Showing posts from 2009

A 'Left' Perspective!

During the sixties and seventies there used to be a standard line trotted out by the reactionary right when discussing the independence struggles in Africa, particularly Apartheid South Africa, this could be called the Daily Telegraph line.It used to go along the following lines, what needed to be understood that these were intensely tribal cultures; they were neither ready nor suited for western style democracy. The word primitive was rarely used, merely implied, the racism underlying this argument not even disguised. On question time a week or so ago the spokesperson for the Respect Party, commenting on the current struggles in Afghanistan clarified that what needed to be understood is that Afghanistan is an intensely tribal culture and that trying to impose western style democracy was inappropriate! Further comment feels redundant.


About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well, they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;[1]

Auden, whilst giving credit to Breughel, as he so often does, gets it right, he hits the spot. The mother mourns her dead child as the undertaker stifles a yawn and across the street an ice cream van pulls up. You leave the hospital with terminal news and the cab driver opens the door chewing gum, it is the indifference of the world that frames our suffering.

‘Don’t they know it’s the end of the world’

Skeeter Davis intoned over the radio when I was young and of course they did not or if they did they had things to be getting on with tasks to perform. And this is how we experience the suffering of others too, we walk, already ten minutes late for work, the blood spattered body of the motorcyclist lies in the roadway, we take in the crowd surrounding the man, noting the inappropriate clothi…


As of 2008 the current administration had created more than 3,600 criminal offences since it came to office in 1997, almost one for every day in power, more legislation has been enacted this year. This avalanche of legislation has involved a relentless assault on civil liberties.

In the House of Lords recently the Government failed to pass yet another measure, in this case a measure designed to criminalise Homophobia. The minister thus thwarted lamented that ‘this sent out a message that it was OK to be intolerant.’ This statement tells you all you need to know about the present administration, a government that wants to criminalise intolerance!

Well the news is that intolerance, after a fashion, is OK, certainly currently not illegal. For myself I am intolerant of much, the list would be too long, some of the things on the list I guess would be considered less respectable than others. At present my greatest intolerance is religious bigotry in general and Islamicist ideology in particul…

Bakunin's Victory

The Modern Left and by this I mean since 1848, has been characterised by schism. The most fundamental of these is surely that between Marx and Bakunin. Following on the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1872 Marx engineered Bakunin’s expulsion from the 1st International. The Core of the dispute between them[1] concerned the role of the state. Put starkly Marx saw a key role for the state in establishing the new socialist order, in the shape of ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat.’ Bakunin on the other hand saw the state, in whatever form as fundamentally antithetic to the establishment of socialism. He saw in Marx’s prescriptions the seeds of authoritarianism and tyranny. Marx won the argument. The history of the twentieth century records the consequences. So I think it is long overdue to pay Bakunin his dues, so sadly over the lives of so many corpses, Bakunin got it right.
[1] Though on Marx’s part the dispute was also partly personal, moreover he had a particular distrust of Russians.

Is There Anybody out There?

I seem to be attracting less and less comments. Two possibilities occur, either my erudition, acute insights, acerbic wit and the sheer force of my arguements have cowed my few readers into silence or nobody is any longer reading me. Now I would like to think it is the former however I rather suspect it is the latter. Let me know.


I’m reluctant to talk about Mr Galloway again, so much so that I have put off writing about him, but eventually you cannot ignore the smell in your nostrils.

The last time I mentioned Mr Galloway’s name in what in fact was intended as an attack on the so called ‘Stop the War Coalition’ I got the usual response, along the lines of ‘that’s George for you a suitable case for satire!’ This of course is part of the image Mr Galloway likes to cultivate, Gorgeous George, the cheeky chappie, who likes appearing on Big Brother, jocular Georgie the Talksport shock Jock.
There is however another George, this is the George who displays, in Christopher Hitchens words ‘ a different set of manners,’ when meeting Middle Eastern dictators such as the thuggish Mr Basharal-Assad the President of Syria. Mr Galloway informs the Syrian people how fortunate they are to have such a ruler. Not fortunate enough however to vote for him in free and fair elections!
Perhaps I should pass over the praise for Saddam H…

On Mr Hardy's Rant

I see that Richard Dawkins has been on the receiving end of a humourless diatribe from Jeremy Hardy, a professional wit, in which he describes Dawkins, amonst other things, as "a fundementalist." Well Nick Cohen has already responded in his Observer column, /, very effectively. Of course when the real fundemantalists come pushing their wieght around the likes of Mr Hardy, Mark Steele et al are either strangely silent or mouthing 'understanding' multi cultural platitudes.


