Sunday 5 November 2017

The Rolf Harris Care Home for Political Perverts

No longer a subject for political debate, Brexit has now been replaced by Sexit.

Gone are those mind numbing references to getting a ‘Good Deal For Britain, ‘ now replaced by Billy Bunter style remarks like, ‘I never touched her bottom, and when I did, you never saw me!’ What is revealing is how the British Government might be brought to its knees, due to a bit of hanky-panky in the corridors of power.

The definition of unwanted physical contact, and even intrusion into people’s private lives, has changed a lot over the last fifty years. So has the definition of a sexual assault. Depending on their libido, and in their defense, it is hardly surprising that some older men and women are occasionally tempted by a mild flirtatious look, as most young people often are in in bars and clubs. What is important, is to realize that one persons sexual assault, is another’s passionate liaison. It is also important to recognize that one politicians sexual assault, is a journalist or cynical MPs political opportunity.

The Terrible Twins

It has often been said that politics is, ‘Hollywood for ugly people.’ Despite the media’s valiant attempt at glamorizing politics in general, most of the MPs who attend the House of Commons are not swans – as some might imagine themselves to be – but ugly ducklings. When Robert Kilroy Silk left politics, and the aging Dr. David Owen repaired to the other place – together with the speaker TV Topper Betty Boothroyd – most of the remaining chattering and wittering MPs became candidates, for Madam Tussauds Chamber of Horrors.

The Beautiful People

When I was a young man, I used to put my male chums into three categories, in terms of their prowess in chatting up women. Firstly, there were the beautiful people – they just had to stand there, in order to be surrounded by girls – which included pop stars, and footballers. Secondly, there was the ‘chat up merchant,’ or those fortunate enough to come from the Nigel Havers Charm School, who relied on humor and a well practiced repartee.

But finally, there was a breed of Lothario who came from ancient times, who were known as knee fumblers. A pathetic bunch – who acted like half witted schoolboys, or girls most of the time – they simply couldn’t keep their hands to themselves.

Knee fumblers could always be heard – secreted away in deserted barns or stables, at country dances – due to excessive squealing, and noisy remonstrations emanating from some darkened enclave. With expletives and noisy remonstrations like –

‘Get your hands off, Tristian, you really are a pervert,’ they were often overheard with amusement, by fellow dancers and revelers alike.

Later the two lovers would immerge, with beaming smiles and red faces, to declare their engagement to all those present. This was how love and marriage, was fostered in the countryside, and almost like a page from a Thomas Hardy novel, was the prospect that most lads had who came from the provinces. But,what about us townees?

Billie Bunter

Well, we were different; more sophisticated for a start – no haystacks in Kensington – and relied on cool moves on the dance floor, and when you could hear someone speak due to the noise, a great line in chat-

“Your teeth are like the stars, do they come out at night?”

I feel sorry for knee fumblers, for that is what most of these political and celebrity alleged felons are, not just because they seem pretty unsophisticated to me, but because they might also be lonely, isolated and unhappy. Rather like many policemen are in crime fiction novels, always away from home and family for most of their time, there must be moments when they misread other peoples intentions, but not exclusively.

What passed for normal sexual behavior in the sixties, does not pass muster today. We all know that, and although some of us don’t care anymore, nevertheless there are those who have never got past the knee fumbling stage in their romantic quests. But, conversely, there are also those who are experts in the old ‘come on!’ Perhaps it would be wise for all of us all to sing-

“Keep your mind on the driving, keep your hands on the wheel, and keep your snoopy eyes on the road up ahead?”

Rather than singing, “God Save the Queen,” because, at least, Her Majesty won’t have to send you to prison!

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Brinkmanship & Boredom - By Patrick Brigham

The Immortal words of Norman Throades – known fondly as the ‘Bard of Berkshire’ – will forever ring in the ears of present day, and often bewildered Brexiteers. As we patriotically watch the BBC Parliament Channel, at Prime Ministers Question Time, and in order to absorb the reassuring words of dear Theresa. But, how close to reality is it really?

So much like the ‘Theater of The Absurd,’ and in particular ‘Waiting for Godot,’ by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, one wonders if anything will finally turn up, or are the representatives of our noble nation in fact a bunch of ham actors, and out of work film extras.

Sticking religiously to the script, the familier mantra about ‘getting a good deal,’ still echo’s around the Houses of Parliament, to a crescendo of patriotic and Tory avowal. Almost as though Parliament is trapped in Dr Who’s Tardis, one wonders if the House of Commons is presently floating around in some distant galaxy, or trapped in a deceptive political time warp?

But does the question which Norman Throades quite rightly asks – in his scintillating 19th Century poem – simply relate to political perspectives? Or, to put it in layman’s terms, do our worthy UK political representative actually know what is going on in the real world? Because, having recently watched this program for a whole afternoon, for me at least, the British Parliament can only be described as an entertaining, inward looking mutual admiration society.

Mainly comprising elegant and amusing accusations – followed of course by often inaccurate, but confident rebuttals – the real question is, is the present cabinet running out of dialogue, or are we all running out of patience?

There was a time when the general public was quite rightly regarded as gullible, ignorant if not foolish, and that – for want of any outside propaganda seeping through – what was reported in the British newspapers or announced on TV by pompous cabinet ministers, was both truthful and reassuring. But not so today.

Ever since the referendum, that bloody man Trump, Farage and ‘The Fat Boy of Peckham,’ Boris Johnson, have littered the media with their contempt for the truth. These days we are becoming familier with expressions like alternative facts, fake news, and out of date – or hidden true government statistics – all of which is calculated to disguise the truth.

I often imagine that, somewhere in the middle of the English Channel, there is a giant invisible filter, its sole purpose being to distort, and to turn almost any legitimate EU reportage on its head. Or, an enormous cracked mirror, which only shows the British voter, a warped, and back to front reflection of the truth, where ministers even accuse their opponents of being traitors, if they stand against them in any way. This is hardly democratic, is it?

