Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Best wishes to the happy couple for a long and fulfilling married life; and also to everyone else who has married yesterday and today, who is getting married tomorrow, and who will get married from now until the end of time.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Lenten Grace, An Easter Wish

The recent bout of food poisoning I have had to endure has had some unintended consequences.

I have completely lost any taste I had for alcohol, caffeine and, of all things, breakfast cereals; indeed, I now cannot even look at a box of cornflakes without wanting to throw up. This means that, apart from two sips of champagne at my son's birthday party, both of which put me in a sweat, I've had one drink and two cups of coffee in the past six weeks.

One positive lifestyle change always deserves another, and I now haven't had a cigarette in 18 days. I can even walk more quickly, albeit without any noticeable improvement in gait so far, but these things take time.

In response to this good fortune, one can only say - Deo Gratias!

I believe myself to have no aptitude for theology, a belief I have recently tested to destruction by trying to immerse myself in it. Debates concerning the difference between 'essence' and 'nature' are all far too difficult for me. It might be the County Mayo farmers of two generations back coming out in me, but I much prefer simple belief to complicated. God is Love. He died and rose again to redeem us. He is present in the Eucharist. I hope that my family and I will join Him and the enjoy the vision of Him when we die. I will work to make this happen. Writing blog series entitled 'Foreign Criminals Of The Day' won't help this come about. Accordingly, when the grace of God presents itself via a piece of contaminated fish, it is still, both to my mind and to my heart, the grace of God, regardless of what medical science might have to say about the consequences of eating a piece of contaminated fish. I thank God for these great graces He has given me, of clearing my head and my lungs, filling my wallet, reducing my waistline, and, should I be favoured with His further grace, maybe being around for my wife and my boy. May He be praised at all times, His praise always on my lips.

Medical science sometimes doesn't have much to say to the chronically ill. It's my own, perhaps unreasonable, view that some medics use the word 'condition' as a shorthand for 'illnesses we know are illnesses but which we can't cure, so we'll call something else'. One imagines this might be done in the hope that if you suffer from something that isn't called an illness but a condition, you will somehow feel less unwell. This isn't always the case.

To get some doctors to believe that alcohol and nicotine really do have a palliative effect upon the symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome has been the struggle of a lifetime. While I no longer have any interest in either substance, I have, of course, become a little more symptomatic since I stopped using them. On the other hand, voluntarily, even willingly, poisoning myself for no higher purpose than presenting a public image of being a nice, user-friendly Tourettist, not unlike creating a character for a British soap opera set among the working classes who never smokes or swears, was a course of action so insane that it would probably have taken the act of being involuntarily poisoned to shake me out of it.

My legs twitch a bit more frequently, and my speech is becoming a bit more palilalic, while my arms are revelling in their newfound freedom to do their own thing. However, none of these are the symptom that's really flared - and it's with that one that I need to ask for your help.

No Tourettist really likes to speak about the phenomenon of 'intrusive thoughts'. I am sure that those who do not suffer from them will understand when I say that they are horrible to live with, indeed one of the very worst things about the condition. Ticcing is OK provided you know what your triggers are and how to avoid them, but the old intrusive thoughts can sweep down on you without warning, day or night, and regardless of whatever setting you're in, like a plague of harpies.

My own are, inevitably, religious in character, largely profane but often with a hefty dollop of sacrilege lumped into the mix. It seems to be the nature of the illness that one must suffer these. I try not to do so in silence, and find great relief in thinking of holy people and things when they mug me, which is often. Those who doubt the efficacy of prayer should try it sometimes. It works, you know. However, since stopping smoking and drinking, I have been afflicted with a real corker of a repetitive intrusive thought, one of a profoundly blasphemous character. It mugged me at the Easter Vigil, it is atrocious, and it is difficult to move.

I ask anyone who reads this blog to pray for me to be relieved of this, by the grace of God; and if it is God's will for me to suffer it, to take it for my sins while fighting it with all my strength.

Thank you.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

A very Happy Easter to all readers. One of these days, I might even get time to write something for them to read.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Bullet For The Bishop

Following upon yesterday's report that parcel-bombs had been sent to persons associated with Celtic Football Club, it has been depressing to read today that a live bullet was mailed to Cardinal Keith O' Brien prior to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Scotland.

Scotland's political leaders repeated the civic pieties yesterday; what do they have to say in response to this, today?

One of the most powerful arguments advanced against Islamism is that while its atrocities are perpetrated only by a fanatical few, their actions might be cheered on in the shadows by millions. I hope I am keeping myself on the right side of Scotland's anti-sectarianism laws when I say that I sometimes feel the same way about violence directed against Catholics here, that while only a few people are directly responsible for it, their actions might not be as universally disapproved of as our political and intellectual classes like to think; that there might be a perhaps not insubstantial number of people here who, while they might shake their heads in disbelief at the thought of Paul McBride being blinded or Neil Lennon dismembered, wouldn't really lose too much sleep over it if it were ever to happen. Such people are our equivalent of those Arabs who danced in the street at the news of 9/11.

