I’ve had a letter from Hancock and Jenrick.

It arrived yesterday afternoon, four pages long and purporting to give me  ‘Important advice on covid-19’ because I’m ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ which is hardly news to me. I’ve been ‘shielding’ for the last three months. The first piece of advice they had for me was predictable too. ‘You are advised to follow the shielding guidance rigorously.’

Then their message got vague. Well there’s a surprise. ‘On 1st June the shielding guidance was slightly relaxed… you may wish to spend some time outdoors away from your home once a day.’ And they explained that ‘this change was based on scientific evidence that the initial peak of the epidemic had passed in the UK.’ Nothing was quoted from any source. to support that statement. Well there’s a surprise!  So I looked up the figures from the World Health Organisation. Number of cases in the UK to date 306,862, number of deaths 43,081, supported by a very clear graph which showed that the mortality figures were still rising, although more slowly than they had originally. But no indication at all that the peak was passed. Other scientific organisations agreed although their mortality totals were even higher at 65,700.

Then they ended the first page with a neat little get-out clause. ‘Like all our guidance to those who are clinically vulnerable, this was advisory.’ Well,well, well. So if you don’t follow their advice that’s up to you, but if you do follow it and you catch the virus, it’ll be all your own fault. Nice to know.

So on to page 2, where we are told of the changes that are coming. On July 6th we can meet in a group of six people or form ‘a bubble’ with one other household. But again we are told that this is an ‘advisory’ change.

From 1st August ‘you no longer need to shield’. We can go to work, our children can go to school, we can go shopping for food, or to places of worship or for exercise. But we are advised to ‘follow strict social distancing’.

Then on to page three and some ‘facts’ at last. ‘All Government decisions on Shielding advice are led by the latest scientific evidence.’ Really? What evidence was that? They don’t tell us. We’re just told that ‘four weeks ago, around one person in 500 had the virus’ and that ‘last week it was even lower with less than one in 1,700 having the virus.’ If I hadn’t watched the Prime Mendaciter and his minions spewing out lies on a daily basis, I might have been taken in.

They finish on a regal flourish. If we are in trouble, not to worry, there are all sorts of organisations who will help. Top of the list is our cash-strapped, overworked NHS, then come our equally cash strapped GPs, councils and charities. ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Johnson?’

And then there were the signatures. ‘Matt’ and ‘Robert Jenrick’.I didn’t know who the last one was so decided that this morning I would look him up. But I didn’t need to. This morning the man was all over the front pages. ”Jenrick under pressure to quit as Tory donor documents released.” So  I read it and an unsurprisingly sordid story  it was.  Robert Jenrick, in his role as Housing Secretary, had insisted that a planning decision on a £1 billion property development should be rushed through so that a Tory donor’s company could reduce costs on the deal by £45 million. And who was the Tory donor? Why none other than our old friend Richard Desmond, owner of the Express newspapers, and great friend of one Boris Johnson. And why did he want this decision speeded up? Because the speed would enable him to avoid the need to pay £45 million to Labour run Tower Hamlets. As he put it himself in his charming way. ‘We don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe (sic) for nothing.’

And as if that weren’t revelation enough, I found another news item. There had been a UK Labour opposition day motion  asking for routine weekly Covid-19  testing for NHS and care workers and the House had defeated it by 344 votes to 198. And to make assurance doubly sure, it had approved an amendment against it without a division. The amendment was proposed by the PM, Matt Hancock, Therese Coffey, Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick and Jacob Rees-Mogg. What a grizzly crew they are.

I’m going to give the last word here this morning to a novelist called Matt Haig. (You redeem the name Matt), writing on Twitter.

‘Just  think,’ he wrote. ‘If the government had locked down when they were advised, if they had been as quick as others with test and trace, if they’d been clear with their messaging, if they had protected care homes, if they didn’t have Dominic Cummings, we could be ending lock-down safely.’


This entry was posted on June 25, 2020. 4 Comments

I’ve got two new heroes!