In a normal society, lies are tolerated, but never truly accepted. And so, I can’t help believing that the present British cabinet, either wants you to believe it’s questionable Brexit propaganda, or may actually believe in it themselves. These days there now seem to be two truths: carefully reported Brussels truth, or heavily filtered and often corrupted Brexit truth. So, perhaps it is high time for a change, and rather like anything which is split, the present UK government obviously needs to be replaced.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Who Owns Your Body? - By Patrick Brigham

Ealing council is considering legal action against anti-abortion protesters accused of “harassing” women attending a clinic.

There are many people who think that abortion is wrong. They come from all backgrounds, either quoting the scriptures – from whichever religion, church, cult, ethnic group they belong – and the many different statistics, which are currently in favour, or available from government sources.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, to be motivated by whichever group they belong, and to protest in public if need be. This is called democracy, but when they cross the line, and actually prevent young women from receiving a safe and professional medical abortion – in an attempt to turn back the clock – then one must ask oneself if they are inspired by ignorance, prejudice, or simply contempt.

There’s a group of people in this world, who see themselves as establishment figures, which they are not and never will be. They claim the right to direct the ethics and mores of society, as if they are viewing us all from a great height. To them, the hoipolloi, grockels, numpty’s, misfits, or never will be’s of society, are a lesser order. Self proclaimed, they consider themselves to be a part of some kind of Messianic class, which somehow keeps them on their morel high ground.

It isn’t that they are bad people, or that they don’t mean well – they may be people who have brought up children, and who experience revulsion at the thought of an abortion taking place in their own family – but they also seem to be blind to the realities of modern day living, and the many pressures brought by todays society, on a young single mother.

Many of the arguments used by these zealots were around in the 60s, when post war Britain was still trying to emerge from an unimaginable black hole. As America was pouring its largess into a blighted Europe, via the Marshall Plan, the UK had to go it alone, with no handouts, a mountain of debt, and a bleak future.

But then what should come along? Suddenly we were all confronted with the beautiful people, stylish clothes, sex, drugs, rock & roll, and a feeling of release. As the song goes by Josh Dunson, there was definitely ‘Freedom in The Air,’ and believe me, we all knew what to do with it!

Incidentally, while this was all happening, a somewhat dusty and austere British Government remained blithely unaware of the implications all this euphoria would bring about. Rather like a line of pedantic plodding ducks, they simply went about their coal exports, food rationing, and bored us silly, with rather glib and simplistic speeches. Usually in a rather funny accent – reminiscent of Harry Enfield – informing us about our rosy future, what they forgot to mention was venereal disease, and unwanted pregnancies. This was because, in the past, it had always been traditionally left to the private sector!

If you consider that the 60s was about the mixing of previously well defined social classes, those young women who saw the UK as a new, classless, multi-cultured, benign country – full of adventure, and the spice of life – were very often left holding the baby. Many, who had experienced an enjoyable respite in a lay-by off the A4, often faced angry parents who had not foreseen this blight occurring, in their otherwise drab but bearable live’s. Not that many of them were always aware of their daughter’s dilemma, but they would most certainly have been aware of the catastrophe which often followed.

In those days there were many court cases, in which some ex nurse or ‘Knitting Needle Nell,’ was prosecuted for performing an illegal abortion. This was usually because their victim had ended up in the local emergency hospital, had blabbed to the duty doctor, and an arrest had subsequently been made. In mitigation the accused would always say that they were helping some poor unfortunate out, whose life would otherwise have been burdened with an unwanted child. But what we will never know, is how many young women they had managed to kill, prior to their arrest.

Dr Marie Stopes was a pioneer in the field of birth control, but one of the centers named after her in west London has become a target for protesters

Considering the stigma which an unwanted pregnancy might have caused, in the 60s, there were far more pressing matters for a young and vulnerable woman to face. Finding accommodation, adoption, getting support from the social security system, and finally – if they decided to keep their offspring – dealing with personal relationships, and eventual marriage. Men are the same the world over, when it comes to accepting someone else’s child, and so it was often the case that children were secreted away, and introduced at the last moment.

I am sure that if one was to interview some of the protesters, we would discover good people. But although todays society is no longer quite so bigoted as it was in the 60s, and obsessed with children born out of wedlock, abortion is very often the best option.

*** The result of rape is another matter, and I think it should be treated quite separately, because of the criminal aspects concerned. ***

Finally, children can be simply inconvenient – not due to some trivial whim – but due to the terrible pressures experienced by those looking for public housing, or controlled rents, and the money to pay for it. Single mothers need help, and not always available from family members, child care is also an issue if they have to go to work, or to navigate the now floored Universal Credit.

They look very angry, those ladies outside the Marie Stopes clinic, although from the photographs, I cannot see any priests, from any religious group, or men for that matter. So, my inclination is to know more about these ladies themselves, and not the unborn children they claim to represent.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

