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

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A road trip to Northern Ireland

I returned yesterday from an impulsively-organised road trip to Northern Ireland. For those of us who grew up during the Troubles, it's not an obvious tourist destination. The names of its towns and villages meant nothing to me but violence and – Giant's Causeway apart – I had never seen a reason to go. However, the future Mrs P the Second's sister was visiting Ireland and is a fan of "Game of Thrones."  The series was mostly filmed in a studio on the Belfast Docks and on location around Northern Ireland so we decided to meet her there and visit some of those locations.

It was a frivolous idea but it led to some good fun. Mrs P2-elect and I crossed from Birkenhead to Belfast on the 1030 sailing on Friday. I wasn't too happy that Speranza travelled on an outside deck, exposed to weather and spray, but the passage was calm and agreeable enough, if a little boring. We landed on Friday evening at 1830 and were safely at our modern hotel near the docks by 1900. Within minutes we were changed and in a taxi to a splendid restaurant recommended by my cousin in the catering trade. She had told me that the chef was on the cusp of his first Michelin "macaron" and after our experience there, I can believe it.

We met my fiancee's sister's train from Dublin at the railway station on Saturday morning and set off on our (as it proved) over-ambitious tour. Our first stop was Cairncastle, where the scene in which Ned Stark lived up to his motto that "the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword" was filmed. The photo below shows Speranza near the place.
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A nearby hotel features one of the "Doors of Thrones". These are made from wood from trees at the Dark Hedges (itself a GoT location – see below) felled by Storm Gertrude in 2016. Local tourism promoters turned damage to one tourist attraction into ten new ones – all at pubs or hotels near to a location used in series six. All the locations can be found here

From there we drove to the Cushenden Caves at Ballymena. They are open to the public but the locals didn't seem keen for us to find them. There are no signs until you have actually arrived. We persisted however and duly saw where the Red Priestess gave birth to the shadow creature. We lunched at a pub across the road before striking out, this time with the roof down, for Murlough Bay

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This location stands in for the region of Westeros (the fictional continent where most of Game of Thrones is set) known as Pyke. Inevitably, as GoT is set in an alternate medieval reality, there's little to see but windswept hills and ocean but our tour was getting us out into some beautiful scenery and involving us in lots of healthy outdoor exercise. The roads to this remote spot were not (unlike the winding B roads we enjoyed for most of the trip) ideally suited to Speranza but she coped.

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From here we drove to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which features in GoT as the scene of the killing of Balon Greyjoy. 

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We arrived too late to buy a ticket to cross the bridge, which was a disappointment, but made the walk there and back anyway to take a look and make some pictures. By this time night was falling and it was too late to go to our main destination for the day the famous Giant's Causeway. As we drove back to our hotel in Belfast however, we came up with a plan to return the next day.

We also had the chance on our way back from the rope bridge to park up near the Dark Hedges. My camera can shoot at very high ISO and so I was able to get one of my favourite shots of the weekend in near-darkness. Had we arrived in daylight it would have been crammed with tourists spilling off the coaches that were leaving as we arrived. As it was, it took me seconds to Photoshop away the few stragglers that remained.

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After breakfast on Sunday morning, we drove directly to the Giant's Causeway. On well-maintained and (by English standards) lightly-used motorways and A roads it was a different experience from Saturday. The miles ticked away quickly and we arrived within 50 minutes or so despite a refuelling pit stop. The attraction is natural and free, but the National Trust is in charge and determined to rake in the cash. Essentially it charges £11.50 per person to park and kindly allow access to their gift shop and cafe where its polite and helpful staff can relieve you of more cash. The "visitor centre" is modern and magnificent and we did plan to spend some time there so as the NT is a charity and mostly (despite its political correctness and priggishness) does a useful job we decided to pay up with a smile. If you were minded to be more frugal you could drop your passengers at the entrance to the car park and they could walk for free to the Causeway. If you wanted to be really frugal, you could park the car down the road and walk in. There's nothing in the gift shop or cafe that you couldn't get online or nearby from some private business or other.

