Wednesday, 27 July 2011


I have just been listening to a fascinating BBC Radio 4* programme about 18c riots. I was reminded of two quotations which I'm going to give you below. I juxtapose them because one could be a retort to the other. The first is from Tory politician Norman Tebbit. During his active career in the House of Commons Tebbit showed himself to be a rare character - working class and right wing - sometimes with a dry and challenging wit, sometimes with a breathtakingly reactionary insensitivity. I shall never forget his words when in 1984 he was being stretchered away from the Grand Hotel in Brighton when it had been the target of an IRA bomb. He was asked by a medic if he was allergic to anything. "Yes," he said. "Being blown up!" The second quotation is from BBC TV's Steptoe and Son, and is Harry H Corbett in the persona of Harold Steptoe speaking to his father Albert (Wilfrid Brambell) with whom he has a love/hate relationship and many political differences:

"I grew up in the 1930s with an unemployed father. He didn't riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and kept on looking until he found it."

"You're a dyed-in-the-wool, fascist, reactionary, squalid, little, 'know-your-place', 'don't-rise-above-yourself', 'don't-get-out-of-your-hole', complacent. little turd!"


* Oh dear, how middle-class of me!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 31

I come from Scotland. "Smart move" I hear some of you say. True, Scotland is a little weird sometimes, but then so are so many places.

Or at least they have little weirdnesses. Take Australia, for example. I have nothing against the place nor the people, I adore Aussies (except for the eleven in white but that's another matter), it's just something in their national song. No, I don't mean Advance Australia Fair, I mean their real national song.

It starts off okay...

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
"You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me."

Then the chorus, you all know it, and then we move on to the second verse...

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee...

just take notice of what happens next, it's important...

And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
"You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me."

tutti... waltzing... yadda yadda... all good stuff... and the narrative moves on:

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,
Down came the troopers, one, two, three.
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?"

Now this is the point at which I interrupt the flow and imagine the real reaction of the swagman to this fatuous question. I mean, think about it for a moment. Take two if you like.

"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?"

Incredulous, the swagman replies.

"Where's that jolly jumbuck I've got in my tucker bag? Well... IT'S IN MY BLOOMIN' TUCKER BAG! Why do you ask if you know the answer, ya drongo!"

See what I mean? Weird. Anyway don't blame me, blame Banjo Patterson.


Oh by the way I hear to my utter amazement that the speed restrictions near Cumbernauld have gone. This means you can speed past Arria at a decent lick. Good.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 30

Consuela (my Tejana maid) came back to the teepee yesterday in somewhat of a state of shock[1]. I had to sit her down and give her several cups of hot, sweet tea laced with Auld Reekie[2] as clearly she should not have been driving in that state. It was some time before I could get it out of her. What had spooked her, I mean.

Consuela goes from time to time to Glasgow to visit her aunt Dolores. Dolores runs a Mexican-themed restaurant which opens late to cater for the after-theatre, after-concert crowd. It’s called ‘Hacienda The Show’, no te mierdo. Her route from the teepee to Glasgow and back takes her along the A80 past Cumbernauld, through mile after mile of roadworks where there is a camera-enforced average speed limit of 40mph[3]. The traffic was heavy on the way there and she needed to keep her eyes on the road, but on the way back it was lighter, so as long as she kept good control of her speed and course she was able to check out her surroundings. It was just as she was passing Cumbernauld that she spotted this:

I mean, really! What a bloody sight! No wonder the poor dear was suddenly all over the road getting honked at by all and sundry. It’s enough to give anyone the holy heebs, so it is. There it sits, overlooking the A80[4] stretching its metal arms out as though to embrace and drag anyone it selects to an extra-dimensional charnel-house realm. As a work of art it takes being hideous to new heights/depths[5]. The rationale behind it is beyond weird.

