Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Wreckers

There's something to be said about poking around the internet with no apparent objective. Last week I stumbled across 'The Wreckers' - a haunting melody by Eliza Broc, a singer-songwriter I'd never heard of. Now I'm no musical connoisseur - I play no instruments and can't sing for fear of alienating the few friends that continue to tolerate my rabid rantings - but I do know good when I hear it. Not everyone's to going like this; it's cool. I don't dig 50 Cent either, so I guess we're even.

In a world of remixed, homogenised, artificially flavoured, mass produced, assembly-line drivel that passes for music, Eliza is like a breath of fresh air. There had to be more than just a stunningly beautiful voice and a Tori Amos-esque edge to the song. There had to be a story; a purpose. I simply HAD to know. In my geekiness, I found the singer and asked her. I was right.

'The Wreckers' is inspired by Eliza's favourite Daphne du Maurier 1936 novel ‘Jamaica Inn’, a gothic tale set in nineteenth-century Cornwall about a bloodthirsty gang of wreckers who lure ships onto the rocks, drown the crew and steal the cargo. If you'd like to know more, you can get the book here. (I couldn't find it for Kindle). If you're an Alfred Hitchcock fan, you could get the 1939 film he made based on the book here

As Eliza describes it, the song is her musical interpretation of the tempestuous relationship between the story’s two focal characters. The lyrics specifically relate to a pertinent scene that appears halfway through the book where a chilling confession is made. Eliza is currently working on material for her first album. This single is not available in stores or for sale online.

Waves smash like stone
Through the dark they will roam
Rabid cries float on the midnight foam
Feet kicking slow in a voiceless unknown
The wreckers dream awakes a world obscene

I’m a soldier, I’m a willing hand
I’m a traitor, sleeping on the sand
As you hold me with a shallow heart
Our stare will last a lifetime, never can we part

Rocks hit the air
Seaweed dances in my hair
Watch me sway a silent breath away
Tales can’t be told
Eyes are eaten, fingers cold
Wrap the tongue the clamour has begun

Lyrics reproduced with permission. © Eliza Broc 

Monday, 5 December 2011


You know one of those Sunday afternoons when you're pottering around in your PJs, the kids are putting their homework away, there's nothing on TV and the prospect of a cold Monday morning looms over the house? Today was one of them.

I thought I'd reinvent an old favourite. Turned out pretty good too.

Here's what you will need:

4 hard-boiled eggs
4 panino rolls - you can use regular rolls if you want. Panini are just sexier.
1 green chilli or two if they're small
1 small white onion about the size of a ping-pong ball.
1 small tomato - a cherry tomato will do
A fistful of finely chopped coriander leaves
2 tablespoons of pasta sauce - I used Dolmios
2 tablespoons of butter - I used Clover
Some ground red chillies, coarsely ground black pepper and salt

The steps below occur in quick succession and on high heat, so make sure you have everything ready before you begin.

Chop the onions and the tomato into small (no bigger than 5mm x 5mm) pieces.
Cut open the green chilli and get rid of the seeds inside it. Then chop it into thin slivers.
Cut up the eggs into small chunks, no bigger than, say an olive, including the yolks.
Cut the panini.

Ready? Here goes...

1. Non-stick pan. High heat. Butter. Once the butter melts, throw in the chopped onion.
2. As the onion starts turning pink, add the tomatoes, stirring all the while.
3. Wait 30 seconds and add the green chilli and coriander leaves. Keep stirring.
4. Add a teaspoon each of red chilli powder, black pepper and a little salt. Don't stop stirring. Give it about 60 seconds.
5. Add two tablespoons of pasta sauce and mix it all well. 10 seconds at most.
6. Chuck in the chopped boiled egg and mix well. Turn down the flame somewhat.
7. Stick a panino roll in the toaster
8. Turn the heat up to full and stir to prevent browning. Do this for about 30 more seconds and then turn the heat off.
9. The roll should be toasted by now, butter it up (this is important if the egg mix is too dry); add the egg mix and serve with cold beer.

If you choose to add mayonnaise, make sure you never, ever tell me about it.


Monday, 12 September 2011

50 (+1) Rules For Dads Of Daughters

I came across this and absolutely loved it. I'd like to share it with all the Dads out there. And Mummies who see this, make sure Daddy reads it too!

01. Love her mom. Treat her mother with respect, honour, and a big heaping spoonful of public displays of affection. When she grows up, the odds are good she'll fall in love with and marry someone who treats her much like you treated her mother. Good or bad, that's just the way it is. I'd prefer good.

02. Always be there. Quality time doesn’t happen without quantity time. Hang out together for no other reason than just to be in each other’s presence. Be genuinely interested in the things that interest her. She needs her dad to be involved in her life at every stage. Don’t just sit idly by while she adds years to her life… add life to her years.

03. Save the day. She’ll grow up looking for a hero. It might as well be you. She’ll need you to come through for her over and over again throughout her life. Rise to the occasion. Red cape and blue tights optional.