After exploiting the NT facilities we had paid so handsomely to use,  we set off for nearby Dunluce Castle, a ruin that stands in for Castle Greyjoy in GoT, but is an interesting enough attraction in its own right. The owners clearly think so as, despite the constant GoT chatter of their visitors, they make nothing of the connection to the show. 

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We then had a late lunch in the nearby town of Portrush, before heading south again towards Belfast. We had hoped to visit another GoT location, Shane's Castle, on the way back but it is part of a working agricultural estate and is only open to the public for special events. So we called an end to our GoT tour and returned to town to visit the famous Crown Bar and then the cafe of the Europa Hotel (bombed 36 times during the Troubles but a pleasant enough place to pass an hour these days).

From there we dropped our guest at the station to return to Dublin and we set off to wait for our ferry home and a good night's rest at sea before a pleasant drive home to London. Given our early start – disembarking at 0630 – and a single pit stop to refuel at a motorway service station, we were home  before 11am.


Of happiness and hope

I am in the middle of what seems to be a month long celebration of my 60th birthday. I am jollier than I would have expected, having eyed this approaching milestone with dread. Of course I SHOULD be jolly. I am a privileged Westerner, living a life he never dreamed with a loving family and affectionate friends. But I have political reasons too.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was the key political event of my life. Like most of us, I had never dared to hope Communism would fail in such a clear and comprehensive fashion. I moved to Eastern Europe in 1992 and, as a specialist lawyer, helped my real estate clients build on its ruins. The transformation we helped the people of the region achieve was spectacular. If we compare living standards in Poland when I moved there in 1992 with today only a fool or knave could deny the powerful virtues of capitalism. The transformation is greater than even an enthusiastic free marketeer like me would have predicted. 

I lived in that optimistic environment for twenty years - never really understanding how naive Fukyama's analysis of "the end of history" had been. Back in the West, however, our Marxist academics regrouped. They began to focus even more on "cultural Marxism"; on fomenting other social conflicts to create a perceived need for a controlling elite at the helm of a powerful state. I firmly believe that such a state has always been their one true goal. It enables them to live high on the hog in the parasitical, hypocritical idleness that Marx himself achieved as he sponged off his naive bourgeois friend Engels, rogered his servant girl and bilked his creditors. All else has always been bullshit.

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I gradually realised that the true outcome of the Cold War might be as this cartoon cleverly presents it. Out of that dark realisation this blog was born. Essentially a solution-oriented, problem-solving, optimistic person, I told myself it was better to light a candle than curse the darkness and spent a serious chunk of my life arguing whenever I could against our fifth columnists in academia. In the last year, the academic Berlin Wall has begun to crumble too. I wish I could claim that we had won the political argument but I think something far more fundamental is going on. There is a shift as profound as when the Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party in mainstream British politics and King Edward VII told his mother that "we are all socialists now". 

I suspect the Left's first real strategic error was its bizarre embrace of Islam. You don't need a degree in politics to notice that Muslims are socially-conservative, anti-feminist to the point of misogyny and - in the cultural Marxist jargon - "homophobic". Leftists in academia, contemptuously ignorant of religion, seemed to view them as just more poor immigrants to vote reliably for the continual expansion of the state. They arrogantly bent their own logic to welcome a clearly anti-progressive force into their ranks. The error might not have been obvious in their ivory towers, but it was pretty clear on the streets of Luton and Bradford. The credibility of leftist academics began to crumble. 

Other errors too numerous to mention followed as the academic bubble drifted further from reality. Most decent, practical people could not be bothered (who has the time if you have actual work to do?) to contest their ideas, but the perception grew that - however many black friends you had - you were going to be called racist. That however much you loved your mum and treated your lady friends with respect, you were sexist. That however little you gave a damn about what your homosexual friends and colleagues got up to in private that you were homophobic. And that pointing out the threat Muslim immigrants presented to Western values made you islamophobic. It became clear that the names you were called were just part of an academic game. They had nothing to do with truth.

