No-nonsense observations on books, journalism, politics, education, art, religion, current affairs, entertainment and much, much more...
I INVITE you to contemplate two pieces of my Crazy Art, one to uplift your spirits during these troubled times, the other my own fantastical depiction of the dreaded coronavirus, which is wreaking havoc among us at the present time. Unfortunately, I lack the technological expertise to separate the two images, so I'm allowing them to sit together in an overlapped form.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD'S TOP
BLOG FOR GROWN-UPS
INSPIRED by my love of Haitian primitive painting, and in response to a fan’s cry for a piece of Coronavirus Art, I offer you this colourful depiction of the invisible enemy now at our door.
The Haitian people are deeply influenced in every aspect of their lives by voodoo, and the spirits that guide their destiny.
Some are good, some are bad, but all live as vividly in the Haitian psyche as any of the multiple tragedies that afflict them as a matter of course.
Because Haitian spirits are invisible, and often malevolent, I thought it appropriate to make my picture reflect the evil intent of the coronavirus in a form that the eye would not normally see.
So here it is - the pandemic in pictorial form.
With luck, we can repel them, and perhaps even destroy them. Here’s hoping…
No hiding place for
OH, DEAR. Watching Dominic Cummings trying to defend himself in the garden of Number Ten was like seeing a man being systematically dismembered by a group of forensic surgeons.
Whatever his skills as a strategist or adviser, Cummings is severely lacking in the silken arts of persuasion.
At the end of an hour-long dissection, during which he stammered and stuttered his way through a fusillade of flashing knives, there was nothing left of scheming Dom but a few bits of gristle and bone. The press had stripped him bare.
No matter how you slice it, Cummings was wrong to do what he did at the height of the virus lockdown.
He evidently felt he was on a different level from everyone else, and that he was entitled to exploit any loophole for his own ends.
As was rightly pointed out, the real problem with his way of thinking was that it gave the impression that the lockdown was not as serious as it was meant to appear.
Lives were therefore placed in danger.
No way round it for Dom, I’m afraid. Whatever happens to his job, Cummings as a credible political force is toast.
It’s a pity that one of the blokes who brought us Brexit should end up looking like a dope.
But that’s politics, isn’t it?
Third-raters to a man.
The hunt is on for a bit
of London sophistication
CREDIT where it’s due.
A smart-ass metropolitan has tweeted a request for West Country folk to stay away from London as our virus infection rate is now higher than the capital’s.
‘You’ll just have to wait for your next fix of big city sophistication,’ he snipes.
Now where would we find that, I wonder?
Hendon? Neasden? Plaistow? Streatham?
Croydon? Balham? Kentish Town?
Enfield? Canning Town? Battersea?
Or hidden under the Hammersmith flyover?
Having lived in Clapham, I can safely say there’s none there.
I worked in Camden for seven years. There’s none there.
I didn’t find much in EC4.
And in Bethnal Green, Brixton and Whitechapel, there’s definitely none at all.
But you Londoners needn’t look so solemn.
There’s probably a bit atop Nelson’s Column.
If you have personal knowledge of the whereabouts of London sophistication, please send postcards to PO Box etc etc etc.
Two dummies for President
in a nation of 360 million
An old pal and I have been debating the merits of Joe Biden, the man lined up to fight Chump at the November election.
So I contacted a Texan mate of mine, asking him for the Stateside lowdown on Grinning Joe.
No problem. He’s old - late seventies - he’s reckoned to have the first signs of Alzheimers, he has more heavy baggage than a Nepalese pack-mule. His son is a slimy git who’s been up to no good in the Ukraine. Joe himself faces sex allegations. He's not very bright. And he tends to put his foot in his mouth so often that he walks around with his shoes off.
‘But he’s still better than Trump,’ opines my source from Austin.
That’s like saying he’s better than Benito Mussolini. Or Emperor Bokassa. Or Francois Duvalier. Or Adolf Hitler.
My debater friend asks: ‘How can a country with 360 million people produce two such dummies for the presidency?’
Answers, please, to PO Box etc etc etc.
I'm not sure I'd want
Dom as my adviser
JUST a few weeks after enjoying a landslide election victory, Boris Johnson’s government is wobbling on its foundations.
Covid-19 has done more damage to Boris in three months than Corbyn and Jo the Joke combined could have managed in a decade.
Not only is the man himself looking badly weakened by his own illness, his colleagues are wilting under criticism of their handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The lockdown was too late. Reliance on herd immunity was wrong. Lack of clarity dogged every briefing. With the highest death toll in Europe, it’s hard to argue that they got things right.
Now comes too-far-up-himself Dominic Cummings, Boris’s adviser, a man who obviously thinks his own lockdown and social distancing rules don’t apply to him.
He and his wife, both infected, drove four hours to northern England to self-isolate because their child needed family support.
It’s a good argument, but not good enough, given the circumstances.
I do wonder about political types.
They are bedevilled by hubris.
Cummings must have known the risks involved in doing what he did. He must have known he would be spotted. And he must have known what the consequences would be.
I’m not sure I would want him as my adviser on anything, not even on how to wear a beanie hat.
I'm an author on
a rescue mission
CHARLES DICKENS loathed publishers. So did D.H.Lawrence.
Both regarded them as ‘no talent’ middlemen who leeched off the ability of others.
In Dickens’ case, they pirated his work and sold it without paying him.
Lawrence earned virtually nothing from his books until he self-published Lady Chatterley’s Lover right at the end of his short life.
The Booker Prize contender J.L. Carr was so sick of his publishers and their penny-pinching ways that he republished his books himself.
Ditto the novelist Timothy Mo.
Virginia Woolf hated publishers so much that she and her husband Leonard established their own Hogarth Press.
I’m now in the process of doing something similar.
I’m rescuing my book, Blood and Fire, from its original publishers because, after a promising start, they now refuse to pay me my dues.
So I’m fully committed to grabbing my books back from them.
It’s a pity it has come to this because for five years they coughed up acceptable returns.
They organised world distribution and ensured the books appeared on all major websites, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, W H Smith and Waterstones.
The titles have found their way into colleges and universities all over the globe.
Even so, I feel obliged to act.
During my revision of Blood and Fire, I have used the working title Prime Suspects.
Now I’ve decided to call it Death in the Night.
I’m hoping it will be out by Christmas.
Oh no, here comes
Sebastian in his
ONE result of the virus I dread most is the possible big move of people away from the city into the country.
TV personality John Humphrys hasn’t helped by using his Daily Mail column to promote small town life over city life.
He says smaller communities are friendlier and that big cities - among their many faults - are abrasive and impersonal.
In promoting his thesis, he mentions the cliched myth that provincial life is ‘narrow’ and ‘boring’, and that city life is full of ‘bright lights.’
As a proud provincial who has travelled all over the world, I have always rated this argument specious at best, but mostly plain wrong.
As one who was brought up on a council estate in Leicestershire, I always favoured the rural idyll over the urban myth, and have never had cause to regret it.
For many years I lived in a picturesque thatched village in Buckinghamshire, commuting fifty miles into London every day to work.
In my early forties, I decamped to what I believe is one of the best places on earth - the fishing village of Flushing, across the harbour from Falmouth in Cornwall.
Even now, thirty-five years on, I still can’t work out what I did to deserve such a sublime fate.
Not only is the village one of the most beautifully situated in Europe, it is a warm, welcoming community where there’s something interesting going on every day of the year.
There’s an annual arts festival, an annual regatta, monthly craft markets, produce shows, a Christmas market, classical music recitals, an annual panto, two good pubs, a seafront restaurant, an attractive beach, a village shop, and a rich mixture of people from all walks of life.
Most important of all, there is a delightful lack of pretentious London twaddle.
Unlike Rock and St Mawes - both Cornish resorts that attract city types - Flushing is delightfully wholesome and down-to-earth, with a brilliant artistic flourish. The place is full of creative talent.
Selfish as it sounds, I don’t want Sebastian from Notting Hill charging down here in his Chelsea tractor and messing the whole thing up.
My message to city types who now want to move to the country is: Think again.
All being well, the virus will be over soon, and you can drift back into your traffic jams, cough up your congestion charge, choke on the carbon monoxide clouds, and show off your 2020 car registration plates to the kind of people who are impressed by such things.
In this way, our idyll will be preserved, and you will be where you belong.
When Best really was the best
GEORGE BEST and his wife Angie were yesterday described in a newspaper as ‘the Beckhams of the 1970s.’
Which just goes to show how far we’ve fallen since those days.
George was a ten times better footballer than David, and Angie was a damned sight more beautiful than Posh.
George said of David: ‘He can’t head the ball, can’t tackle, can only kick with one foot, and doesn't score many goals. Otherwise, he’s not bad.’
INTERESTED to note that my book, Papa Doc, is being offered for sale by a Florida bookstore for £46 plus delivery. Glad to hear someone is making money out of it.
Can you imagine? I was hoping to buy a hardback copy online for a friend, but can’t afford it.
That’s authorship for you.
How wrong can you be?
NAYSAYERS have had a hard time of it down the years.
Both James Watt and Thomas Edison - two of the 19th century’s greatest inventors - were dismissed as dunces by their teachers.
‘You’ll never amount to anything,’ they were told.
Watt invented steam power, Edison invented the electric light-bulb among many other things.
Watt was a major player in the Industrial Revolution. And we’d still be in the dark without Eddy…
Henry Ford was also ridiculed when he produced his first Model T car in 1896.
‘Get yourself a horse!’ yelled the crowd mockingly when the spluttering vehicle was first introduced to the public. He went on to build them by the million.
Sir Alex Ferguson, having been fired by St Mirren, was told by a tribunal chairman: ‘You have none of the qualities required to be a successful football manager.’
He became the greatest of all time.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…
ALLEGED comedian Steve Coogan worries about how his daughter will view him when she grows up. ‘But I don’t mind if she thinks I’m a prat,’ he says.
Just as well. He is a prat.
I SEE that Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn stole my ‘They think it’s all over’ line yesterday while writing about packed beaches. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery etc etc etc…
Never assume - the golden
rule of real journalism
ONE of the first rules of journalism is: ‘Never assume.’
It’s a lesson drilled into the heads of young reporters from their first day in a newspaper office.
The story used to emphasise the message involved two journalists - one from Reuters, the other from the Daily Express - who covered a visit to Africa by a top UN official.
The Express man had been told the official in question was wearing a white tropical suit.
When an aircraft landed at the far end of the airport, and an imposing figure in a white suit stepped down to be greeted by local worthies, the Expressman rushed to the cable office and wired his story.
The Reuters man, ever cautious, waited to double check that the man in the white suit was, indeed, the official in question.
Turns out he wasn’t. The UN man was killed when his plane crashed in the jungle.
This is why editors all over the world declare ‘Wait till we see what Reuters says’ before giving the nod to big breaking stories.
It is, therefore, with something akin to shame that I report an appalling transgression in one of my blogs. As I worked for Reuters for twelve years, I have absolutely no excuse.
When I reported that my book, Blood and Fire, was cited in an article in a posh magazine called Portland Monthly, I ASSUMED that the said mag was based in Portland, Maine, that being the state where Sir Harry Oakes (the subject of the book) was born in the 1870s.
In fact, the Portland Monthly is based in Portland, OREGON, 3,000 miles away from Maine on the Pacific coast, a city ten times bigger than its Maine counterpart, and considered one of the most desirable places to live in America.
The Portland Monthly reports on arts and culture in this beautiful city, and is read by intellectuals, artists, writers and other notables the full length of Oregon’s lovely coastline. Naturally, and inevitably, my book was featured in the ‘culture’ section.
Having spent half a century in journalism double-checking the facts, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ’t’, I feel duly humbled in offering a heartfelt apology for this lapse, and seek your indulgence by explaining that I’m nearly seventy-seven and not half as sharp as I used to be.
What would my old chief sub Stanley Worker have said?
‘We don’t stand for cock-ups like that round ‘ere. Get yer bloody ‘ead on straight. One more like that, and you’re out the bloody door!’
The Intro kings
IN Caxton’s day, when I started out in journalism, the ‘intro’ was everything.
Grabbing the reader in the first paragraph was the aim of every young reporter.
Doing so wittily, or just plain brilliantly, was the mark of any journalist worth his press card.
Naturally, we studied the giants of the game in the hope that some of their dazzle would rub off on us.
Even today, sixty years on, two intros stand out as peerless examples of the genre.
One was in Frank Keating’s ‘prelim’ for the Ali-Richard Dunn world heavyweight title fight in Munich in 1976.
The other was Vincent Mulchrone’s piece on the morning of the World Cup Final in 1966.
Frank, of The Guardian, wrote (and this is from memory):
‘Today, at the Olympiahalle in Munich, Muhammad Ali of Louisville, Kentucky, the World, the Universe, faces Richard Dunn, of Number 2, Undercliff Terrace, Old Road, Bradford.’
In one sentence, Frank summed up the vast gulf in class between the champion and his rugged challenger from Yorkshire.
I happened to be covering the same fight. Like the entire press corps, I was asking myself: Why didn’t I think of that?’
Mulchrone, of the Daily Mail, wouldn’t get away with his World Cup intro in these politically correct times.
‘It would be the supreme irony if Germany were to beat us at our national game today after we’d twice beaten them at theirs,’ he wrote.
Frank, one of the great sportswriters of his era, always wanted to be a local newspaper editor.
Instead, he got sidelined covering sport all over the world.
Though he was as straight as a plumbline, Frank called everyone ‘Darling’.
‘Frank is not gay, he’s merely fey,’ I was informed by a fellow sports hack.
Lovely guy. Lovely days.
'Hi Champ!' cried the little
guy in a green trouser suit
WHILE on the extremely touchy subject of homosexuality (no pun intended) I well remember standing in The Felt Forum in New York watching Ali work out in preparation for his fight with Ken Norton (or was it Earnie Shavers?} in 1976-7 or thereabouts.
Suddenly, the gym doors burst open and in strode a cocky little black guy wearing a lime green trouser suit with a matching beret and a lovely designer shoulder bag.
‘Hi champ!’ he yelled at Ali, as The Greatest bounced round the ring on his toes, zapping out straight lefts at an imaginary foe.
‘Hi champ!’ Ali yelled back, barely breaking his rhythm as he did his famous shuffle and delivered a flurry of upper-cuts into thin air.
‘Who’s the fruit?’ I asked Mike Katz of The New York Times, who happened to be standing alongside me at the time.
‘Don’t let him hear you say that…’ he said, ‘He killed the last guy who called him a queer.’
And so he did.
Emile Griffith, world champion at three different weights, beat Benny Paret so badly in the ring that he died of his injuries. In the run-up to the fight, Paret had been fluttering his eyelashes at Griffith and blowing kisses.
Not a good idea.
BTW, Griffith - great fighter that he was - WAS a homosexual at a time when gay fighters kept quiet about their proclivities. He died in New York in 2013.
70,000 words and still hammering away
YESTERDAY I turned out 3,500 words of my new book, something close to a daily record.
I’m now over the 70,000 words mark, filling an astonishing 190 pages.
My target was originally 140,000 words, but I think it will now be nearer 120,000. With all the other gubbins that goes into books - author’s bio, bibliography, list of previous books etc - I reckon the final tally will be roughly 300 pages. Not bad for an old ‘un.
My next project is a book about Cornwall-based writers. Then a book about my life as a boxing writer. Then a novel I’ve been picking at for two years, plus another novel I already have mapped out in my mind.
I just hope I last long enough to get this stuff done. I’ll be bloody disappointed if I don’t.
Upside-down stories and
OLD hacks like me wince at falling standards in journalism.
The evidence piles up every day.
Online editors now lure you into inconsequential stories with headlines that have no relevance to the facts.
‘Piers Morgan destroys Albert Ackroyd in virus bust-up,’ is one example.
‘You’ll be so sad to hear how Brigitte Bardot is living nowadays,’ cries another, before leading you through a morass of promotional information that has nothing at all to do with BB.
‘Phillip Schofield flees studio in guest sneezing drama,’ is a third. Do we care? Doubt it.
Interpersed with this bilge are photographs of vast quantities of orange wax being removed from ears, and a variety of pimple-busting manoeuvres. It’s enough to make you honk in your cornflakes.
My generation of journalists was always taught to ‘grab the reader by the throat’ in the first paragraph.
Nowadays, online journalists write ‘upside down’ stories to lure readers through a maze of advertising.
Worse still are the headlines. Brevity and clarity have no role in the online editor’s rulebook.
Nicola Sturgeon BANS Boris Johnson's Stay Alert slogan in Scotland as his lockdown exit road map descends into shambles with the First Minister again warning that mixed messages will cost lives
Now doesn't that have a short, sharp ring to it? You can’t beat Mail Online for getting straight to the point.
My first chief sub-editor, Stanley Worker, would have chucked it back with a spit and a snarl.
‘Six words max! You know we don’t tolerate crap like that round ‘ere,’ he’d yell.
Mix all this in with the many grammatical abominations and you have a hodge-podge that does grave disservice to the English language.
‘Mr Johnson was sat between two ministers who…’
‘I could of gone to university, but thought…’
Holy mackerel. What are we coming to?
History repeats itself with new tome
RUMMAGING through old cuttings, I came across a 2006 review of my book, Blood and Fire, in The Ottawa Sun, Canada. It was written by ex-colleague Don Ermen, whose intro said: ‘A Brit writing a book in the Bahamas about a dead Canadian. Hmm, how does that happen?’
He went on: ‘It's the first book by veteran British journalist John Marquis. Thirty-six years ago, Marquis was a young reporter in the Bahamas. At a clandestine meeting, he was given significant information about the still unsolved murder of one of the British Empire's richest men.
‘Marquis never forgot about the story but couldn't do anything with the information. Now he's publishing it in a re-examination of the case.’
Don wrote: 'The information confirmed several suspicions about the Oakes murder,' Marquis said. 'It was passed on to me by a much older person who said it was important that it eventually be disclosed. As I was in my 20s at the time, it was felt I would eventually be able to publish what I was told.”
History tends to repeat itself.
Now I’m writing a new book about the Sir Harry Oakes murder case, this one again based on information from a secret source. Called Prime Suspects, it’s expected to be out by Christmas.
Like Hitler, Chump must never
be allowed to happen again
WITH flags flying from our balconies, strangers waving from the street, a chap controlling fly-pasts with a huge bug-like drone, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE-Day in style.
I poured myself a large Scotch mixed with Irish Country Cream and quaffed it merrily while the Queen played yet another blinder with her heartening, uplifting speech to the nation.
As on all these occasions, however, I allowed my mind to imagine - just for a moment - what the Germans must feel on days like this, when we celebrate our victory over the worst tyrant of modern times.
They mark the occasion, of course, because all Europeans welcomed the end of the war, whatever their nationality. But imagine being reminded every year of such a gigantic national folly, when a madman was elected to power and effectively given a mandate to rampage across Europe, leaving millions of innocent victims in his wake.
Every wartime anniversary can be marked in a spirit of jubilation by Britain and its Allies in the sure knowledge that they won a mighty conflict over the forces of evil.
But for seventy-five years, the Germans have been obliged to view proceedings from afar and absorb, yet again, the appalling fact that they set the world ablaze at the cost of millions of lives because they put their faith in an appalling little Austrian with a huge baggage of complexes on his back.
Like Chump, Hitler was pretty much certifiably insane. Yet, like a huge swathe of the American population today, the Germans continued to place their faith in a man who was leading the world to destruction.
Chump has not persecuted Jews, created concentration camps, or murdered millions, but he shares many of Hitler’s dangerous traits, including an absolute belief in the rightness of his cause when all the evidence suggests otherwise.
As coronavirus gives us time to ponder, the conclusion we have to reach is that Chump, like Hitler, is a dreadful phenomenon that must never be allowed to happen again.
‘Following on from your strange names blog, may I be permitted to nominate Tom Katt, a chap I worked with many, many years ago at a laboratory in Colchester. During the summer, he was considered extremely malodorous, thus living up to his ludicrous name. I often wondered if he had a sister called Kitty.’ Laird, Essex
Thirty grand in debt with nothing to show for it
THE best-selling writer John Braine, who produced that excellent novel Room at the Top, was always overly conscious of the fact that he didn’t go to university.
‘It’s alright for people like you,’ he used to moan to his friend Kingsley Amis, ‘You went to college - I didn’t.’
Braine was burdened by not having a degree. He evidently thought a diploma was a form of validation - a tangible recognition of the fact that he had ‘made it.’
Happily, I’ve never shared that view.
My Dad thought it outrageous that I was staying on at school to do my GCE O’levels.
He thought higher education was for toffs, not working class lads like me.
When I turned fifteen, he wanted me out in the workplace, earning my bread.
Only a delegation of my four older brothers persuaded him to see things differently.
As a result, I was allowed to stay on until I was sixteen. But he always thought it an inexcusable indulgence.