04. Savor every moment you have together. Today she’s crawling around the house in diapers, tomorrow you’re handing her the keys to the car, and before you know it, you’re walking her down the aisle. Some day soon, hanging out with her old man won’t be the bees knees anymore. Life happens pretty fast. You better cherish it while you can.

05. Wish the best for her. Regularly. Passionately. Continually.

06. Buy her a glove and teach her to throw a baseball. Make her proud to throw like a girl… a girl with a wicked slider.

07. She will fight with her mother. Choose sides wisely.

08. Go ahead. Buy her those pearls.

09. Of course you look silly playing peek-a-boo. Play anyway.

10. Enjoy the wonder of bath time.

11. There will come a day when she asks for a puppy. Don’t over think it. At least one time in her life, just say, “Yes.”

12. It’s never too early to start teaching her about money. She will still probably suck you dry as a teenager… and on her wedding day.

13. Make pancakes in the shape of her age for breakfast on her birthday. In a pinch, donuts with pink sprinkles and a candle will suffice.

14. Buy her a pair of Chucks as soon as she starts walking. She won’t always want to wear matching shoes with her old man.

15. Dance with her. Start when she’s a little girl or even when she’s a baby. Don’t wait ‘til her wedding day.

16. Take her fishing. She will probably squirm more than the worm on your hook. That’s OK.

17. Learn to say no. She may pitch a fit today, but someday you’ll both be glad you stuck to your guns.

18. Tell her she’s beautiful. Say it over and over again. Someday an animated movie or “beauty” magazine will try to convince her otherwise.

19. Teach her to change a flat. A tyre without air need not be a major panic inducing event in her life. She’ll still call you crying the first time it happens.

20. Take her camping. Immerse her in the great outdoors. Watch her eyes fill with wonder the first time she sees the beauty of wide open spaces. Leave the iPod at home.

21. Let her hold the wheel. She will always remember when daddy let her drive.

22. She’s as smart as any boy. Make sure she knows that.

23. When she learns to give kisses, she will want to plant them all over your face. Encourage this practice.

24. Knowing how to eat sunflower seeds correctly will not help her get into a good college. Teach her anyway.

25. Letting her ride on your shoulders is pure magic. Do it now while you have a strong back and she’s still tiny.

26. It is in her nature to make music. It’s up to you to introduce her to the joy of socks on a wooden floor.

27. If there’s a splash park near your home, take her there often. She will be drawn to the water like a duck to a puddle.

28. She will eagerly await your return home from work in the evenings. Don’t be late.

29. If her mom enrolls her in swim lessons, make sure you get in the pool too. Don’t be intimidated if there are no other dads there. It’s their loss.

30. Never miss her birthday. In ten years she won’t remember the present you gave her. She will remember if you weren’t there.

31. Teach her to roller skate. Watch her confidence soar.

32. Let her roll around in the grass. It’s good for her soul. It’s not bad for yours either.

33. Take her swimsuit shopping. Don’t be afraid to veto some of her choices, but resist the urge to buy her full-body beach pajamas.

34. Somewhere between the time she turns three and her sixth birthday, the odds are good that she will ask you to marry her. Let her down gently.

35. She’ll probably want to crawl in bed with you after a nightmare. This is a good thing.

36. Few things in life are more comforting to a crying little girl than her father’s hand. Never forget this.

37. Introduce her to the swings at your local park. She’ll squeal for you to push her higher and faster. Her definition of “higher and faster” is probably not the same as yours. Keep that in mind.

38. When she’s a bit older, your definition of higher and faster will be a lot closer to hers. When that day comes, go ahead… give it all you’ve got.

39. Holding her upside down by the legs while she giggles and screams uncontrollably is great for your biceps. WARNING: She has no concept of muscle fatigue.

40. She might ask you to buy her a pony on her birthday. Unless you live on a farm, do not buy her a pony on her birthday. It’s OK to rent one though.

41. Take it easy on the presents for her birthday and Christmas. Instead, give her the gift of experiences you can share together.

42. Let her know she can always come home. No matter what.

43. Remember, just like a butterfly, she too will spread her wings and fly some day. Enjoy her caterpillar years.

44. Write her a handwritten letter every year on her birthday. Give them to her when she goes off to college, becomes a mother herself, or when you think she needs them most.

45. Learn to trust her. Gradually give her more freedom as she gets older. She will rise to the expectations you set for her.

46. When in doubt, trust your heart. She already does.

47. When your teenage daughter is upset, learning when to engage and when to back off will add years to YOUR life. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

48. Ice cream covers over a multitude of sins. Know her favorite flavor.

49. The day she leaves will come sooner than you think. There’s nothing you can do to be ready for it. Accept this fact, and it might just be a little easier.