In December Mr & Mrs Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang will face trial. In July they were arrested and charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31 (1) (c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Their arrest and the criminal charges followed on from a discussion they had with a guest at the hotel which they ran, a Muslim woman. The discussion was about religion during which it is alleged that they argued that Mohamed was a war-lord and that traditional Muslim dress is oppressive to women. Following on from this argument the woman reported the Vogelenzang’s to the police.

Now leaving aside the veracity of the arguments, a case could be made for both,[1] indeed I have made similar arguments my self, it is however surely grotesque that they should face prosecution for voicing these opinions, for in effect hurting someones feelings.

I cannot help but feel that a prosecution in this case is not somehow connected to the fact that the Vogelenzang’s are Christians and …


The First World War, formerly The Great War, was a seismic event that has haunted Europe ever since. It is difficult now to grasp the extent to which it both traumatised and shaped the peace that followed, a peace that turned into little more than a twenty year truce. Like all great historical events, particularly catastrophic ones, it has became shrouded in a predominant myth, in this case the myth of ‘senseless slaughter,’ the ‘Oh What a Lovely War/Blackadder’ view of the events of 1914-18. This prevailing myth has been all the more potent for having some powerful truths at its core. It is however curious that this is now such a widely embraced view, for during the actual course of the fighting it was a view held only by small coteries of Marxist and Anarchist revolutionaries.

The causes of the First World War have long been a source of historical controversy, subject to numerous revisions and feeding an almost insatiable appetite for historiographical debate. However several clear f…

Mr Galloway's Resistance

On yesterdays mornings news I heard that an al-Qaedaaffiliated group has 'claimed responsibility' for the bombings that killed more than 155 people in Baghdad at the weekend. These groups are amongst those lauded by Mr Galloway as 'the resistance,' comparing them to the French Marquis in the last war!

I also checked out the website of the misnamed 'Stop The War Coalition' to read their condemnation of this atrocity. There was of course nothing. One can barely imagine the outrage that would pour forth if any British or American action resulted in the death of over 155 innocent civilians.

This of course only reflects the moral bankruptcy, phony radicalism and shallow mindset that passes for left wing thinking these days but there is also a stronger stench coming from this website, it is the stench of decay, the death of a long, noble, sometimes misguided tradition of opposition to war and violence. In place of this noble tradition of pacifism and non violence they …


There used to be, possibly still are, a standard question for history undergraduates which posits that ‘all history is contemporary history, discuss.’
Far from the static collection of what the German historian Ranke called ‘the facts,’ history has always been seen through the prism of the present. Nobody writing of the Russian Revolution today, for example, would write in the same vein as say sixty, or even thirty years ago. Hindsight always provides a distorted perspective. We forget that what is now the past was once the future. The dangers inherent in this are obvious, leading to an ahistorical approach to the past. As AJP Taylor once reflected “History is not another name for the past, as many people imply, it is the name for stories about the past.”
To further complicate things the requirements of ideology and ‘national prestige’ are constantly shaping and reshaping the historical ‘record.’ Moreover, as Orwell reflects in 1984 ‘he who controls the present controls the past,’ thus …


I think the furore over Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time has been wholly disproportionate and indeed for those seeking to oppose his appearance by shouting slogans and waving placards outside Television Centre, counterproductive.
The left has a long tradition of seeking to shut people up. I am old enough to remember when it was nigh on impossible for a conservative speaker to gain a fair hearing on British University campuses, speakers usually being greeted with a variety of zoo noises and the odd rotten egg or bag of flour. I witnessed Keith Joseph receive just such treatment during the mid 1970’s. No fan of the somewhat bewildered and extraordinarily other worldly Mr Joseph, I remember though feeling uneasy at the time, for was it not better to engage in debate? However what increasingly became clear is that many on the left were less interested in engaging with ideas than in silencing ideas that they found inconvenient or repugnant. The standard formula being ‘no platform…

Two Headed Sheep

There was a joke current in the early stages of the great depression of the 1930’s in the United States. ‘For God’s sake please don’t tell my mother I’m a banker, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel.’
The joke I think no longer works. Just last week I witnessed a London based banker justifying the return of large scale bonus payments in the City. This in an ‘industry’ responsible for catastrophic failures in both judgement and risk assessment. Of course payments of large sums to people of mediocre talent are not new, however there existed at one time a mechanism by which outrageous behaviour could be controlled, and it was called ’‘shame.’ To conduct one’s affairs with avarice amidst, to put it no stronger, the odour of venality, was one thing, never uncommon, but to emerge exposed in the full light of day and to feel nothing more severe than irritation is I think something new. We now have the phenomenon of the truly shameless.
Shame, embarrassment, a feeling of one’s frailties ex…

On The Limits of Psychiatry

He lost all heart his brother said,
And looking at the rippled torn back pages of his unmade bed,
I think I understood.

