17 January 2016

Woke up this morning....

Irreverence!  Irrevenance!

I have to make a resolute disclaimer! When I woke up this morning, and emerged from the pile of sleeping badgers I had collected to keep me from freezing, I found that somehow my Blog account had been hacked, and some backwoodsman had sneaked in a scurrilous piece about that most irreligious of arabs, Al Cohol.

So, I protest, the words you may have read in the last piece, entitled The Moon Under Water, were by an imposter, parading irreverent ideas in the guise of my well-established and (I trust) respected persona....

And I can prove this.  I have for some time been sleeping rough in Brocket Park, working, under extreme conditions as you can see, with famed director Alejandro G. Iñárritu on a follow up to his recent film The Revenant (described by Carole Cadwalladr this morning in The Observer as meaningless pain porn)..... 

This new work will be called Irreverence, and stars me, and an extremely large supporting cast of badgers, who are on the run from a posse of government hitmen who have been hired by Lord Brocket to stop them digging up his golf course.....

I can say no more at present, as the project is cloaked in secrecy, largely to preserve its integrity, though possibly also to stop Lord Brocket trying to get a part as an extra....

Anyway, disregard the last post.  It wasn't me.


(That's me in the distance..... just about to punch Leonardo di Caprio on the nose.... He was going to eat one of my badger's livers....)

Woke up this morning
You got yourself a gun

16 January 2016

The Moon Under Water

There are many good reasons for drinking, and one has just entered my head.....

According to my GP I have a 13% chance of dying from stroke or heart-related disease within the next 10 years.  Or at least that was what he told me last time I saw him….  I wonder if the NHS computer programme that throws out this invaluable calculation will have been ‘doctored’ since the latest guidelines on the consumption of alcohol were published?

What my GP didn’t say (he’s not stupid…) was that there is a 100% chance that I will be dead in the future, and that I will certainly die from something. 

For want of a better role model, I heard that David Hockney’s favourite joke, apparently, goes like this.  A person (note the gender neutrality appropriate to recent government guidance) goes to the doctor.  Patient says, “I would like to live for ever.”  Doctor asks if patient smokes and/or drinks?  Patient acknowledges such vices.  Doctor advises stopping smoking and drinking.  Patient asks, “Will I then live for ever?”  Doctor replies, “No but it will certainly seem like it…..”

Boom! Boom!

Presumably the Government waited until after the mega-binge of Christmas and New Year to offer their latest help to individuals who needed encouragement to enter a dry January.  The fact that currently an average of 29 pubs per week are calling permanent closing time will mean nothing to the mandarins who wish (understandably, I admit) to protect public health, but perhaps this should.  At a time when many (and I do not mean just UKIP and the National Front) wonder where the United Kingdom is heading, the Government might be advised to read George Orwell’s Saturday Essay on February 9th 1946 in the Evening Standard, The Moon Under Water, to understand why Britain was once Great?

I am indebted to Olivia Laing, who contributed an excellent article to last Sunday’s Observer, entitled, Try to Imagine a Britain without drink…..   Olivia reminded me of the imaginary Orwellian pub, a small and cheerful utopia, The Moon Under Water (now a name appropriated by Wetherspoons). 

Before you interrupt, I do not wish to disappear the dangers of alcohol under a sprinkling of biohazard body fluid spill disposal powder (there are avoidable dangers in excess, just as it is understood that it is best to avoid placing oneself in the path of an oncoming train, whatever the weather.....) But, dear temperance movement member with your annoying tambourine, is it necessary to eliminate everything that might be harmful to the human bean?  And if so, would it not make sense to draw up a chart, in rank order, of all the risks we face, and list them with their respective pros and cons? Where would sugar be?  Would cigarettes still be on sale?  Should we really be allowed to drive two tonne vehicles while talking (even without a mobile phone)?

I had a workmate once, by the name of Roy Hattersley (no relation) who was a big man.  Huge.  Over a breakfast, in a certain Sheffield steel works, of a plate of everything fried you could imagine, with bread and dripping on the side, a mug of tea and a pint of milk, he warned me that there was one thing that was bad for you, which the doctors would not acknowledge, and that was…..  WORK!

It’s a commonplace that people resist advice, and that they persist with habits which may well be bad for them.  But suppose the average man in the UK had been following government guidelines up to now.  21 units a week, was it?  And now it is 14 (pace, ladies, whatever the logic, gender equality is forced upon us.)  So a pint-a-day goes down to a pint-a-day for only five days a week.   And supposing it takes maybe half an hour to delicately ingest a pint of English ale.  And supposing it takes an average of fifteen minutes each way from home to pub.  (a) What is your man supposed to do for the rest of the evening?  Sit on the sofa watching crap TV?  Read War and Peace?  And (b) What social intrigues will have developed in the public house during that invaluable pint-sipping half hour, assuming it was coordinated with anyone your man actually knew or recognised?