This has been quite a week! And for once in a while it’s turned up two splendid young men in the news. Splendid, handsome, young black men, the kind of men to admire. And for once in quite a long time I’ve got really good things to write about.

The first of these two men to hit the headlines is Patrick Hutchinson who attended the right wing demonstration in London last Saturday with a group of his friends, because they are all trained to cope with emergencies and they thought this demonstration might well turn violent and that then they could be useful, which it did and which they were. One of the demonstrators was knocked to the ground and injured and Patrick went into the melee and as he said ‘got underneath him and carried him off somewhere rather safer’. 

When he was interviewed about it afterwards he said he hadn’t stopped to think, he just took action and later in the interview he said he was doing it for the future of his children and grandchildren. Respec’ Patrick!

The second one of my lovely heroes, was this handsome, young man and in the normal course of events I wouldn’t have noticed him because he is a famous footballer and – shh don’t tell anybody – football leaves me cold! But this young footballer has warmed the cockles of my heart, because he is a great campaigner and has taken up the cudgels to protect our poorest children. The Prime Mendacitor had decided not to extend the government’s free school meals voucher system for low-income families over the summer holiday period. And our splendid 22 year old wrote to him to ask him to change his mind. He isn’t just handsome and a brilliant footballer, he has a good turn of phrase too. Just look at his plea!

“I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity.” 

“Without the kindness and generosity from the community there wouldn’t be the Marcus Rashford you see today: a 22-year-old black man lucky enough to make a career playing the game I love. Wembley Stadium could have been filled more than twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food.”

“This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry? Food poverty is a pandemic in England that could span generations if we don’t course correct now.”

The Prime Mendacitor, after spinning his usual web of lies all around the affair, gave way to the pressure and decided that he could find enough money to feed these kids after all. Respec’ Marcus! You’re a great guy.

And as if that weren’t reward enough for one week, I also discovered a new and rather scrumptious word. So I’ll leave you with that. It’s ‘quockerwodger’ and it’s first meaning is a wooden puppet but it’s acquired a secondary meaning too and that’s the bit I really enjoy. It is, and I quote, ‘a politician acting on the instructions of an influential third party rather then properly representing their constituents.’ Wiffle, waffle, piffle, paffle!







This entry was posted on June 18, 2020. 1 Comment

Black lives matter.

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I make no apologies for writing this blog this morning.  All life matters to me, black lives as every bit as much as everybody elses. I believe that all men are created equal.

So here is a story about the slave trade and how abominable and cruel it was. I researched it thoroughly in 2001 and a book called ‘Suki’ was published as a result of my studies. This is an excerpt from that book, describing the death of one particular slave, who dared to make a stand.