A Day In The Life Of a Writer – By Patrick Brigham

Many writers are self indulgent, but there is a difference between living the writer's life, and actually writing. The real work is done by modest hard working, and imaginative people, who seldom receive just payment for their dedication to literature. Their work, which is often judged by total Philistines - who think that books are a commodity, rather like a bar of chocolate, that can be consumed and forgotten about – often seems lost in the fog of commercialism, and the ever crowded publishing marketplace.
When you consider the number of books any one writer can publish during their lifetime, it is hard to accept that level of disdain, especially from those who seem to have little value for art or literature, and are only interested in its price tag. Because, to be a writer, is to expect very little, - other than occasional recognition - a modest income, and frequent misinterpretation. Should you choose to be a writer, unless you are John Le Carre or J.K.Rowling, you had better get used to the idea that your life will be one long struggle, unless you are very fortunate indeed.
When I wake up in the morning, I sometimes lay in bed for half an hour or so, to decide what I am going to write. In a kind of subconscious state, my mind seems to be able to conjure up all sorts of incidents and ideas, which can fit into a story that I am writing, or a magazine article I will publish. This routine somehow puts so called writer’s block into limbo, the choice between journalism or a book being a very good elixir; the practical versus the improbable. But, that’s just the beginning.
These days, unless one is financially independent, one cannot lock oneself away in a garret, and just write. It sounds good, but now we are going back to thoughts of self indulgence. The reality is different, because - like it or not - people do not just buy books these days, they follow genres.
There are more books on the internet written by so called experts, telling you what and how to write, and more rules on how to describe your writing, than you can shake a stick at. Maybe we should all write a ‘How To Write’ book or two, it might fill the coffers more easily. But the simple truth is, no matter how we might dislike the idea, Amazon has taken over our lives, and tells us what and how to write. So, when I sit at my desktop computer of a morning, I am no longer in control of my story line, the characters I portray, nor my vocabulary, because, I now have to write with the consumer in mind, and of course, those ever necessary reviewers.
Most recently, concerning my current murder mystery, a reviewer stated that I used archaic or out of date English. Another confused me with a different writer altogether – whose protagonist rushes around hitting and shooting people – saying that my book was slow and unreadable. Placed within a catalogue of five star reviews, I wasn’t sure if these remarks either reflected me, or even the critic themselves. But, in the end, it was clearly Amazon who was at fault, and one more example of their tinkering with the world of literature. You see, for some reason they put this other writer on the same page as all my books, for their own commercial reasons, and they have no intention of altering their marketing strategy for me. I know, they said so!
In my most recent novel, I have steered away from murder mystery, and following a thread from Chekov, I have decided to write about the rain, and how it alters our lives, especially when it leads to flooding. People act differently in these circumstances, as many Americans well know from the recent Texas tragedy.
But my story is about Greece, where I now live, and the Greeks - their mores and prejudices - their values, and often their loneliness. The rain can change all that, but how can I explain this to Amazon. In fact, how would Anton Chekov have explained his writing to an Amazon audience, had he been alive today? But then again, he is so famous his name alone would be enough.
I suppose it is coffee which keeps me going. The sun may shine all day for me in Greece, and I have to find good reason to stay indoors and write. So I have become addicted to this awakening and essential brew, which keeps my mind alert, my imagination in full flight, and somehow stops all the clocks in the house. Even so, the world still goes on outside, debts have to be paid, friendships nurtured, and conversations need to occur where we speak of nothing in particular, and everything in general. This is called life, I suppose?
I get up from my desk, and look through the window. It is late Summer, and the pollen is choking the villagers. They sneeze and stumble past in the heat, to get their days' supplies from the air conditioned supermarket. As I watch them pass my house, I wonder why it is I write at all, considering what I have just written? But I know the answer. It is the answer we all give, the one which causes so much embarrassment and confusion, when we are casually asked why we write.
”I just have to write. If I don’t I become edgy and neurotic; anyway, I have to finish this story, I can’t just leave it, it won’t write itself!”
But in actual fact, it often does write itself. It is as though someones hand is guiding our fingers, as they rattle away on the computer keyboard, or the pen, as it scrawls across a school notebook. Perhaps it is Micky Spillane calling , or even Anton Chekov - who knows?

Saturday 2 September 2017

Princess Diana: Death by Popularity? - By Patrick Brigham

I am trying not to jump on the bandwagon, I know it is twenty years since Princess Diana’s death, and I am fully aware of the general emotion that people feel. But, questions do remain, and misunderstandings should be put to the test, despite the needs of the Royal Family, or the somewhat diminished British establishment.

Charles and Diana were both mutually exclusive, despite certain past traditions, which most people hoped had become obsolete when King Edward abdicated in 1936. That marriage is nobodies business – except for the two parties involved – is inviolate, and any moral ambiguities this might provoke in the minds of self opinionated onlookers, is totally irrelevant. The fact that both Diana and Prince Charles didn’t like each other, is not so unusual, nor divorce being the natural outcome.

What is clear, however, is how she was viewed by the general public, the unhealthy humiliation, and the constant intrusion by the gutter press. In the end, as Prince Harry recently said, it was the press itself – that may have caused the accident – and unquestionably profited by it, especially so, during the tradgic moments of her death. What kind of people are the press, and why do they still pursue public figures in this way, remains the main question? Why certain members of the press are not locked up in the Bastile, is another?

Even to this day, the British general public, and many in Europe too, look for people that they can connect with. Diana was one such person, and although she had a certain charisma and charm, I hardly think that a “Knightsbridge Nell” is a true reflection of British society, especially now or even then. But she was pretty, often witty, and added color to an inward looking and the somewhat androgynous British Royal Family.

Steeped in the past, managed by the government, silent and politically sterile, by the time of Charles’s wedding to Diana, they had become almost invisible. Diana placed them back into the limelight – in the then nascent Hello Magazine – and became a magnet, for an army of disreputable reporter’s and photographers from the gutter press.

You can’t have it both ways, can you? Well, there is such a thing as extent and degree. And it was this extent and degree which started to expose the intransigence in, not only the Blair administration, but the British establishment itself. What happened to having a quiet word with Rupert Murdock and the other Fleet Street tyrants in Canary Wharf – and the wild speculation which took place thereafter – is a matter for Mr. Blair to explain. But in my view, the answer has to be money. If you pay a photographer 30,000 GBP for one photo, what do you expect?

In a way, Diana had a love hate relationship with the British press, which she thought she could control. She used them when she felt the need to punish – not only HRH Charles, but others too – and also, to put herself in the forefront. Often seen in public with celebrities, she by then had gained a certain freedom – away from the protocols and the confines of the Royal Family – and used them to send messages; however innocently, to the press and others.

Clive James was one of her confidants, but he was also a kind of postman into the bargain. As were others, like Sir Elton John, who were so different from the “normal” chums of royalty, to be an embarrassment to them. The Royal Family had previously mixed with fossilized Aristo’s, and the usual brand of creepy royal watchers and sycophants, many of whom harbored a somewhat unhealthy and unrealistic view of royalty.

Sir Elton and friends, were just a step too far – certainly by then, for an aging Queen and Prince Philip – and were especially so, for the simple tastes of her husband. Prince Charles followed traditions – as most unimaginative people do when in need of inspiration – and was content to pursue the country life. One might also say that he enjoyed a life of self indulgence, which was particularly so concerning Camilla Parker-Bowles, whom he had adored for years. It was a bit like the story of Jack Sprat, except in reverse.

