Indy 2

Nicola Sturgeon enters a fantasy world

nicola sturgeon 2 by TIMBritain’s first referendum was held on June 6th 1975 to approve or reject the EEC agreement reached 2 years’ earlier by Edward Heath. Clement Attlee said that referendums were “a device for despots and dictators.” In the 1970s, Mrs Thatcher thought Lord Attlee was probably right. Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III) used 2 referendums just over 12 months to overturn the fragile French Republic in 1851 and confirm his December coup d’état as legal and constitutional. Hitler held 4 referendums in 1933 (to leave the League of Nations),  1934, 1936 and 1938 (they were then banned for 60 years), so did Mussolini in 1934 (ostensibly an election, it was seen as “the second referendum of Fascism”) as did Pinochet in 1980 and Ferdinand Marcos (who used 3) and JR Jayawardene in Sri Lanka who used a referendum to prolong parliament by 6 years. Colonel George Papadopoulos and the Greek Generals seized power using a referendum in 1973 to legitimise their rule. Putting too much trust in Referendums, in other words, is to cosy up with some very disturbing bedfellows. We have just had two referendums in two years. Surely that is enough for now.

Today, when we might have expected the news to be dominated by the final stages of the Brexit bill going back through the Commons, the First Minister of Scotland said she planned to trigger Indy 2.

While I think there is a case to be made for a version of Brexit that recognises the 62% vote for remain in Scotland, and while I think a compromise approach may well give the UK overall some access to the EU, however we pursue Brexit, I also think that now is not the time to be discussing these details. More than that, Nicola Sturgeon demonstrates today that she is prepared to pick and choose which referendums she accepts and which she rejects. Either we accept in principle what is returned in a referendum or we do not hold a referendum at all. I am not a fan of the referendum as a concept-I think it is a very clumsy tool, but we cannot keep rerunning referendums until we get the result we want. Isn’t that what is done in Europe? Isn’t that why we have rejected Europe?

In 2016, Greece voted in a referendum by 61% to 39% to reject the Austerity measures. No one paid any attention. In 2008, Ireland voted against the Lisbon treaty by 53% but it was ratified nonetheless after Ireland held a second referendum (as it also did in 2001 when it rejected the Nice treaty and had to try again). The Lisbon treaty was a replacement for the TCE which was roundly rejected by referendums in France and the netherlands in 2005. Significantly, Lisbon was not the subject of a second French referendum.

As for the actual substance of Indy 2, this is very confused. The first Minister might have a case that the Brexit decision represents a “significant and material” change and chimes in with the SNP manifesto, but the practice of holding another referendum and getting the result she wants is by no means certain. More than that, even if she gained a “Yes” for independence, which is far from certain, there is no guarantee that Scotland would even be allowed to stay in or moreover re-enter the European family as a separatist state. The Spanish, for instance, mindful of their own Catalonian issues, might well be reluctant to reward such displays of independence.

Some Edward Lear Pictures

David Watson has put together many of the Edward Lear compositions to form a Suite. We shall post a version of this shortly. In the meantime, in celebration, here are some Edward Lear illustrations.

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owl and cat japanese

lear and Howard Carter

Here is the Dong with a luminous nose-

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Matilda and saucy postcards

5-tim-copy-of-mcgillA sequence I am working on at the moment (Matilda by Harry Champion*) to complete the two music halls films draws inspiration form the work of Donald McGill.

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Just after the war, about 1300 subversive picture postcards, redolent in double-entendres, were seized by the police and a court case was held to judge whether these cards were undermining public morality. Oddly, it is exactly the same sort of humour that turns up on screen a few years’ later in the “carry on films”. They got away with it. The postcard industry was not so fortunate. The line taken by the postcard artists in court, however, was that the pictures were only offensive to those people corrupt enough to appreciate the risqué jokes. Quite a brilliant bit of legal subterfuge in itself.

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The king of the seaside postcard was Donald McGill. I have spent many months copying his images and my moleskin is stuffed with them! It is only when you look at what an artist does very carefully that you appreciate the cleverness of composition and the recurring features. Donald McGill is really a very good draughtsman! What I love perhaps more than the expressions which are excellent and well-observed are the ways he breaks the frame- constantly!