‘Watch out for your big feller,’ the surgeon warned as he walked away.
Jack turned to question. ‘Which one?’
‘Spilled the porridge that first morning.’
‘Is he sick?’
The surgeon looked at him, straight and serious. ‘No sir. He means to starve himself. He don’t eat.’
‘Oh don’t he?’ Jack said grimly. ‘I’ll soon see about that.’ Losing a slave to sickness or foul air was bad enough but a self-inflicted death was folly – and arrogant to boot.
The big feller was one of the second group to be fed that morning and now that his attention had been drawn to it, Jack could see that the man was refusing all sustenance except water. He sat with his arms folded across a chest grown considerably thinner and gazed out to sea, swaying with the rhythm of the ship but otherwise unmoving and blank-faced.
‘Deuce take the dog,’ Jack said angrily to his three assistants. ‘I do believe Mr Dix has the right of it.’
‘He’s uncommon determined,’ Dickon said.
‘He’ll not determine me,’ Jack said, anger rising. ‘I’ll warrant you that. He’ll find me more than a match for him. Keep him back when the others go below and fetch me a big spoon.’
The big feller showed no concern when he and his shackle-mate were thrust back onto the deck as the others stood to shuffle to the hatches. He simply sat where he was and waited as though the world were no longer his concern. His companion, who was smaller and had fed well, was instantly and twitchingly anxious, his neck taut as a tree trunk, his eyes dilated and flickering with alarm. There were flakes of dried wheat meal around his mouth, which he wiped with the back of his hand, nervously. But even when Jack bore down upon them with a tub of meal in one hand and a serving spoon in the other, the big feller simply sat, and when the first full spoon was jabbed at his mouth, he tightened his lips and turned his head aside at the last second so that the contents spilled over his shoulder.
‘Devil take him!’ Jack swore. ‘I’ll not be disobeyed. Pin him down boys. We’ll see about this.’
The big slave put up a terrible struggle, thrashing his arms and twisting his body violently from side to side, but between the four of them they pinned him to the deck. His terrified companion was dragged down with him, much kicked and thumped in the process, but at last he was subdued, panting but unable to move, with his fists tied hard behind his back and the vice of Dickon’s scarred hands clamped on either side of his face, holding him steady.
Jack watched him with satisfaction. ‘Open his mouth.’
Dickon grimaced. ‘What if he bites sir?’
Jack seized a belaying pin and flourished it in front of the big feller’s face. ‘If he bites sir,’ he said, speaking directly and furiously to the slave, ‘We’ll knock his blamed teeth out.’
He bit as soon as Dickon’s fingers touched his lips, his eyes blazing hatred and defiance, and was instantly hit in the mouth with the pin. It was such a heavy blow that it split his lip and knocked his two front teeth so loose that they hung by a bloody thread.
‘Quick!’ Jack said, filling the spoon and thrusting it at the bloody gap. There were several seconds of confused struggle. Blood and spittle and gobbets of meal flew before their eyes, leg-irons clanked and dragged. They were all shouting, arms flailing, fists punching, and someone was screaming. But when they finally stood up, the slave’s mouth was full of meal. It was a triumph.
‘Swallow damn you!’ Jack roared at him. ‘Swallow!’ His eyes stung with fury and he was holding his spine with such tension it was beginning to ache.
It was a wasted order. The big feller turned his head to one side, spat out the meal and vomited green bile all over their shoes and the crouching spine of his companion.
Jack swore so much he made his throat sore. ‘Hell’s teeth! I’ll not be beat by a savage. I’ll make him eat, damme if I don’t. Give me that spoon again! Quick! And get that blamed fool out the way.’
Dickon tried to drag the other slave to his feet and couldn’t do it. ‘We’ll have to take his irons off.’
‘Well take ’em off, dammit. I’ll not be beat by a savage.’
The irons were removed and the slave dragged away by the feet, with his hands covering his eyes.
‘Now!’ Jack roared.
But the instant his companion was freed, the big feller had struggled to his feet and, as they turned towards him, he was running towards the side, tumbling over the gunwale, falling into the sea, straight as a plumb line. It was all over in seconds, before they could draw breath. Then all three seamen yelled, ‘Man overboard’ and Mr Tomson came running to see what was amiss.
Jack was the first to recover. ‘We must lower a boat.’
‘Can’t be done,’ the captain told him, stroking his beard ”Twould mean going about and so forth.’ Which was plainly true, for there was already a considerable distance between the ship and the slave, who was swimming strongly.
‘We can’t leave him to drown,’ Jack protested. ‘He’s a good specimen. Worth a deal of money. Could we throw a line?’
‘Not without a harpoon,’ the captain said. ‘Not that distance. We ain’t whalers.’
‘We can’t just leave him,’ Jack repeated. ‘Something must be done.’
It was being done as he spoke. Two dark fins had appeared in the green water and were circling the swimmer. As the crew watched in fascinated horror, there was a sudden spume of white water, a chop of waves, a thrashing and bubbling as if the sea was boiling. Then a long red trail of blood threaded out from the centre and the slave’s head disappeared.
‘Sharks,’ the captain said and went back to the bridge as if that were the end of the matter.

This entry was posted on June 11, 2020. 6 Comments

What sort of society do we want?

