Tag Archives: Europe

The Brexit vote to leave Europe was a lie. Percentages were more like 10/90.

The pencil is more powerful than the pen?

The pencil is more powerful than the pen or the sword?

Yesterday, I was travelling in an Overground train in London and got chatting to someone who works as a plumber. Let’s call him Peter (not his name).

Peter the Plumber is maybe in his late twenties. I could be way out. He could be in his early thirties but, if I had to guess, I would put him at maybe 29 years old.

We bonded on a lot of things, though not everything.

He thought the police were corrupt from bottom to top. He thought the court system had nothing to do with justice and was a game for lawyers and judges. He thought the drug laws were ridiculous – it is legal to willy-nilly prescribe variations of heroin and cocaine for medical purposes but not marijuana.

He said he did not vote in elections because the whole political and ruling system was corrupt. If he were to vote for anyone, he told me, he supposed it would be Jeremy Corbyn. I suggested maybe the Green Party and he was not averse to that but, as he thought the whole system was unworkable, there was no point.

I suggested, if there were a candidate or a party he thought had the correct policies and beliefs, then, by voting for them and increasing their majority even by one, he was giving them more profile and more visible backing – he should vote for them even if he believed they had no chance of winning.

“Like Jeremy Corbyn,” he suggested.

But he is not going to vote in elections because he believes the whole system is corrupt.

“Why do they give you pencils to mark the ballot paper in voting booths?” he asked me. “The people who mark you down as having voted and the people sitting outside the polling stations have pens. Why do they give you pencils to vote with? Pencils are more expensive than pens.”

I said I thought it odd that, as far as I know, when policemen write down statements, they are required to do it in pencil not pen. (I could be wrong that it is a requirement.)

brexitmapbbcHe said he did not believe the Brexit vote to leave the European Union was correct. The vote was 52% to leave. “I think the real vote,” he told me, “was more like 90% to 10%.”

“In which way?” I asked.

“To leave,” he said. “No-one I know wants to be in Europe. The Scots have it right. They want to leave the UK because they don’t want this other place making decisions for them. They want to make their own decisions.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that a high percentage of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

Given the fact that many people who voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum find it unacceptable that there was a ‘Leave’ vote because everyone they know voted ‘Remain’… I thought it was interesting that youngish Peter The Plumber, who shows all the signs of being a true Corbynite and an anti-Establishment Left-Winger could not believe that the ‘Leave’ vote was as low as 52%.

Everyone thinks they are ‘normal’ and average and that their mostly self-chosen circle of friends and acquaintances are the norm. Everyone thinks they know what the majority of ‘normal people’ think.

Everyone is almost always wrong because they see and hear in their own bubble of ’normality’.

And, yes, I know if I write ‘everyone’ I should not write ‘they’ and ’their’ – I should write ‘he or she’.

But let’s not be pedantic. It is normal to use ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’. Isn’t it?

Well, it seems that way to me.

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Filed under Europe, Politics, UK

Chinese Communism and how it overlaps British Rail bureaucracy

Last night, I went to the Empire cinema in Leicester Square for the opening ceremony of this week’s China Image Film Festival in London – the biggest Chinese film festival in Europe.

The ceremonial side involved lengthy bouts of people explaining that everyone had worked very hard and how culturally important film was and encouraging rounds of applause for officials who stood up and waved to the audience. After 40 minutes, I whispered to the friend who was with me:

“This is like living under communism.”

There were the distinguished guests from various organising committees and some officials had flown in specially from Beijing but also present, inexplicably, were the former mayor of Redbridge in suburban London and the Chairman of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who gave a speech in which he said he had visited China, but never seen any Chinese films there, so he was grateful for this opportunity. The man standing by him who translated his speech into Chinese looked a bit surprised, as if he could not understand who this man was or why he was giving a speech.

I had some sympathy with the translator.

The former mayor of Redbridge gave no speech, which I thought was a pity, as I would have been interested to hear what he said.

The opening film of the Festival was Apart Together, which won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

In one scene a couple, married for almost 50 years, decide to get divorced but discover that they cannot get divorced without first having a marriage certificate which they do not have because they got married shortly after the chaotic civil war between Mao Tse-tung’s Communists and Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang nationalists when official marriage certificates were the last thing on people’s minds.

So they have to get officially married in order to be officially divorced on the same day.

Communist bureaucracy, eh?

Phoaw!