Okay de gustibus non disputandum est and all that, but gie’s a break pal. The statue is called Arria, apparently after Arria Fadilla the mother of Roman Emperor Antoninus. No I don’t know why. No I don’t know why she has four arms either. The decision to erect her was taken after Cumbernauld ‘won’ an award for ‘the most dismal place to stay in Scotland’. Now I’ll grant you that you couldn’t make a decent living out of selling postcards of anywhere in the Central Belt, but Cumbernauld just isn’t that bad. I’ve been there – once – and it’s not. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. Nevertheless this award obviously pricked an inferiority complex in the city fathers and, rather than sticking two fingers up at whomever made the award and being proud of their town, they decided on a costly, idiotic, vandalistic gesture – the erection of a frighteningly ugly sculpture. Congratulations, O worthy councilors, on making Cumbernauld uglier. They proudly state that seventy thousand commuters per day will see Arria every day. Fellas, that’s seventy thousand people lining up to kick your shins.[6]


News from Hogwarts.

It seems that in the post-Dweeblebore era some of his far-seeing, far-reaching policies are to be implemented by the new Board of School Governors. Less controversial than it was during the initial experiment is the appointment under a two-year contract of non-magical Teacher in the subject of ‘Defense Against The Dark Arts’, Marie Marshall.

Ms Marshall will be remembered by Old Hogwartians as the first (and so far only) non-magical to have successfully negotiated the shifting staircases in the school. She remarked at the time: “There is a logical sequence of changes, and all you have to do is ignore it totally and you can’t go wrong. Except you have to be ready for it to follow logic once in a while just to catch you out. Talking nicely to it helps too”. It is more likely, however, that as she had just returned from a term teaching ‘English as a Foreign Language’ at Ankh-Morpork Academy she had recognized that the staircase was made of Discworld Sapient Pearwood.

Ms Marshall will also be remembered as the teacher who famously stated that “By the time that even a competent necromancer had thought about what spell to use and got his wand half out, a muggle of average intelligence would have had the presence of mind to banjo him with the nearest heavy object, shove the wand right up his chamber of secrets, and walk off saying Get that out with yer ruddy ‘wandum extracto’, sunshine!”.

We wish her every success in her new position.


[1] Ordinarily she comes back in a state of schlock, but we won’t go into that.

[2] A little-known single malt. I keep a bottle handy for medicinal purposes. I keech you not – it tastes how it sounds!

[3] I am told that this is going to last for a decent-ish time too. Consuela’s description of the work going on goes somewhat thusly: “Miles of orange cones, clutches of inert machinery, occasionally one guy actually digging or prodding something while another guy writes on a clipboard… y tres otros hombres arañan los huevos.” I have no idea why she insists on translating that particular piece of vernacular into Spanish, nor why she uses that particular euphemism.

[4] Some poor bugger apparently owns a private house right across the highway from this. I think I’d cut my throat!

[5] Strike out as appropriate.

[6] Arria is actually the work of artist Andy Scott, who is responsible also for the M8 Heavy Horse and the Falkirk Helix Water Kelpies. He’s actually a fine sculptor. Someone should point out however that ‘water kelpies’ is tautological.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Translating a jaw-dropping naivety into a political practicality.

Someone asked me recently whether I would like to go to Barcelona. I would love to, if I were up to travelling. I would not be going for the football, nor for the Sagrada Familia of Gaudi, or to look down on the city-scape from Montjuic. I would be going for one reason, and that is to stand where, seventy-five years ago, there was a free society, a revolutionary anarchist society run without capitalism, without superstition, without hierarchy, and without money, and what is more a society which was not imposed upon the ordinary people but was set up by them. There was freedom, genuine freedom from control and from domination by anyone; it was a freedom compared to which our modern ‘freedom’ with all its commercial exploitation, its media control, its I-got-mine-so-screw-you, and its bourgeois party-politics looks like an utter sham.

