THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Previous month:
August 2016
Next month:
October 2016

September 2016

Heaven is on the Bay of Angels

Gourmet restaurant in Antibes, on the Côte d'Azur (French Riviera). Specialized in Fish. Michelin-starred. Restaurant de Bacon..

I spent a quiet yesterday anticipating my visit to my favourite restaurant in the world. I did pause to worry that I might have oversold it to my friends who were about to experience it for the first time. I need not have troubled myself.

It is a family business and that shows. There is a simple, loving attention to a project they built that goes beyond — well beyond — just making a living. It's the least pretentious Michelin-starred restaurant I know. The decor is elegant, restrained and with a little dash of quirky. Lots of fishy objects blown by local glass makers. The views of the Mediterranean are so stunning that I could have wished we were lunching not dining.

The service is polite and a little formal in the French style — none of that irritating "hey guys" mateyness you get in London now — but there are friendly smiles and an evident warmth and concern for your enjoyment. There is an excellent wine list too and our group of Bon viveurs enjoyed a superb Pouilly Fuisse (though as Speranza's pilot I was sadly limited to one glass)

And then there's the food. If you're not a fish fan you might think it's not for you but you'd be wrong. Anywhere else neither am I. Great cuisine is not about tricks and elaboration. It's about the best ingredients prepared carefully in the way that suits them best. Ideally, as here, by a chef who takes the work — but not himself — very seriously. The polar opposite of Jamie Oliver. Talented, self-effacing and diligent.

Bacon's menu features a diagram that begins with the choice of fish, goes on to the methods of preparation (grilled, steamed, en papillote etc) and ends with variations. They tell you what fish they have and offer recommendations. It's all fresh from the sea outside their windows. I have such confidence in them that I just let them choose for me. Less time studying the menu. More time talking with my friends and drinking in the scenery, the surroundings and the quiet elegance of the mostly local diners. 

Before leaving table there's also the best millefeuille in France to enjoy. Diet or no, I was having it and will deduct it from today's calories without any sense of regret.

The voiturier knows Speranza by name. I consign her to his tender care without a backward glance. He has never seen me not smiling, either in anticipation as I arrive or in satisfaction as I leave. I can be grumpy and moody at times so I rather wish all my friends and acquaintances had the impression of me he does!

If when I die there is a heaven after all and I am lucky enough to be admitted, my home will be in Cap d'Antibes, my "local" will be the Bacon and Speranza and I will spend the time between meals on the rocky, winding coastal roads of the Côte d'Azur. Except in Heaven there will be the occasional straight and there will be neither speed limits nor daydreaming locals in 2CVs. 

Did nothing else happen yesterday? Nothing of consequence. A day that involves the Bacon in the company of friends is, for me, complete.

Art, food and friends

My friends from London invited me along on an artistic excursion yesterday. I picked them up from their hotel (rare use being made of Speranza's +1 seat — there's no +2 when the driver is 6'7" tall) and we headed to the Fondation Maeght gallery in Saint-Paul de Vence. I like art. I have a modest collection of paintings — all modern. I think it's amusing how old some "modern" art now is and wonder how useful a category it really is these days. 

I loved the Fondation's buildings. They nestle on a steep wooded hill and provide a wonderful exhibition space. The collection is a very mixed bag, which says more about the collectors than the artists. There were many pieces I would give house room to, if I had a roomy enough house. But one piece by the Bulgarian artist Christo dominates much of the gallery during a current exhibition. His "mastaba" made of one thousand one hundred and six brightly painted oil drums stands in a courtyard. That I rather enjoyed, if only for the photographic opportunities presented by the coloured shade it cast. But drawings and models of it — and other versions of it, actual and proposed — took up room after room inside. There are only so many oil drums presented as art that a sane chap can see without giggling. Especially if he's rash enough to read the explanations on the gallery walls.

