Poor Jeremy Corbyn...now you expect a punch-line, don’t you? Although I will never vote for the man (unless he treads a different path) I do not feel as hateful towards him as many others. In fact I quite respect him; he is virtually the same age as me and I cannot imagine the stress he is going to subject himself to, in what should be his twilight years, feet up in front of the telly. In fact, unless he is very lucky he won’t even have enough time left to write his memoirs, that’s if dementia doesn’t set in before he starts.
He was late throwing his hat into the ring and even struggled to get enough signatories on his nomination paper, I understand he believes those that did support him did so more out of pity than conviction.
Despite everything, he is a man of principle and even though many of his principles sound a warning bell for me, I cannot deny that he has the courage to stand up and say what he believes. While I am a strident monarchist I had to admire him for standing by his guns and not singing the royalist-inspired National Anthem. I guess that if our Anthem were Jerusalem, he might have sung it, except that he probably thinks it pays homage to Israel, which has annexed much of that once-Palestinian city.
Anyway, unlike John Redwood wearing his Welsh hat (the Secretary for State for Wales’ one, not a pointy black witch’s thing), he did not pretend that he was singing and that needed principle and courage because it was obvious the media’s opinion would be vitriolic.
Will he make a good leader of his party? Who knows? I expect that he will listen to his people and develop policies to suit them, whereas at least one of his foreblairs only paid lip service. However, before he can propose anything radical, he will have to examine the constraints imposed upon him by EU rules. Even renationalising the railways is not permitted, so he will have to decide quickly if he is going to opt for withdrawal, which Diane Abbott might claim he did once (at least), or be hamstrung in his wildest ideals.
Will he make a good leader of the opposition? I think he will. Not least because he is not afraid of getting it wrong: he clearly prefers persistence to performance. I am sure he will be a constant thorn in Cameron’s side...a constant prick of conscience.
Will he make a good prime minister? We shall never know; the 2020 election will see Labour decimated and UKIP could even come in the first two. By 2025 he will be 77 and ill-equipped for the role, even with Merkel or her successor there to tell him what to do, if we don’t vote ourselves out first. I reckon he will be sacrificed long before then with the Labour Party opting for a woman, having tried every other option. Just think, the other half of the odd couple could get her chance.
One point of interest, although he wouldn’t shout about it: Corbyn represents the end of a decaying bloodline. He follows Gordon Brown, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Ted Heath, James Callaghan, and Harold Wilson as party leaders that had the benefit of a selective education, a Grammar or High school, after an 11 plus exam. His predecessors all went on to become prime minister...will he or won’t he represent selective education’s last stand in the face of the ubiquitous public (private) school hegemony?
In the meantime, I salute him, especially when he knew that all his ill-considered past activities would catch up with him and lay him as bare as he was that day with...yes, you know who...in a Cotswold field, one hot summer.
I love driving things – animate and inanimate. Teachers mad, women wild (I can dream can’t I?) and parents to the wall – I expect you can come up with a few more...Answers on a postcard please.
In the inanimate section apart from ‘hard bargains’, I’ve driven trains, cars, lorries, motorbikes, aeroplanes, but not many boats. I tried it once and Higher Authority looked down on my disastrous experience and He said ‘no more’. He should have said the same to the captain of the Costa Concordia long before he became a Captain, in fact long before he left school; but He has the Pope to look after His affairs and to do His work in Italy, so it wasn’t God’s fault the captain slipped under His radar.
Anyway, He must have had His beady eye on me the day my father and I, his mate Reg Sweet and two teenage sons headed off from the West Country to Norfolk for a week on the Broads. This was in 1958, in pre-motorway England – pre-motorway apart from perhaps the Preston By-pass, but, up there in the north-west, knocking on Scotland’s door, it wasn’t much good to us.
The journey took forever, or seemed to, even though I slept most of the way, in between eating and then yawning (of the tomato skins and grated carrot kind). Excitement echoed around the trusty Ford Consul as we crept towards our embarkation point – a shipyard just east of Norwich on the River Yare. We had thought we might moor up for dinner at Acle that evening. But this decision was only based on the rudimentary river and Broads map sent to my dad when the booking was confirmed. We had no idea what might be open for food and it was too far to Great Yarmouth so, luckily as it turned out, we decided on fish and chip sustenance well before we arrived at the boatyard late that fateful Saturday afternoon.
We had enough supplies in tins and jars to last most of the week, my mum had been squirreling rations away for weeks. However, I was a consummate eater so supplementation would be required. It did not occur to me at the time, but my dad must have decided on some diversion to take my mind off its body-stretching preoccupation with food, so as to eke out the supplies. What he dreamed up was clever and did work but as it turned out, it was a dangerous, high-risk strategy.