This story of what has been called ‘the greatest experiment in workers’ self-management Western Europe has ever seen’ – an experiment which worked and which, when it was eventually snuffed out, had not failed of itself – has been largely ignored in popular history. Everyone has heard of the communist International Brigades, but so efficient was, on the one hand, fascist Dictator Franco at wiping out the history of the workers’ struggle in Spain and, on the other hand, communist propaganda at portraying communism as to all intents and purposes the sole opposition to fascism in the Spanish Civil War, that the fact that workers’ Spain was a product of the popularity of anarchism has been brushed under the carpet. There were large numbers of good, honest, organised socialists and communists of course, and they made common cause with the anarchists when the army revolted and Franco tried to seize power by force, but the driving ideals of workers’ and peasants’ self-determination and anti-statism were thanks to Catalonia's anarchists. A sceptically-smiling commentator in a recent American documentary[1] says “Anarchism as a political philosophy is almost jaw-droppingly naïve – freedom is a good inclination, suspicion of state power is a good inclination, the question is how is that to translate into practical politics?” and, like ‘jesting Pilate’, does not stay for an answer! Perhaps this is because the practical politics of Catalonia were below his horizon, below his radar?

Only more recently has this history – the translation of ‘jaw-dropping’ naivety into practical politics and a working system – started to be rediscovered and re-stated. The Spanish language documentary Living Utopia is one such rediscovery, as is this clip from another documentary in which we hear the voices of such veteran anarchists of the Barcelona era as Josep Costa, Federica Montseny, and Eduardo Pons Prades. Rather than attempt to tell the story myself I suggest you watch those documentaries. But I will pick out some points from them, because I am going to dare to take issue with my comrades from 75 years ago!
Women from anarchist militia groups...

... my beautiful sisters, I love you so much! 

Here is an extract from one, including a quotation from Federica Montseny[2]. The question raised is that of cooperation with central government structures.

Helpless, the Catalan Government offered power to the Anarchists but, true to their principles, they refused it. The Anarchists believed that out of this revolutionary explosion the people would create their own free society without state, church, or capitalism. Federica Montseny was a famous anarchist orator. “Had we taken power because we were the majority it would have meant betraying a pact of common struggle we had, in a way, sealed with the blood of so many of our men from many different sides – communists, socialists, syndicalists, and above all anarchists – it would have meant betraying that pact and doing in Catalonia what Lenin and Trotsky had done in the Soviet Union with the take-over of power by the Bolsheviks. We didn’t do it and we have been criticised many times for it. With hindsight who knows, perhaps, perhaps we should have done it.” Some anarchists now feel that their refusal to take power was the beginning of their undoing. At that time the anarchists had no doubt about their main objective – to defeat fascism. But for them the campaign was not just against the army rebels, but against capitalism itself.

My critique here is that it was not their non-participation that was at fault. It was force majeur by and large that ended their great experiment. The force majeur took several forms: Franco’s Nazi-equipped army, the non intervention but covert support of the fascist uprising and coup by ‘democracies’ such as the United Kingdom, and Stalin’s hi-jacking of the republican cause, for example. They did right to trust the people – the majority of the people trusted and supported them. They did right to give free voice in free assemblies to the ordinary communists, socialists, and non-aligned anti-fascists who had fought side-by-side with them.

My next extract contains the words of Eduardo Pons Prades, an anarchist youth of the time, explaining the system of vouchers which existed at the time, when money had been abolished:

“What did these vouchers represent? Well, they had to represent hours of production, the hours spent by a carpenter building a piece of furniture, or the hours spent by a peasant harvesting or working in the fields. Everything was calculated in hours of production. The peasants liked it because it meant making them equal to the industrial workers, making all work equal.”

My critique of the voucher system and barter system which existed when money had been abolished is very simple. I have no quarrel at all with the fact that at the same time profiteering had been abolished and commodities were now affordable by people who had been at the extremity of poverty. I say however that both straight barter and vouchers take the exact place of currency, establishing a price for things, a fixed exchange quantum; pricing is an insidiously capitalist principle and leads inevitably to the market principle of supply and demand. What should replace money is the social value of mutual aid. Entitlement to the basics of life is not directly tied to a measure such as number of hours worked, but rather to the principle that if a community makes shoes everyone eats, and if a community makes bread everyone is shod. Work is undertaken freely, I stress freely with no price attached, because it makes sense that everyone should eat and be shod, that is the societal value of work, the value of work as mutual aid, not its quantifiable price.