As the fifth column's influence intruded even into popular culture, people who lived in the real Coronation Streets and Albert Squares noticed that their on-screen equivalents were becoming preachy purveyors of condescending agitprop. I had long stopped watching the BBC's news and current affairs output because I could not stand the primary school teacher tone it adopted. The same tone was now to be found from Emmerdale to Gallifrey. 

Just when I thought we were all going to drown in cultural Marxist condescension however, the dam broke. Despite being told precisely what to think by an united elite singing the same, well-rehearsed tune and utterly confident of success, the British people found their voice. On the day of the Brexit referendum they raised their traditional battle cry of "bollocks to the lot of you!" Even better than that moment has been the torrent of condescension that has followed, laying bare the contempt in which our would-be masters hold us. Cheated of the cushy "jobs" and lavish funding for policy-based evidence making "research" the EU had provided, they could not conceal their impotent rage. It has been delicious.

As has the aftermath of the election of President Trump in the USA where similar forces are at play. I have concerns about the current POTUS's grasp of economics and wouldn't like him hanging around my daughters (but ditto JFK and Bill Clinton and we all survived them). Trump is no libertarian and is politically as far from me as Clinton. However he seems strong on the defence of the West and - even better - has made noises about defunding academia. If he achieves the latter he may, for all his vulgarity, prove to be the King Jan III Sobieski of our day. 

Even more encouragingly, just as when I was at university in the Seventies, the key voices in public discourse are not now from the Left. Rather they are such delightful people as the dangerous faggot, Milo Yiannopoulos, the factual feminist Christina Hoff Sommers and my current favourite, the softly spoken Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson. The ever more authoritarian attempts to suppress dissent in academia have put feminist icon Germaine Greer on the "no platform" list and made apparent to even a casual observer how dangerously far political correctness has gone and just how sneeringly arrogant and condescendingly  authoritarian its proponents are.

So I am politically happy not because anyone I approve of holds political office anywhere, but because I have hope for the future. The ideologues who failed in their overt parasitism in Eastern Europe and China are failing in their covert version in the West and for the same reason. Their ideas conflict with reality.

The chess game in the cartoon is not over yet. I shall be following the next moves with gleeful anticipation.


The Red Star and the Swastika

I am struggling with the centenary of the Russian Revolution. London is awash with commemorative events and the iconography of socialism is everywhere. Most events, like the art exhibition at the Royal Academy, are thoughtful, measured and interesting. But it's weird to me that the dark symbols of Soviet violence carry no psychological threat for the educated, kindly people standing thoughtfully before them.

The swastika revolts all but a tiny, mad minority of Westerners. Even when we know it to be innocent, as when we see it in the millennia old Eastern religious context from which it was stolen, it evokes a tremor of dread before melting into awkward comedy. Yet the red star of communism is still just a star. And democratic Austria scarcely seems to notice that its national emblem has a hammer and a sickle even though they are now associated with the only human monsters worse than Austria's most famous son.

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Nice young people wear T-shirts with CCCP, the Red Star or the leering face of a mass murdering Argentinian psychopath and only a very few of us think less of them for it. Yet we would all be rightly horrified if it were a swastika, an ϟϟ symbol or an Austrian psycho. In any other field our friends on the left would read into this a sign of some deep seated racism.

Milo Yiannopolous, currently nailed metaphorically to Liberty's cross, is the subject of all kinds of slanders but it made me smile to read he was a Nazi because he once wore an Iron Cross — a German (and of course a Christian) symbol. But then I recall reading attacks on Bryan Ferry because he once remarked that Nazi iconography was attractive.

Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful.

