THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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September 2016
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October 2016

We all need to watch "Stranger Things" on Netflix

I have not yet watched the show myself. I base my advice entirely upon this one sentence from James Delingpole's review in the Spectator:

"… At no stage do you feel as though the plot or characterisation has been skewed to serve up some empowering message about race or gender or sexuality..."

What an astute critique of  modern cinema, television, and literature!

For most of our lives, writers with brows high, low and middling have given us, not insights into the human condition, but Sociology lectures dressed up as the stories we crave. They have either presented a world so vile as to make us yearn for the Marxian axe or sunny Star Trekky views of a post-capitalist Utopia.

I left primary school some decades ago, but every time I turn on my TV, go to the cinema or open a modern book I am back there again. Not just when Fiona Bruce on the BBC News reminds me of how I adored my Class 1 teacher neither. I am almost always listening to the sweet, certain tones of schoolmarm condescension talking down to me from the vertiginous height of an undoubted superiority.

It was entirely justified when I was 4 years old. Then, almost everything told me was news and I was naive enough to swallow any guff. But it's damned infuriating now. If this show offers a holiday from that, then count me in. 

Comrade Kirk and Commissar Picard

I don't believe I have mentioned it here before, but I have always been a fan of Star Trek. In the course of this year I have been watching the programmes again in sequence. I have discovered something in them that I had never noticed before.

Gene Roddenberry, the producers and the writers, as well as members of the cast, belonged to what Americans call "the great generation". James Doohan, who played the Scotty of "beam me up" fame, was a veteran of the D-Day landings.  The hippy-dippy sensibilities of the series (right up to the current reboot movies) typify the 1960s, but were actually the product of the experiences of the creators in their formative years, the 1940s. That generation's world view was forged in the Second World War. And not just in their understandable reaction against the nationalism and ethnic loyalty involved in the rise of Nazism. 

The war broke down for many of them the division between the nation and the state that served it. War leaders like Churchill and Eisenhower were seen as leaders of the people not the state. The survival of Western civilisation was attributed by that generation to the power of, and their loyalty to, the state. Growing up with them as my beloved elders I recall nostalgia for the "we're all in it together" mentality of the war years.  Some even remembered rationing fondly, constantly telling us 1960s children how spoiled and "soft" we were. They were suckers for the Fuehrerprinzip as long as the Fuehrer was democratically elected. This rather missed the point that Hitler of the Axis was whereas Stalin of the Allies wasn't!

Growing up in the 1960s, I was exposed to a culture in which the heroes I was expected to look up to were typically in uniform, under military discipline, and unquestioningly loyal to their leaders. If Government appeared in my comics, books, TV shows, or films, it was always on the side of justice and truth. When I faced down a bully two years above me in defence of a small boy a year below me in my primary school playground, I was consciously doing what would have won approval for Biggles (my lantern jawed childhood hero from the RAF) from his C.O.

If you think about it, that's odd.  As a society we had rejected the anti-Semitism and racism of the Nazis, but we did not reject their militarism, obedience to the "chain of command" or loyalty to the institutions of the state. We were able somehow simultaneously to hold in our minds the contradictory ideas that their "might is right" ideology was wrong and that the triumph of our brave men at arms had proved us right.

Until re-watching the shows, I had never thought of that.  Yet though Starfleet is constantly described as peaceful, scientific and engaged upon a noble project of exploration to meet and befriend alien cultures, it is also militaristic. If a junior Starfleet officer bypasses the chain of command, that is seen as a disloyal act and provokes righteous anger from superior officers who bark "that's an order" to close discussion down.

When the top brass of Starfleet intervene in the stories, they almost always get it wrong. This is a common theme in war fiction, where the generals are often betrayed as remote and out of touch and "Tommy" or "Joe" on the front line is the true hero. Yet the "scientists" and "explorers" on the USS Enterprise in any of its manifestations never seem to draw any conclusions from the consistent idiocy of their admirals. Just as the relentlessly consistent and damaging failures of postwar governments in the West never seemed to undermine the "great generation's" or the baby boomers' quasi-religious faith in the wise state's ability to build a better world.