50. Today she’s walking down the driveway to get on the school bus. Tomorrow she’s going off to college. Don’t blink.

And I added one of my own:

51. Have a favourite song of her. She doesn't have to like it. This is mine. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Mountains

This is a poem I wrote some years ago. It was published in the inaugural issue of The Afghan Mosaic, which unfortunately ceased publication after a few issues due to lack of interest and funding. The poem talks about how I miss Afghanistan and how with each passing year it recedes further into my past until it seems like it was a dream...

The Mountains

There's a world I knew
Of glistening dawns
Kissed by the morning dew
In the mountains nearby

There is a place I love
Of placid lakes reflecting
The craggy rock above
In the mountains not far away

There used to be a home
That I see in my dreams
And my heart still roams
In the mountains, somewhere

There was once a land
Memories of which I keep
From shifting like sand
In the mountains far, far away

I long to go there
Among the rocky hills
And the cool mountain air
If those mountains still exist

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Anna Coin Has Two Sides

Corruption. It used to be one of those dinner-conversation words that just rolled off your tongue while you tried to talk about something other than the weather. The ice in your whiskey clinked and you moved on to the next topic. It used to be a small, but persistent fact of life. Like power cuts, school fees and new Bollywood releases. The last few months and particularly the last 10 days have seen this word change. The implications of what the world's largest democracy is seeking to do, are profound. There is a sense of a sea-change occurring. Conversations are now more frenzied, more animated, the newswires are buzzing, the online forums are on fire. The Twitterati are jumping in with 140-character opinions of their own. Something's up and everyone has something to say.

To say corruption is endemic in Indian society would be a gross understatement. It's all-pervasive. It's everywhere. There is precious little you can get done without some form of a bribe or backhander. The average Indian's life from cradle to grave is peppered with little bundles of notes shoved into sweaty palms in what looks like a back street drug deal. Chai-pani, as it's often called, begins when you are born, starting with a 'tip' when your birth certificate is issued, and then through every stage of life, admission in a nursery and later in school, then college and university, getting a driving license, a passport, a ration card, a telephone line, an electricity connection, a sales tax registration number for your business, the filing of an income tax return, the registration of your marriage, the buying of a new home, the making of an insurance claim if you damage your car, the planning permission you need to make alteration to your house and finally the issuing of your death certificate and everything in between. The greasy hand of the corrupt civil servant reaches you well beyond your grave. You would think that something had to give at some point, but no. We were content with it all. A small price to pay for expediency, we thought and continued to feed the beast, like we were tipping for pizza delivery. However, it wasn't the little stuff that put corruption on the top of the dinner table list. It was the big stuff. And my, was it big! The License Raj everyone thought was long dismantled had morphed into a different, audacious, blatant and shameless creature altogether. Politicians plundered with naked abandon. India became something of a banana republic. The video illustrates some of the scale. 

Indians love a hero and they bestow the choicest epithets on them when they spring into the public's consciousness. Such is the case of 74 year old former soldier and now anti-corruption activist, Kisan Baburao Hazare. We call him 'Anna'[pronounced Un-na]. It means big brother, more specifically kind, benevolent big brother. Not quite the grand honour afforded to Mahatma Gandhi, who was called 'Bapu' (father), but a great honour nonetheless. Anna Hazare is the new hero, the new activist, the new symbol of an Indian Spring, if you like. As I write this, the story is still unfolding and I suspect the likes of Ketan Mehta, Mani Ratnam and Govind Nihalani are salivating at the possibilities. Somehow I'm thinking Paresh Rawal. And I miss the days when an online search for 'Anna' threw up images of a lithe tennis player.

Much has been written about the hows and whys and whats, so I won't go into that here. Suffice to say that activism in India has moved beyond the burning of effigies. The result of the last couple of weeks' of high intensity drama has been severe embarrassment for the government who completely misjudged the national mood, labelling Anna's actions as blackmail. The government capitulated and now, after four decades of dilly-dallying, ducking and evading the issue, India's parliament will create a powerful anti-corruption ombudsman to police everyone from the Prime Minister to the peon in a village office, in a bid to end the institutionalised corruption that defines life in India. The Jan Lokpal Bill looks like it will become reality. Tens of thousands of civil servants and law enforcement officials will be implicated and dismissed. Harsh, career-ending punishments will be meted out. The scourge of corruption will be yanked out, roots and all. All will be held accountable. Zero tolerance. Finally. Indian politics Cromwelled. Jolly good.

But hang on a minute. There's something else...

There's a dark side. How clever is it to undermine a democratic process, something India has the best there is? The Jan Lokpal Bill will create a bureaucratic monolith to clean up another bureaucratic monolith? Are we assuming the Jan Lokpal would be incorruptible? That they will not inflict their own brand of morality on us? Look at Team Anna for example; we are all aware of Anna's stance on alcohol consumption. I'm not sure being tied up with barbed wire and flogged in public is what I want. I happen to like my drink. What of Arvind Kejriwal, who may have a point about reservations restricting the nation’s output? Let's not forget, he's a lobbyist. That's his job. And supercop, turned Judge Judy, Kiran Bedi? She's been encouraging Indians not to participate in elections. Disengagement of the common man from politics is exactly what got us here in the first place. Just what the entrenched politicians need. Many of the others backing Anna, with their coloured and chequered histories, aren't exactly exemplary models of decent behaviour. When an anti-virus programme begins a cleaning process, it first checks itself and its associated files for infection. Will the Jan Lokpal do that? It will be run by people after all. Humans with the associated human frailties.