Yes, those SS uniforms were admirably well-tailored. And yes, those attacks were probably written — without a hint of self-awareness — by people wearing Hugo Boss suits. And yes, Ferry whimpered a craven apology rather than be falsely branded evil  

So what is this perverse response to symbology telling us? Challenged, most leftists will accept Stalin or Mao was at least as wicked as Hitler. But whereas Hitler's wickedness speaks to them of the wickedness of his ideology, that of the other totalitarian gentry says nothing of theirs. Mao and Stalin are to Socialism apparently as ISIS is to Islam. They are radical socialism-ists, you might say. And so lefties keep on instinctively favouring the cinematic work of Eisenstein over Riefenstahl and smiling nostalgically rather than cringing before the naive agitprop posters of the Bolsheviks.

It all suggests to me the same barely-concealed truth as their fresh enthusiasm every time some barbarian emerges to promise a new and-this-time-genuine revolution. The socialism of the late Hugo Chavez is proving to have had just the same result as that of Lenin and Mao. It is already clear history will place him in the same ledger. His same old same old Marxism was as destructive as always of lives, prosperity and ethics. Yet the echoes of the enthusiasm of Red Brit notables for Chavez have not yet died down. The flush on their cheeks is a fading remainder of their joyful anticipation that this time, this time it will work. It's certainly not the blush of a shame they should feel but never will.

In their minds these people are as far away as it's possible to be from fascism. That's why they cry "fascist" or "Nazi" at everyone they hate. They are secure in their deluded belief that everyone between them and the horizon truly deserves the name. Their not-so-sneaking admiration for the symbols of the USSR tells us rather that they are fascism's near neighbours — emotionally, ideologically and in terms of their intellectual development.

Historically they are only accidental anti-fascists. Were it not for Hitler's stupidity the Third Reich and the Soviet Union would have ended the Second World War as they began it — as allies. Both socialists and fascists believe in the heroic superiority of the state over the individual. Both despise "bourgeois" ideas of freedom. Both believe that state force applied judiciously to the masses will forge them into New Men and Women. Both prefer violent mastery of an economy to the "disorder" of a free market.

We, the classical liberals, libertarians, free marketeers, Austrian School economists, even (on a good day) the old school Shire Tories are the opposites of fascism. And of communism too. National and International Socialisms, powered respectively by race hatred and class hatred are the heads and tails of the same sinister, despicable coin.

So, if all the Soviet imagery around London right now makes you as uncomfortable as would similar exhibitions of Nazi art and propaganda then you are my ethical brother or sister. If not, remind me not to leave you alone with anyone or anything I value.


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.  

 


If I had a hammer

 

...I would be hammering The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the BBC for bombarding me with nonsense about the late Pete Seeger's 'idealism'. Even his ideological chums over at the New Republic acknowledge he had been a Stalinist stooge.

He and his musical colleagues sang anti-war songs in 1939-41 because, in the Soviet Union, Stalin had decided that an alliance with the Nazis was a good idea; and the order to support Stalin had gone out to every Communist Party in the world; and Pete Seeger was, in those days, a good Communist. And so, he picked up his banjo and leaned into the microphone, and his vocal warblings and his banjo plunks were exactly what Stalin wanted to hear from Pete Seeger.

"In those days" Really?! In an interview in 1995 he said;

I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.

Of course he backed off a little in his enthusiasm for Uncle Joe Stalin. Gosh darn it, he even wrote a song;

I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe
He ruled with an iron hand
He put an end to the dreams
Of so many in every land
He had a chance to make
A brand new start for the human race
Instead he set it back
Right in the same nasty place
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast)
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Do this job, no questions asked)
I got the Big Joe Blues . . .

That was in 2007 so Seeger may have been the last to notice that Stalin "ruled with an iron hand". I was living in Russia at the time and - trust me - the news had been out there for a while. He may also have underestimated his ex-idol's achievements. The world before Stalin may have been a "nasty place", but the world after was not "the same nasty place". The nastiness bar had been raised. Maybe, if you are inclined to see totalitarian power as a chance to make "a brand new start", it's best not to look to you for moral judgement?