I can explain this a little better by quoting a comment I wrote for Alex Knight’s blog The End of Capitalism:

I quote from [Alex Knight]: “unpaid and stolen labor and resources”, in which [he includes] “women’s housework”. As I said, I am familiar with the Marxist view of the value of labour, as opposed to the market/capitalist view of its price. I use the term ‘price’ deliberately; although the Newspeak of capitalist propaganda always talks of ‘value’ it actually means ‘price’, and its use of the former term subverts and suppresses the distinction between true value and ‘price’. ‘Price’ is surely the correct term for the monetary (or other exchange equivalent) quantum applied to a given commodity, based on the law of supply and demand. In a market economy, labour is seen as a commodity and is subjected to that law. When my fellow feminists, in the past, insisted on recognition of the traditional roles of housework by a monetary equivalent in order that it should have ‘equal value’ with the work done by people in paid employment, I argued then and there that what they were doing was surrendering it entirely to capitalism, acknowledging it as a commodity, and insisting not on a value but a price.

There is plenty of work that is done for nothing. A banal example is someone giving up free time to help in a charity shop. Is it appropriate to attempt to measure the ‘value’ of that work by the equivalent wages of a shop worker for the hours spent? To give what I consider is a better example, although a very minor one, if I see someone carrying two bags of heavy shopping and I offer to carry one for her, what I am doing is definitely work. It is unpaid, but it is definitely NOT stolen. Its value is not the equivalent in a porter’s wages for the time spent, its true value is social, its true value is in its worth as mutual aid.

The value of ‘unpaid’ housework, no matter who does it, no matter if it is done by a woman, or by a man, or by a partnership in some agreed or ad hoc proportion, or by a family unit, or by any communal unit, is not the equivalent in a domestic servant’s wages for the time spent. Its value is – similar to the bag-carrying example – its importance in terms of mutual aid. To brand it “unpaid and stolen” is to accept a capitalist definition of it, even if one is supposedly opposing that definition; it is to degrade it and to ignore its vital, societal place in mutual aid.

If we are truly to embrace the mutuality implicit in the visions of, say, Kropotkin or Murray Bookchin, we are going to have to get our heads round the true value of various forms of work NOW, rather than continuing to think of them in terms of ‘market value’.

I hope it is becoming clearer to my regular readers just how radical I believe the concept of ‘freedom’ to be, how it goes far beyond its glib use by politicians, petty nationalists, and others. It is, as I have stated many times, total and inclusive. One last thing (and I’ll never tire of saying this either) it is not something I can teach you or give you, it is something you have to learn and seize for yourselves. I only ask you to realise that there are historical lessons to discover and to profit by, that there are mistakes not to make a second time, that there are wonderful women and men of the past from whom to draw inspiration. It is not the supposed hopeless idealism of such radicalism which causes it to fail, but rather the might which vested interest and reaction throws against it. Remember that Franco had thousands of anarchists summarily executed. I sincerely believe it is not for us anarchists to explain our concept of freedom, which is self-evident, but for people of other philosophies to justify their appropriation of the word. A revolutionary act is one which forces oppression to show its hand.


[1] Emma Goldman – An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman. This is a disinterested and fair non-anarchist analysis of the life of the famous Russian-Jewish-American Anarchist who once said “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution”.

[2] Federica Montseny herself did accept a government post as Minister of Health and Social Policy in the Spanish Republican Government. A short biography of her has this to say:

She was the first ever female minister in the Spanish government, and as minister she aimed to transform public health to meet the needs of the poor and working class. To that end, she supported decentralized, locally responsive and preventative health care programs that mobilized the entire working class for the war effort. She was influenced by the anarchist sex reform movement, which since the 1920’s had focused on reproductive rights, and was minister in 1936 when Dr. Félix Martí Ibáńez, the anarchist director general of Health and Social Assistance of the Generalitat de Catalunya, issued the Eugenic Reform of Abortion, a decree effectively making abortion on demand legal in Catalonia.