It's predictable that the generation that posed the question "what's so funny about peace love and understanding?" should portray the future in a hippy dippy proto-multicultural way.  But only their peculiar life experience could have led them also to portray it in the context of a rigid culture of obedience. It's as if the creators understood and cheerfully accepted that, if economic imperatives are removed, military discipline will, must, fill the resulting vacuum.

For in the Star Trek future the problems of economics have been solved.  There are no shortages of anything except the dilithium required to fuel the starships warp drives. The creators' leftist attitudes to business are gloriously revealed in an episode where a wealthy banker from the 20th century is brought back to life from his cryogenic coffin and obsesses comically about the value of his stocks. And of course in every episode featuring the vilely commercial Ferengi. The United Federation of Planets is successfully communist and its citizens (or at least the ones we are supposed to like) devote themselves to the selfless service of their beneficent state. Graduation from Starfleet Academy (the West Point or Sandhurst of the UFP) is their highest aspiration and its officers loftily disdain the trivial concerns of civilians.

Had we not been happily lapping up the encounters with goofy aliens, the cool (for the time) SFX, the wonderful space vehicles and the uniformly sexy female crew members, we might have seen in Star Trek a series of warnings about how the generation that had won the war would so horribly lose the peace.  


Democracy in crisis

Following the current political debates on both sides of the Atlantic is discouraging for those who like to believe (or perhaps delude ourselves) that our opinions are guided by reason. The unpleasant tactics of the US Presidential campaign provide much fuel for cynicism. As someone opposed to the big state policies of Clinton, Trump and (in Britain) May I tend to welcome anything that promotes cynicism about politics but I am also always concerned that if it goes too far there is the risk of something even worse than we have. 

Clinton has been caught employing agitators to foment violence at Trump events. Trump suggests the election is rigged and suggests he might not accept the outcome. Every day the same events are used by both sides to justify their own partisan view. Facts don't seem to be determining opinions. Opinions seem to be shaping facts. Meanwhile back in quiet old Britain, our politicians are contorting themselves to suggest that in voting to leave the EU the British people did not intend to leave its central institution — the single market. 

Our democracy is in danger because we have overloaded the concept of democracy itself. In the 19th Century when government was a much smaller player in society; controlling perhaps 5% of GDP and performing limited functions the electorate had merely to choose suitable people. It was more difficult than identifying the necessary skills in candidates when choosing a dog catcher, but it was a similar exercise. Now that we are choosing people to make choices for us in every aspect of our lives; even the pronouns we use when addressing each other, in the case of Canadians at the moment, who is to say what criteria to apply? Many agree with me, I suspect, that anyone attracted to such control over fellow humans is by definition unworthy. 

A key problem with democracy in a boundless state is understanding what the people mean when they vote. Some will vote for Trump next month because they believe him to have the skills and ethics to be a good president. Others will vote mischievously to shake up the Establishment and specifically the leadership of the Republican Party. Some will vote Clinton because they believe her a sincere, talented and experienced person suited to the office of POTUS. Others think her an appalling crook but will vote for her to keep out Trump. 

I think politics has always been "post truth". Take Harold Wilson's "the pound in your pocket" speech for example. There was no glorious age of honest politicians. There was only a state modest enough in scope and scale for the winner of the electoral lying contest not to matter so much. 

As things now stand, the intent of the electorate is rarely clear. The choice between Clinton or Trump will be driven — as the choice between Leave or Remain was driven — by loose, accidental alliances of people voting for different and often contradictory reasons. So the winner of any election in the West now gets to write his or her own mandate. We can see that in our own recent change of PM. Cameron had a mandate to do x, y and z. May believes she has a mandate to do a,b and c. Both mandates are based on the same votes by the same people in response to the same circumstances and the same manifesto. 

In truth we are just appointing a master to rule us. The only restraint on his choices is his fear of what we might do next time. If an opposition implodes, as Labour has done in Britain and the Republicans in the US, then that fear is removed. If faith in democratic parties fades (as they richly deserve, alas) then the field may even be opened for undemocratic or anti-democratic players. 