Mark Steyn, before Seeger's death, commented drily on Seeger's propensity to be on the side of anyone at war with America at the time, but to recant later.

I can't wait for his anti-Osama album circa 2078

Mr Steyn also pointed me to the concise dismissial of Pete Seeger by James Lileks;

"'If I Had A Hammer'? Well, what's stopping you? Go to the hardware store; they're about a buck-ninety, tops."

That's rather Tom Lehrer's point in the video above, of course; "Ready. Aim. Sing".

I also found a highly-critical article by one of Seeger's fellow-leftists;

Who the hell was Pete? He came from a distinguished family of musicians and academics afflicted with self-conscious class-consciousness; his father, Charles Louis Seeger, although from an old Puritan patrician line, joined the radical Industrial Workers of the World in the 1930s, a form of ostentatiously slumming solidarity that predicted much about his son's future. Pete was a professional musician from a young age, Harvard dropout, assistant to folk archivist Alan Lomax, and dedicated political activist. He knew everything about folk music, except what it is.

No rebel then, our Pete. He was as in mindless a thrall to his parents' ideology as the most conventional Tory of the Shires.

The biggest smile I got from the Seeger tributes today was at the Leftist New York Times leaping to his defence by claiming that he had criticised Stalin “at least as early” as 1993. It rather reminded me of the moment a Russian colleague was asked by a client to whom he had complained of "Western exaggeration" about Stalin how many he thought he had killed. When he answered "no more than a couple of hundred thousand", the client paused meaningfully before saying "so that's OK then?"

Trust me, I know idealism when I see it - not least because I am old enough to be painfully self-aware. Idealism was far down the list of Pete Seeger's problems - some way below his lousy voice, poor musicianship and spoiled rich kid leftism. Tom Lehrer was, if anything, far too kind.


Public Drunkenness and Pomposity

Public Drunkenness Can Never Be a Social Norm - Iain Dale - Dale & Co..

Apropos of my previous post and the widespread delusion that candid photography is against the law, Iain Dale is busy digging himself deeper into a hole after an ill-advised photographic tweet on his way home last night (click to enlarge).

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I defend his freedom of speech, of course, but I think he should be happy the lady cannot be identified as the publication is arguably libellous.

As a libertarian, I think the laws of defamation fall under the category of "de trop", but for so long as they exist (and they have been around a long time) Iain needs, particularly as a professional communicator, to bear them in mind. Fortunately for him, the first time anyone would have chance to consider the effect on her reputation would be if she were rash enough to identify herself by suing. So she won't. Before she even considers it, she ought to read about the role of an ill-judged defamation suit in Oscar Wilde's downfall.

It's a surprising lapse for Iain who is famous for his media skills and a highly accomplished communicator (usually of not very much). An amusing Twitterstorm has ensued, as the professionally-offended on the Left take up chivalric cudgels while calling him a c**t and a w*****r without any sense of irony. They are also ranting on about the breach of this anonymous lady's privacy, which is nonsense. Firstly, she's still anonymous and secondly she was in a public place. Anywhere you can lawfully be looked at, you can generally be photographed. People take photos on trains all the time, and - although usually incidentally - there are almost always strangers in the frame.

For what it's worth, I think Mr Dale is guilty of bad manners and a surprising, for him, lack of media savvy. He says she was behaving badly, but the picture doesn't illustrate his point in any way. She could just be depressed or tired. As it comes down to his word, he should probably have left it at words.

Iain is in danger of being seen as using the hammer of his influence to crack the nut of his irritation with a minor disturbance to his peace (allegedly) caused by this woman. Sadly he comes off looking like a pompous prat. In his own interests he should have apologised immediately but having rashly mounted his high horse he's having trouble getting off. His lines of defence look tortured and weak (can he really not have realised the sexual connotations of 'slapper?') and are doing him no good.

The only benefit to his not apologising is that the stream of gleefully sanctimonious responses show the British Left up for the insufferable prigs they mostly are. Ironically, if this tweet represented his true character, it would be a trait Iain had in common with them.