Given her family libertarian tradition, the decision to enter the Popular Front government was especially difficult. Although joining the government was a move encouraged by the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), this collaboration with the government in order to present a united front to the Fascist threat posed by Francisco Franco’s rebel armies, was widely questioned during and long after the war was over. Notably, she was involved in polemics with Emma Goldman, and the recipient of the harsh criticism in Camillo Berneri’s open letter of 1937. For many anarchists, the topic of collaboration — with both Marxists and governments — is still a contentious one.”


Monday, 18 July 2011

Survival, psychopathy, and Smurf porn.

Quick, I need something to take my mind off Smurf porn. I’m serious. Why? You don’t want to know, okay? All right, it has something peripherally to do with Edward Lear’s Jumblies.[1]

So imagine a score of crackly, old horror films full of cliché. The evil scientist/boyar/monster, having picked off a small percentage of virgins from the village in the valley, is cornered and desperate in his Gothic castle. It is touch and go whether the hero, equipped only with vitriol/crucifix/battleaxe (appropriated from above the fireplace), can rescue his inamorata (the latest victim of the scientist/boyar/monster). But then the cavalry arrive and provide an irritating distraction. The cavalry is always in the form of the entire population of the village armed with pitchforks, scythes, and torches. The villagers have realized that whilst the scientist/boyar/monster can pick them off one by one he is unable to deal with them all at once. Co-operation, mutual aid, collective will and strength win the day, survival is shown not to be the prerogative of the single, Nietzschian Übermench but of those who choose to work together. Hurrah, good old Kropotkin is vindicated!

Of course you could argue that the lumpen mob has failed to appreciate the superior genius and iron character of the misunderstood individualist and has simply destroyed what it could not understand – and indeed who amongst us does not feel a pang of pity when King Kong[2] falls from the Empire State Building – but let’s leave that one for another day.

My therapist and I agreed the other day that captains of corporate commerce, of politics, and of the media show clear and incontrovertible signs of psychopathy. An inability to empathise with other people is necessary to be able to exploit them in the interest of gaining personal wealth and power. Anyone who wants ‘survival of the fittest’ to refer to whomever can best rend with tooth and claw had better reflect that in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world it is best not to be a dog.

I do have some conservative, American, Republican friends, believe it or not. I once said to one of them that poverty has never cured poverty. He laughed: “You couldn’t be more wrong! I know of scores of rags-to-riches cases!” I laughed too, because I knew he hadn’t seen the irony of what he had just said. I am sure he had seen ‘scores’ of such cases, but what he had not seen was the abolition of poverty. I will readily grant that the conditions of poverty can act as a stimulus to a certain minority of people who possess a strictly limited range of talents[3] that they can deploy to climb the greasy pole; once they are up that pole, however, they do not reach down, wealth remains concentrated and poverty remains stultifying and self-perpetuating. My friend’s ‘scores’ are a meaningless drop in the ocean. The untruth in the ‘American Dream’ is that anyone can get on if she or he works hard; the reality is that the only guarantee from hard work is aching bones.

I am watching with a kind of amazed horror as the United States tears itself apart politically and economically. I do not think I can recall any time when consensus politics has been so absent in the US. From the moment that the current President took office and declared that his aim was to foster cross-party collaboration in the national interest, those in political opposition set their faces against any such thing. He hadn’t been there five minutes when powerful interests stirred up right-wing protest in one of the most cynical campaigns of astroturfing it has been my misfortune ever to see – apparently he’s a communist, a Muslim, and wasn’t born in the USA. Oh no one with any pretence at respectability mentions his melanin, but co-incidentally the Aryan-supremacist fringe has been going in for a lot of chest-thumping and willie-waving.