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His images are just the flip-side of the Dandy and the Beano. The adult-version. His men are whimpy, his women rubenesque. Here are my copies of some pictures by other postcard illustrators – the first one is clearly Edwardian so there is some history to this…

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*Really interesting lyric which I have avoided:

“Matilda she went to a fancy dress ball and she played an original part.
She rubbed herself over with raspberry jam and she went as a raspberry tart.
I went up to hug her and give her a kiss. Well, the jam was all over my kite.
I know she’s a sticker, but lor’ what a licker! I shouted, “You’ve done it tonight.”

The kite in this case would be his belly as in the expression “stuff my kite”. The expression is also in the other song “Boiled beef and carrots”- ‘From morn till night, Blow out your kite on Boiled Beef and Carrots’

“Played an original part”, which I have retained, is a great line with the suggestion that Matilda was not only dressed as something unusual but that she was being a bit rude too.

In rhyming slang “a raspberry tart” is flatulence.

“discovered that I was a jay” – in 1880, this generally meant a fool and is retained in the US in the word “jaywalker”

“the dicky”- slang for shirt.

Andrew Marr

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I was horrified by the story that Andrew Marr had been abused in the Daily Mail. Quentin Letts should have known better and it should not have been down to Roy Greenslade to get him to apologise, but that is the world we are living in. We are back to the same discussion we have had before (Jonathan Ross, for instance)- when is a joke no longer funny?

There have been many times when I have drawn something I later decided was too direct or simply did not work. Trying to be topical and humorous can often get us all into trouble, but there are some lines we should never cross. Racism is of course an absolute, but I think also we have to salute those people who are brave enough to stand up in public – Marr is particularly brave, to come back to prime time TV after suffering a stroke. He shows that this is possible. But that wider thought about public life is what makes me pause to admire even those public figures with whom I disagree- I am delighted Sadiq Khan, for example is now the first Muslim Mayor of London: it sends out a tremendous message, though I disapprove of many things Khan and his supporters have said and done (as I hope is clear from previous blogs). Nigel Farage might espouse views I dislike and behave in an appalling way (he still owes me a letter incidentally) but he must be saluted as one of the three great orators in the UK today (the other two are Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson).

Here is the best Farage speech: brilliant, cruel, and probably not something I would say (I balk at the reference to Belgium, for instance) but certainly not poking fun at someone with a disability:

Jeremy Corbyn may not be a man who leads from the front, but I recall on the Andrew Marr show, what a convincing and positive performance he gave. I salute that too, while at the same time bemoaning his inability to control his own cabinet and form a decisive and genuinely loyal opposition. In the absence of real political leadership, we in the conservative party have begun to form our own loyal opposition on our own backbenches! Not good for the Conservatives, not good for Labour and certainly not good for our wider parliamentary democracy.

But praise where praise is due, and frankly, I cannot find a word to say against Andrew Marr. It is fairly shameful that the Daily Mail peddles this sort of filth.

like a virgin

I am writing this on the way back from a month’s lecturing in Moscow. During this time, I relied on my Virgin phone to keep me in contact with things in the UK. I had a russian phone too, so, managing the two handsets, I felt a bit like a rather dodgy trader. But needs must.

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Just before I returned, I got a message from Virgin mobile to say that I had exceeded my credit limit. Strange, as I had renegotiated this just before I left the UK when access to my online account had failed for the umpteenth time. I was told then, in October, that I had fallen foul of some sort of systems’ overhaul that routinely upgraded the credit limits of more recent customers but, as a long-standing and loyal Virgin devotee, I had been overlooked, as had many of my vintage. A temporary correction was applied to my account. That appears to have failed in practice.

I rang up the international number on the text they sent and tried to pay off the outstanding debt. My phone, it seems, had been suspended for the last three days. Worrying. And then the real drama began.

I was speaking to a lad called Jack who was based in Manila. He was quite affable though he spent slightly too much time telling me how honest he was – when someone tells me he is honest, I generally suspect something is amiss: “The lady doth protest too much”. Rather like starting a sentence “with respect” something that prefaces complete verbal abuse. Jack was unable to process my payment because my phone was apparently flagged as fraudulent and blacklisted. That was monday.

robert dunnNow once again, there is history, because this had happened before- no fault of mine, and I was told it had been corrected.  I assumed, therefore, that the so-called correction on 13th October had not, in fact, been effective and I had been living in a fool’s paradise for 5 weeks. But that turned out to be untrue. Instead, an entirely new fraud error had been generated by Virgin. It was explained to me later by a man called “Much” who inhabits what is called the CEO office for escalated complaints, but no doubt it is just another call-centre. “Much” was very reluctant to give his real name so I am respecting his wishes in this account.