We live in a time of social isolation and on far too many occasions it is miserably uncomfortable and decidedly unnatural to us. We don’t have to look far to find the cause. We are social animals by our very nature and most of us are happiest when we are living in a family or as part of a tribe. And yes, I do know that doesn’t encompass all of us. Some are happier or feel safer on their own. But most of us feel lost without the affectionate presence of the ones we love. We need society. So the two big questions we all face now is 1) what sort of society do we want when this deadly pandemic is finally over? and 2) How can we bring it about?

Societies have evolved and changed throughout human history so there are plenty of blueprints. One of the best I know is the American Declaration of Independence. And yes I know I’ve quoted it here before but I think it’s worth another airing, because it is often surprising and frequently prescient. It’s a long document but I will only quote the bits  I think are relevant to us today. And here they are:-

”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

This was the start of what we have since come to call Western Democracy. And at the present moment both the USA and Great Britain are a very long way from these ideals and have reached a point when it is ‘self evident’ that huge changes are imperative. It is extremely dangerous for any country to be ruled by liars, especially when they have a huge, rich, all powerful media machine to persuade a gullible majority of the voters to believe what they say and vote for them.  That way lies corruption. I would like to see a House of Commons that had the power to pass a law requiring all MPs to tell the truth in the House and to the Media on pain of being dismissed from office. We could well see a healthy change then.


But perhaps the next question we should be asking ourselves is ‘Do we want a fluid society or a rigid one?’ My hope would be for fluidity. A rigid society is structurally opposed to change  and it takes a long time and endless, often painful, effort to persuade our rulers if that is the case. You only have to look at the history of the Chartists and the Suffragettes to see that. And the history of domestic service in this country  is equally revealing.

I’ve recently been reading a little book about ‘The Duties of Servants’ which was published in 1894. It contains some absolute gems about how the upper class treated their servants. In those days the bulk of the working class either worked on the land or in the factories, where they were very poorly paid, or went into domestic service where at least they got their uniform, food and keep for free. But their wages were very low indeed. A butler, who was the kingpin of the household got between £50 and £80 pounds a year, a scullery maid or a laundry maid got £12. You weren’t allowed to have much of a life of your own. Maids were not allowed to have ‘followers’ and even butlers were restricted. Take a look at this for how to treat a butler.

butler”Some masters and mistresses object to engaging a married man as butler; they consider that a married man is likely to spend too much of his time at home and to be consequently away from his master’s house when most wanted;” But there’s another and more unpleasant reason too. ”Great poverty might induce a father or husband to commit acts of dishonesty.” And she goes on to explain that if the butler’s family were ill, he might be tempted to rise the money he needed by pawning the family plate adding ”This is by no means an imaginary temptation, but is one of frequent occurrence, as the police reports testify.” Well, well, well! That’s a long way from Downton Abbey. But of course this was 1894 and that’s a long way away from 1948 and the establishment of our NHS. Before 1948 a doctor wouldn’t see you until you’d paid his fee, which could be a guinea, or five guineas or even ten. Think of having to pay that if your annual wage was £10. And now, Heaven help us! we face a real risk that our mendacious leaders will sell it off to American big business and we shall all be back  to a time when we either pay the fee or put up with our illness on our own.

The time for a change  is approaching fast.  Roll up your shirt-sleeves!

This entry was posted on June 10, 2020. 3 Comments

How do you know?


I was in two minds whether to call this blog  ‘Narcissistic Psychopaths’ or ‘How do you know?’ and, as you see, the one in more approachable English won. So what’s it all about?

It started when I read messages from several people I knew vaguely on Facebook and Twitter who were saying that they had a fellow feeling with Cummings and that he was perfectly right to chose his child’s well being over obeying the rules that everybody else was following.  Many said, ‘I would have done the same. It’s only human nature to look after your children.’ But my mind was yelling ‘What!!’ even before I reached the end of the sentence because what they were saying was based on the assumption that we are all the same and that is by no means universally true. Not all parents love their children as I know to my cost. My mother beat the hell out of me and hated me with a passion. Far too many of us have to cope with all sorts of adverse situations. And people diagnosed as narcissistic psychopaths, as Trump and Johnson are now being diagnosed, often turn out to have had one hell of a childhood but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate the terrible things they are doing as adults. At which point I had to stop to look up narcissistic psychopaths to see what the psychologists were talking about. Very revealing.

