THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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December 2006
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January 2007

Who is Not Saussure? Blogpower Testimonial 7

Link: Not Saussure.

Not Saussure is a newish blog (est. August 2006) and I could have read the posts from beginning to date quite quickly. I didn't, because I became intrigued. Like most people, when I enjoy someone's writing, I tend to become curious about the person behind it. There is no "About" page with the usual jokey self-description to avert suspicions of barminess. The blogger's Technorati Profile serves the same purpose while giving nothing much away. I would guess we are dealing with an academic of some kind, who is older than the average blogger. By the time I had completed my researches, I knew more about the blogger's mother. She is a character, it seems. She also needs to be bought some better wine, for her favourite tipple was memorably dismissed by a French friend of mine with the words "I piss better than that."

Is the blogger the author of the crisply-titled book "Not Saussure (Language, Discourse, Society)", retired Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester, Raymond Tallis? Or a former student or other fan? Much as I hope to the contrary, I suspect Professor Tallis's mum is not alive to drink Pouilly Fumé. Is the reticence deliberate? Perhaps the blogger is in some sensitive political job and I should stop speculating before I cause a problem? Probably not. The blog's subject matter is similar to the fare at the Last Ditch, albeit from a more conventionally conservative, anti-American, anti-War on Terror point of view.

There is no sign of the sort of warped thinking that almost inevitably results from economic dependence on the State. Disaffected bloggers of all political persuasions are pretty much united in contempt for the "sound bite" culture of the political lightweights who lead our government (and Her Majesty's Opposition). Maybe Not Saussure is just trying to set a higher tone of political discourse?

Everyone who blogs, blogs for a reason. Not Saussure's reason seems purely political. There is certainly no sign of narcissistic tendencies. The blog covers a wide range of topics and rarely descends to the "what is the world coming to?" pessimism with which many opposition bloggers wrestle. I admire the way Not Saussure always addresses the issue at hand, rather than just ranting, whingeing or groaning at the manifest stupidity of our rulers. It takes patience and firm purpose to keep debating with those who disrespect logic as much as they despise liberty. Even though a policy has obviously been devised to win a headline, not improve our lives, Not Saussure takes it seriously and discusses the pros and cons - leading us towards a view, not bludgeoning us with it.

Whoever Not Saussure may be, you can be ssure you are dealing with a civilised, intelligent, rational fellow-citizen. I recommend this blog for your daily perusal.

Next up: The Waendel Journal

In the dragons' den

My recent long holiday allowed the luxury of catching up with old friends. One of them looks like Dylan Thomas and comes from the same neck of Milk Wood. His idea of fun was to fill his house with my bogeymen; NHS administrators, Welsh Office bureaucrats, Comprehensive School headmasters, Scots Socialists etc. and leave me among them with nibbles and wine.

I have now been away from Britain so long that I have lost my vote. I have also forgotten how it works. For example, I was astonished to be reminded how men and women stand apart at middle-class provincial parties. This would be considered terribly rude (not to mention weird) on the Continent. Yet there it was. A group of women were at one end of the house, betraying every last secret of their marriages. At the other end, with me, were their men. As my eyes glazed, they chatted amiably about football and the best routes to avoid the traffic jams in which British people now spend most of their lives.

The best thing about living outside the Anglosphere is escaping the stupid rules about what it is polite to talk about in a social context. Trust me, a Slav (or for that matter a Frenchman) could not imagine anything more tedious than a party at which conversations about culture, politics, religion and sex are off limits. I guess that now makes me a Frenchman, or a Slav.

I was drinking too much, as one does when there is nothing else to occupy the mind. When we moved on to being amateur managers of the local who-gives-a-damn sports team, my head went. One minute, my wife was glancing across nervously; the next I was enquiring whether the Scotsman knew that only 163,000 of his countrymen made a net contribution to the Treasury. Then I observed to NHS guy that the only larger organisation than his was the Peoples' Liberation Army, but that his was a more efficient killing machine. To the extent there was a drunken plan, it was merely to stimulate a discussion in which I could take part. It failed.