Apple, cored.

Apple vs Apple: long-running legal dispute delayed Beatle's iTunes deal - Telegraph.

Apple So Apple, Inc. (fka Apple Computer, Inc.) now owns the wittily-named Apple Corps - the Beatles' corporate vehicle. The computer/media company paid $500 million for the privilege, confirming once more the insanity of Macca's choice to remain a UK taxpayer ("Ta la'", says Gideon) and filling a gaping hole in the iTunes Music Store.

Of course I have every Beatles track (at least once) in my iTunes already. I was mugged replacing my LPs with cassettes and my cassettes with CDs and will not be mugged again. I supose however there may be someone in the world who will think it worth paying again to have a version they can't copy freely.

Apple is pushing hard "exclusive content" that can only be had by paying £125 for the "boxed set" download of the complete works. I guess that might work for some. Shouldn't there be a sexier name for that, by the way? An iSet perhaps? The timing of the long-delayed legal settlement may be a prudent way for the Beatles and their heirs to enjoy the last faint hurrah of a fab financial run, for the attraction of the music finally seems to be fading.

Brits of my vintage were all Stones or Beatles fans (few were both). There was a time, not so long ago, when a day never passed without my listening to their music. Perhaps the 1990s association with a Mancunian(!) tribute act tainted it for me. Or perhaps, unlike the Porsche 911, it was only so far ahead of its time and destined for the fate of Morecambe & Wise (good once, then suddenly not). Perhaps the Beatles were only ever really special for not being the bands that came before them. Still, I will always love "Yesterday" - invaluable if you want to start a sing-song in a remote, language-challenged bar.

I remember mass playground fights (all very amiable and character-forming) between fans of Paul and John at my infants school. The Ringo/George factions were forced to choose sides in this physical debate and of course the girls cheered on the avatars for Paul. Few girls liked John. How else do you think such a rich man ended up with Yoko? At that age however, the boys liked him for the fact the girls found him as yucky as we found them.

We were used to binary choices. Where I grew up, even the (very quiet and well-behaved) Man United fans had to state a preference between Liverpool and Everton. Our Shanklyite head teacher was very hard on those rash enough to choose the latter. Politics was binary too, of course. You could be Labour, or you could be posh Tory scum. Not too long after choosing John and Liverpool FC, I chose Maoism as a way (irony of ironies) to assert my individuality. Thank goodness I escaped to find life's choices are not always either or.

I wonder if Paul and Ringo will thank the clever lawyers who negotiated an end to their 1991 court battle? As part of that settlement, they bound Steve Jobs' company contractually never to go into the music business. 10% of the price Jobs paid for their company might be a reasonable honorarium for the farthest-sighted chaps in the law.

They might even like to apply the iTunes conversion rate for sterling to that.


Patrick McGoohan explains "The Prisoner"

YouTube - Patrick McGoohan "The Prisoner Puzzle".

I am grateful to reader Peter Gardner for drawing my attention (in a comment to my recent post) to these YouTube videos of McGoohan being interviewed about The Prisoner. The past really is another country. Two grown men having an intelligent conversation (over cigarettes!) in front of a polite audience asking intelligent questions! And no shrieking harpy of the left denouncing their thought crimes. When I enter a modern office building, fretting and fussing at the airport style security (or indeed as I regularly experience the security theatre at airports), I shall smile at the memory of McGoohan complaining about merely having to sign in to the studio before the interview. Enjoy.


I am not a number

This remake of classic series, The Prisoner looks unpromising to a fan of the original. Yet perhaps there was never a great show that more needed to be remade. Its themes are certainly as relevant as in 1967. In those far-off days, despite the horrors of Soviet Russia, Red China and Fidel's Cuba many still saw collectivism as a gentle dream.