I love the French language. My only criticism is that it's so musical it makes wicked things sound appealing (e.g. "fiscaliste, impôts, l'État"). It needs some ugly sounds to prevent French people being drawn to ugly concepts. A serious obstacle to the enjoyment of art anywhere is the self-worshipping pomposity of dealers, curators and (sad to say) some artists and when that is compounded by the ferocious up-themselvesness of French intellectuals it's just hilarious.

After a modest but agreeable lunch at a pavement café we headed off to see what Matisse appparently thought was his greatest work, the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. I beg to differ with his assessment, but it is an attractive and spiritual place, promoting calm reflection. I confess that I am prejudiced against any place that prohibits natural light photography (as non-invasive an activity as could be conceived) so perhaps all the rules raised my hackles and prevented me enjoying it as I should. It's an excellent piece of interior design inside a mediocre piece of architecture, embellished by some wonderful stained glass, delightful drawings and imaginative vestments designed by the great man. 

I dropped my friends off so they could taxi to their next hotel in Juan les Pins. I drove home to Mougins and processed the day's photos. A couple of hours later we met again in Antibes where they introduced me to other friends of theirs; an Irish couple  at whose place in St Tropez they are going to stay on the next leg of their tour of French pleasures. 

Continue reading "Art, food and friends" »

Back in my France

I rose early, breakfasted well and was soon underway and finding the benefit of my banal choice of hotel. It was less than five minutes from the autoroute. Soon I was progressing rapidly again and enjoying the drive.

I have my entire record collection in the car and set it to play at random which generated odd juxtapositions. Dylan Thomas reading his poetry followed by Handel's Water Music followed by Eurythmics. I tried to hold down my speed (Speranza has no cruise control  it is dangerously easy for it to creep up) and just enjoy the journey. I smiled as the sort of chaps who are provoked by the presence of a supercar roared by and then if they settled back - pride satisfied - to some approximation of my target speed, used them as pacesetters and decoys for the speed police.

I had a three stop strategy because I would need to refuel well before lunch. I had  enough in the tank to make it to a mid-morning coffee break. Then I stopped for lunch at a pleasant "aire" where I parked in the shade, bought some simple supplies for breakfast for the next four days and a baguette to eat out in the sunshine while reading my Times on my iPad.

I have been coming to the Côte d'Azur for so long that when I found myself on the familiar A7 yesterday; my route from Spain  joining my usual route from the North and the Eurotunnel, I relaxed a little. It felt like being home. I had an emotional moment when, on a road that the late Mrs P and I often drove together, Frank Sinatra came up in the random play singing "Moon River". She liked that song and the line "two drifters, off to see the world" reminded me of the two naive but ambitious young kids from the North we had once been. We saw a lot of the world together - especially her beloved France - but here I was, seeing it without her. It's been five years since she died but I suddenly missed her terribly again. I took another coffee break to collect myself. 

For some reason my satnav went on the fritz 10okm from my destination. I knew my way to Mougins so it only cost me the distance to travel and ETA data. Once I reached the village I used Google Maps on my iPhone to find the villa. Soon I was in possession of the keys and unloading the car. I opened up the house to air it and took my ease on the terrace overlooking the Royal Mougins golf course until it was time to freshen up for dinner. 

I met my friends from London at their hotel in the wonderful village of Saint-Paul de Vence; the quirky Colombe d'Or. I made my own way down to the car park at the bottom of the steep hill on which it perches. A series of hairpins so steep they could not be taken without reversing and jiggling led to a shabby dirt patch and a steep climb back on foot up a crumbling stone staircase. The manager was much amused when I commented. Not only should I have left this to the voiturier, she said, but they have a special place out front for Ferraris so they don't have to risk their low undercarriages on that track.

My friends showed me the view from their terrace (pictured) before we headed for the bar. The hotel has a spectacular art collection that must be worth far more than the business and its premises. Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, among many great painters and sculptors, had paid in artistic kind for accommodation and restauration over the years and great works are everywhere, both in rooms and public spaces.  There had been a Picasso over the bed in a room they had rejected in favour of one with a better outlook!