“Jack Sprat who could eat no fat,

His wife could eat no lean,

And so between them both, you see,

They licked the platter clean. ”

In the case of Charles and Diana, the marriage was not one of compatibility, and quite the opposite, because, she liked the bright city lights, and his entire interest lay in the countryside. Their marriage was probably doomed from day one – she the bright and witty party lover – and Charles; then becoming a prematurely aging old bore, they were by then permanently in conflict.

What is great, is that despite all the royal angst and their turbulent relationship, two great sons were born. By far eclipsing the other royals, they seem both to have inherited their mothers common touch. Easy to talk to, modern in their outlook, charitable, compassionate and concerned, they may be Diana’s true legacy to a Great Britain, which is presently looking extremely shaky in the shadow of Brexit, and an increasingly incompetent government.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

The Jewel of India 70 Years On - By Patrick Brigham

Beautiful Amritser

‘Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently, at God’s great Judgment Seat.’

Rudyard Kipling – The Ballad of East & West.

Seventy years on, and the great continent of India no longer has that taste of colonialism lingering on the palette, except for those very few who can still remember the events of August 15th 1947, and then most likely their palette is residing in a glass of water beside their bed.

When we recount the events of WW1; a bloodbath which involved far too many virtually ignored, un-remarked upon, and brave colonial soldiers, we forget that many came from the then Indian sub-continent. As the TV presenters serve up great swathes of nostalgia, much emphasis is put on the Western forces – Australians, South Africans, Canadians and New Zealanders – who died during the Great War. The hero’s of the Verdun and other horrific WW1 battle scenes, are always presented as being white and European, although this is far from the truth.

Mountbatten with Ghandi

Moving forward in time to the 17th August 1947, and on this 70th anniversary, we now see sepia films showing the final salutes of men and women – often in enormously baggy and dated military uniforms – who are wondering if leaving India is the right thing to do, and worrying about what life might have in store for them back in a war damaged Britain. A country that is also trying to re-emerge into an equally uncertain future, together with the rest of poor decimated Europe.

For over three hundred years Britain had been the policeman of India, what was soon to become the State of Pakistan and ultimately, an emerging Bangladesh. Did the politicians of the day eulogize over these brave and ignominiously forgotten Indian soldiers, who fought for a foreign mother country, some thirty years before? We shall never know it was all too long ago, but I doubt it!

Most of us see the post war years in rather theatrical terms, and in the shires and the home counties of England – especially in the 50s and 60s – one often came across slightly dotty relatives who talked incessantly about their time in India as being the best time of their life.

Surrounded in their new homes, by reminders of years spent on the equator – the pith helmets, the Indian swords and engraved matchlocks – the many sided tables with ivory, and mother of pearl marquetry, would often support a well brewed cup of Darjeeling tea. Then there were the photographs of ferocious looking Colonels – their foot on the head of an equally ferocious looking, but somewhat dead tiger – at a family get-together, where as a child I was introduced to the wonders of cold curry, tales of the Berkshire Regiment, and the redoubtable Uncle John.

Back then, in the sometimes jaded reality of back street Brighton, in a world of seaside boarding houses – the subject of plays by Terrence Rattigan or John Osborne – the fifties and sixties seemed to be populated by hopeless people; old majors or retired district commissioners, all of whom found it difficult to adapt to their new home environment. Dear old Col. Hillary Hook couldn’t even boil an egg boil a kettle, let alone switch on a light.

Often born to parents who had lived all their lives in India, there were families who’d lived and survived there, for generations. Lives, occasionally interspersed with the odd visit to an English public school, the very occasional university, or generally to Sandhurst, it was then back to India to work in some colonial capacity.

In their minds eye, India came to be as much theirs as the indigenous population itself, because British blood had been spilt on the ground of this their chosen home, and as simple as that.

But they were also obnoxious, they were snobs, they were xenophobic, and they were unquestionably spoilt by their Indian hosts, and nevertheless – even to this day – they remain severely misunderstood.

Emanating from the newly found and emerging middle classes of the early nineteenth century, the sons and daughters of successful traders and manufacturers, these newly found colonialists, had often been precluded from gentile society in their British homeland – trade was a nasty word up until the 1950’s – and India proved to be the perfect alternative.

Surrounded by the trappings of wealth, the Maharajas paid lip service to their so called protectors, but they too indulged in the imported social snobbery, and anglicised their views, often by adopting the public school, and elitist attitudes of their colonial cousins, into the bargain. Eton, Harrow, and smart Indian Regiments were all the rage, and a kind of effete Indian aristocracy emerged on the racecourses of Ascot and Epsom and the polo-grounds of Hurlingham and Windsor; but not for long. By going forward in time, once more, we now know why.

The scratched and distressed sepia films show the lines of people, but not their thoughts. Tears and smiles must have mingled with nostalgia, and although some were sorry that they were leaving, others were not. Gandhi’s salt march had done the trick, Mountbatten had handed India back with as much dignity as he could muster and India was left to denude its own reality, and make the railways run on time.

Back in the UK sports masters were called Major this, the school bursar was called Colonel that, and the grounds man was called Sergeant something or other too, which was certainly the case when I first went to school.

As I write in the present day, I can still recall my aging aunts and uncles, small carved ivory elephants in glass cases, the aroma and sounds of an India still lingering in a photograph album, and a nameless dog, obediently sitting on the veranda of some long forgotten bungalow. And, although the shadow of this much loved past still hides behind the glossy brochure of a new modern and thriving India, I am afraid, that what I remember really doesn’t matter anymore.

Gandhi with Tagore

Today the talk is of computer technology, and India’s high profile nuclear tests, none of which are approved of by the great powers. Now medium range rockets wobble on their launching pads and die – with disappointed looks from ambitious Indian onlookers – and young Indians, once the scourge of immigration officers in the UK, are now the invited guests of a burgeoning electronics industry; short of manpower.