The behaviour of a narcissistic psychopath is always the same. ”They lie pathologically, they malign the truth, they create fake scandals and demonise perceived enemies and critics.”  And being narcissistic, they consider themselves the most important people on the planet, and if something goes wrong under their administration, they find someone else to blame. All of it seems demonstrably true in the case of Trump, who talks about himself and how wonderful he is virtually all the time, and Johnson who was described by the Master of Eton (writing to his father) as a boy who ”honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.” And now we’ve got a third candidate for the title in Dominic Cummings, who also obviously feels that the rules and obligations that bind the rest of us do not – and should not – apply to him. The rest of us are unimportant, we’re just plebs and expendable. Look at this for an example of how he thinks. Here he is talking about the virus and advocating ‘ herd immunity’ as the answer to it. ”Herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.” Well thanks a bunch Mr Cummings.

So what do we know about this man? He’s obviously powerful. Take a look at one of the things he wrote in his blog before the General election that put Johnson in power.

‘Tell your family and friends, face to face: if Boris Johnson doesn’t get a majority, then Corbyn and Sturgeon will control the government, their official policy is to give the vote to millions of foreign citizens to cheat their second referendum, we’ll all get screwed on taxes, parliament will drag the whole country into crisis and immigration will return to being a central issue in politics instead of being marginalized by Brexit.’


So there’s the man in essence. He hates Corbyn and Sturgeon who are honest politicians: he likes to manipulate people: he doesn’t want to pay his taxes: he’s a racist who likes to frighten his followers with talk of millions of foreign immigrants coming into the country (remember the poster?): he thinks Brexit is a solution.

He is also a eugenist, as I discovered when I read an account of a talk he’d given to The Department of Education in which he ‘allegedly’ claimed ‘a child’s performance has more to do with genetic make-up than the standard of his or her education.’ That provoked a flurry of complaints and in answer to his critics he said he had warned of the danger of public debates being confused by misunderstanding of such technical terms. ‘Or to translate, I may have said it but you didn’t understand what I was talking about. Which is on a par with I may have driven 30 miles but it was to test my eye sight.’


The Huffington Post however nailed him, very neatly, saying ‘whatever you may think of the defense, it’s worth looking a little more closely because Cumming’s technocratic, effectively eugenic, definitely gene-focused approach is dangerously close to affecting public policy,’

I will let Gayle Letherby have the final word because she’s put this situation so succinctly. She tweeted two days ago. Respec’ Gayle.

‘We live in a society/world where being an arrogant, egotistical, morally deficient, lazy, lying charlatan leads to success.

We live in a society/world where being a life-long anti-racist, working for equality, social justice and peace leads to condemnation and attack.’



This entry was posted on May 26, 2020. 8 Comments

Let them eat cake!

One of the few things that most people seem to know about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution is that when she asked why the people we34ABFF5E-A71C-4CF6-A8DA-7C68DF3E460Ere protesting out on the streets and was told it was because they had no bread and were starving, her innocent flippant answer was ‘Well let them eat cake.’ The remark might well be apocryphal but the attitude that underlies it was common at the French Court and is equally common and dangerous in our House of Commons. We hear it again and again whenever members of our current government give public pronouncements. Queen Marie Antoinette  was a member of the ruling upper class and had absolutely no idea what sort of impoverished lives the French working class were forced to endure. And sad though it is to have to face it,  many members of our own ruling class suffer from the same myopia.


Boris Johnson, (Eton and Oxford) showing off on a chat show, said the best way of coping with the virus would be for us to ‘take it on the chin’ – as if the virus were no worse than a punch in the face – and then ‘let it run through the population to build up ‘herd immunity” as if we were sheep or pigs.


The unelected Dominic Cummings (Exeter College and Oxford, Director of Vote Leave campaign) told us it was likely that a lot of old people would die in this outbreak, but that it would be no bad thing. Which shows his opinion of old people. Livestock you see, that needed ‘culling’, as he put it. A lesser breed, not worth bothering about.


