughing. The duck should consider itself lucky to have escaped so lightly – seven weeks of Greek salads might make a man think of suitable accompaniments to Orange sauce.
I am sitting in a little café in Delphi and have found a 95 year old man to chat to. He offers up two more details on the death of my great uncle David Cochrane in 1931, one of which begs a question for my father.
The first is just on how the body was found in 1932 a year after the death. It seems as if the folks from Desfina were on the mountain collecting snails. It is not just the French who eat l’escargot. And it was on the snail hunt that they found the badly decayed body of David. The consensus here is that he was buried in Delphi in the North East part of the churchyard where there are a small number of protestant graves from the 40s onwards. But as I have described before bones are removed after a while and that appears to have been what happened to those of David. I have checked that part of the yard in detail.
The question for my father is what happened to David’s Camera? It was found with his body and like his other possessions returned to England. Did anyone ever develop the film which would undoubtedly have had footage of his last few days in Desfina and possibly of his last walk? Possibly he was shooting the sort of photos I took two days ago when he slipped and fell.
Over to you Tom Winnifrith Snr…
PS A Young man said that they guy at the town hall in Delphi, who I cannot thank enough for his help, has shared my video with him on facebook. He says “ah you are the man…” If anyone has any more details I guess they know how to get hold of me. For my father who terms the internet Beelzebub, you see..it has some purpose. I will explain to him later what facebook is.
On my way back from ancient Delphi I climbed the seemingly endless steps to the Church and graveyard here for one last look at the small cluster of protestant stones in the corner. As last time, there was no David. But on my way back to my hotel I bumped into George, owner of the excellent Hotel Pitho and we spotted the priest…in a taverna.
He had been told about me and we chatted. No Church records would have been kept of a non-Orthodox burial and as David was a protestant that meant one dead end.
I am certain that having fallen down the Delphi (not Desfina) side of Mount kirthos/Cochrane he would have been buried here. A letter from the foreign office to the then Sir George Young states that my great grandparents wanted him buried “locally”.
Thus according to Greek tradition his bones would have been removed after a couple of decades but after a while the box in the charnel house would have contained nothing but dust. I asked the priest what happens then? “A hole” said he. So that is it, the last remains of David went down a hole with the dust that was one other residents of the Delphi graveyard. His dust now mingles with the Greek soil.
And so there is nothing to take back from Greece to England. Nothing physical anyway. The photos of Cochrane Mountain and tales of how he is remembered via the mountain, even if fewer and fewer folks know the full story, go back with me. I know that various family members have already seen the photos. This part of the story is now over. There is little more that can be discovered.
My thanks to the officials in the Town Halls at Delphi and at Desfina today – both have gone out of the way to help me find out more about the death of my Great Uncle David Cochrane here in 1931.
There will be no grave to be found, of that I am now certain. But having a Mountain named after you is a pretty spectacular headstone. Today I stood on the spot from where he fell. And I learned of the last days of his life.
I relay that in the video below with pictures of my day also attached. The warmth and generosity of the Greeks in 1931/2 is matched by the warmth of the people of Delphi and Desfina today. I am keeping a bar owner up late sending this video back to London. But he says it is no problem. “It is an honour to meet a relative of Cochrane… a great man.” I am not sure that David was a great man but his name opens all sorts of doors for me here.
I reflect on some folks back in England in 1932 not with any great warmth.
The Cochrane Trail
The daisies that surround the top of Cochrane Mountain
The view of snow-capped Mount Parnassus from where David Fell
I have not discovered the grave of my Great Uncle David Cochrane who died here in Greece in April 1931 and whose body was found a year later. But I have trekked up to the cemetery here in Delphi (that burned off a few calories) and have made headway.
And thanks to George, the charming owner of my hotel I have also discovered Cochrane Mountain. In death, David is remembered.
All is explained in the video and I attach three pictures as well which I refer to in the video.
I was starting to panic. My journey to Greece starts next Wednesday when I leave Bristol and until this morning the passport I ordered a few weeks ago had not arrived. Worse still, when I used the Passport Office auto-tracking forms it appeared that our friends in Cardiff had no record of me at all. But the panic is over, a brand new passport has arrived, with no record of my visits to Israel or the USA and so I could now go to Kurdistan to meet Gulf Keystone (GKP) if I wanted to. I don’t.
And so in a week’s time I must kiss goodbye to the cats and head to London. The Mrs joins me on the 3rd for her birthday. Naturally I shall not reveal which birthday it is. But your clues are that it is a round number, she is younger than me and although I thought she was in her late twenties when she first chatted me up by showing me an interesting article in the Guardian, she appears younger than she is.
Inevitably I start this weekend’s video postcard with the Rugby. I am sure that most of my English based readers were cheering for France yesterday. To my Celtic brethren who were rooting for Ireland – I am sure that you can share my joy. Gosh it was nerve wracking.
I then move onto the mysteries of my dead Great Uncles. If there is anyone out there who can track down Diana Norman, born 1915 who married (after the death of my Great Uncle Francis) a Mr Caulfield Stoker in 1947 (he then popped his clogs in Guernsey in 1954) I would be grateful. I can find no death certificate for Diana who would be 99 now but for reasons explained in the video and this article I am keen to track her down.
I then move onto Bob Crow. I celebrate no death. Equally I do not mince my words and Crow screwed the poor working classes and that should be noted rather than simply eulogising Saint Bob.
This is a wider issue: how and why the left systematically keep the working classes poor and that this the main theme of this video.
My weekly financial video covers shareholder activism a major theme of UK Investor Show which is now a day less than three weeks away. Tickets start to go out tomorrow. If you have not booked please do so at once HERE
My video postcard this weekend covered my plans to go to Greece after the UK Investor Show to track down the graves of my two great Uncles: Francis and David Cochrane. I think we have now firmly established that Francis is buried in Egypt (contrary to a family myth) where he died on December 21st 1942 from wounds received fighting the Germans. For him the great mystery is the odd circumstances of his marriage.
He married a Diana Norman in Paddington in the late summer of 1938. Apparently the witness at the registry office was the taxi driver. However despite living in Chelsea, two miles from my grandparents and fifteen miles from his parents, he did not tell anyone of his marriage until the summer of 1942 (my Grandmother’s diary confirms this) when, before leaving for Egypt he visited relatives with his bride of four years.
This seems very odd behaviour. Almost as odd is that this is the last time Diana Norman is seen – she had absolutely no contact thereafter with my family. I can find no record of her death so can only assume that she is either still alive (she would now be 99), died abroad or re-married and has died under another name. Investigations continue. My father and I are on the case.
As for poor David, he is certainly buried in Greece. I have today received two items from my father. The first is a letter to the Times from Mr Caclamanos of the Greek Legation in London. It protests in the strongest terms about the actions of Sir George Young, grandfather of the current Leader of the House and of my step-mother, who had taken up the case of David, insisting that he had been killed by brigands or by shepherds who, according to Sir George, routinely killed anyone who tried to stop their dogs barking.
The Greek states that “I understand that the contents of the letter and other declarations of Sir George of this subject, sent out in Press telegrams, have caused an outburst of protests in Greece, and they are considered an unjust and unfair comment of a sad, fortuitous event, which could not in any way reflect upon the reputation of a country justly claiming to be safe for tourists and travellers as any other civilised country.”
To his eternal credit, Sir George worked tirelessly on this case because his wife was my Great Grandmother’s sister. My father is indeed married to his second cousin. The second item to arrive from Shipston is a rather sad letter from the Foreign Office to Sir George noting that, after a year missing, the remains of the body of poor David had been found in thick bushes with his passport, a cheque and his English money and gold watch. No brigands, no robbery, he simply fell down a ravine.
This letter confirms that following the wishes of David’s father, “regarding the burial locally of the remains have been communicated to his Majesty’s Minister.” It seems that no-one travelled out to Greece for the funeral but the grave is almost certainly in Delphi or nearby. And thus it is to Delphi that I will be heading in April.
Rather a personal as opposed to a political postcard this week. For the next four weeks my life is almost 100% centred on preparing for the UK Investor Show on April 5. If you have NOT booked a ticket yet, shame on you – book now HERE.
But what to do afterwards? I shall be absolutely exhausted. I am already but slog on. And so it will be off to Greece with my rucksack for a month’s walking. Partly with the Mrs, partly alone as I search out the graves of two Great Uncles, the only brothers of my father’s mother who are meant to be buried there. I recount their deaths (1931 and WW2) and their stories in this postcard.
My new Welsh friend Paul emails me before the Ireland match to say that he is rooting for Italy as part of some diabolical calculation allowing his beloved sheep-shaggers to win the Six nations Championship. Hmmmmm.
Despite a catalogue of errors Ireland utterly routed Italy yesterday. It was an emotional Dublin send off for Brian O’Driscoll, the greatest ever Ireland player. My father and I watched and as BOD was interviewed post match, the emotion poured over in Shipston-on-Stour as I am sure it did in every outpost of the diaspora. The way the points stack up, barring some utter freak, if Ireland can manage to defeat the hit or miss Froggies in Paris, the Championship is ours. Surely God wishes to reward his loyal servant BOD thus?
And now to Wales vs. England. For me there are no diabolical calculations. Indeed shame on you Paul for thinking that way. Paul says that he is so excited about today’s game that he cannot sleep. I would suggest that he tries counting sheep. But I guess that might make him even more excited. I digress.
I can put aside the fact that the mother of my daughter (Big Nose) will be sitting at home munching nuts nervously as she roots for Wales. I am beyond that for I also know that my daughter will be dressed in a Welsh jersey or National dress, belting out the National Anthem, passionately roaring on the men in red.
This is a simple matter. The Old Enemy are playing. Thus naturally my mind is wired to support the other side. I do not feel this way about soccer – in Ireland’s absence I will cheer for England in the World Cup for as long as its campaign lasts which will not be very long. I gather that England are 33-1 to win the World Cup. For those who do not understand betting that means that if you wager £10 on England you will lose £10.
No, this is just a rugby thing. I think of the swagger and arrogance of England sides before. I think of bloody Will Carling or Jeremy Guscott. I think of England fans singing “Swing Lo” as they assume they will always win. I think of a match at Lansdowne Road many years ago during the troubles when some pompous oaf behind my father and I brayed in a drunken slur “Oh I do wish the Irish would make a match of it.” I think of Sir Clive Woodward. My blood is boiling already. If the England Rugby Team was playing the Hamas XV I would naturally be rooting for the islamofascist nutters.
And Wales are our Celtic Cousins as well as the team supported by my daughter. Paul is starting to think like Sir Clive Woodward and should be ashamed. For him and for me the teams you support are:
1. Wales/Ireland 2. Anyone playing against England 3. Your Celtic Cousins (with Scotland ranked marginally below Wales & Ireland in the Celticness stakes). 4. The underdog (to assist with France vs Italy) - small nations should back the underdogs.
Follow that simple matrix and you know exactly who you will be cheering for in any six nations match. On that basis “C’mon Wales.”
When I was a child my mother’s wider family used to meet up at a restaurant in Marlborough in December for a meal and to exchange Christmas presents. I remember the hotel served an amazing brown breadcrumb ice cream. My grandparents would travel up from Dorset and my mother’s brother and little sister would drive up separately from London while Dad would drive us down from Northamptonshire.
My father takes after his mother and so we would arrive on the dot at 12.30 as agreed. We would then spend the next two hours enjoying the sweepstake organised by my father on which member of the Booker clan would be the last to arrive. Bookers do not do punctuality and it is correctly said that the only occasion at which they are ever on time is their funeral.
My father’s mother only once ever missed a train in her life. That was when she arrived so early that she caught the one before instead. My father operates on a similar basis and so when dropping me off at Moreton-in-Marsh he always allows plenty of time. Even though he observes a strict 20 mile an hour speed limit on all roads, more or less up to and including Motorways, I inevitably spend a good twenty minutes waiting on the platform at Moreton.
But I am as guilty of this obsession with not missing my train as is he. Regular readers will know that I catch the 4.47 AM from Bristol when travelling up to London as I am doing today. It is empty almost all the way and so I can spread my bags out and work at a table. And unlike every other train until 10 AM you do not need to take out a second mortgage to buy your ticket. And so last night, as is my ritual now, I called the excellent V-Cars in Bristol to book a cab.
What time is your train the nice lady asks? 4.47 say I. “We do advise a pick up 45 minutes before your train and if you miss the train it is on your own risk otherwise” said she. “I know, but let’s call it 4.20 AM shall we?” said I. And as ever that was agreed, it is my own risk, and she said “Nice to speak to you luvvy.”
By 4.20 I am in the cab as V-Cars is always early, texting me to say that it is blocking our street, I mean has arrived outside, at 4.15. And by 4.27, I am at Temple Meads. The journey through empty streets never takes more than eight minutes. I could therefore cut it finer and get up at 4 AM not 3.50 AM and leave at 4.30 AM not 4.20 AM. There would be no panic. There would be no waiting outside Temple Meads in the cold until 4.30 AM when the doors open.
But I am my father’s son. What if there is, for the first time in history, a traffic jam in Bristol at 4.25 AM? What if the cab breaks down? Panic. Panic. I cannot help it.
I pondered at the end of January the mystery of who had filled in my tax return? Who was my angel? At long last it emerges who was the angel. It was my father. But Dad was not quite as helpful as it might seem.
We were both registered at the same address. He is Thomas John and I am Thomas John Zacchaeus. And so helpfully used my unique tax number to fill in his return. Thanks to the generosity of the Universities final salary pension scheme and to a few other little income streams the old man actually owes HMRC a few bob – I know because he has sent me his return to prove it.
I am actually owed money and so was quite keen to fill in my return but the HMRC started by insisting that I had done so already. When they called my father to clarify the matter he refused to hand over my phone number and berated them for their incompetence. For once I actually feel sorry for the Tax Man as it was not his error.
Finally all is sorted and I have just got a letter saying that the person who was squatting on my unique tax number has been shuffled on and I can file away. If there is any justice the file for late filing will be allocated to the TJ Winnifrith who owes HMRC money rather than to his son, the victim of this whole episode with his tax refund delayed.
I have noted before that Oxfam is a charity not fit for purpose – it really does spout nonsense on a monumental scale. The latest clanger came on BBC Radio Oxford earlier this week – the link is here and the outbursts start at about even minutes in.
The Oxfam spokeswoman was one with two very stupid women – one from UKIP and a Lib Dem. Needless to say the Lib Dem woman agreed meekly with everything the Oxfam loony said. The UKIP old bag was again saying that the UK foreign aid budget should be diverted to help deal with UK floods. I have note before (HERE) how this is errant wolf-whistling economic claptrap. But her idiocy was easily surpassed by the Oxfam old trout.
She started by saying that the UK had plenty of cash to spend on the floods, after all Call Me Dave says “money is no object.” When a country has a deficit of £100 billion that is patently not true but if our PM (who is meant to be a conservative) is a Money Tree believer one cannot really be surprised that the deluded lefties of Oxfam are also Money Tree worshippers.
But then it got worse. Oxfam says that since 2008 UK bankers have received bonuses of £70 billion which is about £10 billion more than we have spent on foreign aid) so the UK bankers can afford to pay. Where to start?
a) The taxes on those bonuses will be c£35 million which goes to the Government to piss away on foreign aid.
b) If the private sector wishes to pay its staff daft amounts that is its call. Does Oxfam really think it can just tell the private sector to pay less and to hand over money to flood victims in the UK and kleptocrats in Bongo land?
c) Foreign aid spending by HMG comes 100% from either cash stumped up by taxpayers (bankers pay vast amounts in tax) or from debt which will eventually have to be repaid by taxpayers.
Oxfam itself spends a vast amount on campaigning. Now you know what it is campaigning for – a command economy funded by the money tree.
And to think that my deluded lefty father and step mother give so much cash to these cretins.
Last week I expressed my shock that Ireland and West Ham had both won on the same day and wondered when this happened last? You see, I am used to supporting sporting sides that are just not very good. Well blow me down Ireland and West Ham have now both put in back to back wins on the same day – when did that happen last?
For Ireland it was a home game against Wales. Such occasions usually prompt a post-match call between my father and myself “At least Olivia will be happy.” My daughter is like her mother (Big Nose) a proud Welshie. But not this time.
Ireland were ruthlessly efficient and made Wales (who are not hopeless) look just ordinary. The pack lead by Paul O’Connell was magnificent at the lineout, with the rolling maul and in all aspects of secondary play. The scrums were a bit of a mess but overall it was a powerful display. Throw in the kicking of Sexton and the tackling of the backs – and their strength under the high ball - and Ireland looked really good.
Next up is the Old Enemy at Twickenham. England also looked good yesterday but that was against a Scottish side that was truly dreadful. If you lose nearly all of your own lineouts and give away penalties you will never win rugby matches. As a hooker myself I have some sympathy when a lineout goes awry but Scotland’s was a shambles. It was not that England were just beating Scotland to the ball but that the ball was being thrown anywhere, almost at random. In my prime (London Irish, Wild Geese) I threw better than that. Notwithstanding how useless Scotland were, England are a good side so the next outing will be tough.
For West Ham, a 2 nil win away at Villa despite not having Andy Caroll available as he serves a ludicrous three match ban. Two goals from Kevin Nolan did the trick and by all accounts the best team won. We are out of the relegation zone but the bottom half of the table is still incredibly tight. In theory, a win against Norwich at Upton Park on Tuesday could see the mighty Hammers up to 10th. Yes I know we would need to win 4 nil but let me dream for a day.
What matters is the three points. Norwich at home is the sort of game we need to win because safety is still at least 4 wins and a draw away. Somehow there is confidence back in the side. Happy days.
As you might have gathered, teams that gain my support on the sports field can rarely be described as consistent models of success. West Ham, Northants CC, Ireland & Ulster at rugby, Eire at football and England at Cricket. The less said about the last on that list the better – for now I have decided that supporting the England women’s cricket team is less painful.
My big loves are, for my sins, Irish rugby and West Ham. For the former I can blame my father. For the latter I have only myself to blame. But this weekend both Ireland and West Ham won. I really cannot remember the last time this happened.
At this stage of the season I usually have a conversation with God on the matter of sport. Heavenly father, will you allow West Ham to avoid relegation and as a trade-off I will give you that Ireland will not win the six nations. But would you mind terribly if we won the Triple Crown? I sense that God is not really interested in such discussions (although why he should have anything against Irish rugby is beyond me, surely he cannot support England?) and thus Ireland will probably not win the Triple Crown and as for West Ham? If the appeal against the red card shown to Horseface (Andy Carroll) on Saturday is successful – as I think it should be – we actually looked like a half decent side.
Okay we are still in the 3rd relegation spot ( 18th) but in theory just one win would put us 11th The reality is that every side from 10th down (Villa who we play on Saturday on 27 points, five more than us) is a relegation contender. No side looks dead and buried so who will go down? Take your pick from (bottom of the table upwards) Fulham, Cardiff, West Ham, Palace, West Brom, Sunderland, Hull, Swansea, Stoke and Villa. None of those ten looks too good to go down and none of the ten look so abject that they really deserve to go down.