No longer destined for the sweat shops of Huddersfield or Leeds, nor selling assorted silks from a market stall in Brick Lane or Southall, these young Indians now represent a new well educated middle class, destined for the wine bars of Dover Street and trendy Covent Garden. Oh, how the world has changed.

We find the India of today simultaneously seething with the extremes of poverty and great wealth, with – one must admit – a strong European demeanour. Gone are the cliches of the past – the Star of India Restaurant and the Bombay Brasserie, are now in the Michelin Guide – and pandering to the spoilt, the overpaid, and the trenchermen of a high cholesterol multicultural London.

Most of us have completely forgotten how it all began, although during recent time spent in India, I met many who were happy to attest to an amicable colonial past. But how did young Indians feel about their most recent past? Well, they seemed to have forgotten about it too!

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Brexit and The Dreyfus Syndrome - By Patrick Brigham

At the turn of the 20th Century, much of France was in turmoil. In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French army officer, had been found guilty of treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment, on the notorious Devils Island. A well known story, which revealed rampant Anti-Semitism within both the ranks of the French army, and generally within French society, it was cause to divide whole families.

Those for and against Dreyfus were often at loggerheads, as they took sides within their own family groups, and French society was split down the middle. Often provoking violence, and inevitably causing public angst, in the end Dreyfus was exonerated of all charges in 1906, and continued to serve in the French army, retiring with the rank of Colonel. But what has this got to do with Brexit?

Before the referendum, Great Britain was a fairly homogeneous country, although divided by the haves and have nots, most families followed traditional party lines. Especially the Tory shopkeepers and the professions, who would rather cut their ears off, than to take any political side roads, and vote against their tribal customs. Because, Brexit was not just a political choice as such, but more a question of ageism.

Whilst cotton top politicians espoused the wonders of leaving the EU, most of the younger generation disagreed with them. Described as promoting a better future for the UK and for future generations – by which time the majority of the Brexiteers would be dead in any case – the young people; who they claimed they represented, heartily disagreed with them.

Although the referendum in its initial stages encouraged lively debate, many families became split down the middle, as the frequently unreliable, and wildly inaccurate rhetoric was bandied about. When the referendum was complete, and the 4% leave margin established, these family arguments continued. Especially during the most recent General Election, when the Tory mandate was finally declared. Because, despite May’s promise for a fairer society, there was little real evidence to support this proclamation, even in the Queens Speech.

Young people are not fools, quite the opposite, and with eons of political and economic information on the web, in the recent election, they very cleverly made up their own minds about how caring Mrs Mays team really was. Having practically lost the election, and with the Tory party in disarray, very few British youngsters believed that the tedious mantra, “The best possible deal,” meant anything at all.

And they are not the only ones who think that Mays team are a bunch of losers, because so do the Scottish Nationalists, UKIP, and New Labour – granted not all for the same reasons – and in particular, the European Union itself. But, why does this divide continue when we are told it is all so final? Well, you will have had to have gone to the Glastonbuty Festival 2017, to find out.

Is it that there are too many immigrants in the UK picking strawberries? No, it is about well educated EU professionals, taking skilled UK jobs, because there is no other commercial choice. In most of the EU, education at all levels, is free. So, is it any wonder that British youngsters view the student loan system as obnoxious, and unnecessary? How would you like to be lumbered with a 50,000 GBP debt, for the rest of your life – on top of a mortgage that is – and why on earth would any government wish that on today's eighteen year olds?

Any eighteen year old student, fortunate enough to be studying Economics and Politics, will tell you that both subjects are not an exact science. Clearly a matter of fact at the present time, and as Dreyfus was once pilloried by French society with families divided by prejudice, so the pendulum swings on the subject of Brexit, towards the middle ground and amicable consensus.

Will the neo-colonialists and traditionalists accept a compromise, or will they hark back to the 18th century and Great Britain's place in the world? And, will they stop telling everybody what is good for them, when it is clearly not! Will we see a change of direction, when the present team retires, and a new political group emerges from the scorched remains of David Camerons famous referendum, or can we rely on good old British common sense to find a way?

Saturday 17 June 2017

A New Beginning for Brexit? - By Patrick Brigham

Emmanuel Macron President of France

France is not famous for having tall presidents – with the exception of General De Gaulle that is – but in terms of height, Emmanuel Macron certainly towers over the last three, particularly in popularity. As the result of beating Marin Du Pen by some two thirds majority, in the recent election, considering that he did so with an independent mandate, might well underline Europes fear of right wing extremism as well as its past oscillation, between the right and the left. By securing the middle ground, perhaps we are now seeing a Blairite reawakening in European politics?

By ignoring the boring and stale views of traditional political parties, stigma infested clich├ęs, rampant popularism, bewildering and unworkable manifestos – presently being banded around by British politicians – is it any wonder that the EU itself, is now looking for a new view on Europe? Seeming to ally himself with free thinking politico’s, as well as good old common sense, perhaps we can now look to Macron, France and Germany, for some new ideas in the future?

It is hard to imagine the UK; now looking across the Atlantic at its oft declared special relationship, seeking any new ideas from the US, since the Trump camp is now exclusively backing a closed economy, and which it can easily afford to do. Britain, on the other hand, might have big ideas about the wonders of Brexit and the Commonwealth, but it simply cannot exist without a strong position in Europe. That cannot be described as a win win situation, because, on the contrary, Mays – getting a good deal for the UK – can never be as good as the one it already has. Macron stated his position some months before the French election, indicating that he will not allow the British Government an easy Brexit passage, and he shows no signs of changing his views.

As an Englishman abroad, I find it easy to discern the difference between internal British propaganda, and the views of Europe, despite a dogged attempt by the British news media to bang the drum of nationalism. Because, that is how Brexit is now conceived in the UK press. The churlishness and deceit of the right wing press – discounting the 48% of voters who chose to remain in the EU – and the rotten means they used to sway the miniscule 2% of the British population in voting leave, defies all definitions of honesty and integrity.