However, there was never any talk of university. For him, such fanciful nonsense was beyond the pale. ‘A bloody waste of time,’ he said.
Actually, he was probably right.
Courses that cost up to ten grand a year are turning out dim, unfocused nincompoops. After four years at uni, including a year out for faffing around, many students are no closer to knowing what they want to do in life.
From once being places of high learning, universities are now a good excuse for not squaring up to life.
Bums on seats are the name of the game, with vice-chancellors raking in up £450,000 a year for running fifth-rate institutions.
One, whose college is 125th out of 130 in the league table of excellence, drives around in a Bentley and has an ocean-going yacht.
He’s okay, mate, but many of his students are thirty grand in debt with little to show for it.
Bring back apprenticeships. They produce proper professionals, not dreamy wannabes.
to poor old Nita Nutt?
HAVING been blessed with a fantastic name - John McLeod Marquis, no less - I’ve always spared a thought for those who were not so lucky.
At school, I encountered three fellow pupils - Archibald Stone, Nita Nutt and Teresa Fukovska - whose monikers were almost too big a burden to bear.
And at work, I once encountered a chap called Delwyn Swingewood, whose byline - along with those of Hector McSporran, Kevan Blackadder and Alastair McAllister - went down in journalistic folklore.
I’ve often thought that people’s jobs tend to fit their names, or vice versa.
For instance, Giles Clotworthy could only have been a leading official with the National Trust.
And Arthur Scargill was destined for trade union leadership from birth.
But what about poor old Albert Uren of Penzance? Sanitary inspector, perhaps?
Or John Cock from Helston? Let’s not go there.
My maths teacher, F.L.Turner - known as Flit - had great difficulty with the letter ‘R’, which he always pronounced ‘W’, much to the amusement of his pupils.
He therefore disliked - thoroughly - any boy with more than one ‘R’ in his name.
Geoffrey Drew and Christopher Trunkfield were particular targets, along with Roger Lorimer and Laurie Barrowfield.
His most heartfelt antipathy was, however, reserved for Rory Bradbury-McGrory, a posh but unruly kid from what we council estate louts called ‘the private houses.’
‘Bwadbuwy-McGworwy!’ Flit would yell across the room, ‘Pay attention boy!’
Our laughter, I’m told, could be heard in Leicester, a full four miles away.
Any advance on these priceless monikers? Postcards, please, to etc etc etc.
and ridiculously wrong
FOR some years now - seventy, to be exact - I’ve considered myself to be an extremely perceptive person who rarely gets things wrong. It’s something I like to think I picked up from my Dad, who could sum up situations - and people - with pinpoint accuracy.
My wife, naturally, thinks I am utterly delusional, but I have strong evidence to back my case. For instance, in 1981, long before he was exposed, I told colleagues that Jimmy Savile was a gangster and a pervert. They didn’t believe me.
I also told them that ‘manly hunk’ actor Rock Hudson was known in Hollywood as ‘Frock’ Hudson and had a taste for ‘young blond men with soft moustaches.’ They didn’t believe me.
There was, however, one occasion when I was spectacularly, resoundingly and ridiculously wrong.
And I paid the price for my misguided arrogance.
It was way back in 1969, when Rupert Murdoch was in the process of buying The Sun from Hugh Cudlipp’s IPC empire.
This coincided with my return from the Bahamas, and I was door-locking round Fleet Street looking for a job.
Though I had no desire to be a tabloid hack, I applied to The Sun under the mistaken impression that it would continue life as a mid-market broadsheet.
During my interview, an executive called Douglas Russell Henry - or was it Henry Russell Douglas? - told me they planned to turn the paper into a tabloid to ‘take on the Mirror.’
At the time, the Mirror seemed impregnable, indestructible and immoveable.
‘You haven’t got a chance,’ I said.
Not surprisingly I didn’t get the job. And I was, of course, completely wrong.
The Sun eventually eclipsed The Mirror and became the great tabloid success story of the age.
The day after my Sun debacle, I called into Reuters to see an old mate of mine.
The Overseas Editor, Monty Parrott, said: ‘We liked your file from Nassau. Would you like to join Reuters?’
On balance, I think I got the better deal. After passing Reuters’ notoriously difficult one-day test, I was appointed a sub-editor on the World Desk.
Funny old life, isn’t it?
my boyhood hero
AS Covid-19 deals another savage blow to the newspaper industry, I feel moved to reflect on the good times in publishing, when most households took several journals every day.
During the 1950s, when I was a schoolboy, enough newsprint came through our letterbox every week to build a sizeable bonfire.
Though we were a working class family, and not exactly flush for cash, we took both Leicestershire’s evening papers - the Mercury and Mail - at least one daily (Daily Mirror), four Sundays (News of the World, Sunday Pictorial, The People and the Sunday Post), and so many weeklies that it was hard to keep abreast of them.
My mum bought My Weekly and The People’s Friend, my cousin Albert (who lived with us) bought The Stage, Reveille, Radio Times and TV Times, I had The Topper, The Beano, The Dandy and sometimes The Eagle, and we all read locals like The Leicester Illustrated Chronicle, The Wigston and Oadby Advertiser, The Wigston and Oadby Express and The Leicester Advertiser.
We also took The Weekly News, which sadly passed into history this week when it was closed down by D C Thomson, its Scottish publishers.
In addition to all those, my mum was given The National Geographic Magazine by her employer, plus a posh Leicestershire glossy called The Graphic, while The Oban Times from Scotland was passed on every week by my Auntie Madge.
‘There are more papers in this house than there are in Fleet Street,’ my mum used to say.
It was inevitable, I suppose, that I should become a journalist. Cassandra of the Mirror was my boyhood hero and his column headlined ‘Camden Nights’ remains one of my favourite pieces.
The good old days indeed.
LOOKING BACK...a trawl through the archives
Not So Rich Rewards
AUTHORSHIP has never been the best-paid profession on earth. Impecunious Grub Street toilers have always outnumbered big-earners like E.L.James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, and Harry Potter creator J.K.Rowling.
Even famous writers like Charles Dickens and D.H.Lawrence lamented the pitiful percentages passed on to authors once the middlemen had taken their cut.
Both had an abiding hatred of commercial publishers, rating them as little more than grubby exploiters who did everything in their power to deny writers their fair share of revenues.
It's interesting to note that the only book to earn Lawrence any real money was the self-published Lady Chatterley's Lover, its 1,000 print-run pre-sold to subscribers.
Parsimony, downright dishonesty and moral cowardice were the hallmarks of publishing in those days and rare indeed was the author who could declare himself (or herself) completely satisfied with their lot.
A novelist friend of mine published more than twenty novels in her day, but said she never earned more than £15,000 a year from her labours.
Though published by a mainstream company (a household name, no less) her first edition hardbacks rarely ran to more than 5,000 copies and she was left in charge of promotion and marketing, canvassing support from local newspapers and radio stations.
Their attitude appeared to be: 'We've printed it - now you go out and sell it.'
A teacher I knew who published his first and only novel through a reputable London firm was shocked to discover that they printed only 1,200 copies, 800 of which were sold to pupils at his school, who bought them after reading about his achievement in the local paper.
And the Scottish writer Archie Hind, whose novel The Dear Green Place is probably the best ever written about Glasgow, told me he received only £250 for the book. It won The Guardian's first novel award, but earned nowhere near what he expected from a widely acclaimed work of fiction.
'I was invited down to London, feted at a celebratory lunch, and then quickly forgotten,' he said. When I met him, he was working as a copy-taker on the Aberdeen morning paper, The Press and Journal.
The great American novelist William Faulkner was forced into Hollywood script-writing to make ends meet, his first edition hardbacks rarely topping 2,000 sales.
And the Booker Prize nomineee J.L.Carr was so exasperated by the shortcomings of commercial publishers that he bought back rights on his books and republished them under his own imprint.
Happily, computer technology has now given authors with know-how the opportunity to control the entire publishing process. With e-book and print options, it is possible to publish profitably under your own imprint with no interference from editors and no long delays between acceptance and publication.
So long as you get the marketing and promotion right, and possess the right level of talent, you can create a business off the back of your creative instincts and have full control of your own enterprise.
For me, though, by far the most rewarding aspect of authorship is the feedback you get from readers. Though I have never sold books in enormous numbers, I have received my share of critical acclaim and have the considerable satisfaction of knowing my books are being read and appreciated all over the world.
The best comment came from a customer who bought a book for his 92-year-old half-blind father-in-law. The old chap spent the whole of Christmas reading it from cover-to-cover with the help of a giant magnifying glass.
'It was the first book he'd read all the way through for many, many years,' he said.
I reckon that single comment was worth fifty grand in royalties. All these years on, it still gives me pleasure to think about it.
Paradise Lost - A Story of Decline
DESPERATELY sad to see my old stamping ground - the beautiful Bahamas - brought low by criminals. The murder rate in the capital, Nassau, is now frighteningly high, making it what an American maritime lawyer calls 'the most dangerous cruise destination in the world.'
A city with a population roughly that of Northampton, a British midlands boot and shoe town (roughly 240,000), has this year (2015) recorded 147 killings, with at least three more expected by the New Year.
That puts the Bahamas near the top of the homicide premiership, statistically comparable with a war zone. And all the signs are that things are getting worse.
The prime cause of the mayhem is not hard to identify. A paradise resort which 50 years ago could justifiably claim to be one of the world's truly great locations has suffered a moral collapse since national independence in 1973.
The appalling example set by the late prime minister, Sir Lynden Pindling, and his corrupt Progressive Liberal Party has instilled moral laxity and a huge sense of entitlement into many younger Bahamians. Material gain at all costs is the dominant dynamic in a society in which the Rolex watch is the ultimate status symbol.
Pindling and his cronies were deeply immersed in the cocaine trafficking business in the 1980s when the full effects of rampant amorality were first felt. The so-called 'Father of the Nation' (some father!) was in the pay of Colombian drug barons who, with the government's connivance, used a remote Bahamian island as a cocaine transshipment base. Police and Defence Force officers were implicated in corruption and senior government figures were receiving kickbacks and sexual inducements for help in facilitating the deadly drug trade into the United States.
Since then, drugs and guns have proliferated to such an extent that virtually anyone can buy a handgun for a few dollars, reflecting the insane gun laws of the neighbouring United States. Though unlicensed gun possession is officially illegal in the Bahamas, arms are in abundant supply in the ghettoes, and fatal shootings are so commonplace that they no longer shock readers of the national press, who have come to view random killings as part of the fabric of their lives.
Drug hoodlums engaged in turf wars settle scores with cold-blooded executions in the streets, often in broad daylight, while feral jet-ski operators sexually abuse tourists, schoolkids settle arguments with knives, and drunken bums abound. A city once noted for its quaint colonial charm has now, in parts, taken on an air of Third World dereliction, and the fundamentally gentle Bahamian people have lost their moral bearings, cloaking their failings with a rather tawdry, overblown religiosity promoted by charlatan preachers.
It's clear that many Bahamian professionals can no longer countenance life in a deteriorating society and are seeking opportunities elsewhere. An air of desperation is developing as the PLP - forever incompetent, forever grasping - continues to stagger from crisis to crisis like a Bay Street drunk, still hailing the discredited Pindling as their talisman.
For me, the Bahamas is a place of many happy memories, a colourful, vibrant tropical playground where I cheerfully spent part of my youth in the glorious 1960s and ten of my mature years up to 2009. It gives me no pleasure to record its decline. I'd love to see it magically transformed into what it used to be - but that, I fear, is a forlorn hope.
An entire generation has been reared against a backdrop of rampant venality, with the PLP, in particular, enriching itself at others' expense, and basing its political mission on a toxic mix of racism, intimidation, corruption, cronyism, venom and victimisation, an extension of the goon squad mentality Pindling encouraged when he came to power nearly fifty years ago. As a result, the nation's moral infrastructure has collapsed. Thieving is widespread. Violence, dishonesty and unaccountability are endemic. The legal system is broken. There's hardly a segment of Bahamian life which hasn't been adversely affected by the PLP's poisonous legacy. Worst of all, hope is fading. Fast.
Press In Retreat
BRITAIN'S great regional newspapers were once the most trusted medium in the land. They were the bedrock of local democracy, combining solid, accurate reporting with a campaigning spirit that kept local authorities on their toes.
Titles like The Scotsman, The Glasgow Herald, the Yorkshire Post, the Manchester Evening News, the Birmingham Post and many more were bywords for journalistic diligence and integrity.
Whereas Fleet Street tabloids had always been dodgy on the facts, and the stodgy, self-regarding national broadsheets were heavily influenced by political agendas, the regionals offered more reliable fare - a news, features and comment package unsullied by vested interests which appealed to the entire spectrum of the readership.
Over the last thirty years, a trend triggered by the freesheet revolution of the 1970s combined with the growth of the internet has caused a discernible shift in newspaper priorities. Commercial considerations have been allowed to override editorial objectives, weakening the role of the regional press and marginalising journalists in the process.
Since the 1980s, senior managements have tended to regard journalism - the very purpose of newspapers in times past - as an ancillary discipline which could be diluted and even dispensed with altogether if it served the bottom line.
Senior executives with no feeling for journalism, and no understanding of editorial ethics or requirements, have routinely sought to cull newsrooms when the pressure was on to balance the books. Editors have in many cases been reduced to middle management - mere 'content controllers' or editorial managers - while reporters and sub-editors have increasingly been perceived as no longer affordable luxuries. The results have been catastrophic.
Circulations of newspapers that were once by far the most powerful single medium in their respective areas have been halved and worse, standards have dropped alarmingly, and readers no longer see their once-treasured 'local' as anything other than an optional, and usually a second or third best, news source.
My first newspaper, the Chronicle and Echo in Northampton, was selling 56,000 copies a day when I joined as a cub reporter in 1961. That was in a town of 100,000 souls. Even allowing for its sale in other parts of Northamptonsire, The Chron, as it was affectionately known, enjoyed a staggering level of penetration in local households. Reading it was a nightly ritual. Its words were imbibed voraciously by a public that trusted its accuracy and objectivity.
There were no raffish tabloid excesses in The Chron and none of the pomposity and exclusivity suggested by the London broadsheets. It may not have been a razzle-dazzle paper full of celebrity trash and sensational disclosures, but it took its role seriously and its journalists were made to feel proud of their profession. Accuracy, integrity and diligence underscored everything we did.
Today, The Chron is no longer an evening paper. It was converted into a weekly. Its once revered sister weekly, the Mercury and Herald, reputed to be the oldest title in the land, was closed down earlier this year (2015), and The Chron's circulation now languishes around the 17,000 mark. State-of-the-art offices built in the 1970s in anticipation of an ever-rising circulation have now been demolished to make way for a discount store. Though Northampton's population doubled in forty years, The Chron's circulation fell into a hole. The newcomers were simply not interested.
This tale of woe has been replicated across the land. The journalists' website, Holdthefrontpage, is full of bitter recrimination over senior managements' poor handling of the deepening crisis in the regional press. Titles are being phased out at an alarming rate, while staffs at surviving papers are being squeezed without mercy. Local weeklies are so stretched that they are encouraging what in managementspeak is known as User Generated Content - in other words, sub-standard, amateurish tripe produced by deluded wannabes. Foggy photos, soggy syntax and piltdown prose are the sorry consequence of this misguided policy.
The big question hanging over the regional press is: Can the digital product generate sufficient revenue to make the operation viable? As print squares up to the possibility - no, the likelihood - of extinction, readers are forced to contemplate not just a future without newspapers, but the loss of a centuries-old institution that traditionally championed their cause against those who would love to silence the free press in pursuit of their own interests.
Not a heartening scenario.
The worst PM of all
A reader of roughly my age wrote to a London newspaper this week describing Tony Blair as the worst British prime minister of his lifetime.
In 70 years, he said, no other premier had managed to eclipse the grinning loon for sheer, unadulterated ineptitude.
I would go beyond that and state, without equivocation, that Blair is the worst PM of all 53 to date, and that his strutting, arrogant ex-sidekick Gordon Brown runs him a close second.
It's true that the pathetic Lord North is usually cited as the worst PM for presiding over the loss of the American colonies.
But Blair trumped North's ace by lighting a bonfire under the Middle East, taking Britain into an illegal war, and - most heinous of all - opening the immigration sluice gates to create the worst case of cultural pollution ever suffered by the British Isles.
Because of Blair's declared mission to 'rub the noses' of the British in multiculturalism, we now have 58 sharia courts in the land unabashedly undermining Britain's legal system.
Worse still, we have pockets of jihadism hell-bent on creating terror and havoc throughout the land, not to mention a massive upsurge in knife crime in inner city neighbourhoods.
When Blair was voted in as PM in 1997, he looked like a choirboy on a man's mission - a wide-eyed dope with a zip-on grin who resembled Bambi the comic fawn.
Now he looks old, haunted, drawn and grey. And no wonder. His insane alliance with George 'Dubya' Bush, America's worst-ever president, led to the deaths of hundreds of British soldiers and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians. It's hard to believe he gets any sleep.
Yet still the vacuous, delusional Blair traverses the globe telling others what they should be doing to solve the problems he helped to create.
Since leaving Downing Street, he has transmogrified from hopeless PM to messianic God botherer in one leap, apparently hoping to utilise his spirituality to distance himself from the havoc left in his wake.
Blair is the worst self-inflicted wound Britain has suffered in three centuries. What's more, I believe he is almost certainly the most hated figure in British politics, and with good reason.
The one favour he could do for all of us is to retreat from public view and spend the rest of his days quietly building his property portfolio.
What we don't need are the know-all proclamations of a proven fool who also happens to be the most discredited British politician of modern times.
Trump the Chump
When Barack Obama was elected US president I suggested that the States had, at last, come of age.
If Donald Trump finds his way into the White House, it will have entered its second childhood without any intervening period of maturity.
Trump is living proof that you can become a multi-billionaire without having too much going on upstairs.
There is never a moment when you could mistake The Donald for an intellectual powerhouse with oodles of sound judgment and commonsense.
His political demeanour is that of a bar-room bigot who talks in slogans and finds it hard to formulate more than one cogent thought at any given time.
Suggesting that all muslims should be barred from entering the States, at least temporarily, is the kind of argument you would expect from Joe Dope after ten pints of Newcastle Brown in the back bar at the Star and Garter.
In an immigrant society like America, being denied entry on religious grounds would cut right across the constitution. The nation was created by refugees from religious and political persecution. To eschew the notion of religious freedom is simply not an option in a land where God in all his incarnations continues to count for something.
Even so, there is a sliver of logic in Trump's argument that is markedly absent from the European position, which allows a mass invasion of immigrants whose objectives are not always in our national interests.
That's why Trump's views find traction among the slow-thinkers of America's old redneck hinterland. He speaks the kind of language those of uncertain cerebral prowess can absorb without too much cranial discomfort.
Thus, Trump the Chump is running away with the Republican leadership race while Europe's dithering, dissembling leaders earn their electorates' eternal contempt.
Tried and Found Wanting
It seems astonishing to me that there are still campaigners out there calling for a return to the old selective grammar school system.
Grammar schools, you will recall, were promoted after the war as a sop to battle-hardened heroes who were tired of their children being denied a proper education.
It was the establishment's cack-handed means of moving, in a very limited way, towards a more egalitarian society and saying thank-you to the lower orders who had saved the nation from tyranny twice in half a century.
The Eleven-plus exam devised to facilitate the selection process was a one-day IQ test designed to identify those who were good at passing exams and little else. It was the brainchild of a fraudster and charlatan called Cyril Burt, who was later exposed for faking research and fabricating his findings.
The exam took no account of talent, personality or character, ignored the pupil's classwork record, and carried a 30 per cent margin of error which meant that significant numbers chosen for grammar school places were blithering idiots. Worst of all, the exam consigned 85 per cent of the school population to an inferior system devised specifically to produce farmhands and factory fodder.
The establishment were not concerned about the monumental injustice involved because grammar schools were never intended to undermine the status quo, merely to salve upper-class consciences. There was no way the Grosvenors, Cavendishes, Cecils, Pyms and Churchills were going to send their offspring to these repositories for low-born nerds. They were simply a means of allowing a smattering of moderately bright proletarian kids to sneak their way into white-collar employment.
Hence, the average grammar school product was a minor civil servant, a certified accountant, a junior banker, a primary school teacher, or a small town solicitor. They were never intended to pull up roots on the national or international stage, merely to keep things ticking over in Nether Uppington.
Quite apart from the fact that it wrecked millions of lives, the Eleven-plus also stood condemned for facilitating the innate deficiencies of the teaching profession. Predictably, the examiners' error quotient was disturbingly high, and 'borderline' pupils were selected on a class rather than ability basis.
Anyone who believes such a system serves the nation's best interests needs urgent psychiatric help.
Boris the Buffoon
I have long contended that Britain, more specifically England, is a nation of serfs. The people no longer wear smocks, or carry pitchforks as a matter of course, or even chew straw, but serfdom is ingrained in their souls.