Or is the idea that instead of drinking foul yeast-inflamed hop-water, the rest of a convivial evening is spent sipping sugar-filled ‘soft’ drinks (I cannot help the connotation with ‘soft’ porn….)?

Some of the pictures published herewith were taken in Brussels, the hot-bed of coca-cola quaffing Daesh sympathisers.  My favourite bar, even maybe the best bar in the world (pace, Eric Blair), is called Sudden Death (A la Mort Subite) where, in the aftermath of Jacques Brel, you can sit and sip lambic beer staunched by une omelette fines herbes avec pain et beurre.  

If I am to die, one day, I feel I would perhaps prefer to be gunned down here by a (radicalised) Islamic fundamentalist, with a glass in my hand, than suffer a lingering, boring, suffocating death at the hand of a (radicalisedNanny State whose principles are driven by the unintelligent, unimaginative (and uneconomic) use of dubious statistics…..

Half a life-time ago I lived in a northern village.  Sometimes I would walk to another village and sample a plate of fried whitebait, accompanied by a pint of something beerish.  After my field-crossing walk I would enjoy the toasty warmth of a fire in the public house’s hearth.  And I would not be the only one.  Others, escaping the chill and boredom of their empty homes, would be huddled there, nursing a glass of succour, passing the time, and, perhaps, overhearing the voices of other human beings, rather than the piped voice of the Government through the speakers at ‘home’ (not unlike something in 1984...)

George Orwell knew a thing or two.  Yes, the National Health Service failed him on essential treatment for tuberculosis, but he could see the life-enhancing social worth of the public house, even though it was only a dream, even then.... 

The moon may be under water, but, with careful management, the exchequer’s bills for health and social care could be significantly reduced if Nanny let her hair down a bit and preserved the Public House, with its associated comforts of tongue-loosening, sleep-inducing malt liquor.

As I remember from when pubs were pubs (ie Public Houses), and laughter was an innocent by-product of fermented malt:

There are many good reasons for drinking,
And one has just entered my head,
If a man can’t drink when he’s living,
How the hell can he drink when he’s dead?

11 January 2016

To everything there is a season


In a few days I will mark the passing of sixty-five years. Too much, perhaps? Too little, maybe?  Who’s to say?  (David, I’ll catch you soon….)


I have recently rediscovered a vinyl recording of Beethoven’s so-called Spring Sonata, recorded in 1973 by Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel BarenboimIt is daisy fresh, and after a five mile walk (from the M1 through the genetic minefields of Rothamsted  Research) in this morning’s sunshine my senescence seems a thing of the past…..

This winter, so far, has only been dark, and wet. In Hertfordshire, we have been spared the cold, so far at least. It may yet be to come. We have had snows here in late spring before, so nothing can be taken for granted, but as Janus looks over his shoulder I reflect on the seasons.

With the shortest day now well behind us, and the days already noticeably longer, it is easy, this year, to think that spring is icumen in, to distort the song…. Daffodils have bloomed in Russell Square, and the bluebells are sprouting in Heartwood Forest, but forget all that. Climate change may be happening, under our noses, but we still have seasons, and, in this country at least, there are four.

Music and poetry have long celebrated the seasons, with Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni being the most recorded example (perhaps as many as a thousand different versions…)  Each of the four concertos is closely related to a sonnet, possibly written by Vivaldi himself.  The Largo of Winter, for example, is based on the words:  

Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento

[Relax quietly and contentedly by the fire
While all those outside are drenched with rain]


The beauty of the seasons lies in the changes. As Winter gives way to Spring,

Giunt' è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl' Augei con lieto canto

[Springtime arrives and to celebrate
The birds salute it with cheerful song]

Change is essential; without it we might as well be cardboard. To stay the same is to stand still; to move forward is to change. As the preacher tells us (Ecclesiastes Chapter 3)

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant,

and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

And so Spring rolls into Summer, as flowers bloom and fade, and the fields turn from seething green, 

to dusty gold, 

and then to close-cut stubble….

And before we know it, the days begin to shorten, and the leaves begin to turn.  

L' aria che temperata dà piacere,
E la Staggion ch' invita tanti e tanti
D' un dolcissimo Sonno al bel godere

[The mild air is pleasing
And the season invites all
To gentle and easy sleep]

And slowly we climb the dark hill to winter again, as the leaves and fruit fall, 

and the bare trees stare at the clouds.  

A time to be born, and a time to die;

Where would we be without these changes?  What inspiration would life give us?  But as time passes, so we age, and wither, and find our rest….

Turn and face the strange
Pretty soon now you're gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time

David Bowie
(8th January 1947 – 10th January 2016)

I play again my Beethoven Spring Sonata. Somehow the music lives and continues to live. Ever sprightly, Spring will come again...


A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;