A couple of gambits like that in French company, and one would be away. French education equips them for political, even philosophical, debate and they love it. Give me one French Socialist and a couple of bottles of good wine and all would be well - except that they are so good at political argument that there is serious danger of losing, even given linguistic home advantage. They are foemen worthy of my steel.

But these cowardly Celts would not fight like men. They were hit and run, guerrilla debaters, focussed entirely on slowing my advance while escaping unscathed. They had no intention of coming out onto the field of battle and facing the big guns. Not even when I had drunk enough to make my aim unreliable.

After an hour three things dawned on me. Firstly, my friend had set this up to relieve the tedium of his provincial life. We have known each other for decades, and while he had returned to his roots he well knew how different my world is from that of his local friends. He had lit the blue touchpaper and retired to a safe distance to watch.

Secondly, I realised that nothing I said was making a difference. I had as much chance of changing any of these minds as - to be fair - they had of changing mine.

Thirdly, I realised that Britain has passed the tipping point. The one businessman in the room took me aside to say quietly that what I said was true, but that that he could never publicly agree. More than 90% of his business came from Government, specifically local government, contracts. His sensible plan was to ensure that as much as possible of the avalanche of Government waste was liberated for the good of his family.

I think it was at this point, that I theatrically announced that all was lost, found a quiet corner and went to sleep. This, my wife told me, had greater satirical effect than anything I had said when awake. The point was well taken that, having tried my damnedest to extract entertainment from them, I had found them sadly lacking.

I know I come badly out of this story. I sound like the golf club bore. In my darker moments I fear that, if I were but a member of a golf club, that is exactly what I would be. However, my blogging New Year resolution is to be less careful in what I write. Like the Pub Philosopher, I will tell it as I see it. Like the Tin Drummer, I will let my consciousness stream freely.

Looking back on that terrible evening, I find that what galls me most is that I cannot, for all my efforts, be sure that I made them hate me. Damn their eyes, they seemed to enjoy it. The more I explained how ticked off the English were with being financially sodomised by the Celts, the more they saw themselves as worthy successors to Llewellyn the Great (or in one case, Robert the Bruce). The further over the top I went, the more they thought that everything their Mams had told them about Englishmen and Tories was true.

Apart from my giggling Welsh friend, Wat Tyler was the only winner. Time after time, public servants demanded evidence for my contention that their working lives were as pointless as their pensions were unfunded. Time and again I referred them to "Burning our Money". Wat, if you have seen a surge of activity from government servers in South Wales, you now know why.

Do your best with them dear boy. I am spent.

Bob Piper : Education... education, and, errm...

Link: Bob Piper : Education... education, and, errm....

I love the way that any actual application of the main socialist idea of an economy under social control is dismissed as "not really socialism" and even "not really communism"

Once you opt for political, not market, economic controls and move towards more equal incomes, you rapidly descend to the situation reflected in the old Soviet Bloc saying "lying down or standing up it's still x [zloties, roubles, whatever] an hour". Soon, everyone does as little as possible.

Just as they did in the British Steel plant I worked at in my Summer vacation when I was a student. That, and my direct, personal, violent experience of the Shrewsbury Pickets when I did vacation work on a building site, is what converted me from the unthinking Socialism of the Labour North where I grew up.

Not everyone "lies down." There are always the cunning guys who work out that the way forward is into the apparatus where they can direct "social assets" to their own family's use -without ever "owning" them of course. That would be wicked. That's what I like to think of as "the Prescott model". Then there are the guys who get into regulatory positions where they can extract bribes.

Certainly no-one takes commercial risks. Why should they? The upside is the State's and the downside (criticism, even punishment, for their failure) is all theirs. The economy inevitably declines.