Right now we are witnessing the unusual sight of statism and capitalism failing to support each other. The USA needs to tax or borrow urgently in order to function and in order for its infrastructure not to disintegrate rapidly, but the right digs in its heels and refuses to allow the rich to bear any of the collective burden for the financial and fiscal crisis, forgetting that business needs a stable state to maintain a stable market. Probably some shadowy Bilderberger [4] will whisper in a few ears and the state and capital will come to some accommodation at the eleventh hour, who knows.

All of which actually brings me back to a point I keep making in this blog – the failure of the American Revolution. I am sometimes asked why I believe that the American Revolution failed when clearly the USA is the richest and most powerful country in the world. Well leaving aside the possibility that it is on the brink of irrecoverable disaster and may soon find its political power eclipsed by China, I ask in return whether wealth and power were what the Founding Fathers were aiming for. I answer my own question – no. I believe their goal was liberty. However it was liberty as conceived in the minds of 18c, classically-oriented, propertied, educated, slave-owning, white men. Any other liberties that exist in the USA have not been granted by the beneficence and wisdom of the FFs but despite them. The codified constitution[5] with its checks and balances was a noble experiment and, as a fall-back, has been used to a limited extent to argue for the extension of certain liberties and the maintenance of others. However any greater advancements have been achieved by mass upheavals (the freeing of the slaves, the Civil Rights movement and so on) and despite the constitution not because of it. Left to its own devices the US constitution as conceived and formed by the FFs underpins an inherently conservative status quo and prevents progress rather than stimulating or allowing it. It failed the Native American and it failed the Norteño who were swept aside – in some cases pursued to extinction – as the imperialist juggernaut gained speed in North America. It fails still in US foreign policy when the supposed bastion of liberty backs up repressive, royalist regimes[6] such as Saudi Arabia, organizes military coups simply because it dislikes the political colour of a democratically-elected government elsewhere[7], and denies its perceived enemies any shred of the legal protection it would extend to its own citizens (yes, I know, I’m banging the Gitmo/Abu Ghraib drum). Furthermore I have this fundamental question to ask: can there be any such thing as freedom where there is advantage? In other words can freedom really co-exist with inequality? Is a society truly free if it has a system which perpetuates poverty?

I’ll leave it there for now and get off my soap-box.


Oh all right, you win.


[1] Far and few, far and few,
          Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
     Their heads are green and their hands are blue.
          And they went to sea in a Sieve.

[2] Did you know that in Denmark King Kong is known as ‘Kong King’?

[3] Would I suppress these talents (ask my Republican friends)? Not if they could also be usefully harnessed to mutual aid, no. If they are simply a manifestation of psychopathic tendencies don’t ask me – I’m not a psychiatrist! By the way, I do not believe that everyone who succeeds in business by dint of her or his individual efforts is a psychopath. I specifically exempt a particular friend, a ‘self-made-woman’, in whom I find no such thing and whom, despite our political differences, I have always found to be an admirable person. We are not made on assembly lines and there are always exceptions that test all rules.

[4] Here is an interesting site run by an organization campaigning for a press conference at all Bilderberg venues and for all conference decisions to be made in the public interest. Good luck with that.

[5] I’m deliberately using a small ‘c’ here to express all the statist and super-statist machinery put in place, not simply the ‘Constitution of the United States’.

[6] To my mind this goes back a long way, right to the beginning of the Colonial Rebellion when the insurrectionists allied themselves to absolutist France.

[7] I will admit that Salvador Allende’s elected communist government in Chile was hardly a success in its own right, but nevertheless the USA both overtly and covertly worked against it and ultimately supported the military coup that led to the many years of Pinochet dictatorship. I also note that the CIA to this day maintains that it played no active role in the coup. It is an interesting historical study.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Kronstadt spun!

My interest in history has made me follow avidly BBC Radio 4's daily slice of Russia: The Wild East, a quotidian tracing, fifteen-minutes at a time, of Russia's love affair with autocracy that has lasted throughout the centuries, from the Mongol conquest and domination through the ages of the Tsars and of Bolshevism and into the post-communist Putin era.