He lost all heart his brother said;
Not an organ much commented on in the meetings, conferences
Assessments that examined the rate of risk,
The rate of change,

Afterwards there was talk of Chlorpromazine,
Of borderline psychosis imbalance in the brain.

He lost all heart his brother said
And looking at the crumled pages of his unmade bed I think I understood a little of why he was now dead.


It has been interesting, if unsurprising to watch the MP’s expenses scandal unfold slowly, tortuously, dragged out to create the maximum amount of discomfort, shame, personal humiliation, leading to a drip drip of M P’s being forced out of parliament. It has been a particularly unsavoury spectacle, greed, mendacity, venality, the shabby exposure of forms of theft, albeit scented by the body spray of bureaucratic apologia, ‘I didn’t beak the rules.’
I say unsurprising and indeed it is, I believe, merely a reflection of the world we have gradually created for ourselves. For how much of this ‘me first,’ culture, get away with as much as you can, testing the rules to breaking point, merely reflects our own lives. For how many of the journalists covering this story or indeed the indignant electorate have not claimed for something illegitimate, not stretched the rules, made the occasional buck from silence and non declaration? For once, is it not possible, that our representatives are just …


My mother’s favourite poem was Sea Fever by John Masefield. I had it read at her funeral.

‘I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.’

It’s lonely, of course, that does it. There is something about the sea that speaks to us in the peculiar language of isolat…

Not a Haiku

The Sentimental tears of the drunk
are a fast flowing river.
The sea is never far away
Swallowing life in great gulps.

The tide of life is against us
Always sweeping against the troubled stones.
Licked by the unfeeling water
We too are swallowed by the sea.


Dreamily dozing
Half awake to the sounds of consciousness
The letter forming world is slipping slowly away
Dreamily dozing wanting
But not hoping,
Not that,
For something to take the pain away.

The hours are like broken glass
The jagged unformed thoughts
The visitors are like broken glass
The jagged unformed memory prodders and
Unpleasant sunlight mixed with the smell of decay
Oh for something to take the pain away.

Yesterday today and tomorrow strange words
Like vapour from a broken hour glass
The gassy breath of living or dying
Who can say?
Certainly not the white coated servants.
Oh for something to take the pain away.

For my father Alex Talbot April 2009


It seems now that the police now have cart blanche to coral peaceful protesters for hours on end, eight hours in the case of those protesting in front of the Bank of England last week, deny access to either water or toilet facilities and claim this to be part of an exercise in facilitating our right to protest! Now how many people who feel angry about some issue or other observe this police action and are deterred from making any public protest by this aggressive and hostile police action from attending future protests? Well I unhappily must put my hand up. This is of course the intention and this action has the grubby little fingerprints, the DNA, of ACPO[1] written all over it.
We sleepwalk slowly into a police state and have only ourselves to blame for letting such a state of affairs stand without an explosion of indignation.

[1] Association of Chief Police Officers., unaccountable and wholly lacking in democratic legitimacy


Today there will be mass protests in the city of London. I know some people who will be there, I will not. I have never been a good protestor, overly self conscious; I never felt comfortable shouting slogans or carrying placards, always felt peripheral, surplus to requirements, more observer than protestor.
I wish them well. The right to protest, to reclaim our rights as citizens, to occupy our streets is fundamental. We are not citizens under licence.

Much is always made of violence, which the media of course love, good TV footage. My experience, I was involved in the famous Poll Tax riot in London, is that it is the police who invariably come tooled up for a ruck, who are, 'up for it!' I remember the aggression of the police on that day, though managed to get away before things got really rough. I am not large, cannot as they say ‘handle my self’ and anyway lack physical courage, in any melee I simply represent cannon fodder. However I remember Orwell’s remark, ‘when I see an …


Anyone who writes has to to deal with, often ill informed, hostile critique of their writing.

On BBC Radio Four's Start the Week a year or so back Gore Vidal heard his book being slated as meretricious. Gore's response, 'Mmm, meretricious, meretricious and a happy new year!'

Now that's the way to do it.


Michel Houellebecq

‘Whatever,’ the throwaway line, the conversation stopper, the verbal tic, the ubiquitous response to complexity, pregnant with meaning, ultimately meaningless.

Julian Barnes states that any serious writer must write as if both their parents were dead. I would expand this to include all relatives and friends and anyone whom you admire or seek to impress, otherwise the internal censor works surreptitiously to undermine your attempts at authenticity, at undiluted honesty.
Of course in reality this is nigh on possible. However if any writer has achieved this it is surely Michel Houellebecq, (pronounced Wellbeck). Having read ‘Atomised,’ ‘Platform,’ and ‘The Possibility of an Island’ I have finally read his first novel ‘Whatever.’