Our hateful attitudes to each other here are like a sewage leak in your basement; it smells and gets into everything. It permeates into public discourse. It permeates into the professions, into the minds and hearts of people who have supposedly been educated to a standard at which they might be expected to know better. It is no respecter of geography; some Scots outwith the west of Scotland seem to take a perverse pride in how their patch of the turf is remarkably free of such smelly attitudes, a posture which, for me, was blown to smithereens by hearing the most bigotedly anti-Catholic remark I've ever heard being made, in mixed company, in Aberdeen, by a now dead Aberdonian solicitor. There seems to be no escape from it. This seems to be the Scottish nation's manifest destiny.

The common or garden Scotch bluenose doesn't ever like being challenged, but the one thing they can never suffer is being thwarted, in anything, no matter how trivial; which is they should be challenged, or, even better, thwarted, as often as possible. My churchgoing Protestant friends appear to have as little time for the bluenoses as I have for those civically retarded Scottish Catholics of Irish extraction who still describe themselves as being 'Irish' over a century after their ancestors got off the boat at the Broomielaw. If it has done so already, then I issue my apologies in advance, but I believe that a statement from the Orange Order properly deploring this extremely serious threat against Cardinal O' Brien would be a sign of civic good faith, and an affirmation that its constituency has no truck with those who threaten one of the Queen's subjects in this way as he goes about his lawful business.

Unless my perceptions of it are greatly mistaken, the Orange Order seems to portray itself as a vehicle for the maintenance of what it perceives Protestant culture to be. I am no way qualified to comment on the validity of that proposition. It was founded in Northern Ireland. For what my opinion's worth, the export of historical Northern Ireland's particular vision of brotherly love, from whatever quarter, is the cultural equivalent of a contaminated blood transfusion.

As for the rest of us, Catholic and Protestant, we can do what we've always done. We can pray, together and apart, that the Scottish nation gain healing from this scab which some of our neighbours seem to feel an insatiable need to pick. In this course of action, we should not expect the support of either Celtic or Rangers. It is my opinion that those two huge, sophisticated private companies are perfectly aware that without this crap, they have nothing to sell, that nobody would be interested in them any more if it all went away overnight, and that without this hatred and division, they would have no point. In that respect, it's my belief that it can truly be said of those two - what was the expression?- 'giant vampire squids' latched on to the Scottish body politic that their real business is hate.

For all its fulminating, we should not expect any help from the Scottish media. If the predictions of those in the know are correct, the newspaper business has about thirty years of life left in it. As far as the Scottish press is concerned, sectarianism sells and draws ratings, so keep expecting to see it. Tom Nairn, the Scottish nationalist 'intellectual' (there are so few of them, you know), once claimed that Scotland would not be free until the last minister had been strangled with the last copy of the 'Sunday Post'. While it seems desperately clever - Nairn's apparent desperation to be seen as being desperately clever often shines from his prose like the Bell Rock light - it isn't really. When the last copy of the 'Sunday Post' is printed, and it goes into its grave, zombie-like, I hope that its last headline will tell of the end of sectarianism in Scotland. That is a future of freedom for the Scottish nation of a type which Tom Nairn cannot even dream of.

We should pray, each of us in his way, to the God of all our fathers for our land, our strange, wonderful wee land, and for all of us in it, that this hatred can be expunged from the hearts of our neighbours. I'm going to be 41 years old soon, I've lived with it all my life, and I'm tired of it. I want no part of it, I don't want it near me, and I don't want it near my boy. I suspect I'm not alone in this, yet it keeps encroaching upon our silent majority's consciousness like the stink of sewage in the basement. It's time for us, for all of us, to turn our backs on it.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Abandon The League

It's been a long day, and I'm tired; but if there were any day upon which some comment must be passed, it's today.

The sending of parcel-bombs to politicians used to be called terrorism. If any suspects are apprehended on suspicion of sending a parcel-bomb to Trish Godman, I hope that they will be charged under the appropriate anti-terrorism legislation; after all, it is a type of law with which the United Kingdom is blessed with an abundance.

Attempting to bomb lawyers who you think might disagree with you was a tactic favoured by the government of apartheid-era South Africa. That comparison might not bother the person, or those persons, who posted an explosive device to Paul McBride QC, but it should give the rest of us in Scotland great cause for concern. That Mr. McBride should have become a target for terrorists for no reason other than vocally representing his client should give every Scot a sleepless night. Is this the image we wish to project to the world, that we are a nation where lawyers cannot represent their clients unmolested? And if that is the case, who are we, then, to lecture the world on the need for the rule of law, when we have obviously lost it ourselves? What would we have to say to Russia about that, when lawyers here are abused as badly as they are there?