At both ends of the table the Premiership looks set to provide excitement to the wire with the added joy that Man United may well be missing out on a top four spot and European football next year.
As a footnote, at my daughter’s school all the kids bar two support Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal. The two exceptions are my daughter (a die-hard Hammer) and Jude who supports Spurs. I have some time for Jude for that, even if he is a Spurs supporter. I just wonder if there might be rather fewer “diehard Man U fans” next season?
As a second footnote from Upton Park on Saturday I relay a chant from whenever the Swansea No 8 touched the ball. This balding figure did bear a passing mention to “he who shall not be named” and thus when in possession the crowd immediately began singing “he’s coming for you, he’s coming for you, Harry Potter’s coming for you.”
Okay, it seemed funny at the time. I guess you had to be there.
I do not understand why my father, the other Tom Winnifrith, puts himself through the torture of reading the Guardian since he admits that it is riddled with factual errors and that its opinions are generally idiotic. I think he does it at home to please my rather politically correct step mother before scuttling off to the White Bear to read the Daily Telegraph at leisure and with pleasure.
But in reading the Grauniad a few weeks ago my father could not help but spot some glaring errors in one of its daily articles lambasting Michael Gove (who naturally has the full support of my father). So my father penned a letter pointing out the basic factual errors in the Guardian diatribe. It goes without saying that the Guardian has neither printed the letter nor corrected the errors. Pravda!
My father’s letter reads:
Dear Sir or Madam,
In deriding the unfortunate Mr Gove Michael Rosen refers to Horatio in Lord Macaulay's poem. There seems a little difficulty about the name. Horatio is Hamlet's friend and the first name of Admiral Nelson of whom like Macaulay Michael Rosen presumably learned at school.
But Macaulay appears to have been studied less thoroughly. His Horatius is not "putting down rebellion" or "hacking away at insubordinate chiefs and their troops" and thus clearly bad like Macaulay putting down the Indian mutiny and those suppressing the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya.
These are Rosen's analogies but are not very accurate ones. Macaulay's Horatius was fighting the Roman tyrant Tarquin and his foreign Etruscan allies. Should he not have done so? And should not Mr Gove be entitled to defend the teaching of facts against the teaching of attitudes which then distort the facts as Michael Rosen has done.
Even the ranks of Guardian readers can scarce forbear to jeer not at Mr Gove but at Michael Rosen.
And so it was a day or so after Christmas and my daughter was down in Bristol for Christmas Number 2. How about we pop along to the Conservative club for a quick drink I suggested, keen to lead young people along a path of virtue and righteousness.
But Daddy I have to tell you something about me first, she answered.
Oh Cripes thought I. “Will I be upset?” She responded honestly: “Daddy, you won’t like it.”
Oh double cripes.
What could it be? Might she have a boyfriend? Tried a touch of Nigella with her schoolmates? Could she be “coming out” already? After all she does live in Islington. Surely she cannot be pregnant? My mind raced through all these dreadful scenarios.
But it was worse.
“Daddy…I am a Liberal Democrat.”
God help us. Couldn’t she just be a coke fiend or a lesbian or something harmless?
I should have seen the warning signs when she started lecturing me a couple of years ago about how I was killing the poor polar bears by using an electric cheese grater. Or perhaps when she referred to the country between Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt as “Palestine.”
Do any other parents have any suggestions for how to cope with this? Might it just be a youthful phase they go through?
We had a brief discussion on the role of the state and taxation and I see glimmers of hope. I know that my daughter is a social liberal but her grasp of economics is good and I think that with some appropriate reading matter she may yet emerge as a crystal pure libertarian and be weaned away from the dark shrowd of liberal democracy. A long weekend boot camp with myself and Uncle Christopher (Booker) may well be needed to shake her free before this gets dangerous.
Thank heavens Movember is over. I do not know how men wear a tash all year round. It trickles, itches and is all round unpleasant. I shall be keeping my tash until the 7th December and a family event but cannot wait to remove it thereafter.
Having suffered for 31 days already perhaps you might care to sponsor my Movember efforts to raise money to fight prostate and testicular cancer.
I write as the son of a retired University Lecturer and the husband of a practising one, who is NOT on strike today. But many of her colleagues (some of whom I shall be meeting on bonfire night) are withdrawing their labour today. This is a politically motivated strike by greedy bastards who should be string up with piano wire.
Lecturers have a cushy deal. By your late thirties you can expect to be earning c£40,000 a year. You do not actually have to attend your institution of learning more than two or three days a week but can work from home. “Office hours” are not exactly those we in the private sector are used to. There is no 6 am alarm call and daily grind to hit your desk at work by 7 AM. Or even 9 AM.
Although nominal holidays are 25 days a year during the 20 weeks of vacation (plus reading weeks etc) lecturers do not actually have to er…lecture. They rarely have to pop into the factory and it is quite normal for them to spend the summer “working” from Tuscany.
It is almost impossible to be fired. Being lazy or useless is not enough. You need to be found guilty of gross moral turpitude which means some really heinous offence like reading the Daily Mail or having a picture of Nigel Farage on your wall. This is a job for life at the end of which there is a very generous pension scheme funded by the grateful taxpayer.
And yet the bastards are going on strike because they say that a 1% pay rise is not enough. In real terms they have had a 13% pay cut since 2008. As you would expect from such folks the maths is just 100% wrong.
The 1% is the blanket award given to all lecturers whether they are good bad or indifferent. But every year large numbers of lecturers either get promoted (internally or with an external posting) or are re-graded internally. As such there are many lecturers who will be earning 10% or 15% more this year than they did in 2012. One would hope that it is the better lecturers who are getting the bigger hikes.
What the University Unions are demanding is that there is a real (i.e. inflation beating) pay rise for ALL staff however useless and then there will be the promotions and re-gradings for the better staff as a bonus.
The Unions argue that they need to beat inflation (i.e. to improve their standard of living). One of the main drivers of inflation is house prices and the nice Middle Class folks who work in our Universities have a far higher home-owning percentage than the population as a whole and own far more valuable properties than the population as a whole. So they are big winners from booming house prices but expect to be compensated for it as well.
At every level the relatively small number of folks who voted for strike action are greedy bastards. They are also, in many cases, politically motivated. This is a chance to show the wicked frigging Tories that the workers will not be beaten.
At every level I view such folks with utter contempt. My father used to make a point of walking through picket lines accompanied by his friend the late Bill Whitehead who was a total superstar. My Mrs is not going that far but I am proud that the woman formerly known as the deluded lefty is NOT striking today. Good for her.
Those thousands of lecturers who are on strike will gain no sympathy from the public, from students and deserve no sympathy. When the great libertarian anarcho-capitalist revolution comes those folks will be among the first to suffer a meeting with piano wire.
My father has done more than his fair share of work as Treasurer of the Shipston Parish. Its finances are okay – thanks in good part to my father handing over far too much of his dosh – but the finances of the wider C of E are a shambolic disaster. The reason is that it is a failing organisation – it keeps on losing customers to the grim reaper, other faiths and sects or to apathy and it is not replacing them.
One reason for this may be that the Church, like other once respected bodies such as the National Trust and the RSPCA seems intent on straying off its core patch. All three of these bodies have made themselves look ridiculous with their pronouncements on matters such as global warming and hunting of animals. But they just cannot help themselves.
And thus the Archbishop of Canterbury has today waded into the energy price debate telling companies that they should sacrifice profits by cutting prices ( prices agreed with the regulator) so folks are less badly off. Why not instead cut this Government’s ludicrous energy taxes imposed to help reduce our carbon footprint? Er…. Because the Church still thinks the planet is getting warmer (even though we are now in year 16 of cooling).
This is not a moral point the Church and the Archbishop is making but a political one. He wants wealth taken from shareholders in private companies and given to the British population. Of course lower prices might mean we use more fuel which will cause global warming won’t it? Archbishop Justin Welby is like his predecessor set to be another misguided, failing CEO of an organisation in what appears to be terminal decline.
As an aside I would note that a large number of the other contributors to Shipston Church are little old ladies living by themselves on a fixed income derived from bonds and safe high yield shares like…er….the utilities. Cut their dividend stream and a) they cut back on fuel usage and b) they give less to the Church.
As such I offer you a suggestion for the next Archbishop of Canterbury Mr Gordon Gekko. He knows as much about religion as the CofE knows about economics so what would Gordon say? Post your captions in the comments section below by Friday at 9 AM
For what it is worth my comment is:
Having been appointed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, Gekko states:
Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only create those with enough private wealth who will donate funds to mend the roof of Shipston Parish Church, but through the same process will save that malfunctioning corporation called the Church of England. Thank you very much.
Last week I asked you for comments on this picture in our Polly Toynbee Grim North edition
Congratulations to the winner, Revidiver for this:
Here's a shilling Polly towards your villa in Tuscany.
Those who have been following me long enough know that my daughter Olivia was born at 1lb 4 oz just over twelve years ago. As such she has always been a bit of a miracle baby. But her triumphs continue to rack up. Her essay on the evils of the Euro got top marks and yesterday she learned that she had been picked for the U14 B side at her hockey club. So what you say?
Well A) we were warned that Olivia would always be small and may have breathing issues so any sporting triumph is a bonus. B) Her hockey club is I gather, a rather top club. C) that is the U14sB. Olivia turned 12 just three months ago.
Olaf’s mum (Big Nose) was a county hockey player so I guess that is where she gets it from and I sense that Big Nose has pushed our daughter quite hard in this area. But the credit is all Olivia’s and yet again she makes me terribly proud.
I do not normally read The Independent as it is a dire newspaper pandering to deluded lefties like my entire family (bar step sister Flea and Chris Booker) by printing utter bilge. But, for your sake dear readers, I prepared the sick bag to read one stormer of an article today. It defies belief.
The headline reads: Aid groups warn of growing hunger and disease as planet warms
Fantastic, maybe those Scottish moors I bought to grow vines on will prove a stunning investment after all?
Greatly encouraged I read on as the Indescribablyboring newspaper continued:
The potentially devastating effects of climate change on future generations are revealed today by two British aid groups, before a crucial UN report due out this week. On Friday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is set to unveil its latest report on global warming. It is expected to show researchers’ increasing confidence that humans are the main cause of climate change, largely through use of fossil fuels.
In a report on food security published today, Oxfam claims that climate change could leave one in five people worldwide at risk of hunger by 2050. This will increase child malnutrition by 20 per cent, it says. The charity also states that global yields of maize and wheat are down 3.8 and 5.5 per cent respectively, compared with what they would be without climate change, and that crop yields could fall by between 10 and 20 per cent by 2050.
The increase in extreme weather patterns due to global warming could also cause more crop failures, Oxfam says. Research commissioned by the group shows that the average price of staple foods could double in the next two decades.
So according to Oxfam the global warming we have already seen has caused wheat and maize yields to fall and things are going to get worse, blah, blah, blah.
But before you all get your chequebooks out for Oxfam there is one small inconvenient truth: the world has not got warmer. Here I quote from one of my two family members who is not a deluded lefty, Christopher Booker, in his Torygraph column of yesterday:
The air is already thick with familiar claims and counterclaims, President Obama quotes yet another laughably silly paper trying to make out that “97 per cent of scientists” support the IPCC “consensus”. Sceptics point out yet again that the lack of global warming over the past 17 years makes a nonsense of all those computer-model projections on which the IPCC has been basing its case for 23 years.
This very weekend of September 2013, we were being told back in 2007, would be the moment when the Arctic was “ice-free”. Yet this summer’s ice-melt has been the smallest in seven years, and the global extent of polar sea ice is currently equal to its average over the past 34 years. Tuvalu and the Maldives are not vanishing beneath the waves. Far from hurricanes and tornadoes becoming more frequent and intense, their incidence is lower than it has been for decades. The Himalayan glaciers are not on course to have melted by 2035, as the IPCC’s last report predicted in 2007.
Nothing has changed except that the IPCC itself, as the main driver of the scare, has been more comprehensively discredited than ever as no more than a one-sided pressure group, essentially run by a clique of scientific activists committed to their belief that rising CO2 levels threaten the world with an overheating which is not taking place.
Spot on Uncle Chris. So if the world has not actually got warmer why have crop yields fallen? Perhaps Oxfam would look less ridiculous if it examined that rather than arriving at a conclusion which fits its biased world view but cannot be justified by the facts.
The inconvenient truth is that as the world belches out ever more carbon all the computer models used to support the bogus science of global warming have been 100% wrong – the world is not getting warmer. It is still colder than it was in the medieval warm period when vines grew in Greenland (with minimal carbon emissions). Those poor frigging polar bears are now applying for a winter fuel allowance as the ice cap has grown steadily in the past five years and will by Christmas be greater in size than the long run average size.
Oxfam is a bureaucratic nightmare which swallows up a terribly high percentage of donations on admin costs employing the sort of deluded lefty who thinks that global warming is still happening. As it (again) strays beyond its stated remit of transferring cash from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor ones, by engaging in ridiculous political posturing the case for boycotting it altogether becomes unanswerable. Heck, even the deluded lefties of Sheep Street Shipston (well my Dad at least) might give it a miss this Christmas after this effort.
As for the Indy…it has become the sort of publication which if you bought a copy you would also buy a hard core gay porn mag to wrap it up in, to prevent folks knowing about your disgusting reading habits as you wandered back from the newsagents. What a rag.
My 12 year old daughter Olivia has to write an essay for school arguing the pros and cons of the Euro for Europe. Showing a greater grasp of economics than 90% of the bien pensants political and media elite she concludes that there are no material pros and argues forcefully and coherently that there are lots of cons. For myself and her Great Uncle Christopher Booker, as well as her Farage admiring mother, Pinsent Masons partner Big Nose, this essay is a triumph.
For the rest of my family who are true deluded lefties and thus take the view that whatever Uncle Chris and I write, they automatically support the other side, this will be a watershed. A third Eurosceptic writer in the family...great news.
My immediate family, bar uber-enlightened step sister Flea, are all deluded lefties and thus take the view that if Uncle Chris (Chris Booker) holds one view they should naturally take the opposite line. I tend to take an alternative view. Other than his one little blind spot (a failure to support the only democracy in the Middle East), Booker’s judgement is never wrong. On issues such as the global warming scandal, the EU and inner City development he has for decades been way ahead of the curve.
Today my mother’s brother writes in his Sunday Telegraph column about the West’s failure to appreciate the Islamofascist threat from Iran. Again he is bang on the money. Perhaps we should all have listened to the Israelis a bit more?
But he also picks up on my piece last week about the National Trust and how it is losing the plot. In that snippet he observes correctly why my father’s father, Sir John Winnifrith, would today have been disqualified from being head of the National Trust. It is a good and fair comment which my immediate family will find it hard to disagree with. But on (misguided) principle they probably will do so anyway.
In 1976 my family was living in a small village on the borders of Northants, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire called Byfield. Buy a mile one way and a mile and a half the other way we were just inside Northants. And one day I was told by my Uncle Chris (who was staying) and my father that we must all listen to the radio as something historic was happening.
It was the Gillette Cup Final. Northants defeated Lancashire by 76 runs to secure the first trophy in the history of our County. And so I became a supporter of Northamptonshire. As a teenager I watched them in Folkestone (with my father’s father), Weston Super Mare (with Uncle Chris) and with friends or alone at Headingly, Derby, the Oval, Lords, Luton (with my father) and of course at the County Ground Northampton. Those were the days of Larkins, Cook, Allan Lamb, Tom Lamb, Peter Willey, David Steele, Safraz Nawaz ( my “favourite player if only for that one glorious six to win at Luton against Kent which sailed over my Kent Supporting father’s head), etc. For a time we were quite good.
I have not seen a Northants cricket game for years and as a poor and unfashionable club Northants has not really prospered. But I wake up today to see that for the first time since 1992 and for only the fourth time ever, Northants has won a trophy (the T20 pyjama cricket knockabout). And apparently we are going great guns in all competitions.
There is so much cricket all year round that I am not sure I can keep track of it all or really care that much but it gives me some pleasure to see Northants win something at last. Happy days.
My grandfather, Sir John Winnifrith, was Director General of the National Trust back in the 1970s. Back then its mission was to preserve old houses and historic rural areas. It got on with the job. And as such it was a body worth supporting. Folks felt the same way about it as they did about the RSPCA. But both bodies have quite simply lost the plot.
I have covered the RSPCA elsewhere (as you can read here) but I am these days as likely to give it my cash as I am to give cash to the NT. And I suspect that many of traditional “core” supporters fell the same way. Having visited two of its properties last week let me explain why.
The first was the 14th or 15th century farmhouse in which my grandfather was allowed to live after retiring from the NT. It is not a terribly remarkable building or very big. No tourist would visit it specifically but it is (or was) a lovely old place. When my grandparents lived there the lawn was immaculate and my grandmother (who played rugby for her – boys - prep school used to bowl at me there – it was as flat as a cricket pitch. My grandfather tended his vegetable garden with utter care and in the shed he and I used to split great big logs into smaller pieces for a roaring open fire that was at the centre of the (rather cold) old house.
I pitched up to find the place deserted. The lawn and vegetable patch were covered in weeds and two foot long grass. The trees were overgrown. Inside all I could see in the main room was that inside the great hearth that had hosted open fires for 500 years was a modern wood burning stove. But there was nothing else. The house was abandoned and slowly going to pot.
So what the fuck does the National Trust spend its millions on these days? Heading over to Bodiam Castle in Sussex via the steam railway from Tenterden I was greeted with a sign erected by the NT in c2000. “Within 50 years this area will be underwater due to climate change”. What utter bollocks.
Of course much of the area around Bodiam on Romney Marsh was underwater in 1300 and before but that was nothing to do with man-made fossil fuels and global warming. The world gets warmer and it gets colder. Land masses rise and they fall.
So far we are 13 years into those 50 and there is absolutely no evidence that I will need wellies or a rubber dinghy to visit Bodiam by 2050 or indeed ever. But the NT seems to have been captured by the sort of political establishment loons who are happy to let buildings like Hall House Farm Appledore crumble and disappear in weeds as long as they can splash the cash on fighting global warming.
I quote from the NT’s website:
“We're pledging to reduce use of fossil fuels by 50 per cent within the next 10 years. The move will aim to cut our carbon emissions from energy use for heat and electricity by 45 per cent – beating the Government’s target of a 34 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020.
In addition to the benefits to the climate, the move could also help us dramatically reduce the amount we spend on fuel - we currently spend around £6 million each year on power and heating for our buildings.
The target will be met by reducing energy use for electricity and heating by 20 per cent and introducing ‘grow your own’ micro and small scale energy schemes using wood fuel, solar, heat pumps, hydro and wind.
The initiative will involve our entire in-hand building stock, which includes 300 major historic houses, office buildings, visitor centres and 360 holiday cottages.