The broadcast on 14th July focussed on the early popular uprisings against the Bolsheviks and in particular on the Kronstadt Revolt of 1921. To listen to Martin Sixsmith (the erudite BBC journalist and expert on Russia) that particular uprising was a manifestation of some sort of desire for liberal, multi-party constitutionalism à la Britannique, in other words that it was precisely what the Bolsheviks said it was - opposition from the right, counter-revolutionary. This modern, middle-class, anglo-centric spin is incredible! Let me quote from a couple of the demands published by the sailors of the battleship Petropavlovsk:

"... freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties...

... the liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors..."

From this and from all the other evidence, it is clear even to the most amateurish of researchers, that the Kronstadt Revolt was a revolt of the left, that it was in favour of the grass-roots democracy of basic revolutionary Anarchism and Socialism, and that it, not the new Tsar Lenin, represented the true Revolution in Russia. Martin Sixsmith's spin and his failure to mention the role of Anarchism in Russia's struggle for freedom left me gasping for breath.

However, I continue to listen to the programmes which are fascinating nonetheless.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Fresh unrest in Egypt

"Egypt hit by new wave of protests as military postpone election" - If every it was more clearly demonstrated that when people have wrested power out of the hands of the powerful they should not immediately proceed to give it away...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 29

We had the plumbers around to the teepee yesterday. Or rather we had the plumbers-and-central-heating-engineers. There is no such animal as a plumber these days, or so it appears, the species seeming to have hybridised with the common or garden central heating engineer. Anyhow, whatever, we were getting hot water intermittently.

Two men came, presumably some kind of symbiosis. One actually did the work, the other one crowded close, peering over his shoulder, watching. The latter was obviously learning the trade. They stuck their head into the boiler cupboard where our water heater lurks, tapped and fiddled for a few minutes, and then emerged.

“It’s your thermostat,” said the man who had been doing the actual tapping and fiddling.

“Simple to fix, then?” I ventured.

“It would be,” he agreed. “If I could get the part. It’s an old heater, you see. The maker doesn’t supply the part for this model any more.”

“It is precisely five years old,” I said. “That’s not ‘old’ as such. They don’t make the parts – are you serious?”

“’Fraid so. You’re not my first customer with this problem. They stopped making the parts eighteen months ago, and I’ve been scrabbling around for them since then. No one has stocked them for the past three.”

“What alternative do I have?” I asked.

“New heater,” he said.

“Let me get this gay,” I said. “I have a water heater which was installed new five years ago, for which a new thermostat ought to cost me – what – five pounds? No one stocks the part because the manufacturer stopped making them eighteen months ago. So what I have to do, for want of a single part, is have an entirely new heater fitted.”

“That’s about it.”

“And that will cost me how much?”

“For a new model, about three grand.”

I thanked him. We stood around in silence drinking the cups of tea which Consuela (my Tejana maid) had thoughtfully made, and then they left. It wasn’t their fault, but I was buggered if I was going to shell out three big ones for a new heater. No thank you! I would put up with intermittent hot water.

For the rest of the day I ranged around the teepee cursing capitalism roundly, until Consuela got fed up and pointed out that I lived off capital, had a teepee built with Tardis technology, had a collection of priceless antiques, AND kept a maid.



One thing I have always wanted to know and which science has never properly explained to me is this. When one works up a lather from a bar of soap very little of the soap is actually consumed. However, when the cake of soap becomes small with use and although there is ought still to be enough to make a lather it simply refuses to do so. Why is that? Why does a small sliver of soap get to a point where it refuses to become anything less than a small sliver of soap, and sits there mocking my grimy hands until it accidentally slips onto the floor or down the overflow of the hand basin? And why if one melds it to the surface of a larger cake does it then, and only then, dissolve under normal washing conditions?

Write a thesis, someone.

You know you want to.