The irony that they have attempted to parcel-bomb a prominent supporter of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party might be lost on them, but it shouldn't be lost on the rest of us.

This has nothing to do with politics. It is anti-Catholic sectarian hatred raised to the level of terrorism, an epiphenomenon without parallel in recent Scottish history, one that was unknown here even during Northern Ireland's recent long, turgid years of bloodshed, and expressed without any idea of whether its intended targets actually go to church.

The last intended victim was Neil Lennon, manager of Glasgow Celtic. As one who holds no brief for his employers, the least one can say for Mr. Lennon is that he must love his job, and the football club he works for, very much indeed; given what he has endured in the way of street violence, death threats, including live ammunition in the post, and now acts of terrorism, a man of lesser spirit would have walked away from it a long time ago. Although he is the intended victim closest to Celtic, he is, to my understanding, the only one with young children, and the only one not engaged in some sort of public office. Somebody, somewhere has set out to assassinate Mr. Lennon for having done nothing more than gone to his work. He might have a controversial, high-profile job, but the bottom line is that it's just a job, like yours or mine. He's not in charge of making or implementing any public policy. He hasn't put wrongdoers behind bars, or stood for election to any legislature on a controversial manifesto. He hasn't done anything other than manage a football team; and somebody has tried to kill him for it. The most lawless country in the world is probably now Mexico; does this sort of stuff even happen there?

If the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association had any guts, today's developments would cause them to immediately announce the cancellation of the rest of the 2010-2011 league season. I sometimes think that this blog's faithful readers are like avid bird-watchers, waiting patiently for sight of a fey creature that pops out of its nest only infrequently, and at night. They must be wondering why so much time has been spent writing about football in the west of Scotland in this space recently; if I've managed to give even a glimpse of the grip which that activity has on life here, I will have bested my powers of description. The cancellation of the rest of the league would be a public shock to the system delivered from within the football world which would show the extent to which it takes such terrorism directed against one of its own seriously. If the league isn't cancelled, I think those of us in Scotland outwith the football world, and possessing no real interest in what goes on in it, are entitled to ask why.

When stuff like this happens, trophies don't matter. Winning doesn't matter. Medals don't matter. Going home alive matters. Contracts always matter, of course, but only to the extent to which they can be performed. I'm sure that there would be those Scottish football officials who would say that we shouldn't give in to terrorists, to which one can only say that if the recent history of Mr. Lennon's native Northern Ireland has any lesson to teach us, it's that the terrorists always win.

Oh, the league won't be cancelled, and neither will the 'Old Firm' game, the west of Scotland's unique, grotesque, barbaric collective kabuki of neighbour-hatred, scheduled, in an act of administrative blasphemy, for Easter Sunday. The Old Firm games are dates in the calendar that must always be observed, regardless of the possible consequences, dates that brim with the ritualistic savagery born of ignorance and tribalism. Enough is enough. When terrorists are sending parcel-bombs to the managers of Scottish football teams, it suggests that Scottish football cannot police itself on its own. It needs a commissioner to rule it with a rod of iron. The articles of association should be thrown away, and a commissioner appointed immediately. And the first thing they should do is cancel the league; if not for the good of the game, then certainly for the good of the nation.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Locutus Of Bog

"Bald man says 'Make it so' to bearded man named 'Number One'.

Bald man gets knighthood. No word on whether either horse or squire thrown in" -

The blogger, 1st January 2010.

While Sir Patrick Stewart might always be watchable - well, almost always, if you include that execrable dross 'Dad Savage', and his recent 'Macbeth', in the television version of which he looked to me as if he was playing Patrick Stewart playing Macbeth - it doesn't always mean that his personal pronouncements should be treated with the same respect that should be accorded to his professional achievements.

Let's face it, in my opinion a not inconsiderable case can be made that he got famous by playing a robot's straight man. He is entitled to his views, for sure, and to express them publicly if he so wishes, but that he might enjoy a level of media access unimaginable to hoi polloi doesn't really mean that he might be saying anything worth listening to.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Short Thought On The Scottish Football Association

While Celtic's advocate might have a point, this is a classic example of the type of issue that's not going to matter one hundred years from now.

For some years, one of the most colourful characters in Scottish football has been Vladimir Romanov, the chairman of Hearts. I once saw an interview he gave, during which he described life as a businessman during the last days of the Soviet Union, the arrests, and so on. While watching it, I realised that the Hampden blazers would be completely out of their depth when dealing with him; if only because once you've had the KGB on your doorstep, the SFA will hold no fears for you.

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The Iceland Referendum

Its issues might have been oversimplified, but public reaction to it here has certainly been under-amplified, for which our Icelandic friends might one day have cause to grateful. One wonders what the shades of their fathers think of the seed of the Vikings welching on their debts.