And now we’re hearing the same sentiment again from the Billionaire press (people like Lord Rothermere, whose father backed the British Fascists, and Rupert Murdoch who has dominated our press and TV for far too long). They castigate our teachers for daring to say they don’t think their pupils should return to school because it’s too dangerous and are scorned for not taking the same risks as our heroic doctors and nurses.  While over in America Trump gloats that ‘doctors and nurses are ‘running into death just like soldiers running into bullets’ adding ‘it’s a beautiful thing to see.’ How callous can you get?

These men (and yes there are some women too) suffer from the same appalling moral flaws and the same sickening lack of compassion. They don’t believe that all men are created equal. Even though it’s 244 years since that powerful Declaration of Independence and 227 years from the execution of Louis XV1 and his pretty little empty headed queen. And 415 years since Shakespeare’s Shylock asked so movingly and powerfully ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’


This entry was posted on May 15, 2020. 6 Comments

Yes, I remember VE Day

I was fourteen when the war finally came to an end and stupidly over excited, I’m ashamed to say, and my mother, who was even more over excited than I was, took me up to London to ‘have fun’. We started off in Parliament Square and walked up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. I have never seen such huge tightly packed crowds in all my life, either before or since. At one point my feet were lifted off the ground and I was carried along by the pressure of the bodies all round me. But it wasn’t such a crush when we reached Trafalgar Square, although the place was full of people dancing. My mother shot off to find some servicemen to flirt with and I joined a group dancing the Hokey Kokey. I danced till my feet were sore, the Conga, the jitterbug, whatever people were singing, bouncing along with everyone else. It was a long, noisy evening but at last it drifted to an close and people began to wander out of the square and my mother appeared with a paper hat on her head and said it was time to go home. Then we hit a problem. It was so late that the trams, buses and underground had all closed down. So we had to walk back to Tooting and it felt like a very long way. (It was actually six and a half miles. I’ve just Googled it.) And that was the end of it. The next day I went to school and back to ordinary life.

One year and ten months later I met the love of my life. I had just turned sixteen the20200508_170934n and had read a small life-changing book called the Beveridge Report,which is still on my shelves, and lived through the amazing bloodless revolution of 1945 and was then cheering the way our new government was changing the way we lived. I soon found out that my darling was an ardent socialist too which made me love him all the more. We talked about pretty well everything, the unfairness of the old system, the obscenity of the concentration camps, the need to ensure that we never went to war again and in the course of our endless talk, we remembered VE Day. I told him what fun it had been dancing in the Square and asked him what he’d done that day. His answer was sobering and made me think. ‘I was bloody relieved,’ he said, ‘but I went for a long walk and remembered all the people who’d been killed.’ It made me see VE Day in a completely different light.

So no, I’m sorry but I won’t be out in my front garden waving a patriotic flag today. I shall be working at this machine and remembering the millions of all nations who were killed in that war or so badly wounded they never recovered. So my final pictures are a reminder, from the bus in the crater at Balham, where so many died the most terrible and terrifying death under the ground, to the wreckage around St Paul’s, when nothing was left standing after that night’s raid except the cathedral. I could have filled several pages with others from all over the world.

We must be very careful that we don’t tell any of our young either in words or more subtly and dangerously by implication, what Wilfrid Owen called ‘the old lie.’  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. It is not a sweet and proper thing to die for one’s country. It is and always has been an obscenity. Have a party with your neighbours by all means but don’t get carried away by patriotism.

And to make my point for me I’ve just read a tweet from someone writing about her neighbours celebrating with ‘overloud recordings of anti German songs and victory speeches.’ That is exactly what worries me.

This entry was posted on May 8, 2020. 9 Comments

The value of NOT touching your forelock

I thought I’d tell you a true story with a moral this morning because I’m getting tired of being told that we should get behind the present incompetent ruling party and support them instead of criticising them as they richly deserve – and I feel in that sort of mood. So here goes.