These days people seem to be able to stuff their faces anywhere, walking, driving and even cycling – in fact a week ago I’d needed to use a public toilet and was washing my hands after the urinal, when a cistern flushed. Out came a bloke in his thirties clutching a burger. He clamped it between his teeth so as to wash his hands, I assumed. But no, he took out his comb and ran it through his hair. Then he took the burger with what I guessed was his unsullied left hand. He returned the comb to his pocket and, ignoring my incredulous look, strolled out munching his burger. Truly it’s a different world!
Returning to 1958, it was obvious from the start, in fact even before the start, that our boat was jinxed. As soon as we pulled into the boatyard, it glowered at us from its high-and-dry position above the slipway. Dad and his mate knocked and went into the office while the two young Sweets waited patiently outside. I wandered off and walked around what I soon discovered was intended to be our cabin cruiser, but why was it not where it was supposed to be – in the water?
I circled it quizzically pondering its lofty, tilted stance. At the back, they don’t call it that, do they? It’ll do though – at the back, her name was beautifully sign-written in red-edged gold. Look, I don’t give a damn whether boats are male, female or bloody neutered – this one was definitely a female because of all the boobs she had waiting for us in the next few days. Her name was supposed to be appealing but, with her forlornly propped-up, it was an unrequited enticement. There it was at the top of the D shaped back, sitting just below the flat piece at the top where the deck starts – ‘Temptress III’. If I had known what she would bring us, I’d have found a ladder and a pot of paint and changed it to The Tempest. My well-placed maiden aunt in London had taken me to see John Gielgud in The Tempest at Stratford and it had shaken me; now I feared that I might be a re-born Prospero, about to embark before the storm. But how was I to know how fitting Shakespeare’s play would turn out to be?
There were no ladders or paint to be seen anywhere in this prop-filled, theatrical boatyard in deepest Norfolk but Temptress was most certainly a ‘she’ and she did have a hole. I was only ten but I wasn’t quite the innocent my mum thought I was. I’d played doctors and nurses in the long-grass-summer days when the girls always were the nurses or patients and we boys eagerly examined the bits that were different from ours. But as far as boats were concerned I was an innocent abroad. Yet there behind the steering thingy – the...rud...yes that’s it, behind the rudder, was a pretty little hole, sitting right near her bottom just crying out for a penetrating examination.
Nobody was watching, so I reached up on tiptoe and inserted my finger into that inviting orifice. I recoiled – it felt slimy and cold. She obviously had not been pleased with my probing, because my finger was now covered in something brown and slippery – come off it – I was only ten – in an age of innocence; there was only one hole after all. Suddenly I was no longer alone. The others had arrived and gathered around like a consultant around a patient with a group of medical students. Quickly I tucked my finger away in my fist and feigned innocence.
There was a tall man in a blue boiler suit pointing to the hole as if he somehow knew of my intrusion and my dad and his mate Reg were gazing up at it like it meant something. “I’ve sent it down the local blacksmith’s to have it straightened,” he gabbled in an accent more yokel than even we yokels were used to, “it should be back first thing.”
My dad was fed-up. I knew he was because he was wearing that face he’d worn when I’d stripped down his bike’s three-speed and lost one of the gears. “Where are we going to sleep tonight?” he demanded.
“There’s a B&B in the village – you can walk to it easy enough.” said Yorik the yokel.
“You’ll be paying for us then, won’t you?” said Dad the demanding.
“Or give us back one day’s hire charge for the day we’ll lose,” suggested Reg the realistic.
“Ahr, I’ll do that right enough,” agreed Yorik the yes-man.
My dad looked askance at his mate for scuppering his plan for a good night’s sleep, “Where shall we put our heads down then?”
“You can sleep on board – it’s all right on these props,” he said, kicking one timidly, and then eyeing us one by one, “just don’t go bouncing around too much.”
He found a ladder and we climbed aboard. It was like trying to stand on a ski slope – on the piste, so to speak. We sat holding tightly to the kitchen table; Reg told us it wasn’t a kitchen but a galley. When he spoke it was always important – perhaps that’s why he’d chosen to drive taxis – they get to go to a special school to learn how to be a know-all, don’t they?
“Dad,” I asked, with visions of our being pulled along by a carthorse like those old-fashioned canal boats, “what was that man going on about the blacksmith’s for?”
“The prop shaft is bent – it’s at the blacksmith’s,” came the weary reply, as if knowing he would have to say more.
