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

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First full day of our Tuscany Workshop

Our workshop proper began on Sunday morning with a pre breakfast portrait shoot on the street outside our hotel with Natalie, our traveling model for the week. This was followed after breakfast with critiques of past work. Sensei took a look at four or five images from each of us to get an idea of where we are photographically. Given our numbers, this took all morning. 

We then took a long lunch break to enjoy the sunshine as tourists, rather than wrestle with its harshness as photographers. At 4.30pm we set off together to shoot street photography at the Ponte Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria under the guidance of our tutors. At 7pm we reassembled to head up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to shoot at sunset.

Piazza Piazzale-427
Piazza Piazzale-427
Piazza Piazzale-427
Piazza Piazzale-427
Piazza Piazzale-427
Some "location attitude" was required to seize the best position and hold it as we waited for the best light. We had as much right to be there as anyone else but of course so did they. To pass the time Joe did a couple portrait shoot against the background of the city, demonstrating the use of flash to blend the subjects with the background. This drew an even greater crowd, including some of his fans who recognised him from online video tutorials and a lot of Chinese tourists who just wanted to shoot the models with their smartphones. As they pressed against us with an Oriental determination and a surprising lack of respect for personal space, I experienced a disquieting physical intimacy for which thirty years of marriage to an Englishwoman had not prepared me. 

Eventually the setting sun did its stuff and we did ours, waiting (unlike the hard pressing iPhone crowd) for the lights on the Duomo and other landmarks to come on at about 9.20pm. Then I adjourned to the terrace restaurant of a nearby hotel for a splendid late supper and some Brunello di Montalcino with two friends from NYC who were on the previous workshops I've done with Joe. 

Today, Monday, we leave Florence to head out into the Tuscan countryside. 

A pedestrian day in Florence

Today was the first of two full days in Florence. My photo workshop begins this evening and I am looking forward to meeting up with friends from previous such events as well as making, I hope, some new ones. I had breakfast with the organiser, photographer and film-maker Liza Politi. This is the fourth of her photo workshops I have attended and it was good to catch up. Our "sensei" for the week, Joe McNally, stopped by to report on his early morning location scouting and showed us this photo, which sets the bar distressingly high.

I then braved the heat to haul my own camera gear around Florence. It's one of my favourite cities and, once I had bought myself a new Panama hat to shield my pale Brythonic features from the fierce sun, I enjoyed my stroll. It brought back happy memories of a family trip here with the late Mrs P. and Misses P. the Elder and Younger.

There was some kind of Ruritanian parade through the Piazza della Signoria and after watching the tourists vaguely wave phones over each others heads to produce thousands of what must have been dreadful photographs, I worked my way to the front to snatch some shots of manly Italian gents carrying off truly bizarre attire with such aplomb as only they can muster. In fairness, their outfits were only marginally more elaborate than the police uniforms here. If nattiness tended to effectiveness then this would be the best-policed country on Earth.

Tonight our workshop begins with a kick-off briefing and setting of assignments, followed by a get-to-know-each-other dinner. If the organiser's choice of Florentine restaurant is half as good as her choice of hotel, we are in for a treat.

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

The Last Ditch returns to its birthplace

Московский урбанистический форум.

I am back where this blog began, in Moscow. My first post was from here. I'm speaking on a panel of "experts" at the Moscow Urban Development Forum and hoping to catch up with lots of my old friends. Blogging may be light, but I hope there will be some photos for you, if too much vodka is not consumed.
No, let's face it. Blogging will be light. :-)

Reflections on the passing of another year

FireworksI used to like New Year's Eve. I remember a party in the Welsh wilds many moons ago. I thought it had gone well, but the late Mrs P. disagreed. Apparently alcohol had somehow flushed my schoolboy Welsh from my memory's trash can and I spent much of the evening chatting in that ancient tongue to an attractive young lady. This had somehow displeased my better half.

Recalling little of this, I took a while to get over the very notion of an attractive Welsh girl. My family had lived in the Principality for many centuries with only English women in our family tree. Without border raids, we would have died out long since. Nor had anything in my youthful experience in Wales suggested my male ancestors had erred in their judgement. You can navigate around Swansea by signage on places graced by Catherine Zeta-Jones, so extraordinary is the notion of Welsh beauty.