What about the process that got Anna what he wanted? What he achieved may be laudable, but look at the precedent it has set: If you don't pass the bill, Anna Hazare will kill himself. If you say you want to discuss it, Anna Hazare will kill himself. If you ask to keep the elected sovereign body outside the purview of the bill, Anna Hazare will kill himself. And there you have it, unanswerable to parliament, above the constitution, beyond the checks and balances of democratic processes, we could end up with a bureaucratic monster no one has control over and a law unto itself. Much like the institutions we are seeking to clean up. Somehow this worries me immensely.

I have always been in favour of a small government, less central authority, more power to the smallest units possible and a complete dismantling of ridiculous rules that make criminals of us all. The smaller the government unit, the closer it is to the ground, the more accountable it is, the more of the people, by the people and for the people it is. It's not like the brilliant Indian constitution does not have provisions for this kind of localisation. A draft exists in Schedule 11. Look at it. Here's a useful presentation for an overview.

I could be wrong about my analysis and my views could be skewed, living in a country where a Deputy Prime Minister can get a driving ban for speeding, an MP can get a parking ticket, go to jail for misappropriating an expense claim for a sum vastly dwarfed by an amount you'd shove under the table for a place at school or lie about a night with a prostitute.

I will consider India fixed when "Don't you know who I am?" is followed by a "I don't. And I don't give a shit."

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Like it is. Unpretty.

The politician who stands up and tells us the truth will never be voted in. And what exactly is it that needs telling? I have borrowed the text below from Old Holborn's blog. I couldn't have put it better myself.

See everything you have? It isn’t yours. The Government and yourselves have awarded us the finest things money can buy. Sparkling schools, four lane motorways, foreign wars. Our unemployed drive cars, we house and feed people who will never work, nor have the intention of doing so. We send money to nations who waste every penny we send. You buy televisions and Jacuzzis for the garden on credit because you believe you have failed if you cannot have what others have. You judge people by the car they drive and the clothes they wear. Both you and we the Government have completely lost the plot. We gave the dealers of the heroin we are both hopelessly addicted to, the banks yet more money so they could supply us with yet more heroin. 

Put down your credit cards and the Government will do the same. We will go back to a time when we lived within our means. You will drive one car per family because we will take away tax credits. You will have one television in your house because we will remove child benefit. We will ask you to help educate your children because our system of educating of them is not working and is bankrupting the very children we are here to educate. 

In short, we are skint. Get used to it. No more £50 a month on Sky TV, no holidays three times a year, and no artificial interest rates that allow you to live in houses you cannot afford. In return, we will slash the cost of Government and allow you to keep the money in your pockets. Those who work hard and save, will have their money. Those who don’t will no longer have the “right” to demand others pay their bills. They can expect the poverty that not working brings with it, not to be subsidised by those who do. 

You will be free to set up businesses, to exploit markets and to earn money. If your labour is only worth £4 an hour, you will be able to sell your labour for £4 an hour and we, the Government will get out of your way. We will end entitlement by removing the faux insurance schemes that we call “welfare” but are nothing more than bribes for votes. You will learn to rely on yourselves, not on others. Our only role will be to stand out of your way, remove the hurdles of the State and not endanger your wealth with endless interference. We will not punish those who achieve because others have not. 

It will not be comfortable, but if you want comfort, it is your job to earn it, not ours to distribute your money to those who WE feel should have it. We will not judge those who are rich, we will not judge those who are poor. It is not our task. All we will provide is secure borders and the rule of law. You are now free to be free. You are free to grow because the state has been constrained. We will shrink as you grow. Find your fertile soil and plant the seeds of enterprise. 

We wish you well, 

your Government.

And what do we do about the genuinely needy? We take care of them, of course, without trying to palm them off as someone else's responsibility. They raised you, remember?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Stick A Fork In It

I'm around 17 or 18, at someone's house for dinner. Rice is served. I ask for a fork. 

Mrs Host: "Puttar ék minute"
Little Miss Host: "Mummy saadé kol kaanté nahin."
Mrs Host: "Béta chamché vali daraaz vich dékh, hoéga zaroor."

A silence descends on the group and I can feel dozens of pairs of eyes staring at me. No-one can see it, but underneath my turban, my ears are red. An agonizing 60 seconds later Little Miss Host calls out from the kitchen, "Mummy! Nahin itthé!"

Mrs Host gets up in a huff and ambles into the kitchen. By now everyone has stopped eating. Minutes later she returns with a shiny fork in her hand, "Puttar éh leh".