We anticipate that most of the schemes will break-even within the next 10 years, even allowing for the huge variability in the price of energy and uncertainty over the future of grants and subsidies. Our reduction in the use of mains electricity, gas, oil and LPG will be equivalent to removing 4,500 family cars from the road.
World leaders may not have provided a political solution to the climate change problem at Copenhagen, but that should not delay us from delivering practical solutions on the ground,' said Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust.
'The Trust has a responsibility to look after the special places in our care for ever, requiring us to make long term decisions that will protect them for future generations to enjoy.
'Climate change is already having a major impact on our properties and is one of the reasons why we need to act now, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to change,' Fiona Reynolds continued.
Okay Fiona darling – what climate change are you referring to? The UK is colder now than it was back in the late 1970s. It got warmer then it got colder. What specific climate changes are you referring to and how exactly is this harming the properties you look after? Or complexly fucking ignore like Hall House Farm Appledore?
You tell us that you will get ten year payback on most of your “green” energy schemes but that may depend on subsidies etc. Wake up and smell the coffee. All across Europe Governments are scrapping subsidies for pointless green energy projects. The game is up. How much time, money and effort are you ploughing into “saving the planet” rather than saving Hall House Farm Appledore and other buildings which is what your job is meant to be?
As a footnote my father has written to the NT about its neglect of Hall House Farm. I await its response with interest.
A week away taking the next generation to Kent where my grandparents lived and I spent many a summer as a boy. We spent one day in the small village of Appledore to where my grandparents retired . There will be more on that later. My father asked me to check out the grave of his parents. The only trouble was that he could not remember where it was.
He insisted it was 20 yards behiond the church on the right. My step mother insisted it was on the left. Normally on matters such as who committed the war crime at the Black Hole of Calcutta or when was the battle of Agincourt I go with my Dad. On more practical matters like where did you leave your shoes or where are Dad's parents buried I go with my step mother.
But the deluded lefty was wrong. As was the other deluded lefty, my father. We refused to give up and at the last minute my father called to say "extension". Sure enough in a little patch away from the Church we found a whole new raft of graves among them that of my grandmother ( named after an Island in Greece when the world was not obsessed by lesbians) and grandfather. It is a simple gravestone as both would have wanted. The next generation laid a few flowers picked from the verge and we moved on.
My father can take a joke on most matters but is a little sensitive on the subject of the tomatoes he grows in Shipston on Stour. They have a tendency to be small and green. Perhaps if he and my deluded lefty step mother are right then global warming will rectify that. I am not holding my breath.
I am staying with the brother in law of my partner in the Peloponnese where he has a house in the village in which he grew up. His parents live from the land here. And so today we visited their garden and, Dad admit it, their tomatoes are just in a different league to your own.
Putting them in scale, what you see behind is the hand of my partner.
There are also melons (we had one for lunch) and peppers and so much more.
I am told that getting pictures of melons helps attract traffic from google. I am not sure why.
Tomorrow morning I get up before seven to go meet the goats. There were five goats but two of them were “taken out of production” yesterday. And jolly pleasant they tasted. But the three that remain are, apparently good milk producers, and so tomorrow I am going to try to milk one of them. I shall try to capture this moment of career development on video and will report back then.
As a father and son I get a card and I make a phone call. I cannot say that I really go big on this. My father says, every year as we exchange a call on this day, “it is not a day of which I really approve”. Sure enough he has not, at 75, changed his mind. Since I grew up with my father as sole carer I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. He knows that I know that. No-one could ask for a better father. But father’s day? A waste of space.
It seems as if Sunday 2nd June 2013 was the busiest day in the history of this blog – a happy first anniversary. More than 42,000 page impressions in one day is about the same as I enjoyed in the whole of the first eight weeks of this site. Of course I know that it is nothing to do with this being my first anniversary and all to do with those magic words #DowningStreetAffair.
Right now I sit onboard the 21.42 from Paddington heading for a few days with my father and step mother, the arch deluded lefties of Shipston on Stour. I appeared to be in everyone’s good books for volunteering to baby sit for step sister Flea on Wednesday. As an added benefit, by the time I had volunteered she already had another offer and so I am off the hook.
However I now appear to have regained evil son status by suggesting that my Step Mother phones her brother Sir George Young asking him for his take on the Downing Street affair. Apparently this was not considered funny – I was only kidding.
Apparently I am still suspected of selling some story about “wicked Uncle George” (being a Tory he is naturally considered wicked in my family) to Private Eye about 20 years ago. On that occasion I was blameless. But I suspect folks are right not to bank on my discretion were Sir George to spill the beans. Not that most of us won’t already know all by the morning as twitter and the foreign press force Call Me Dave to come clean.
My father has already done his stint as part of the slick electoral machine of the Shipston branch of the party that wishes to block the deportation of Abu Qatada and now we sit back and watch the results come in tonight. To add interest we have six bets running. And it is at 5 Albanian Lekke a pop.
My banker is who will get a greater percentage of the popular vote: UKIP or the Lib Dems. The last national survey suggested the Lib Dems would get 14% and UKIP 22% just behind labour on 24%. I think it is pretty brave of anyone to admit voting Lib Dem but I suspect that even more folks are reluctant to admit to voting UKIP lest the local council snatch their kids or Ken Clarke accuses them of racism. So I sense the 22% might just underestimate the UKIP vote and so barring a miracle this is my banker bet.
I win 5 Albanian Lekke from my father.
I wish we had a bet on the South Shields by-election where the word is that both the Tories and Lib Dems will lose their deposits. Indeed there is a suggestion that the unofficial Monster raving Loony party (the one led by Nick Clegg) will in fact be beaten by the Official Monster Raving Loony party. UKIP will come second but I suspect a lot closer to Labour (in its safest seat in England) than it did in Rotherham.
How well UKIP actually does is down, I suspect to whether folks feel apathetic (Local elections do not count, all politicians are greedy sleazy tossers who ignore our wishes on everything, but I am off down the pub, staying at home waiting for the next Coronation Street star to be exposed as an alleged sex offender) or angry (all politicians are greedy sleazy tossers who ignore our wishes on everything) and so since local elections do not count I will kick them in the gonads by voting UKIP.
The signs are that in some places apathy reigns. But in others (like along the High Speed rail line) turnout is half decent.’ And that means UKIP will do well.
It is just conceivable that UKIP will win more of the popular vote than Labour. It will gain dozens of seats. The Tories and Lib Dems will suffer a bloodbath but Labour’s low share of the vote (it is largely rural seats up for grabs) will be used to bash them. Of the party leaders only Farage will really be smiling tonight.
And so to our other bet which is on the Warwickshire County Council contest in Shipston on Stour. This ward has elected in the last three contests a Tory, a Liberal and a man from the People’s Party. That was a flash-in-the-pan win for Labour as the plebs showed their support for the proposed supermarket. This time there are five candidates:
Incumbent councillor Mr Saint (regarded as Mr Sinner by my father as he is the Conservative candidate)
Wacko Environmentalist (the Green Party Candidate)
Beardy Weirdie (Lib Dem)
Nice Lady from the Post Office (The People’s Party)
A bloke no-one has ever heard of (UKIP)
Last time Mr Sinner won by a landslide. Beardy Weirdie is a sitting District Councillor. Wacko Environmentalist was very anti supermarket as were Beardy Weirdie and Sinner. The bloke no-one has ever heard of (UKIP) has not declared his hand on Supermarkets.
And so the bets are on each of the five places. My father goes with
1. Sinner 2. Beardy Weirdie 3. Nice Lady from Post Office, New Labour 4. Wacko Environmentalist (Friend of deluded lefty step mum) 5. Bloke no-one has ever heard of, UKIP.
I predict a mammoth UKIP surge with the Sinner suffering the most and so go with:
1. Beardy Weirdie (perhaps the only Lib Dem gain in the UK tonight) 2. Bloke no-one has ever heard of (UKIP) 3. Sinner. 4. Nice Lady from the Post Office 5. Wacko Environmentalist.
As a footnote it appears that little step sister Flea forgot to put herself on the electoral roll and so cannot vote at all. As such her opportunity to show her true colours (blue or purple) has been denied her.
I sense that on positions 5 and 4 I am bang on the money. But I am starting to worry that in fact I might have got three and one the wrong way round and that Mr Sinner will triumph while it is Beardy Weirdie who faces coming behind the bloke that no-one has ever heard of. All to be revealed tomorrow.
I gather that the local elections loom. My deluded lefty parents are keenly watching the contest in Shipston on Stour where they have a choice of 5 candidates: Labour, Lib Dem, Tory, Green and UKIP. My father tells me that the pro-supermarket protest vote for Labour last time will not carry and so that the nice lady from the Co-Op who flies the red flag will be battling it out for fifth place with the smelly eco-warrior. As such it is a three horse race between the Liberal and two parties which my deluded lefty family would not support under any circumstances: wicked UKIP and the even more wicked Tories.
My father has thus asked little Step-sister Flea to put up a Liberal poster. Since her young man would rather drink his own urine than vote Liberal since he believes in low taxes for those who work, hard work, etc, etc Flea is dithering. But Flea too believes in hard work and low taxes so, having admitted this to the deluded lefty collective that is my family, I’ll urge her to stand her ground publically.
Flea, just remember that the Lib Dems are blocking moves to allow for the deportation of terrorist loving Abu Qatada who costs this nation £400,000 a year and who would like to see you blown up. And it is the taxes from your hard work that go to pay his bills. As you go to work tomorrow, dear Flea think about where your taxes are going, that bloke outside the school gates who would rather “go fishing” than get a job. Think hard. On that basis: Flea I urge you to stand fast and vote with your conscience on May 2nd.
No go on. Go the whole hog. I do not care two hoots who you vote for in a secret ballot but why not annoy every single relative (including wicked Uncle George). A UKIP poster would look great in your front window.
I had planned to leave London on Sunday but that all changed. I will be heading down to the Strand to mark my respects to Britain’s greatest ever Prime Minister – a woman who saved this country. A woman of principle. I am not sure how many folks will line the route nor if it will be disrupted by unkempt lefties, ignorant young people or worse but I shall be there anyway.
Lucian Miers is trekking up from the boonies to join me. I guess the crowds will build early so I shall work late at Real Man and then head off well before the crack of dawn to bag a place for Lucian and myself.
Uncle Chris (Booker) says that his wife queued to pay her respects at Churchill’s coffin and so this time I am there for the Booker’s who cannot make it. My own family of deluded lefties have rather different feelings but I guess I am also there for little step sister Flea who, to her credit, is a true child of Thatcher.
Afterwards I shall return to Real Man, feeling – I suspect – rather tired so it may be a light blogging day ahead.
Not me, my father, 75 today and spending a couple of days in Lyme Regis to celebrate. My father is Thomas John Winnifrith, I am TJZ Winnifrith, my second sister TJA Winnifrith (you see the symmetry) and my third sister arrived, er…a bit later and so had to be named after a gorilla born in the local zoo that year – Naomi.
I digress, Happy Birthday to the man who brought me up single handedly from the age of eight. He will be celebrating with my step mother who is a very distant relation to the author most closely linked with the Dorset Town and on whom my scholarly father has written and lectured about now and again. I cannot say that I am a total Jane Austen groupie or that I’d opt to spend a birthday in Lyme Regis. Maybe when I grow up.
For me it is pretty clear. My father, mother and step-mother went to Oxford. And so did all their fathers and three out of four brothers ( C Booker went to the other place). I was born in Oxford and somehow managed to scrape a place there too as did my youngest sister Naomi. And so naturally I support Oxford. Evil Knievil was born in Oxford and his father taught at Oxford and Evil was (understandably) rejected by Cambridge. And so he too supports Oxford.
My sister Tabby went to Cambridge and so as well as supporting ideas such as global warming and welfare hand-outs all round she also supports the ‘tabs. There is a consistency in her thinking.
But most people who do not regard this institution as elitist nonsense seem to support one side or other and for the oddest of reasons. I cannot say that I have any great feelings of warmth for the City of my birth, the City of Lost causes. I do not really care who wins most Varsity contests. But the Boat race is a bit different. Come on the dark blues. Or is it the Light blues. I can never remember which is which. Come on Oxford.
Brother in law James is a classical singer. He is not on facebook, twitter or skype and like my sister Tabby seems to regard the new media world with large amounts of disdain. But he did point me the way of this super trailer for an ENO production a couple of years ago: Facebook in real life. It is very funny. Enjoy.
And so I found my way to Oxford on Saturday to a party at the house of my sister Naomi to celebrate the 25th Wedding Anniversary of my father and step mother and also my father’s 75th birthday next week. My father and step mother are actually second cousins and eons ago when she was an undergraduate at Oxford and he a post graduate he took her to the Opera as a cousin-friendly gesture. 26 years ago they met for the first time in 20 years at the wedding of another mutual cousin. He took her to the opera again and within nine months they were getting married in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
It was a lovely sunny and warm March day. Ireland won a six nations match that day and I mentioned that in my best man’s speech. After 25 years of global warming we gathered to celebrate that day as the snow fell heavily in Oxford. It was my father and Helen’s oldest friends (a group he refers to as the Coffin Dodgers) plus my sisters (and husbands) and my step sisters and brother, young Tom. I am middle Tom. My father is big Tom.
I was banned from mentioning certain subjects in a gathering where I suspect myself and step sister Flea (pictured below) were the only non-Guardian readers.
It was a deluded lefty hothouse. And so I bit my lip and did not say to everyone how many inches of global warming was falling in the garden or raise any other controversial issues like, er… everything I believe in. And so conversation was largely about non-controversial matters such as the new slide-rule that brother in law Nils had bought himself as a present and which seemed to fascinate him and young Tom. Given that it was poor Nils who received for Christmas a year’s membership of the Labour party from his wife (my sister Naomi) I guess a slide rule is a notch up on the excitement scale.
I am too young to have used such a device but apparently you can get instruction manuals very easily…on the internet and it is odd to think of folks using such a device in the pre-calculator age but also that the only way a new generation can understand how such a device works is by using the same technology that killed it off in the first place.
So no fights and a lovely day. Happy anniversary to my father and his uber deluded leftie but otherwise utterly commendable wife Helen.
My formative rugby years were in the 1970s watching on a black and white TV screen with my Dad. Why do we support the Men in Green is asked my Dad: they always lose? Well my father and I still support the men in green. He taught me to do so as his mother had taught him and we have had a great couple of decades. But it is over. The good times have officially ended and we return to what I consider normality. That is to say a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
This season has been terrible. For the first 45 minutes against Wales we looked like world beaters. Since then it has been just dreadful. Frankly the Irish ladies team (who, I think, won their grand slam) have played with more passion and discipline and – at times – skill.
It is the end of an era. Not once have I had a chance to call Aunt Valerie (an Ulster woman) to share joy in a way that she cannot with her husband Uncle Chris, as Ireland have triumphed. Calls to my father have been sad as we wonder if those glory years – a twenty year period when Ireland were not good but great as opposed to the normal fare of brave also rans – are just over.
I am not even sure that I would describe Ireland as brave these days. Back in the 70s we would pray for the rain to poor down on Landsdowne Road. Keep it tight in the forwards and fight with passion, pray and hope. The late Moss Keane, Fergus Slattery, those were the days. In defeat those Ireland teams were brave.
And now? That the manager Declan Kidney has to go is without doubt. This has been the worst six nations in living memory and losing to both Scotland and Italy (though both sides are greatly improved) is shameful. And Brian O’Driscoll has now played his last game for Ireland. Injuries have taken their toll on his body and if he joins or even leads the Lions this summer I think sentiment will have won over reason. It should not have ended this way for a great servant of Irish rugby and, by all accounts, a good man.
I am told that there are a lot of good young players coming through. I hope so but the Irish side as it stands is quite simply not very good. It is poor. And it is not brave or disciplined either.
But as my father always says, at least Olivia will be happy. Wales have triumphed once again and my daughter’s mother (big nose) will have been screaming with joy. Deservedly so. And at least the swagger and arrogance that accompanies English rugby when it is on a roll has been destroyed today. The proud and boastful chariots have crashed. This is not chippy anti English sentiment just a comment about a certain aspect of English rugby.
But this is no consolation. For most of my adult life I have got a glimpse of what it must be like to support Chelski on their day. That is to say Ireland won games, won titles and we not only deserved to win but expected to win and to win by playing great rugby. But that era has been drawing to a close for a couple of seasons now. And now supporting Ireland is like supporting West Ham. I will never support anyone else but each season starts with a low expectation which the team I support with a passion will be almost certain to deliver on.
As I wandered into the newsagents at 10.55 PM last night for 20 Marlboro Light there was a long line of lads, fresh from the pub, clutching cheap bunches of flowers and a card. It must be Mother’s Day. It is not something I have ever paid much attention to since my mother died when I was eight. I am not sure we ever did much in the way of presents before then – our family was into self-sufficiency rather than worldly commercialism – to celebrate the day, I think we brought mum breakfast in bed.
At school each year all the boys were made to make a mother’s day card. The teacher’s used to find my situation a bit embarrassing. Make one for your Aunt or Grandmother then? You know it is not quite the same. And so this whole annual excuse for commercial vulgarity always passed me by.
I wonder what the mothers getting a cheap bunch of flowers and a tacky card all obviously bought at the last minute think? Thanks son: nice to know that you spared an afterthought for me after getting pissed with the lads. Gee..I'm touched.
It seems as if every day is either a World something day or a day which allows us all to engage in crass consumerism. I find myself pretty turned off by both.
My attention is drawn to a new website designed to assist those who read The Guardian and are stuck for suitable comments to post in its online section. This is obviously not a problem I’d ever face for two reasons but for the deluded middle class lefties in my family ( ie everyone bar myself and little step sister Kitty, I mean Flea) it could be invaluable. I offer you the first three random generated comments I got as a taster of what is on offer:
My holiday home in Provence is hardly a luxury! Why are the cis-sexual backlash movement intent on oppressing my right to fair-trade cocoa? Free Gaza now!
I was just the other day updating my blogroll on my iPad 4 when I realised. I would rather vote for the BNP than let my three year old eat anything sold in Asda! Unless we send out a clear message to the Bob Diamonds and Howard Schultz’s of this world they will never learn.
We were chatting over a coffee, simple filter, not Nescafe (baby-killers) and started to think out loud. The salt-of-the-earth type jobs some of my primary school classmates ended up in just don’t exist any more. It’s time for the working class to fight back
Every time I come here it seems to snow. My deluded lefty step mother, who ticked me off earlier today for referring to global warming as opposed to climate change, is now safely in bed. The cat & I have thus switched the heating on full blast as an inch of global warming, oops, sorry 2.54 centimetres of climate change has now fallen. Needless to say I am travelling back to London tomorrow and so expect wholesale travel chaos. I feel cursed.
The white bear in Shipston seems to be populated by folk who support Aston Villa and England. Given that we are on South Warwickshire that should be no great surprise but as a West Ham and Ireland support I have had enough. And it is going to get worse.