We are in interesting times and dangerous ones. Our votes are open to wide interpretation. Clegg and Soubry are busy demonstrating shamefully just how wide. Trump or Clinton will soon be proclaiming their absolute right to do whatever the hell they choose on the basis of a reading of the electoral runes that will make soothsaying seem scientific. Yet still most of us seem to believe that if only the quality of politicians could be improved all would be well. We are waiting for a hero, when frankly — given the powers we have allowed politicians to accumulate — nothing could be more dangerous.

The modern woman

I like women. I have always had more female than male friends. This, despite the fact that while (pace my late wife's trenchant view to the contrary) men and women can undoubtedly be friends, sex quite often does get in the way*.

This also despite my not buying into — even to be polite — the stupid conspiracy theory called "the Patriarchy". It doesn't exist. It never existed. Women have simply, as society has developed and free markets and technology have liberated them from traditional roles been able to enjoy a steadily more fulfilling life with a wider range of possibilities. Which is good news, right? I am happy modern women have more options than their grandmothers. What's not to like unless you have a stupid zero sum notion of economics?

I never hankered for the life my grandfathers enjoyed. I was happy to have a more fulfilled and therefore more interesting partner than — with the best will in the world (and I loved my grandmothers) — they had. 

I honestly believe that there are more women who fantasise about dominant males than men who fancy it. Who bought "Fifty Shades of Grey?" Not men. Nor did a man write it. Nor do straight men go in much for body shaming. Men are attracted to low-maintenance women who believe in their own attractiveness without any need for constant reassurance. If you think you're beautiful, you are as far as we are concerned. You'll only get an argument from the non-heterosexual world of fashion (and from each other). Don't look at us.

If equally qualified women were underpaid, cynical employers would hire them in preference until the market ensured equal pay for equal work. That is actually what has happened if you calculate comparitive pay by the hour. Women on average earn less in a lifetime because women on average still make different life choices. As they are entitled to do. But by the hour they earn what their similarly qualified and experienced male colleagues do.

Relations between the sexes have changed in some ways but not in others. We are now accustomed to working together professionally in a wide variety of roles, but we still fancy each other rotten and with very poor discrimination and have to deal with the awkward social issues sometimes arising from that. Some of them, like effects on the children of broken homes, more serious than that sentence made them seem.

Third wave intersectional feminists, perhaps just addicted to being outré, are trying hard to make continued mischief but feminism per se is now mainstream to the point of banality. If you are a feminist Ché Guevara, bored with the success of your revolution and hankering for violent struggle, you have to adopt some pretty weird stances now to justify it. Socially determined gender identity anyone? Sewing on floppy ears makes you a spaniel?

If in an era when the Conservative Party has twice been led by a woman, when the Chancellor of Europe's leading country is female, Israel and India have long since had women PMs and the favourite to be the next US President is a woman, you are still banging on about "women's ishoos" I am therefore cheerfully going to ignore you. Especially if you are from a party that has never come close to electing a woman leader. But if you are an interesting and intelligent woman who likes a chat, let's have coffee.


*A French friend once told me this is exclusively an Anglo-Saxon problem as Latins just get it out of the way and get on with being friends. 

Is normality now unelectable?

I have never favoured the view that elected officials need be just like us. Ideally, given the scope of the responsibilities of those leading what is regrettably the most powerful and dangerous force in our society, it is desirable that they be unusual.

Most importantly they would (unlike most of us) find economics interesting.  Or at least they would be prepared to give it — as a scientific attempt to analyse human behaviours — primacy over how they would like to think the world should be. Angela Merkel with her "primacy of politics over economics" just reminds me of Douglas Adams' marble sculpted teacup held in the air by the superiority of art over physics. Without the laugh.

Scientific detachment, a non-corrupt desire to serve the public, a healthy sense of inadequacy to a task never yet successfully undertaken and a humble awareness that, even ignoring wars, government is the leading non-natural cause of death. These should be differences enough. We are not entitled to expect our politicians to be moral paragons. Indeed I think it would dangerous if they were.