Waffling Trump in Action

And now – if you have been unwise enough to admit voting to remain – certain groups will, unbelievably, brand you as a traitor. Well, George Orwell had this situation summed up in in his book 1984, and to some extent in Animal Farm! In the new era of ‘Alternative Facts,’ must we commend politicians for their bare faced lies? Is that all Donald Trump has done for the world?

According to the Observer newspaper, on the 25th January last – ‘People were already comparing the Trump era to George Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984, but all it took was one comment from Kellyanne Conway to send the books flying off the shelves. In the wake of her use of the phrase “alternative facts” to refer to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comments about Donald Trump’s inauguration attracting “the largest audience ever,” the book surged to #6 on Amazon’s Bestseller list, reached #2 Tuesday night and took the #1 spot by Wednesday morning.’
President Macron and First Lady Briggite Macron

There is a certain air of superiority in Europe, which I admire greatly. They do not fall for the vulgar and brash, or the bone crunching handshakes of Donald Trump, nor do they appreciate the fool he has made of himself, at the G7 Conference?

I suppose internally, the US either doesn’t see, or understand the amused contempt Europe has for America’s new jackass president. But then again, neither does Trump have much time for Europe. Why? Because he does not understand it, nor could he care less about it. Displaying a degree of ignorance, unprecedented in modern times, he reflects the post WW2 view of US servicemen in the UK, that – ‘They are overpaid, and over here!’

Thursday 18 May 2017

Food for Oil – By Patrick Brigham .

It was 2004, and Kevin Irrawaddi Patel gazed despondently at the newspaper account of Saddam Hussein’s famous List of Largess, or Barrelgate as it had become known. Noticing how absurdly his name had been placed next to that of Mr. George Galloway - the ex New Labour MP – some Bulgarian professor, and half the government ministers of the Russian Federation, he was considerably baffled.

As he stared at an account of the billions of barrels of crude oil Russia had received for the Iraqi Oil for Food Program, his own published score of one single barrel seemed woefully insignificant. Astonished at the vast amounts of crude oil given to these other individuals – and for enormously spurious reasons - he sat in his Peckham corner-shop, trying to make sense of this dramatic life changing event. For what was, after all, a seemingly casual event that had taken place two years previously, his somewhat dubious place in history, had now been assured. But what had actually happened?

It had been a wet Wednesday, in the autumn of 2002, and he remembered it well. Accustomed as he was to visits by all the nutters in Avondale Rise, it was no surprise to him to see a burly Arab looking man entering his shop, lugging a large metal barrel.

“What you got there mate,” said Kevin in his typical South London Bombay accent, whilst viewing the shiny barrel with some suspicion.

The man glared at him as if Kevin was a total tosser - “I’ve brought you some oil,” said the windswept and dripping man, as he took off his beret, and shook off the rain.

“Do you mind,” said Kevin, “You will make the floor wet!”

The dark haired man fixed him with an icy stare - “Well, where do you want it, then?” His gruff voice made it sound less like a question, and than an order.

How odd, thought Kevin, he seems to be wearing some sort of uniform under his mackintosh - “If it is for the Greek chippy,” he said, pointing through the door, “It's in the next street, you should ask for Stavros.”

But by now, the man's demeanour had become even more threatening - “It's not that kind of oil, you Indian git,” the stranger said.

His penetrating eyes now seemed more familiar to Kevin, and he instinctively backed into the Mars Bar and Twix rack, which was immediately behind him, causing three boxes of Smarties to simultaneously hit the floor. Bursting open as he mistakenly trod on them, the contents scattered, leaving them to rattle around the shop like multi coloured ball bearings, as they went flying.

“You look like that Iraqi bloke Saddam what’s-his-name,” Kevin’s face gleamed with nervous self-satisfaction, as he demonstrated his considerable knowledge of world events.

But the man showed not signs of response - “This is Iraqi Heavy,” the man said stiffly, “I have brought it to Peckham on the UN Food for Oil Program. So, don’t mess me about, or I will get really annoyed.”

Kevin searched his mind for some connection between the humdrum existence, he experienced, in the nether regions of Avonmore Rise, and this man's last remark. Finally, his face lit up.

“Is that the cooking program on ITV with Marco Pierre White? You know, the chef who gets pissed in the kitchen, and finally thumps one of the waiters? Wicked.”

At this Saddam – whose age was estimated at between 35 and 140 years – and shouting with consummate rage, banged his fist on the counter.

“Listen to me, you Indian wally, I am extremely hungry. So stop pissing around will you, and give me some food, or I will go get some WMD, and give you a bit of really serious grief.”

Not wishing to aggravate this newly discovered Middle-Eastern nutter more than absolutely necessary, Kevin wisely did not ask the question, which now lay dormant on his lips.

Was WMD an acronym for something he had once heard on the news, or was it Magic Roundabout? Perhaps it stood for William Morris Designs, or even Waitrose Marketing Department; he was unsure. But, his silence probably saved his life.

“What’s that barrel worth, then mate?” Kevin’s mind raced as finally the fear of the moment gripped him. Realizing his imminent danger, his only thought was how he might get rid of this obviously deranged and obnoxious man. The Police were no good, and would probably turn up the following week, and granny Patel was deaf, so there was no point in shouting up the stairs. So he decided he had better comply with the nutters demands.

“Twenty five dollars US,” was the curt reply “Which does not include delivery, because this week it is on a free offer. So make up your mind quickly!”

Kevin didn’t know much about dollars, or even euros for that matter, and although the occasional rupee had passed hands in his shop, he doubted whether that nice Mr. Bush or any other American would ever visit Peckham.

Anyway, according to the newspapers – of which he had hundreds for sale, but rarely read – Mr. Bush probably thought that Peckham was a suburb of Peking, and Iraq an island off the coast of Cuba. Nevertheless, it was obvious he would have to give this man something, or he would never go away.

“Well,” said Kevin, “ I have thought about it very carefully, sir, and I am prepared to give you a bag of cheese and onion crisps, some frozen sausage rolls, a box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, and a bag of King Edwards. But, that's the best I can do for you I am afraid!”