West Ham lost 2.1 and were useless. This is the third time this season that we have given hope of a kickstart to useless sides (Reading, Wigan and now Villa). I hope that we stay up although that is by no means guaranteed. But surely no-one can want another season of this nonsense. At the end of May Fat Sam’s contract is up and he has got to go. West Ham will finish this season between 12th and 18th and with two early cup exits to our name. Enough is enough.
At half time Ireland are trailing and our captain could not catch a cold at the North Pole. So much for the Lions Jamie. My father is earnestly praying for divine intervention at Church right now but I fear the worst and if we are to be vanquished by the Old Enemy I’d rather watch in misery alone than surrounded by cheering England supporters. What next?
Oh, my sister Tabby and her family (England, Man United and deluded on all matters) arrive for supper. I have a long list of restricted subjects which I am not allowed to mention but she has none, I am under orders not to respond on any matter.
Postscript: No rows with Tabby. I bit my lip once but all very amicable. Her husband opined that only aristocrats read the Daily Telegraph ( theirs is a Guardian reading household, natch) and I was unable to hold back then generally all peace and brotherly love.
Lo and behold a resurgent Wales beat the Froggies (who are now 0 from 2 but were pre tournament favourites), Scotland thrash Italy in what was meant to be the wooden spoon game and today’s match in Dublin could be the Championship decider. Although I would not rule the sheep shaggers (Welsh department) out yet.
England are, of course, the old enemy and when they arrive in Dublin full of swagger and arrogance as they do now, the desire for victory is greater than ever. And there is also the romance: in Brian O’Driscoll’s last season of six nations rugby might the men in green pull off a famous victory? If they play as they did in the first half against Wales they might win. Play as they did in the second half and there will be misery in Sheep Street, Shipston.
For I am back with my deluded lefty father and step mother. It is the former who brought me up to support “the Old Country.” For me tomorrow afternoon is a simple matter. Lunch. Then the White Bear to watch West Ham away at Villa. And shortly before 3 my father will arrive. I shall remove my West Ham hoodie to reveal an Irish shirt, we will switch bars and off we go.
My father has a dilemma. At 4 PM my step mum is preaching in Shipston Church. If Ireland are behind he will not want to watch and will head off to Church to pray for a BOD inspired comeback. If it is even Stevens he has assured my step mum that he will go to Church where he will pray earnestly for an Irish victory. So, I asked him: what if Ireland are 50 points ahead with 30 minutes to go: God vs. Pub, a chance to watch a famous victory with your son, the landlord ( also wearing green) and a bunch of miserable England supporters, or your second church service of the day? Hmmm. He admitted that would be a tough call. But it is – sadly – also an unlikely scenario.
The past few encounters between Ireland and Wales have not made my father and I terribly happy. Our parting words after each recent let down have been “at least Olivia will be happy”. The mother of my daughter Olivia is a Welsh speaker, a dyed in the wool cottage burner and I am sorry to say that she has led Olivia astray in that she also supports Wales with a passion. She kindly says that Ireland is her second team but in post match calls in recent years she has not been able to contain her glee. Ha!
Ireland were magnificent in the first half, er…less good in the second. Brian O’Driscoll was inspirational. The Old Country were deserved winners and I will be calling Olivia ( and her mother) later to discuss. I shall try not to crow with Olivia. With her mother there will be no such restraint.
I did note one English reporter on the news commenting that after England defeated the poor Scottish team that the English should have no worries about beating France to win the six nations. He seemed to assume that next week in Dublin was a given. Such is the arrogance and swagger of English rugby right now. A home win in Dublin next week would be all the sweeter for that.
The Sunday Times has a feature this week on the top ten towns in Britain to live in because that they still have a thriving Town Centre having battled off the wicked supermarkets. Put another way: the top ten twee towns for the Middle Classes to live in nice houses and who cares about the jobless plebs who can’t get cheap food anyway. Naturally, following last week, Shipston in Warwickshire is in there. And as a bonus…
Perhaps as a reward for the leading role played by my step mother in the screw the plebs and Tesco campaign, Sheep Street where my father and step mother own a house is the most desirable street in Shipston. Naturally as a wicked right winger, I note the looming property bubble, I have put my father’s house up for sale without telling him. I will break the good news to him later.
NB. If comrade Kenner, Shipston labour councillor or any other dumb leftie is reading this, that last line was a joke. Following Brother Kenner’s last contribution here, I feel the need to point that out, patronising though it may seem.
I am not sure if this story is sponsored by the Shipston Middle classes who wish to deprive the Shipston plebs of affordable housing, cheap Turkey twizzlers and above all jobs, or by the coalition as we enter a triple dip recession.
On balance, having put Shipston on the map this one is in honour of the unholy alliance of deluded middle class lefties and Tory Toffs in Warwickshire who stopped Tesco from opening a store in the town where my father and step mother (deluded lefties) live.
An excited email arrives from my deluded lefty step mother Helen (sister of Tory Toff Sir George Young) – Stratford Council in Warwickshire has tonight thrown out plans for a big Tesco on the edge of Shipston-on-Stour. The unholy alliance of deluded Middle class lefties and the Tory Toffs has won.
And so there will no new jobs created for the plebs on the council estates. The residents of Shipston will continue to be served by two Co-ops that are not that cheap and have a limited choice as well as by the two butchers where the Tory Toffs and my dad can buy pheasant, quail, expensive lamb and pork and not care about paying over the odds because they can afford it. The plebs who were hoping for a place to get a wide choice of cheap Turkey twizzlers will be disappointed.
So no jobs and no choice of cheap turkey twizzlers for the plebs. No planning gain which would have created some affordable and rented housing for the plebs. The articulate middle class lefties and Tory Toffs have won the debate and can still choose which butcher to buy their quail from and life goes on. The Tory Toffs are naturally wicked and hate the poor. We all know that. The deluded Middle class lefties are tonight celebrating preserving the “community” and “diversity” of this small market town. But it is a community that many folks are financially excluded from. It is a diversity the plebs cannot afford to enjoy.
It has made my step mother very happy. That makes me happy. But it was the wrong result for those at the bottom of the heap. Capitalism could have assisted them. When capitalism is blocked to preserve the vested interests of those who are affluent it always makes the poor poorer.
As a non Guardian reader I am not meant to care about the plebs. That is meant to be the preserve of deluded middle class lefties. But in reality….
It was meant to be the 8 PM. But it was late. I am on my way to Warwickshire on family business. The main line up to Didcot seems problem free. After that it gets worse as it is snowing again. I think I can make it though by train to Moreton-in-Marsh but that is where my problems begin. My father is the world’s worst driver in perfect conditions. After dark? In the snow? Forget it. And so how to get to Shipston-on-Stour? This is an Agatha Christie murder in the Cotswolds vicarage in the bleak midwinter – sort of Roger Ackroyd but in Warwickshire.
Perhaps I might already have hidden my cross country skis behind the railings at Moreton and just speed over the hills to Shipston? There is more chance of that than of getting a taxi. Nine firms tried, four answered and that was only to say that “it is snowing, good night.” Maybe I might hitch a lift if there is anyone else mad enough to travel on a train into rural white-out tonight?
Let’s be realistic. I have booked into the Bell Inn for the night. A roaring fire. A stiff whiskey from the landlord who keeps looking out over the wintry fields with a worried eye. The mystery blonde woman of a certain age in the corner with her plain, but attractive, hen pecked daughter. And there is a report that David Mills has escaped from Tessa Jowell’s farmouse retreat near Shipston and is on the loose. Who is that Italian gentleman in the corner who keeps on mumbling about Rubies?
All credit to the Bell Inn, had I arrived a bit earlier its owner (Chris) said he would have dropped me at Shipston free of charge. Chris dares to do what the professional tax drivers fear: i.e. drive a car. If you are ever tempted to spend a weekend in Moreton (a lovely small town) I heartily recommend a stay at the Bell Inn on the high street (for just £45).
May I start by wishing all the readers on my own blog or the ten other sites to which I now contribute (going to eleven in January), a very Merry Christmas and – of course – a prosperous New Year. But what does Christmas mean to you? I have no idea. I know what it means to me and my family. For starters it is not just a holiday it is Christmas. I am simply not having a happy holiday or sending season’s greetings. Whatever your own personal views on religion you are getting a few days off work because you live in a Christian country and Jesus was born on Christmas Day. Get used to it and stop pretending otherwise.
Actually it is extremely unlikely that Jesus was born on 25th December, in 0 AD, in Bethlehem or in a manger. But that is another matter.
My family is religious. My step mother is a lay preacher and my father an enthusiastic member of the Shipston church although possibly the worst singer in Warwickshire. I was brought up to attend church and know the bible well enough. But try as hard as I can, and occasionally I have tried, I have never been a person of faith. I just cannot believe. I am not hostile. I leave that to my eleven year old daughter Olivia who has grown up with a mother who has a real hatred for the Church. Olivia is thus a proud Islington atheist. And thus three generations bring three views.
For my parents, the ceremony the celebration of the birth of Christ is the centre of the Advent and the 12 day of Christmas. Christmas day is just one of those 37 days. But it is the main day and it is accompanied by endless family get togethers, present and card swapping and ( especially for my father) over-eating. Those aspects of excess and family which most folks celebrate are laid on top of belief.
For Olivia the event is a time when folks forget their frustrations and forgive others and just try to be happy and friendly without any religious connotation. It is a happy view of Christmas. Albeit a God free one. As a child one can have such a view before life gets more complicated.
For me there are the rituals. I make my own Christmas pudding in November as my mother did. I cook the bird wherever I am. I always attend midnight mass. It is such a joyful service despite being simple. I enjoy belting out traditional carols. I am not sure those standing near to me are so happy about this but it is Christmas. They can forgive. I look forward to a day soon when I can, as my parents did, use a Christmas Tree which spends just 12 nights a year indoors and then is put back in its normal location in the garden. I decorate any tree with baubles I have picked up from around the world.
But as you get older Christmas can also bring back other memories. The Christmas spent I spent alone when Olivia’s mother decided to trade me in for her graduate trainee – that was not fun. A favourite uncle who died at Christmas. These sorts of memories can come back as you work out how many hours the goose is meant to cook for.
But there are delights. Seeing others open presents you really thought about. Seeing them smile and appreciate that you might have actually thought about what you bought. A Christmas ring around of nearest and dearest after everyone has opened their presents ( we are a post Queen’s Speech sort of family). So it is a day of mixed feelings. It is not a day when I regret my lack of faith, that tends to happen at other times. It is a day to enjoy for the day, without looking back. Then it is a few days to recover and it is time to start looking forward. 2013 beckons.
Merry Christmas once again.
The shock revelation that my deluded lefty sister Naomi is to give her poor husband Labour Party membership for Christmas naturally begs the question what do I get the rest of my family ( all deluded lefties) for Christmas, or Winterval as they would have it. And so my Saturday musical medley starts with a classic from the Right Brothers “
That is a pretty American list. Maybe for the UK my family and other deluded lefties might start with “Letters from the Chestnut Tree cafe” available at just £5 HERE. or perhaps with a selection of “It’s Time to Leave” T-shirts, sweatshirts and coffee mugs? Perhaps for folks who talk about the Malvinas (Naomi) a “Piss off Argentina T-shirt? The mugs and T-shirts are all available HERE.
Back to the music. A couple of other offerings from the Right Brothers who seem like a sensible bunch of chaps. I shall skip over “Bush was Right” and start with “Stop Global Whining” which is pretty self explanatory but does highlight the inconvenient truth of the medieval warm period pretty brilliantly.
Next up is one for the teaching profession: “Shut up and teach.”
And finally, last but not least, the all time classic: “The List…liberals we can’t stand”
I am again engaged on family matters and so sitting in Shipston with my father. He is aware that i am about to report back on today’s deluded lefty activities from my family. They are (with the glorious exception of little step sister Flea) utterly deluded.
We will shortly light the fire here. It is freezing. My Dad trousers his pensioner’s winter fuel allowance but amid a heated debate about global warming the actual heating is never switched on. I have tweaked the dial without telling him. It is still freezing. And so yesterday’s Guardian will once again start its useful life in a few minutes with Toynbee’s gibberish and the rest going up in smoke.
But there is, I am proud to reveal, another useful purpose for the BBC’s sister publication. My step mother posts a few sheets of it on her windscreen at night and so has frost free vision in the morning. I knew that the Guardian could do some good. Sadly a frost bitten rag is no good on the fire so those sheets are placed carefully in whichever bin is the organic non food recycling depository.
Sister Naomi popped over to see my father and me today – step mother Helen being elsewhere. Whilst I slaved away at my PC and carried their organic live Christmas tree outside (apparently, and unbelievably, the tree finds it too hot here and so is being given a breather outside until next week) Dad and Naomi went off to the pub where they read the Sun and the Daily Telegraph respectively. This is clearly a guilty pleasure for such folk. Returning home my sister revealed the romantic Christmas present she has lined up for her husband this Christmas…..
A year’s membership of the Labour Party. Saints preserve me. Can I really be from the same gene pool?
Thanks for all the emails and the odd tweet. Oakley’s operation was delayed but his leg was finally removed later afternoon. He is spending the night at the vets and should be leaving there tomorrow. Tara – my other cat is not happy having spent her entire life with the Old Boy. But we are getting there. Thanks for all your kind thoughts. Roll on Christmas and recuperation for us all.
I am spending more time these days in Shipston-on-Stour in southern Warwickshire where my father lives with my (not wicked but just deluded lefty) step mother. I could not live there full time. The average age is about 97 and everyone seems to know who everyone else is. I just want to be left alone. But walking along with my father between the White Bear (his “office”) and home about once a minute there is a greeting of “Morning Professor”. Dad was not actually a professor just a senior lecturer but he looks the part.
Friday evening saw the Victorian street fair. Some folks dressed up in 19th century garb. There were clowns on stilts and a brass band blasted out all those Christmas carols you remember from childhood. Truly it was freezing and felt like it was very much the Bleak Midwinter. All the local societies had stalls. Naturally the Cats Protection League was my fave but the Church (mainstay my step-mum) was handing out free mince pies and mulled wine. It is better to give than to receive so I helped my step mum’s colleagues on their pathway to righteousness by receiving my mince pie. My father took the same view.
London has street fairs. They are more glitzy. I suspect that they would view the Shipston event as a bit clumsy and parochial. But the sense of community in a place like Shipston is far stronger than in the Capital. For once even the issue that has riven the town ( should they have a big supermarket) was put to one side. That is the great attraction of the boonies ( where I grew up).
The next Victorian fair is in the spring – the Sheep Fair. Even without mince pies I could be persuaded to attend.
Incidentally there was no sign of Shipston’s biggest celeb, Mr David Mills, friend of Berlusconi and recently reconciled husband of frightful leftie harpie Tessa Jowell. It seems that since the great reconciliation ( which coincided neatly with her retirement from front line politics) he is spending less time in their ( oops I meant his) mansion in Shipston and more timer in their ( oops I meant her) mansion in North London.
Sign on, sign on, with a pen in your hand, and you’ll never work again. Sign on. Sign on.
Or perhaps given the time of year and a chance to think of those less fortunate than ourselves a few choruses of “Feed the scousers, let them know it’s Christmas time.” Actually I have no hard feelings for Liverpool. My Aunt Lucy’s family are all Liverpool fans and my sister was born there. She clearly picked up the Souse mindset in those early days. As a Doctor paid £50,000 plus for two days a week she fits in well: living off the state and not doing much work.
When football Santa grants me the chance to decide the league table, I won’t really be thinking about Liverpool. Naturally Santa and I will start at the top. West Ham to come first. Then Santa and I will head straight to the other end. The old man in the beard does not need to ask the first question. Spurs to finish bottom. And then also relegated? Chelski and Man United. Perhaps if I have been very good and get an extra wish Man City to go bust and go down as well ( as long as that does not allow Millwall to go up). See, I did not think about Liverpool once.
Liverpool come into the game with good European form but looking pretty mediocre in the league. But Europe shows what they can do. They are not a bad side. Maybe they are struggling to score goals ( and will actually be playing with a midfielder as Centre forward) but in normal circumstances they should be favourites. But a delayed return from a midweek game in Europe cannot assist their cause.
West Ham? Well it remains hit and miss. Sometimes ( first half against Chelski, all of the Wigan game) we look like relegation fodder. At other times ( second half Chelski, Man City game) we are unstoppable. The midfield unit of Diame, Noble and Nolan is exceptional, the defence has tightened up and in the absence of Andy Carroll we have Carlton Cole up front. For Carlton the big C word is confidence and surely, after the Chelski game, he must be bubbling over with the stuff.
Right now the Irons are 10th. Win and we go seventh and are just 17 points away from safety with 22 games ( including piss poor Reading twice, QPR, Wigan and Norwich at home and piss poor Villa and Southampton away) still to come.
My caveat for the game is to warn you that I am attending ( taking two folks who have never been to a soccer game before). As you know when I turn up at the Academy, West Ham tend to fail to turn up. With that caveat this is our game to lose. There is no reason why we cannot bank another three points.
Carlton Cole, Cole!
Always believe in your soul,
You’ve got the power to go,
Always believe in…
My Guardian reading father is an incredibly generous contributor to Christian Aid. But still they want more. It is after all better to give than to receive and they are just helping to save his soul. And so once a week he gets a call asking him to up his contribution. Bad luck Christian aid. My father is at a funeral and so when you called today and asked for Mr T Winnifrith I replied truthfully that they were speaking to Mr T Winnifrith and…
As you may have noticed, Bankrupt Britain has today pledged yet more cash (£2 billion in total) to help poor countries tackle climate change. Sure the UK will have a balance sheet like that of Greece two years ago by 2020 but who cares? Just piss it all away. Well Christian Aid cares. It is not their cash anyway, just like it is not the Government’s cash. It is the taxpayer’s cash but no-one asked us.
Christian Aid’s senior climate change adviser Mohamed Adow said: ‘We welcome this new pledge by the UK to provide mid-term climate finance. It is an encouraging move and forces the hand of other developed countries. The UK must push them to make their own commitments.
‘If other developed countries continue to offer vague assurances rather than solid commitments, their claims about showing leadership in tackling climate change are like a mirage in the Qatari desert.
‘The UK has promised that half of the £1.8 billion will go towards helping countries adapt to climate change, which is also welcome. Previously, most climate finance has gone on mitigation efforts to reduce emissions. Given the terrifying impact of climate change already making itself felt, this is a step in the right direction.
Bollocks to you Mohamed and bollocks to Christian Aid.
a) The world has got colder for the past 16 years and so there is absolutely zero evidence linking carbon emissions to global warming
b) Britain is going bankrupt and cannot afford this.
c) Money is going to places like Uganda where £12 million of Irish money has recently just “gone missing” (i.e. gone to Swiss bank accounts) and where the President when not pushing through laws to make homosexuality punishable by death spent £25 million last year on his private Jet. Uganda spends a far greater percent of Government spending on defence & security than does, say, the UK.
