Tuesday, December 16

An open letter to Russell Brand.

Dear Russell,

Hi. I'm Jo. You may remember me. You may even have filmed me. On Friday, you staged a publicity stunt at an RBS office, inconveniencing a hundred or so people. I was the lanky slouched guy with a lot less hair than you but (I flatter myself) a slightly better beard who complained to you that you, a multimillionaire, had caused my lunch to get cold. You started going on at me about public money and bankers' bonuses, but look, Russell, anyone who knows me will tell you that my food is important to me, and I hadn't had breakfast that morning, and I'd been standing in the freezing cold for half an hour on your whim. What mattered to me at the time wasn't bonuses; it was my lunch, so I said so.

Which is a great shame, because I'd usually be well up for a proper barney with you, and the points you made do actually deserve answers. Although not — and I really can't emphasise this enough, Russell — not as much as I deserve lunch.

Before I go any further, I should stress that I don't speak for RBS. I'm not even an RBS employee, though I do currently work for them. What follows is not any sort of official statement from RBS, or even from the wider banking industry. It is merely the voice of a man whose lunch on Friday was unfairly delayed and too damn cold.

So, firstly, for the people who weren't there, let's describe the kerfuffle. I didn't see your arrival; I just got back from buying my lunch to discover the building's doors were locked, a film crew were racing around outside trying to find a good angle to point their camera through the windows, and you were in reception, poncing around like you were Russell bleeding Brand. From what I can gather, you'd gone in and security had locked the doors to stop your film crew following you. Which left us — the people who were supposed to be in the building, who had work to do — standing around in the cold.

My first question is, what were you hoping to achieve? Did you think a pack of traders might gallop through reception, laughing maniacally as they threw burning banknotes in the air, quaffing champagne, and brutally thrashing the ornamental paupers that they keep on diamante leashes — and you, Russell, would damningly catch them in the act? But that's on Tuesdays. I get it, Russell, I do: footage of being asked to leave by security is good footage. It looks like you're challenging the system and the powers that be want your voice suppressed. Or something. But all it really means, behind the manipulative media bullshit, is that you don't have an appointment.

Of course, Russell, I have no idea whether you could get an appointment. Maybe RBS top brass would rather not talk to you. That's their call — and, you know, some of your behaviour might make them a tad wary. Reputations are very important in banking, and, reputation-wise, hanging out with a guy who was once fired for broadcasting hardcore pornography while off his head on crack is not ideal. But surely a man who can get invited onto Question Time to discuss the issues of the day with our Lords & Masters is establishment enough to talk to a mere banker. And it would be great if you could. Have you tried, Russell? Maybe you could do an interview with one of them. An expert could answer your questions and rebut your points, and you could rebut right back at them. I might even watch that. (By the way, Russell, if you do, and it makes money, I would like a cut for the idea, please. And I'm sure it would. Most things you do make money.)

But instead of doing something potentially educational, Russell, you staged a completely futile publicity stunt. You turned up and weren't allowed in. Big wow. You know what would have happened if a rabid capitalist had just turned up unannounced? They wouldn't have been allowed in either. You know what I have in my pocket? A security pass. Unauthorised people aren't allowed in. Obviously. That's not a global conspiracy, Russell; it's basic security. Breweries have security too, and that's not because they're conspiring to steal beer from the poor. And security really matters: banks are simply crawling with highly sensitive information. Letting you in because you're a celebrity and You Demand Answers could in fact see the bank hauled in front of the FCA. That would be a scandal. Turning you away is not. I'm sorry, Russell, but it's just not.

Your response to my complaint that a multimillionaire was causing my lunch to get cold was... well, frankly, it was to completely miss the point, choosing to talk about your millions instead of addressing the real issue, namely my fucking lunch. But that's a forgivable mistake. We all have our priorities, Russell, and I can understand why a man as obsessed with money as I am with food would assume that's what every conversation is about. Anyway, you said that all your money has been made privately, not through taxation. Now, that, Russell, is actually a fair point. Well done.

Although I can't help but notice that you have no qualms about appearing on the BBC in return for money raised through one of the most regressive taxes in the country, a tax which leads to crippling fines and even jail time for thousands of poor people and zero rich people. But never mind. I appreciate that it's difficult for a celeb to avoid the BBC, even if they're already a multimillionaire and can totally afford to turn the work down. Ah, the sacrifices we make to our principles for filthy lucre, eh, Russell? The condoms and hairspray won't buy themselves. Or, in my case, the pasta.