“Is that something to do with the thing he kicked – he said that was a prop.”
He had that look again, I would get just one more answer without pain, “Don’t be bloody stupid, Richard. The prop shaft is the thing that goes in at the back and connects to the engine; it’s got the propeller on it that drives the boat through the water.” As if I should know all this at ten years-old!
“You mean in that hole at the back, near the bottom?” I asked, with growing relief – releasing and holding up my still brown finger, what’s this then, Dad?” He grabbed my hand and looked his most concerned, “Hmmm – molybdenum graphite – I should say – it’s serious stuff. How long’s your finger been like that? Please tell me you didn’t put your finger in that hole – you didn’t – did you?”
Near to tears I nodded my head violently, “I did, Dad – oh Dad, what’s this Molly Bendum thingy – will I lose my finger?”
“You shouldn’t if you wash it off quickly,” he continued, “let that be a lesson to you. Do not go sticking your finger into inviting holes, one day it could get you a life sentence.”
“What do you mean, Dad?” My bottom lip curled, but he and Reg just burst out laughing and told me to go out to the toilets and wash my finger. I didn’t understanding what they found so funny. I was pleased I hadn’t suffered a clip round the ear. I bawled my way to the gents, worried about what was on my finger, looking like it had gone through the Izal at school. Are you old enough to remember that indelicate tissue that doubled as tracing paper? I’d convinced myself that hole was where the boat’s toilet emptied into the river and my finger might have to be ampu... amput...cut off.
The others didn’t sleep well that night, but it wasn’t too bad for me across the rear above that hole because I was thrust backwards, but for the others it must have been a bit like trying to sleep in a hammock slung between one tall and one short tree.
A noise below woke me in the morning and I pulled on my clothes to find the boat empty and everybody gathered at the back watching a man standing on a box with a determined look about him. I heard my father muttering something about his looking like a horse at stud, as the man tried repeatedly to insert the great long shaft into that dear little hole. Suddenly the tip of it entered and he slipped it in with obvious relief. He removed a piece of rag and wiped all around the shaft before jiggling it in to his satisfaction, then wiped around the end to reveal a shiny yellow three bladed propeller. He had got his breath back and was telling Reg he’d had to straighten this along with the shaft he’d just slipped in. He had been moaning all the time he’d been putting the shaft in, especially about the previous people on the boat and how they’d buggered it up by reversing into a brick pier. “Theym did’norta let citee toypes looze in bowts,” he growled at Reg, as if ’cos we talked like yokels we’d know how to sail a boat any better than someone from Birmingham.
As it happens, poor old Temptress the Turd as I’d end up calling her, suffered more at our hands than she probably had from the city crew, but we didn’t trifle with her prop or anything tucked away down-below, like. Everything we inflicted on her was out in the open, exposed and touchable – visible for all the world to see.
Read Broadside Part 2 and Broadside Part 3 here
'Broadside' is from Short Fews 1 a collection of 8 humorous short stories and is available to buy on Amazon Kindle or you can read more excerpts from Short Fews 1 and Short Fews 2 here
Politics...yes politics; I have stayed away from writing about this subject for a while because I lost my biggest single number of ‘likes’ from my Facebook Author Page after posting something about the Greek situation. My editor seems to have forgotten the perils of the Trojan Horse and has asked me to write a blog considering which is better, the American system or the British.
It sounds like a simple request, no minefield...no risk of being ‘un-liked’. Mmmm, on her head be it, for the non-contentious is not for me.
I read many blogs and Facebook comments on how historical events have shaped our lives, but most of these are emotive assertions that, generally speaking, stray significantly from the truth in order to support the writers' arguments. So let me join the ranks of those that would rewrite history for a moment and say that if I were writing about the two countries’ political system before the early days of the 20th century, I would find it easier to be objective.
It is my belief that men of principle (yes, it was invariably ‘men’...and this fact could spawn yet another blog) were once at the helm of government...men who saw it as their duty to resign if they made a mistake. Although smoking was prevalent back then, I don’t believe that quite so many fundamental decisions were taken in the secrecy of ‘smoke-filled rooms’. I also believe that those we elected to make decisions on our behalf were those that substantively made the decisions albeit, particularly in the UK, they came from a quite narrow social class.
Today though, politics seems to be the province of the moneyed-set...we are ruled by millionaires or aspiring ones rather than conviction politicians. The last real conviction-leader of Great Britain was Margaret Thatcher and the last president of that ilk was...well, I am skating on very thin ice, so I shall plump for Theodore Roosevelt, who many have heard of but few can fault.