Many a normal man has lusted after an attractive woman when his social commitments and/or hers dictated otherwise. And, let's not be sexist here, vice versa. Some are too moral to act on their desires. Some are not brave enough and call their cowardice morality. Few are vulgar enough to share them with third parties. Even fewer are near live microphones if they do. So I don't really understand the fuss about the Trump tape. Neither his vulgarity nor his undiplomatic openness about his fleshly desires were anyway in doubt.

I therefore think he was unwise to apologise for it because he has now accepted a higher standard of behaviour than he is likely to have lived up to generally given his colourful sexual history.

People are driven to power, fame and fortune very largely because they give access to more and more attractive sexual partners and (as Rupert Murdoch demonstrates) for longer. As long as all partners are consenting adults, there's no particular harm in that. Anything lawful and non-violent that fires the ambition of the productive is good, whether it's the desire to bed a looker, own a Picasso or fund a cure for AIDS. Without such ambitions the successful would all retire quietly on their first million and most great endeavours would falter.

If there is a moral dimension to it, it says as much of the sexual partners attracted by power, money and fame as it does of those using it to attract. It certainly does not speak of the moral superiority of one sex over the other as a chap I know who moved jobs because of a female supervisor's demand for sexual favours as part of his appraisal would attest.

Trump has the same appetites and attitudes as America's favourite president, JFK. President Kennedy however used the FBI to bring women to him and had the G-men threaten them with dire consequences if they told. Bill Clinton idolised JFK and strove to emulate him. The FBI being unwilling it was up to Hillary Clinton to threaten Bill's women with consequences. I do not say she approved of them, but she seems to have been a knowing and thorough accomplice after the repeated seedy fact. Nor does she seem to have thought Bill's behaviours disqualified him from office. She has, as the lawyers say, no locus standi on this issue. 

It is in our interests for our political leaders to be flawed. We no longer expect them not to have smoked weed, committed sexual indiscretions nor held silly views in their youth precisely because a Cromwell — true to his Puritanical principles — will get you into far worse trouble than a leader who can picture himself in the place of your tempted, weak self. As we are about to find out with a prig of a vicar's daughter in Number 10.

There are lots of reasons not to vote for Donald Trump. His utter ignorance of economics, for example. His lack of affection for either (it's hard to tell) the truth or reality, for another. But this story teaches us nothing new or surprising about him.


Home again to the post-trip blues

I embarked on the Pont Aven in Santander on Monday afternoon after an uneventful, delightful run from San Sebastian. We sailed at 1515 CET. I have wised up to the idea that there is internet on board. There is, as advertised, but it's OAP broadband; capable of handling the odd email from an infant grandchild with limited vocabulary and a reply thereto, if typed slowly with one finger. For digital natives, it's insufferable. So I finished one book in the Kindle app on my iPad and started another. I had a bit of supper. I played a few games of FIFA offline and then I took to my bed. In the morning I breakfasted, strolled the decks, took a photo or two, lunched and read a bit more. I exchanged a few messages and ordered some groceries while we were sailing by the Channel Islands and I briefly had 4G. Soon enough after a smooth cruise it was time to return to Speranza and wait to be directed to shore. 

Return to England-4
Last sight of the Spanish shore
Return to England-3
Waiting to disembark from Pont Aven
Return to England-1
Fuelled, washed and on charge for the next trip
Return to England-2
It's surprising how much you can haul in a Ferrari (none of this was in the cockpit)

For the first time ever on a Channel Crossing I wasn't selected for a search so cleared customs at record speed. Supercars are inherently suspicious to British public servants apparently, but there was some kind of organised tour of them on board that afternoon, so mine didn't particularly stand out for once. Despite having to try hard to hold my speed to Britain's crazily low limits again, I was soon home. I ran my fuel lower than I usually do to empty the tank of the 95 octane fuel I had been forced to buy on the last refuel in Spain. I tanked her up and put her through the car wash at my "home" petrol station at the corner of my road and soon she was parked, unpacked and on battery maintenance charge in readiness for her next adventure.