My hero was a country bumpkin, like the two in these pictures, and he was a distant and very close relation of mine, who originally lived in a village called Westward Ho, which was near Bideford in Devon. His parents were farm labourers and lived in a tied cottage that belonged to their Lord of the Manor. By all accounts they were hard working, unassuming people, who worked hard and did as they were told. His mother curtsied when she saw any of the gentry approaching and his father either touched his cap or pulled the forelock of his hair. But their son Jessie was a firebrand.

The Lord of the Manor’s son was young and arrogant, used to getting his own way among the yokels. Naturally. He was a member of the ruling class and they were only labourers. It was his habit of an evening to ride into one or other of his father’s various villages on one or other of his well groomed horses and take a drink or two in the local pub. There was always a group of local lads standing around outside the pub and when he arrived he would dismount and toss the reins to the nearest boy with the lordly command, ‘Boy! Hold my hoss!’ And the boy would obediently hold the horse for him until he came out of the pub, and then ‘make a back’ for him so that he could mount and the young gentleman would toss him a threepenny bit as a reward. Until the evening he tossed the reins to Jesse Garnsworthy.

I think he’d had a few by then but he was bold by nature. Instead of catching the reins, he stood his ground, looked up at his master’s son and said. ‘You hold yer own bloody hoss!’ The young man must have been rather surprised to be answered in such a way but he didn’t say anything, he simply threw the reins to another boy.

But of course that wasn’t the end of the story. The next morning the Bailiffs arrived at his father’s cottage with a one way railway ticket to London. Jesse was to be on the train that morning or his family would be out of their cottage and out of their jobs by the end of the week. They couldn’t argue because the Lord of the Manor owned their labour and their home. So Jesse went to London. And that should have been the end of the matter.

But it wasn’t, because Jesse was a determined cuss and somehow or other he got a job on one of the daily newspapers on Fleet Street. By the time I was a small child and sitting at his feet happily listening to his stories, he was a compositor working for the Daily Herald and in his own words, ‘comfortably off’.

There are two morals to this story.

One is ‘Nil desperandum’  or ‘Don’t let the buggers grind you down.’

And the other is the motto of all courageous newspapers. ‘Speak truth to power’.

Get over it


I’ve read these three words, many, many times since the Brexiteers won the referendum vote in 2016 and I find them more troubling every time I hear them. So now I’m blogging about them.

I read them first on the morning after the result, when a young man, whom I knew about because he was a Trustee of the Blake Society and followed because I assumed he would be a man of principle, wrote a twitter message about the election. He was in a triumphalist mood, claiming it was the biggest electoral victory this country had ever seen and bragging that they’d overturned the establishment and that nothing could stop them. I wrote back to point out that there had been other victories even larger and with more resounding majorities, and quoted the election in 1945, stressing that it too had led to massive changes, among them the foundation of the NHS and the Welfare State.

It was a mistake because it made him angry. He wrote back to dazzle me with statistics to prove that he was right and I was wrong and ended by saying, ‘We’ve won and you’ve lost. GET OVER IT!’ It was unmistakably triumphalist and so full of hatred it reminded me of Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts. So I blocked him. But not long after that, those of us who had dared to vote remain were being mocked as ‘remoaners’ and ‘Get over it!’ had become a signal of the Brexiteers’ power.

Now, two days ago, I read a tweet from a kindly woman who doesn’t think it’s right for anyone to criticise the government’s handling of the present crisis and wants us all to support them. I didn’t argue with her, partly because I haven’t got the energy and partly because I knew she wouldn’t listen, but my heart sank. Have we really become a nation of subservient yes-men? And if we have, does it matter?

Now I know that the written word can be misinterpreted. We don’t see the speaker nor hear the voice so we can’t be entirely sure how the words are being used. These particular words could be gentle advice not to let a difficulty overwhelm us, or they could even be a joke, but when they are used alongside an injunction that we should all ‘pull together and support the government and not criticise what they are doing’ they become a threat to our freedom of speech. We’re not robots. We don’t all think the same. We still live in a democracy – just about – and we are entitled to have different opinions and to speak truth to power. Or are we?