And so I told Christian Aid that for welcoming plans to accelerate the bankruptcy of Britain by funding African crooks and spurious projects with taxpayer’s cash it was a disgrace. Mr T Winnifrith is freezing his contributions and if he is plagued with one more call will consider cancelling them altogether.
And it is all true. I did not lie. My personal contributions are frozen (at nil) and now it looks as if My Dad will not be plagued anymore and his efforts to win deluded left brownie points by handing over cash for despots will be frustrated.
Yup I know it is December so not really a shock (unless you are a total global warming nutter). And I know that it is a bit childish but there is always an excitement in seeing the first snow of the winter. It only becomes a pain later. And so at 3.30 AM as I work on a new book idea I look out of the window and there are huge snowflakes falling on Shipston-on-Stour.
I am again at my father’s house sorting out a few things. It is only about half an hour from the village in which I grew up. Snow lay thick on the ground and roads when I had my first driving lessons 27 years and eleven month ago with Mr Ceney. That was fun. A few years earlier snow meant a day off school if you lived in our village. Harbury was at the top of a steep hill and so it was sometimes too dangerous to try to drive down that hill towards Warwick. Yippeee off to Ufton Hill to sleigh down on a plastic bag.
And now the snowflakes are falling harder. The child in me wants them to settle. Step sister Flea’s very young daughters are staying the night and I know they’d love to throw a few snowballs at Grandpa tomorrow morning. Heck, so would I. The adult in me knows that I have to drive the Old Man into Warwick tomorrow and I am not sure I really fancy doing it on snow covered roads. I am torn.
I have spent the day with my father at Shipston in Warwickshire. A landslide somewhere near Worcester meant that my route was a the “scenic” one but we have enjoyed a happy afternoon chatting about various family matters. Our conversation was, however, interrupted by a series of phone calls and knocks on the door – my father is a victim of his inability to say no.
First up was some bird trying to persuade him to fit new plastic windows and plastic doors. Given that his house was built in 1692 this was clearly a pointless call. Of course if Dad had told her that last time she called rather than just listening patiently and saying eventually “ this is not a good time” she would not have bothered with this call. Next up was Christian Aid to whom my Dad already gives a fortune by Standing Order. Christian Aid called to say it needs more to help starving people in Africa, blah, blah, blah. Unluckily for it, when it asked for Mr T Winnifrith it got me. Sorry no extra cash from this household this week for those in Africa kept poor by their kleptocrat leaders. Tough luck.
Just as I was trying to explain to Dad why Nigeria does not actually need his money since it has the 8th biggest oil reserves in the world there was a knock at the door. Some smelly old man greeted my Dad as an old friend and within two minutes my father had bought for its RRP £9.99 ( he told the bloke to keep the 1p change) a smear free Eurochamois cloth ( Cost on Amazon £5.34). Amazingly the my father resisted the offer of some Christmas wrapping paper of the sort that has masturbating Santas on it. I have a feeling that when my father passes away I will discover a vast pile of things bought from the smelly old man who, I am told, his a former convict. You don’t say.
My step-mother has just got back from a day at a Monastery ( don’t ask) and confirms that the household now owns four such cloths despite having given a number away to my sisters.
My father also tells me that he is the biggest customer of the Bulgarian gypsy who sells the Big Issue outside the Co-Op. And then there is the cleaning lady. She is a hopeless Pole who is so inept that Dad and my step mum have to clean the house before she arrives. After the cleaning lady has cleaned, step-sister Flea comes to clean up after her. But since she has been fired by the rest of the village ( I just cannot think for the life of me why) the deluded lefties that are the Winnifrith family continue to give her gainful employment.
And now to light the fire using Polly Toynbee’s column.
Today has been a day interrupted by my Christmas pudding. Last night I made it. There was stirring and making of wishes and today it has been steaming away happily for six and a half hours. In thirty minutes the heat gets switched off and it will be put in a cold dark place until I celebrate Christmas which this year, will be on Boxing day. I have always made Christmas puddings. I am a bit late this year but it is something my late mum used to do and it is great fun. For me Christmas sort of starts when I mix up a recipe.
This year’s recipe is a tad unusual in that instead of breadcrumbs I have a few oats in there. It tasted great when I scooped out the mixing bowl last night. It means the pudding is a slightly lighter brown than normal. I do not expect a crunch on Boxing day just the usual fruity taste (raisins, currants, apricots, apples, cherries with zest of orange and lemon) and obviously vast quantities of brandy. And then there will be a high octane brandy butter to go with it. I hope my cats like brandy.
But I read in the newspapers that for most folks the choice is not what to wish for as they stir but whether to buy the pudding of Delia, Jamie, Hugh or that loathsome man who advertises stock cubes like he really uses them in his 5 star restaurant. I am not sure if their mass produced stuff containing god knows what preservatives will taste better than my experimental creation but I know that I have had great fun actually making something for Christmas.
As kids we would also make our cards and presents for the grown-ups. We lived in a house where the tree was brought in from the garden each December 23rd for decorating on Christmas Eve and then returned to its natural home on 12th night. As my parents were heavily into the self-sufficiency movement we ate not turkey but, assuming that Brian May’s mate foxy woxy had not got there first, one of our geese which my father would kill and pluck.
These days most kids will send out bought in cards, will buy presents for mum and dad in a shop and virtually every Christmas tree is heading for a fire by January.
Maybe I am getting old and sentimental but I rather yearn for those simpler, less commercial, Christmases. With no garden right now making my own pudding is one link with my childhood which I can hang onto while dreaming of a day when I can like my mum did, recycle a Christmas tree every year and when what I eat on Christmas day is something I have reared and killed myself.
Now I am getting sentimental. But if you ever catch me buying a celebrity Christmas pudding you will know that I really have lost it.
Dallas was part of my childhood. Who shot JR? The poison dwarf, Lusty Dusty. I remember it all. And JR Ewing was at the centre of it all. And, as you probably know, my cousin Jeff appeared in two episodes where he raped Lucy ( the poisoned dwarf). Not quite the highlight of his career ( I think that was giving Tatum O’Neill her first on screen kiss in International Velvet) but that made the Winnifrith family bond with the programme even stronger. We even had Dallas the board game. And so, today I really do mourn the death yesterday of Larry Hagman, the actor who played JR.
Hagman did actually hail from Texas and died there. He was, by all accounts, a bit of a character, downing five bottles of champagne a day as he filmed Dallas. His battle with the bottle caused him one liver transplant and then he abused the new liver. But in his last few years he was sober. At his bedside, as he headed off to the great Oil barons ball in the sky, was his best friend of 36 years Linda Gray (aka Sue Ellen).
Dallas One was a great tale of late 70s early 80s excess. The shoulder pads, the big bucks deals, the pre Aids promiscuity, it was all there. Dallas Two has been a more sober tale (heck even Sue Ellen has been off the bottle for a whole series) but JR has been at the centre of it all. His battles with his two great rivals, Bobby Ewing and Cliff Barnes, have held the show together.
Can Dallas survive without JR? As i have noted before, unlike Downton, the younger generation have been as good as the older generation. John Ross (son of JR and Sue Ellen) is ready to step up to the plate. The show will be weaker without JR’s pure evil (but with a heart in there somewhere) but it can survive. I hope it returns.
Larry Hagman clearly had a full life, during which he amassed a collection of 2,000 Stetsons. He gave us one of the great characters of TV. RIP JR Ewing.
PS In case you have forgotten the person who shot JR was Kristin Shepard, the younger and scheming sister of Sue Ellen. She was, of course, played by Bing’s daughter Mary Crosby. Her cousin used to run an AIM listed oil company. It bombed. He should have had JR on board as a non-exec.
Remember a few years ago when the BBC and the newspapers were full of pictures of dry riverbeds across England? It was all down to global warming and was a foretaste of what was to come. Yup. Having come up to Warwickshire on unexpected family business I was this morning keen to make my escape to Bristol by train. But arriving at Moreton in the Marsh station I was told that flooding meant there were no trains from Worcester to Bristol or Swindon to Bristol.
As I waited for a lift back home, having missed the 10.45 to Worcester, a little man ran out and said that actually there were some trains. His computer was wrong and he had made phone calls. I could “chance my arm” and head off to Worcester but he could not guarantee that I would in fact get past Gloucester. More rain is on the way.
No offence to Gloucester which is, I am sure, a very nice place but the idea of spending 24 hours at its railway station while the waters subside does not float my boat. Or my ark.
And so I am back with my family of deluded lefties in Shipston. Of course they know the problem. The rain is all down to man made climate change. I am sure Thatcher has something to do with it as well. Another 24 hours in Guardian reading la la land beckons.
I am staying with my father for a few days looking after him as my step mother is off in London to see wicked Uncle George. As I have noted before my family (little step sister Flea excluded) are a bunch of deluded lefties and so the paper delivered here every day is The Guardian. Imagine my horror at seeing Polly Toynbee’s face staring at me across the breakfast table in the morning.
I have already had a lengthy discussion about Israel/Hamas (Dad and Step Mother support Hamas ‘natch) and various welfare issues (do not ask). My step mother’s return is delayed by intense flooding here in South Warwickshire which will no doubt be blamed by one and all on Global Warming and/or Thatcher!
But I have found that the Guardian can be useful in one way. My Dad has a great big fireplace and although the logs are damp the Guardian is very burnable. My father was worried that I might be using today’s edition before he had fully digested it. I suggested that he might have a clearer world view if he did indeed burn the Guardian every day BEFORE reading it. But in the end we managed to find some old Toynbee for the fire. He takes delight in the continuing roaring flames. I take delight in what started the roaring flames.
My weekend has been spent walking in mid Wales. I needed a break from non-stop writing. And as always I am one who tries to be aware of local cultural sensitivities and so when in Wales…do as the Welsh do.
Hence on Saturday afternoon I sat down and watched the rugby. You thought I was going to make a cheap joke about sheep? Donkeys would be more apt. I refer to both the team my daughter Olivia supports to show loyalty to her mother (Wales) and to the team I support (to show loyalty to my father) Ireland. To Ireland first.
The game against South Africa could have been won. The visitors did not really turn up until half time. But I can tale very few positives from the game. The lineout was woeful until almost half time. The scrum looked insecure and the back line just did not look as if it could break through a determined defence. I accept that there were a string of players missing through injury and that a back line which had contained O’Driscoll and Kearney might have had a lot more bite. Having said that Kearney’s stand in was not bad. As for a pack without Paul O’Connell, the less said the better. The one positive is that Ireland’s new Jackie Charlton method of recruitment might just have found us a decent tight head prop in Michael Bent.
Five straight test defeats on the trot and Ireland look in pretty poor shape. As an aside why are we now always bringing Ronan O’Gara on for the last five minutes only? It may add to his tally of test caps but what is the point. Give him 20 minutes to make a difference or just move on. I would not be retiring him but these pointless switches in the last few minutes do not make me think any more highly of the incumbent management team.
As for Wales. They too were pretty piss poor against the Argies. But I sense that this was because the Pumas just played cracking rugby (bar a few too many handling errors) with utter commitment from the start not because Wales are as hopeless as some other Celtic nations we might mention. It was a joy watching the Argies play – there were real touches of skill and a desire to win a game by actually crossing the try line rather than just kicking for goal. On the form displayed on Saturday I’d back both Wales and Argentina to defeat Ireland but think both sides would have a chance against the Springboks. Indeed, Argentina will have their chance in Ireland shortly and I rather dread the outcome. With Scotland being routed by the All Blacks today it was a pretty miserable weekend for all the Celtic nations.
I think it is best to draw a veil on the matter without going into too much gory detail. It was just poor all round.
I had it down as 1 point at best. But Kevin Nolan returned to whatever St James’ Park is called these days to haunt his old club. West Ham defeaedt Newcastle one nil to record our first league win against the Magpies since October 31st 1998. Sam Allardyce (sacked by Newcastle after eight months in charge) will have enjoyed the win. It seems to have been a close enough game and sometimes lady luck smiles on you. A good day at the office – the league away record now shows 2 wins, 2 defeats and a draw: no disgrace.
A test of how long you have followed West Ham is how you look at a league table. Naturally I start at the bottom. My daughter is now a fully trained supporter and in her second full season seems to think you start at the top. Bizarrely, right now, she finds West Ham more quickly than I do, as we are in sixth position. Her razor sharp mind has already worked out that if we win at home to Stoke next Saturday we could go 4th. The Big Four: Man United, Man City, Chelski and West Ham. As it should be. We can work out which side gets entry to which European contest later.
I take a rather different view. I note that we are one place ahead of the Scum and that if Spurs can slip another 11 places they will get relegated. Fingers crossed. We can but dream. More realistically 18 points after 11 games is a quite amazing haul –I struggle to remember another season that has started this well for yonks. The way I look at it, if we beat Stoke we might go 4th but, more importantly, we would be on 21 points and so 50% of the way to safety after just 12 games. We are now 4 wins ahead of the relegation zone and can I honestly see Reading, QPR and Southampton stringing together 4 wins before Christmas? Even between them that might be a bit of an ask.
It is hard not to get too carried away but for our defence to keep a clean sheet on the road is a pleasant surprise. On this sort of form games against Stoke at home, West Brom away, bogey side Everton, Liverpool at home and Reading away are all winnable and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that West Ham might secure something against the Scum and also against the other members of the big four (Man United and Chelski). It will not play out like that – I am pinching myself to stop myself from dreaming. But it is just now conceivable that the Hammers start calendar 2013 already so far clear of the relegation zone that I can stop thinking about the R word already.
Bram Stoker was born this day in 1847 In Clontarf Dublin – the place where I now and again play rugby with John Teeling. Like all the very best of us he is of Donegal Church of Ireland stock (on his mother’s side at least). His two claims to fame are that he stole the heart of a woman who was at the time dating fellow Dubliner Oscar Wilde and, his only great work: Dracula.
Clearly Mrs Stoker made a good call on dumping Wilde given that he clearly would rather have “batted for England.” But Stoker’s own sexuality has also been the subject of some speculation. Rather like my late godfather Roger whose first wife decided to become a lesbian and then the mother of his daughter made the same call, perhaps it was just that Mrs Stoker was drawn to a certain type of man.
The novel Dracula was published in 1897 – a wonderful time for crime, gore and a belief in the supernatural. It is the eta of Jack the Ripper, Jekyll & Hyde, Sherlock Holmes and this great work and there is something of a thread running through all of that. It was a dark era in London when the gap between rich and poor was chasmous and it was estimated that there were 100,000 child prostitutes who the great and good used with impunity. No comment. As the Victorians approached 1900 the normal turn of the century madness and belief in superstition occurred. People do crazy things and believe in odd superstitions as 00 approaches. Heck we believed in Tony Blair back in 1997.
Mauled by the silver screen, the original novel is a gripping read. I read it in full for the first time a couple of years ago after revisiting Whitby, the place where Dracula’s ship comes ashore. Stoker never visited Transylvania or indeed Eastern Europe but researched the folklore of the region for some years before putting pen to paper.
Vlad Dracul was a real person if not a vampire. It was Vlad the Impaler who dealt with captured enemies in the way his nickname suggests. He was clearly a total monster but he was “one of our monsters” in that it was he who held the Turks at bay and kept them from marching up from Greece towards Vienna and civilisation. In the same way we used to give weapons to Saddam Hussein when he was “one of our monsters” fighting against the real enemy (Iran) Vlad was “one of us” and so we rather liked the old mass murderer.
I have always wanted to visit the Carpathian Mountains but never got around to it. Perhaps that might be my next summer adventure.
Sir George Young is the new Government chief whip. As it happens I know a bit about him as he is also my second cousin once removed and, rather more importantly, brother of my step mother Helen. And I see that he is now a founder member of a new group of Tory MPs which wants to “reach out” to “blue collar” Conservatives. The sort of people Young’s predecessor Andrew Mitchell might have described as “plebs.” Young’s qualifications?
Born in a stately home at Cookham, like his grandfather, father and brother he went to Eton then Christ Church Oxford ( the college known as “the House” known as the posh folks college). On the death of his father he inherited the baronetcy. When Sir George goes to a better place his son Gerry ( Eton, Christ Church, natch) will become the next Baronet. As a housing minister under Thatcher Sir George once opined that “the homeless are the sort of people you trip over on your way back from the Opera.”
Overall he is not a dreadful man, but the closest Sir George Young has ever come to talking to a “blue collar” Tory is when he ( or Lady Aurelia) have to pay the cleaning Lady or the gardener. I see that this group thinks it can reconnect with what should be termed “Thatcher Tories” ( Labour working class voters converted by Baroness T) with policies linking the tax threshold to the minimum wage and “boosting education opportunities for working class kids”. Yeah…that will really have them flocking to the blue flag in Basildon.
Norman Tebbit and Thatcher understood this demographic, in part because that was their background. Hint for “wicked Uncle George” if you wish to reconnect:
1. Bring back grammar schools
2. An immediate referendum on the EU and it would help if your party campaigned for withdrawal
3.Bring back the death penalty and stop handing out soft sentences in the Courts
4. No welfare benefits for those who have not paid tax
5. Tell Piers Morgan that he is not allowed back from America.
As you may remember, having been booted out of the LinkedIn friends of Greece ( for pointing out that Greece was bust and uncompetitive – hardly a revalation) I am now a keen member of the LinkedIn Friends of Albania ( also LinkedIn West Ham Supporters, Friends of Israel, UKIP etc). But i am beginning to have second thoughts.
As it happens my Dad has bought my spare Albanian Lekke from me and landed in the country on Sunday night for a 10 day working holiday. A last bit of research as his next epic “Madlands, murderlands a history of Northern Albania” slowly makes its way towards publication. There is so much we friends of Albania can discuss about a great country where tax is low, there is no H&S nonsense and you can do pretty much what you want.
Yet today I get a notification of the latest discussion: “New lancet study on smoking, one million women cannot be wrong.” Oh please, I thought in Albania at least we might be spared the lessons in the bleeding obvious from the health Nazis. It seems that I was mistaken. A sad day. I feel the need for another cigarette as I contemplate how these tedious folk spare no opportunity to reach me wherever I flee for another lecture.
Is this the last episode of Downton Abbey series three tonight? Maybe it is the penultimate one. But it is hard to see what shocks we could have left. After all it is 1920 so unless the IRA man takes time off from grieving to join the Irish Civil War or Lady Edith heads off to fight for Greece against Turkey it is hard to see what can go wrong. Bates is on his way out of prison. The ex prostitute is settling in well at the Crawley household. Predatory homosexual Thomas really must get his long awaited come uppance downstairs while simple but honest Mary the under-cook looks set to be handed the keys to a farm by the father of the man she married but did not love just before he died.
Non Downton lovers – in this show someone important has to die at least once a series. The pompous prig Matthew Crawley is trying to make himself more exciting by picking a fight with thicko Aristocrat the Earl of Grantham but he is failing. He and Lady Mary really need to emigrate.