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Lord Layard On Happiness

Listening to Richard Layard holding forth on happiness on the BBC this morning, it was difficult not to recollect that acid remark of Talleyrand's, when his advice was sought on the wisdom of founding a Napoleonic state religion -


"In order to found His religion, Jesus Christ died and rose again. I would suggest you do likewise".

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Scottish Elections

I have two main hopes for the Scottish parliamentary elections, due to be held on May 5th.

The first is that there will be no mass administrative disenfranchisement of an electorate baffled by the baffling nature of the ballot papers they are presented with, such as happened in 2007, an outrage for which Douglas Alexander, that most golden of the Scottish Labour Party's children and the official most directly responsible for it, has never been properly held to account.

The second is that the holding of the referendum on AV on the same day does not further confuse voters who might be merely be interested into electing an MSP for Yett's o' Pitmuckle into helping bring about The Thousand Year Reich of Nicholas Clegg.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Warming To A Theme

While reflecting upon my post of yesterday concerning the News International phone-hacking scandal, the parallels between this case and the judicial enquiry conducted by Lord Hutton into the death of Dr. David Kelly became quite striking.

I am not going to rehearse the Stygian awfulness of the Blair government's conduct upon that occasion. However, consider these distinctions.

The BBC was investigated because Dr. Kelly died. Neither it nor its employees were found guilty of any crime. In the News International phone-hacking scandal, a journalist has already been jailed, and criminal investigations are presumably proceeding into others. If you can be judicially investigated when your staff haven't committed a crime, why can't you be judicially investigated when one of your staff has committed a crime?

Dr. Kelly may have discussed matters the government considered to be of great sensitivity. This might have been one of the reasons why the BBC ended up under the spotlight. News International, on the other hand, has admitted hacking into a government minister's voicemail. Dr. Kelly was a BBC source. Tessa Jowell wasn't a News International source. Perhaps Dr. Kelly ought not to have communicated with the BBC. News International went ahead and accessed Tessa Jowell's communications without her consent. If you can be judicially investigated when a source speaks to you willingly, why can't you be judicially investgated when you just go ahead and try to get the information that you want without its owner's, or custodian's, consent? Who knows what sensitive, perhaps even classified, information the phone-hackers might have overheard?

The BBC might have been called to a judicial investigation because its editorial standards slipped. News International's standards seem to be much lower. If you can be judicially investigated for slipping up, why can't you be judicially investigated for tripping over and falling flat on your face?

It might be argued that the BBC must adhere to higher standards because it is publicly funded, an argument one can best describe as bullwash. The idea that some journalists should be held to higher standards of competence and probity in the public square than others makes a mockery of the idea of a media market. If it is the case that the BBC must be held to higher standards than others because of the way in which it is funded, the case for the television licence fee becomes unassailable. High standards cost money, and by what better means can those revenues be generated than through the licence? Indeed, it also makes the case for severely restricting the competition the BBC faces in the field of broadcast news; for if one source is held to a higher standard than others, what is the point of the others? If one outlet is held to a particular standard, all must be held to the same standard. If that doesn't happen, then what you have isn't journalism, but entertainment.

The more one touches the pitch that is the phone-hacking scandal, in all its tawdriness, the case for a judicial enquiry, best headed by a Law Lord, into the conduct of News International, with comprehensive powers to compel the attendance of witness, hear evidence on oath and demand documents at leisure becomes compelling. And it cannot be the whitewash the Hutton enquiry was perceived to be, Lord Hutton having been hamstrung by the parameters within which he had to work; parameters which gave him no option but to find the BBC guilty as libelled.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hacks

I have only really been able to generate about half of the interest in all the phone-hacking stuff about the 'News Of The World' that I should, probably because I am too cynical to believe that News International's corporate breast-beating in the public square is going to make a blind bit of difference to how it is managed in the long run. At least the breasts being beaten are covered, which, for that organisation, makes a welcome change.

As some on the feral right are prone to say when seeking to justify reductions in the rate of corporation tax, let's be clear about this, it's people who pay tax, not corporations. Oh, for the same thinking to hold true when discussing the commission of crime by those in the employment of corporations! When that happens, it's not people, the entities that guide and direct corporations, that commit crimes, but the corporations themselves. Just as the behaviour of bankers seems have no influence on determining how banks should be regulated, the News International phone-hacking scandal, and the company's admission of liability, shows that the behaviour of proprietors and editors seems to be unmentionable when attempts are made to hold the press accountable for its excesses.

If KwikFlush Plumbers were sued by multiple litigants, all aggrieved by its pursuit of the same business practice, that business practice would very quickly draw it to the attention of the local Trading Standards department. No such mechanism seems to exist for bringing to account a newspaper group which has admitted consistently violating the rights of members of the public.