The restaurant is great and we had a pleasant evening catching up and making plans for the next day's amusements. Even if the food was poor I would recommend dining there just for the chance to wander the premises and see the art. 

I let the voiturier do his stuff and bring Speranza out front for me. I didn't fancy ascending that windy dirt track in the dark. I rather hoped he might make a hash of it so I could demand a Picasso in compensation but he smilingly handed her over intact. Soon I was back on the peage and heading for home. 

Back in France



I had a brilliant run through Spain to my overnight rest in France yesterday. Speranza performed magnificently. I resisted the temptation to race the Audi drivers provoked by her in Spain and the BMW drivers provoked by her in France. Instead I enjoyed the passing scenery, including first glimpses of the Mediterranean. I consoled myself for not being able to have the roof down (because its space in the boot is occupied by lights, light stands and other photo gear) by listening to music that would have been drowned out by wind and engine noise if driving topless. 

I arrived in Narbonne in the early afternoon and - taking advantage of fast internet in my hotel - sorted out some corruption on my laptop's hard disk introduced by unwisely updating the OS while on the road with lots of important photos stored. All the photos are safely backed up at least and none were lost by my overconfidence in post-Jobs Apple, Inc. Then I got full value from the €9 charge incurred for greater bandwidth by chilling with a little Netflix. 

I dined well in the hotel's restaurant on a spicy variation of a chicken Caesar salad preceded by a Pastis and accompanied by half a bottle of good wine so I am afraid I can do no citizen journalist justice to whatever attractions Narbonne may have to offer. However I slept well and feel refreshed for the next few days of exploration, gallery visiting and calory-controlled gourmandising (for your humble blogger is on an ill-timed diet) with old and new friends on the Côte d'Azur.

Today I drive to my home for the next few days at a friend's villa in my favourite French village; Mougins. Tonight I dine with an old friend and his lady in her favourite French village; St Paul de Vence 

As usual on my road trips you can track my tour on a map here

La vie en rose, Deo volenti.

Spanish wine




I am in La Priorat because an old friend invited me. We first met when he arrived in Poland from Canada in 1999. I was his first professional contact there. He has been following my photographic progress on Facebook and kindly thought of me when one of his businesses – a vineyard in Spain – needed photographs for its marketing.

Saturday and Sunday have mostly been dedicated to a photoshoot around the winery and estate. The scenery is spectacular, it's fascinating to learn about the science and art of winemaking and I love the winding roads through this rocky landscape. 

This morning I took a break to visit the spectacular mountain village of Siurana. The drive there was slow (it's mostly single track road with a speed limit of 30 or 40 kph that only a knowledgable local would dare to break) but pleasurable. I drove there with the roof down in the Spanish sunshine and it was close to my idea of Paradise. The road is steep and winding, gradually climbing up and around the mountain on which the beautiful little medieval village stands.

The ruined fortress there was the last Islamic enclave to fall in Catalonia and the 800th anniversary of this happy event is commemorated by a cross. I spent a happy couple of hours wandering the narrow medieval streets before returning to my friend's place, I took his sons out for the ride in Speranza that I promised them yesterday. Then we headed out on a 4x4 buggy to climb the slopes of the vineyard to make external shots of the property.

My friend and his family are on their way back to Barcelona, where they now live. I am spending a quiet evening in my hotel, writing this post and catching up with corresponding before settling down to make my "selects" from the hundreds of photographs and post-process them in readiness for delivery to my "client".

Tomorrow, I am heading to France and plan to overnight in Narbonne, a town I have never visited.

Homage to Catalonia

2016 September Porrera-001I rose early in Zaragoza to rendezvous with my host in Catalonia at noon. Things didn't go well. My splendid modern hotel was in the part of town developed for Expo 2008 and none of the roads were in Speranza's database. Her satellite navigation system is a banal piece of software. It can be user-upgraded when installed in lesser machines but Ferrari has inexplicably (a) blocked the necessary downloads and (b) failed to issue any updates itself. Spain has spent a lot of money in upgrading its infrastructure recently. I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of days crossing what my system thought were open fields!

