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

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En route

Blogging will be light to non-existent as I am off to France for a week. I drive from London to Dijon today and then on to the Cote d'Azur tomorrow. I am attending the MIPIM property event in Cannes (as I have every year since 1991). It will not all be business though. I am looking forward to catching up with lots of friends - many of whom are former clients and colleagues. 

Of course there is also the pleasure of about twenty-four hours in the company of Speranza to look forward to on the autoroutes there and back. I do love to be on the road!

Doctors out of their boxes

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: The dictatorship of public health.

I am not quite sure how I missed the linked article back in September but I am glad I found it via Chris Snowdon's review of the year at his excellent blog, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist. The authoritarians of the medical establishment are in many ways our best hope for liberty. This may seem paradoxical, but bear with me.

The greater the State becomes, the more authoritarians it attracts. Wormtongue types are drawn, as so many of them already have been, by the chance to subvert legitimate authority to their own ends while living on the state's plunder. The more they succeed, the more arrogant they become. They see no legitimate boundaries to their control of their fellow men. Our corrupt political class will offer no defence against these parasites unless and until popular resistance threatens their own power. We cannot count on their principles, if indeed they have any. We can rely entirely, however, on their self-interest.

 Where, however, is this resistance to come from? State education, state broadcasting and the generally emasculating effect of the Welfare State have much weakened the yeoman spirit that made England, for most of its history, delightfully ungovernable. The unthinking majority of voters will never rebel - until it's far too late - against threats to freedom of thought. Attacks on their lifestyle however are another matter. Cromwell fell not because the Monarchy won a rematch of its debate with republicanism, but because, having weakened his appeal by forbidding dancing, aleing and Christmas, his hypocrisy in having his son succeed him (just like a King) tipped the scales of popular feeling.

The state can beat up as many anti-statist intellectuals as it likes and no-one will protest. Let it beat up the smokers, drinkers and pie-fans however and popular resistance can be expected - even from those usually too idle to move further than to the nearest Greggs. Doctors with God complexes may therefore be our best hope. Perhaps as we enter the final phase of end-of-year excess, we should be campaigning for votes to be proportionate to BMI, units of alcohol per week or fags per day?

A belated thank you note, one year on.

The Last Ditch: 'Mrs Paine' - 1956-2011.

It is the first anniversary of Mrs Paine's death and I won't be blogging today except to say this. Among the unhappy memories of that time is also the recollection of the kindness shown to me and my family by the readers of this blog. Your comments on the linked post touched me. I read and re-read them in the days that followed and marveled at the kindness of (mostly) strangers.

I am not sure I thanked you properly at the time. Everybody says there's nothing they can say to help in the context of such loss, but it's not true. What you said (or more precisely the fact that you wanted to say something) helped.

Thank you.

Off for a chat at Tom Paine's old "local"

The White Hart Hotel.

Though many leftists who focus selectively on his ideas on social security and land tax object to my using his name to blog, I am a genuine admirer of the original, best and only important Tom Paine. He was a man who - by use only of his untutored writing skills - earned a reputation as "...the most dangerous man alive..." and was instrumental in creating two of my favourite republics. His thinking still energises a wide spectrum of opinions today.

I also love that, like my other heroes; Shakespeare, John Harrison and Margaret Thatcher, he was from an ordinary background and attracted hostilty almost as much for his impertinence in having talent as for the nature of his activity. Snobs can't bear it when the peoples' voice is heard - and there are no greater snobs than those who believe patronisingly in their right to tell the people how to live, whatever class background or other "qualification" they base that "right" upon.

Above all, Tom appealed to reason and I love him for that. He didn't claim the right of one group to rule another, whether based on class, race or creed. He fearlessly advocated his views, though they cost him all the honour he earned in his life and meant that he died neglected and unloved. The greater of the two republics he founded has only rediscovered him in relatively recent times, though I seriously don't believe a better man ever lived. I use his name not from hubris but out of respect and I don't claim to be worth of cleaning his pens for him.

So I am genuinely excited to be meeting a good friend for lunch next Tuesday at the White Hart in Lewes where Old Tom sharpened his wits in political debate before setting out to change the world with his pen. I am looking forward to it and just hoping the weather permits of as charming a drive as the inadequate roads in Britain's economic heartlands (their wealth diverted from infrastructure to corrupt redistribution) permit.

My friend is an opinionated and intelligent Australian lady with a ready wit, sharp tongue and wide vocabulary so we will do our best to uphold the debating traditions of the venue. If any readers happen to be near at hand, please look for Speranza in the car park and come in to say hello.