Sir Ian McKellen, luvvie deluxe, unexpectedly gives a quote worthy of a libertarian blogger;

“The original Prisoner was very much dealing with the life of the individual as he might get caught up in Soviet Russia… Well, here we are 40 years on and we are living in a land where people accept without question being fingerprinted, having their eyes registered at airports, taking off their clothes at the airport, opening up their luggage, not being allowed to do this, not being allowed to do that, photographed in the streets by cameras that are put up by you’re never quite sure who. All this adds up to a society that perhaps isn’t quite as democratic and careful about the freedom of the individual as we would like.”

Perhaps the delicately understated final sentence is not quite so bloggerish! One cannot imagine Devil's Kitchen, for example, languidly observing that our society;

"...isn't quite as ... careful about the freedom for the individual as we would like".

I imagine McKellen had fun with the role of "Two", but I cannot picture Jim Caviezel in the McGoohan role as [Number] Six. From the trailer and advance publicity, I fear it may finally deliver on McGoohan's dishonest promise to his backers that it would be an action series. For all its failings, the original series was a thought-provoking, intelligent work. It would therefore never have made it to the small screen without McGoohan's deception. It was his project; he was co-creator, star and wrote some of it himself. We owe him for that; it's hard to imagine a remake that won't make our authoritarian leaders uncomfortable and their sycophants furious.

A genuine individualist himself, McGoohan navigated bizarre story lines carefully, somehow retaining sympathy for a character far from being loveable. Ultimately, Number Six was not even entitled to say; "I am not paranoid. They really are out to get me." The series ended in a full-on 1960s schlock episode in which Number Six is revealed also to be the mysterious, never seen but much talked-about, Number One. Symbolically, he was his own jailer and "I am out to get myself" is not quite such a good punchline. I suppose McGoohan was hinting that no man can truly be unfree without consent. It was a call to arms, perhaps, but hardly rousing.

I loved the original series, though I was a teenage collectivist when I first saw it. My strict, always-in-the-wrong, upbringing felt like life in "The Village" to me and I thought the village itself a perfect metaphor. My mental image of tyranny is a village, like the one I grew up in, where everyone knows you, there is no privacy and your every move is likely to be reported to "the authorities" (or in my case at the time, my parents). I felt cheated by the finale though. Like much 1960s culture, you needed to be on acid to appreciate the logic; which is another way to say that it had none.

The Prisoner was great television, but hugely flawed. Stylistically, it was too much of its ludicrous era. Everything good from the 60s needs to be remade, so for once the producers can do better than avoid adverse comparisons. They have something to shoot for.


Pop memories

Late evening listening – the evolution of music | nourishing obscurity.

I was at a party last night with my soon-to-be-ex-team in Moscow. It was at a way-too-cool-for-me bar and I was already feeling old when a kindly, well-meaning (and jollier than I had ever realised) colleague made things worse by asking if I had ever been at a Beatles concert.

Debbie-heart-of-glass1Clearly, I must get more sleep and eat more healthily.

He was disappointed to hear that the earliest concert I ever attended was by Blondie (of whom, thanks to the Iron Curtain, he had never heard).

I was reminded of the conversation this morning by this delightful picture of the super-talented Ms Deborah Harry at Blogmeister Higham's new site. I have heard that, to this day, new bands with songs to promote are asked if they have a new "Heart of Glass." It is considered by many to be the definitive pop song - catchy, memorable, quirky and instantly recognisable from the first notes.

YouTube does not allow embedding of the video of the 70's live version at the Ed Sullivan Theater. However, here's the link if you need your memory refreshed. At the risk of offending the Misses Paine who shudder at my "poppy" sensibilities (and Mrs Paine who despairs of my "bimbo rock" tastes) I admit this video is on my iPod and I watch it at least once a month.

That confession over, if any of you know anyone who saw the Beatles live, my Russian colleague - a more avid Beatles fan than I have been since I pestered my mother for Fab Four wallpaper at the age of 8 - would like to shake his or her hand. Being told that Mrs Paine's mother knew John Lennon's uncle wasn't good enough, I am afraid.