There must be some reason why someone like Boris Johnson, the blond buffoon, is seen by some as a future prime minister. As it clearly has nothing to do with ability, we must assume it's something to do with perceptions of superiority, that he is somehow viewed as a natural leader by virtue of his background and connections.
Certainly Boris and his kind are schooled to believe they are the chosen ones, that their Eton-Oxbridge background gives them preferment over lesser types. But what does it say about Britain in the second decade of the 21st century that its people are prepared to go along with it?
It suggests, surely, that there is still a national instinct to touch forelocks rather than kick fat political backsides.
For the entire seven decades I've been around, the British political spectrum has been polarised. It's almost always been a choice between a Bullingdon-style buffoon or a rat-faced Leftie, the kind so amply personified by the hapless Jeremy Corbyn.
There has never been anyone to represent people like me - the great swathe of intelligent humanity occupying the middle ground.
In the early 1960s, when Harold Macmillan quit as prime minister in the wake of the Profumo scandal, he considered it inconceivable that his successor to the Tory leadership could be anyone other than an Old Etonian or an Old Harrovian.
As a result, Britain was blessed for a year by Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, formerly Lord Home, a very likeable fellow with an unusual face who occupied Downing Street without having a clue what the job entailed.
He admitted that he used matchsticks to count up to ten, had little by way of charisma, and had less leadership potential than the popular comic Arthur Askey, but there he was - a little apologetically - occupying the highest political post in the land.
The Daily Mirror, querying his appointment, dubbed him 'The Faceless Earl', a reference to his lack of defining features. Most people shared the paper's bewilderment that such a nondescript individual should, in theory at least, be the most powerful figure in Britain.
Since then, the premiership has gone almost exclusively to Oxbridge products (James Callaghan, John Major and Gordon Brown were the exceptions) not on the basis of their allegedly superior ability, but on the populace's mute acceptance that this is the way it's supposed to be in a country still riven by class distinction.
Ideally, 21st century Britain ought to be led by a strong, highly intelligent, self-made man (or woman) with a track record of solid achievement in the world outside Westminster, but society is configured in such a way that this will never come to pass.
The higher reaches of the political class are occupied by career politicians - mostly from privileged backgrounds - with little or no real-life experience and a huge sense of entitlement based purely on their social positions. The higher levels of private education are intended to perpetuate this system to everyone else's detriment.
Boris, I suppose, partially escapes this blanket condemnation by virtue of his sense of humour. As a rotund pratfall clown capable of an occasional colourful phrase, topped off with an unruly blond Worzel Gummidge mop, he possesses a showbiz quality that others lack. 'Boris is a bit of a laugh,' is the general consensus.
But that merely makes him a good bet to top the bill at the Hackney Empire, not to occupy Number Ten.
The London log-rollers
The magazine Private Eye delights in casting an unforgiving eye on London's back-scratching literary scene. Critical favours are bestowed so lavishly on the undeserving - usually on the basis of close friendship or professional connections - that it seems many reviews are, at best, unreliable, and, at worst, extremely misleading.
Viewed uncharitably, it could be argued that much of the reviewing in the posh papers and magazines is little more than a gigantic deceit devised to bamboozle the public into buying books which have a good deal less merit than they had been led to expect.
Plaudits are bestowed not because a book is any good, but because its author is an ex-colleague, a regular dinner party guest, a fellow academic or someone who shares the same publisher as the reviewer.
Private Eye calls it log-rolling. Most of us would call it fraud or something very similar.
Supposedly, a standard principle in the reviewing business is to declare an interest if the critic is in any way connected to his/her subject. I've been praised - and criticised - by associates, and have generally accepted both with good grace. In every instance, their links, however tenuous, have been disclosed.
But there's a huge difference between an occasional kind (or critical) word and log-rolling on an industrial scale which undermines the integrity of the entire reviewing process.
The London literary scene does, of course, have form when it comes to favouring its own to the detriment of accomplished, often super-talented, outsiders. D.H.Lawrence suffered his share of metropolitan condescension, as did James Hanley and, to a lesser extent, Alan Sillitoe. Poor old Colin Wilson, probably the most prolific writer of his generation, was subjected to endless mockery/abuse/venom because he was seen as a proletarian outsider.
My late friend Jean Stubbs, a respected novelist with a considerable following in the UK and USA, always said she would have commanded far more space on the books pages had she lived in Islington rather than West Cornwall.
The one major consolation for those who find themselves on the outside looking in is that the London literary hothouse rarely produces anyone of lasting worth.
The first rank, as always, tends to come from the boondocks, as per Lawrence, Hardy, Joyce, Bennett, the Brontes and, of course, Shakespeare.
Try as the London critics do to garland their friends with greatness, posterity almost invariably rules against them.
Enemies of Freedom
There was a time when university students embraced the cause of freedom in all its forms. The great American journalist H.L.Mencken enjoyed the support of his younger readers when he was fighting for freedom of expression in the courts.
If fresh, young, able minds fall in with society's oppressors, then we are doomed. Freedom is supposed to be what youth is all about.
That's why three stories in the British press in recent months have caused such disquiet.
The first was a call from students for feminist activist Germaine Greer to be barred from speaking at a leadng university because a remark she made about transgender people was deemed unacceptable.
The second concerned a proposed ban on the historian David Starkey for another 'unacceptable' transgression along similar lines.
The third was a call from Oxford students to tear down a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the great coloniser who gave the old Rhodesia its name, because his monumental presence in a public place is rated 'incompatible' with modern thinking.
What links these three assaults on free thinking? The detestable creed of political correctness, which is intruding on our everyday liberty at an alarming rate.
Young 'liberal' intellectuals - actually, there is nothing truly liberal about them at all - believe Greer, Starkey and Rhodes, by their very presence, are an affront to the designer causes they support.
When it comes to ethnicity, gender discrimination and homosexuality, the spotty campus campaigners are evangelical in their enthusiasm, holding aloft their piety and sanctimony like battle banners.
They are a good deal less concerned about the elderly and the working class, whom they despise, but show them a black transexual under attack from 'conventional' thinkers and they are orgasmic in their condemnation.
Faux, selective compassion is all the rage among undergraduates nowadays. It makes them feel good about themselves. They see their role as life's fearless campaigners for gender equality, cultural diversity and other right-on causes close to their hearts.
So fervent are they in proclaiming their passions that they want to deny free speech to dissenters. You would have thought these young oracles, with their sheaves of O levels, A levels and assorted diplomas, would have learned enough history to know that this kind of bigotry and bombast went out of fashion a couple of centuries ago.
Their nauseating self-righteousness is not only thoroughly distasteful, it is downright dangerous when used to curb free speech.
Memo to the student hordes: Grow up, get a life and bone up on history. You'll find that your warped thinking is hopelessly out of tune with what we as a people stand for.
Mafia of the Mediocre
There are few certainties in life. But one I discovered during half a century in newspapers is irrefutable: politicians are, at best, third-rate people.
Whatever their level - and I've covered the lot from parish councillors to parliamentary divas - they are, with few exceptions, self-serving, dishonest, hypocritical windbags who are in the business for self-aggrandisement, personal gain, and little else.
Unduly harsh? Very well. Ask yourself this question, whether you be thirty, forty, fifty or ninety-five. Which politician in your lifetime, or whose life you've studied, can you point to and say: there's a person I admire without reservation.
Not easy, is it? Of course, you could pick Winston Churchill for his undoubted wartime achievements. You might single out Clement Attlee for leading the most effective British government of the post-war era. You could even select Enoch Powell, whose intellect was unmatched by any other parliamentarian.
If you're so inclined - though I'm not - you might select Margaret Thatcher as a stand-out leader for her handling of the trade unions and her bold Falklands adventure.
But even these outwardly impressive figures had their flaws. Had there been no war, Churchill would have gone down in history as a resounding failure. After three years in power, the Iron Lady was rusting so badly round the rivets that her party eventually sent her, unceremoniously, to the scrappers' yard.
Only Attlee - uncharismatic, charmless, nondescript and taciturn - stands up to close scrutiny because he was a man of vision who had the personal wherewithal to see his mission through. He led a government of exceptionally able, and unstintingly individualistic, ministers in a six-year administration that put Britain back on its feet after two decades marked by depression and warfare.
These apart, where are those in contention for first or even second rank status? Consider the prime ministerial candidates alone from recent times and you get some idea of the paucity of the prowess on offer.
Anthony Eden was incompetent and error-prone. Harold Macmillan was complacent, patrician and useless. Alec Douglas-Home was ineffectual and way out of his depth. Harold Wilson was a self-serving snake. James Callaghan was, by his own admission, a walking disaster. Edward Heath was an enigmatic, sexually ambiguous oddity. John Major was a grey-faced bungler. Tony Blair was superficiality personified, a vacuous chancer. Gordon Brown was an unelected non-event. And poor old David Cameron is so impressionable that be bears the imprint of all those who sit on him.
Still not convinced? Then take a look at the House of Lords. This palace of snoring, snorting, flatulent time-servers contains no fewer than SEVEN convicted criminals. I daresay unconvicted criminals account for at least four hundred more. Each collecting an untaxed £300 a day just for turning up for work, this assemblage of overfed idlers is an extravagance the British public can do without.
Over the years, parliament has been blessed with more than a smattering of thieves, fornicators, child molesters, conmen, fraudsters, tax dodgers and others of questionable antecedents. This forum of posh chancers and opportunistic barrow-boys has but one objective: to live well off Britain's hard-pressed contemptibles. In other words, you, me and Joe Dope down the street.
An ex-colleague who worked for some years as a lobby correspondent told me: 'What's truly amazing is that many peers and MPs think Westminster is the whole world and that they, the chosen ones, are more important than all around them.'
Having never held down proper jobs in the real world, and cosily ensconced in secure five-year contracts, most politicians are blissfully unaware of the everyday trials facing those who voted them to power. Feather-bedded by generous expenses, bolstered by good index-linked pensions, they feel entitled to lord it over those who struggle from day to day, with ne'er a thought for what they like to call 'ordinary' people.
Oliver Cromwell sussed out politicians four centuries ago. 'Be gone with you!' he said, or words to that effect, 'for all the good you are.'
He knew third-rate losers when he saw them. Parliament was full of them.
End this 'honours' farce
It's been obvious for some years now that the British honours system has nothing to do with honour at all.
Truly gifted people steer clear of it. They don't want to be tainted by association. And with good reason.
As I pointed out earlier, politicians are motivated largely by self-aggrandisement. Politics and pomposity go hand in hand.
They indulge their inclinations by honouring and ennobling those of their own ilk. And they can't avoid exposing their own tawdry principles (what principles?) when handing out gongs to those who reflect their own world view.
Thus, this year we have major honours going to a political 'fixer', a sex chain proprietress and an ageing actress whose close pals once included the vicious Kray Twins.
For the last century, at least, wide boys, shysters and other low-life have been able to buy titles - including peerages - by making hefty party donations.
Lloyd George started it. Harold Wilson perpetuated it. Under New Labour, any number of bling-laden hustlers were queueing up to buy titles like satsumas off a fruit stall.
No wonder politicians are held in contempt. They not only lack principles, they lack dignity and decorum. Their cynical exloitation of the honours system besmirches the names of all those associated with it.
It's time to bring the whole sorry farce to an end.
Genius with a tickling stick
If ever you needed to expose the British honours system for what it is - a sorry sham dedicated to glorifying the mediocre - you need only to utter two words: Ken Dodd.
Dodd is much more than a stand-up comic. He is a genius, and I do not use the term lightly.
Geniuses are people who do things others can't do. They are exceptional. They are adored by their peers, because only those engaged in the same business can truly appreciate the depths and range of their talent.
Anyone who had the pleasure of seeing Dodd perform on TV to a celebrity audience on New Year's Day will, if they have any critical credibility at all, have to conclude that they were witnessing the comedic gift at its most sublime.
Contemporary comics like Michael MacIntyre, Chris Rock and Kevin Bridges are excellent, truly funny men with huge talent who make people laugh across the globe.
But, alongside Dodd, they are merely the sorcerer's apprentices, striplings dwarfed by a superior being. Had they been in the audience when Dodd mesmerised an auditorium full of showbiz figures, they would have concluded what the rest of us already know: that, good as they are, they will never ascend to the same stratosphere of hilarity as Ken Dodd.
All of which begs the question: why hasn't Dodd been granted the highest honours in the land? Why isn't he Sir Ken Dodd or Lord Dodd of Knotty Ash? Why are relative nonentities honoured and ennobled when true greats like Dodd are ignored?
It's true the inimitable Ken had a brush with the taxman some years back, but that is no reason for failing to acknowledge the greatest British comedy talent of modern times.
It's the omission of people like Dodd that shows the honours list up for what it is - mediocre people bestowing 'greatness' upon other mediocre people in the hope that their mediocrity will eventually be seen as something more than it is.
But it won't. Genius is genius, a gift well beyond the norm that makes the rest of us gasp at the sheer magnificence of natural talent at its most wondrous and sublime.
Ken Dodd is a singular human being with an awesome, incomparable gift.
Failure to make him Sir Ken merely justifies what Jonathan Swift always said: When a true genius appears in this world, you shall know him by this sign: all the dunces will join in confederacy against him.
Dodd deserves better. If lesser men like Stephen Fry are national treasures, then Dodd is The Crown Jewels of Comedy and ought to be treated as such. He is a breathtakingly brilliant man who needs to be recognised for what he is: a genius with tickling sticks and buck-toothed smile whose scintillating professionalism deserves the highest recognition we, as a nation, can offer.
On the other hand, you could argue that he's too good to be tarnished by the whole sorry charade.
And the mayhem goes on...
Four more shootings over the New Year period show that Nassau, the Bahamas capital, looks set to reinforce its reputation as one of the most murderous cities in the Americas in 2016.
This once quaint, pink-washed colonial paradise is now plagued by gun crime, with a murder rate TEN TIMES higher than that of the United States.
With 148 recorded homicides in 2015, the Bahamas is statistically even worse than Detroit and New Orleans, the US's most dangerous cities.
For the Bahamas, once justifiably rated one of the most alluring tourist destinations on earth, the killings are bad news socially and economically.
With no oil and no soil, the gorgeous island chain relies heavily on tourism and foreign investment to survive. With incomparable turquoise sea water, talcum powder beaches and year-round sunshine, the Bahamas has always been everyone's idea of paradise.
But gun and knife crime has turned Nassau into a killing field, with drug gangs engaged in ongoing turf wars and feral youths blowing away rivals with reckless disregard for the law.
Two murders over the Christmas period were sparked by everyday arguments - one over a bottle of brandy, the other over a jar of mayonnaise. One dodgy look, or one wrong word, in Nassau can earn you a bullet in the brain.
A Nassau teacher told me once that many young Bahamians - especially those from ghetto areas - are so resigned to the crime going on around them that they do not expect to reach their thirtieth birthdays.
Disregard for life is driven by growing resentment over a widening gap between haves and have-nots, with Nassau's political class doing little to disguise its taste for extravagance and ostentation while the unemployment crisis gets worse.
New Year is traditionally a time for optimism, but few in Nassau are feeling buoyant as the crime situation spins out of control, and free-spending tourists prefer to stay aboard their cruise ships than risk being violated or worse in the streets of the Bahamian capital.
It's a very sad scenario made worse by the staggering incompetence of the government. Where does Nassau go from here? Most law-abiding Bahamians don't even dare to pose the question. This once delightful island nation is heading into uncharted waters.
Maggie? Not so great...
Every week - it seems like every day - someone writes to the British press lauding Margaret Thatcher as a 'great' prime minister.
Maggie, according to her fans, is the leader we need now. Fearless, resolute, outspoken, unshakeable...the one to put EU grandees in their place. What a woman!
I don't share that view.
She certainly did a good job on Arthur Scargill, whose attempted use of union power to hold the nation to ransom was deplored by all except the fools who followed him.
And she was right to drive the Argies out of the Falklands, a soggy sheep farm in the South Atlantic which happened to belong to us.
But after three years, Maggie was on the slide, consumed by hubris and fatally in thrall to her own reputation as a hand-bagging harridan.
The poll tax finally did for her, and her erstwhile supporters in the Tory party (a cabal of weak-chinned former public schoolboys) lost little time in sliding the scimitar into her back once it became clear she was not as indestructible as they thought.
In the end, she was a tearful wreck, betrayed by those who once revered her.
So why did Maggie fall short? One of her great faults was her appalling judgment of character.
She adored the mass murderer General Pinochet, and was besotted by the convicted perjuror Jeffrey Archer.
While most of us would not allow Pinochet or Archer within a mile of our front door, Maggie was consumed by admiration for them. Archer was regarded as a kind of in-house jester and cheerleader noted for chivvying donors into boosting Tory party funds. Pinochet was her idea of a political strongman.
Worse still, she was utterly bedazzled by the creepiest creature on the planet, Jimmy Savile.
So helpless was she in the presence of this cigar-wagging freak that she wanted him knighted.
This is particularly surprising because as early as 1981, two years into her 11-year premiership, it was known in Fleet Street that Savile was a brute and kiddy-fiddler of the worst kind.
That year, I had an interesting exchange with a printer friend who thought the outwardly charitable Savile was a paragon of goodliness, a grinning clown full of fine intentions.
'Isn't he wonderful, the way he does those charity runs for Stoke Mandeville?' he said.
'No, he isn't,' I replied, 'He's a gangster and a pervert - in fact, he's the most disgusting character you could ever imagine. Not only that, he has the deadest, coldest eyes I've ever seen.'
The printer and his colleagues were happy to ingest Savile's carefully cultivated image as a happy-go-lucky do-gooder, and considered my views outrageous. 'That can't be right,' he said.
But I knew what most London journalists knew at the time - that Savile was a ruthless gangster (leader of the Leeds Mafia, who would happily break your legs on Jimmy's say-so) and a sexual pervert who used his fame to entrap vulnerable young girls (and boys, apparently). Not only that, he had a taste for necrophilia and took delight in molesting patients in their hopital beds.
There was nothing this monster would not do to gratify his vile tastes and desires.
Which poses the question: why wasn't Maggie aware of the truth? And why did she champion Savile's cause so religiously? I'm happy to believe she didn't know what he got up to in his spare time, but am left wondering why the nation's leader was so ill-informed about someone she was desperate to decorate with honours.
If she could be so staggeringly naive and impressionable when it came to Savile, whose only saving grace was that he looked exactly what he was, how would she fare among the shifty denizens of international politics?
Well-meaning, maybe, but Maggie Thatcher was far from great.
The Sound of Silence
SO where is the loquacious London feminist lobby when you need it? Hordes of migrant men molest German women in Cologne and I hear not so much as a whimper from the Hampstead and Highgate harridans.
They routinely try to depict men in general as potential rapists and child abusers, and love to indulge their passion for self-pity and martyrdom by characterising women as the oppressed, but where is their outrage now, as Third World wild men run amok in a major European city?
Their resounding silence is easily explained. This particular story does not fit in with their cosy, complacent metropolitan agenda. So the sooner the whole shameful incident can be brushed aside the better for their warped sensibilities.
We are now obliged to endure fanatical muslim academics advocating wife-beating on our college campuses, yet we hear not a word from the feminist bleaters, who routinely berate western men for transgressions far less reprehensible than the medieval domestic attitudes now being actively promoted among our students.
We've heard from another muslim cleric that the gropers' victims had only themselves to blame because they were wearing perfume. For years now, the East London Mosque has had separate entrances for men and women. You would expect the London harpies to be banging on about this night and day, given that it suggests a certain disdain - nay, contempt - for the fair sex. But they say nothing because their absurd notions of multiculturalism and diversity have to be protected at all costs.
Present them with a story about a western man trying to hide his fortune from a gold-digging ex-wife and they will start hyperventilating with rage and indignation.
Show them a story about a mob of middle-eastern thugs groping and violating innocent women and their first instinct is to find excuses - or, worse, do their damndest to pretend it didn't happen.
The BBC and other 'liberal' news organisations have brought shame upon themselves by their tainted reporting of this outrage. They have wilfully sought to conceal salient facts - namely, that this vile mass violation of western womenfolk was directly linked with the relentless invasion of Europe by migrants and refugees from Syria and elsewhere.
They have been joined in this conspiracy of silence by the feminist lobby, who will bore you rigid with their outpourings on 'glass ceilings' in the workplace, and unequal pay for women executives, but remain strangely tongue-tied when it comes to a collision of cultures like the Cologne abomination.
Unless militant feminists are prepared to speak out unequivocally against migrant molesters and foreign religious factions that fail to live up to our standards in their treatment of females, their views on other forms of 'oppression' will count for nothing. A crime against women is a crime against women, whatever the culture and ethnicity of the culprits.
Naivete or insanity?