I cautioned Jack on Monday that I worried our call might be expensive. He insisted that, despite the fact that I was calling from Moscow, the call was free. He had me on hold at various times and the call went on in fact for an hour. There was a second and third attempt to resolve the problem: another two hours or so.

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On Wednesday, I spoke to the CEO office who had finally lifted the bar on my phone and offered to pay the £250 there and then to gain access to my phone, but instead, they said the sum had increased to about £400. We may well ask how that happened, because, other than calling Virgin on a free line, I had not used the phone at all. And therein lies the rub: the line to Jack was not free after all. (the number, if you are interested is +447953967967)

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When my case-handler finally got round to talking to me on Wednesday evening, he explained that the call to “Jack” in Manila was no longer accessible as a recording and so he was unable to verify whether Jack had, indeed, assured me that calls to that number were free. (In any case, “Much” could provide documents to explain that such calls are not free but charged on a standard overseas tarrif). “Much” told me that he was “only being honest”, like Jack before him. Somehow, Jack seemed more credible. As a “goodwill gesture”, and because “he did not dispute my story of what Jack was alleged to have said,” “Much” was, however, prepared to offer me £70. He also assured me, note, that he believed my story about Jack’s claim – so the offer seems a bit odd, and I feel a bit short-changed. No apology, incidentally, also for the fraud error, which he admitted was Virgin’s- an error produced he explained because of the considerable advances being made by the implementation of new software, but the second such erroneous fraud flag on my account this year! And no offer of compensation. It is a case of “Much” wants more!

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I asked for a PUK code so that I could leave Virgin and take my phone number with me, but should I do this – Mr “Much” was very clear- then I would no longer receive the “goodwill gesture” he had been offering me. Astonishing and slightly threatening.

This £70 is not compensation, it is not a refund. It is, in short, a bribe by a company that is quite happy to lie through its teeth to extract as much as they can for a service that falls far short even of the term”shoddy”. I wonder if, indeed, what I have experienced is a form of “misrepresentation”? It comes fairly close to what American gangsters in Chicago would have called “protection”. I am paying for services they themselves have forced me to accept!

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In the social media age, customer service should be efficient and effective. A quick survey of the internet shows very clearly that I am not alone in being frustrated by Virgin’s duplicity and aggression. One of the problems that I would identify here is that customer care and marketing or sales are divided into two completely different (and arguably conflicting) offices and neither has much care about its effect on the other. Beyond that is the infuriating habit of agents refusing to provide surnames and assuming they can use my first name too. This is not just an Oldie whinge about due respect- it is about basic honesty because, when pressed to identify the various people called Val, or Cherie or Jack, the evidence of their existence seems to flush away as quickly as the recordings that betray whatever errors they have inadvertently or deliberately made. Virgin is the harpic of mobile communication. I should add that I also spoke to a lovely switchboard person called Chantelle who was charming enough on 3 occasions to remember who I was and what the issue was. But, as a rule, what is agreed with one person is then denied by another and an appeal to the evidence of the “recording” meets with the response that it never took place or is lost. The fact, therefore, remains- shoddy customer care will eventually have an impact on sales. It is just a matter of waiting for the whole house of cards to collapse.

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And who has a Virgin phone after all, these days? Come on! Virgin is simply a larger scale version of Easy Jet- it’s mobile phone service is an offshoot. The Virgin company began in the Late 70s and was properly registered in the late 80s: a 40-something year history, and it is time for some pruning.

Because I look after a number of students in the UK , and have phones on account for them to use, I have oddly now used almost every phone company in the UK. None are really honest or a pleasure to deal with, but Virgin’s deceit in this instance really takes the biscuit.

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I will certainly make an effort to produce some cartoons about this at a later stage. (**22.11.15: now completed, see above for images of current board of directors) But now, I must board my flight! (I am NOT booked on a Virgin flight)