And then there is that film you're working on, isn't there, for which I understand your production company is benefitting from the Enterprise Investment Scheme, allowing the City investors funding your film to avoid tax. Was that the film you were making on Friday, Russell, when you indignantly pointed out to me that none of your money comes from the taxpayer? Perhaps it had slipped your mind.

And, of course, you've been in a few Hollywood films now, haven't you, Russell? I take it you've heard of Hollywood Accounting? Of course you have, Russell; you produced Arthur. So you are well aware that Hollywood studios routinely cook their books to make sure their films never go into taxable profit — for instance, Return Of The Jedi has never, on paper, made a profit. Return Of The fucking Jedi, Russell. As an actor, and even more so as the producer of a (officially) loss-making film, you've taken part in that, you've benefitted from it. (While we're on the subject, I hear great things about Hollywood's catering. I hope you enjoyed it. Expensive, delicious, and served (at least when I dream about it) nice and hot.)

But still, you're broadly right. Leaving aside the money you make from one of the most regressive of the UK's taxes, and the tax exemptions your company uses to encourage rich City investors to give you more money, and the huge fees you've accepted from one of the planet's most notorious and successful tax avoidance schemes, you, Russell, have come by your riches without any effect on taxpayers. Whereas RBS got bailed out. Fair point.

Here's the thing about the bailout of RBS, Russell: it's temporary. The plan was never to bail out a bank so that it could then go bust anyway. That would be too asinine even for Gordon Brown. The idea was to buy the bank with public money, wait until it became profitable again, then resell it, as Alastair Darling clearly explained at the time. And that is still the plan, and it does appear to be on course. Not only that, but it looks as if the government will eventually sell RBS for more than they bought it for. In other words, the taxpayer will make a profit on this deal.

Of all the profligate pissing away of public money that goes on in this country, the only instance where the public are actually going to get their money back seems an odd target for your ire. What other government spending can you say that about, Russell? What other schemes do they sink taxpayers' money into and get it all back, with interest? And how many people have you met who have actually been right in the middle of working to make a profit for the taxpayer when you've interrupted them to cause their lunch to get cold?

As for bonuses, well, I'll be honest: I get an annual bonus. I'm not allowed to tell you exactly how much it is, but I will say it's four or five orders of magnitude smaller than the ones that make the headlines. It's very nice — helps pay off a bit of credit card debt (remember debt, Russell?) — but, to put it in terms you can understand, I'd need to work for several tens of thousands of years before my bonuses added up to close to what you're worth.

But here's the key thing you need to know about bonuses, Russell: they come with conditions attached. My salary is mine to do with as I will (I like to spend a chunk of it on good hot food). My bonus my employer can take back off me under certain conditions. Again, I do not speak for RBS, so cannot say anything about the recent FX trading scandal or PPI or any of that shit. But, in general terms, bonuses have conditions attached, such as "And we'll claw back every penny if we discover you were breaking the rules." And yes, it does happen. The only bonuses that make the news are the ones that get paid. But, every year, bonuses either don't get paid or are even taken back off staff for various reasons, including misconduct. I'd've thought, Russell, that anyone who wanted bankers to be accountable would approve of the scheme.

And now, if I may, a word about your manner.

Much as I disagree with most of your politics, I've always rather liked you. You do a good job of coming across as someone who might be fun to be around. Turns out, that's an illusion.

Because, you see, Russell, when you accosted me, you started speaking to me with your nose about two inches from mine. That's pretty fucking aggressive, Russell. I'm sure you're aware of the effect. Putting one's face that close to someone else's and staring into their eyes is how primates square off for a fight. Regardless of our veneer of civilisation, when someone does that to us, it causes instinctive physical responses: adrenaline, nervousness... back down or lash out. (Or, apparently, in the case of the celebrity bikes you like to hang out with, swoon.) I'm sure that, like turning up with a megaphone instead of an appointment, such an aggressive invasion of personal space makes for great footage: you keep talking to someone in that chatty reasonable affable tone of yours, and they react with anger. Makes them look unreasonable. Makes it look like they're the aggressive ones. Makes it look like people get flustered in the face of your incisive argument. When in fact they're just getting flustered in the face of your face.