Saddam glared at him and spluttered “What? You bastard! Last night I got the full monty for my other barrel, from the Star on India in Westbourne Grove, and they gave me extra chutney as well. So you had better watch it, you insignificant Indian twat!”

Furious, Saddam grabbed the cheese and onion crisps, the frozen sausage rolls, the spuds, and the box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, and stormed out of the shop. As he did so, he slammed the door so hard, that everything in the shop wobbled, leaving Kevin baffled and perplexed. Contemplating what to do with the shiny barrel of oil, which now stood next to the counter, his problem seemed insurmountable.

It was February 2004, and the barrel continued to sit unmoved, in the corner of the shop, but it was now used to support a rack displaying assorted dog food. Fido, the Finest Food for your Pet, it announced, with a further big sign saying Special Offer. The sign on the barrel simply said Iraqi Oil for Sale, and nothing else. But, alas, nobody was much interested in either commodity, because, there were very few dogs living in Avonmore Road, and the nearest oil refinery was in Depford. After he reported the incident to the local community watch, a number of days passed, before the visits began.

First to appear was a funny sort of policeman, with a red nose, a plumy accent, and wearing a scruffy green Barbour jacket. He demanded to know the whole story from Kevin, or else he would have to go down to the local Police Station for a thorough grilling. So Kevin blurted out the whole story, confirming even the most insignificant details.

“Yes, I think that must have been him after all,” the red nosed man said, leaving a business card stating that he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. After him, it was the press.

Second to appear was a reporter from the Peckham Gazette, who entered the shop with some apprehension, knowing some of the basic truths behind the Food for Oil report. But his interest was of a local nature, and it was Kevin who was now in the limelight!

“What did he look like Kev?” Sidney Nodes knew how to keep his reading public entertained.

“He was some geezer, but a bit of a Muppet, really,” Kevins mind casually harped back to his strange encounter. “He kept going on about extra chutney at the Star of India, for some reason, and something about WMD, whatever that is?”

Having heard the food for oil deal Kevin had been forced to comply with, Sidney Nodes asked for a bag of cheese and onion crisps, in order somehow to feel closer to this bizarre incident, and – foregoing the Cadbury’s chocolate fingers – a packet of Silk Cut cigarettes.

Lighting his first smoke of the day, Sidney Nodes mused – “Evan that nice Mr. Bush and Tony Blair don’t seem to know much about WMD either, according to the telly!”

The next day, the headlines in the Peckham Gazette announced – ‘Saddam Demands Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers.’

Sidney Nodes knew that it was not very accurate, but that was the general condition of journalism at the time. The dailies didn’t say much either, being too busy Blair- bashing, so Kevin Irrawaddi Patel finally sank back once more, into obscurity.

Sidney Nodes wrote one more follow up story, for the Peckham Gazette, when Kevin Patel decided to change his image a bit, by renaming his shop. The new sign now proclaimed that it was, The Patel Emporium – Purveyors of Fine Food & Wines to World Leaders.

That weekend, Sidney Node's newspaper headlines announced – ‘Patel Emporium Peckham, runs out of cheese and onion crisps,’ and quite frankly, Kevin Patel has never really looked back!

Monday 15 May 2017

When Irish Eyes are Smiling – By Patrick Brigham

Michel Barnier Chief EU Brexit Negociator & Guess Who?

This is probably the most cogent and descriptive photograph taken during Michel Barnier’s epic address to the Dublin parliament. It makes it clear that, however well intentioned he may be, the ghosts from the recent past are ever present in the Irish Republic, and still mean business.

To put himself in this position, was a remarkable piece of EU chutzpah, and by claiming that the EU would stand behind the Republic of Ireland, during these Brexit negotiations, was to hit the very weak spot that Theresa May and David Davis were hoping to sidestep. Putting the Irish position at the forefront of the proposed Brexit pull out, was not an idle threat, but a very real EU spanner in the works for the British Government to contend with.

Ireland, protected by the huge and powerful EU, sent a strong message to a waffling and incoherent British Government in London. With their absurd claims of getting a better deal, and hiding behind the usual smokescreen of establishment figures, political nonentities, and grinning Brexit opportunists, this has, once more, put the whole question of Irish reunification back on the table.

While the Brexiteers were regaling the British public with their wild and flippant rhetoric – claiming all sorts of wonderful changes, most of which will fade away over the next two years or be denied altogether – did any of them actually consider the possibility of a breakup of the United Kingdom, and that it might encourage parts of the UK to take a positive step towards a federated Europe?

Banksie in Action

Did these entitled politico’s actually believe, that there would never be a downside to their vote inducing antics? And, did it ever occur to them that – prompted by purely economic reasons – that even the most disenfranchised in the North of Ireland might prefer Irish unification, rather than some half baked, unworkable, retrogressive customs and passport control checkpoint, on the border between the two – soon to be – separated parts of Ireland.

One persons democracy, might well be another’s Bedlam. So, it follows that – other than Little England, and Wales – Britains immediate EU neighbour of EIRE, was also none too pleased. With English voters incipient madness, and Scotland and Northern Ireland not wanting out of the EU – by some a significant margin of votes – once more, the Brits completely misread the Irish position.

Nor, in turn, did the EU itself, and for that matter, neither did other EU members – or even potential EU members – begin to understand the UK position. So, despite all the handshakes and photo opportunities, clearly Messers May and Davis, PLC, are in for a hard time. But what is happening from inside the UK itself, and how is the media coping with the withering storm?

No love lost there

I am so lucky to live in Greece, to view world events through a clear pane of glass, and not through the prism of the British press, because right wing views are beginning to distort the Brexit debate altogether. It now appears, that many of the right of centre groups are beginning to view any Brexit decent as a form of national betrayal. It further seems that a particular category of Middle English, middle class extremists, are attempting to motivate dissenters from the middle ground, to get behind the Tories in the forthcoming June 8th Election, by calling them traitors!

Although there is little doubt that Theresa May will enjoy a landslide victory, as I sit this quiet Sunday in the birthplace of democracy, I do wonder how far right is right? As I cling to the arms of my front row seat, watching the boxers weigh up before the fight, I can’t help noticing how right wing politicians in Europe, have recently done rather badly in certain elections, and that the victors remain unashamedly pro Europe and the EU.

