THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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March 2012

Of sheep and distemper

From comments to my previous post, some readers seem to think I am pessimistic and gloomy - even 'distempered'. Not so. Despite my personal sadness about losing my wife, I am generally quite happy and optimistic. I certainly don't share many commenters' fears about the decline of the West, for example, but more of that in some future post.

It has even been suggested that I might be happier living elsewhere. Perhaps so. I lived abroad for 20 years and have no fear of the cosmopolitan life. I am quite good at it, actually. I can certainly cope with (if never quite master) foreign languages and have friends in lots of interesting places. I am also curious about other societies and how they work (or, often, don't). However, I promised the late Mrs P I would live in London to be near our daughters. They are fine, independent young women and don't need me much, but it's a joy to see them often, so I am happy to keep my word.

I admit I am gloomy about Britain's civil liberties (many little-read posts passim) and her economic prospects. All the more so because I am seeing up close and personal the deadening effects of envy-driven taxation to fund an out-of-control payroll vote. I worked hard for 30 years, built businesses and created jobs. I am ready to get back to my life now and looking about myself for something to do, but here's the rub. If I go back to serious work, the government would keep half of what I earned, a big chunk of what I spend (in indirect taxes), half of whatever interest I earn on what I don't spend and then keep half of whatever is left when I die. That's really quite absurd. So I am just looking about for odds and ends of paid amusement to keep my brain ticking over, my bills paid and to contribute to the fund for my next car. My (much discouraged by the government) love of motoring is, amusingly, the only counterbalance to its relentless campaign to persuade me to relax.

Nor am I alone. Other members of my family have closed their businesses rather than work most of their time for the government gangsters. They are planning to spend their savings steadily so as to leave as little as possible to be stolen from their families when they die. Better use the money to have fun with them now, they reason, than to have it stolen from them later and (mostly) wasted. Atlas has shrugged already, because (a) this "Conservative" and "Liberal" government confuses corporatism with capitalism and (b) the Labour Party is waiting in the wings to douse the economic flames even more vigorously.

Britain is not 'open for business'. Every action of government (as opposed to its irrelevant utterances) screams that Britain hates business, or at least the successful kind. George Osborne may find tax avoidance 'morally repugnant' (as does any gangster denied his protection money) but the simplest form of it is to work less and - unless he is prepared to expose himself to even his most ovine voters as a slave driver - there ain't a damn thing he can do about that.

Someone asked a famous scientist what he had learned about God from his work. He answered "He really seems to like beetles." If we ask ourselves what we have learned about the British Government, the answer must surely be "It really seems to love idleness."

I have never been an idler before, but I can get used to it. I am happily planning trips to Scotland and Italy (two this year, for 'pilot' training on Ferrari's test track). There are books I want to read, people and places I want to visit and courses I want to take. So please don't confuse my concern about my country's future with unhappiness about my own. If relaxation after 30 years of effort palls, there are always Big Society things I can do to keep me amused without feeding the tax dragon.

Of sheep and cyclists

Traffic and why "I Hate Cyclists" :: A Very British Dude.

A few friends have flatteringly complained that I don't blog enough now. I occasionally try to exert myself with my old enthusiasm, but it's gone. There's no denying it.

I miss morning news discussions with the late Mrs P. She was a woman of strong and stimulating opinions. As we grazed the online newspapers and blogs in bed of an early morning, she often gave me an angle of attack to a post. This was as much her blog as mine.

I find it beyond unstimulating to be back in Britain. There is such a very limited spectrum of opinion here. Surrounded by sheep too docile to bleat out of turn, it feels extreme even to suggest there is some better way of living than time-share enslavement.

When I lived in Russia and China I kept quiet about local politics out of courtesy to my hosts. I seem to have fallen into the same approach here under the sheer weight of apathy. The neglect of their civil rights by the British - who only ever seem to get excited when demanding others' freedoms be repressed - is an insult to the brave peoples I once lived among.

I miss the hope of the Labour days. Not the hope that they would ever cease (they won't) to be freedom-hating miserablists, but the hope that one day change might come. The only change provided by the current government is in the tone of Polly Toynbee's screeching.

The British public just doesn't care about civil liberties. My concerns are - I now see - entirely eccentric. My greatest recent blogging "success" was the massive reaction to (essentially) a post about bad parking. Readers, if you think that's more important than habeas corpus, write your own bloody blog posts. I am not your bitch.

Then there's the attitudes of my fellow-Brits to the joys of my life. Forget about the publicity-hungry irrelevancies among our politicians calling for lower speed limits when the ones we have were set when an Austin Seven would probably take longer to stop from 20mph than I can stop from 120. Even the often-sensible Jackart went on an anti-driver rant over at his place yesterday. I thought my heart would stop in despair at the words

Sooner or later, cars will drive themselves and the problem will be moot.

Can he really not understand the pain that thought inflicts? The motor car is the very sign and symbol of personal freedom. Does he not remember the feeling of joyous liberation when first free to drive? It is no coincidence that the only flickering evidence of any zest for life amid the BBC's routine suicide advocacy is 'Top Gear.'