I've been thinking about this the last couple of days, Russell, and I can honestly say that the only other people ever to talk to me the way you did were school bullies. It's been nearly a quarter of a century since I had to deal with such bastards, so I was caught quite off my guard. Nice company you're keeping. Now I think about it, they used to ruin my lunchtimes too.

One last thing, Russell. Who did you inconvenience on Friday? Let's say that you're right, and that the likes of Fred Goodwin need to pay. OK, so how much trouble do you think Fred faced last Friday as a result of your antics? Do you think any of his food got cold, Russell? Even just his tea? I somehow doubt it. How about some of the millionaire traders you despise so much (some of whom are nearly as rich as you, Russell)? Well, no, because you got the wrong fucking building. (Might want to have a word with your researchers about that.) Which brings us back to where we came in: a bunch of admittedly fairly well paid but still quite ordinary working people, admin staff mostly, having their lives inconvenienced and, in at least one case, their lunches quite disastrously cooled, in order to accommodate the puerile self-aggrandising antics of a prancing multimillionaire. If you had any self-awareness beyond agonising over how often to straighten your fucking chest-hair, you'd be ashamed.

It was paella, by the way. From Fernando's in Devonshire Row. I highly recommend them: their food is frankly just fantastic.

When it's hot.

Friday, November 14

Genius.

The Financial Times think this is news:

Nicola Sturgeon urges SNP to win Scottish majority in general election

I bet all the other party leaders will copy her brilliant strategy. Thieves.

Blogging about blogging.

Well, it's been over ten years, so I thought I'd get around to redesigning this site. And by that I mean using a standard out-of-the-box template and tweaking it a bit.

I'm also reopening comments.

I might even do some actual blogging.

Over on the right there, you will see a couple of links to other things what I do. There's Music, which is my band Squander Pilots. We're actually making music again, which you could listen to. It's quite good. And there's Photography, which is a Tumblr of stuff I do with my Lumia 1020, which — if you were wondering — is every bit as good as the ravier reviews claim, if not better.

And that's it.

Calloo, callay, etc.

Well, I was wrong.

I made several predictions here, and I was wrong about some things and right about others. I'm obviously just trying to salvage some vestige of self-respect there. I was quite clearly very very wrong about the only thing that mattered:

There has never for one moment been any doubt in my mind that Scotland will vote to leave. ... I never trusted the opinion polls that showed that No would win, and I don't trust the latest polls that show that Yes will win, despite their happening to be right by sheer luck. Obviously Scotland will vote to be an independent country.

Ooooooops.

I'm actually less shamed by being wrong about that than I am by being right about this:

Some of you may remember the 1992 general election. I do. ... What was interesting about it was the stark difference between the predicted result and the actual result. I mean, yeah, sure, predictions are often a bit wrong. But in 1992, they were staggeringly wrong.

See, it turns out I was right to compare the Scottish Referendum to the 1992 General Election. The analogues with the results and the possible reasons for them — the infamous Shy Tory Vote — are striking. Thing is, I managed to get that bit right and then still draw completely the wrong conclusion from it. Being wrong based on just being plain old wrong is one thing. Being wrong based on making what turns out to be exactly the right insight is embarrassing.

Which is the other thing I was right about:

Course, if I'm wrong, this post is going to look as embarrassing as that celebratory Labour footage.

For an excellent post-election analysis of what happened and why, read Ray's blog, not mine:

The Yes team knew that 16.7% of the Scottish electorate was willing to vote Conservative at the last General Election. What they perhaps hadn’t considered was the fact that these people consistently voted Conservative in the full knowledge that, in a 'first-past-the-post' system, they had absolutely no chance of winning. That’s quite a significant statement to make, one that should perhaps have made the Yes team consider the possibility that even more people might have voted Conservative if they felt they had a chance of getting representation. And what the Yes team didn’t know they didn’t know was just how many of those newly-registered referendum voters might naturally be inclined to take a conservative (small c) option on such a contentious issue as the break-up of the United Kingdom.

I should have figured that out. But I didn't. What a fuckwit.

Thursday, September 18

Yes and no.

If I still lived in Scotland, I would have voted Yes.

There are all sorts of arguments (and I think we've heard them all to bloody death by now) for and against the feasibility of independence, and frankly I don't think any of them matter. Because surely you start with nationhood and then go out and make your country work, with a shared sense of nationhood giving you the impetus to do so. Elizabeth Tudor inherited an England that was destined to become a backwater of one of the European empires, and then she and the English damn well made England feasible. The USA was a precarious experiment that plenty of people thought would fall on its arse after a couple of years, but the Americans dug in and made it work. You don't abandon nationhood because of current economic considerations. You work to fix the economics because you and your compatriots feel a part of the same grand project.