Corruption apart, maybe Socialism handles "to each according to need", but "from each according to ability" is trickier. Remove the "invisible hand" of the market, and you rapidly end up with a choice between economic collapse or the very visible hand of State compulsion.

That compulsion becomes more and more unpalatable over time. The dreamers on the outside (after denying it for a few decades) then cling to their beautiful vision by saying "That's not really Socialism. When we do it, there'll be no need for such compulsion"

Yeah, right. That's why Labour's favourite verb is "to ban."

The Tin Drummer (Blogpower Testimonial 6)

Link: The Tin Drummer.

Last July, a new blog began with these words.

The start of a new era; like everyone else in the world I have a blog.  Excellent.  I can satisfy my narcisstic longings, imagining that people are hanging on my every word when in fact no-one is bothered. The clouds are building up, looking heavy.  I wonder if there will be rain or if the promised break in the weather is to be delayed even further.  The dark low clouds are thin and hazy and look as if they have been stuck onto the sky with cheap 70s CSO.  Something bigger is building, and I suppose it might rain before I get to the pub. I've just re-read Atomised and Platform by Michel Houellebecq.  I still feel faintly sick, but I don't see him as either a genius or an evil reactionary.  I am not quite sure what he is saying (beyond the obvious bits of course); he seems troubled by space, in all its different forms, whether we have too much or too little or the right kind; he is obviously troubled by love, but I don't think his books show any good or ideal kind of love. his characters love and suffer or don't love and suffer or ambivalently relate in a sexual but sort of loving way - and suffer.  Someone should do a study on which characters (mostly minor) don't suffer in his work.

Why the long quote? To show this is no ordinary blogger. I didn't find TTD's blog until some months after this, but I think you will agree that the style - particularly the trademark lurch in subject matter - is arresting. Interestingly, it was there on day one, demonstrated in four posts that read as if they were in the midstream of a long-running blog - presumably one that had been running, unpublished, in his head.

This read like something the author confidently expected to be read, despite the upfront aversion of the bloggers' evil eye. I cringed at "(beyond the obvious bits of course)" I read Houellebecq too, and find little in his stuff that's "obvious". But I don't think this is the self-suspected narcissism. This is clearly a bright guy. He has something to say and he's not dithering about it. I infer from the developed style that he has long been saying it, in some medium or other.

On the third day of the Drummer's blogging career, Iain Dale linked. This cannot have harmed the stats although many coming from such a lightly-written blog as Iain's might find TTD hard going. I freely confess to some envy. Mr Dale linked to the Ditch for the first time yesterday - after almost two years of industrious blogging. But I have no cause for complaint. The Drummer deserved the rapid attention.

Part of the fun in these reviews has been to observe the development in style of the various bloggers. Where available, my technique has been to head for the first post in the archive and read as much of the writing as possible in the order it was written. TDD's style was fully-formed on day one. Nothing has changed. This blogger did not need to find his "voice" But what does he use that voice to speak about? Everything and nothing.

My cricketing grandfather would be disappointed to know how little the Drummer's "Ashes" posts move me. If a nation sells off its playing fields to build overpriced cardboard houses; carries its children around in 4x4 eggboxes and warns them of the perils of being too competitive, can it really expect to defeat honest sporting nations? It's hard to see why such an intellectual would give a damn. Nonetheless, there is a lot of cricket at the Drummer's blog. Fortunately, there are also politics, music, culture, history and (unfashionably) religion.

Most to my taste is the literary stuff. The reference to Grass in the blog name is actually what first caught my eye. Mine is a literary family and I am much criticised for neglecting my reading in order to blog. The pile of unread books at the bedside (placed there after being read by family members by way of silent recommendation) is now over three feet high. The Drummer has helped to persuade me on occasion to return to my books and for this, I thank him. He is prone to throwing in casual observations (in the course of announcing a holiday blogging break) such as

I find great swathes of my life hard to recall: I cannot remember my routines at school; what it was really like sitting in my room at college writing essays all day; actually being seven; but I do remember things as feelings (mainly fear), colours even, or through dreams. I can remember quite a few dreams from my childhood. I can't remember my grandfather's face very well, though he is often in my dreams, and I can't remember what Chartres really looks like (but I do remember how I felt when I first stepped inside). More and more I find I'm here but not quite sure how I got here.