A full enquiry must be held into this matter, headed at best by a Law Lord, with the power to demand documents and compel the attendance of witnesses, and to direct that they give evidence under oath; its remit must include an open and public investigation of News International's corporate culture. This scandal raises questions such as whether journalists may have been encouraged - or worse, perhaps intimated - by their editors to use information obtained by now admittedly illegal means, a theory which one can develop from the fact that the victims are from different walks of life, and presumably of interest to different journalistic sub-specialities, with the journalists' editors being the only thread binding them together. It raises questions such as whether the editors themselves were under pressure from executives, perhaps even directors, to use 'By any means necessary' methods to obtain stories. The impact of these practices upon the public means that discussion, and investigation, of them is in the public interest. Accordingly, all investigation of them must be public.

It is not enough for News International to perhaps chance its arm, and try to say that this is another mere example of technology having outpaced the law's ability to police it. In the case of all those whose phones were hacked, somebody made a decision to hack them. As News Corporation's shareholders may find to their cost, that technology can develop faster than the law's ability to police it does not mean that the law can be ignored. Those who would weigh compliance with the rule of law against the need for greater circulation and find it wanting should be driven out of the newspaper business for good.

And if nothing else, this whole business shows how the UK's laws on the disqualification of company directors are grossly weak and unsatisfactory, a national disgrace that no government is prepared to address. That's the real lesson that won't be learned.

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Peter Hitchens On Anthony Beevor

In his column in today's 'Mail on Sunday', Peter Hitchens describes the historian Anthony Beevor as being 'ever-so-slightly over-praised'.

In the 'Review' section of today's 'Mail on Sunday', there appears, appropriately enough, a review of Anne Applebaum's 'Gulag Voices - An Anthology'; written by Anthony Beevor.

One for 'Private Eye', I think.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Blogger Support

Something seems to have happened to my settings. Instead of getting single spacing as before, I now only get double, and it makes the blog look like a refugee from the large print section of one's local library. Anyone got any ideas how to fix it?

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Just Fancy That!

'Is Koussa Libya's Rudolf Hess? Time will tell' -

This blogger, 31st March 2011.

'FLIGHT OF THE HENCHMEN - The odd parallels between the arrival of Musa Kusa from Libya...and the night Hitler's right-hand man landed in Scotland', Steven Taylor, 'Scottish Daily Mail', 9th April 2011.

Great minds must think alike, for sure.

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Weapons Of Choice

Some are more effective than others. Only in Glasgow.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

'Things I Didn't Know'

Having recently defended Robert Hughes from the onslaughts of Clive James, possibly launched from the back of a van on the M6 while en route to his next gig, resulting from the publication of Mr. Hughes's memoir 'Things I Didn't Know', I thought it might be a good idea to read the book myself.

By so doing, I learned far more about Mr. Hughes than I, and perhaps anyone else, could possibly want to know.

In no particular order, his speculation that he was conceived as the result of leakage from a defective condom made one wish to tell him to put in a sock in it; in this case, the material from which it had been fabricated would be irrelevant. His recounting of the homosexual proclivities and consequent, and presumably also predatory, exploits of Donald Friend, the type of gentleman perhaps best described as a chopperholic, are, to my mind, both tasteless and unnecessary.

For one so closely tied to the Australian establishment, whether he likes it or not, Mr. Hughes seems to have the same kind of attitude towards Australia that one used to see displayed by British expats towards Britain in the comboxes of the 'Daily Telegraph' (they may still be there for all I know, for I gave up reading that publication years ago). Broadly, it can best be described as, 'We got out, you didn't, yah boo sucks'. Emitting it suggests immaturity, and reading it is unpleasant.

One can only marvel at the degree to which coincidence has played a role in Mr. Hughes's career. In the '60's, he got on to BBC2 because finding an Australian in London who knew something about art suddenly became somebody's pressing management priority. Thus was Mr. Hughes dug either up or out in a hurry, and launched on his broadcasting career. Hey, Bob from Sydney! Want to be on TV? It seems to have been as simple as that. With the same luck, he got his shot at his ur-gig of art critic at 'Time' magazine after a copy of his book 'Heaven and Hell in Western Art' was sent to New York for possible reviewing, and dug out from the archives entirely at random. Mr. Hughes has clearly met those tides in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, lead on to fortune, and surfed them right up to the beach, and fair play to him. Lesser mortals, adhering to those Catholic superstitions which Mr. Hughes has so cerebrally cast aside, might call these wonderful coincidences acts of providence, but one would not wish to patronise him.

Not that he's above saying what he thinks about either Catholicism or the Catholic Church. For a self-described ex-Catholic, he doesn't half go on about Catholicism. Almost at the start of the book, he describes the consumption of the Eucharist as 'sacred cannibalism', the type of trash talk one would expect from Richard Dawkins. After that, I'm afraid my heart rather hardened towards Bob Hughes, and accordingly it became rather easier to pick up on his mistakes.

His biggest one is getting the start date for World War Two wrong, putting it at February 1939, rather than September. While writing that passage, he may have been gagging to say something about the inability of his father, Group Captain G.E.F. Hughes, to wear his regalia at the Vatican, He does have an awful lot to say about that regalia.