Up to a point.

For, to pull this off, there are several things you really do need: realism, unity, and good leadership.

Realism is starkly absent from the Yes Campaign, whose "White Paper" might as well have ended with "And a pony!" Now, to some extent, that's fair enough: the SNP only have one policy that matters, and I understand that they can make up any old bollocks for the rest, since actual policy would be decided by future Scottish governments, which (we can but wish) the SNP might not even be in. But still, I'd hope that the people who are going to be building a new nation were doing so on the basis of some things that are, you know, at least approximately true.

First, there's the famous "democratic deficit" that is so taken for granted that the phrase has just become background noise. Scotland, we are told, consistently gets governments that it did not vote for. Raymond Weir skewered that here:

At the last general election, as the only explicitly separatist party, [the SNP] got 19.9% of the popular vote. The combined vote of the unionist parties was around 78%, so Scotland can hardly claim to have been clamouring for independence. At the most recent Scottish parliamentary elections in 2011, the victorious SNP actually gathered fewer votes in Scotland than Margaret Thatcher’s hated Conservatives got in the 1979 general election. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

The way this ‘democratic deficit’ argument is presented, you’d think that Scotland has had to endure decades under the jackboot Reich of hard line, right-wing Tory administrations, but that’s far from being the truth. Since the end of the second world war, general elections in the UK have produced 35 years of Tory rule and 30 years of Labour rule, plus 4 years under the present coalition government. In democratic terms, that seems like a fairly reasonable split between what -on paper, at least- are opposing political ideologies. And if the vast majority of Scots invariably vote for unionist parties, what gives us any more right than the residents of Yorkshire, Cornwall or Suffolk to feel aggrieved by the vicissitudes of the electoral process?

When people say, in the context of this independence referendum, that there is a 'democratic deficit', I think what they mean is: “We don't want a Tory government.” There is nothing wrong with thinking or saying that, but to break up a successful political union just because the odd election doesn't go your way seems like rather a selfish impulse.

Quite. Which brings us, of course, to this idea that the Tories aren't welcome in Scotland, something I've been hearing a lot since, oh, 1992, but which has become absolutely constant during the Yes campaign. Which is odd, because I find there is considerable overlap between the people who are planning to vote Yes and people who want electoral reform — and the total hatred of Scots for the Tories is in fact a mere illusion enabled by the first-past-the-post electoral system. Sure, the Tories don't win seats in Scottish elections, but they do win votes. Rather a lot of them, in fact. In the 2010 general election, they won 412,855 Scottish votes, compared to the SNP's 491,386. Introduce proportional representation, and they'll do rather well. And yet one of the constant refrains of Yes voters is that Independence will see Scotland rid of the hated Tories forever. How? Are they planning to drown them?

Then there's the nationalists' portrayal of the UK they're leaving. Look, Scotland is my favourite country and I don't much care for England, but I'm not delusional (no, really) and I can see the good and bad in both. And, like Alex Massie, I simply do not recognise the caricatures propagated by the Yes campaign:

I don’t recognise the caricature of England (and it is usually England, not the rest of the UK) offered by Yes supporters. They see a heartless, rapacious, profiteering “neoliberal” dystopia; I see a relaxed, liberal, ambitious, open-minded, multi-racial, modern country.

They see the rise of UKIP and are frightened by it; I see UKIP as a bug not a feature because the feature is the manner in which the UK is open to the world and, actually, quite happy about that thank you very much. A UK which, despite its difficulties, has managed the transition from a white country to a multi-racial polity with, in general, commendable ease. They see a broken, sclerotic, unreformable Britain; I see a cosmopolitan country that’s a desirable destination for millions of people around the world.

I have, over the course of this three-year debate, become sick to the back teeth of hearing about how inclusive and welcoming and anti-racist the Scots are, unlike the insular racist Daily-Mail-reading little-Englanders. The only evidence any Yes campaigner has for this supposed awfulness of the English is the recent electoral success of UKIP — a party who, contrary to the propaganda of their enemies, are not even anti-immigration, and who, of course, want exactly the same thing for the UK that the SNP want for Scotland. Living in England, you see, unsurprisingly, a bit of racism — but not much compared to most of the rest of the world. In Scotland, you see a lot. I lived in Govanhill, the centre of Glasgow's Asian population, for seven years. I lost count of the number of times Scots said to me, "Isn't it a problem, living with all they Pakis?" What got me wasn't so much the racism as the casual assumption that it was acceptable, that I, as a fellow white guy, of course wouldn't be offended. I saw black people having abuse hurled at them in the street, something I've never seen in twenty years of living in England. And, of course, Glasgow still has routine violent clashes between Protestants and Catholics, something that only happens in England in history books.