I managed to get myself lost for a while until I realised that all I needed to do was follow the signs for the autovia to Barcelona. I made matters worse by not understanding that the rather clever Spanish roundabouts have a road through the centre but require you to exit if you actually want to use the junction. I didn't grasp that until AFTER performing a – probably unauthorised, though not expressly forbidden – U-turn somewhere in the suburbs to get me back on the right path.

All this  ineptitude cost me my effort in rising early (and sacrificing breakfast not to rise even earlier) and put me under time pressure. Nonetheless I stuck to my plan to get off the autovia and drove to Catalonia on two lane highways meandering through hills, forests and beautiful countryside. A few "Ferrari moments" to overtake trucks struggling up steep hills put me ahead of the game again and I arrived twenty minutes early.

Then I had another bout of ineptitude to make Enzo's ghost cringe. While admiring how much her language sounded like an odd meld of Spanish and French, I almost entirely failed to understand some directions from a kindly local. I drove through the winding, uneven and constantly narrowing streets of the village where I am spending the weekend until a brief moment of connectivity with Google Maps showed me my hotel was down a lane to my left. I could see what looked like garage doors at intervals, including one at the far end where the hotel was. If the locals could manoeuvre into their garages, I reasoned, I must be able to drive down their street. Wrong. My host, whose winery I am here to photograph, arrived to find me stuck. Laughing, he told me that the "garage doors" were entrances to workshops and/or wineries. No-one had ever tried to drive down there before. Less than ten minutes after arriving in town, I was a local celebrity.

With my friend's help I reversed gingerly back up the steep hill, folding in my wing mirrors just when I needed them more than ever, and succeeded in escaping without a scratch. I parked in the car park outside the village and headed off in my friend's car to begin my photo-assignment.

La Priorat is home to one of Spain's only two DOQ wine appellations – signifying the highest quality. Rioja is the other and better known. An old business friend from my days in Poland now lives in Barcelona and, among his other ventures, is co-owner of the region's most modern winery, producing splendid whites and reds. Speranza being safely parked for the day, I had occasion to sample rather a lot of it in the course of the afternoon. My friend hauled my equipment around on a fun, all terrain, diesel powered buggy that could climb the vineyard's steep terraces. I now have the keys for that so that I can get about tomorrow.

The harvest is in progress. My immediate task was to photograph the staff sorting the grapes – the only process that won't continue over the weekend. I was then shown around the estate and talked through the production process so that I could understand what I was photographing. The passion of the young man in charge – a PhD in chemistry – for the scientific execution of his ancient task was impressive, as was his connection with nature. He's a happy, relaxed and sociable guy, more than happy to explain everything to a viticultural novice, but he confessed he had not been sleeping for the last few days because of the harvest. The crop is good and his vines are groaning with high quality fruit but all it would take was a hailstorm and one was forecast. As we worked, there was a magnificent thunderstorm in progress and his anxiety was a tangible presence. The threatened hail didn't turn up, fortunately, and the vines welcomed the heavy rain.

I had great fun with the photography, with catching up with a friend I haven't seen for fifteen years and with getting to know the young winemaker. Exhausted, we locked up the premises and adjourned to a local hostelry to sample Catalonian cuisine. The chef had – as her husband confessed in waiting on our table – an obsession with making "marmalade" out of odd ingredients to garnish her dishes but despite that affectation the fare was rustic, tasty and wholesome. My friend and I had every more abstruse discussions about politics, science, philosophy and "spirituality" (though we never succeeded satisfactorily in defining this last) over a great meal and terrific local wine.

I retired happily to my bed in the heart of a beautiful medieval village having enjoyed a fun, civilised evening. Life is good and – for all the discontents usually paraded here when the blog is not in travel photography mode – I am a very lucky man.