Even the ultimate authoritarian, God (if He exists), appears to understand that the possibility of sin is essential to the existence of virtue. If I am ever - God forbid - moved about the place in a legally-compliant motorised wheelchair steered by Google, He will know that in my secret sinning soul I am still among the Ferraristi. In my heart, the dull electric whirr of tyrranical misery will be the strident poetry of a V8. Madness that might be but what, pray, would be the attraction of sanity?

Jackart speaks suavely (if not persuasively) of...

the kind of a**ehole who thinks buying a BMW is something other than the behaviour of a c**t God knows what vile words he will have for me. I shall bear them as a badge of honour. I am planning a run to Scotland at the end of this month to provide stimulus to its flagging economy via its gas stations. I understand that's where he hangs out. He owes me a pint for spoiling my morning. He can buy it for me, as long as he's not wearing spandex.

What use is eternal vigilance if you're unarmed?

Sean Linnane: GUN CONTROL.

As a man who never saw military service, I can only be respectfully grateful to men like Sean who have put themselves in harm's way to protect us. Orwell said "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." Those of us who chose other occupations have much cause to thank those men (and now women) in the military, not to mention the police and other emergency services.


There's no reason however, if the laws permitted, why we couldn't take more responsibility for our own everyday protection. In Britain, the laws sadly don't permit. With an estimated four million illegal firearms in circulation we don't so much have gun control as a state guarantee to armed criminals that they will meet no resistance. Yet I never meet more horrifed responses than when I tell British friends we should have the right to bear arms.

Why is it, do you think, that the arguments presented in the linked post carry so little weight this side of the pond?

OTT or what?

The Last Ditch is not going to become a food blog. You should still look to Sicily Scene and others for your culinary fix. However, I thought this photo of a few spoonfuls of granita served in a tower of ice might amuse you. Bruno Oger's presentation of food is certainly imaginative. The tower is hollow, about the size of a piece of drainpipe and is illuminated by an LED standing on the plate beneath it. It looked impressive when eight of them were carried in procession to our table last night. If you get the chance to sample M. Oger's food, I recommend you seize it.

Greece is not the word

I heard Jim O'Neill speak yesterday. He's the Chairman of Asset Management at Goldman Sachs and the macro-economist who coined the expression "the BRICs". He pointed out that while the European press is full of the Greek debt crisis, on a global scale it simply doesn't matter. The Chinese economy is growing so fast that it is increasing its GDP by the equivalent of the Greek economy every 11.5 weeks. If Greece stopped producing anything at all as of today, China would make up the loss to global GDP in less than one quarter! He also pointed out that Russia's GDP is expected to grow by 2020 by more than the GDP of the whole Eurozone.

His point is that the economic 'crisis' is not 'global', as billed. It's an economic crisis of the West. It seems to me that the question is, are we also witnessing the collapse of the corrupt political model of buying votes with current 'benefits' by borrowing against the work of tomorrow's voters? Is Greece mainly important as a warning to all Western governments of what lies ahead if they continue to refuse to balance their budgets? I hope so - and I hope they heed the warning.


My apologies for the awkward angle of the image. If you click on it to enlarge, I hope it's legible. It does put a lot of current discussions in context. The West simply doesn't matter as much as it used to and is going to matter less. My own response, economically, is 'so what?' Do Luxembourg and Switzerland (whose citizens are wealthier than Americans) care that they don't matter on a global scale?

The expansion of the global economy represented by hundreds of millions of growth economy citizens being lifted out of poverty is good news for us as well as for them. Forget the Chinese billionaires and remember the 300 million Chinese who - thanks to capitalism - are no longer poor. The ex-poor in China and elsewhere already drive the growth of the US and German motor industries, for example. China matters far more to BMW or for that matter Siemens than does Germany. If we can all adjust our thinking to provide the goods and services these people want (and stop worrying so much about how they are led) the economic future can be bright for us too. If we continue to regard them as less important than us, that will be another story.

O'Neill doesn't address the politics of all this, but I think we also need to recognise the significance of the fact that the successful new growth economies have balanced state budgets. Unlike every country of the Eurozone except Finland and Slovakia (and very unlike Britain and the United States) - most would meet the original Maastricht criteria for European Monetary Union. I don't advocate that we adopt the political models of China or Russia, but we do need to understand and moderate the tendency of our democratic politicians to mortgage our children's future to buy our economically-illiterate support.

A peaceful interlude

Last year a very kind reader of this blog (whom I have never met) arranged for mass to be said for the soul of Mrs Paine at an Abbey in Provence. She was a French teacher by profession and a lover of that country. Provence was where we most liked to holiday in later life, so it was very appropriate and I was very touched by such a generous gesture. Yesterday, Navigator and I visited the Abbey. It is a beautiful, peaceful, modern place, only founded about the time that Mrs Paine and I first met. Once again, in my atheism, I found myself envying the faithful.