Suddenly Little Miss Host wants a fork too. “Mainu vi kaanta chahideh!” And of course her little brother wants one too. They both rush off to the kitchen to get one and come back fighting over who should get the one with the yellow handle and who should get the one with ‘Thai – Smooth as silk’ written on it. One of them ends up crying and the other gets a slap from Mrs Host. A baby in someone’s lap gets startled, starts bawling and knocks down a glass of water. The baby’s milk bottle disappears under the dining table and two adults crawl underneath to retrieve it. What have I done?!

I just want the earth to open up and swallow me.

It doesn't and soon enough order is restored, the group resume their breathing, tensed shoulders slump and the eating begins. Mr Host, who is sitting next to me says sympathetically, "Beta, saanoo logan nu kaantéyan di aadat nahin."

I offer a weak defense saying that I'd grown up in a boarding school "jithé saanoo mar-mar ké chhuri-kanté naal khana sikhaya." I can see that none of this washes with the crowd. Every single pair of eyes is still glancing up at me after every other spoonful. I know what they're thinking:

"Vadda aya chhuri-kaanté vala".

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Last Thursday, a known felon with an illegal, lethal fire-arm was shot dead by the police. The details of the incident are still emerging following an investigation by the IPCC. In the weekend that followed, riots erupted in Tottenham.

There's a strong suggestion that many of the actions in Tottenham appeared to be pre-planned. Some of the explosive 'devices' could not have come from a spontaneous reaction - they had to be procured, stored and transported. It looked premeditated. Blame will be thrown around - mostly aimed at the current government, there will of course be no mention of inflammatory rhetoric by the 'revolutionary' types, of course not - that's only reserved for right-wing commentators.

Following the mayhem, no one is asking 'Who benefited from these riots?' The government didn't. The police didn't. The businesses didn't. The local authority didn't. The residents didn't. And then you see it:

The Race Relations industry is big in this country - rivalling the per capita spending of this type in the US and more than any of our European neighbours. With the bonfire of the QUANGOs and pragmatic approach to spending on 'community outreach' programmes funding of this nature has shrunk drastically and is set to be cut even further.

Add to this the backdrop of the past 10 years (9/11 being a trigger point) funding of this type has mostly shifted to the Muslim demographic away from the traditional black youth programmes.

The giants of the Race Relations industry have a lot vested in the continuation of state funding. Many of these so-called community organisations are headed by dodgy characters and cronies of the PC-brigade so often favoured by politicians that aim for the ethnic minority vote, which usually come in blocks.

A knee-jerk reaction by the government will see the reinstatement of a lot of funding flows once again to these race relations 'experts'. They're rubbing their hands with glee. Everyone knows who they are.

Monday, 4 April 2011


"There are four ways in which you can spend money:

You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.

Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.

Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch!

Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income."

-Milton Friedman

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Dear Employee

Dear Employee,

Please find herewith your P45.

As you are aware, we are paying much more tax than last year resulting in a considerable rise in the cost of our products, leading to severely reduced demand for our products and therefore your services. While this turn of events is unfortunate, I am convinced the feeling of moral superiority this will give you is incomparable.

As part of your redundancy package, we include a ticket to China, where you are more than likely to find a gainful employment.

Yours truly,


Sunday, 27 February 2011

So How Nasty Are The Tories?

This is in response to a comment by a reader about my ‘Big Society’ blog posting of February 13, 2011. Like most arguments from the Left or UKUnCut, the comment appears to take the default setting of ‘Oppose the Tories regardless’. The usual generalized assertions are made, however being from someone whose opinion I admire greatly, there is a great deal in it that I agree with. Excerpts from the comment are italicized and in orange. The comment in its entirety can be seen at the end of the said post.

David Cameron is not clear about what The Big Society is: Probably. The message does appear muddled and confused. You are right when you say the Big Society has always been here, quietly and not making a fuss, but around us and with us in our Communities and does not need reinventing. I agree. But it does need reinvigorating and reiterating. And it’s not big enough. The ambiguousness of the name doesn't make it an easy sell and I will admit, it has been a sitting target for naysayers and sceptics, who roll their eyes as they would over a pun in the Sun. But as you say, it has triggered a national debate about our communities and the part that we play in them, and for this alone, I am interested. Good. At least we’re talking.

You say that my interpretation of the Big Society is personal responsibility and a sense of duty. For so many, this is inherent in their way of life. It doesn’t need to be said that we engage with our children, our parents or our neighbours. In suburbia, maybe. There are sections of our society that include benefit dependent families but there are some people who would rather die than take benefit. Of course there are. I know some. And that’s the problem – I know some, not many. In my 11-years in the UK and because of the work I do, I would have touched 30,000 lives, directly or indirectly – I have found little evidence to suggest that a sense of responsibility exists. The benefit system is more hammock than safety net for more people than anyone from the Left will admit. I get the feeling we inhabit completely different worlds. The growing underclass of benefit dependants and feckless individuals, completely neutered by years of molly coddling by an all pervasive state is a problem you are probably sheltered from. I live among them. I work with them. I try and help them. The rot is deeper than you think and is quite perversely tolerated and even celebrated. Here’s an interesting take on one of Aesop’s fables to illustrate this.