Through the Rioja country to Zaragoza

After one smooth crossing I can recommend the Portsmouth to Santander ferry as an easy, relaxing way from the productive North to the relaxed South of Europe. Given the number of coach tripping pensioners on board the voyage even made me feel young again by comparison. Whether I would be as enthusiastic after a rough crossing is of course moot. 

I arrived at 1815 yesterday afternoon and made my way from the ferry dock to a nearby hotel to rest up before the real driving started. I shall decline to form a view of Spanish food on last night's fare but it nourished and was comfortably digested. 

ImageI set off early to drive to Vitoria so that I could follow a road suggested by a travel blog from there to Logroño through the vines of Rioja country. As my ultimate Spanish destination is a winery in the Priorat region this seemed a good preparation. It was good to get off the autovia and drive a winding two lane blacktop through forested hills and vined valleys.


Such roads also present better opportunities for "Ferrari moments" when Speranza gets the chance to overtake in situations lesser cars could not. There was only one small such moment today, but I am still getting used to the local driving style so it's perhaps as well.


I don't "do politics" when on a travel photography outing like this, but it's hard for a UK taxpayer not to wonder where the money seized from him by state force goes when driving the superb roads I have experienced today.

Spain is supposed to be, relatively speaking, an economic basket case and I believe its taxes are lower than the UK's. Yet the roads are excellent and well maintained. Indeed there was some routine maintenance going on at intervals with little disruption to traffic and no sign of the "health and safety gone mad" stuff that so increases the costs and delays of public works in Britain. There are low temporary limits set and people seem happily to comply with them for the safety and comfort of the chaps working on the road.

Unlike in the automotive hell that is the south-east of England – it's a pleasure to drive here. I spent most of today doing my chosen speed in the inside lane, pulling out only to overtake. Not having the radio token for Spanish toll roads yet and having no passenger to deal with tickets and payments I thought I might have hassle but at each toll booth a series of kindly employees emerged to give Speranza the thumbs up and deal with it for me.

I haven't met many Spanish people yet and I realise that I am spending most of my time in the Basque Country and Catalonia on this trip, but I have to say my small sample suggests they are a kindly, friendly, unenvious bunch with a fine appreciation of the automotive arts.

My rest stop tonight is in Zaragoza — if I can find it. It's a new hotel in a new district and is unknown to Speranza's satnav. As Spanish is not one of my languages, asking directions is more than usually unlikely (and what male likes asking anyway?) Best keep the iPhone charged so Mr Google can guide if necessary.

As always on these blogger journeys I am adding waypoints to a map here.

Each new way point is automatically tweeted here

Please feel free to make suggestions as to things I should see or do along the way.

PS: Speranza's sat nav got me to within half a mile of the hotel and Google Maps finished the job nicely. It's modern, pretty and (apart from the fact that the architect – clearly a Chelsea tractor man or woman – designed an insanely and pointlessly steep approach to the underground parking that required a ginger approach with our low ground clearance) seems really rather splendid.

When the sun starts to go down I am going to take out my "proper camera" for the first time and see what is to be seen. IMG_6247

On the road again

Today Speranza and I sail to Santander in Northern Spain to embark upon a mostly recreational road trip. Political blogging is suspended until I return on October 4th and The Last Ditch will – subject to the constraints of internet access on the road – once more become a travel blog for that period.

As well as driving for fun, meeting friends in Spain and France, dining with some of them at my favourite restaurant in the whole world at Cap d'Antibes and generally living la vida loca, I have been commissioned to take photographs for the brochure and website of a friend's vineyard in Spain. I have been researching the Priorat – the beautiful area where it's located – via the marvellous 500px photography site and it should be a fun challenge. It's harvest time and I hope to get in amongst all that picturesquely sweaty activity with my camera.