A French writer who writes with a highly anglicised style, threatened in France by the Muslim lobby with legal action and accused of ‘Islamaphobia,’ he now lives in exile, having first resided in Ireland he now lives in Spain. His books a…


There is a rather shallow formula that declares that the older you get the more prone you become to adopting religious faith, this is a variation of there are no atheists in foxholes argument, presumably the greater proximity of death concentrating the mind. In my own case this does not appear to be true.

In his rather wonderful memoir ‘Experience,’ Martin Amis reflects that your parents are what stand between you and death. Certainly, having as they say ‘lost’ both my parents within the last eighteen months,- and isn’t the terminology here interesting, rather as if one had suddenly regressed, a child wandering around the station concourse having been separated from mum and dad, -I can certainly testify to this sense of having nobody now between me and the abyss, the feeling that “next comes me.” Not that I find myself in the departure Lounge just yet, more that the time when my flight will be called just got closer; though I have to say that this feeling has not induced in me any pa…


I read in one of the free newspapers last week that the decision that Abu Qatada can be deported to Jordan was described as inhumane by Omar Bakri Mohammed of Al Muhajiroun. This is the same man who has defended beheadings, stoning of women and even the Beslan school massacre. Presumably beheading being a more humane response than say garrotting or hanging drawing and quartering!
It is difficult to know quite how to respond to this disgusting man, however there is a Yiddish word and somehow it feels apposite to respond in Yiddish, the word is chutzpah, though a doubt that Mr Bakri Mohammed will appreciate the subtly and wit of the expression.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Pakistani Government have now reached a deal by which Sharia law is to be introduced in the Swat region in exchange for the Taliban ending a campaign of terror, involving beheadings, assassination and the burning down of girls schools. It must now be clear to all that Pakistan, never a success story, is now emerging as on…


Like many things I discovered the pleasures of the visual arts in my late teens. In all the years I spent at school I never recall visiting a public art gallery once. Sometime in the early seventies I fell in love, I’m tempted to say of course, with the Impressionists, with Manet, Degas Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec. It was sometime later when sitting in the Hayward that I experienced the powerful, stimulating, curious and even numinous interaction that can take place when faced with a great painting.
Like most people I am not as knowledgeable about the visual arts as I would like, but I do know that deprived of the incredible and intense experience that great painting and sculpture can induce life would be immeasurably poorer. Unfortunately in this culture it is all too common for the arts to be viewed as an elitist interest not for the ‘ordinary’ people.

Which brings me to the Turner Prize; now I cannot remember how many years ago it is that the prize was awarded to a stack, one must admit…


From last weeks New York Times, ‘as can be seen from the recent eruptions in Gaza,’ I had no idea there were volcanoes in the short strip of land between Israel and Egypt!
When someone resorts to this kind of euphemism they have something pretty disgusting to hide.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The cowardly decision by the BBC not to show the joint charities appeal for Gaza, ostensibly as a means to demonstrate ‘balance,’ of course demonstrates no such thing. It is difficult to imagine the BBC taking a similar stand over any other conflict other that the one between Israel and the Palestinians. What is does demonstrate is a continued willingness to bow to pressure from the Zionist lobby, a group who will not be appeased until our own TV coverage matches the craven quality of the US media.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In the latest edition of the New York Review of Books a petition addressed to President Obama signed, one assumes by prominent US intellectuals, (I am not sufficiently familiar with Amer…


Every time I witness yet a further Israeli atrocity, for there seems always to be a step further in the pornography of violence that Israel is prepared to take, the steady accumulation of atrocity, of war crimes, it is Auden who comes to mind,

‘I and the public know what all schoolchildren learn. Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.’

I have not wanted to write about Gaza, not out of any reluctance to engage with the issues, but more out of a sense of despair and impotence. I did not go on any protest rallies this time. It now should be clear that Israel is impervious to such protests, indifferent to indignation and disgust. The only meaningful action now is economic and trade sanctions. The EU is now Israel’s major trading partner and even the rather feeble move of the EU in freezing talks to upgrade EU Israel trade relations has hurt the electoral prospects of TzipiLivni, the foreign minister and leader of the centrist Kadima party. This is the same Ms Livni who has recently …


I have lived in London for over twenty five years and obviously seen many changes during that time. However one of the most un-remarked phenomenons has been the disappearance of the public toilet, the white tiled public conveniences’ with onsite attendant. When I first moved to this area there were four between Notting Hill Gate and the upper sections of Portobello Road, one of which was conveniently placed inside Notting Hill Gate Tube Station. Now there is just one, where public loos have been replaced they have been replaced by these hideous Tardis machines, the bane of the claustrophobic, I am never completely reassured until the doors finally open again to release me, relieved in more ways than one. On Portobello they have, Saturday’s only, replaced large public toilets on the junction with Talbot Road with two single portable toilets, this for the thousands who visit the market!
There are whole other areas of London that are a desert as far as public toilets are concerned. I reme…