We have always been in debt; borrowing more than we receive. Why? Does it occur to anyone to think why that is even acceptable? For how much longer is that sustainable? Shouldn't we stop to consider that? The government can’t make money – only the private sector can. We already pay £120 Million a day in interest payments. Each day we wake up and whether we achieve something or not, whether we produce anything or not, whether it’s a weekend or bank holiday, our government owes another £120,000,000.00 regardless of its ability to pay it. And that’s just to stand still. The money we owe stays the same. If we do not make moves to show we’re doing something about it, the credit scoring of the nation could be affected. This could mean higher interest rates and the £120,000,000.00 climbs yet higher. It’s not like the Left do not know or comprehend the scale. It’s just them thinking of the here and now. About themselves. Their generation. The next election. Each child under the age of 10 in this country will enter working age with a debt far greater than at any point in history. I think that’s mighty selfish of the wilful deficit deniers. Some estimates state that the first 2 months of the year everything we earn goes to the state. With each expanding deficit year, this will rise. How long before it’s 3 months, 4 months, or even 8 months? Now how would you define bonded labour? Or slavery? Okay, that’s a bit dramatic – but then isn’t living in the la-la land of borrowed money taking us there? It has to end before it ends us. The Left often accuse the Tories of living in a bubble, but they are closer to reality than you think. Actually it is the Left that are living in ivory towers – what are we waiting for? Divine intervention? Foundation X? Reality check please!

Vodaphone! Philip Green! I hear you say. Of course, how can there be a discussion about taxes without discussing the evil and greedy economic engines, which are responsible for all the real jobs in this country. If all, yes ALL tax avoidance, (which as I pointed out – is legal, not a crime and in accordance with the law of the land) were stopped by changing taxation laws, it still wouldn't make a dent in the size of our debt. We are living beyond our means on an unimaginable scale. And there’s also the risk of losing our competitive advantage to countries where a strong work ethic is not dulled by the ‘all must win prizes’ attitude in the United Kingdom. Actually we started losing that with the introduction of the National Minimum Wage. Strange beast, the NMW; it rises each year, adding to costs and therefore inflation, necessitating further rises, and the cycle continues. We’re world beaters in the international widget market, but it’s only a matter of time before the kids in Mumbai and Bangalore start making them in their college dorms. We have few industries with an international standing. Apart from financial services and banking. Ouch! Some research on how much the financial sector contributes to the exchequer will reveal a shocking number. Some wealthy individuals/corporations are socially responsible and give back to the societies where their wealth originated; some would rather play the game of avoidance. Good for the ones that do and more power to them. But for the ones that don’t this is a personal morality issue. Surely you’re not suggesting we force donations out of people. They’re saving as much as the law allows them to. Corporations are nothing but individuals in self-interest groups, and like any other self-interest group, they think differently. More on this further below.

Labour during it’s time, has introduced hundreds of initiatives (read: attempts at social engineering), most of them half-baked, untried and untested – and mostly theoretical, each one undoing the work of the other, each one undermining the individual, removing any sense of responsibility rendering them completely and utterly dependent on the state, each one allegedly fighting an imaginary or perceived malaise, depending on which vested interest peddled the case for it. The pervasive sense of automatic entitlement is a direct result of this. For example, are race relations any better as a result of the much championed racism ‘industry’? Many borrowed millions later, all we’ve achieved in this country is the creation of a class of politicians, public servants and self-styled community champions that suck the state for all its worth. No, they feed off it. Divide and rule, fine tuned for the new century. Paid for by my children and their children.

Against this backdrop, the spending cuts are essential. There may be room for compromise but for most part many of the baubles and things we cannot afford will have to go. Good ideas when we could afford them, but no longer viable when we can’t. Compromise does not mean the government should give in to all self-interest groups. You talk of people moving to "protect their local communities" as though they are being plundered. I think that is alarmist and irresponsible. There are cuts across the board and it is something we all have to live with. There will be pain, as there is with any kind of austerity program. When I have a low income, piano lessons for my daughter are the last thing on my mind. Rent, food and school are more important. You cite the example of the forests - a U-turn is not a defeat. The government floated an idea the public said no. There was no outcry when the Labour government sold large tracts, there was no consultation then. But then Tory-bashing is much more fashionable, isn’t it?  

Spreading the pain (as opposed to spreading the debt) is not always easy in a democracy. Local authorities and government departments, QUANGOs and charities, unions and community groups are all run by people. Collectively they become self-interest groups. This is where it starts going all wrong. They start acting in self-preservation, whatever the cost, regardless of whether their actions bear any resemblance to realities on the ground. Their only purpose becomes their continued existence and overriding importance. Like religion.