All he booted up to tell us was that he was off for a while, but he ends up making us think anyway. I love stuff like that even though (damn it) it makes me realise how impersonal, cold and political my own writing can be. I admire the confidence implied in the apparently thoughtless invitation to the workings of his mind. I have to mention cricket once more, but only to say that only at The Tin Drummer could you enjoy the headline "How Polly might See Things (if she Liked Cricket)." Classic. By now, you will have detected my enthusiasm.

Enough reviewing already. Go read. And, of course, go listen to the Drummer promoting Blogpower on the wireless.

Next up: Not Saussure

Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe (Blogpower Testimonial 5)

Link: Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe.

Of all the Blogpowerers, Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe is perhaps the closest to what most people imagine a blog to be. Well perhaps that's a bit unfair. The author Colin Campbell, a "transplanted Scot" in Australia, is not a teenager posting chattily and ungrammatically about shopping trips with girlfriends, (although he does have the cutesy penguin logo such a blogger might choose). However, when he describes his blog as "Random Musings from Adelaide" that's fair dinkum. Call me an old grouch, but I don't generally read blogs that put me in any danger of encountering photographic posts entitled "Holiday with Granny" or (worse) which contain words of childish wisdom.

Yet here I am reviewing it. Why? It's not just because it's a Blogpower Blog and I have undertaken to review ten of them. I could easily have chosen ten of our blogs covering my usual political interests. I chose this one for my list because I do regularly read it. Why? Because Colin has catholic tastes, an eye for the absurd and a knack for le mot juste. Here, here, here and here are some examples.

Unfortunately, he has also transplanted some prejudices to Australia. He dislikes America to an extent that I find hard to handle. Sure, there are direct undiplomatic Americans. Trust me, I have friends from New York. But there are more than 250 million of these people and, while of course there are good and bad among them they constitute a nation which makes - overall - as positive a contribution as any in history. This kind of stuff or this just seems petty to me. Anti-Americanism is sadly a common enough vice in Britain - largely driven by jealous nostalgia for superpower status. Colin's is at least based on direct knowledge, having lived there, and maybe he had bad experiences, but it jars with me almost as much as the occasional granny shots and kiddy humour.

However, there's no point in reading only blogs that say what you think yourself. Any time I want to listen to me, I am right here. As I hope is apparent from my reviews so far, I don't like only blogs that share my views - or even my tastes. I look for intelligent observation, stimulation and - ideally - the unexpected. I keep going back to Colin's blog because - despite occasionally telling me more about his children than their granny should want to know - overall, he keeps delivering.

If you're not a patriotic American, give him a try. Actually, if you are a patriotic American, give him a try anyway. Your great nation could use some advice on improving its PR.

Next up: The Tin Drummer

Obscure intellectual nourishment (Blogpower Testimonial 4)

Link: nourishing obscurity.

The Blogpower bloggers have nothing in common but difference. Their distinct personalities come through both in their writing and the visual style of their blogs. Of no-one is this more true than of our founding father, James Higham. His blog, nourishing obscurity, attempts something to which I would never aspire. It is a one-man magazine. Not only does he blog about a wide range of subjects, sometimes individual posts cover a lot of ground! His is a magpie mind and nothing human is alien to him.

Perhaps his main claim to fame is the "Blogfocus" feature. To a casual observer, this appears to be a full-time job. My current project is, at his request, to review just 10 blogs from the Blogpower list. For "Blogfocus" James appears to scan the entire blogosphere. He never fails both to come up with a diverse collection of interesting posts and to notify his circle of blogging contacts individually. The more I struggle to write these reviews, the more impressed I am that James does something quite similar twice a week, as well as holding down a full-time job.