Similarly, while having a good laugh at himself for singing 'Soul of my Saviour' at his Jesuit boarding school, St. Ignatius College, Riverview, he ascribes it to St. Ignatius Loyola, rather than Pope John XXII. While noting that the visionaries of Fatima were illiterate peasants, he might also have noted that there were three of them, not two. He has nothing to say about their numeracy.

But his most grievous mistake, by far, is lashing out at Rolf Harris, for no real reason that I can determine, by describing him as an 'Australian washboard virtuoso'. Reading that made one realise that while Mr. Hughes probably knows his ass from his elbow, and certainly does when it comes to art, in other respects he doesn't know a washboard from a wobble board.

Here, I will admit that I am not an unprejudiced commentator. My admiration for Rolf Harris is boundless. He has been part of the background of my culture for as long as I can remember, and may he go on being so for many years to come. Seeing the author of 'The Shock Of The New' get stuck into someone who's still ready to get stuck into the business of popularising art was unseemly; almost like shooting a kookaburra, an act that Mr. Hughes was discouraged from committing as a child. Yet while reading that sentence, a thought, perhaps a nasty one, came to mind.

I will freely admit that when the chips are down, I don't really care much for the visual arts. I cannot produce recognisable images by any means other than words. I believe that the visual arts should be preserved and encouraged, in the same way I believe that double-glazing and the trade of welding should also be preserved and encouraged. They are all social goods from which good can come. Mr. Hughes seems to have a genuinely privileged existence, in that he makes an income from talking about something he loves (he has no formal qualifications in art history, indeed sometimes seems to have stretched the knack of turning your hobby into your job to an almost ludicrous degree of elasticity). Listening to him tell me about art via the television makes me feel worthy and intellectual. In turn, this is a win-win for both parties; Mr. Hughes gets paid to talk about art, and I get to learn a little about it.

However, has watching Bob Hughes ever encouraged me to pick up a paintbrush? No. Did watching Rolf Harris ever encourage me to do that when I was a child? You betcha, me and lots of others. Though they might be unwilling to admit it, there might be one or two painters of distinction out there whose enthusiasm for their vocation was stirred by a goateed Australian saying 'Can you tell what it is yet?'

And just as surely as one nasty thought follows another, up popped a companion for the first.

Bob Hughes has an awful lot to say about Australia - but how many people have ever been encouraged to go there by reading him?

It would be interesting to know how, as an Australian who had lived in New York for many years by that point, Mr. Hughes reacted to the release of the movie 'Crocodile Dundee'. One can almost imagine the thin-lipped, gritted-teeth politesse with which he might have received the unwelcome greeting of 'G'day, mate!' from complete strangers.

Yet who has encouraged more people to actually go to Australia; Bob Hughes, or the Antibobhughes who is Paul Hogan? My money would be on Hoags, and if any of those tourist revenues made their way into the making and distribution of art in Australia, the irony would be all the sweeter.

For all the failings of his book, Mr. Hughes remains a wonderful prose stylist, one of the very best writing in English. Some parts of this book are eye-wateringly funny; his recollections of the gathering of artists in a Melbourne pub during which a local artist drew a line on the floor and demanded that their brethren from Sydney walk across it, for example, and his recollection of how an eccentric collector accused him of killing one of his pet birds, are classics of comic writing. His description of the art of Albert Tucker had me falling off the couch laughing. Sometimes, Mr. Hughes has even got his feet wet in history himself; his encounter with Hakim Jamal reminded one of the horror story that was the life and death of Michael X, one told much more objectively, and at much greater length, by VS Naipaul in his anthology 'The Writer and The World'. His recollection of personally conducting a salary negotiation with Rupert Murdoch, at the start of both their careers, makes one hope that age and riches have sanded the edges off Murdoch's youthful boorishness.

Yet, personally, the most striking part of this book was his description of the education he received at the hand of the Jesuits. A little recounting of my own is in order.

A great deal of it seemed to be devoted to the playing of rugby. I have only ever attended one rugby match as a spectator, Scotland's Six Nations game against Ireland at Murrayfield in 2009 (my wife is Irish, and in recent years has become a rugby nut, the Six Nations being just about the only event in which she can see Irish sportspeople on TV on a regular basis). Now, Scotland lost - no great surprise there - but it was still a relief to attend, for while the match was being played, I had an epiphany. I will not say that the clouds parted, or that angelic voices sang to me with voices like flutes and dulcimers, but while watching that match I at last achieved a realisation that had eluded me for nearly 30 years - I knew, at last, how the game should be played!