I tried to explain that, though I recalled little of the conversation, my Welsh vocabulary could not possibly have led in the directions she imagined. Much of it would have been derived from the national anthem and the hymn 'Calon Lan'. Once I had complimented the cleanliness of her young heart and stated my undying respect for her old tongue, I would have been at something of a loss; however well-lubricated my larynx.

Apparently, however, the young lady had found me suspiciously amusing. Mrs P. could never imagine a woman laughing at my witticisms without ulterior motive. [Yet I distinctly remember her finding me funny in our younger days. I can only now conclude her own motives were then as questionable as those she later imputed to others.] I explained, convincingly I thought, that the young woman's laughter was more likely to have been brought on by my linguistic errors than any desire to charm me.

So dark was her view of woman-kind she remained unconvinced. So much then for female solidarity. I have long since sadly concluded that many of the nastier aspects of feminist theory arise from women falsely imputing their own dark view of each other to men. We like them far better than they do themselves, if only they knew. Not that it's too hard to compete with what they think we think. 

It has all been downhill from there. During my ambitious middle years, unreasonable expectations of career progress let to a New Year's Eve score card as depressing as that of a current Fulham fan. As my career crested, it became a time to notice the fading of even those glories. Mrs P's insistent desire to celebrate in high style merely led to evenings of expensive misery and well-dressed matrimonial rows.

I have come at last to see Hogmanay as something, like all primitive excess, best left to the Scots. Christmas, I love, but New Year is not for me. Tomorrow will make today its yesterday as usual, regardless of Pope Gregory's bull of 1582. Frankly, it's all bull to me.

A new beginning is available to any of us on any day, without the need for an auspicious date or a preparatory hangover. We can make a change, or be forced by circumstance to make one, on any date - odd or even. Numbers simply don't come into it. Enjoy your parties though, gentle readers. I know I am as contrarian in this as in so much else and no more likely than usual to be right.

A very happy new year to you all. May 2014 bring to you the realisation of every hope that does not infringe on the freedom of your fellow man.

A sad anniversary

It is two years today since Mrs Paine died. I visited her memorial this morning and reflected a little on that sad time. I don't think I fully appreciated then, in my grief, just how blessed I was to be so well supported by family, friends and even by my readers here. I was not able to give much attention at the time to all the kind comments you made on my post announcing her passing, but I can assure you I have read them often since and taken comfort from them. When statists say that people of our persuasion are unkind and uncaring, I know better. Thank you.

The future

Quite a few readers have kindly told me how much they missed my trip updates since I returned from the USA. Some of them however only started to read this blog to follow my American journey and would be surprised and perhaps even shocked if I returned to my old subjects.

I rather embarrassed myself at dinner at a friend's house last week. Another guest was a retired senior civil servant and now a substantial London rentier on his savings from the money extorted for him over decades from taxpayers. Predictably, I laid into him about how out-of-control the British State has become.There was some satisfaction, when citing the scandal of the wasted billions at the Ministry of Defence, to find that he had been in a responsible position there - perhaps even (though he was reticent on that point) at the time. However, it's always bad manners to talk about religion, sex or politics at a British dinner party and I spoiled the evening for my hosts. I wrote a sincere apology to my hostess and have felt much chastened since. I like to think I am a pleasant enough chap, but it seems I have become unfit for polite society.

Some of the ex-mandarin's arguments were routinely ridiculous. The "social contract" and "consent to taxation" are the crumbliest of political figleaves. It's a simple lie to describe as "a contract" something even one party never chose to be bound by. His suggestion that I consented by not fleeing these islands did not help. That's just smug leftist code for '**** off if you don't like it' and that's all I hear when they say it. To say my living in Britain is itself 'consent' is like saying the stag I saw being devoured by a flock of vultures in Louisiana consented by not running away from the truck that had hit him.

