Some things don’t change

Reading Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, I was struck by a quotation from a letter PLF wrote to Lawrence Durrell during the crisis over Cyprus,

I do wish the whole [Cyprus] thing was settled. It makes both the English and the Greeks conduct themselves like complete lunatics and grotesque caricatures of themselves.

Some might say very much the same thing about the English and the Argentinians over the Falkland Islands.

Whose tone is wrong?

Aidan  (“my tweet has been misunderstood“) Burley may have done his bit to discomfort David Cameron recently, but his foolish tweets about the Olympic Games opening ceremony are as nothing compared to what the employment minister Chris Grayling has apparently been up to. The story is all about a Ministry of Justice courts service information video that helps people appealing against decisions to remove their disability and sickness benefit.

According to a report in the Guardian,

Emails and letters between Grayling and MoJ civil servants, seen by the Guardian, appear to show Grayling wanted to remove parts of the educational video, produced by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, giving advice on how to be more successful in the appeals process. Emails from the minister’s account complain about the video’s “tone” and “negative comments” towards the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) even though the sections in dispute were agreed to be factually true.

In The Courts Service video, which remains offline, the Guardian reports that

senior appeals doctor Jane Parry tells viewers: “Whatever the outcome of your appeal, we hope that you find the appeals process clear, impartial and fair … we will do our very best to help you.”

They may want to, but it seems that the Government would prefer they didn’t.

Whose side are you on?

I am still reflecting on a great article Young people are rubbish by Suzanne Moore in Wednesday’s Guardian 

People my age should be embarrassed by this situation. Solidarity has to be cross-generational, not dismissed as some sort of youthful protest. We have to stop blaming young people for not voting. If there is no sense of a shared future – what we called civic society – and if people feel politicians are powerless in the face of “the markets”, they will not engage.

Looking at my children and the situation they all find themselves in, Suzanne Moore is spot on. Read it.

And yes, we are embarrassed.

In quite what together?

It is hard to feel sorry for our Prime Minister – all that coaching (if the Guardian is to be believed) and still skewered by Robert Jay.

The Guardian report captures the moment. But what I enjoyed most was learning that Rebekah Brooks texted:

I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together!

How very prescient. One of those words I am surprised that counsel didn’t use.


9.30 in Okehampton Town Centre, and it is not busy. I am standing opposite the pedestrian crossing, just up (or is it down) from the entrance to Red Lion Yard, between it and the flower stall. There’s a yellow plastic bag at my feet, and I am wishing that I was wearing something a little warmer than a T-shirt, fleece and scarf. I can see the church clock. It is not moving very quickly.

I am holding a collection tin, although these days they are yellow plastic. I emailed one of the girls earlier in the week, and told her that Caroline and I were going to sell flags in Okehampton on Saturday morning. Yesterday evening she told me that she had had a vision of the two of us wrestling with flags and wondering how we would sell them, and, rather more, why anyone would want to buy one. Only when I told her that for my generation, today’s stickers were, when we were children, paper flags, attached with a pin – ‘flags’ – did she understand.

As I told her, I recalled, aged 12, standing in the Square in Wallingford, selling flags for the Lifeboats, a tray of flags round my neck, and the lifeboat shaped collecting tin on a red string. My mother organised two collections, a house to house collection for Imperial Cancer Campaign – I used to go with her up Wilding Road (one of the longest in Wallingford, or at least to a small boy it seemed that) – and the other for the Lifeboats, which despite being some 100 miles from the nearest sea was always well supported. You don’t need to live next to the sea to feel the call of a seafaring heritage!

But back to Okehampton on a cold, grey Saturday morning. What struck me most was my invisibility to at least half of the passers by. Rattling the tin is not allowed, and so the next best thing is a sturdy good morning, then catch the eye, and smile. But for many, hurrying by, I simply didn’t exist – they looked right through me. It was disconcerting and, in a very small way, I felt what I am sure many Big Issue sellers feel – a nuisance, someone who if you ignore you can pretend isn’t there.

And yet for every two or three persons who scurried by, head down or consciously avoiding me, there was one who replied to the good morning, fumbling for change, apologising that it wasn’t very much, engaging in small talk – or like the couple in their late 60s who told me that the CAB had been their lifeline. That’s why it is worth doing it.

The CAB has done a brilliant job in Okehampton this year, and they do it every year. I may be a little partisan – Caroline works for them – but an hour on the street on a Saturday morning is all you need to know this.