In the UK we have a public-school-educated prime minister ('public', oddly, is what we call private schools). Before him Gordon Brown (the man who told us he saved the world) was the last of a long-line of prime ministers educated in a now defunct though prime minister-spawning selective state system. Previously, the transient Labour success story had been the ‘public school’ educated Tony Blair, who nowadays has no friends but is richer than a chocolate cake. There was a brief flirtation with the well-meaning socialist Edward Miliband but the British people rejected him as being too left-wing. Recently the Labour party has replaced him with the even more socialist, though impoverished dinosaur, Jeremy Corbyn. The British people will never elect him, even though he is undoubtedly a man of principle because his principles are the wrong ones.
In the States, apart from the Obama aberration that has been a costly failed experiment in political correctness, past and putative presidents invariably seem to have much money and friends with disgusting amounts of filthy lucre. Without a dollar mountain or some special factor, becoming president is as likely as a Muslim being welcomed into heaven by Jesus H.
Why are we all in the hands of money and privilege rather than being led by politicians of principle? Therein lies a question that needs an answer and more importantly needs a resolution. Why do we seem to accept that those with money (or parents with money and able to send little David or wee Gideon for a private education) will be the best person for the job? I read that many US presidents were principled God-fearing men, but now their only fear is being found lacking, why should this be? Do we really believe that George Dubyah made executive decisions? Of course we don’t, but perhaps it’s even more dangerous when faceless advisers make the decisions and the president is manipulated, muppet-like, to be seen to pontificate on some world-shattering event. Is it the same in the UK and elsewhere? Are our politicians ever in charge these days or has the system irrevocably made them hand over the reins of power to big business as the price of their election?
As I have become older, I have become more cynical and that cynicism reached a new peak when the newly elected and referendum bolstered Alexis Tsipras, the socialist Prime Minister of Greece, caved in to the demands of Fuhrerin Merkel. Like many before him, he took the thirty pieces of silver and defecated on his people.
So the question my editor asked me was: ‘Which is the better system, American or British?’ My answer, sadly, is neither; I think I’d rather go for benign dictatorship...at least the ultimate sanction, assassination and real change, remains open to a disappointed public. With democracy these days it’s the same old lies, by the same elite with big business pulling the strings. God help us, because if he doesn’t, Allah soon will!
CLICK IMAGE AT END TO READ OTHER STORIES IN THIS SERIES
After my Easter week’s excitement I was glad that we ambled home gently and I was promised a couple of weeks’ rest. All would have been well if the sun had remained hidden by dense cloud and the wind had continued to rip out the new tender shoots of Spring, but suddenly the sun put its hat on and came out to play and lo and behold, that was the end of this snail’s flipping holiday...they wanted to be off gallivanting again.
The Sap has decided we are going to explore some of the northern parts of Somerset he seldom visited when he lived in the county. He says we are heading for Bath! I fearfully think of my last bath up in Yorkshire when I nearly drowned fording a winter-rain swollen river. Filled with trepidation, I feel soothed as we take a leisurely cross-country route and the nightmare of drowning recedes. We stop for the night just short of their destination, which allows us to be in the city shortly after 9am. The Sap drives round and round determined to park in a supermarket car park that was once a railway station...just think, I am owned and driven by a train-spotter! It’s a good job he doesn’t wear an anorak as well.
He is keen to park me in a particular spot where I can be photographed against the still-standing background of Bath Green Park railway station that he says he came to by train donkey’s years ago. As it turns out, he is more than delighted because by chance one of that railway line’s preserved steam engines has been brought in by low loader for a display...all he had to do was add some steam and there I am where the rails used to be in what is now a Sainsburys car park.
After putting me in a proper space they make some coffee before heading off into the city to explore, leaving me to doze and dream in the sunshine. Fortunately, now that I know that Bath is the name of a city, I had no dreams of being immersed in water but I did have one of being scalded by steam.
My reveries are disturbed when they return for lunch and tea. Apparently, they went into the supermarket opposite and bought a crusty cottage loaf and a pack of vintage cheese, but The Sap is not impressed with the waxy cheese and announces that we are now going to Cheddar where he can buy and gorge himself on Somerset’s hand-made finest. I am confused...I thought cheddar was a tasty hard cheese so how can we go there? I’m half listening and part dozing in a pleasant bit of sun that makes my body creak with joy and I have an image of my portly owner gorging himself with cheese. He announces that we are going to go down Cheddar Gorge...now it’s getting silly, I know cheddar is cheese and I have seen it being eaten rapidly by The Sap so it’s obvious that ‘to gorge’ is eating food rapidly...but cheddar gorge, is this some sort of competition?