How the almost entirely Chinese audience laughed!

No wonder they love Yes, Minister on TV in China!

After the ceremony and screening, I got a tube up to St Pancras station and leapt into the front carriage of a Capital Connect Thameslink train, just before it was due to set off.

On the seat opposite me was a small but expensive-looking pack of 15 computer CDs left behind by someone.

As I was sitting at the very front of the train, I jumped off and tried to give them to the train driver.

“I’m not allowed to accept any lost property,” he said apologetically. “You have to give it to the station staff – that bloke down there the other side of the barrier.”

It was an eight-carriage train. I looked at my watch. It was two minutes before the train was due to leave.

“I won’t have time to do it and get back on the train,” I told the driver. “And the station I am going to is unmanned at this time of night.”

“What you could do,” he told me, sympathetically, “is leave it on the seat and, if it’s still there at the end of the journey, I can collect it when I check the carriages.”

So I did that.

Whether anyone nicked the discs or whether they were still there when he checked the carriage I do not know.

I am a lover of the surreal but not of bureaucracy.

But rules is rules, eh? They’re there for a reason.

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Sucking up or sucking off? UK Prime Ministers, Rupert Murdoch and a puff

Look, I only plug people and things I believe in on this blog so, with that in mind, read on…

British Prime Ministers have been sucking Rupert Murdoch’s corporate cock since the 1960s. It’s nothing new. Nor is amorality.

Lance Price was a special advisor to Tony Blair. In 1998, he became deputy to Blair’s Communications Director, Alastair Campbell; and he was the Labour Party’s Director of Communications from 2000 until the General Election of 2001. Price says Blair was under Murdoch’s thumb from the beginning:

“I started working for Tony Blair a year after he became Prime Minister. I was shocked to be told by one of those who’d been closely involved with the talks in Australia, and subsequently, that: ‘We’ve promised News International we won’t make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them’.”

But – hey! ho! – political pragmatism, like journalistic amorality, is good news for some…

My elfin comedian chum Laura Lexx is staging her first straight play Ink at the Edinburgh Fringe in three weeks time.

The play is actually about the London 7/7 terrorist bombings and the media intrusion into victims’ lives but, of course, the subject of where the journalistic tipping point lies between investigative illumination and amoral intrusion is timeless.

Laura’s press release (written months ago) says: When reporting the news is business, is there space for truth and a conscience?… Will we accept hack journalism as a necessary evil for swift information?

It could have been written last week about the phone hacking scandal and the closure of the News of the World. It is a subject, as the red-tops might themselves say, RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES – but of eternal relevance.

The play’s billing reads: “Ordinary man blown up by terrorists – he made jam and had a son. Nothing special. The media made that clear as they conjured headlines from victims and sprinkled them between crosswords.”

My elfin chum Laura Lexx was both a Chortle and Paramount Student comedy finalist in her first six months of live stand-up performance; then she went on to reach the semi-finals of both the Laughing Horse and Funny Women competitions.

I saw Ink when it was a student production at the University of Kent.

It was impressive then.

With the number of actors in the cast cut back for financial reasons and the writing sharpened up even more, it will be interesting to see how it fares at the Edinburgh Fringe, given its accidentally up-to-the-minute relevance.

Now.. if only I could see some RIPPED FROM TODAY’S HEADLINES angle for my own two spaghetti-juggling events at the Fringe…

My head is spinning.

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Why liars and the tsunami of history may yet lead to bloody civil war in Europe and Scottish independence

In 1985 I was on holiday in Uzbekistan.

Opposite our hotel, a new block was being built and its skeleton was showing massive cracks in the concrete. I asked an architect why this was.

“They are using the wrong type of concrete,” he told me. “The decision on which type of concrete to use in the building was made centrally in Moscow. They have a very cold climate in Moscow. This is Uzbekistan. We are in the middle of a scorching hot desert. They are using the wrong type of concrete because those are the decisions made by the bureaucrats in Moscow.”

The Soviet Union was partly an organisational disaster because it made centralised decisions for a nation which stretched from Uzbekistan and the Balkans in the west to Siberia and Mongolia in the east.

In 1991, Yugoslavia disintegrated, largely because, like the Soviet Union, it was a fake country with such disparate constituent parts that it never made a sensible whole. It just never held together as a single country because it was not a single country.

The UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and I remember the 1975 referendum in which English politicians Edward Heath, Harold Wilson and other pro-Europeans lied through their teeth and claimed we had joined an economic union which no-one had any intention of making a political union. The referendum was said to be about joining an economic Common Market.

The European Economic Community then became the European Union in 1993 and Eastern European countries joined after the fall of the Soviet Union. Turkey is likely to join, if it can get over its habit of routinely torturing people (or even if it doesn’t). There is even talk of Uzbekistan joining – a ‘partnership and co-operation agreement’ came into force in 1999.

So we have the ludicrous spectre of a new Soviet-style Union with a centralised bureaucracy increasingly making decisions on the same basis for towns and cities from icy cold Aberdeen (I was partly brought up there in a council estate on a hill, so don’t talk to me about cold) to the baking hot deserts of western Asia (I’ve been there).

And, give me a break, Scottish culture bears no relation to Balkan, Turkish or Uzbek culture, let alone Italian culture.

In Scotland yesterday, at the time of writing, the governing SNP (Scottish National Party) appears to have won a decisive victory in elections for the Scottish Parliament, possibly helped by the fact the opposition Labour Party seems to have mostly attacked not the SNP, but the Conservative Party which is virtually non-existent in Scotland. It would be as if Britain, at the start of World War Two, had decided to concentrate on waging war against Italy instead of Germany.

Presumably this own-goal disaster of a strategy was masterminded from London – another example of why centralised control is a bad idea.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has said he will introduce a referendum on Scottish independence in the next Scottish Parliament.

I used to think Scottish independence was a ridiculous idea because Scotland is not economically large enough to be independent but I have changed my mind because of the European Union.

Clearly I do not think we should be in the European Union but there seems to be no practical way to get out of it.

If Scotland were to separate from the United Kingdom and become an independent country, then financially it would gain massively from being a small country within the European Union – I worked in Ireland in the 1990s and saw the massive financial benefits that country had reaped and was still reaping from Europe.

If Scotland became independent I do not know what would happen in Wales but there is some likelihood that it would move towards independence from England (for – whisper it quietly – it is in the United Kingdom not as a separate country but as a principality of England).

Instead of one country (the UK) being part of the EU, there would be three countries with three votes but the same outlook on almost all issues – an outlook shared by the island of Ireland (which is going to unify eventually, however it happens).

Quite what happens to Britain’s ‘voice within Europe’ and to the British Armed Forces at this point, I can’t even begin to get my head round. But we may yet live in interesting times as I cannot see a vastly enlarged European Union lasting very long without a Soviet style acrimonious break-up or a Yugoslavian type civil war.

Edward Heath, the lying cunt who took us into Europe may yet be the British leader who created a very bloody civil war within Europe.

We can’t escape the tsunami of history.

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The most obscene tax in Britain (and Europe)

It’s time to do the quarterly VAT return.

I know this is hardly an original thought but…

Fuck me slowly with a sweet potato while floating in a tub of battery acid…

Is VAT not just the most appallingly obscene tax ever thought up by any Euro-wanker in the entire history of Euro-wanking?

It’s a tax on behalf of the rich and against the poor.

All big companies and sensible people with loads of money are registered for VAT and ultimately don’t pay it. People on lower incomes and people struggling to make ends meet – single parents, the unemployed, the disabled, the retired, pensioners – are forced to pay it.

What sort of tax is that?

It’s a tax which very large companies do not pay and which the unemployed do pay. It’s a tax which specifically targets those least able to pay it.

For those registered, VAT is a tax where the money just goes round in a circle and the government does not benefit at the end of the process; it just keeps loads of bureaucrats in pointless work.

In a simplified but basically true break-down…

Company A adds 20% VAT on top of the price they really want to charge and then bills Company B 120% of what they need to charge.

Company A then pays the 20% VAT money it receives to the Taxman (minus loads of expenses) and Company B then claims back from the Taxman the whole 20% of the 120% they paid.

In effect, Company A collects 20% VAT and hands it to the Taxman (minus expenses – so they give less than the full 20% to the Taxman)… the Taxman then hands back to Company B the full 20% VAT which Company B shelled-out. So:

– Company B has lost some money for a short time but ultimately pays nothing.

– Company A has passed on less than full 20% to the Taxman, who has then paid the full 20% to Company B

– So Company B has, ultimately paid nothing and the Taxman has paid out more than he received.

At this level of companies, millionaires and other people who can afford accountants, the whole thing goes round in a circle and creates jobs but not tax revenue. Am I missing something?