LET'S get this straight. A muslim fanatic is allowed to advocate wife-beating while lecturing at British colleges while politicians propose banning Donald Trump from our shores for telling the truth. Are these people for real?
Trump may well be an idiot with a disturbingly simplistic view of life, but he poses no threat to our existence and is not intent on undermining our culture.
On the contrary, you could argue that in at least one respect he is a force for good. He has invested millions in a Scottish resort project that will provide jobs in an area that needs them badly.
What kind of mental contortions must politicians go through to ignore the barbarism of religious zealots while demonising a man who merely reminded us of what all intelligent Englishmen already know - that the UK is suffering a serious case of cultural contamination caused by virtually uncontrolled immigration.
Trump might well be a chump, but he looks positively incandescent alongside the dimwits of British politics.
EVEN allowing for a slow news day, TV coverage of David Bowie's death was a tad over the top.
Luvviedom does, of course, tend to overdo these things (nothing like a good cry, darling) but the Bowie tearfest left millions bemused.
For the truth is that Bowie in his many manifestations left at least half the population stone cold.
The uncommitted tended to view him as one of those weirdo pop singers who compensated for his so-so voice with extravagant hair-dos, garish outfits and the kind of lavishly applied make-up usually associated with Billy Smart's Circus.
Most of us never understood - or even cared to - the whole Ziggy Stardust phenomenon (was he related to Alvin, by the way?) and his music simply lacked the depth of appeal to make him a 'great' in the Presley or Beatles mould.
A good test of a pop musician's might is the 'hummability' of his or her tunes. Ask any mature passer-by to hum Presley, Sinatra or The Beatles, and there's a good chance two or three tunes will emerge in short order.
Bowie? Don't think so.
For we 'Children of the Sixties', there was another problem. We regarded all post-1960s music as sub-standard, a poor pastiche of what went before. Bowie was very much of the freakish 1970s, when platform shoes, busby haircuts, kipper ties and flared trousers were in vogue, and when androgyny became hip, cool or whatever other idiotic word was invoked to describe trendiness.
In every area of life, the Seventies tended to try too hard to make an impression, largely because they had the misfortune to follow the Sixties. The result was an explosion of freakishness in all areas of life from fashion to music to art. In retrospect, what seemed fantastic then appears vaguely ridiculous now.
Bowie cornered the weirder extremes of the music market, but flickered by most of us in a blur of scarlet, blue, gold and silver like an exotic bird in flight. We hardly noticed. To call him 'a great artist', as presumably in Picasso, Rembrandt and El Greco, is to risk ridicule and devalue the language. He made an impact on pop music, of course, but so did Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury and Boy George. I don't recall the first two (George is happily still with us) commanding the same level of self-indulgent grief, the same wall-to-wall coverage or the kind of lavish adulation accorded Bowie.
Yes, he was a significant figure in British pop culture, and he did undoubtedly have a large international following, but he did not impress himself upon the national consciousness like The Beatles or, to a lesser extent, the Rolling Stones.
When Paul, Ringo and Mick finally depart this life, stand by for state processions down Whitehall, muffled bells at St Paul's and five minutes silence throughout the land. If Bowie demands such an avalanche of grief, they deserve nothing less than a period of national mourning, with solemn obsequies from on high.
Desperation is creeping in
IF you want a true impression of how things are going in any society, tune into the blogosphere. That's where the people's frustration, exasperation and indignation come through loud and strong.
So it is with the modern day Bahamas, where the corrupt and incompetent Progressive Liberal Party presides over the swift and heartbreaking degeneration of a once great society.
Most Bahamian bloggers express their grievances anonymously. That's because the PLP, ever since it first came to power nearly fifty years ago, has promoted its own interests with a campaign of victimisation and intimidation against all dissenters.
There are still very few PLP opponents in Nassau willing to put their name to anything remotely critical of the government party.
When I was editor of the nation's leading daily newspaper, The Tribune, lambasting the PLP every week with all the venom I could muster, I was frequently told by Bahamians: 'You are doing a great job - but don't say I said so.'
This moral cowardice has been food and drink to the PLP ever since its late leader, Sir Lynden Pindling, took delivery of his first consignment of banknotes from Colombian drug bandits. Pindling was a villain - a Third World shyster who enriched himself at the expense of his own people. He bullied his critics into silence and lorded over them from his mansion on the hill.
When he came to power, Nassau's ghettoes were wholesome communities where black and white could walk in peace and harmony.
Now they are gang-ruled no-go areas where gun law reigns and decent people live in fear. The Pindling legacy is greed, violence, lawlessness and terror. In times past, Nassau was one of the world's great resort cities - now it is sinking into a slough of despond from which it might never emerge.
The bloggers express their despair almost daily as each dawn seems to bring a new horror to light - the latest a terrifying dead-of-night break-in at the home of a respected pastor and his family.
The theme of their agony rarely changes. It is that the PLP, full of self-serving thugs, glories in the good life while the Bahamian people face mounting unemployment and a future virtually bereft of hope.
One wrote: 'If we are ever to rebuild this society, we must get rid of this terrible organisation once and for all.'
He was right, of course. But will it happen? Don't hold your breath while the bully boys continue to frighten Bahamians into silence.
Crazy Palin backs The Chump
IT'S probably the last thing Donald Trump needed - the official endorsement of a woman who sounds like she's been allowed out on day release from the local bin.
Sarah Palin was once described as the most fanciable vice-presidential candidate in US history. Had her brainpower matched her voluptuous charms, she would have carried John McCain to the White House seven years ago.
When the old warhorse asked her to ride shotgun in his charge for the presidency, he thought he was getting Annie Oakley. Unfortunately for him, what he got was Calamity Jane.
Palin is probably the dumbest broad ever to make an impression at the highest level of US politics.
She seems incapable of making it from one end of a sentence to the other without getting lost in a fog of idiocy and incoherence.
She sees herself as an ultra right-wing rabble-rouser, but even the boneheaded rabble of the American South find it hard to get roused by this ranting half-wit.
When she began yelling support for Trump from the platform, she was so embarrassingly puerile that even The Donald himself looked faintly aghast. The guy who, according to her, was going to 'kick ISIS's ass' looked like he wanted to kick her ass instead.
Even the slack-jawed Republican backwoodsmen looking on didn't know what to make of it. Palin was even more ridiculous than Trump's hair-do.
If a Trump-Palin alliance is the best America can come up with, things don't look good for the western world.
Time to get out of Europe
YEARS ago, when I was working overseas, an American friend asked what I thought about a possible United States of Europe.
I replied: 'It will never work. Why? Because Europeans hate one another. The United States of America are united in a common cause. The countries of Europe aren't.'
Of course, they share an interest in defence and security. They benefit from a trade alliance. But when the chips are down, the underlying flaws begin to show.
Fundamentally, no-one trusts the Germans (odd that, isn't it?), no-one likes the French, few like the English, most are contemptuous of the Spanish and Italians, and the Greeks are seen as the kind of people you would not lend a tenner to for fear of never getting it back.
Northern Europe is rigid, regimented, anal retentive and careful with its money. Southern Europe is louche, undisciplined, feckless and profligate. The chasm between Saxon and Latin is hard to bridge, as recent financial crises in Greece and elsewhere have demonstrated all too clearly.
Worse still, the EU, with its unelected overlords and unfathomable bureaucracy, has assumed powers for itself that its 'subject' peoples are reluctant to accept.
When it set out, there was a widely accepted need for a common market, nothing more. In recent years the union has taken on the aura of an all-powerful state whose laws are having an adverse effect on member countries.
The EU's lordly 'we know best' posture on everything from food sell-buy dates to waste disposal is deeply resented.
To cap the lot, Europe is now awash with migrants whose presence has enormous social and economic ramifications.
Before our very eyes, European culture is being deeply undermined, a process exacerbated by the union's insane human rights laws.
As refugees trek from the war-torn Middle East in their millions, Europe's bickering politicians seek in vain for common ground.
Enough is enough. It's time to get out.
Goodbye London as we knew it
FOR eight years in the Seventies and Eighties, I worked as a journalist in London. I enjoyed my time there, though it was never my intention to stay.
Recently, an ex-colleague asked: 'Do you miss it?' The answer was an emphatic: 'No, I don't.'
In my forties, I opted for life in the West Country. My wife and I live at the far end of Cornwall, where the sea, sky and countryside meld into a satisfying, uplifting tableau, freshened by clean sea air. If I were asked to say why I turned my back on he capital, the easiest reply would have been: 'Because it is a sub-standard environment.'
In the Eighties, when I decamped, this assessment would have been influenced by air quality, traffic congestion, general overcrowding and the overall drabness of the urban scene. Anyone who thinks Clapham, Camden and Finchley are the cultural hotspots of the universe (and many do) ought to check in with the nearest shrink. They aren't.
Since then, umpteen more factors have emerged to reinforce my reasoning, the main one being that the self-styled 'world city' is now degenerating into a giant Third World ghetto where even the street beggars and tramps are foreign. On a recent stroll through Whitechapel in East London I could have been excused for thinking I was in downtown Karachi or Islamabad. I saw more beards and burkhas in half an hour than I'd seen in the previous sixty years.
Slave trafficking gangs are now ruling many neighbourhoods. Illegal migrants are packed like salted pilchards into tiny rooms by callous (foreign) landlords, while slavonic incomers have now taken control of prostitution. Gun and knife crime are on the rise and - you've guessed it - much of it is down to our esteemed guests, who have jetted in from some of the world's most dysfunctional, crime-riddled societies, bringing their disgusting behavioural standards with them.
London is no longer a British city with quaint multicultural elements, it is a festering swamp in which all the standards locals hold dear are being cruelly undermined by aliens with no understanding of our culture, and no inclination to find out more.
The extent to which London has been changed, almost beyond recognition, since 2001 is explored in a new book. The author went into the ghettoes and spoke to those who see themselves as the new Londoners, including Rumanian pickpockets, slave traffic victims from Africa, Asian pimps, dope dealers galore and many more who were encouraged to believe that the UK was nirvana. or 'soft touch' if you prefer.
The old, white British communities, including the Cockneys of Bethnal Green and adjoining neighbourhoods, are now in retreat. The whole idea of Cockneyism is dying out. It has about fifteen years to go.
London is not alone, of course, in suffering this cultural contamination. Other cities - notably Leicester and Bradford - are also well on the way to becoming foreign cities on British soil. And all because the unspeakable Blair and his New Labour cronies forced the British to swallow their insane notions of 'multiculturalism', which can now safely be described as ethnic pollution of the worst kind.
Would I live in London now? No, I wouldn't even allow myself to be buried there. And I mean that.
* The book mentioned above is This Is London by Ben Judah.
Holy Moses, can this be true?
SORRY if I offend you church-going folk (are there any left?) but I've always regarded preachermen as a little bit odd. Whenever I hear them pontificating about affairs of the world, I feel an overwhelming desire to yell: Why don't you go out and get a proper job?
So it was this week when a leading Anglican bishop called for fellow clergy to grow beards so as to identify more closely with our muslim friends.
The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, thinks more facial air - he has a few tufts here and there - would help vicars, rectors and the like to 'reach out' - a lovely churchy term - to the islamic hordes.
Chartres's belief is that clergy working in inner city areas, now commonly known as ghettoes, should forsake their double-bladed razors in a drive to look more like God's warriors, Holy Men on a mission. To his way of thinking, adopting the Moses look is a way of appeasing non-Christians. There is something about a beard that gives preachers gravitas. And muslims see beards as symbols of religious commitment and authority.
It's hard to imagine that an ostensibly intelligent man like Chartres can be so idiotic, but his inbuilt absurdity really comes as no surprise to me. There are reasons why grown men become preachers, and first among them is an unwillingness to square up to reality.
The reality is that muslims will be singularly unimpressed by this timorous attempt at conciliation from a frock-wearing infidel. Unless you worship Allah, to the exclusion of all others, you are an outsider in their eyes. Face it.
My first experience of preachers and their inexplicable ways came early in my newspaper career when I was covering the wedding of a lovely old couple in their nineties.
Without provocation, the vicar came over to me and said, his eyes as cold as a gravestone in winter: 'I can't tell you how much I despise you journalists.'
I smiled and walked away, just a trifle perplexed by this unsought tirade, which came, by the way, with the most abrasive burst of halitosis I've ever encountered.
Three weeks later, I picked up a call to the newsdesk. 'Vandals have broken all the stained glass windows in my church. I was wondering if the Chronicle would launch an appeal...' wailed the saintly voice on the other end.
It sounded familiar. 'Are you by any chance the friendly gentleman I had the pleasure of meeting at the old couple's wedding a few weeks back?' I asked.
There was an icy silence, a panicky rustling of robes, a sharp intake of breath, presumably a hasty rearrangement of his clerical cap, a tightening of his dog collar, and then a murmur of shame-induced agony before the phone went click.
The negative impression left by this hypocritical sneak all those years ago was buttressed by Chartres's ridiculous proposal to grow beards in the fight for acceptance among muslims.
No wonder congregation numbers are on the skids. Who would rise from his bed on a wet Sunday to listen to such lunacy? For Christ's sake man up, Richard. God's watching from on high, you know. According to you, anyway.
Murder capital on the Fens
MY earliest boyhood memories of Boston, Lincolnshire, featured its famous 'Stump', a lofty church tower visible for miles across the Fens.
On summer coach trips from the Midlands to the seaside, the Stump was a sign that we were nearing the promised land of toffee apples and candy-floss, helter-skelters and Punch and Judy.
It never occurred to me that this blameless East Anglian community would one day be labelled 'the most murderous town in Britain.'
So what happened? Was there something in the water to turn the minds of the kindly Fenland rustics? Were they transformed into homicidal maniacs by strange mystical forces?
No, the sad truth is that Boston, like several other East Anglian towns, got landed with more than its share of East European migrants. Latvian gangsters are now part of the weft and weave of Fenland life.
Newspaper stories recording the bald statistics made no mention of this sea change in local demographics. It's not PC to link incoming aliens with deteriorating behaviour, yet any decent journalist knows full well that failing to tell the whole story is tantamount to deception.
A few weeks back, the right-on BBC broadcast what purported to be a thoroughly researched documentary into the problem of rising knife crime in London.
At no point in the programme was there a mention of the immigrant community. Yet most intelligent people know full well that knife and cutlass crime is endemic in Africa and the Caribbean, and that these murderous instincts are frequently imported into Britain on the mounting wave of immigration.
Even I, a working journalist for fifty years, now find myself scrolling down to the bottom of national newspaper stories to find out what the bloggers have to say. Their semi-literate scribblings often tell a greater truth than the reporter was permitted to.
Predictably, the Boston murder story drew the required response. 'Has anyone thought to investigate the connection between the rise in unlawful killings and the enormous immigrant community in these parts?' wailed one Bostonian reader.
He has a point, doesn't he?
Getting ready for trouble
TEN or so years ago, Pastor C.B.Moss, whose 'parish' is a large part of Nassau's over-the-hill ghetto, said the Bahamas was about 15 years behind Jamaica when it came to murder and violence.
One day, he said, the military would be called in to support the police in the fight against drug gangs and other criminals on the streets of the nation's capital.
This week's news that the Chinese are providing the Bahamas with $1.3 million worth of riot gear, armoured vehicles and other equipment used in combating civil unrest and growing criminality has upset many thinking Bahamians.
For it suggests that Nassau's appalling murder and crime rate foreshadows even greater troubles ahead - the kind of horrors Jamaica and other Caribbean and African territories have been experiencing for some years now.
The escalation of violence in Nassau over the last five or six years has been accompanied by growing disenchantment with the country's political class.
Worsening crime, unemployment and social problems - plus an overriding perception of incompetence in government - have reduced national morale to the point where desperation is setting in.
In 2012, the utterly useless Progressive Liberal Party blagged their way back into power by promising they had the solution to the crime problem. Like everything else about this shallow, greedy, self-serving organisation, the promises were empty and meaningless.
Now the populace feels the politicians are out of their depth and that lawlessness is reaching crisis level.
The acquisition of armoured cars and anti-riot gear tends to support their beliefs, and underscores Pastor Moss's predictions back in 2005-6.
It's all a long way from the halcyon days of the 1960s, when the Bahamas was the most glorious tropical playground on earth.
Classism's okay - racism isn't
THOUGH I despise almost everything people like David Cameron stand for, I actually quite like our current prime minister.
I don't rate him highly as a premier, and I don't trust the instincts that will have been honed by a lifetime of privilege, but I genuinely believe he means well.
You can't fault his work ethic, and he struggles valiantly to balance his principles against political pragmatism in pursuing the common good.
But I wonder if he was sufficiently self-aware to spot the contradiction when he boldly struck out against racism last week while enrolling his child into a £10,000 per term private school.
Discrimination against ethnic minorities is an absolute no-no among smart, hand-wringing, upper-class metropolitans nowadays.
But it's still okay to be part of a highly discriminatory school system that consigns a sizeable chunk of the white working class to a fifth-rate education.
In 21st century Britain, a person's birth still defines his or her hopes in life. If you're born into Cameron's social sphere, then - dunderhead or not - you are on the gilded road to prosperity.
You'll be cosseted through public school, cosseted through university, cosseted into secure, well-paid employment (courtesy of family connections, of course) and rendered pretty well untouchable by the upper class's protective shield.
If you happen to be born on a sink estate in the north to working class parents, you are - with relatively few exceptions - on the road to nowhere.
According to the warped thinking of the political class, racism is bad, classism's fine. If this weren't the case, our education system would have got better over the years, not worse.
But Cameron and his kind believe in our deeply discriminatory and divisive education system, otherwise they wouldn't allow themselves to be part of it.
Dave, if you really are a nice bloke, explain yourself.
Living in hope for the Blue Boys
LEICESTER CITY are on the verge of writing one of the great sports stories of modern times.
If the modest East Midlands club win the English Premiership this year, they will go down as the greatest giant-killers since David felled Goliath with his sling-shot.
It will be the most amazing upsetting of the odds that bookies can recall - a 5,000-to-one long-shot that will return a cool £25,000 to a fan who had the gall to invest a fiver on their success at the start of the season.
For me, Leicester's fabulous run is doubly - no, quadruply - satisfying, for I first turned out in my blue and white scarf to support City at the old Filbert Street ground in 1952 or thereabouts.
In those grey post-war days, the team was made up of honest toilers like Arthur Rowley, Mal Griffiths, Tom Dryburgh, Johnny Anderson (in goal) and a cheeky chappie called Johnny Morris.
They were angular, raw-boned chaps in massive shinpads and bulbous boots urged on by a flat-capped crowd of working men whose cries of 'Come on the Blue Boys' could be heard from as far as five miles away.
Supporting City over more than half a century is like putting your faith in a cut-price nag that was never quite good enough to carry off the major prizes.
In 132 years of honest endeavour, City have never won the League title and never won the FA Cup. Their history has been marked by minor triumphs like the Second Division championship, and a long string of disappointments, including three cup finals in which they finished second best.
Players have traditionally been a mix of callow youth and past-their-best old hands eager to extend their fading careers by a season or two.
It's much the same today - and that's why their season has been so significant. It has broken the rich clubs' strangehold on a league which, to be frank, was becoming tediously predictable. No-one outside The Big Four was seriously expected to win - and no team costing less than £400 million to assemble was considered good enough to prevail over such a long and arduous season.
By upending the odds, Leicester have done soccer sterling service by proving that a team of driven lovers of the game can crush high-priced mercenaries with an intoxicating mix of passion and flair.
What's more, they've done it in a style that reawakens memories of the beautiful game as it was always intended to be played. When Leicester break in attack, it's exhilarating to watch their front-runners outflanking and outwitting defenders with the pace and grace of antelopes.
They bring back memories of those distant days when Griffiths and Hogg hared down the flanks at Filbert Street, and Arthur Rowley thumped home shots from thirty yards, with me in the stands waving a gigantic blue and white rattle that would today be banned on safety grounds.
Today's Leicester stars move at twice the speed with twice the skill as those old hands of the Fifties, but the spirit of Rowley, Morris, Hogg et al lives on in all of them.
Let's all hope they do it - for football's sake.
Can anyone be US president?
THE rise of Donald Trump, who is most intelligent people's idea of a donkey, gives rise to a very disturbing question.
Can anyone, given the financial backing, and the support of America's dumbheads, become US president, arguably the most important job in the world?
If you want to become editor of a newspaper, head of a law firm, a senior hospital consultant or a top banker, you will require qualifications plus experience. There are no short cuts.
If you want to occupy the White House, you need a big mouth, a gift for speaking in slogans, and an ability for persuading the nation's half-wits to vote for you. Plus, of course, a whole train-load of banknotes.
The author Robert Louis Stevenson said: 'Politics is the only profession for which you require absolutely no qualifications at all.'
Consider previous former presidents, especially over the last half century, and his contention is hard to dispute. You can actually be a dope AND the world's most powerful man.