The millions who voted leave took Johnson’s words, emblazoned on his now famous red bus, in exactly the way he intended them to. Without thought. But they were skilfully chosen and were propaganda of a most potent kind. Johnson is a skilled operator. We were all supposed to think that the £350 million we sent to the EU every week was money thrown away. Whereas the truth, had anyone been around to explain it, is that the fund is used to support necessary industries, like farming and fishing, in all the EU countries,  as and when it’s needed, and that in some weeks we would get slightly less than the full 350 back in grants while in other weeks we  would get slightly – or even considerably – more. And the statement hinted at by the words ‘let’s fund our NHS’ is a complete and utter lie, which is becoming more and more obvious as the reasons for the tragic loss of life caused by this terrifying virus is revealed week by week and more and more people are beginning to understand that our NHS has been deliberately run down for years so that it can be declared not fit for purpose and sold off to the big private health companies  in America. The vote leave millions of the electorate were brain washed into that vote and now we are supposed to keep quiet, say nothing and let this corrupt government do whatever it wants. And that would be death to our democracy and an open gate to Fascism.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,’ as Edmund Burke famously said, ‘is for good men to do nothing.’ We simply can’t stand by and do nothing. It’s too dangerous.


Ultracrepidarian government.

I saw this useful and impressive word yesterday – and no, I didn’t know what it meant either until I’d looked it up. It means a doddering old fart who bores people to tears by lecturing them about things he doesn’t understand and knows nothing about. It reminded me at once of baby faced Hancock, who looks more and more baffled every time he appears on TV and talks utter rubbish. He makes me think of a rabbit caught in the headlights. And other members of the Prime Mendaciter’s front bench team are every bit as bad, Gove assuming his baby face and trying to look bland, Ian Duncan Smith trying the same trick, and looking devious, Pritti Patel trying to look sympathetic and failing dismally, with her carefully rehearsed non-apology. And so on and so on. They are a totally deplorable gang.

But of course what they’re up against is not just their own incompetence – and by God are they incompetent! – but the necessity to tell lies  to cover what they are not doing and why they are not doing it. And that is proving to be almost impossible. And now more and more people are seeing through them.

One of our foremost writers has got them nailed. Our clear-sighted Phillip Pullman has put our case for us most powerfully. He writes:

”If it turns out to be true that the government, for Brexit related rUnknowneasons, refused to take part in the procurement advantage offered by EU governments, thus making it harder for the NHS to deal with Covid19 and placing thousands at risk, the entire front bench ought to resign.

But of course, they won’t: they have not a single grain of shame. So they should be arraigned on charges of conspiracy to murder. Nothing less will do. They knew the risks and thought they’d rather appease the foaming zealots of Brexit.”

That’s fighting talk. Thank you Phillip. We need that.

But now and at last all sorts of people are beginning to see through the tricks too. For example, Izzy Wildheart, writing on Twitter says, ‘I’ve got to the point now where I don’t believe anything the government says. They are con artists, the lot of them.’ And she asks, ‘ What happened to this country and how did we get into such an abysmal mess?’

And Kathie Bennettt goes further, saying, ‘Boris Johnson must resign now. His lousy leadership has cost us thousands of lives.’

And David Head, looking into the future and seeing how desperately change is needed, writes, with considerable anger, ‘If we come out of this with all the rickety, flyblown, worm-eaten old structures still intact, the same vain, indolent public schoolboys in charge, the same hedge fund managers stuffing their overloaded pockets with greasy fingers, our descendants will never forgive us.’

The Prime Mendaciter’s men and women may look and sound like an ultracrepidarian government that bores us to tears by mumbling and talking rubbish as if they don’t understand what they’re doing, but they know exactly what they’re doing – or not doing – and why.

Have we reached the point when we are prepared like Phillip Pullman to call them out? Are we strong enough and determined enough to bring about the change we need? Are there enough of us? Take heart, all you who know what’s going on. ‘The times they are a-changing’.


This entry was posted on April 22, 2020. 3 Comments