This was a terrific trip and – despite brisk progress throughout on the Continent's superior roads – incurred not so much as a roadside speeding fine. I think I made the perilous run past all the speed cameras between Portsmouth and home safely too. Time will tell. Not that I exceeded the stupidly low limits of course. Certainly not, officer.

The final map of the tour – complete with the iPhone photos that provided the GPS data to plant the waypoint pins – is to be found here. I hope I haven't bored you all with my jolly burblings. Normal political service will now be resumed, once the smile has faded from my face.

Back to Spain

After breakfasting with and then waving my friends off to Toulouse airport in their rather cool little rented FIAT 500 Abarth, I stowed my baggage and hit the road again. Driving conditions were perfect and the roads were clear and dry. The sun shone, but it was not too warm. There were very few roadworks. In consequence I achieved the highest average speed of the trip so far, but I did get flashed by a speed camera. I am sure it must have malfunctioned as, if I was above the limit at all, I am sure I was within the margin of error.

I believe the British and French authorities were about, in the spirit of European cooperation, to provide each other with the means to enforce speed camera tickets. I hope the Brexit vote has put the kybosh on that kind of nonsense. We shall see.

I stopped only to refuel car and driver and – having missed my moment of crossing of the Spanish border (though I quickly noticed that the speed limit had gone down and the road signs had changed) – arrived in blazing sunshine in San Sebastian, which seems a rather agreeable seaside town. I am tired and probably won't venture out to explore it though. I have fast internet (for a fee) in the rather decent hotel I have treated myself to to celebrate the end of the tour so I may chill out and watch something mind-soothing on Netflix before venturing out to find food and beverages.

I have no pictures to offer from today but I rather liked this one sent to me by my friend from Mougins. It's of the voiturier at our restaurant in Cap d'Antibes on Thursday night raising Speranza's roof before parking her out front by the door as her aristocratic lineage requires. The water in the background is the Baie des Anges and the lights are of Antibes and its mega-yachted harbour. She looks rather more in her element there than she ever does in West London!

As always, the map of the tour is to be found here.


When planning this trip one of the first decisions I made was to visit Carcassonne. When I posted my planned route on my personal Facebook page two friends of mine from Poland said they would meet me there. We booked into the same hotel, just outside the gate of the medieval fortress town and I made a reservation for us at a restaurant on the castle square. I have been looking forward to it.

Speranza made light work of the 280 miles from Mougins, despite some torrential rain en route. Conditions improved as I drove West and the weather was hot and sunny by I arrived mid afternoon. I met my friends for a drink or three (tonight I don't need to drive to the restaurant) and we chatted happily in the shade by the the sunny square before taking a stroll so that they could have a late lunch to "put them on" until dinner.

Briefly revisiting our hotel to freshen up for dinner we returned to the same square and our restaurant. More wine and local food were consumed and the world set to rights. A very pleasant way to spend a Saturday that – had I been in London – would have been spent watching Fulham FC lose at home to QPR in a local derby!

I will come close to closing my Continental loop today (Sunday) as I part with my friends after breakfast and head to San Sebastián. The map of my tour is here

Jaunts & Errands

Friday was a day free of commitments. At the suggestion of my local friends, I stopped by at their place for a coffee and to be briefed on a suitable excursion for the day. They sent me off to Valbonne where a market was in progress on the town square. I wandered around the pretty side streets and bought some essential stationery (even a digital native like me doesn't send an electronic thank you note) before settling to a modest lunch. Deliberately modest to compensate for last night's indulgence in millefeuille



Then I drove on to Opio, Chateauneuf les Faisses and finally to the wonderfully-named Magagnosc, which looks like a Polish word but – as far as I know – isn't. Then I returned via the perfume town of Grasse to my borrowed home in Mougins, where I attempted to start my friend's car and take it for a spin to charge it up. Sadly the battery didn't have enough juice to turn over the engine so I hooked it up to a battery charger I had brought for the purpose and left it overnight.

In the evening I checked through my friend's DVD collection for a movie I hadn't seen. I settled on the classic Bond "Dr No", which whiled away my final evening on the Cote d'Azur. It has been a great visit.