Take the case of Local Authorities or even the NHS. They’ve lost sight of the fact that they are a customer focused business (for want of a better word). More money is spent on the managerial, administrative and back office functions than on front line services. Strangely, the wages at the sharp end (the customer facing roles, loss prevention, etc) are significantly lower than the pen-pushing, bean-counting jobs. When the axe falls, where are the cuts made? The front line of course! So when your local hospital cuts a few nurses out of their staff, it wasn’t David Cameron who made the decision – it was management looking after itself.

It’s same with local authorities. Some have even seen salaries at the top rise while making cuts further down below. See examples here, here and here. There is suggestion that some authorities are using this opportunity to cut essential services, knowing fully well the blame will fall on the government. I believe that to be true.

Contrast this with what I have done. Business is down to 40% mainly due to spending cuts. The directors including myself have halved our wages. There have been some redundancies – mostly back office and management staff. What has remained intact are the teaching and training staff and their salaries – the lifeblood and sharp end of my business. Some of them have taken on additional responsibilities, picking up new qualifications and skills because of it. I have increased my workload to fill the gaps, roped in my wife and son to chip in when they can. We’re saving on paper, electricity, have asked the landlord for a rent rebate – and he said yes, we have asked the Labour controlled local authority for a rates rebate – we’ve heard nothing yet, I don’t think we ever will. We’re going to come out of this alive and well, leaner and meaner, better skilled and much, much stronger for it. Without whinging.

Oh, and my second centre is in a different borough, where the Tory-led council is running a scheme whereby new businesses get an 18-month holiday on business rates. This could help me pay for a member of staff I would not have hired otherwise.

There are aspects of societal decline that you mention such as binge drinking & cheap television that, for me, began with the greedy “gimme gimme” nation of the Thatcher years. It may be linked intrinsically to accessibility, but not wholly. I blame the lack of responsibility, a whole generation failed by the watered down education system and the ease with which is it possible to survive without working – for generations. If Cameron wanted to be truly paternalistic, no, he doesn’t. He shouldn’t. If anything, he’d like to dismantle the nanny-state. People need to start thinking for themselves. Up till now they’ve had no reason to. Molly coddling hasn’t helped. Perhaps tough love will. Hence the Big Society.

Career politicians cannot truly represent us, until they have been one of us. If a less elitist man, who’d shown empathy with the working man through his background and his working life, rallied our country through tough economic times by calling for us to all be in this together and to engage more in our communities, then he would have more credibility. As it is, his words ring hollow. I disagree. I am of the opinion that due to the influence of more centrist Tories, the LibDem partners in the coalition, the vastly influential lobbies of self-interest groups and an extremely narrow election win in a nation hooked on sustenance by the state, David Cameron is not going as far as he probably could. Or should. He has a huge task on his hands. And no, he does not have the heritage of the Thatcher years to address. There’s a more urgent legacy that needs undoing. Labour’s. Besides economics is just one of the functions of a leader. I’d rather have a well-educated, erudite well presented statesman and diplomat represent me and my country in the world than any rabid communist.

Be careful what you wish for though, a less elitist man, who’d shown empathy with the working man through his background and his working life would be nothing like David Cameron. Anyone who after a ‘working man’s life’ worked his or her way up to being leader of the largest party in the country and then ended up as Prime Minister, would not be as kind and forgiving. The scale of waste and irrelevant spending would shock someone with more modest origins. Like a certain greengrocer’s daughter for example. Or think Alan Sugar, think Apprentice, think “You’re Fired!” Yes, yes I know he’s a Labour Peer. I’ll bet inside he’s more surprised at it than I am. What would follow would make David Cameron’s cuts look like keyhole surgery.

The world you describe exists, only it’s in individual bubbles, within little gated communities in expanses of green far removed from the kind of communities I know live. I say live, ‘exist’ is probably more fitting. They’re like zombies, numbed by what the state has done to them. I read many, many reports on poverty, economic dependence, worklessness, etc that cost thousands to produce and none of them look anything like the grey gritty street they’re meant to be about. Much doesn’t get said due to political correctness and fear of being branded either a racist or worse, a right winger. These sanitised reports then inform policy. Flawed, useless, expensive policy. Paid for by debt.

I take on board your suggestion of further exploration of the UK; I could use the experience and the education. It would greatly enrich my kids’ experience of the country that is now their home. It’s something I have thought of for a long time and something I will definitely do.

When I can pay for it. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A Twist In The Paradigm

December 17, 2010: Christmas cheer, holidays, the shops heaving with goodies, strains of "Do they know it's Christmas?" in the distance. Like every year, the air was festive. Economic downturn or no economic downturn, Christian or non-Christian, it was Christmas, and we were going to have a good time. Africa, was the last thing on anyone's mind. Even though the song mentioned it. Three times an hour, every hour, on every station and music channel.