I played rugby for four years, between the ages of twelve and sixteen, and have no recollection of being told how it should be done. I may have been told, but have no memory of the teaching. I was the same height at twelve as I am now, and was immediately told that I was a second-row forward. However, and as ironic as it seems now that I am mobility impaired, I was also blessed with pace, and could not understand why second-row forwards should not try to get the ball and run to the opponents' try line. It just couldn't sink in. This lack of understanding of the game, of its rules and basic strategies, sometimes produced quasi-comical results, such as my involvement in what I believe is still the heaviest defeat ever suffered by any side put out by my school.

It was a lovely, sunny late autumn Saturday morning in Edinburgh, and the air was beautifully crisp and clear. The only other person I remember being on that side with me was a large, well-built turbanned Sikh, playing, if I recall, at number eight. Now, turbans are strictly scrum-unfriendly, so in order to keep himself culturally compliant while on the field of play he wore a piece of headgear that, while eminently practical for the job at hand, had a coolness factor of zero; a jockstrap for topknots that gave him the look of a large, unfriendly Smurf.

On and on and on they scored against us, remorselessly, relentlessly, true Terminators of the turf. At one point, my team-mate asked wearily if we had no pride. I would like to think that I would have been able to shoot back that pride was a sin, and thus should be discouraged, but in truth I was just baffled, as I usually was whenever I stepped over the touchline. Eventually, the agony was over; we had gone down by ninety-six points to zero. It really is quite difficult to lose ninety-six points in a rugby match played at any level, but somehow we managed it.


As we got older and the rest of the scrum outgrew me, I was posted as a winger. Of course, I had no idea what a winger should do, other than get the ball and run with it; my own idea of how this should be done was later exactly portrayed in the context of American football in the movie 'Forrest Gump'. The idea that I should try to tackle the players who were running towards me with the ball never entered my head. This style of play isn't very successful, and during one home game, the home referee, a bearded man I'd never seen before and have never seen since, came up to us at half-time (we were, predictably, losing), and asked 'Who's that poofter on the wing?'

I would have been fourteen at the time. The twisted anger on that person's face remains vivid in my memory to this day, as also is the grossly inappropriate manner in which he addressed me. If a group of bad boys from Barlanark were ever to give him a kicking up a lane one night, then, as terrible as it is to say, I might find it difficult to shed a tear. Such horrible anger, and all over a game for children.

Strange as it might seem, I must have had some native talent for the game, if only because those in charge kept selecting me, until The Moment, the end of my interest in rugby, came; The Dunkirk Moment.

A little mise en scene is in order. It's the East End of Glasgow in December, and it's two o' clock on a Saturday afternoon. The sun is already going down, and the sky is dark with cloud. Although the rain has now stopped, it's been coming down all morning. It is bitterly cold, and the wind is biting. Two minutes into the game, and the mud that started around your studs is now around your ankles. We go down, and heavily.

While we are sitting in the dressing room, dejected and unshowered, an authority figure bursts in and starts screaming at us. The harangue goes on for five minutes, until they utter The Phrase - 'Where's your Dunkirk spirit?'

Even at that age, fourteen or fifteen, I knew enough about the story of the Small Boats, and of those who sailed them, to know that to equate that event with another so trivial as a game of schoolboy rugby was a display of gross disrespect to those involved in the events of the summer of 1940, however unintentional that disrespect might be. James Joyce claimed to lose his faith while listening to a sermon at Clongowes. The Dunkirk Harangue was the nearest I have ever come to a Clongowes moment, for it caused me to lose all interest, immediately and irrevocably, in any word uttered by the person pronouncing it.

Robert Hughes didn't seem to have such problems at his Jesuit school. He got to read books.

Mr. Hughes recounts how, because he was Very Good at English, his headmaster gave him access to his private library. He read Gibbon, Chesterton, and many others, delights presumably denied to his peers. One of the greatest lessons I drew from Gibbon was, perhaps not unsurprisingly, that he might have been revolted by rugby, and rightly so. Gibbon recounts how the Romans were disgusted by the sight of Commodus battling with gladiators in the arena, and appalled at the idea of those at the top of society engaged in entertaining the mob. Watching Dollar Academy FP's battling it out with the Presentation Brothers' old boys at Murrayfield, it was difficult not to reach the same conclusion.

Yet Mr. Hughes's recounting of what seemed to be this most privileged and exclusive access to the stuff of learning rang another bell, and one with a very different chime; an essay by Andrew O' Hagan, the Clyde coast's doughty documentor of dirt and divas, entitled 'Brothers', contained within his collection, 'The Atlantic Ocean'.

'Brothers' is the story of two coalition personnel killed in Iraq on the same day. One is a US Marine pilot, a golden child, the other a Geordie squaddie from a broken home. While going over their lives, Mr. O' Hagan met the pilot's old sports teacher at his Jesuit school, who tells him that the pilot was one of that sort of boy of whom he saw two or three a year, the ones he could tell would go on to be something very big.