In Dallas, the younger generation of John Ross, Chris, Elena and the mad wife of Chris are growing on me. News that Bobby/Patrick Duffy/The Man from Atlantis may be about to peg out can be handled because the younger generation are quite amusing. Although without JR or Maggie Smith both series would be holed beneath the waterline But without Lady Sybil (died two episodes ago) the younger generation at Downton is pretty weak. I am beginning to think that I can survive life without Downton and those bloody adverts for P&O Luxury Cruises.
Meanwhile as part of my drive to see a few more films I saw a pretty good alternative flick yesterday, Ginger & Rosa. Set in 1962 it is the story of two 17 year olds whose friendship is gradually torn apart by a) one going to a grammar school and the other a secondary modern, b) their attitudes and the stresses caused by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the ban the bomb marches and c) the father of one shagging the other. I think c) was the real blow.
I shall largely skip the point about schooling. It was all too artificial. Had both girls gone to an inner City comprehensive I am sure they would both have gone off the rails…the raw material for a derailment was all too obvious in both cases. Banning the bomb might have seemed like a good idea at the time but as it happens ( and naturally this was not reflected in the script which focussed on fascist policeman dragging away duffle coat wearing protesters) Kennedy was right to stand up to the Russians over Cuba. And moving forward 20 years those who would rather have been “red than dead” were wrong.
Thatcher & Reagan stood up to the Soviets and in the end a weak economy (i.e. a communist one) could not match the spending power of a strong one (i.e. a capitalist one). The strong stance taken by Maggie and Ron encouraged the good folk of Eastern Europe to rise up and throw off the shackles of Soviet oppression. The choice was not “red or dead.” The choice was “prolonging the Soviet system in Russia and the Russian occupation and suppression of human rights and democracy in Eastern Europe or freedom and life all round.” My step mum and her pals at Greenham Common , Michael Foot, Bruce Kent, the BBC/Guardian were all wrong. Thatcher and Reagan called it right. Thank God.
Having said all of that the film was a fast moving and vaguely plausible tale with a predictably miserable end. Timothy Spall and Annette Benning as two thirds of a lefty, gay, CND supporting terribly middle class household are excellent. The early 60s is an era that is well before my time but from all that I have read and watched about it, the movie captured the mood of the time well. I do not regret seeing it although the dishonesty of some elements of the script cannot avoid comment.
Hell’s teeth. By accident I find myself listening to the BBC for 30 minutes and I already deeply regret it. It was a mistake that I shall not repeat. My encounter is with the Today programme and first up was the Reverend John Bell from the Iona community who is just absolutely ghastly. He makes me dream once again of Scottish independence in the hope that this dreadful man would not then pollute the airwaves of a free Britain. Scottish independence or shutting down the BBC. Bell needs to come off air.
The whingeing Scot started with a preamble about how he opposed bipartisan politics. Yeah right. Within a few minutes he was off with a grandiose claim that Jesus came into this world to help the poor, sick, vulnerable and weak. Jesus tried to change their lot on this planet but was blocked by reactionary forces who were engaging in “partisan politics.” Shit. I guess they had wicked Tories back in 20 AD as well.
Bell had within 45 seconds of starting claimed (without evidence) Jesus as one of his own – a sandal wearing, Guardian reading, big State friend of the welfare classes. He was right about the sandals, I suspect, but there is no clear unequivocal case for the rest of it. For Bell, a partisan politician (bad thing) is not one who has any agenda just one who has an agenda that does not fit with his own deluded, typically Scottish, view of the world.
Chatting to Uncle Chris (Booker) afterwards on another matter I shall cover shortly I gather that Bell has form. It seems that Bell/Jesus are also keen supporters of the EU. And, rather like my deluded sister Tabby writing in her Parish magazine, Bell also believes that Jesus wants us to actively combat man made global warming. Tabby cannot help it. My entire family ( bar superstar step sister Flea) are deluded lefties. But at least she is not given a regular slot on taxpayer funded national radio to spout this tripe.
What do elected mayors, the Welsh assembly and the UK voting system have in common? Two things: The people got to have their say via referenda and no-one outside the Westminster bubble gave a gnats arse about the result. But there are a couple of issues which are far more important and which folks do care about but the Westminster bubble crowd will just not let us have our say.
First up is Scotland. Let the welfare-junkies vote on their future – I am all for it. But how about we also allow the English a chance to vote on whether we are happy with the current arrangements whereby we pay the tax and the welfare junkies spend it. Me: I am all for Scottish independence. It would be good for the Scots to have to stand on their own two feet and it would be great for the English not to have to pick up the tab for Scottish self-indulgence and fecklessness. So how about we get a say too?
Okay that is perhaps a pipedream. But there is a more important issue: should the UK stay inside the EU. A lot of folks do care about that. Staying inside the EU lands the UK with a huge bill each year plus a stack of new laws we neither need or want or have any say in.
The last time the UK voted was in 1975. My grandfather (Sir John Winnifrith) was a spokesman for the let’s get out side. The other side said “It is just a common market, nothing more and is good for trade”. That was obviously a great big lie. But sadly the lie prevailed. The Evil Empire is headed on a path to ever greater centralisation of powers and so now is a fair time to reassess where we stand – do we wish to follow that path or shall we opt out?
So a simple question “Do you want the UK to stay in the EU?” Yes or No. People do actually care about this question. And unlike elected mayors etc it matters. So the time has come, let’s have a vote.
Incidentally I saw a letter in The Times last week from some Scot who argued that the main reason England should want Scotland to stay part of the Union was that without our welfare-addicted friends from the North, Britain would become increasingly isolated in the EU, UKIP would become a real force and we might end up leaving the Evil Empire. Quelle Horreur. Time to send off another cheque to the SNP I think.
Everyone knows that I think that global warming is, as a theory, pure bunkum unbacked by evidence or science. And so it is not a surprise that Met Office data admitting that global warming stopped 16 years ago was greeted with a ‘Gotcha’ from me on Sunday. The response from one tweeter was “Yey! Keep driving 4×4’s, don’t recycle burn it, destroy forests, pollute rivers, Go man go. Must feel good knowing all a scam.” Au contraire you have got it all wrong. Being a global warming sceptic is in fact the green thing to do.
You will note that one of my blog roll heroes is a man called John Seymour. He was the guru of self sufficiency and a great influence on my late mother. As a boy (do not laugh) I spent quite a bit of time on hippy communes with my mum and other “believers.”
I do not think communes work as a unit. The idle laze about and the hard working become demotivated. Certainly that was what I seem to remember. I believe in a smaller individual unit which gives liberty and opportunity to that individual. But I am also a devotee of Seymour. He argued that 99% of what comes into our houses today goes out as waste: packaging, energy consumed, sewerage, etc. So much of this could be avoided. And it makes sense to do so in ensuring that our planet is cleaner and uses up less scare resource and is also more efficient. In a Seymour perfect house there is effectively no waste, everything is recycled. I shall write about eco-loos another day. It is my goal to live in such a house one day soon.
But what about global warming? Well the hard data now shows that it is bogus science. As such the gazillions invested in reducing the carbon footprint and the (normally regressive) taxies levied to drive changes in our behaviour were all wasted. That is the sad truth. And of course the waste and taxes continue. I would rather that the Government reduced the deficit so that the UK did not go bust. If there is spare cash then please use it on things that matter such as river-clean projects.
Do I want the Government subsidising me to install a solar panel or wind turbine on my house? No. A Government going bust should not be subsidising any private scheme. But equally I would personally wish to move to a position where I was self-funding in power both by using less electricity and by generating some myself. But I should self-fund that. I should not have to fund the whims of others by a penal tax on my 4×4 (not that I have one) which is levied simply on the basis of bogus science.
To me the Global Warming nutters are the un-Green brigade since they have ensured that gazillions are spent on projects which do not assist the natural world at all. Meanwhile in levying draconian taxes to ensure policy change they have somehow made folks think that preserving the planet is down to the clunking fist of the State. It is not. It is something which, in many ways, we can do best as individuals. Again it is a matter of individual responsibility versus the crushing power of the state.
There is nothing to stop one being both a pretty dark green in many ways but also a global warming sceptic.
This day in 1925 In Grantham Lincolnshire was born Margaret Hilda Roberts. The daughter of a shop owner and Alderman of the town, Maggie Thatcher went on to become one of the greatest leaders this country has known. She is a marmite figure. Everyone has a view. Before we come to that: you know where I stand on this one and so from me it is Happy Birthday Maggie.
Thatcher was a meritocrat. At a time when no political party pushed women forward via positive discrimination she rose to lead her party on merit. She did so not because of her grand birth but because she had courage, vision and talent.
Britain was in a mess in the late 1970s. Bankrupt. Dominated by Unions who wanted the taxpayer to support ailing industries. Facing a hostile threat from the Soviet Bloc. With economic and social systems in place that kept the poor poor and unable to buy their own house, and protected privilege in a way that made the country ever more economically doomed. Thatcher accepted the challenge and, assisted by men such as Sir Keith Joseph, took on the Unions, stood up to the Russians ( and of course the Argies), unshackled our economy so that folks could make better lives for themselves and so made Society better off.
In trying to give the poor and less advantaged an opportunity she threatened the client state of the left. In daring to stand up to Europe she attracted the hostility of the establishment and that was her eventual downfall. With hindsight who was right on Europe? Thatcher or Howe, Heseltine, etc. On every issue that mattered Thatcher instinctively got it right. Hers was not leadership based on focus groups or consensus but based on sticking to principles and doing what was needed even if it did not win short term electoral popularity.
In my view the marmite test on Thatcher is a simple one. If you believe in established structures that keep the poor as members of a client state answering to a welfare system, Trades Union bosses and dependent on the State, you hate Thatcher. If you would rather have been red than alive (not dead) you hate Thatcher. If you are so ashamed of what was overwhelmingly a force for good, Empire, because of a misplaced sense of guilt that you would ignore the principle of self-determination (the Falklands) you hate Thatcher. If you do not believe that the human spirit if freed will seek self betterment and thus improve society you hate Thatcher. If so you probably (like all the Winnifrith family bar myself and little step sister Flea) are a middle class Guardian reader yourself dependent on state patronage and hoping – in a deeply unpleasant way that this is Thatcher’s last birthday.
If you believe in freedom and opportunity you will, like me, be wishing Baroness Thatcher many happy returns and thanking her for saving Britain when she did and lamenting the fact that she has been followed by a string of men not fit to wash her feet.
It seems that someone has obtained my home address in an illegal manner and used it in a way that caused immense distress to my nearest and dearest. With enough on their plate already this has caused real pain and anguish. And, the lawyer for those responsible has admitted that it happened. What to do?
I have fired of a warning email asking for no repeat. I really have better things to do than waste my day explaining to plod what happened. And so I am almost determined to move on. But part of me notes that this is a criminal offence where I gather the penalties are pretty unpleasant.
Those who who mess with my family should perhaps learn a lesson. I am not sure what to do. Tomorrow an early Christmas present sees me off to hear a blog roll idol speak ( Hugh F-W) and I shall ponder the matter. What do you think I should do?
I know that some folks reckon that our Piss Off Argentina T-shirts and mugs are a gimmick and do not really exist. Well they do and always have done. And here is the proof: I have today received five in the post.
One is for me (as you can see below). Two are for caption contest winners other than me. One is for David Cameron for the next time he goes to the UN. And we will be presenting one to the Argentine embassy in London shortly as a gift for that mad cow who is in charge of the Argies right now.
As you can see these are desirable must have garments. We make no claims about them being produced in an environmentally friendly manner and they can be shipped to your door very promptly in an environmentally unfriendly manner. Wondering what to get any Guardian reading pals (like my entire family bar my Dad and truly enlightened reactionary little step sister Kitty, I mean Flea) for Christmas. This is the answer. Or buy one for yourself and wear it with pride! You can purchase the T-shirts or mugs in only one place – here.
Life is pretty grim when Nick Clegg is the party leader who is closest to getting it right on benefits. But well done to him for saying that rich pensioners should not get free TV licenses, bus passes and winter fuel allowances. Of course he does not go far enough but it is a start.
Just a reminder. The UK will have the biggest budget deficit in the EU next year. For all the talk of wicked Tory cuts we are hurtling towards a situation where our state finances are in a worse state than those of Spain, France, Italy etc. We hide a lot of our national debt off balance sheet via PFI schemes but even ignoring this (and the amount stuck into the banks) our debt to GDP ratio was 65.7% at the end of July 2012. The deficit is now 11% of GDP. Do your maths… at 90% you are technically beyond redemption. We now spend more servicing our debt than we do on defence.
And so it is obvious to everyone with half a brain cell that cuts need to be made. Clearly David Cameron does not have half a brain cell as he will today re-affirm his commitment to maintaining foreign aid spending. More private jets for African dictators all round…
That my father (income after tax thanks largely to a generous State pension c £33,000) can expect a taxpayer funded bus pass, TV license etc when most folks earn far less than that and then pay tax is clearly preposterous. Equally it is ludicrous that the mother of my daughter Olivia ( household comprising two partners in City Law firms, must be earning £300,000 a year) can – and does – pick up child benefit. So go for it Clegg, you are on the right lines.
As it happens I would scrap child benefit altogether. Why the hell should folk be subsidised to make a lifestyle choice? Some people will never have kids ( through choice or because they cannot) yet they must pony up to those who opt to contribute to global overpopulation. Child benefit is costly to administer. Scrap it at once. If folks with kids are poor the ever generous welfare system will look after them. Of course we should also scrap the TV license. Again it is costly to administer. If we insist on subsidising the BBC then the Government should just pony up instead of running a separate poll tax which merely serves to create more jobs for state-funded pen pushers.
That such a timid suggestion from Clegg faces any opposition at all shows just how deluded most folks are about what a mess the finances of the British state are. The good ship Britain is rapidly approaching that iceberg at full speed but let’s just party on regardless.
Zak Mir was a late starter in the reproduction game but once he got going there has been no holding him back. And so once again I find myself congratulating him and Mrs Mir who gave birth to a boy on Friday, their fourth child. Having sworn to become a good Catholic when marrying Mrs Mir, I am sure that his Holiness is proud of how Zak has followed his teachings in at least one regard.
You are discovering my obsession with Venn diagrams. Rather like my LinkedIn isolation of being a friend of Albania, Israel and a West Ham Supporter, Zak also stands on his own. I cannot believe there are many Glaswegian, Old Harrovian Moslems now following a Catholic life. His Harrow education has left Zak barely literate, hence his decision to be a chartist rather than a fundamental analyst – fewer words to misspell and less opportunity to mangle the English language with 275 word sentences.
Fascinated by the weather (yes he is a bit of a geek), Zak is a charming and very funny man. He has a style all of his own. He is god-father to my daughter (yes, you read it correctly, the ogre who dares criticise Islamic extremism asked a Moslem to be god-father to his daughter), a role he carries out with generosity and a good heart.
Zak has recently taken to twitter. This is an ideal medium for him. 140 characters restricts his spelling errors to less than half a dozen per tweet and there is no way to construct a 239 word sentence on twitter. If you want a daily chart or the occasional joke follow him at @ZakMir
I digress. Mr and Mrs Mir are a lovely couple and I wish them well. I am sure that after 4 babies even Zak has learned how to change a nappy by now.
My daughter loved the game and the chocolate pizza at Real Man Pizza Company afterwards. For me, it was great to be back at Upton Park. The same seat as ever. A bloke called Roger standing next to me as he always does. I know nothing about Roger except that we always shake hands and he is a nice chap. There were some new folks behind – Ulster Hammers. I am glad my daughter did not ask me to explain why those around us were chanting “She said No” whenever Titus Bramble got the ball.
West Ham conceded a soft goal. On balance we looked the better side and Kevin Nolan’s last gasp equaliser was the least we deserved.
The defence frailties continue to concern me. If our back four and goalkeeper keep on insisting on making howlers and giving away easy goals this will be a long season. In the middle of the park Nolan and Noble look dominant and Diame was a deserved MOTM. I think young Miss W is getting the hang of “Mark Noble … his veins are claret and blue, he’s West Ham through and through.”
Up front I am starting to lose patience with the Carlton Cole, Vaz Te formation. The latter had a weak game and the former needs more support. When Jarvis and Yossi appeared on the pitch West Ham started to look far more threatening. Until Carroll returns this could be a hard slog but how about Fat Sam rests Vaz Te and Taylor and starts with Jarvis and Yossi? At least the former will supply Cole with dozens of crosses and surely he must get his head on one of them?
Five games down, eight points and we are eighth. Put another way we are 20% of the way to safety with 13% of the season gone. The last time we were in the Premiership we reached eight points at some point in November.
PS> A great 4-0 win for my second team is a bonus. Now just two wins off the top spot, the di Canio bandwagon is starting to roll. Rock on Swindon.
No more writing for me today. Something more important…my first home game of the season at Upton Park. In 150 minutes time my daughter and I shall be belting out “i’m forever blowing bubbles” as the teams walk on the pitch. If you are not a soccer fan you will not understand but that moment always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end.
No doubt we will be whingeing about Fat Sam before half time “Same old West Ham, always taking the piss”. Yup I know it. But we have not been to a game for ages. We always chat about the score after every match. But this is it…off to the Boleyn we go. Then back to Real Man Pizza. Chocolate pizza for her. A drown my sorrows, glass of red for me.
Blogging (plus video + Tomograph) resumes tomorrow.
You may remember that I was evicted from the LinkedIn Friends of Greece Group for saying that Albania was a better value holiday destination than poor old Greece. This mortified me, as a long standing Hellenophile, but I know when I am not welcome and so two months ago applied to join the LinkedIn Friends of Albania group. This morning, in a frightening display of efficiency my application has finally been accepted.
I see that the trending discussion is on how to combat drug and alcohol abuse in Tirana. I am ready to contribute my two lekke worth.
I wonder how many other folks on LinkedIn are Friends of Albania but also participate actively in the Friends of Israel and West Ham United supports groups. I suspect that a Venn diagram of these groupings would show me all by myself but if there are any bubble blowing Zionists out there in Tirana who want to strike up a dialogue, I am here now.
Meanwhile another e-book heads towards the production line from Tom Winnifrith. Not me but the silver surfer himself, my father. Following on from the classic “Badlands Borderlands, a history of Southern Albania and Northern Epirus” the follow up “Madlands, Murderlands, a history of Northern Albania” is on its way. It should be available for purchase at a bargain £9.99 before Christmas and covers the period 1200 BC (the fall of Troy) to 2012. King Zog was from Northern Albania and it is the area known for blood feuds. But you knew that already. My father loves the country and having worked with him over the weekend on a short article on this topic I know that this will be a rip roaring read.
Historically I buy relatives and folks like Jim Mellon a Yarg cheese for Christmas. This year there may be an alternative…
Like me Ben Bernanke is always blowing bubbles. It is just that he does not realise that they eventually fade and die. Recorded before today’s rather dull nil nil draw at Norwich (only highlight: Nolan not booked) the weekly video is back.