And that's before you even get started on the treatment of the English in Scotland. A commenter to this blog put it well (years ago, before all the comments were destroyed (sorry)) when he said that you can wear a Union Jack T-shirt in Germany, a country that, within living memory, was razed to dust by the RAF, and the most that's likely to happen to you is that a German may approach you to say what a lovely time they had on holiday in Buckinghamshire last year. Whereas no-one in their right mind would wear a St George's Cross in Scotland without first checking ambulance availability — because of grudges borne over some shit that happened before the Renaissance. While Braveheart was in the cinema when I was at St Andrews, it became dangerous for the English to walk the streets after dark. Some poor student would end up covered in blood most nights. How many Japanese were beaten up in America while Pearl Harbour was showing?

And no, this is not a condemnation of all Scots. Scots are great people, which is surely why they constitute most of my friends. But just as it is possible for me to notice the bastards in Scotland without condemning the whole country, or to love living in Northern Ireland while not being able to help noticing that some of the people here are fucking murderous lunatics, or to have Welsh friends while still donating generously to sheep rescue centres, it ought to be possible for Scots nationalists to hate UKIP or The Daily Mail or David Cameron without declaring that England is a hateful racist unredeemable reactionary country. But apparently it isn't.

And I'm not convinced it's a good idea to try to build a nation on a foundation of delusion.

Unity has been effectively destroyed by the divisiveness of the campaign. I'm still sure it'll be Yes tomorrow, but that's immaterial now: whichever way it goes, it's going to be damn close, which means the losing side aren't going to feel like they've been defeated by a proper mandate. For a decision this important, you don't want close; you really want the winners to get at least 65%, ideally more. A country with a near-enough fifty-fifty split of people who disagree about which nation-state they belong to is... well, it's Northern Ireland. The nationalists like to talk about how, after the Referendum, everyone in the country, having had a lovely debate, will bury their differences and work together for the betterment of all. Sorry, but it doesn't work like that. You can't call people "traitor" and "quisling" and expect it all to be shrugged off the next day. The residual bitterness will hardly make things easy.

And as for leadership, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have from the outset shown themselves to be the last people you want anywhere near power: mendacious, weasley, smug, paranoid bullies. Now, I know a lot of Yes voters who agree with me on this point, and whose attitude is that, once Scotland's independent, the SNP's job is done and Salmond should fuck off. An admirable sentiment, but, let's face it, that's never going to happen. Politicians, once they have power, grip onto it like grim death. There are rare exceptions to this, but Salmond is no Gorbachev.

So, absent the SNP leaving or losing (fat chance of either), Scotland is to be founded and run by the sort of people who think they can use threats to default on their share of the national debt as a bargaining chip and that this won't have wider implications for the country. Best of luck, Scotland, when your newly independent state needs to borrow money and the man doing the asking has a record of publicly boasting about his intention to default. Credit ratings do actually matter.

And all this trouble for what? As Mark Steyn puts it:

The Scottish people are being invited to decide whether their cradle-to-grave welfare state will be more flush as a semi-devolved entity dependent on subventions from Westminster or as a reborn Kingdom of Scotland dependent on subventions from the European Union.

So, if I still lived in Scotland, I would vote No.

Lord knows, the No campaign have been awful: disorganised, limp, ineffective, stupid, patronising. There is a good case to be made for the Union, and our idiot lords and masters have largely failed to make it. There is no way on Earth such a tongue-dragging shower of lukewarm farts could have persuaded me of anything. But, in the end, they didn't have to.

It is the Yes campaign that have persuaded me. Because there is also a damn good case to be made for Independence, and they have singularly failed to make it. And, whilst the No campaign failed through incompetence, the Yes campaign appear to have been extremely competent. And what they've been competent at is spreading a quite monumental mix of bromides and fantastical wishful thinking while claiming that any unhelpful information can only be the result of a vast conspiracy. I can no longer bring myself to associate with such people.