Gerald Ford, bless him, was widely thought to have taken too many blows to the head during his college football career to be anything else but president.
His physical clumsiness (he was always tripping over his own feet) extended to his lack of intellectual prowess. He was, by all accounts, a slow thinker of uninspiring thoughts.
Ronald Reagan was described by Henry Kissinger as 'an empty jug' at the time of his election - a view compounded by his performance in office, when he fluffed speeches, forgot names and frequently looked bewildered.
For his second term, he was generally considered to be 'out of it', heavily dependent on aides to save face and pull him out of the mire.
George 'Dubya' Bush looked and sounded like an idiot, an impression amply reinforced during his eight years in office, when he fumbled everything he touched.
He was, by common consent, the worst US president of all time. When you looked him in the face, it was evident that there was very little activity between the ears. His eyes betrayed his overall vacuity.
If Trump gets elected, the world will be stuck with another oaf at the helm. This time, however, the results could be truly alarming.
The Donald is not the kind of character who would allow himself to be guided by superior minds. He would insist on doing things his way with all the clod-hopping obstinacy you expect from people with cerebral limitations.
If he's even only half as daft as he sounds, we're all in for a very rocky ride. Personally, I'd rather have Jerry Lewis as president than this irrational ego-maniac.
American friends tell me that even the Republicans, dumb as they are, are unable to stomach Trump and his bombast. They are likely to ditch Donald and his funny haircut well before the people are called upon to choose their next leader. Let's hope they're right.
New book damns Blair
LOOKS like I was right about the odious Tony Blair. A new book by respected investigative journalist Tom Bower confirms that Britain's worst-ever prime minister DID encourage uncontrolled mass migration during his early days in office, leaving the nation at the mercy of Third World aliens with little or no regard for our way of life.
Even senior members of Blair's own party were appalled at his arrogance and high-handedness. They felt he had betrayed everything they stood for.
Bower spoke to more than 200 sources in his quest for the truth about this appalling man and his insane drive to 'rub the noses' of the British in multiculturalism. The mess he left behind can never be cleaned up. The British will still be counting the cost a century from now.
It's astonishing that the Labour Party still has the audacity to seek the public's support, having burdened the nation with the Blairite contagion.
A deeply troubling case
WATCHING the former England and Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson being demonised and crucified on TV every night has been a very disturbing experience.
It's true that Johnson was a fool, risking his £60,000-a-week job for a grope with a teenage girl.
By his own admission, Johnson was 'arrogant', and his record as a serial philanderer does him little credit in the eyes of many.
But if every bloke who ever kissed and fondled a 15-year-old girl were brought before the courts, you'd need to build a hundred or so new prisons to accommodate them.
The phrase that sticks in the craw is the one suggesting he was grooming a 'child', conjuring up images of kiddy-fiddlers messing about with six-year-olds.
The fact is that several European countries - members of the EU - allow sexual congress with 14-year-olds, that being the statutory age of consent. All but a few have placed the threshold between 14 and 16. Until the late Victorian era, Britain's age of consent was 13. In fact, brides of 13 were fairly common during the 19th century.
Nature dictates that girls develop sexual feelings from around 12 to 13 onwards, some even earlier. By 15, in today's permissive climate, most girls are fully sexually aware and often try to look older for all the obvious reasons.
In Johnson's case, the mix was thickened by the fact that the girl was a keen Sunderland fan who idolised him and was keen to be in his company. He was fool enough to allow himself to be tempted by text messages into thinking he was on to a good thing.
Johnson now faces a five-year rap for doing what 95 per cent of blokes of his age would do, given the chance.
I don't feel comfortable about this case, and I suspect millions more share my view.
* Newspapers are reporting today that the girl's lawyers are planning to sue Johnson for a million pounds. Now there's a surprise!
Le Saux shows the way
LET'S face it, the bottom line is that, at the end of the day, few of us are over the moon about cliches.
There's something tired, careworn and tedious about the easy phrase that's past its sell-by date, been there, done that, and bought the tee-shirt.
That's why it's so refreshing to see the ex-player Graeme le Saux brought in as a TV football pundit. This bloke actually speaks good English with an array of adjectives other than 'brilliant', 'great' and 'fabulous'.
He is fluent, articulate and measured in his appraisals and somehow manages to avoid all those awful cliches that deaden the language and numb the brain. What's more, he is not afflicted by the truly awful glottal stop - the most heinous of all linguistic abominations.
Fellow pundits take note. No more 'getting on the end of it', 'putting in a good shift', 'being on the front foot' and 'not getting enough on it'.
The beautiful game deserves beautiful commentary. Like football itself, the English language offers endless opportunities for flair, inventiveness and improvisation. Use them, for soccer's sake.
Blair's startling admission
IT'S interesting to hear that the delusional Tony Blair - the man who bequeathed us the horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq and uncontrolled mass immigration - considers his biggest mistake as PM lay elsewhere,
Misleading the nation into an illegal and costly war, and flooding the country with alien cultures, was no big deal for Blair alongside his decision to approve the Freedom of Information Act - the legislation giving the public a right to know what's being done by politicians in their name.
According to Tom Bower's new book about Blair, this deceitful, narcissistic oaf lambasted himself as 'a naive nincompoop' for allowing this bill to slip through.
It meant, in effect, that politicians could no longer hide their misdeeds from the voters, that the media could demand documents and other information, and that government could no longer bamzoozle the public with disingenuous double talk.
Of course, all of us with long experience in journalism know full well that the biggest threat to free speech generally comes from the Left.
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini notwithstanding, it's the Left that shows most contempt for Voltaire's declaration that he would die for the cause of free speech, even for those whose views he did not share.
As recent events have proved once again, the Left is not only sensitive to opposing views, it wants to scupper attempts to express them. It's not enough to disagree with others, their opponents must be silenced, too.
Blair hates the FOI Act because it exposes uncomfortable truths. Journalists, with their prying instincts, have always been the natural enemy of those with something to hide - and Blair's New Labour had more to hide than most.
Muhammad Ali fights for his life
THINGS are looking bad for Muhammad Ali, the greatest sportsman of all time.
Plagued by Parkinson's Disease for many years, the three times world heavyweight boxing champion is now suffering severe respiratory problems.
His family are rushing to his bedside for what looks like being the toughest struggle of his phenomenal life.
My sympathy for Ali's plight is magnified a hundredfold because I had the immense pleasure of meeting him when he was in his prime.
As a boxing writer, I enjoyed following him round the world for the last seven years of his incredible career.
All sports writers of my generation were united on one point: that Ali was quite simply the ultimate athlete, the unchallenged superstar of the sports arena.
Moreover, he was the most mesmerising personality we had ever met - a true he-man whose mind-blowing genius was matched only by his unique charisma and matinee idol looks.
Whenever anyone asks me to name the most amazing human being I met during my long career in journalism, the name 'Ali' is the instant and unqualified response.
Not only did he excel in the ring, he was also a warm, engaging personality with astonishing wit who could bewitch press conferences with his remarkable word power.
Two hundred or more international scribes, most of them world weary cynics, would sit enthralled as The Champ turned magical phrases and recited his amusing rhymes.
'It's not easy to be humble when you're as great as I am,' he would cry mischievously, a view shared by all.
After the epic 'Thriller in Manila' against Joe Frazier in 1975, Ali climbed out of the ring to write the next day's headline.
'It was like being close to death,' he said.
Today, as he fights for his life, this solemn sentiment seems more poignant than ever.
The Greatest is dead
WOKE up this morning to the news that Muhammad Ali had died during the night. In the dark hours, the light went out on one of the 20th century's most defining figures.
For several years during the 1970s, it was literally true to say that Ali was the most recognisable face on earth.
Though in most people's eyes the greatest sportsman of all time, his influence transcended sport. He was a man of warmth, compassion and wit who championed the cause of mankind, especially those born in poverty and fear.
As a devout muslim, he castigated those who promoted violence in the name of Islam, claiming his religion was all about peace and understanding.
He was also a man of stout principle who refused to serve in the Vietnam War because he couldn't see the sense in shooting people who had done him no harm. He sacrificed three years of his career, having been stripped of his world title for refusing the draft, but went on to win the title a record three times.
Having covered Ali fights in New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Munich and Kuala Lumpur - and attended one of his most memorable press conferences at the Dorchester in London - I feel honoured to have been in his company.
With a metaphorical wink of mischief, he always called himself The Greatest, the kind of boast that in any other context, and from any other man, would have been considered ridiculous.
In Ali's case, it was true - undeniably so.
It was so true that it comes as a shock, even after so many years of illness, to learn that he has gone. Mere mortality never seemed to apply to him. Until now.
But his name, and all it meant to so many, will never die. Not only was he the very best at what he did, he was a force for good, a figure admired and respected by all. His departure leaves humankind diminished. We have lost an exceptional being, an inspirational figure who rose from nothing to be the sporting king of the world.
He gave hope to those born without any. He gave laughter to those who had nothing else to laugh about. He was gifted, conscientious and strong. He had physical and moral courage in abundance. He was humanity at its best.
CHARLES DICKENS - not a fan of publishers
D.H.LAWRENCE - the self-published Lady Chatterley's Lover was the only book to make real money in his lifetime.
WILLIAM FAULKNER - his hardback novels often sold as few as 2,000 copies
THE CULPRIT - Sir Lynden Pindling, late prime minister of the Bahamas.
Bang on, Michael
VETERAN television reporter Michael Buerk was absolutely right to castigate left-wing luvvies for lecturing the rest of us about our responsibiltities towards Middle East 'migrants'.
Privileged members of the so-called 'metropolitan liberal elite' will never feel the direct impact of mass immigration. They can peddle their compassion, and ride the wave of publicity that accompanies their every utterance, without any real regard for the social consequences.
Their jobs will not be under threat. They will not be waiting in endless NHS queues. They will not be living in neighbourhoods engulfed by alien cultures.
Their bleating reminds me of the late writer Christopher Hitchens, who spent much of his career writing of injustices suffered by oppressed people abroad without ever giving much thought to the grotesque inequalities of British society.
Hitchens was a beneficiary of the appalling British education system, which engineers the destiny of countless youngsters at the lower end of the social scale so that they are robbed of any chance of a rewarding future. Meanwhile, those at exclusive fee-paying schools (people like Hitchens, in fact) are on course for every advantage life can offer.
If Hitchens really was the 'bleeding heart' he claimed to be, one wonders why he didn't turn his attention to problems nearer home.
However, the plight of young British working-class whites is not a priority for luvvies and their distorted sensibilities. It is not a 'designer cause' to be flaunted like a Jermyn Street tie or a Gucci handbag. Like the plight of the aged poor, it is deemed unfashionable and therefore unworthy of their involvement.
Far better from a PR standpoint to beat the drum for migrants. It makes the luvvies feel so good about themselves, with endless opportunities for self-congratulation around the dinner tables of Islington and Notting Hill. For lashings of bogus compassion, choose a luvvie every time.
Exam 'stars' blast back
MY provocative piece about grammar schools received a highly predictable response.
Indignant critics from the bottom end of the white collar world were palpitating with rage over what they called my 'sneering' attitude towards selective education.
'You decry the proudest achievement of my life,' wailed a lady from Derbyshire. 'Being able to wear my scarlet blazer and light grey skirt was like winning a national award.'
Several more critics pursued the well-worn 'I wouldn't be where I am today...' line of argument, claiming they were saved from the ignominy of menial employment by the Eleven-plus exam.
One became general secretary of an agricultural organisation, another the deputy chief accountant at a jelly-making establishment. Noble occupations, I'm sure, but hardly the work of an intellectual elite or academic superstars.
One of the most depressing aspects of their replies was the pedestrian tiredness of their prose.
Having spent four years or so at 'grammar' schools, they ought to be able to express their thoughts without resorting to cliches and the kind of commonplace observations that leave the reader with a heavy feeling round the eyes. But they were bereft of originality, falling back on slogans and name-calling.
These grammar school luminaries included an estate agent, an accounts executive, a local government official and a small town solicitor.
I rest my case, m'lud.
No-brainers with firepower
IT'S almost beyond belief, but the people voting for Donald Trump in his drive for The White House are allowed to carry guns, and usually do.
In fact, it is one of Trump's specific missions to ensure they retain the right to possess firearms. In many speeches, he has ridiculed Democrats 'who want to take your guns away.'
The question every sophisticated European will be asking is: Can anyone dumb enough to vote for Trump be trusted to carry a lethal weapon?
The answer is no. That's why America has one of the worst murder rates in the world. That's why, pretty much every day, some loon with a gun goes on the rampage somewhere in America.
If Trump is elected president, stand by for a Dodge City style hoedown in Washington DC, with thigh-slapping backwoodsmen yippeeing in the streets, blasting their fire irons into the air and yelling: 'I ain't got no brain, but I sure know how to use a Buntline Special!'
Terrifying thought, but increasingly likely.
Sex discrimination at LSE
I HAVEN'T yet heard any howls of indignation from the feminist lobby about the muslim society's gala dinner at the London School of Economics, where men and women were separated by a seven-foot high screen.
It's hard to imagine how anything so resoundingly seventh century should be allowed to happen in a sophisticated 21st century society - and especially at a seat of learning where 'progressive' politics is supposed to prevail.
Once again, the foul doctrine of political correctness has over-ridden modern Britain's advocacy of gender equality, but no-one says a word for fear of being labelled racist.
We now learn that muslim workers in an old people's home are refusing to serve bacon butties to residents because it offends their faith. At a British mosque, men flail the skin off their own backs as a graphic demonstration of their devotion to Allah.
An alien, backward culture is attempting to impose itself on our way of life, sweeping aside all we hold dear, and we sit by mutely, allowing our ideals to be subverted by dogma that is as inimical to our way of thinking as bear baiting or dwarf throwing.
It's particularly ironic that this should have happened at the LSE, where gender equality is one of their precious totem causes. I'm left wondering what happened to those poor transgender guests at the gala dinner. Did they have to sit on top of the screen, balancing their meals on their knees, to conform to strict Islamic law?
It's enough to make you weep.
Gone with the wind
A BILLIONAIRE in the Bahamas has been accused of hiring hitmen to dispose of several prominent figures in Nassau, including a politician, a journalist and a lawyer.
This, it is claimed, arose from a long-standing dispute with an equally wealthy neighbour over a major development scheme.
The allegations are outlined in court papers and centre on two criminals who say they were offered money to carry out the 'contracts'.
None of this has yet been proved. The matter is still being investigated by police. But there is something worryingly inevitable about it, only to be expected in modern Bahamian society, which is now being undermined by an alarming rise in violent crime.
It is also claimed that the governing Progressive Liberal Party has been bought off by the said billionaire, who reportedly poured five million dollars into its 2012 election fighting fund.
No-one with knowledge of the PLP will be surprised at this disclosure. A study group predicted recently that the Bahamas would be a failed state in ten years, due largely to the egregious shortcomings of its politicians. Oh, my beautiful Bahamas, where art thou?
Gone with the wind, I fear.
Charity shop culture
IF you want to assess the intellectual health of any locality, walk into the nearest Oxfam bookshop.
If all you see before you are walls of Jeremy Clarksons, gossipy tomes by Piers Morgan, or biographies of Harry Redknapp and Ant and Dec, you know you are in Dumboland.
My Booky Wooky by Russell Brand marks the place down as Chavsville, while Jonathan Ross's biography suggests you could be in Spivtown.
Hats off, then, to the Oxfam bookshop in Shaftesbury, Dorset, where I dropped in the other day during a long drive from Surrey to Cornwall. It was the best bookshop I've been in for some time - a fact underlined by the armful of mighty tomes I carried forth, including a biography of a literary figure called David Garnett, friend of D.H.Lawrence and others.
The place was packed with history, drama, poetry, belles lettres, biographies, autobiographies, literary criticism, monographs and novels of the highest quality. No Dan Brown or Jodi Picoult here. I suspect Fifty Shades of Grey is banned. And don't even mention James Patterson or Wilbur Smith.
I left thinking Shaftesbury is well endowed with residents of high intellect, fine judgment and impeccable taste. I shall return to peruse Oxfam's stock when I'm next passing that way.
Other notable Oxfam bookshops are St Albans in Hertfordshire, Olney in Bucks, Truro and St Ives in Cornwall, and - so I'm told, as I haven't been there - Totnes in Devon.
These oases of culture and calm are among the last refuges for civilised people in a world increasingly populated by miscreants, mediocrities and morons.
If the squint-eyed, brainless rabble of modern Britain ever go on the rampage, destroying all before them, I shall lock myself in an Oxfam bookshop and spend my final moments reading something by John Clare, the Northamptonshire peasant poet. I can't think of a better way to go.
Obama: The Legacy
THOSE of us who hailed the election of Barack Obama as US president eight years ago must now allow ourselves an honest appraisal of our hero.
Was he as good as he was cracked up to be? Did he deliver? In a sense, yes, but inevitably with one or two caveats, the main one being that he appeared less driven and committed in office than he did on the hustings.
Thwarted at every turn by the hate-filled Republicans, and even some members of his own party, Obama did not achieve as much as he wished. His frustration is best measured in his face, now looking at least two decades older than the fresh, eager, idealistic countenance of 2008.
His modest achievements on the health care front, his elimination of Osama bin Laden and his building of bridges with Cuba will probably be rated his most enduring legacies.
But, overall, even his most fervent supporters will probably concede that he was not the president they hoped for, not quite the defining figure he needed to be if expectations were to be fulfilled.
For me, Obama's incumbency will remain notable more for its symbolism than any substantive accomplishment. Not only was he the first black president, he was also - unusually for most tenants of The White House - a man of culture, intelligence and calm, with no sexual or domestic baggage to undermine his image.
Compared with his predecessor, George 'Dubya' Bush, he was a towering intellect, a man of taste who brought no embarrassment to his office.
Compared with his possible successor, Donald Trump, he is the epitome of dignity, judgment and commonsense.
I fear that, in years to come, Obama will be judged to be the last high point in America's presidential history.
From here, it could be downhill all the way, with a wall of ice waiting menacingly at the bottom.
Hold on to your hat.
Fantasies of the Past
IT would be nice if newspapers like the Daily Express would leave us chaps of the 1960s with our most cherished memories of fanciable womenfolk of the time.
Today's photographs of Jane Birkin in New York did no favours for the lady herself or the multitude of men who drooled over her every lissome move half a century ago.
Following on from recent unflattering pictures of Marianne Faithfull, the bird we all wanted to bed in 1965, the snaps of the burly, baggy-trousered Birkin were enough to make us all opt for celibacy after a lifetime of lust.
The Express and Mail are noted for this kind of story - the physical and sartorial decline of erstwhile nymphets whose best days are not so much behind them as part of ancient history.
Lumley, Rigg, Bakewell, Bardot - we've entertained mischievous fantasies about all of them in our time. Now, alas, they've all shed the autumnal delights of Mrs Robinson and entered the cold, unforgiving winter of old age.
Nature doesn't treat women kindly. It makes no allowances for vanity, just erodes beauty like a demented stonemason hacking away at the Venus de Milo, or a loon with a paintbrush let loose on the Mona Lisa.
However, most of these erstwhile beauties are still preferable to some of the allegedly desirable dolls of today. Bony women like Angelina Jolie, Victoria Beckham or Amal Clooney hold no appeal for men like me, who prefer something to get hold of other than a jutting shoulder blade or an emaciated thighbone.
Personally, I'd rather go to bed with a set of golf clubs. Just saying...
A joke of a judgment
ISN'T it wonderfully reassuring to know that our judiciary and legal system are so fantastically efficient that they always come up with the right result?
Footballer Adam Johnson has not only sacrificed his highly successful career, and £60,000 a week salary, for fondling a teenage girl, he also faces six years in the slammer.
That, in case you didn't notice, is a year more than the sentence handed down to a fat, vicious thug who beat a man to death 'just for the fun of it' outside a Rochdale nightclub.
It's also on par with jailtime to be served by one of the old lags convicted of the multi-million-pound Hatton Garden gems burglary.
Johnson was an arrogant dope who should have resisted the temptations of a post-pubescent fan, but the sentence imposed on him is nothing short of a national disgrace.
For the sake of the law's credibility, some kind of balance is required in this case.
Let's have proper pundits
AS a soccer fan of some sixty-five years standing, I earnestly believe that proper professional sports journalists are required to form the pundits' panels for nationally televised games.
I am so sick of the banal, semi-literate tripe served up by footballers and ex-footballers before, during and after big matches that I now give all pre-match and post-match commentaries a miss.
I switch on just in time for the kick-off and switch off the moment the final whistle is blown. At half-time I make myself a cup of coffee.
The idea that a pundit has to be an ex-player to offer informed commentary is bunkum.
Joe Louis was one of the greatest fighters of all time. By common consent, he was an abysmal boxing pundit. He couldn't 'read' a fight and had nothing to say of any consequence about the action taking place in front of his eyes.