Recorded in the back garden of my father & step mother’s house, forgive the relaxed attire. Step mother Helen is very kindly doing a wash.
On the Agenda
1. Looking forward not back
2. QE in China, the US and the Evil Empire
3. Not believing the equities sugar rush – but the dangers of shorting
4. Gold – to $3,350
5. Gold equities ( including Vatukoula – VGM)
6. Writing plans, including coverage of all t1ps stocks.
And so the family weekend continues. I wake up feeling a bit hazy after a night hitting the hotspots of Shipston on Stour with my little step sister Flea (Felicity). If I lived here I would turn to drink in a serious way, with Flea leading me astray. A family meal with Dad, step mum, step sister Lulah and sister Naomi had gone before it. Only one sister and step brother Tom missing.
It seems that I am not the only person who adores the mind-pap US TV series Brothers & Sisters which starred Rob Lowe, Calista Flockhart and Sally Field – Flea is a fan too. It is about a dysfunctional family with six brothers and sisters (if you include Ryan) – the Walkers. Flea and I carefully explained the dynamics, some of which are political. The youngest sister and the oldest and youngest brothers (Kitty, Tommy and Justin) are Republicans. The father (William, who died in episode one) was a Republican. The mother and the other kids are ultra drippy, totally deluded Democrats. And their political allegiances drive the way they view life. I thought that I was the only non Guardian reader in this W family – although my father is a closet Telegraph reader and is, I am sure, at heart conservative in outlook although he’d never admit it.
But lo and behold Flea piped up with a political view for the first time ever, complaining that while – as a single mum – she works to support her kids (the dad is a deadbeat), other parents at her school opt not to work but live on a welfare funded lifestyle of beer, cigarettes and going fishing. The liberal contingent were shocked because as all Guardian readers know the poor are poor because capitalism and the Tories are all wicked. Blame the banksters. Raise taxes. The State will look after everyone and the unemployed are all victims. Yeah right.
But once Flea ( the only other family member who has never and will never work for the State) started there was no stopping her. “Why should I work hard to pay so much tax to be pissed away on this and that?” It was wonderful to watch and listen to. My step mum and I had earlier argued about income inequality with her saying how she agreed with Polly Toynbee. Err, grit your teeth, try not to explode. Stay calm. In this household they know my views but do not expect dissent from another sibling or step sibling. In this household suggesting that welfare scroungers should get off their backsides and that there is a nobility in being financially self supporting – earning money is good – is deemed heresy. But the cat is out of the bag. Flea is, like me, a heretic. And then we discussed other normal matters in a dysfunctional family. I shall rewatch the DVDs with an added smile. Go Kitty. I mean Flea.
My father spent a happy afternoon watching a terribly dull John Ford Western starring John Wayne: “She wore a Yellow Ribbon.” He was convinced that his Aunt Joan ( aka the actress Anna Lee) was in it and kept on saying “is that her?” as various women who looked nothing like her appeared. At the end there were no credits and so I did a Wikipedia search and aunt Joan was not in the film at all. She was in three John Ford films (including How Green was my Valley) and Wayne was godfather to her son Tim ( aka the actor Jeffrey Byron who gave Tatum O’Neal her first on screen kiss and molested Lucy Ewing in two episodes of “old” Dallas). But 90 minutes of torture in watching this film had no reward.
Incidentally Joan, like my uncle Charles has the second name Boniface. Saint Boniface was a German fellow whose surname was something like Winnifrith. And so it is a family name. Thankfully I was spared. Joan was a bit of a fantasist. Her biography claims that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was her godfather. Not true. My father says that she was apparently blacklisted for a while during the McCarthy Witch hunts of Hollywood actors with left wing views during the 1950s. This rather surprised me as Joan’s views made those of myself and Flea seem like a Guardian editorial.
Finally on the TV front, tonight sees the return of Downton Abbey for series 3. I shall be watching avidly. Unlike many I did not find Series 2 a letdown although the volume of adverts is frustrating. The inter war era was one of amazing social and economic upheaval. Julian fellows has a remarkable backdrop for his script. I cannot wait.
I celebrated becoming one of the top 18 million most followed folks on twitter (titter ye not, after 7 weeks I have way more than the mean number of followers) by wandering off in search of the Mosque here in Sarande. More on that tomorrow but it was hard to find and I kept ending up at the synagogue (ruined for 1500 years). Perhaps that tells you something. Eventually, post Mosque, I got lost again and found myself at the tourist office where I enquired about buses to Butrint, my next stop and how I go from there to Zitsa. The place was also a bookshop and so I had a butchers. Dad, sorry to report that none of your Albanian epics are on sale.
Prominently displayed was Mein Kampf in both German and Albanian. What is the market for Hitler’s crazed blueprint for a Nazi world among Albanian speakers? I hope that it is rather small. And which Germans want a copy? Does that guy giving the interesting salute to the Kraut team at the Olympic opening ceremony, holiday in Albania and feel the need to brush up on the basics of racial purity? The mind boggles, but both versions were positioned where you could not avoid seeing them.
Under Hoxha the Albanians were not allowed any exposure to Western media bar the films of the late Norman Wisdom, known here as “Pitkin.” As far as I can see Wisdom only had one joke. He did something silly. Fell down. Grinned like an idiot and then stood up again. It works once. Maybe twice. But a non stop diet of this for 40 years? It strikes me that old Hoxha should have been dragged off to the Hague for inflicting that on his people. But now they have a choice. Well sort of.
I pondered the Albanian language biographies. Most were of Albanians I had never heard of. But also in there were volumes on George W Bush, the frightful Clinton Woman, Cherie Blair’s autobiography and that of her mendacious husband Tony. What a choice. Have not these poor sods suffered enough without inflicting this on them? The killer would have been to discover that Louise Mensch’s trash novels had been translated into Albanian but so far the people of this country have escaped that fate. Or perhaps they just have better taste than we do.
It was certainly a limited choice. What, I wonder, would I do if stuck on a beach and was offered as my only choice of reading material: Tony Blair’s “ A Journey,” the autobiography of the wicked witch or Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf? It is a hard call but I think I’d rather wander into the sea than face even a page of the Wicked Witch. As such it is a choice between the work of a deluded fantasist who dreamed of leading a united Europe, left the economy of his country a total train wreck and who kept on invading other countries illegally or…. Adolf Hitler.
I am trying to find a map of Southern Albania and Nothern Greece to plan my trek over the border. Naturally I go to Google and enter that exact term. And I am offered an exact match. I click and what do I find but a long and worthy article on “Southern Albania, Northern Epirus, Survey of a Disputed Ethnological Boundary.” Gripping stuff. And its author? Dr TJ Winnifrith, my Dad, who has only just learned to use email.
Is this some clever SEO manipulation by the Society Farsarotul, the Vlach Society of the USA or does Google just think that all I am interested in is myself, Tom Winnifrith. If it is the latter, Google you are wrong I just want a bloody map. If it is the former, I am shocked that my father mixes with such SEO geniuses. Should you wish to read this excellent article by my father you can do so HERE.
I have just moved hotels. I need somewhere quieter to work and so after a few days near Corfu town I am back in a rather secluded little place down the coast. That is to say, Spiros has welcomed me back with open arms as I am back at the hotel that appeared to have only one room on the booking site but where I was in fact the only guest. It appears that there has been a massive pick up in trade and now, three of the 15 rooms are occupied. How many businesses in Greece can boast of a 200% increase in revenues in just a few days?
I leave my last hotel with a good stack of happy memories (no Swedish blondes sadly) but a couple are worth mentioning. For my father first.
I was sitting by the pool having a drink (diet coke natch) and at the next table were a family from Oz. As the kids and mum went off for a swim the Dad ordered another beer and we started chatting. He had spent time in Islington 20 years ago before he was married and had had a great time. The wife was in earshot so we did not pursue that one. His family moved to Oz from Greece 40 years ago and he was just off to visit the ancestral home next week in Northern Greece – he was set to go to Lake Ochrid.
Heck, I swam there as a child – its waters lap up on the shore in Albania, Greece and the FYR of Macedonia. We discussed this. Why on earth was I there he wondered – most folks go on holiday to the coastline. And so I said that my father studied people called the Vlachs (a small nomadic tribe living in that area whom no-one other than readers of this blog and a few academics who read my father’s books know about). The Vlachs, he cried. My grandmother and grandfather were Vlachs. You do not often meet Vlachs even in Greece these days. But Australian Vlachs, that must be a rarity.
Meanwhile in between the hotel and the tavern where I ate only Greek salads (natch) there was a pet store. A sweet little puppy sat in a cage begging you to rescue him. There were some canaries. But then also some chickens (okay for laying eggs – I get that bit) and in a cage in the corner… a rather scrawny looking pheasant. I know where the dog will end up. The chickens have a half chance of having a decent life as egg layers before they hit the pot but the pheasant…
I suppose it might make a family pet. It could be that someone wants to sit on the sofa with it, stroking its feathers and watching TV. Someone may wish to take it for walks in the park. But I suspect not. The pheasant did not look happy. I suspect that unlike the dog and the budgies and canaries, the pheasant’s next journey will be a short one with an inevitable conclusion. Its solemn gait suggests it may have an inkling of its fate.
I have written before about Joe Levy, godfather to Olivia and my very good friend. We met when he was the handyman who looked after – among other things – a house in Swiss Cottage converted into six flats where I lived with Olivia’s mother. The two houses I bought/co-bought after that were redesigned by me and Joe put my ideas into practice. He is truly a faultless human being, bar his support for Chelsea. He was born here in Corfu and is, as you may have guessed, Jewish.
Yesterday I followed the sign to the “Jewish Quarter.” There is no real quarter just a synagogue which is in impeccable condition, is fully renovated and was being cared for by a rather fat old lady who was talking animatedly in Hebrew to some Israeli visitors. Needless to say she also spoke perfect English. The building is more than 400 years old. And in 1940 there were around 2000 Jews living on the Island – among them Joe Levy's parents.
There is a photo exhibition in the building of life in the 1930s. The Community engaged in a wide range of trades. It was integrated fully. That is no wonder because under the rule of the Venetians, French, British and Greeks there had been a long history of tolerance. On the side of the main hall there is a plaque listing the surnames of those who perished in 1944. There are names that are clearly Jewish: Levi (has Joe anglicised his name?), Israel, etc. But there are Greek and Italian names – this was a community that was an integral part of the wider Corfiot community.
In 1943 the Germans invaded. Most of the Jewish quarter was destroyed. And a year later around 1793 Jews were stuck on a boat and then herded into cattle cars to Auschwitz and Birkenau. 121 came back. Most were liquidated within days. A few families had managed to escape during the Italian rule that preceded German rule. Perhaps 100 or maybe a few more made it off the island and some like “Uncle Joe” found safety, in his case - travelling inside the womb - in Egypt.
Today there are 60 Jews left here and many of them are incomers, folks who have left colder and less friendly lands to the East. There are but a handful of Corfiot Jews left here. Hundreds of years of history, a vibrant and generous community acting as part of the wider community, almost entirely wiped out in days. That is what happened here. I am not sure if Joe has been back. Like Prince Phillip, born here but who left as a baby, it might be rather hard to come back. Painful memories passed down, perhaps a bit of guilt that he survived and others did not. I just do not know how he must feel.
Some of those names on the board will have been his relations, others friends of his parents, neighbours, work colleagues, children he might have played with and all of that world, all of those lives were, after hundreds of years, just snuffed out in a few days.
Today the words holocaust or genocide are used liberally. It is often used to describe the actions of Israel in Gaza. To use such language demeans it and seeks to negate the scale and horror of what holocaust really means. Israel does not systematically execute an entire community. Yes she kills people in Gaza because each month 200 rockets are launched from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians. Israel responds with an attempt at a targeted response – seeking to destroy command centres or rocket launchers. Civilians are occasionally killed – a function of Hamas locating its operations in the heart of residential areas. But this is an unintentional by product. And it is small scale.
What happened in Corfu was replicated across Europe. It was a systematic and largely successful attempt to destroy an entire culture, an entire people. That is a holocaust. The word should be used sparingly and when appropriate, it should be reserved for crimes so horrible that it is still hard to imagine how they could be contemplated. It is bad enough coming to terms with what happened here 68 years ago as you gaze at a building or look at faded photographs of life before the war. The thought of those men, women and children being herded onto boats, unaware of their destination and possibly their fate and the horror as the journey continued up into Poland does not bear contemplation.
I try to block the whole idea from my mind. One day I shall have the courage to visit a place such as Auschwitz. But not yet. A civilised world would not allow anyone to forget the horrors of what happened lest there be danger of a repetition. A civilised world would not seek to trivialise what happened by using the world holocaust to describe events which bear no resemblance to the liquidation of 90% of European Jewry. Reading the British press and hearing some folks speak, you sometimes question how civilised some of us really are.
I check out Tom Winnifrith as a google search now and again just in case my new pal, pouting hackette Anna White has been a naughty girl again. And in the past few days I see shooting up the rankings a new video by Tom Winnifrith. Since I have not recorded anything for a while, this came as a bit of a shock until I discovered that like quite a few other google entries it refers to my Dad, the old silver surfer himself (Dr) Tom Winnifrith.
The video, discovering Albania, is actually from 2002 and seems to have been cut together in a loop but seems to be playing at the top of an Indian newspaper and getting some hits. Should you watch, my father is the one who looks like…. a mad professor. The rather posh sounding woman discussing her matriculation from St Anne’s is my step mother Helen. She is also my father’s second ( or is it third cousin) and is indeed from the poshest part of the family. He first took her out to the opera when she was an undergrad at St Anne’s as older cousins do for younger cousins 45 years ago. They did not meet again for another 20 years. And then they met at a mutual cousin’s wedding 25 years ago, took her to the opera again and the next thing I knew they were getting married in Malmesbury Town Hall.
Now that Tom Winnifrith senior has worked out how to use Skype and email, I am sure it will take him less than half an hour to work out where the play button is on the video below. Oddly, I watch the video looking out over the sea on…Albania.
No. Not the sort of dodgy websites so central to the training regime of Italian goalie Buffon, I refer to my hotel booking site. As I made my booking (no credit card needed, very handy) a message kept flashing up saying that I was pursuing the last available room and that 6 other folks were also looking at it. Cripes, better hurry up. Having been here for 24 hours it dawns on me that mine is the only room here that is in fact occupied.
So the pool is empty, there are no fat Germans/ Scandinavian pensioners on the sun-loungers, I have a dedicated service whenever I want a cafe frappe (milk but no sugar natch) or a diet coke and I have complete peace and quiet.
My father has managed to install skype on his computer (well my step mother has installed it for him) and so his relationship with that he terms Beelzebub, viz the internet, has just strengthened. We have managed a good conversation yesterday with the added joy of me being able to stay on line hearing him discuss in a very earnest fashion with my step mother for a couple of minutes how they should switch skype off. They got it in the end. He has an email address but needs by step mother to type for him but we will make a silver surfer of him yet.
The only drawback is that there has been a sharp increase in the cost of smoking. The owner of this place is giving up. Or rather he is weaning himself off the habit by not buying a pack a day but cadging 4 or 5 cigarettes off me each day. But given how cheap his hotel is, how cheap cigarettes are and the fact that I have a personal service at all times, it is something I can handle. Anyhow, I am as you know, giving up myself shortly.
Do not get me wrong, I adore Greece. Right now I am almost half contemplating not bothering returning to the UK at all. But nowhere is perfect and Greece has its faults (as you may have noticed). The deal used to be with Greece that things did not work properly/the food might have been a bit rough (though that has its charms), etc but it was very cheap. Then Greece joined the Euro and so now you suffer the downside but it costs you more.
My frustration of the day has been with the internet. My room does not have a connection to WiFi. The hotel explains that this is to protect guests from radiation. Er… right. And so while I can write offline in my room to send over copy I must go either to reception or to a cafe up the road. Each has its own distinct drawback.
At the former the connection goes now and again but there is always power. I tried to load after breakfast (muesli and semi skimmed milk natch) but the connection was down. The fat woman behind the desk said “it was working earlier.” I said it was not last night which she first denied but then realised that since she had not been on duty at the time and that she knew perfectly well that the hotel has been offline for 24 hours since her last shift, I might call her bluff. But there was no hint of apology and there has been no urgency at the hotel to fix a problem which has also stopped it taking bookings by email. Heck the economy is going so well, let’s turn business away right? What does it matter?
And so I am sitting in the cafe which stays open from 7 am to 3 PM allowing me to write whenever I want. Its wi-fi link is perfect. The problem here is that the electricity cuts out about 20 times a day, forcing me to constantly save work but knowing that I will occasionally lose some funny line that I am unable to remember later. When the power goes a Greek bird scuttles off flicks a switch and it comes back in a couple of minutes. The pretence is that this is a one-off or is just happening today. But being a regular I know that it happens every day. If I was running a cafe serving meat that needs chilling I would have some concerns about this issue and would get it fixed asap. But this being Greece it just does not happen. I stick to salads anyway so what do I care if this place poisons its other customers with dodgy souvlaki?
It is all part of the way of life here. I remember as a child that we were all here and tried to make a phone call back home from a remote mountain village (Anelion). After lengthy frustration we asked my father “are you sure you know how the Greek telephone system works?” Quick as a flash he replied “I know perfectly well how it works. It doesn’t.” Boom. Boom. It does not stop me loving the place, you just know that things don’t always work and having accepted that as being a way of life, when things fail it is not actually that stressful.
This is my personal blog and so if only one person reads this article (that being Olivia) I care little. But my daughter is 11 today, I am miles and miles away and I am terribly proud of her. She was a “miracle baby” in that she survived at all and although divorce has limited my contact with her there is not a day that goes by when I do not think of her, revel in her achievements and look forward to the next gripping instalment of her life.
Olaf was born a year into the life of t1ps.com. Her mother (big nose) and I had already lost one child at 26 weeks as a result of the same complications that caused little Olivia to be delivered early at UCL eleven years ago today. She weighed just 1 llb 4 oz and it was a couple of months before the doctors talked of when she went home rather than if. Her first three months were spent at UCH in various fish tank devices wired up to all sorts of complex instruments. Every day her mother and I would, either alone or together, spend hours with her, after a while being able to allow her tiny hand to grasp a finger and after a couple of months to hold and feed her. Her tiny clothes were taken from toys – I gave her an Ireland jumper I had stolen from a small teddy bear which she wore for many weeks. I sang to her and talked to her but despite my singing she pulled through – what a battler she was. And still is.
The doctors warned us that there was a high chance of complications, notably of her having cerebral palsy. But, to date, there has been nothing too serious. Whether that was the prayers of my father’s church, the care of the team at UCH or good luck I care not. Olaf is okay. But she might not have been and to this day I have done what I could for Woodlarks, a charity – - see my other interests at the top of this blog – for those less fortunate than my daughter. To have been thrown together by Olivia’s birth with the amazing people at Woodlarks, has been a secondary blessing and privilege for me.