While he’s setting Phillippa for the best route out of Bath, he says he plans to go via the village of Priddy which will take us to the top of the gorge and give a stunning view of Axbridge Lake before we start the descent. As we weave our way through the narrow lanes of the Mendips, we pass a village called Torhole Bottom, which I reckon beats the names of any of those places in Yorkshire I mentioned in Sammy VII.
As we get closer, The Sap is telling The Chief that cheddar cheese was first made in the village it’s named after but was so liked by Somerset folk that it was later made throughout the county and is now produced in all four corners of the world. She asks how the foreign versions can still be called cheddar when, for instance, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Stilton cheese must come from a specific area in Leicestershire. The Sap takes a laid back view, saying that the locals should have registered it long ago but were likely diverted from their task by Somerset’s other well-known product, scrumpy cider and under its influence registering essential trade-name paperwork was probably overlooked.
Suddenly I am dreaming again and I picture the road descending through endless rows of cheddar cheese on which the locals can gorge themselves freely...it’s a good job I go where I’m told because soon we’re about to fall off the edge of the Mendips and he points out the huge lake shimmering in the distance. I am a bit disappointed because the gorge turns out to be nothing like my dream as we twist and turn our way through limestone cliffs to the village of Cheddar and an interesting district called Velvet Bottom.
They are lucky enough to find a parking spot near Gough’s cave. He cracks a joke about Gough being unwashed and malodorous and that his cave was known as Fug Gough. A few seconds pass before she starts laughing and throws back what sounds like the same two words...it went right over my head. Thank goodness they’ve gone for a stroll and left me in peace to ponder things humans eat that have funny names...cottage loaf...I ask you.
Before long they are back and he is nursing a wodge of cheddar like a doorstop and a tub of local butter. He breaks out the crusty loaf, cuts two girt slabs (that’s what he said, honest!) lays on some butter like he’s using a trowel and hacks two lumps off the cheese and they soon sit surrounded by crumbs and contentment. Sometimes I’m quite jealous because I just get fed heavy oil and it tastes worse than the deposit on a zookeeper’s boot...see, I am beginning to assimilate and use their stupid sayings.
Anyway, he tells her that proper cheddar isn’t naturally a yellow coloured squidgy rectangular block pre-packed in suffocating plastic film, but whitish and shaped more like a football that has been flattened top and bottom. He says there is nothing finer than gorging on what is called a truckle of cheddar. He says he and his Somerset mates used to go camping with a couple of gallons of cider, two or three crusty cottage loaves and a truckle of cheese. He reckons a proper truckle is quite rare these days and is shaped like a miniature beer barrel. Nowadays, round blocks of cheese are usually only half the height.
We stop for the night a few miles south of Cheddar, a perfect place for a peaceful night in a small road leading into a cemetery and I dream again of that cheese-lined gorge, which goes to show that even a great dobake of a campervan can have his slumbers disturbed by nocturnal cheese.
The next day we eventually head for home along the A303 when The Sap announces that he’s pulling in for dinner and we lurch down a side road which turns out to be scoured by a series of deep water-filled tyre tracks. “Damn and blast it,” says The Sap, (he didn’t really, but children could be reading) “this track used to be a simple unpaved by-way but the blasted off-road fraternity have taken it over.” He manages to keep me going on a swerving course until a wide patch with a tawdry caravan looms into view and we shudder to a stop. “Look,” he says, pointing, “you can do some food then we’ll sit and enjoy the view of Stonehenge. ”
The Sap’s hopes of getting out are soon shattered when a convoy of 4x4’s streams by chucking mud and water all over me...I reckon I must look like a half demolished chocolate cake now. “That’s put the kybosh on getting home tonight,” groans The Sap, “so we had just as well stay the night and worry about getting out of here tomorrow. It will be too dark soon so why not have the added advantage of seeing the sun rise over Stonehenge?”
In the morning, I can see lots of people milling like ants around what looks like a huge partly eaten truckle of grey cheese. The Sap says it’s a temple built by people thousands of years ago who worshipped the sun. Apparently, many of the huge rocks were transported hundreds of miles from south Wales somehow.
Now, I’ve seen a few sun worshippers in my time while parked on the sea front at Swanage, but they only ever shifted a few odd pebbles from under their towels and I can’t imagine any of their ancestors heaving huge rocks around. I reckon people must have been bigger and stronger back then. I am still struggling to picture those prehistoric sun worshippers. Perhaps ancient Stonehenge looked something like this...but I’m dreaming again.
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