In the ring he was nigh unbeatable. Outside the ring, employed as a fight commentator, he was rubbish.
The point was brought home after the recent England-Holland game. Dear old Wayne Rooney, a wonderful footballer, was embarrassingly bad at articulating his thoughts on the match. Ian Wright's glottal stop is an ongoing irritation. Lee Dixon says the same thing over and over again.
These guys were exceptionally good at playing football. But they are not impressive when it comes to commenting on the game. They simply don't have the word power to make commentaries stimulating and enlightening. They're like bee-boppers at a ballet school - it's not really their gig.
I'd much rather listen to real journalists who know how to formulate original thoughts. I yearn to witness a dazzling shaft of insight, and watch a word magician turn a phrase with the same deft efficiency that Cruyff turned full-backs inside out.
It's time for celebrity-stricken television producers to rethink the whole question of punditry and hand the job to people who really know how to do it.
No longer a joke
JOKES are fine until they get out of hand. We've all heard them - the kind that go too far, causing harrumphs of embarrassment and uneasiness all round.
Well, the joke called Donald Trump has just reached the point where disquiet is turning to despair.
His ill-considered remarks about abortion and possibly nuking Europe mark him down as a loon on the loose.
If Americans elect this ghoul to the White House, they will have justified my worst suspicion - that, as a nation, they are simply not mature enough to lead the western world.
I have always believed that excessive wealth creates grotesques. Robert Maxwell was a grotesque. So was James Goldsmith. Aristotle Onassis was another, complete with obscene yacht and trophy wife. The recluse Howard Hughes was a grotesque in his own odd way.
Trump, with his vulgar towers, hideously kitsch private estate, gauche behaviour, laughable hair-do and a mouth bigger than an asteroid crater on Mars, is probably the most grotesque of all grotesques - a man with a vicious tongue who looks and sounds like a banshee.
If he grabs the presidency, the US's credibility will go through the floor. There will, of course, be jubilation among the planks in the flyover states, but anyone with even a trace of grey matter will be inconsolable.
America, see sense before it's too late. Not just for you, but for all of us.
Bigot or freak? What a choice...
THERE'S much I like about America, but watching the presidential race from afar makes me wonder how it ever got to be the world's number one nation.
The Republicans now find themselves in a position where they have to choose between an embarrassing bigot like Donald Trump or a deluded religious freak like Ted Cruz.
It seems there is no totally rational candidate on offer, a predicament which suggests that the GOP is now in meltdown as a political force, an untidy assemblage of brainless hicks, ageing reactionaries, would-be confederates and gun lobby cranks who think the solution to everything explodes from the barrel of a Magnum revolver.
The Democrat front-runner, meanwhile, carries more baggage than a Himalayan pack-mule with the additional burden of a husband whose endorsement is as tainted as a month-old bottle of unrefrigerated goat's milk.
How did the USA get itself into this awful mess? Is there something in the populace's make-up that makes them opt for dodos?
There is, of course, widespread disenchantment with the establishment, a growing recognition that the political class is not up to the job. But the likes of Trump or Cruz would, surely, exacerbate rather solve the nation's woes.
Who wants a permatanned, irrational donkey with bleached veneers and a candy-floss hairdo as president? Who wants a God freak with a pre-medieval mindset and an air of maniacal, messianic self-righteousness as political leader of the western world?
Americans have always been dangerously naive, but I'm beginning to suspect that there is an even bigger problem: that, politically speaking, they're several rungs down the evolutionary ladder from Europeans, and therefore can't be trusted with the big decisions.
In post-Obama America, it's conceivable we'll be dealing with an ally that - in terms of political judgment - is still in diapers. Perhaps this realisation ought to inform our diplomatic dealings with them.
If Trump or Cruz make it to the White House, who with a smidgen of brain tissue will ever take them seriously? Hilary Clinton is probably the best we can hope for, a prospect few of us will relish.
Within sight of glory
AS Leicester City take the final bend in the race for the English Premiership title, neutrals everywhere will be hoping against hope that they avoid a tumble in the run for the line.
A victory for Leicester will mean far more than a simple soccer triumph. It will represent a major boost for the unfashionable and unregarded. It will uplift the 'little man' in society, the kind of person whose birth and circumstances restrict their aspirations. It will prove that drive and commitment can outstrip the influence of big money superstars. It will show that there is justice in the world after all.
Until this season, all Leicester's players were journeymen - good, solid professionals who, it seemed, were never going to be among the dazzling elite. They were in the game's top tier to make up the numbers and pave the way to glory for the acknowledged masters of the Big Four.
Now they find themselves way out in front, with the entire nation and most of the soccer-loving world urging them to reach the impossible dream. Even President Obama is following their extraordinay progress from The White House. People around the globe who never gave a fig for football now find themselves cheering on the unfancied Blue Boys of the English Midlands.
If they do it - and I believe they will - suddenly our embattled, troubled world will seem a better place. From nowhere, a team of apparent no-hopers will prove that, against all reasonable odds, there is always hope for those who dare to dream.
Leicester City have been dreaming for 132 years. Let's all hope their long quest for glory is now at an end.
Freedom in retreat
THOSE old political reptiles Ken Livingstone and George Galloway and their involvement in the 'Hitler backed Zionism' row expose an extremely disquieting truth about modern Britain.
We are now living in a society in which you are no longer able to say what you think without facing ferocious recrimination - or, worse still, the full weight of the law.
As I utterly despise the modern Labour Party - the party, remember, which gave us the unspeakable Blair - I don't give a damn about their internal wrangling. In fact, the sooner this despicable organisation tears itself asunder, the better for all.
But I do care about free speech and what happens when people are demonised and persecuted for telling the truth.
The Livingstone-Galloway controversy is a perfect example of how the Left, in particular, target and intimidate those who fail to honour their treasured shibboleths.
It is not enough to disagree with what you say. They want you shamed and pilloried for having the gall to say it.
Worse still, the law is similarly inclined, as proved by today's report about a pensioner being convicted for saying what many millions think.
Our freedom to say our piece - a freedom millions died for in the defeat of Hitler - is under threat. When it's gone, we'll be living in a police state - the kind the Fuhrer had planned for us. I'm glad most of the great war generation are no longer around to witness our nation's abject retreat into officially imposed silence.
Another reason to get out
A BRITISH court's decision to protect a celebrity from disclosures about his sex life comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the ways of the British establishment.
We are sixteen years into the 21st century, yet still Britain's so-called 'elite' - supported by the court system - take the view that 'the people' have no right to know anything if it causes embarrassment and inconvenience for the wealthy and powerful.
This judicial farce means, in effect, that you can identify the person involved by a quick surf of the internet while the established media is forbidden by law from using his name.
Frankly, I don't give a tuppenny toss what the celebrity gets up to in his spare time, but I am concerned about a legal culture that stamps all over the public's right to know.
In my book, Blood and Fire, published in 2005, I recall the American press's dismay when the Duke of Windsor banned all reporting of Sir Harry Oakes's murder in the Bahamas in 1943.
As Governor, the Duke had powers to impose a news blackout on a story which - even at the height of the Second World War - was of enormous global interest.
There were several reasons for his high-handed decision, but first among them was an underlying belief that the great unwashed had no right to know anything if he thought otherwise.
More than seventy years on, Britain is still subject to court decisions that sniff quite strongly of serfdom and feudalism, an understanding that the higher orders must retain the right to protect themselves and their kind from having their misdeeds and pecadilloes exposed in the press.
This drive for secrecy is, of course, aided and abetted by European Union human rights law.
That's another good reason for terminating our membership of this dysfunctional brotherhood of nations.
Don't elect Mad Mitch
A TRULY unthinkable fate awaits the Bahamas if the opposition Free National Movement doesn't sort out its internal squabbles and mount a credible threat to the governing PLP.
Widespread disenchantment with the political class, and fading support for both the major parties, could create a power vacuum with the potential to propel a man called Fred Mitchell to the premiership.
Whatever the circumstances, if this were to happen the Bahamas would have completed its descent from idyllic paradise resort in 1967 to complete basket-case in 2017. There will be no winners - except, perhaps, the deluded Mr Mitchell himself.
With a general election only a year away, the island nation finds itself with a hopelessly corrupt, incompetent government and an opposition barely worthy of the name.
The danger is that, in this severely degraded state, the conditions will be right for someone like Mitchell to make a desperate last grab for the nation's top job. It's conceivable - just - that Mad Mitch will find himself the last man standing in an arena where all other contenders have self-destructed.
Mitchell has few virtues, but the one thing to be said for this petulant, impetuous, self-preening clown is that - unlike many Bahamian politicians - he has never been accused of financial shenanigans and theft from the public purse.
Indeed, it could be said that Mitchell has none of the self-enriching instincts that drove many of his former PLP cronies into the arms of international drug bandits like Joe Carlos Lehder.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mitchell appears to have carte blanche to fly around the world at taxpayers' expense, but no-one has ever accused him of the kind of squalidly avaricious behaviour that marked the PLP's 'progress' over the last fifty years.
That fact alone could identify him as a potential nominee for the top job. In a land where criminality and corruption is rife, Mitchell could emerge as the cleanest candidate on offer.
The problem is that Mitchell, who has harboured ambitions of being prime minister since he was a boy, would be a calamitous leader - even worse than current and former leaders of his party.
Driven by spite, venomously vindictive, and as sleekly furtive as a serpent in a wash pile, Mitchell would spend more time undermining his enemies and burnishing his own ego than getting the nation's business done.
As a constituency MP of many years standing, he is known to talk the talk without walking the walk when it comes to jobs that need doing. He is good at political grandstanding, but hopeless at implementing action on the ground.
It's because the spectre of a Mitchell leadership challenge looms large over the PLP that human rights lawyer Fred Smith QC is considering throwing his hat into the ring.
Though he is a sworn enemy of the PLP, and has been for years, he feels it's actually worth a swift volte face just to get himself into strike position for the PLP leadership should the unthinkable happen.
Mitchell, who led the unsuccessful campaign to have me deported from the Bahamas ten years ago, is widely considered to be the PLP's in-house 'intellectual'. Given the context, this means he can probably differentiate between a book and a housebrick.
For all his alleged intelligence, however, he is markedly deficient when it comes to making sound judgments.
Emotionally-led, easily riled, unpredictably vicious and as sly as a snitch in a girls' boarding school, Mitchell is not a man most sane people would want as their country's highest-ranking political representative.
When he was modelling himself on Barack Obama a decade ago, I declared publicly: 'O'Barmy he may be, Obama he isn't,' drawing attention to his many well-publicised defects.
That he should now be lurking in the wings of power, with no-one of note between him and the prime minister's chair, is as damaging as it gets for a nation already in an alarming downward spiral.
Let's hope that Bahamians don't become so desperate that they turn to frenetic Fred for salvation. If they do, damnation rather than salvation is the likeliest outcome, with Mitchell in place to become yet another Third World catastrophe.
IT came as no surprise at all when the Bahamas was cited in the Panama Papers as an offshore deposit box for international tycoons wishing to hide their loot from the taxman back home.
Nassau has for many decades been home to countless registered companies whose only function is to stockpile money for wealthy overseas clients.
Many Bahamian lawyers made hundreds of thousands a year for simply keeping an eye on the dosh and filing annual statements with the appropriate authorities.
One attorney admitted to me that he oversaw five hundred such 'companies', each earning him a thousand dollars a year. That's half a million dollars in his account for sitting on his backside and doing virtually nothing.
'Nice money if you can get it,' he said. You bet.
The British press is creating a hoo-hah over the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron's father hid money offshore, thus protecting the family fortune from the UK's revenue men.
There is, of course, nothing illegal about tax 'avoidance' of this kind. It is merely a 'tax efficient' means of keeping the revenue's hands off what's left when the first round of tax has been paid.
The problem for a privileged rich boy like Cameron is that it's hard to argue that 'we're all in this together' when a sizeable slice of the British population is living in straitened circumstances while his own family stands to benefit from funds that could be contributing to the national cause.
In an age when government cuts are deeply affecting medical, social and other services in Britain, it's discomfiting to know that huge amounts of British money are lying offshore, earning handsome interest for people who probably have too much money already.
Most British voters will take the view that, if we really are 'all in this together', a good move for Dave and his mates would be to swiftly repatriate some of this stockpiled loot so that the poor can live something resembling a decent life.
No hiding the truth
DONALD TRUMP has apparently undergone a 'makeover' in an attempt to look just a little less odious to American voters.
The tangerine hair-do has acquired a few flecks of grey, the permatan has been toned down a little, and someone has had a word in his ear about his more extreme pronouncements.
Not since the era of Richard Nixon has so much been done by the image men to conceal the unpalatable truth about a presidential candidate.
Nixon, you may recall, made use of entire battalions of make-up artists to eliminate his blue chin and render his villainous face more acceptable to those tempted by the super-smooth matinee idol features of John F. Kennedy.
However, no amount of mascara, face powder and rouge could camouflage the darkness in Nixon's soul.
He was a crook, as proved when the Watergate scandal exploded in 1973. He resigned in disgrace, programmed for catastrophe by his own innate dishonesty and amorality.
In Trump's case, of course, the issue is not dishonesty, but credibility.
There is genuine concern among US voters that a Trump-Clinton presidential race will effectively disenfranchise a huge swathe of the electorate.
An American friend tells me that millions of thinking voters simply can't bring themselves to support either of these distinctly unappetising choices.
Presented with a bowl of artificially-coloured sour-milk junket and a plate of uncooked offal, which would you go for? Not easy, is it?
Even non-believing Americans are praying for a way out of this impasse, but so far there isn't a solution in sight.
VERY sad to hear of the death of comedienne Victoria Wood.
Women rarely make good comics, but Victoria and her friend Julie Walters were invariably hilarious, truly gifted women whose stardom was well-deserved.
For me, they sit alongside Joan Rivers, Jo Brand and Rita Rudner among the funny women of showbiz.
Victoria had additional talents as a scriptwriter and actress. Very talented lady - and, by all accounts, a warm and modest person, too.
Olney bookshop shades it
MY quest to find Britain's best Oxfam bookshop continued this week with visits to Ely, Lincoln, Wells, Glastonbury and Totnes, having been steered towards the latter by a book-loving friend.
Ely, Lincoln and Wells (cathedral cities, as it happens) all fared well, qualifying for four-star ratings, but Totnes fell short due to the inadequacy of its biography and autobiography section, which was hidden away so effectively that I had to seek the assistant's help in finding it.
There I stumbled upon a collection of Doris Lessing essays, which made the visit worthwhile. However, the shop was a good deal less impressive than I'd been led to expect. Perhaps I caught it during a lean phase. Charity bookshops are, after all, wholly dependent on their donors.
The Glastonbury shop was closed, so my curiosity about its contents remained unassuaged. Does it have an above average offering of mystical, spiritual and New Age books, as one would expect of this town of hippies, beats and bohemians? I can't say, as the locked door was obscured by a huge plastic waste bin.
Other charity shops in the town did have a fair selection of tomes on 'mind, body and spirit', but none tempted me, probably because my mind is closed to such material, my body being low priority and my religious spirit non-existent.
During my tour, I also revisited one of my favourite Oxfam bookshops - at the pleasant market town of Olney in north Buckinghamshire. Well up to standard, as usual, with a four-star rating shading towards five.
Olneyites are evidently book-lovers of quality. Not a Clarkson, Morgan, Brand or Ross tripefest to be seen anywhere.
Corrupt to the core
A SENIOR Bahamian politician and a leading Nassau businessman (a knight, no less) this week confirmed what most intelligent observers already knew - that this once idyllic little nation is now neck-deep in corruption.
Opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis accepted that corruption is endemic in the Bahamas while Sir Franklyn Wilson - appearing to accept his claim - suggested that a bad example had been set by the United States, thus appearing to view corruption as integral to everyday life and blaming it on someone else.
The Bahamas is no stranger to nefarious practices. Its whole economy was founded on wrecking, smuggling, blockade running, bootlegging and other dodgy pursuits, with leading families prospering greatly from the transgressions of their forebears.
When the Progressive Liberal Party rose to power nearly 50 years ago, corruption was taken to new levels. Its leader, Lynden Pindling, became adept in the arts of sleazy malpractice and amassed a fortune off the back of the Colombian cocaine trade.
With the so-called 'Father of the Nation' setting such a poor example, it came as no surprise when many of his grubby henchmen followed suit. As a result, there is scarcely a corner of public life that is not infected by the plague of dishonesty now sweeping the nation.
The result is that many of the Bahamas' best young brains are looking for an escape route while the blockheads are fuelling the rampant crime rate, using knives and guns to acquire possessions they don't have the brainpower to earn by honest means.
With such prominent figures resigning themselves to the nation's degraded state, what hope is there for improvement in the years ahead? What lies in store for future generations if nearly all the major national institutions, including the courts, are undermined by a culture of routine dishonesty and double-dealing?
The moral slippage began with the white United Bahamian Party more than half a century ago, but it only became a landslide under Pindling and his cohorts during the 1970s and 1980s, when drug barons saw the PLP for what they were and exploited their greed for their own ends.
While Pindling ended up as a multi-millionaire, poorer Bahamians were left to flounder in the amoral mess their esteemed leader bequeathed them, a severely diminished society in which trust has all but disappeared.
I sense that despair is setting in, with no hope of a new order emerging to supplant a political class forever tainted by Pindling's poisonous legacy. Sixteen years after his death, Pindling still figures in Bahamian life as the leader who was given the chance to lay an exemplary matrix for the future only to blow it in response to his own squalid inclinations.
Smooth and persuasive as he was, he fell hopelessly short as prime minister, and the Bahamian people are now paying the price in full.
Prince of...what, exactly?
THE newspapers are today full of grief-stricken twaddle about a singer called Prince.
For people of a certain age, this chap was apparently a showbiz idol of note. For me, and millions like me, he was a barely discernible spectre on the edge of life, whose 'hits' were as irrelevant as the most obscure examples of Elizabethan chamber music.
His sudden death has prompted the usual self-indulgent deluge of public blubbing, but I can't bring to mind a single number he performed, nor a solitary example of anything worthwhile he said.
As with David Bowie, reaction to Prince's demise has been massively overblown.
No wonder over-70s like me have trouble understanding the younger generation.
Let's have a sense of proportion for goodness sake. Show some dignity - and judgment.
It's out-and-out obvious
THE EU referendum will be a test of Britain's national character. It will do more than decide our future inside or outside of the union, it will tell us exactly what kind of people we are.
My fear is that the British - traditionally so bold in beating off would-be invaders - will lose their nerve once more when confronted with the unknown after four decades of being part of Europe.
In 1660, two years after the death of Oliver Cromwell, the English turned their backs on the Commonwealth and embraced the restoration of the monarchy.
As a leading parliamentarian said at the time: 'They were offered the prospect of freedom, but opted instead for servitude.' The toppling and execution of Charles the First had left them unhappy and unsettled.
This time they are being offered the prospect of liberation from the cloying embrace of Europe and a chance to show that the UK brand is strong enough to go it alone.
Will the nation's natural conservatism, and its resistance to anything resembling risk, win the day when voters are alone in the ballot booths with pen poised over the ballot paper? I fear it will, even if it's a close-run thing.
However, I don't expect Barack Obama's entreaties to have any effect on the vote. His inappropriate intervention looked too stilted and stage-managed to convince anyone of the validity of the 'in' campaign, and raised the obvious question: Would the US sacrifice its sovereignty by joining a union of the Americas? Don't think so.
While the 'in' campaigners seek to scare and bully the British into a European future, citing the likely adverse economic impact of Brexit, the people's main concern remains the question of immigration.
As things stand, Britain is impotent as an EU member to resist a further enormous influx of migrants, which would impose an unsustainable burden on the National Health Service and other institutions.
Unless politicians can guarantee a solution to the immigration issue, Brexit is the only acceptable option for millions, notwithstanding the imagined economic perils of such a move.
Obama did himself and his cause no favours when he said a standalone Britain would be 'at the back of the queue' for trade deals with the US. There was something crude and ill-considered about this remark, which raised wholly understandable doubts about the nature of the 'special relationship' that supposedly exists between the US and the UK.
If we're sent to the back of the queue for exercising our democratic rights, then one wonders about the worth of our friendship with the Americans. The implied threat smells strongly of blackmail, and is very similar to rumblings from Brussels about our possible impending isolation.
All of which reinforces my conviction that we would be far better off out of Europe than in. Britain's natural pride would thus be restored and we'd be free to pursue our goals without living in the oppressive shadow of the European bureaucrats.
Out, out, out...it's the only way forward if we are to retain our dignity and our credibility as an accomplished nation with a mind of its own.
A cynical pro-EU plot
WHATEVER his shortcomings, Barack Obama has brought charisma and dignity to the US presidency following the calamitous tenure of George 'Dubya' Bush. Unlike his predecessor, he actually sounds like a cultured, intelligent man.