On that day, Mohamed Bouazizi, a twenty-six year-old vegetable seller, the sole provider for his family, set himself alight in protest against the heavy-handed treatment and humiliation at the hands of municipal officials in Sidi Bouzid, a Tunisian town, around 190 miles from Tunis. This desperate man's desperate attempt to make a statement about the system reeking with corruption and a government with no regard for it's people became the Arab world's Mangal Pandey moment. Bouazizi succumbed to his burns a couple of weeks later and Tunisia erupted. Protesters filled the streets. Hundreds died. Within days the president was ousted. And then it began in Egypt, then Bahrain, Yemen, Morrocco and now, in perhaps the most dramatic way so far, Libya. Many fear this is only the beginning; and they could be right

Like the events of the late 80s that led to the end of the cold war and the falling of the Iron Curtain, there will be far-reaching effects. The world as we knew it in December 2010 no longer exists. 

Much of the post-WW2 Arab world had become the ulitmate dystopian nightmare. Despots, flush with petro-dollars, kept the citizenry in check with brutal force and a brand of religious zealotry that debased and twisted a great religion into a control mechanism. For five decades the subjects remained subjugated. No one had counted on any kind of awakening. No one had counted on the power of the internet, on the realisation among the youth - who grew up far removed from the post-colonial influence their forefathers - that the extreme poverty, harsh oppression, rampant unemployment and widespread corruption were not normal. Flawed as they might be, images from the west, music, cinema, literature and ideas of freedom and liberty and democracy began to trickle in. Just as the spread of English in the Indian subcontinent acted like a unifying force, allowing the exchange of ideas with people from far flung corners of the country and helped galvanise its independence movement, the ease of communication with the internet played a role here. As did the awareness of their own image in the world. Apathy was replaced by anger and that anger was set alight by one burning man.

We're being beamed images of the stories as they are developing. Stories of joy and stories of absolute horror. We're watching one dictator fall after another. We're watching a people, a proud people take their destiny in their own hands. And we're watching western governments trip over each other looking like bumbling idiots. Each day is a developing story and there are now more questions than answers:
How much further will this spread? The youth in other countries around the world - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Burma, Uganda, Zimbabwe, North Korea, China, and even Pakistan are watching. You can feel the buzz and excitement in online forums and social networking sites. Click here for an interactive map showing the countries affected. They destroyed images of Gaddafi's Green Book in Libya. There are people itching to rip up a Little Red Book somewhere. Yesterday I received an invite to a Causes Page in India demanding the naming and shaming of corrupt bureaucrats and officials. It already has 39,000 followers. The Big State is looking shaky the world over.

What will happen next? Will true democracy take root? Do the people have the strength to see themselves through the difficult journey that is to come while each nation finds itself facing new realities? A similar revolution was once described as 'the best of times and the worst of times'. Which will it be here? Will we see human dignity returned to every man, woman and child? Will the Arab world emerge from the shackles that held it back for decades? 

What about the West? Where do we fit in? Do we fit in at all? We've always championed democracy, well guess what? It looks like we're going to get our wish. The developments render all prior calculations and assumptions useless. The old order has changed and is fast yeilding place to the new one and for once, we're not going to be calling the shots. Everything we stand for, every institution we believe in, every value we hold dear will be tested. I hope our leaders and politicians do the right thing. And I wish I knew what that was.

What of the vaccum in the power base? Will we see see the decline in the twisted religious fervour so favoured by those who sought to maintain a grip on their people? Or will we see the regions spiralling into the nightmare that my beloved Afghanistan is being skewered in for the last 33 years? I remember that revolution well, jubilant crowds shouting "Azaadi! Azaadi!" (Freedom! Freedom!) in the streets of Kabul waving little flags. Just like they are doing in Egypt today. I was 10 then. Yep, my revulsion of communists (Big State, control, control, control) runs deep. There was no religious sloganeering at the time of the Saur Revolution. All that changed a couple of decades later.

And what about security? There can be no talk of security without addressing a significant threat: stockpiles of tens of thousands of weapons, and the possibility of their proliferation into the hands of those who seek to harm us. The irony of course is that we made and peddled most of the ordnance.

What about petrol? Well, to be honest, I don't care. Free markets adjust and correct themselves. They always do. Besides, Crossrail is coming. I am sorted.

The only thing that matters now is peace and stability. There's a whole new generation of people within sights of its first taste of freedom. Let's hope it happens with the least amount of bloodshed. I choose to be optimistic. We could be looking at the beginnings of peace in the Middle East.

While barbarism continues to kill in the Middle East, nature unleashed her fury on Middle Earth.
New Zealand is experiencing what is being described as it's darkest hour. A-Six-Point-Fiver has left a nation devasted, dozens dead, hundreds injured - a stark reminder of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things. I remember Rob from my Ahlman Academy days. He was from Christchurch. I wonder if he lived there. He would be 40 now, probably with a family - kids as old as mine. It's been 30 years. I hope you're okay Rob.