For much of the time I will be driving wherever the fancy takes me when I wake up in the morning, relying on chats with locals to be directed to suitably fun roads, so I have no complete itinerary. However this map shows the general route from and to the ferry port at Santander (click the pic to enlarge).

Screenshot 2016-09-18 10.56.23

Local politics is a dirty business

There is a problem with "first past the post" electoral systems like the UK's. Population changes and movements between constituencies can make election results unfair at the national level. At present, constituencies with populations varying from 108,804 to 21,789 get to choose one MP each. Some of us are therefore severely short-changed in terms of our representation.

Indeed most of us have no influence on the outcome of General Elections at all as we live in "safe" constituencies that never change hands. Only once in his life (the Brexit Referendum) did my father – living as he does in the one-party Labour Heartlands – ever have the satisfaction of voting for the winning side. He has made it all the way to his late seventies before casting a vote that made a difference and never expects that experience again.

We don't elect a government in Britain. We elect a local Member of Parliament and HM the Queen invites the leader of the largest of the resulting factions in Westminster to form one. Hence the confusion of the Eastern European gentleman in the next booth to me at the hairdressers recently who was complaining loudly about "undemocratic" Britain daring to choose a new Prime Minister without giving him the chance to vote. In the interests of preserving the calm of that masculine sanctuary, I refrained from offering him any critique of the workings of his home democracy. Nor did I observe that without the efforts of a British Prime Minister chosen by the Conservative Party he quite probably wouldn't have a home democracy at all.

Writing of the last General Election in 2015, the Electoral Reform Society said;
This was the most disproportionate result in British election history. Labour saw their vote share increase while their number of seats collapsed. The Conservatives won an overall majority on a minority of the vote, and the Liberal Democrats lost nearly all their seats, despite winning 8% of the vote. The SNP won 50% of the Scottish vote share, but 95% of Scottish seats. 
The society might also have added that UKIP won just one seat, despite having 12.6% of the vote. It took millions of votes to get that one MP, versus the thirty-something thousand on average required to elect a Tory or Socialist. The Liberal Democrats' 8% of the vote at least got them eight seats. The society might also have added that many past Labour governments also had "an overall majority on a minority of the vote". It's just how the system works and, apart from some eccentrics, few voters are agitating to change it.
Electoral Reform would make a lot of sense, but it's not popular. We had a referendum on it and the reformers lost. Many Brits are comfortable with having a constituency MP (even one, like mine, who rudely disregards all contact from constituents who don't share her left-wing views). When it's working properly, our system feels rather like steering a tank but with the opportunity to hit the left or right track controls only once every five years. If the government veers too far left, we swing it right and vice versa. Over time, we hope, it will tend in the direction we favour. Given how little interest most of us take in politics, few find that too slight an input. If government played as small a part in our lives as I would wish, it would be perfectly adequate for me too.
"First past the post" is a high-maintenance system, requiring frequent boundary reviews to keep it operating reasonably fairly, but it avoids the stagnation and corruption of the "party list" system favoured in much of Continental Europe. For example during an election when I worked in Russia the top place on the Communist Party list was rumoured to have been sold for $1 million to a businessman who simply wanted the perks associated with membership of the Duma. More often though it results in the less brazen corruption associated with political stagnation as, for example, in Austria. The same people at the top of their party lists stay in power for decades, trading favours with each other and moving comfortably between top jobs. A shift in the popular vote simply takes a few people off the bottom of one list and adds a few to the other – typically juniors who won't hold office anyway. The whole thing is very cosy for the politicians and feels even less democratic than it is. An Austrian client told me years ago that – respectable businessman and free marketeer though he was – he had voted for the late Jörg Haider – a real political nasty – "just to shake things up". Haider as prototype Trump? There is nothing new under the Sun.
We learned during the last Coalition Government (the only one so far in my nearly sixty years) that the Brits aren't really comfortable with the visibly cynical bargaining that Continental-style politics involves. We would rather stick with our clumsily steered tank and have periodic opportunities to "kick the rascals out" than see our taxes and liberties thrown about as chips on the baize of a luxurious political casino. 
The necessary boundary changes to sort out the practical problem were vetoed by the LibDems in the last Coalition Government in revenge for the Conservatives allegedly welshing on the Coalition Agreement. The Conservative victory in 2015 should have been greater and would have been had the boundaries been fair. Unless they are redrawn soon, the next election will be fought in constituencies that are over 20 years out of date and the outcome will be so outrageously divorced from our desires as a nation as to risk undermining democracy itself.
The Boundary Commssion for England is "an independent and impartial advisory public body, which reviews the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies in England." It is currently consulting on proposed boundary changes to equalise constituencies and to implement the government's proposed reduction of MPs from 650 to 600. The two local MPs (both Labour) between whose revised constituencies the proposals would move me are bitching and moaning to local media that the proposals are "gerrymandering" because they will "favour" the Conservatives. Truth to tell, they are actually "un-gerrymandering". 
Those "honourable" ladies are speaking neither for their constituents present and future nor for democracy but for their own self-interest. Expect a lot more such selfishness and hypocrisy in the months to come. If you live in England, please take part in the Boundary Commission's consultation here