As a product of that system who hasn't, and whose only privileged access under it was to mud and inappropriate harangues, it really does make you wonder whether it's the two or three stars a year that the Jesuits are really interested in, with the rest making up the numbers and helping to pay the bills. One wonders what Mr. Hughes's peers might have done, and gone on to be, if they'd had access to the headmaster's library. That might just be bitterness on my part, but it's maybe something to bear in mind, should you be planning to give your children a Jesuit education.

In sum, 'Things I Didn't Know' is a book which is funny and unpleasant, erudite and coarse, by whichever turns take its author's fancy. You will certainly learn far more about one of the world's greatest art critics than you will ever want to know. Yet if there is one subject that seems to fixate Mr. Hughes even more than art, it is religion, and specifically the Catholic faith, and specifically his antagonism to it; it is striking that Mr. Hughes has nothing to say about his views on Christianity as an ethical system by which one can lead one's life, or whether he has any such views at all. His ex cathedra ex-Catholicism is all really quite bog-standard, routine stuff, so much so that one cannot help but wonder whether this seed of the Mustard King of Australia still has a little mustard seed of his own in there, the presence of which he will do anything not to admit, perhaps for a reason so dumb as not wanting to be thought of as losing face. That he doth protest too much means that this reader certainly drew his own conclusions.

But like so much else in this book, that's really none of my business.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Kicking Them When They're Down

In the United Kingdom, this activity is central to what some consider to be the natural order of things.

It never ceases to amaze me how the poor the sick and the weak can be labelled scroungers, a linguistic habit the British have held since the days of Francis Bacon, but that the banking sector, that unholy industry which has received far more in welfare than its members deserve, continues to be celebrated. Oh, it might be reviled in public, but I'm sure that in private it's still celebrated.

Every single extension of the welfare state has arisen from a previous failure of economic policy. To deny this is to deny history. To accuse those caught in history's backwash of being guilty of bringing their misfortune on themselves is a sin crying to Heaven for vengeance.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Supremes Perform The Follies



Just try raising that 'no win, no fee' medical negligence case now. When your experts can be sued by persons to whom they owe no duty, you'll be on to plums before you start. I wouldn't even think about acting even as a non-expert witness in any civil case, if it can possibly be avoided. The nature of this judgement is such that immunity will be removed from non-expert witnesses in short order, and the risk of personal litigation against oneself for being a good citizen will merely discourage good citizenship.


This will also open the door to every potential defendant or defender suing their plaintiff or pursuer for libel or defamation, thus eroding the availability of remedies for those who use the courts. Verdicts and judgements will become meaningless, and process will become endless; and when process becomes endless, it rapidly becomes pointless.


At just what point did our judges go nuts? And where is Shami Chakrabarti when you need her, to speak out against this? She might have repeated the same disappearing act during the recent unpleasantness about Saif Gaddafi and the LSE that she performed when Jon Venables's civil liberties were being abused by the yellow British press, but you would think she would have something to say about such a monstrous restriction on access to justice as this.

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Peter Hitchens

It is really quite depressing to admit that one only buys the 'Mail on Sunday' in order to read Peter Hitchens. That Mr. Hitchens is the best thing in it says much more about that newspaper than it does about Mr. Hitchens.


His column of today contains the following sentence -


"The idea of protecting us – the civilians of Britain – with a proper patrolling police force, severe justice and the effective deterrent of the death penalty is rejected with shuddering horror by the comically misnamed Conservative Party that dominates the Government".


It is my opinion that anyone who would have any other person suffer execution, no matter how grievous their crime, is a nutball. May God preserve them from the violence they would have done to others. In this instance, the first step on the path to grace might be reading, perhaps even re-reading, 'The Ballad Of Reading Gaol'; a work which Mr. Hitchens clearly shows to be as relevant today as it was at first publication.

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The Resignation Of Hugh O' Donnell

Bit late with this one, but my congratulations to Mr. O' Donnell for resigning from the Liberal Democrats over what he, in my opinion quite rightly, considers to be his leadership's betrayal of just about everything that party is supposed to stand for. It is gratifying to see that Scottish public life still has a principled man in it, and I wish him well in his campaign as an Independent.


It may even be the case that Mr. O' Donnell believes what I have come to suspect, that the Liberal Democrats have no natural constituency other than their own membership. On that basis, even the BNP can claim greater political legitimacy. That is why it is also essential that the first past the post voting system be retained, if only to ensure that the Liberal Democrats are unable to continue their entirely selfish, self-interested gang warfare on the public, the aims of which are the gaining of power, inevitably parasitically, pay and perks.

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A Good And Wholesome Thing

The only activity in the world more boring than listening to Catholics talking about sex and Presbyterians talking about money is listening to Presbyterians talking about sex and Catholics talking about money.


Can't say I'd shed a tear if the Grim Reaper came to Edmiston Drive, not as a chess-playing Swede - the locals might think he's the new centre-back - but in the shape of others even more keenly interested in money than the management of the entity in question; and that really is saying something.

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