He had no answer to my simple thought experiment of asking, if legal obligations to pay tax were suspended for a year, whether takings would go up or down. Statists never want to answer that question because it exposes the myth of "consent". The only material group of people who consent to taxation are those - like him - whose loot from others' contributions exceeds any they make themselves. The vultures, in short. No matter how many more vultures there may be than stags, it's never going to make it right.

He was right though when he said that there is no appetite among the majority of my fellow-citizens for scaling down the state. When I blogged from Russia and China I felt sorry for the British people as I thought they were being exploited by cynical politicians. Since I have returned to live amongst them, I rather feel sorry for the politicians. Their voters don't want to hear truths, even arithmetical ones, and their careers therefore depend on palatable lies.

I was also affected by the arguments of another new acquaintance I made last week; a businessman friend of a friend. He told me he aspired to make a billion because that would allow him to make a political difference. Money changes its nature when it is owned in such quantities - as the power of a state with a budget of many billions darkly demonstrates. It ceases to represent pints of beer yet to be bought and becomes raw power. As I was not successful enough to accumulate transformative amounts, why should I mess about fruitlessly arguing for change? Better perhaps to cash in my beer tokens happily in the company of friends, while hoping my ambitious new acquaintance needs a speech writer when he achieves his goals.

As you may have detected, I was a happier man on my US Tour. I was fully enjoying my life for the first time since Mrs P. died. Not because justice and reason had returned to Britain, but because I was thinking about something else. I accept a duty to oppose error for the good of my fellow-man, I really do. But only if my opposition has some hope of making a difference. There is no point in complaining powerlessly as smug, arrogant bastards like my dinner party companion - cheered on by would-be parasites like our resident statist Mark - continue to rape us economically, destroy our liberties "for our own good" and laugh at those of us who see through their claims of benevolence.

There is certainly some demand for a libertarian political rant as witness the 20 places The Last Ditch slipped in the blog rankings while I was happily chirruping about the fun I was having in the States. But there's nothing in it for those of us meeting that demand. The social-democratic state will collapse eventually under the weight of its debts. Those debts must mount if you punish those who create wealth and reward parasitism - as Britain has done since 1946. I would love to spare my fellow-citizens the horrors that will attend that collapse, but nothing I can say or do will achieve that. So why not, as the USAF Chaplain I was talking to in New Jersey recently has done, invest on the worst assumptions and just enjoy life while awaiting the inevitable?

I don't want to stop writing, however. I enjoy the process and the mental stimulation it brings. I also enjoy the social aspects of blogging and have missed my readers' contributions as they fell silent during my trip. So perhaps I should just blog about other things?

I have started to write a book about my tour; a frothy travelogue with a magical realist twist. It will have some political commentary because that's in my nature, but I will keep it as light as my skills permit. I also have seriously in mind to make other such trips in future, especially if I can secure some sponsorship to cover the considerable costs.

I could blog about writing, about photography, about my trips or about travel in general. I could blog about things I love, in short. That was really what I intended when I started The Last Ditch, but the things I loved were liberty, the rule of law and the economic democracy of the free market. Most of what I have actually written has been about things I hate; the vile forces destroying those treasures.

Life is short and I don't have the genes reasonably to expect many more active years of it. I have spent most of mine so far serving the interests of others - either for love or for money. Maybe it's time to serve my own?

On the road, at last

IMG_1233Speranza cleared customs today, as planned. Here she is just before being unloaded from the container in which she crossed the Atlantic.

I am sleeping tonight at my designated start point in New Jersey and will begin the great American road trip after breakfast tomorrow. I must first take Speranza in for a New York State-mandated inspection. That can be done at the local car wash (!), will take 15 minutes, cost precisely nothing and will bring my US motor insurance fully into force.

I have also acquired and successfully activated a US smartphone. You can now call or text me (for the duration of the tour only) on +1 (862) 485 7250 as well as tweeting me @tompaine or emailing me via the link in the side-bar.

I look forward to many interesting encounters along the way.

Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013

Liberty League.
I am looking forward to spending time in the company of liberty-minded students this weekend. With a bit of luck it will give me hope for our country's future, while no doubt also making me feel very old. If you are going too, I look forward to seeing you during the Liberty League Freedom Forum at the UCL School of Pharmacy tonight, tomorrow and Sunday.