Not that I have a vote. Those of us who don't live in Scotland aren't allowed a say in whether our own national identity is destroyed. Democracy? Pff.

Thursday, September 11

Scotland and identity.

Some of you may remember the 1992 general election. I do. I missed being old enough to vote in it by six days, so was annoyed. What was interesting about it was the stark difference between the predicted result and the actual result. I mean, yeah, sure, predictions are often a bit wrong. But in 1992, they were staggeringly wrong.

Every opinion poll said Labour would win. Labour were so confident — in fact, not even just confident, but sure — of victory that they openly celebrated, producing footage that looked a bit embarrassing a few days later. The media were sure of a Labour win too. On election night, every time a Tory lost their seat, they would be interviewed not only about the loss of their seat but about the loss of their government. If you went to bed about ten or eleven, you were fully expecting to wake up to a Labour government.

And then the Tories won the largest number of popular votes in British history.

Sure, the vagaries of the electoral system meant that they only had a narrow majority in Parliament, which is fair enough, but MORE VOTES THAN ANYONE ELSE EVER! is exactly the sort of thing that opinion polls should be able to detect, and they didn't. They didn't come close. So there was much discussion at the time about what the hell was wrong with the bloody opinion polls, and how they might be fixed. There was proper academic research done too. And the academics discovered something quite interesting, and something quite obvious. The interesting thing was that pollsters were asking the wrong question.

What they ask is: "If the election were tomorrow, how would you vote?" Turns out, the problem with this is that it registers vain protests. And this is the obvious thing that the academics discovered: A lifelong Labour voter whose parents voted Labour and whose grandparents voted Labour might well tell a pollster they're going to vote Conservative because they're a bit pissed off with Ed Milliband this week (who isn't?), but, once in a polling booth, will never ever do such a thing.

The question polls should ask is: "Which party do you identify with?" People who feel like they're a part of the Conservative Party, who feel that a Tory is who they are, will vote Conservative. Some polling organisations now try to take account of this by asking people how they voted in the last election.

The important finding here is that, for the most part, people vote based on identity, on tribalism. It's which group you feel you belong to that influences how you vote.

So, the moment the Scottish Referendum was announced, I said, "That's it: Scotland's leaving the UK." There has never for one moment been any doubt in my mind that Scotland will vote to leave. I have been frankly surprised that so many professional politicians — who, whatever you may think of their policies, should at least know a bit about politics and elections — have been convinced that the No campaign would win and are apparently genuinely surprised now that it looks like they won't. I never trusted the opinion polls that showed that No would win, and I don't trust the latest polls that show that Yes will win, despite their happening to be right by sheer luck. Obviously Scotland will vote to be an independent country. Because there is simply no way to separate a referendum like this from the question of identity, and Scots' primary identity is always Scottish. Yes, plenty of Scots are proud to be British — but they're Scottish first.

Thing is, unlike in a general election, this is actually a good thing: this Referendum should be about identity. The campaigning on both sides has been some of the stupidest I've ever seen (and I saw Labour try to persuade the country that Michael Foot would be a great Prime Minister), as it has all been about policy, or about the next five to ten years, or about whether Scotland is viable as a nation. Utter bollocks, the lot of it.

The decision to secede will last for centuries. No-one knows what'll happen over that time. Trying to claim that it's a good or a bad idea on the basis of some current concern is much like basing your opinion of the Union on Whig policy. This Referendum has nothing to do with policy, for how on Earth can it? It is, simply, about what Scotland is, about what being Scottish means — not about what any Scottish government might do. Gut feeling about identity is probably the best way to vote. It's certainly better than taking Alex Salmond or the God-awful Nicola Sturgeon seriously.

Scotland will do very well by itself, eventually. It might even do very well immediately, though I think that's less likely. But good luck regardless. The Union was bloody great (and bloody, and great) and demonstrated that the English can achieve great things with help from the Scots and that the Scots can achieve great things with help from the English. But this is a democracy, and it doesn't look like the Union is really wanted anymore.

Course, if I'm wrong, this post is going to look as embarrassing as that celebratory Labour footage. Nearly.

Wednesday, October 2

Something to look forward to.

I'm now really looking forward to the next US election, so I can have fun reminding lefties that they claim to be deeply opposed to ad-hominem attacks or criticisms of candidates' families. Because I think we all remember how Trig Palin and Ann Romney were treated. Oh, this'll be fun.

Rudeness and precedent.