Blogfocus is a great point of entry for anyone looking to explore the world of blogs. James choices are sometimes quirky but always interesting and he keeps things fresh by making themed selections from time to time - such as his current edition on "ranting" or an earlier one featuring "simple homespun prose." I can only agree with The Tin Drummer,

How he finds the time, I'll never know ... it would take me hours and hours to put that lot together.

I'm just glad that he does. He has led me to excellent blogs I would never otherwise have found. Blogpower was another of James' ideas. It's so simple that Tim Worstall can't understand it. It's just a club of bloggers who undertake to visit and promote each other's blogs. In fairness to Tim, I didn't get it either at first. I signed up because James asked me. But I have been pleasantly surprised at the sense of community that has developed in a very short time. Despite the recent BNP kerfuffle, I hope we can retain the essential simplicity of the idea and continue to help each other out.

I promise you won't regret adding Nourishing Obscurity to your regular reading. James' posts are so frequent, his interests so varied and his contacts so extensive that his blog is rather like the Scottish weather. If you don't like it now, just wait a few minutes.

Next up: Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe

The Socrates of the Saloon Bar (Blogpower Testimonial 3)

Link: Pub Philosopher.

The title of the blog almost says it all. Isn't "right wing" (how I hate that meaningless term) blogging the equivalent of the saloon bar philosophising of old? That's what the snooty Guardianistas would have you believe, in between their bouts of haughtily running the lives of "the most vulnerable members of society" (i.e. anyone who didn't find their job through a Guardian advert)

What the title doesn't say, the "Pub Philosopher Supports" badges fill in for you. I reproduce them all here, if only to tick off the said Guardianistas, God rot them.


Here is a healthy selection of sensible ideas that should never have have become "causes" in a democracy with proud liberal traditions. Nor would they have, had New Labour not turned our world upside-down - apparently for little more than the chance to hang out with pervy pop stars. That's the saddest thing about the British political blogosphere. With some notable exceptions (See "The Mad, the Bad and the Merely Misguided" in my sidebar), it is typically full of views that are so commonsensical that they should not really need to be promoted.

Only the topsy-turvy world of modern Britain, with a government on an endless quest for ideological pretexts for tyrrany, would anyone need to get heated in support of free speech or the ability to exist without being physically assaulted for one's "biometrics" and punished for failing to carry an official microchip. Pub Philosopher is very much a reliable, consistent, commonsense blogger. Commenting on an author of a blog he has discovered he makes a typically endearing observation.

In his profile, Rob describes himself as an "Englishman first, Sikh second, Punjabi third."  Someone buy that man a drink.

However PP is also remarkably fearless. For example, blogging about the BNP has (I have noticed myself) two undesirable effects. Leftists immediately call you a racist unless you deny the BNP's right to exist and call for all its members to be fired. BNP members leave approving comments encouraging you to "come out" if you support their right to be wrong. I find myself choosing my words more carefully than I should have to when discussing such topics. PP gives the impression that he just says what he thinks without hesitation. Whatever the topic, he blogs cheerfully on.

One imagines him gently muttering Honi soit qui mal y pense as he gives it to us right between the eyes. That's how all free men should live - and to hell with the mealy-mouthed Guardian readers. I congratulate him. Pub Philosopher strikes me as the sort of guy with whom one really would like to have a drink. Conversation would flow as freely as ale, and all disagreements would be cheerful. His blog is aptly named and well worth regular perusal.

Next up: Nourishing Obscurity

'If you move, Sir, one of us is going to die' | the Daily Mail

Link: 'If you move, Sir, one of us is going to die' | the Daily Mail.

AutreyJust for once, the Daily Mail presents a story that makes one think better of mankind. Perhaps even more surprisingly for the Mail, the story features a black man in honest employment who is in loving contact with his children.

What a hero. Well done, Wesley Autrey.