And now she is eleven. In September she leaves the Village School in Hampstead which has done her proud ( a big thank you to Mrs Prior and Miss Gay, the successive head teachers) and heads off to South Hampstead. Olaf had a choice of good schools to go to but the headmistress at SH told her that she could have time off to train to swim the English channel and so could do no wrong. My daughter is now a faster swimmer than both myself and, more impressively, Big Nose who is a bit of a health freak. Despite being short, as she always will be, she throws herself enthusiastically into netball, hockey, and touch rugby, whatever. Rugby is her one weakness, she has chosen to support Wales (Big Nose being Welsh) rather than Ireland but even this gives me some joy. A) It is not England. And b) when Ireland loses to Wales my father and I now have the consolation of saying to each other “at least Olivia will be happy.”
I shall miss Olivia’s next stage performance. Drama has been a passion of hers for as long as I can remember. Her first role ( a strawberry in the Hungry Caterpillar aged 2) was a triumph. Her last role was as Malvolio in 12th Night. Before that she was a terrifying Queen of Hearst in Alice in Wonderland. In a couple of weeks she will be the Countess in the Sound of Music – the biggest role in the play not to involve singing. When we met up on Tuesday for a chocolate pizza (sorry Big Nose, when I said we had salad I was lying, but it was all my idea) I was told that Count von Trapp was in trouble for not learning all her lines. “Have you learned your lines?” “Of course I have Daddy”. I bet she learned them weeks ago and she will be word perfect. The DVD will be out by late July and I cannot wait.
Academically Olivia has always excelled and is already winning prizes for her poetry and short stories – she was a published author at 10, something even her grandfather (my father) could not match. She is very bookish and on her 6th birthday asked to be given “books of a factual nature.” And that has always been the way since. And so I know that today she will start reading a present from my father (David Starkey on Elizabeth 1st) and I know that my presents ( four history books) will be devoured. But it is not the fact that she is very clever, sporty or dramatically talented which shines out. Nor her funny little phrases (Daddy is that woman employed as part of a policy of multi-cultural diversity? That was at 6) that make me so proud. It is just her inherent good nature. Olivia is always polite, thoughtful, helpful, considerate and empathetic. Heaven knows where she gets it from – it must have skipped a generation with myself and Big Nose and be some sort of throwback.
Of course this may all change. The teenage years lie ahead. She tells me that she will not be interested in boys for at least two years. Well that suits me fine. For at least two years. She takes a dim view of smoking, excessive drinking and gluttony. Again that is all fine although it gets me the odd dark look. We now find ourselves having adult conversations be it her doubts about the best treatment for acne ( Toothpaste – a hint from Elle Macpherson which I swear by); same sex marriages ( we are both relaxed on the issue); a two state solution in Israel ( I fear her mind was poisoned along the way by an Arabist but I hope I have put her straight), Austrian economics, global warming ( again, her mind had been poisoned but I think some balance has now been provided) or the latest novel she is reading. It will be an adult book, her Harry Potter phase ended at least three years ago. It seems an eon ago that we used to read Fix It Duck together after the two of us had enjoyed a supper of pasta Bolognese. I suppose it must have been nine years ago. I have no idea what Olaf will be like or doing in nine years time but I am sure that it will be amazing.
Happy Birthday Olaf. Do not let Big Nose eat all of the chocolate cake.
There is a painting I own which my father jokingly says was done by Branwell Bronte. It is shockingly bad and rarely displayed. Branwell would have been 195 today and so happy birthday from one of weak Irish descent who likes the odd drink to another of stronger Irish descent who liked more than the odd drink . Who you may ask is Branwell and why do I care?
Branwell was one of four Bronte children to make it past childbirth/infancy. While his three sisters were literary geniuses and a virtuous bunch, Branwell wanted to be an artist but was noted mainly as a drunk. The Black Bull in Haworth was his second home and he died early and broken but was a great loss to his sisters, none of whom lived to any great age either.
My father’s post grad work was on the Bronte sisters and he has written several books on the subject. As children we would often visit Haworth staying with a saintly woman Joanna Hutton who ran the Bronte bookshop opposite the Black Bull which is, conveniently for Branwell, located next door to the Parsonage where the Reverend Bronte and his family lived. Even today my father heads off now and again to speak to the Bronte society. His most recent gig was over in Northern Ireland from where the Reverend Bronte (father to the family and a man who outlived all his offspring) came.
Branwell would not have amounted to much even had he not had his problems with the bottle. He may have had glamour and panache of sorts but there is no evidence of talent. All in all a rather sad tale. But happy birthday anyway.
My sister and brother in law trained at vast expense to the taxpayer to become doctors. One is now doing a couple of days a week to ensure that she earns twice the national average wage and lolling around the rest of the time. The other is a full time classical singer. A great return for the taxpayer for the investment put in. Not. Most folks who train as doctors do actually stick with the profession. And why not? Trousering an average of £105,000 a year for a sub 40 hour week you get to retire on a pension of £65,000 – more than twice the national average wage. And most of that pension is paid for by the taxpayer. What a bargain (for the doctors), yet some of them want more.
And so last week the Doctors went on strike, postponing routine and non-emergency work. Little old lady in pain, 30 week pregnant lady worried about life, me with a trapped nerve in my shoulder… sod off your doctor is on the golf course because he is demanding more money. Do not worry we will deal with your pain and anxiety next week. Greedy scumbags. Despicable men and women. Striking doctors are now right up there with expense fiddling MPs on my list of folk, I believe we would all be better off without.
As it happens most Doctors did not go on strike. Good for them. 92% of Doctors turned up for work as normal. But 8% did actually go on strike. Let us get this straight. These folks are earning 4 times the national average wage. Most of their pension is funded by taxes paid by people who earn a fraction of what the Doctors earn. And the doctors want more?
The Mail on Sunday takes this further today reporting that some of the scumbags went on strike (but were still paid by the NHS for that day) and used their spare time to do even more private work on the side. I am sure that there are just a few such miscreants but the individuals concerned really are the lowest of the low.
I have always had my problems with doctors who do 3 days a week with the NHS and two privately. During the time when the mother of my daughter Olivia spent months in hospital ahead of Olivia’s troubled birth a constant frustration was the absence of our consultant. Can we have the latest test results? Can we talk about whether our baby will survive? Er… no this is one of Dr X’s days off doing private work. Yeah right, thanks.
There are always far more applicants to do medicine at University than there are places. So let market forces work. Shut down a few utterly worthless courses in Scooby Doo studies as a joint honours with Aboriginal art and run more medicine courses. Produce more doctors in seven years and pro tem give 7 year work permits to a few doctors from Greece, Spain, Ireland etc. Fire the 8% of doctors who care more about their wallets than their patients at once and cap the GP pension scheme until it is a bit less obscene. The 8% will quickly start to understand that £105,000 for a sub 40 hour week with a cushy pension is really not that bad and in due course market forces (more doctors) will put a cap on any of their colleagues tempted to show a similar lack of compassion and love of money.
A big decision. I was a late adapter to the world of mobiles. But these days it clings to me. Calls arrive late at night and early in the morning. I think my window of latest and earliest is 1 AM and 4 AM. It disrupts family life and meals but you cannot switch it off in case a call really is important. However, a Manx Telecom account is a luxury I can do without as using it in England is just ridiculously expensive. And so I shall soon junk the mobile and my current number. But do I bother with getting a UK mobile account? Heck my 10 year old daughter has one as does my 74 year old father although the latter has not yet worked out how to use this new-fangled device.
The case for is that there is the odd vital call and I need to take it. I can call folks when I am on the move although since this is usually on the Oxford-London drive sooner or later I will pick up three points. And it is a handy alarm clock.
The case against is that folks who really need to speak to me can call me on a landline either at home or at Real Man Pizza where I have an office above the shop and can get hold of me. My PC is switched on all day and I do receive and answer emails and so I am always contactable. Rarely in my life going forward as a writer will there be something so urgent that I need to be contacted immediately.
Meanwhile being contactable in this way is disruptive to family life and to my ability to switch off. I am conscious that having a mobile allows me to make non vital calls in the way that one drags on a new cigarette when you do not really want another fag.
On balance I plan to dig out an old alarm clock and use that. At some stage soon, those of you who have my phone number will need to start contacting me by email or by leaving a message at Real Man Pizza or, for the privileged few, calling me at home but risking a diatribe from a.n.other if it happens to be during meal times/out of work hours.
No, no ,no not one for the taxman and one for us! Just a day on two sets of books at the restaurant. First up is my library. The most valuable books are stored safely elsewhere but I still have well over a thousand books picked up over the years which are now being housed downstairs at the Real Man Pizza Company on Clerkenwell Road. If you have a spare afternoon and fancy a read over a coffee or just a book to digest as you digest a chocolate pizza – you now know where to go.
I cannot remember where most of them came from or how or why I picked them up. I have been left quite a few as bequests and my father is always making space and so handing over spare tomes (his latest contribution to my library being the most pompous and mind numbing book in history: A history of the Eton hunt). And I have always been a buyer of books over the years. But thumbing through the titles as I arranged them I struggle to think why I bought, or kept, some of them. I am loathe to chuck anything out but a thick volume on US corporate law pushed me too far. And what use is a Whittaker’s Almanac from 1999?
The library is eclectic. There is some total rubbish in there. Trash novel Who Gets Fluffy springs to mind and is retained precisely because it is so bad. There are learned and not widely read tomes such as Shattered Eagles by Dr TJ Winnifrith and The History of the Royal Military Canal by his father as well as a collection of (pretty poor) poetry by my father’s maternal grandfather. Needless to say all Christopher Booker’s books are there (barring The Games War which I cannot find). My late aunt left me a stack of political histories (she was a researcher on Alistair Horne’s series on Macmillan). Cricket books are well represented but, by volume, novels probably win. A good few are from the nineteenth century and early 20th century: Austen, the Bronte’s, Waugh, Greene, Maugham, Orwell, and Hardy. But there is some modern stuff in there as well Hornby, Maupin and Christie. There are a lot of Agatha Christie books – I have always been a sucker for detective novels and TV drama. There are also a lot of cookery books – it is a passion.
From my heroes at the top of the blog we have books by Mill, Rand, Booker, Orwell, Graham and Steyn. John Seymour sits at home by my bedside right now but will find his way here eventually. Three large bookcases are now full – with some shelves double stacked but still I have several boxes to lay out. I fear that another bookcase may need to be purchased for the restaurant.
The other set of books… I am settling a few invoices for RMPC as I have brought over the chequebook from Douglas. The cheese supplier needs paying.
Breakfast in bed. A pleasant lunch by the river and I am promised a final treat later today. All in all very good, only marred by the pain in the neck job of moving furniture into and around the house. I also called my father. We both view father’s day as a big commercial con so there is nothing more than an exchange of greetings but then we speak several times a week anyway and he has sent a letter every week or so to me for 20 years.
I have sent him my article on why I Iove Greece – that is my present for today. Or rather I have sent it to my step mother as Dad is not quite up with it in terms of internet usage. He still writes his books in longhand and then pays a step sibling to try to decipher his semi-legible writing and to type it out. No doubt my father will point out a couple of factual inaccuracies in the piece – I am not particularly strong on my grandmother’s family tree. Even without the frequent intermarriages in nineteen century Ireland it is all a bit confusing.
I have written before about how amazing my father was to bring up three children by himself after the death of my mother when I was eight. I am not sure that I could have coped. That’s a lie. I am absolutely sure I could not have coped. I was honoured to be his best man when he married my step-mother (not a wicked step mother, although we have occasionally had words) almost 25 years ago. I could not have asked for a better father. To all other father’s out there, I hope that you too have had an enjoyable day of being pampered.
I am asked why am I so fascinated with Greece? In part it is a romantic thing – the idea of brave Hellas reasserting its independence and history – see my great hero pictured here. But it is more a family thing. My father’s family have been Helleno-nuts for 200 years. I shall touch on Lesbians, in that vein, below.
My paternal grandfather was the first in his family to go to university (Oxford natch) and he studied classics. But on my paternal grandmother’s side all branches (Bradleys, Cochranes, Crawfords, Ilberts) were classicists and mostly Oxford educated. The Bradleys produced a number of well known scholars whose works I have never read. My great grandfather (Sir Arthur Cochrane) was a herald by profession but a classicist by training and Greek obsessed. His eldest son, David, died falling down the mountain opposite Delphi. I have his gold watch. He died in the country he loved.
His sister, my grandmother, was christened Lesbia. Back in 1910 that name did not immediately conjure up images of KD Lang, Joan Jett or Katy Perry videos as it would today. Indeed it would not even have brought up thoughts of Virginia Woolf. It would have just been accepted that she was named after a Greek island (Lesbos) and that is it. My grandmother, though razor sharp, did not go to university but she had a keen love and knowledge of Greece. Visiting the country with my grandfather looking at War Graves (he was head of the War Graves Commission after retiring) it was she who encountered (I know not how or why) Mike whose surname I cannot remember but is always known as Mike the Vlach.
And it was granny who discussed this with my father and aroused his interest in the Vlachs. Google search on “Tom Winnifrith Vlachs” will produce numerous learned works by him, not me. But over the years I have with him visited my fair share of Vlach villages in Greece and Macedonia. The Vlachs are a formerly nomadic people living in Northern Greece, Southern Yugoslavia and Albania. Hence for 35 years my father has been travelling to those places (including Albania during the ultra hard line Marxist period when few Westerners were allowed in).
These days few Vlachs are nomadic and their own language is dying out as kids grow up watching Greek/Macedonian or Albanian TV and leave home to go to the big cities for work. Er... that may be stopping now. When, aged 9, I first went to Anelion where Mike the Vlach lives it was a tortuous 5 hour bus journey from Ioannina along windy and bumpy Mountain roads. My sister Tabitha was always sick all over the bus. And then at the end of that trip it was a one hour walk along a donkey track from Metsovo. Local wine was a penny a glass, there was one black and white TV in the village, and everyone was poor but _ think – happy. Nearly everyone in the village spoke Vlach. The Church and the tavernas dominated village life and I learned backgammon there.
These days you can drive to Anelion (thanks to EU dosh) and everyone has satellite TV. Most folks drink beer or spirits and there are fewer tavernas. Most folks speak Greek. Most of the younger folk have gone. Vlach is dying out. I can count to ten in Vlach and know a few words. The Vlach for man is barba (Latin for beard) and the sprinkling of Latin derived words in the language fuelled myths that the vlachs were descended from a lost legion. Who knows? It is just one of many small dying European languages – like the one spoken by a few villages in the Peloponnese which is derived from Spartan Greek as opposed to Athenian Greek.
For me the dream holiday involves calling up my friend Tim Smart at "Houses of Pelion ( 2017 Edit, sadly Tim's business was effectively shut by bogus online harassment from some ghastly British customer). I recommend anyone going to Greece uses Tim’s services and he fixes up everything. Whether it is a house by the sea in Pelion or hotels allowing me to trek around the Peloponnese (reading poetry by Heaney inspired by the area as you go) or up to the monasteries at Meteora or even to visit Mike, Tim arranges everything. A hotel in Delphi allowing me to race daughter Olaf around the old running track, just ask Tim. He can do anything. I still have parts of Greece I wish to explore.
The islands hold minimal appeal but the area near the Turkish border is unvisited and Joanna Lumley has inspired me to follow Byron’s journeys up near the Albanian border. But I would happily sit for an eternity in a village somewhere in Pelion or Arcadia a few miles from the sea enjoying the weather, occasional trips to the water tapping away on a laptop and soaking in the sunshine, a slower pace of life and slowly improving my, almost non-existent, Greek. It saddens me beyond words to see Greece humiliated and bankrupted as it is today. It is partly self inflicted. Its leaders are corrupt and it has lived beyond its means.
But it was seduced by EU grants and by the folly of others in bodging it into the Euro without thinking it through. I understand how the fear of Turkey led Greece to cling onto the EU but in doing so it faces surrendering an independence hard won. The social dislocation of the current chaos is awful to behold. De-urbanisation, emigration, riots, the breakdown of trust in fiat currencies, unemployment, real poverty without the dignity of the old rural existence are all results of where Greece finds itself. Notwithstanding that my father always jokes that he will spend his last years on Mount Athos (a women free peninsula). That, I think, is a joke. But he may have half a mind to spend those years in Greece. It is in his blood. Mine too.
As you cannot fail to have noticed there is yet another Greek election on Sunday. The choice is clear: one of the two “old” parties (Pasok and New Democracy) which are both run by crooks and who will sign up to more austerity/another bailout or a variety of fruitcakes who will reject the EU’s kind offer. Some of the fruitcakes have some utterly repellent views on other matters.
It is the same old story: the establishment in every EU vassal state always signs up to every diktat from the Death Star and usually hoodwink the electorate into going along with it. Even back in 1975, when the UK last had a vote on this matter – the establishment was overwhelmingly on the Yes side. My Bennite paternal grandfather spoke on a No platform (and so family Winnifrith handed out flyers for No) but as a Bennite he was one of the more moderate fellows on the No side and Sir John was very much an establishment man. But he was unusual.
Greek politics is complex. My father’s best Greek friend is Mike (known as Mike the Vlach). To find out what a Vlach I recommended a number of learned tomes on the Vlachs by Tom Winnifrith (my father). Mike comes from a very poor village , Anelion which has only joined the road network in the past two decades. But his whole village votes en masse for New Democracy (the Tories). Dad’s second best friend, Natasha, is incredibly rich. But she votes the same way as her whole village, for Kapa Kapa (the Communists). Like Ireland, voting has been dictated by which side your ancestors were on in the Civil War. In 1948 Anelion was Royalist, Natasha’s village was not.
The fat old crooks from ND and Pasok tell the punters that it is a simple choice: do you want the Euro or not (vote for them to keep the Euro-rouble). The assorted loons say that it is a vote about austerity – do you want it or not. Of course they are all lying – they are politicians after all. What the Greeks want is to keep the Euro (it is associated with vast grants in the past but it is also a matter of misplaced National Pride) and the bailouts but to curb/scrap the austerity. That is having your Baklava and eating it. That option is not on offer.
What should Greece do? Leave the Euro, devalue and then reform the economy but the loons will not undertake the much needed reforms should they win and the old crooks will not leave the Euro. It is Hobson’s choice for a Greek Punter and were I to have a ballot paper I cannot think how I would vote. On balance I think for one of the less unpalatable loons. How will Greece vote, I fear that by a narrow margin we will see a ND led Government. But we shall also see open riots and the return of the drachma is almost inevitable.
Folks tend to forget that although democracy is a Greek word, modern Greece has enjoyed democratic rule for less than 40 years. The Military remains very powerful. I do not think it is a total given that Greece will be a democracy at all in 12 months time. Interesting times.
— Tom Winnifrith
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