Blogging will be light, emotion will be high

Blogging will be even lighter than is usual here at The Last Ditch for a while. I am going on a driving course at the Ferrari test track in Italy, where I shall learn to be worthier of Speranza. I had planned to make an expedition of it, driving solo to and from Maranello. Sadly that has had to be shelved, following an accident. Speranza is being ministered to tenderly by Mr Macari's body shop and will not be back on the road until 18th May.

Given that it was a low-speed shunt, the damage is surprisingly bad. My offside front wheel was somehow wrenched off in the collision, breaking the suspension and shattering the carbon ceramic brake disc. Still, bent metal can always be mended. Flesh is less forgiving, so I am content that only my pride (and my no claims bonus) is hurt.

I hope to get back to more regular blogging when I return.

OTT or what?

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

A peaceful interlude

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


Lady Astor's Roller and other old stuff in my head

Rolls Royce used by Churchill restored to former glory after sitting in garage for decades (and it's now worth £250,000) | Mail Online.

Nothing to do with civil liberties, I know, but this article makes me smile for a petrol-headed reason. The car belonged to my great uncle and I knew it as a child. The article doesn't explain WHY the car was so cheap when he bought it. As he told the story in my presence years ago, it was donated to the Army for war use, but its fuel consumption precluded practical use. So as not to offend the Astor family, it was converted to a truck by cutting off that rear compartment in which I later slumbered. My great uncle bought in in that state, reasoning (as all around him scoffed at his idiocy) that "No-one will have scrapped part of Lady Astor's car."

Sure enough, after years of searching, the rear end showed up in a garage somewhere and he bought it equally cheaply. Reuniting the separated parts magically increased the car's worth (in the real estate business, that's called 'marriage value') and he then made money renting her out to TV and film companies. Those included (as mentioned in the article) the makers of my then favourite show, "The Avengers."

My great uncle was my grandfather's partner in building the company that - as a reward for their war service - an ungrateful nation stole from them in 1946. Their business became part of British Road Services (the trucking equivalent of British Rail) which was eventually privatised as the National Freight Consortium. After merging with Exel, it was ultimately acquired (ironically) by another state enterprise - Deutsche Post and is now part of its subsidiary DHL. It has all come a long way from a company founded on a small loan by my great grandfather (a publican) to his sons. Were it not for a ridiculous and now discredited (everywhere except in Guardianland) political theory, who knows where it might have taken my family?

My grandad and his brothers used that small loan to buy their first of several Sentinel steam trucks. My grandfather's first of many convictions for speeding involved breaking a 5mph limit in front of Chester Castle in just such a road-going locomotive. He was arrested by a policeman on a bicycle. I remember him telling me the story and regret that I forgot to ask him if the stoker was fined too on such occasions. The example of a Sentinel in the picture once belonged to my great uncle and I remember my grandfather regarding him as hopelessly sentimental for having it painted in the confiscated company's old colours. My grandad was not a man for regrets and had little patience with nostalgics.

My great uncle's son was the chap who took the teenaged me out for a ride in his Dino and therefore triggered the long chain of events that led to me buying my Ferrari. We are meeting up in the North at the end of this month for me to return that favour of 40 or so years ago by taking him for a ride.

So much for my happy, if possibly imprecise, memories. I assure those readers who are (inexplicably) not petrol or steam-heads, that normal service will now be resumed.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Gentle readers, I know I have been quiet of late. This month I purchased a new home in London and brought all my worldly goods together there for the first time in 20 years. I have sold the home in Cheshire to which 'Mrs Paine' and I had planned to retire one day. As Scotland's poet put it;

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.

This week, I also said a fond farewell to Vittoria and acquired a new motorised companion, Speranza. In the past three days, I have alternated between joy at achieving a 40 year old ambition to own a Ferrari and sadness that Mrs P will never join me in the journeys we will make. It has been strange to make all these big changes without her input and to wonder, inevitably, what she would have made of them. SperanzaWhile these changes have all been going on, I have taken steps towards returning to work. I have been appointed as an expert witness in an arbitration, which will keep me occupied for the first month of the New Year. 2011 was my family's annus horribilis. That my car has an Italian girl's name speaks to her heritage. That her name means "hope" is no coincidence.

The civil liberties issues I pontificate about here are as close to my heart as ever. I hope to write more next year, as the Misses P and I settle down into our new lives. Today however we three are flying to Dubai to spend Christmas in the sun. This was Mrs P's favourite time of year and she was brilliant at making it special for us. We couldn't hope to organise it to her standards, so we are going to let our hotel take the strain.

I wish you and your families all the very best for Christmas. May we all have an excellent New Year.