It's sad, therefore, that he should allow himself to be dragged into a cynical plot by pro-EU politicians - including David Cameron - to scare the British into sacrificing their sovereignty in favour of a dysfunctional union.
Crude threats about Britain being at the back of the queue for trade deals, and having to wait ten years for co-operation from the US, do him no credit at all.
In fact, he sounds disturbingly naive - as most Americans are - about the nature of Europe and its many disparate components. The truth is that Americans rarely think of European countries as separate entities, merely part of a block they find easier to comprehend. Basically, they're not interested. Their world view is limited. Old Europe, they believe, is a doddering irrelevance, an annoying anachronism in the wider scheme of things.
It's inappropriate, therefore, for Obama to cite Allied war dead as justification for his intrusion into Britain's national affairs. The brave men engaged in defeating Hitler were not buying Washington DC a stake in Britain's future. They were saving the world from a madman.
With the referendum, the British will have the chance to decide their future for generations to come, and it is no business of a US president to seek to influence that process.
The choice is clear: we stay on as a despised province of an expanding federal Europe (with unelected officials deciding our destiny) or we strike out as a thrusting independent power more than capable of making our own way in the world.
Whatever its faults, Britain remains a potent international brand capable of playing a major role in an informal network of nations with enormous economic resources at their disposal.
It doesn't need to be part of an uneasy union of bickering neighbours whose recent histories have demonstrated all too clearly just how much they loathe one another.
The choice is a no-brainer for those with brains, a bit more difficult to work out for the ponderous and slow-witted.
Whatever the outcome, Obama's interference will hopefully have no impact at all on the vote.
One win from title glory
As Leicester City move to within one win of the English Premiership title, the uneasiness - possibly even the disappointment - of the London sporting press is almost palpable.
For much of the season, soccer writers have been aching for the Midlanders to implode, thus restoring the status quo and preserving the cosy cabal at the top of the table.
Once odds-on favourites Chelsea had fallen at the first hurdle, and Arsenal had pulled up short in the final furlong, all their hopes were pinned on Tottenham, a team of young thoroughbreds who look set for a very bright future.
The one possibility they dare not countenance was that a team of unsung journeymen from an unfashionable Midlands city would actually grab the English national game's biggest prize.
Why? Because, deep down, they feel a Leicester triumph degrades the Premiership. It means, in effect, that mega-money is no longer necessarily the deciding factor, but that a well-organised troop of honest toilers can outflank, outsmart and ultimately outgun the £200,000-a-week men in soccer's gilded circle.
This breaking of the Premiership mould, in which the Big Money Mafia lord it over the Also-Rans, has left all their predictions and preconceptions in bits, casting doubt on their judgment and forcing them to reassess their perceptions.
Throughout the season, they have been waiting for that predictable slip, the jolting return to reality, that would force Leicester to know their place in the natural order of things.
When Danny Simpson was sent off some weeks back, they asked: 'Was this the moment when the Foxes' dream came to an end?'
When Jamie Vardy was dismissed and suspended for two games, they said: 'The fall of Leicester's talisman puts Foxes' premiership chase in peril.'
Alas, the stumble didn't happen. Now a Leicester-Barcelona face-off is in prospect in the Champions League, a match made in hell for those who believe in unshakeable hierarchies and the fortunes that keep them in place.
What they fail to understand is that a Leicester Premiership triumph will boost interest in what was threatening to become a grimly predictable competition whose outcome rested primarily on the size of the big clubs' bank balances.
Leicester's victory over the well-heeled mercenaries restores faith in the virtues of teamwork, fighting for one another, getting behind a popular manager, and offering something to shout about to an army of loyal fans.
It also reinforces belief in the English way of playing football. Not the tedious tip-tap variety favoured by the continentals, where the ball is played across the field and back to the goalie in a series of grimly predictable geometric formations, but the up-and-at-em style based on stout defenders and exciting, imaginative attackers who aren't afraid to go for goal from thirty yards.
One more solid performance from Leicester is all that's required for English club soccer to enjoy its greatest day, its most exquisitely unlikely victory.
Sport's finest hour
IT'S easy to exaggerate when emotions run high in sport, but I think I'm justified in saying that we've just witnessed the greatest sporting achievement of all time.
Leicester City becoming Premier League champions was less likely than an asteroid strike in Ashby Magna, but it's happened and I, along with millions more, can hardly believe it.
There isn't another story in the entire history of sport that quite matches this for its uplifting improbability, its refreshing unlikeliness, its soaring heroics and its deeply gratifying conclusion.
Like the wily Foxes they are, Leicester out-thought, outwitted, outflanked and outran their haughty pursuers with more than a touch of vulpine impudence.
When Eden Hazard's sublime goal for Chelsea curled into the Tottenham net, I felt a special thrill because Leicester - unsung, unfancied and unrated - had waited 132 years for this moment of pure romance.
Now they can't be caught. They sit on the summit of the world's most competitive league, with no-one else in a position to reach them.
The club was already 70 years old when I, a boy of eight, was taken to my first Leicester match at the old Filbert Street ground in 1952. My older brothers used to pass me over the heads of the crowd so I could join other youngsters on the front row.
I recall feeling deeply envious of the City mascot, a cheeky-faced lad in a daft hat, who got to meet all my heroes. To me, he epitomised extreme privilege, though he was, in truth, an ordinary supporter who got lucky, was decked out in blue and white, given a town crier's bell, and told to fire up the crowd.
Leicester's triumph transcends football. It is a victory for all those who, whatever their status, dare to dream.
It also restores faith in a game which, since the Premiership began 24 years ago, had lost some of its grassroots tribal passion, its delicious unpredictability, due largely to the cold-eyed money men who view it as just one more corporate enterprise.
Leicester have shown that honest toil, unquenchable spirit, great teamwork, and a touch of magic, can propel even the humblest to heights they can barely imagine.
For Claudio Ranieri and his band of merry warriors, the reward is untold riches and global fame. For the rest of us, their victory shows, against mounting evidence to the contrary, that there is hope for humanity after all.
Views in Brief
BBC's Newsnight must be in line for 'The Most Pointless Interview of the Year' award after this week's embarrassing encounter between presenter Evan Davis and a film producer called Frears.
In newspaper parlance, a NIB is a one-paragraph story used to fill a space. I don't know what its TV equivalent is called, but this was it.
Frears, dressed in a ludicrous multi-coloured scarf and oozing self-regard, was hauled in to comment on the Leicester City story for no better reason than that he happened to have been born in the Midlands city.
He appeared to have no special regard for the place or its football team. 'I support Arsenal,' he said, eager to affirm his metropolitan credentials, and went on to pooh-pooh Leicester's triumph with all the luvvie-style condescension he could muster.
The whole purpose of his appearance seemed to have been a calculated put-down for the new champions, though he did acknowledge, sniffily, that there was something to be said for a small provincial club beating the London juggernauts.
At the conclusion of an awkward interview, I was left wondering why he was there. Did he happen to be on the premises when the programme looked like falling short? Did he ask to take part at the last minute? Did Evan know in advance that Frears was to be foisted upon him? Was there an iota of journalistic justification for the most meaningless interview in years?
Perhaps we should be told.
United in their conceit
IT'S amusing to hear Michael Heseltine (now 'Lord', inevitably) having a go at the equally preposterous Boris Johnson for allegedly showing off and displaying poor judgment.
Heseltine - nicknamed 'Tarzan' in his day because of his extravagant blond locks - is best remembered for betraying Margaret Thatcher and waving around the parliamentary mace in an act of petulant exhibitionism.
Now, as a very old man, he invites us to take him seriously as a political sage and luminary with unparalleled insights into the world of Westminster.
The truth is that Tarzan and Boris have far more in common than their ridiculous hairdos.
Both are self-aggrandising fools whose first priority in life is and was themselves. Vain, ego-driven, oozing a sense of entitlement, this odious pair had one other shared characteristic apart from their conceit - an unshakeable ambition to become prime minister.
From their Oxbridge days onwards, they felt themselves natural successors to the Tory greats like Churchill in occupying Number Ten.
Thankfully, up-himself Heseltine was thwarted in his objectives, and every intelligent person in the land will be hoping against hope that Boris fails, too.
As I noted earlier, politics attracts third-raters. And that's the best of them...
Ginola's health shock
GLAD to hear that footballer David Ginola came through his heart scare okay. True, it took a quadruple bypass to save him - but, hey, as a bypass survivor myself, I know how well this op can make you feel.
Ginola, who played in England for Newcastle and Spurs, was one of the most elegant footballers of his day. There was something balletic about his style, a natural grace that enabled him to skip over and round defenders like a supercharged gazelle. Had he not been emphatically male, he would have been the Pavlova of the penalty box.
However, like many fans, I felt he fell short of his immense potential. And I often wondered whether this was because of his almost superhuman good looks.
It's unusual for proper blokes like me to notice the looks of other men. It's not what we do. But Ginola was (and is) so damned handsome that it's natural to ponder whether it was an obstacle in his footballing life.
With women swooning all around, marketing men in pursuit, hairgel and man-scent manufacturers eager to sign him up, and style magazines desperate to publish his sublime image, it's a wonder he ever had time to climb into his soccer shorts.
As a result, I always considered Ginola, for all his talent, as a bit of a dilettante - a dabbler who saw soccer as not only a lucrative profession, but also a bit of a lark. As a result, he never quite became the defining figure he might have been.
Even so, he charmed us with his skills as much as he charmed the ladies with his looks. When he was at full spate, his silken hair flying behind him, his feet a blur of mind-bending trickery, you were reminded why football is such a special sport. And why it's called The Beautiful Game.
They really do make me sick
EVER heard of Celebrity Nausea? It's an awful affliction brought on by over-exposure to people like Jeremy Clarkson and Stephen Fry.
Anyone who reads newspapers nowadays, or who spends their lives gawping at news websites on their cellphones, will have noticed that around a dozen people feature on an almost daily basis.
One, of course, is the stick-thin Mrs Miseryguts, Victoria Beckham, whose surly visage occupies many square miles of newsprint every week.
Another is Cheryl Cole-Versace-Lamborghini-Fernandez-Provolone, or whatever her name is supposed to be, whose vacuous smile graces every tabloid at least fifteen times a month.
Yet another is the eternal loon, Chris Evans, an irritant in need of urgent swatting - preferably with a spade handle.
And don't forget old Fry-up, an overweight dollop of pure self-satisfaction, who gives me intense bouts of acute dyspepsia every time I lay eyes on the bloke.
Together with Russell Brand, Piers Morgan, Chris Tarrant, the galumphing Clarkson and one or two more, they induce abdominal cramps and profuse perspiration, accompanied by occasional retching and involuntary shaking. Sometimes even a glimpse of them makes me want to lie down.
Worst of all, though, are Tony Blair and Hugh Grant. Ever suffered projectile vomiting? Every time this vile pair appear on telly, I reach for the bucket and hope for the best.
Success based on big bucks
THE background to the sacking of Louis van Gaal as Manchester United manager tells you all you need to know about the ugly side of the beautiful game.
For months, van Gaal has been dogged by rumours that Jose Mourinho was lurking in the shadows waiting to take his job at the end of the season.
Sure enough, no sooner had United finished celebrating their FA Cup win than van Gaal was sent on his way, with Mourinho touted as his successor.
United, a club we all learned to love after the Munich air disaster in 1958, has once again let itself down with a distastefully callous dismissal of a manager who had just won the club's first trophy in three years.
The David Moyes saga did them no credit. The van Gaal story again illustrates how common decency takes a backseat when money - lots of it - is the be-all and end-all of the modern game.
In this case, the actual figures involved are obscene. The club reportedly paid Mourinho £4 million to stop him from applying for another job and, as I write, is poised to offer him £75 million for a five-year contract.
In addition, Mourinho will be given a £200 million war chest to buy top talent in an effort to get United back into the Champions League, where huge financial rewards are on offer.
If Mourinho wins the Premiership next season, and thereby earns that Champions League slot, the club will consider it money well-spent. No doubt the Portuguease 'special one' will then collect extra bonuses to ensure he enjoys a bountiful life for evermore.
However, will he ever be able to savour the kind of glory Claudio Ranieri earned this season by taking little Leicester City to the Premiership title? Will he ever enjoy the exquisite delights of a title won, not by mountains of money, but by fantastic teamwork, indomitable spirit and a refusal to heed the enormous odds stacked against them?
Leicester's great triumph taught us that success in the world's toughest league can be about something other than the size of a club's coffers. It can be about those eternal human virtues that put mere lucre in the shade.
Manchester United may well emerge as favourites to win next year's title. But they will never have the satisfaction of winning on a modest budget, without artificial aids. And they will be obliged, in moments of sober reflection, to acknowledge that any success will be more than a little tarnished by the distasteful behaviour employed to achieve it.
What lessons can young fans learn from the club they idolise? That it's okay to show disrespect to an outgoing manager for the sake of expediency, that it's fine to scheme behind his back while courting his would-be successor, that a bit of deceit and betrayal is no bad thing if it brings the required result, and that principles count for nothing alongside the brutal demands of commerce.
David Moyes was treated abominably by United. His successor has not fared much better. The club that once commanded universal respect after rising from the wreckage of Munich nearly sixty years ago is now in danger of earning that most withering of appraisals.
'They know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.'
Sad days indeed - not only for United, but all those who used to revere a club once known for its decency and dignity. I dread to think what Matt Busby would make of it all.
Hoping for The Great Escape
DAVID CAMERON is doing himself no favours by making up stories on the hoof as he zips around the country trying to shore up his increasingly fragile arguments in favour of the EU.
No-one with any sense is taken in by his scare tactics, and his frantic behaviour tends to convince Brexiteers that the only ones with anything to fear are those arguing in favour of remaining part of a thoroughly discredited union.
Only one issue will decide the EU referendum - the pending horrors of uncontrolled mass immgration, which will not only bring the country's health and education systems to breaking point, but destroy British culture and leave us at the mercy of alien invaders.
Anyone who watched this week's BBC TV programme on the elimination of Cockney culture from London's East End was gaining a precious insight into what lies ahead if present trends are allowed to continue.
Ordinary Londoners were abandoning everything they had known in Newham, East London, to build new lives in rural Essex, or what they referred to repeatedly as 'England'.
For them, Newham was no longer 'England', but a ghetto where English was no longer the first language, Christianity no longer the first religion, and schools were no longer interested in promoting English standards.
The Cockneys are moving east to places like Rayleigh and Hornchurch in the hope that their children can maintain links with their own culture and their own kind.
You will find similar stories in Luton, Bedford, Leicester, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Bradford, and many more communities throught the land, including the East Anglian towns where foreign cultures are taking over.
The public believes, with more than ample justification, that this suicidal trend can only be halted if we release ourselves from the shackles of the catastrophically dysfunctional EU, a big, bloated, greedy, supercilious and thoroughly corrupt organisation which promotes the interests of a self-serving elite without offering anything worthwhile in return.
Next month, Britain has a golden chance to free itself from its grasp. The alternative is eternal servitude to people we neither know nor care about - and, even worse, who don't give a damn for us or what we stand for.
More hot air from Blair
TONY BLAIR claims it would be a 'dangerous experiment' to hand power to Jeremy Corbyn.
Not as dangerous, surely, as handing power to one Anthony 'Bambi' Blair in 1997, when New Labour came to power for the first time.
Blair's election brought us an illegal war, untold numbers of civilian deaths, hundreds of bereaved British service families and, of course the most disastrous influx of aliens ever recorded.
It brought us untold grief, a calamitous change in British society, a new and massive outbreak of violence in the Middle East and, of course, the creation of ISIS, a brutal, barbaric cult hell-bent on establishing a seventh century style caliphate across the world.
Blair's 'legacy' will reverberate in Britain for generations to come as the country becomes little more than a Third World rat-hole undermined by cults and cultures wholly inimical to our traditional way of life.
Whatever Corbyn did as prime minister, it is unlikely to surpass Blair's thoroughly tainted ten-year 'reign' when he wrecked Britain in pursuit of an ill-conceived agenda based on little but his own soaring vanity.
Early signs of his catastrophic premiership came when he invited the rock band Oasis to Number Ten, told the Rolling Stones that they were his heroes, and rebranded the country 'Cool Britannia'.
This shallow, impressionable dope was - believe it or not - re-elected twice by British morons, condemning the nation to an entire decade of poor judgment and cringe-making incompetence.
How he has the nerve to make pronouncements on anything is beyond me. If he had even an ounce of dignity or humility, he would leave Britain's shores forever.
Where to? Tristan da Cunha, perhaps? St Helena? Ascension Island? The satellite tracking station in Antarctica? Maybe he should become an early space tourist. One-way ticket, of course.
Is the tide turning?
FOR the first time in the EU referendum debate, I'm beginning to feel opinion is swinging Brexit's way.
As David Cameron's credibility founders on the rocks of cynical, hysterical rhetoric, the out campaign appears to be gaining strength.
Their three key arguments are:
* Britain will be swallowed whole by the EU if the 'in' vote wins, eventually becoming a part of the United States of Europe.
* By sacrificing its sovereignty, Britain will have surrendered everything two great generations of Britons fought for in two world wars.
* Loss of control over our borders will mean unsustainable levels of immigration, which will gravely undermine our health and education services and cause a serious dilution of our culture.
There are, of course, many more arguments against staying in the EU. But these three will, I hope, be uppermost in people's minds when they head for the polls.
The 'in' campaigners are basing their case on the fear of a severe economic downturn. But Brexit experts argue that long-term prospects are good.
As I've said before, the UK is a unique international brand with global reach. To suggest it has no hope without being part of a crumbling EU is pure lunacy.
Dithering desperate Dave
DESPITE his poshness, which is really no fault of his, I've always quite liked David Cameron. Beneath the Old Etonian veneer was a man of dignity, sincerity and compassion, I thought.
However, his performance in the EU debate has forced me to reconsider. I'm now inclined to agree with a journalist pal of mine who, having been in the PM's presence more than once, regards him as a chameleon with an unnerving ability to change to suit his environment.
His scaremongering in the run-up to the referendum comes over as a distasteful attempt to manipulate an electorate which he appears to regard as credulous and stupid.
The more he warns of the dire consequences of Brexit, the more inclined I am to see him as representing vested interests, notably those of his rich Tory pals who desperately want to keep their fat snouts firmly buried in the EU trading trough.
Mr Cameron has failed lamentably to address convincingly the one factor that will drive the Brexit vote - immigration. None of his arguments add up to anything resembling a cogent case for staying in the EU, especially as millions fear the country being overrun by migrants who will not have our best interests at heart.
Two more developments this week hardened my resolve to vote 'Out'. One was repeated references on television to Angela Merkel being 'the most powerful leader in Europe.' The other was Lord Sugar voicing his support for the Remain campaign.
Twice last century, Germany sought to gain dominance in Europe by blitzing everyone else into submission. Now, it seems, it has achieved its objectives by gaining control of the huge, unweildy EU juggernaut which seeks to crush the rest of us underfoot, forcing us to slavishly honour its edicts and directives whether they work in our favour or not.
Lord Sugar? Would I want to be in any club if he were a member? Don't think so. Vote 'Out' on Referendum Day - you know it makes sense.
On course for disaster
IT doesn’t look good. We’re on course to have two dumb blonds running the western world.
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are two of a kind. Massively egotistical, in thrall to the sound of their own voices, they are masters of self-promotion and believe they were born to lead.
Those of us watching aghast from the sidelines now have to face up to the real possibility that they could be in double harness to achieve their ambitions.
In short order, these two truly appalling people could effectively be leading the rest of us into a future that already looks bleak, but would be bleaker still with them in control.
While I back Boris’s Brexit campaign, I have serious doubts about his judgment, and even bigger doubts about his lack of depth as an individual.
Everything about Boris, including his excessively plummy accent, strikes me as phony. His carefully honed image as a posh clown straight out of a Billy Bunter book appeals to the credulous but strikes fear into anyone with even a trace of grey matter.
Trump is a demagogue and sloganeer. He has emerged as the Republican front-runner with the support of America’s cretinous majority. Remember, this is a country that loves guns and God, in that order, and believes the latter loves the former as much as they do.
In Trump, they have found the embodiment of their national craziness.
Boris, on the other hand, appeals to shallow, celebrity obsessed modern Britain because he makes people smile. He is where he is because we are no longer a nation of thinkers, but impressionable dopes with few if any powers of discernment.
The great journalist H.L.Mencken said democracy meant government by inferior people. As usual he was right. But that’s no comfort in our current predicament.
How far we've fallen!
MUHAMMAD ALI'S death brings to an end an era when worldwide fame was earned off the back of sublime talent and unparalled charisma.
I once attended a press conference in Las Vegas when Ali - sitting on a podium in front of scores of journalists - suddenly pointed to the back of the room and said: 'Look, it's Elvis Presley.'