Perhaps it is time for these inward looking and self congratulating British right wing extremists, to stop thinking of Ireland as a vegetable patch, or a cheap labour market for navvy’s, and to wonder why it is that half the banks in the City of London are likely to relocate to Dublin, where the Celtic Tigre – with its legendary computer skills – is ready to pounce!

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Once I Met Ahmed Chalabi - By Patrick Brigham

Chalabi: A Great Opportunist & Escapologist

It has been the source of great wonderment, that I should ever have met Ahmed Chalabi. Ever since his death in November 2015, little has been said about him, and probably never will. But he was instrumental in convincing both President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction – or WMD’s as they became known – and that he was prepared to use these weapons, despite careful inspection by Hans Blix. Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verifications and Inspection Commission – and previously head of the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA – he was a very distinguished and highly respected Swedish diplomat.

Warriors for Peace

It seemed that Blix’s findings were not what Bush or Blair wanted to hear, nor the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Although Blix admonished Saddam Hussein for playing a cat and mouse game, and warned Iraq of serious consequences, if it attempted to hinder or delay his mission, in his report to the UN Security Council on 14 February 2003, Blix clearly stated that –

“So far, UNMOVIC has not found any weapons of mass destruction, only a small number of empty chemical munitions.” In 2004, Blix made a further statement that – “There have been about 700 inspections, and in no case, did we find weapons of mass destruction.”

Chalabi & Colin Powell

I will never forget watching Colin Powell at the UN, stating quite clearly, that the CIA was sure that Saddam had hidden his WMD’s in underground secret trailers – drawings provided – and I knew then, that he was lying. But, it ultimately and finally convinced both the Bush administration; together with the UK, to go to war.

In 1992, an umbrella organisation was founded by the US Government, to overthrow Saddam. Called the Iraqi National Congress – or INC – it was a name chosen by an American PR specialist, a name which resonated with groups such as the Indian National Congress and the African National Congress. All it needed was a leader, with the charisma of Gandhi or Mandela, but what it got was Ahmed Chalabi.

At the time he was facing charges of allegedly embezzling money from the Petra Bank in Jordan, a bank which he had helped to establish. Nevertheless, he came from Iraq’s majority Shia population, and was very westernised. Destined – at one time – to be the new Iraq’s first President, he was capable of saying almost anything, to oust Saddam from power, a man he truly hated.

Chalabi had lived on and off in the UK for some time, finally leaving Iraq with his family in 1958, following the 14 July Revolution. Spending his formative years abroad, he was educated firstly at Baghdad College, and finally Seaford College in Sussex – in the south of England – before leaving for America. But where do I come in?

The Green Man Putney Hill

It was 1991, and living at the time in St Johns Avenue, Putney – South West London – one of my occasional haunts was a pub called The Green Man. A convivial place, it was and still is one of those London pubs where you can chat with almost anyone. One evening I noticed a foreign looking man, sitting by the bar, who stood out from the rest. Partly because he was wearing a peaked cap – reminiscent of Lenin – and wire framed spectacles, he looked like an early 20th Century revolutionary.

The man said he was staying with his father at Ross Court, on Putney Hill. We introduced ourselves, told me to call him Ali, and so the usual questions followed about what we did and where we worked.

He quite openly stated that up until recently, he had been working as a banker in Jordan, and in turn I told him about a project I had in mind in Bulgaria. I had heard recently that some builders from Kent had been very successful in Moscow, renting run down flats and houses, renovating them to a high standard, and then re-letting them for premium rents, to western companies and their managers.

Not knowing Bulgaria as I do now, but with many western companies moving into Eastern Europe, I had no reason to suspect that Sofia would be any different. Consequently, I had organized a cash flow spreadsheet, which made my proposals look very inviting. As a banker, Chalabi understand these figures very well, and he told me that he could help with finance, should there be a need.

He clearly knew Eastern Europe, and spoke as though he had been to Bulgaria in the past, and so I enlisted the help of an English friend, who was a civil engineer who worked at the time, for a Kuwaiti company in London. He also spoke a little Arabic – because in the past, he had served in the British Army – and so it seemed that there was a possible company in the offing.

Chalabi with Rumsfold

Days passed before our arranged meeting, but meanwhile one day Chalabi introduced me to his father Abdul Hadi Chalabi. A very distinguished looking man, sporting a well trimmed and virtually white beard, he seemed to have all the airs of a country gentleman. Dressed in a Prince of Wales gray suit and waistcoat, I never met him again, but later in Sofia, I did come across his photograph.

It was presented to me by an alleged Iraqi dissident in Sofia, called Ahmed Taleb, who said it was a picture of his father. I knew that wasn’t true, and surely it didn’t come from the Iraqi Embassy? After all, if it had, it implied he was still one of Saddams boys; so I let it go!

I had known the Civil Engineer for some time, due to a land deal we had put together -opposite the Houses of Parliament – on behalf of his Kuwaiti employers. A few days later we turned up to meet Chalabi, to discuss some of the finer details of this project. Especially so concerning financial structuring, because most Bulgarian banks at the time were practically bankrupt, and finance was an important item.

We had only been there a few minutes, when Ahmed Chalabi suddenly got up, without a word, leaving his drink untouched, and was never seen by us again. What had spooked him, can be any bodies guess, maybe it was my friends bearing, maybe it was my amazing personality, but as far as he was concerned, it was a sudden and dramatic end.

I went on to live and work in Bulgaria, but my scheme never came to fruition. Bulgarians found my re-letting programme to be almost an infamy. It seemed to them, at the time, for a foreigner to be allowed to make a profit, or succeed at anything at all in Bulgaria, was against all natural justice.

Many of my contemporaries also found this to be the case, often learning the hard way. As did the Kent Builders in Moscow. One day they had a visit from some black suits, did a deal which they couldn’t refuse, and swiftly returned to the pleasant surrounds of Kent.

Something for A Quiet Time- by Patrick Brigham

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