There are points in the system where Company A and the Taxman are holding onto money and earning interest on the money from bank accounts – well, Company A is. But that’s the basic system. The money goes round in a circle if you already have a lot of money.

At petrol stations, for example, companies and rich entrepreneurs and businessmen, in effect, do not pay any VAT at all – they claim it all back. But the less well-off who own cars have to pay the full extra 20% which they can’t avoid.

It’s a tax which specifically targets the less well-off which discriminates in favour of the better-off.

It’s obscene.

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I have seen some unexpected acts in my life but I had never seen what I saw last night… I am still shocked.

This morning, I used the Listen Again button on the BBC’s website to hear Boothby Graffoe being interviewed on yesterday’s Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman (it’s 18 minutes in, but is only available online in the UK if you are reading this within seven days of me writing it).

He was on the Radio 2 show to plug his new music album Songs For Dogs, Funerals (the comma really is there – don’t ask) and his UK comedy tour, which starts next Tuesday.

I knew he was the only comedian named after the small Lincolnshire village of Boothby Graffoe but, until he mentioned it on the show, I hadn’t realised this meant he was also named after the second largest site in Europe for testing genetically-modified food. Now there’s a thing.

I listened to the Radio 2 show this morning because I bumped into Boothby last night when I went to Vivienne & Martin Soan’s always extraordinary monthly comedy club Pull The Other One in Nunhead, South London. You know a comedy gig is good when other comedians go to see it even when they’re not on the bill and Boothby just went along to see Pull The Other One before he went back home to Leicestershire.

If I were using glib phrases – which, of course, I wouldn’t dream of writing – I might say it turned into an evening of unexpected revelations.

After the show, I was chatting to Martin Soan and, despite the fact I’ve probably known him since around 1990, I never knew he wrote several sketches for Spitting Image at the height of their TV success.

It was no surprise, of course, that, during the actual Pull The Other One show itself, Bob Slayer enticed a woman from the audience onto the stage and ended carrying her off over his shoulder.

What was unexpected was the climax of Mat Ricardo’s act. He is billed as a juggler, but is more than that and he introduced the final highly-visual thing he did as “impossible”… as indeed it is, but he still did it.

After Mat’s act, there was an interval and one of the other acts – smiling broadly – just looked at me and said: “Jesus!”

Another said to me: “Jesus! I have never seen that done before.”

The Lord was being invoked quite a lot after what we saw. I was and remain so shocked by what he did that I am going to pay to go to see his full live show Three Balls and a Good Suit next week in the hope he does it again.

What he did involves a table and a tablecloth and – no – it is not at all what you think.

There is seldom anything new under the sun – but I have never heard of anyone else doing what I saw and I have certainly never seen it before.

I can’t believe I did see it.

And I have seen a lot of acts.

Jesus!

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Dangerous holidays in quirky places

The most dangerous place I was ever on holiday was Bogota in Colombia in 1983, at a time when the Medellin and Cali drug cartels were on the rise. At that time, the presumption in Bogota was that any white Westerner speaking English was carrying large amounts of cash to use in major drug deals.

About an hour after arriving in the city, I was crossing a central road junction when I heard a slight scuffle behind me. My companion, walking about four steps behind had been mugged by two men.

“They held two knives at my throat, so I gave them my wallet,” he told me, slightly surprised. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” It must have taken all of four seconds.

I remember, one Sunday morning, the two of us walking down a main street in the city – walking on the actual road, not the pavement, because it seemed safer to risk being hit by a car than walking close to narrow alleyways and shop doorways. It was less paranoia than common sense. A week or so later, in Lima, Peru, I got chatting to a young American in the bar of the Sheraton hotel.

“Yeah, Bogota is dangerous,” he agreed. He told me he visited the city quite often.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I’m in the import/export business,” he told me.

“Ah,” I replied.

I like interesting places but not dangerous ones.

Yesterday I went to the Destinations holiday exhibition at Earls Court in London, courtesy of the wonderful travel company Regent Holidays. In 1979, I went with them to Albania, largely because I had read the country had no motorised traffic and was dotted with pillbox bunkers in case they got invaded by unspecified other nations. “Dotted with pillboxes” turned out to be an understatement. Albania had concrete pillboxes like a pointillist painting has dots – and they were white curved things which could be clearly seen from a distance (surely not a good idea for a pill-box).