As a person of the right-wing persuasion, I have, like most right-wingers, been routinely accused by left-wingers of hatred on a near-daily basis for many many years. They tell me I hate the poor, I hate women, I hate black people, gay people, Muslims, Catholics in Ireland and the UK, the opponents of Catholicism everywhere else (I honestly can't quite figure that one out), the old, the sick, children, teachers, nurses, immigrants, Jews, Arabs, Scots, and, yes, Britain. Any right-winger will tell you that these slurs are so routine that they've become mundane. Mark Steyn and PJ O'Rourke joke about them. We shrug them off, because they're so ordinary they've just become background noise.

So it was interesting to read today a large number of left-wingers claiming that to accuse someone with whose politics one vehemently disagrees of hating Britain is completely unprecedented, that doing this crosses some new line of political indecency that no-one has ever crossed before. Really, it doesn't. From Left to Right, this slur happens a hundred times a day. If it's really so shockingly unprecedented in the other direction (and this isn't just a load of feigned outrage), what does that tell us?

Wednesday, November 14

Pumpkin chutney. (Really. Actual chutney. Not a figure of speech.)

I know what you're thinking: this intermittent political ranting is all very well, but how do I go about making a truly superb condiment? Well, this is your lucky day. Here is my family's pumpkin chutney recipe. It is excellent.

Firstly, for those of you who don't know how to make chutney, it's easy. Whereas jam requires a certain carefulness with the order in which things go into the pot and with judging exactly the right point to take the stuff off the heat just before it crystalizes, chutney just involves chucking everything into a big pot and boiling it down until it looks like chutney. There are no doubt some more detailed instructions elsewhere on the Web, but it really is simple stuff.

Ingredients:

a 2.5 lb pumpkin (that's weighed whole, with the stem and seeds)
1 lb peeled tomatoes (tinned are fine)
1.5 lb onions
2 oz sultanas
0.75 lb dark brown sugar
0.75 lb caster sugar
2 tsp ground ginger or about 1 inch of root ginger
2 tsp black pepper or black peppercorns
2 tsp allspice berries
2 cloves garlic
1.25 pints cider vinegar

Obviously, you can adjust the amounts for a different size of pumpkin using the wonder of arithmetic. The amounts of spices are of course to taste. I think I typically put in quite a bit more ginger than the recipe calls for, but I couldn't tell you how much, exactly.

Method:

Peel the pumpkin and remove the seeds and the stringy crap around the seeds. Chop the pulp in to a good mixture of small and large chunks. The end result should be a lot like a mango chutney, with some nice big slices of chewy preserved fruit in it.

Slice the onions.

You can use fresh tomatoes and go to the bother of peeling them if you like, but, really, life's too short. I've used fresh and used tinned and there is absolutely zero difference to the end result.

I put the ginger, garlic, black peppercorns, and allspice berries into a chopping device and whizz them all up together into a sort of paste. Or you can just grind the pepper and allspice and chop the garlic and ginger. The allspice berries can even go in whole, if you like.

Now, put the whole lot into a decent pan with a nice thick bottom and boil it down over a high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure it doesn't stick. It can take over an hour — watch the mixture as it gets thicker: it's ready when you scrape the bottom of the pan and it takes a moment for the mixture to gloop back in, affording you a brief view of metal.

When it's ready, take it off the heat and pour it into sterile jars. Since this is chutney, don't use jam jars with metal lids, as the vinegar will corrode the metal. Kilner jars are best, and a dishwasher is the best way to sterilise them. If you're using a ladle to get the chutney into the jars, make sure the ladle is sterilised too. Seal the jars.

Leave for at least one month before eating, but that's only if you're desperate. This stuff only gets better with age; I was eating some of the 2009 batch the other day, and it's lovely.

This is a really good chutney. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 23

The complicity of the BBC.

If you sell refurbished dishwashers but claim they're brand new, or if you charge six hundred quid for plumbing jobs which should cost more like eighty, the BBC will send round a crack squad of investigative journalists and industry experts to entrap you into conning someone in front of a phalanx of hidden cameras. They will then broadcast your name and the name and address of your company and any other company you may have ever been associated with, and they will publicly accuse you of a crime or at the very least immorality.

If, on the other hand, all you're doing is raping kids for forty years, apparently the massed ranks of the BBC's award-winning broadcasters will shrug regretfully and say, "It'd be our word against his. How could we possibly prove it?"