Of luck, choice and deplorables

ImageYou can't help what family, race, sex, sexual orientation or religion you are born into and brought up in. So it is pretty damn ridiculous to judge you for it. That's as far as I go with the "identity politics" schtick. 

Hating a posh person for his parents' wealth or their choices for him as a child is as stupid as despising a poor, uncultured person. Telling me to "check my privilege" as a straight white male before expressing an opinion is every bit as stupid as telling a man his views matter less because he's black. I am not asking, as SJWs suggest every time someone like me makes this point, to be seen as a victim. I am just denying that anyone else is one because of their equally random characteristics.

Dr King was right. You need to know the content of his character before determining a man is inferior. You also need a comparator and it's your job to strive to be one.

I often think of a late friend of mine born with every social disadvantage and no particular gifts; educationally or in terms of talent. He was a "bad lad" in his youth but later worked hard to get past his limitations. He wanted a family and to do a better job of raising his children than his parents had done. If he voted, he probably voted Labour but he was not noticeably political.

His brother ended up as an SJW would say was inevitable, in crime and degradation. My friend however proved them wrong by choosing a different path. He had the same disadvantages as his brother, but achieved a different outcome by doing things his "socially doomed" brother could have as easily done. In consequence my friend left behind him when he died in an industrial accident children and grandchildren decently raised. Thanks to him they now have hopes for a better material life.

He wasn't proud, but was entitled to be. His was a life well lived. His only assets were humility, an open mind and a contempt for excuses. He took pride in being a better operator than the next digger driver. He once saved a life by delicately removing the contents of a collapsed trench from a trapped worker with the back actor of an excavator. He left his world a better place than he found it. 

When my Guardian reader friends speak with ignorant condescension of people whose failure in life is socially inevitable and who must be "saved" by a kindly state that just happens also to provide Guardian readers with jobs for life and pensions unrelated to economic reality, I take offence on his behalf.

Dividing humans against each other by class, race, sex, sexual orientation or religion does not help them. It just creates a series of imaginary problems to justify creation of taxpayer-funded non-jobs for rent-seekers and mischief makers. I am glad that "identity politics" seems at last to be in crisis. I am glad that people are defying political correctness and ignoring the SJWs calling them bad names. I am heartened by the reaction to Hillary Rodham Clinton dumping a quarter of Americans into her "basket of deplorables" However I am also nervous as to where this will take us now. In crying wolf on racism etc. the Left has potentially opened the door to real political nasties like Le Pen. In casually calling people "fascists" they may have triggered actual fascism.

If we want to emerge safely into an era of sane political discourse and rational government, we need to keep stories like that of my late friend in mind. Our message is simple in the end. Whether you are happy with the cards life dealt you or not, the best thing for you to do is play them as well as you can.