Albania in 1979 was a restful country – said to be the poorest in Europe – and, indeed, it had virtually no motorised vehicles. Occasionally you might spot a military truck or a Mercedes-Benz limo belonging to the Party; other than that it was horse-drawn carts and people walking. It was ruled by the admirably OTT Marxist-Leninist dictator Enver Hoxha who was said to always carry a pistol on his hip and once shot a member of his government over a dinner argument.

Now that’s my kinda ruler!

You can imagine Boris Johnson, given a tiny bit more power, doing that sort of thing.

Albania in 1979 was the most eccentric place I had been until I wisely went to North Korea with Regent Holidays in 1985. I recommend the country highly. When I went, it was ruled by The Great Leader (that was his official title) Kim il-sung about whom I’m saying nothing as I might want to go back there sometime. All I will say is that I went in 1985 and 1985 was a year late for North Korea’s definitive year. It was illegal for individuals to own a radio: the simplest effective piece of state control over people’s thoughts I have ever heard of.

Regent Holidays specialised then and specialise now in unusual destinations and, during the Cold War, that often meant extreme Communist regimes. I do lament the passing of widespread hardline Communism because you were always safe travelling to communist countries and right wing dictatorships. If anyone messed with foreign-currency-carrying tourists in those countries, the perpetrators tended to end up being thrown in a cell and the key thrown away or being shot in a football stadium. This tended to minimise casual street muggings.

I went to a lot of Communist countries during the Cold War because I was sadly too late for all the truly great right wing dictatorships. The only right wing dictatorship I did visit was Paraguay under General Stroessner. He is reported to have been ousted in 1989 because his military chiefs feared he would be succeeded either by his son Freddie, a cocaine addict, or by his son Gustavo, “who was loathed for being a homosexual and a pilot”. Bigotry apparently ran deep in Paraguay.

People have always told me I should go to Cuba and maybe I should, but I never felt it was extreme or eccentric enough. Fidel Castro always seemed to me a decent sort-of chap though, like comedian Ken Dodd, he tended to drastically over-run on his allotted stage time. He (I mean Fidel, not Doddy) ousted a particularly nasty dictator in Batista; this understandably annoyed the American Mafia, in particular Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky – and it is never a good idea to annoy powerful chaps like them. The modern-day equivalent might be a pub singer annoying Simon Cowell.

Having gained power, Fidel did approach US American President Eisenhower for aid and a meeting and was rebuffed. So it always seemed to me that Fidel was a decent bloke and the Americans brought on their own heads what followed. I mean, honestly, chaps in Langley getting CIA operatives to try to kill Fidel with an exploding cigar or to discredit him by trying to make his hair fall out… well, it’s the basis for a good comedy movie and I admire the lateral thinking, but leave the poor man alone.

I prefer holidays in quirky countries with eccentric dictators and there are precious few at the moment.

I did go to Turkmenistan in 1995 because President Saparmurat Niyazov sounded doolally. Sadly, he wasn’t, at that time, eccentric enough for my taste, though he did go slightly more impressively barking a little later: re-naming months of the year after members of his family and officially replacing the Turkmen word for “bread” with the name of his mother.

I like countries in a state of flux which will have changed utterly in 20 years time. Where is there to go now? Chechnya? Ingushetia? I’m not that mad. Somalia? You’re joking.

At Earls Court yesterday, the most interesting stand by far was Hinterland Travel, who were selling holidays to Afghanistan – their brochure was sub-titled “Discerning Adventures” which I don’t think anyone could dispute.

Around 1989, a friend suggested we go on holiday to Afghanistan because, she claimed,  “it’ll be safer in a couple of years or so”. It never did get safer. At the time she suggested it, I read that commercial jets were landing at Kabul Airport by making very tight spiral descents in an attempt to confuse any in-coming heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. There comes a point where “interesting” strays into “fucking dangerous” and, call me a wimp, but this was well over that line.

On 15th October this year, Hinterland Travel are offering a 14-day trip starting in Afghanistan costing £2,100. This adventure holiday for discerning travellers who are attracted to something slightly different from a Spanish beach holiday is called “The Retreat”. It starts in Kabul and aims to recreate the retreat of the British Army from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1842.

A note at the back of the leaflet says: “We do insist that you take out some form of insurance… principally health and repatriation cover while recognising that you will not be covered for Afghanistan re War and Terrorism.”

Suddenly Bogota in 1983 doesn’t seem so dangerous.

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