Everyone turned in unison to see the only other person on the planet who was remotely comparable with The Greatest. Unfortunately, he wasn't there. It was another Ali joke, the kind that epitomised the fun-loving, mischievous side of his nature.
As the room broke up in laughter, Ali said: 'See, I had you all fooled. Do you really think I'd let The King upstage The Greatest?'
Ali was the world's most recognisable celebrity during a time when the word actually meant something.
This was the era when Presley and Sinatra were still performing, when Barbra Streisand was in her pomp. It was the age of Pele, Cruyff and Maradona. Superstars like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Sammy Davis Jnr were still alive. Pablo Picasso was still painting, Graham Greene was still writing, and the world of jazz was adorned by the likes of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
It was an age when fame meant accomplishment, distinction and genius - genuine stardom based on merit.
Today we have overblown pipsqueaks whose celebrity is founded on little or nothing but carefully orchestrated exposure in the tabloids and on television, and a willingness by the dumb-headed and undiscerning to revere mediocrities who don't deserve it.
For Ali, read Kardashian. For Presley, read Madonna. For Greene, read E.L.James. For Picasso, read Tracey Emin.
It is another indication of how far we've fallen.
Yet another PLP botch-up
Three own goals in a single day
THE Remain camp's desperation is becoming more of an embarrassment by the day.
With former PMs Tony Blair and Sir John Major enlisted to lecture students in Northern Ireland, and William Hague castigating Brexiteers as 'parochial', signs are that Remain is scratching round like chickens in a coop for something - anything - to weaken the 'Out' team's progress.
Blair and Major, both prime ministerial failures, are not the kind of people to be leading any cause. Hague, once so promising, is now merely patronising. His star has faded over the far horizon.
Blair and Major's cynical, irresponsible suggestion that sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland could flare up again if Britain leaves the EU is scaremongering of the worst kind.
Belfast politics has always been a hairtrigger issue. To risk further turmoil to make a crude political point really is beyond the pale. If either man had a reputation to lose, this would be the decider. As they don't, diecast sceptics like me can dismiss them as of no account.
Hague's charge of parochialism is insulting on two fronts.
Firstly, most British people are parochial because their own parish is more important to them than anywhere else. This is not necessarily a bad thing: some of the most contented people I've met are those happy to live out their lives in a confined geographical area.
Secondly, if Hague meant the word 'parochial' to be an insult, he - like all Westminster politicians - is ill-fitted to use the term with any authority. Having been immersed in London politics for his entire adult life, with no real working knowledge of the outside world, Hague is probably among the most parochial people in Britain. He is certainly in no position to berate others for their alleged insularity.
Moreover, the charge blends well with David Cameron's 'Little England' taunts, which promote the myth that Brexiteers favour closing down Britain for business and retreating into themselves.
In fact, exactly the opposite is true. Brexit would enable Britain to look beyond the suffocating embrace of the EU and become a truly international nation once again. Culturally, and commercially, Britain still stands for something in the world. Our potential is too great to be subverted by the grotesquely inefficient EU, with its anal-retentive bureaucrats, pettifogging rules and regulations, and lofty attitudes that work against the interests of the people.
Brexiteers can doff their caps in gratitude to Messrs Blair, Major and Hague. It's not often that a team scores three own goals in a single day to give their rivals a commanding lead.
Divorce the only solution
ANY respect I might have had for David Cameron has evaporated during the EU debate. His desperation has brought out the worst in him.
Cameron's pathetic attempts to scare Brits into voting for the Remain camp have been crude, cynical and transparently self-serving.
Now he's capped it all by including a bunch of business cronies in the honours list in exchange for their pro-EU support.
Essentially, the EU debate is between a metropolitan elite who have never had to square up to life and real Brits suffering in the face of the political class's incompetence.
The EU is like a profligate, slatternly spouse with a poor work ethic and a massive sense of entitlement. Divorce is the only solution, and the sooner the better. Then Britain can enjoy a bright new future without being shackled to Brussels and its armies of idle, overfed bureaucrats.
The face tells the story
MY Dad always said the human face told you all you needed to know about anybody. He could spot a wrong 'un from fifty paces and smell dishonesty, deviancy and deceitfulness from a mile off.
Thus, it came as no surprise to him when I told him in the early 1980s that Jimmy Savile was a gangster and pervert. And his eyebrows betrayed not a tremor when I told him the MP Cyril Smith was a kiddy-fiddler of (literally) gargantuan proportions.
Nor would he have been surprised at today's news that the lugubrious Clement Freud MP was also into paedophilia.
What Freud, Smith and Savile shared was an inbuilt weirdness that made one wonder what they got up to in their spare time.
The dead-eyed Savile was an out-and-out freak. This cigar-wagging pervert (and that's not all he wagged) was dodgier than an East End bookie. Smith had the word 'molester' stamped all over him in very large poster type. He was grotesquely sinister.
Freud, to be fair, was less obviously suspect, though undoubtedly odd. He was highly intelligent, mildly amusing, and quaintly eccentric with that low drawling voice of his. Yet...he did leave you pondering the true nature of the person behind the persona.
Now we know. Seven years after his death, his secret life has been exposed.
The most troubling aspect of all three cases is that they were uncovered only after the culprits' deaths because victims knew they would not be believed by the police or, more significantly, their bosses - the politicians.
The establishment, in protecting its own interests, left children to live lives of torment rather than expose the true nature of prominent figures in their midst.
I have no doubt there are many more establishment perverts out there enjoying the protection of a corrupt system. They will probably be named after they've departed this life, with victims only then becoming sufficiently emboldened to step forward.
What we need is my Dad conducting an identity parade. By looking straight into their eyes and assessing other facial features, he would root out the paedos in no time at all.
Pussy Galore for President!
ONCE the United States had George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Now it's Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Once, the subject was the constitution or civil rights. Now it's grabbing a handful of p...y or whether Bill Clinton got his d..k out.
If the 2016 presidential debate is anything to go by, the US is in meltdown. The world's self-proclaimed greatest nation is zilch, a basket-case.
That these two deplorable ghouls should emerge as presidential candidates in a nation of 360 million souls says much about America and its people, and none of it is good.
Symbolically, Barack Obama was its high point. Now it's downhill all the way.
That's bad news for all of us.
NO-ONE familiar with the governing PLP in the Bahamas will be surprised to hear they messed up this week's referendum on gender equality.
The count could not be satisfactorily completed because of power cuts and various administrative shortcomings, a classic PLP scenario in which mayhem reigns. Whenever the PLP is called upon to organise anything, the result is chaos and recrimination.
The only area in which the party is efficient is in lining its own pockets and handing out favours to its various cronies.
Despite the latest shambles, it appears that moves towards gender equality have been firmly rejected, thanks largely to the immense influence of conservative - ie reactionary - Bahamian preachers.
Incredibly, many of those who voted against equal rights for all were women who fell for the rants of bigoted pastors. They feared homosexuals and those of indeterminate gender would gain equal legal status, a prospect utterly repugnant to many God-fearing Bahamians.
Remember, this is a country where women got the vote as late as 1962, even though it was a British colony at the time.
The late political supremo Sir Stafford Sands went on record as saying that women would get the vote 'over my dead body.'
A local commentator wrote recently that the Bahamas couldn't legitimately claim to be a developed country, but one still trying to find its way.
This latest development is forcing many of the young intelligentsia to consider their options. 'Can we really be expected to stay in a country that refuses to enter the 20th century?' one asked.
It is, indeed, a sad day for those who can see this great little nation's potential being squandered. To be at least half a century behind the times is no laughing matter. To be a century behind the times is a tragedy.
PARDON me for sounding sexist, but the handbagging of Boris Johnson during last night's TV referendum debate gave rise to some pretty disturbing questions.
Of the six debaters taking part, five were women. Most spent more time berating Boris for his prime ministerial ambitions than making points pertinent to the matter at hand.
The standard of debate was so low that the average fourth-former could have been forgiven for thinking they would have done considerably better.
Boris himself, his unbrushed mop as unruly as ever, looked like the school scallywag being castigated by a vengeful gaggle of harridans.
Instead of arguing intelligently, the coven seemed hell-bent on yelling abuse. What should have been an enlightening exchange of views became little more than a catfight, with Boris tugged to and fro like a mauled mouse.
Surely Britain - allegedly one of the world's most sophisticated nations - can do better than this.
More than a mere Spectator
AS referendum day approaches, it's worth taking a look at a very fine editorial on the subject in the latest issue of The Spectator, the far right journal read by politicians, bankers, stockbrokers and the like.
What I find remarkable about its well-argued case for Brexit is not the quality of expression, but the unlikeliness of the source.
The Spectator is read primarily by fat, complacent Tories whose one and only interest in life is their own well-being. Self-interest dominates their every waking hour and greed is their primary dynamic.
Yet The Spectator, the grasper's bible, is firmly behind an early escape from the EU, an organisation it regards as bloated, complacent and dysfunctional - all adjectives I've employed repeatedly to draw attention to the fault-lines in this appalling outfit.
When a journal for the fat, complacent and greedy castigates the EU as fat, complacent and greedy, you have to take notice. They believe - as do I - that Britain can enjoy a prosperous international future outside the clutches of this self-serving club for the European 'elite', and that its faults far outweigh its virtues.
Coming from them, this means something. Another reason to vote 'Out' on Referendum Day.
FREEDOM! At last, Brits
have asserted themselves
BRITAIN voted for freedom today, ending four decades of bowing and scraping to the supercilious overlords of Europe.
Typically, a sneering London luvvie expressed outrage, declaring the vote to be a victory for 'smallness' and insularity. and a sign of our national 'chippiness'.
In fact, the exact opposite is true. This is reaffirmation of our worth as a genuinely international nation with potential far greater than could be satisfactorily accommodated within the stifling, all-enveloping embrace of the EU.
We've torn asunder the red tape of Europe, hacked through our shackles, and placed ourselves firmly on course for a brighter, better future.
Breaking away from Europe will have the same freshening, energising effect as divorce from a despised, unsatisfactory spouse with extravagant spending habits and a huge sense of entitlement.
New vistas will open before us. New suitors will materialise. No more resentment and second-guessing, No more bickering and sulking...just the sweet taste of liberty, the end of routine nastiness, and the enticing prospect of a bright new dawn.
Arrogant Juncker helps the Brexit cause
IT didn't take long for the snarling Jean-Claude Juncker to demonstrate Europe's true feelings towards Britain and the Brexit vote.
He has told Britain to leave the EU immediately, declaring that this would not be an amicable divorce. Like a scorned spouse, Juncker has lashed out in a spiteful rage.
This pipsqueak politician from a pipsqueak state - Luxembourg - has done as much as anyone to bolster the 'Out' campaign.
His arrogance, vindictiveness and barely disguised contempt have confirmed what most astute observers always thought - that Europe doesn't actually like Britain very much, and that the UK's courageous bid for freedom has shattered the EU's institutional complacency.
Juncker embodies much of what is wrong with the failed European project. He is a feather-bedded mediocrity who likes pushing others around.
He is almost as contemptible as the layabouts demonstrating in London for a second referendum vote for no better reason than that they didn't like the first.
For those shellshocked by the referendum, I offer two firm predictions: firstly, that Britain will prosper outside the EU with its head held high; secondly, that the EU itself will have to set out a programme for urgent reform if it is to avoid disintegration.
Other disgruntled member states will feel emboldened by Britain's stand to seek their own way out of the EU. Many of our misgivings apply to them, too.
As Britain negotiates a new super highway into the future, the EU will be forced to examine itself at close quarters with a view to changing itself radically for the better, or face the real prospect of collapse and humiliation.
Better with Britain than Brussels
Accept defeat with dignity
IT'S odd that Scotland, still hankering after a break from Britain, should be so anxious to harness itself to the EU.
Outside observers could be forgiven for thinking that the desire for independence has been the prime dynamic in the drive for Scottish self-government.
But everyone knows that Brussels demands not only your EU membership fee - and a helluva big one at that - but also your unquestioning obeisance to the European cause.
The big question then is: Is this something to do with principle, or are the Scots simply following the money, the development grants and other handouts that come their way?
Do the Scots have so little faith in their considerable talent and resourcefulness that they feel the need to shackle themselves to a dysfunctional - and soon to become non-viable - organisation composed largely of lame ducks?
Having been born of Scottish parents, and a lover of Scotland all my life, I find it hard to believe that this land of boundless ability and huge spirit and enterprise should require the collective strength - don't make me laugh - of such an administrative basketcase.
For as long as I can remember, some Scots have been claiming that Westminster is too remote from its needs and feelings. Resting their interests in the hands of European bureaucrats will place them even further from the levers of power.
Perhaps they should think hard and put their faith in a regenerated Britain rather than risk their future in a dying EU.
SO typical that the bad losers of the Remain campaign should now be seeking to conspire against the people's will and overturn the Brexit vote.
For once, the British rank-and-file have challenged the world view of a useless elite, and emerged on top. The squirming losers are beside themselves with grief now that their assumptions of superiority have been blown asunder.
The foul Tony Blair is already trying to dream up some back-door deal - one of his specialities - to overturn the vote. But be warned: such shenanigans could spark major problems.
This is an issue the British care about passionately. It is one they they are unlikely to back down on. Any attempt to thwart the people's will is likely to bring grave repercussions.
Not only would it possibly trigger civil unrest, it would also give the fascist bully-boys - and every country has them - an opportunity to take to the streets, spreading their odious doctrine to exploit rising disgruntlement.
No-one wants that. A civilised democracy accepts the principle that the defeated fall in with everybody else and respect the majority view.
To Remain, the message is clear: show dignity in defeat. Accept Brexit for what it is - a magnificent chance to strike out for a better future. As consolation, consider this: the EU is dying and hasn't got long to go.
Britain in crisis as it reels from referendum's impact
THE EU referendum has generated more bitterness and all-round aggravation in Britain than any other event in my lifetime. Families are split, friendships are being tested to the limit, and the fall-out for the major political parties has been catastrophic.
Labour and Tories are both beset by leadership crises, the prime minister has resigned, and there is a strong feeling that no-one is at the helm. To compound the doom and gloom, England has been frozen out of the Euros by Iceland - in football terms, the equivalent of a fish finger.
A friend told me: 'I don't think I've ever felt so frightened. For the first time in my life, I feel Britain has lost control.'
In fact, the nation famously phlegmatic in the face of calamity has lost its equilibrium. A perfect storm of turmoil and uncertainty has shaken the country to its core.
What's required now is firm leadership from someone who can command the nation's respect. Unfortunately, neither Boris Johnson nor the motley crew offered up by Labour fit the bill. We need a Churchill or an Attlee - not a pumped-up wannabe Winston or the pick of Labour's current scruffy crop of no-hopers.
Until that leadership materialises, a period of calm is required. Embittered Remainers need to man up and move on. Brexiteers need to resist the temptations of triumphalism. And the country as a whole needs to recognise that what sets this fair land apart is its ability to take a deep breath and overcome, whatever the obstacles.
For me, who has spent a lifetime expressing controversial views, fallout generated by this website has been inflammatory bordering on explosive.
Here am I, seven happy years into retirement, under siege yet again from raging detractors. It's like being back at work, without the pay packet.
Being a proud member of the McLeod clan, I take comfort at such times from the clan motto: Hold Fast. Soon the storm clouds will break, and the sun will shine again.
LABOUR - a once great party in meltdown
AS a boy in the 1950s, I used to ride around my home village on my bicycle promoting the Labour Party cause. There was a red-lettered placard attached to my back, another to my front, with campaign fliers jutting from my belt and pockets. I was a mobile billboard on a mission - to help defeat the hated Tories.
'Vote for Alf Onions' was one poster I recall, Alf being a local bus inspector with notions of becoming an MP. As our constituency was resoundingly blue - with a Tory MP who had been in parliament since the Great Reform Bill of 1832, or so it seemed - he stood no more chance than a chocolate bar in a boiler-room, but the long odds did nothing to curb our passion.
The Labour Party, champion of the working class, was a treasured institution in those days, with a clear mission and a solid moral base. It boasted political superstars like Nye Bevan, Ernie Bevin, Clem Attlee, Hugh Gaitskell and Stafford Cripps. It gave us the Welfare State and, we felt, new hope in a fundamentally unjust society. It was the means by which we hoped to achieve a future better in every sense than the deprived past.
Compare that engine of idealism with what we have today - a Labour Party riven by factionalism and moral uncertainty, a ragbag of workshy career politicians, posh faux socialists, far left headbangers and whole battalions of backbenchers who do little but make up the numbers.
The eclipse of the hapless, hopeless leader Jeremy Corbyn in a mass revolt is probably the nearest the party has ever been to complete meltdown since it was launched early last century on a tidal wave of high expectations.
Regrettably, Labour has never really reached the heights we had hoped for. Only one of its six prime ministers was any good, and that was the shy, reserved superstar of the post-war government, Clement Attlee. The other five would fit comfortably into the bottom ten of all time, with Blair, Brown and Callaghan credible contenders for the bottom three berths.
The collapse began in the early 1990s, when a group of far left hooligans called Militant Tendency tried to seize power. It was hastened along by the ineffectual Welsh windbag Neil Kinnock, whose triumphalist posturing in the 1992 general election kept the Tories in power.
Worst error of all was the election in 1997 of the atrociously inept Tony Blair, followed in 2007 by the utterly useless Gordon Brown. Since then, the party has lost credibility, installing the embarrassingly poor union-backed Ed Miliband as leader, then Corbyn, a tired-looking beardie who looks more like an out-of-work benefits claimant than a leader of men (and women).
In the wings are the most uninspiring bunch of third-raters you could imagine, including the frankly ridiculous Harriet Harman, tubby time-server Tom Watson, and an okay bloke called Andy Burnham who has less charisma than a disused pillarbox.
The truth is the old working class supporters have become lower middle class home and car owners, transferring allegiance in the process. The Scots, once a reliable Labour base, have turned to the nationalists. The Oxbridge element, which traditionally provided leadership, is now divorced from the rank-and-file by assumptions of social and intellectual superiority. The entire purpose of Labour has been lost in a fog of dogma and ill-conceived idealism. Unless the party is overhauled from the roots up, it's hard to see a future for it.
There is still a huge job for Labour to do, but it's now doubtful that it has the will, wherewithal and talent to do it. Dear old Alf Onions would be shocked by the decline of his beloved party. Attlee, Bevan and Gaitskell must be wondering from beyond the grave where it all went wrong.
Remainers need to accept defeat and move on
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For those of you feeling a bit down in the mouth in these troubling times, I offer you Jazz Gig - a picture I drew to capture the sheer exuberance and joy to be found in music.
INSPIRED by my love of Haitian primitive painting, and in response to a fan’s cry for a piece of Coronavirus Art, I offer you this colourful depiction of the invisible enemy now at our door.
The Haitian people are deeply influenced in every aspect of their lives by voodoo, and the spirits that guide their destiny.
Some spirits are good, some are bad, but all live as vividly in the Haitian psyche as any of the multiple tragedies that afflict them as a matter of course.
Because Haitian spirits are invisible, and often malevolent, I thought it appropriate to make my picture reflect the evil intent of the coronavirus in a form that the eye would not normally see.
With luck, we can repel them, and perhaps even destroy them. Here’s hoping…
Romeo's in the loft
looking for bog rolls
WHEN my wife and I opted to have two balconies mounted on the front of our new-build retirement cottage twelve years ago, we had no idea just how important they would become in transforming our lives.
In the winter, we gaze out over the Penryn River from our kitchen balcony and marvel at the glories of the Canaletto-style tableau set out before us.
In the summer, both balcony doors are thrown open so that our kitchen and lounge are bathed in sunlight.
From early morning until late at night, we watch that golden globe make its stately way from east to west, spreading its warmth on the riot of colourful blooms hanging from our balconies in Babylonian splendour.
Now, alas, our balconies have a new purpose as we view the world from the perspective of self-isolated oldies.
Apart from allowing us to see the comings and goings in nearby Kersey Road - now reduced to virtual paralysis by the dreaded pandemic - they serve as a perch from which we can address the kindly volunteers who deliver newspapers and groceries to our door.
Yesterday, when I was up in my top-floor study hacking away at yet another screed of timeless prose, I heard my lovely wife’s saintly voice wafting Juliet-like from the balcony below, thanking a lady for delivering a pot of Marmite to our door.
‘We SO appreciate it,’ she cried as the good-natured lady waved and continued on her way.
It’s not going to be easy adjusting to life as what the Americans call shut-ins.
But our balconies deliver untold daily delights and will, I hope, keep us sane as the coronavirus does its damnedest to destroy us.
They will also, I’m sure, cement the blessed union I have enjoyed with my wife these past forty years, with me inspired to play Romeo to her ever-beguiling Juliet.
‘One fairer than my love? The all-seeing sun
Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun,’ I feel compelled to intone.
‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ she will no doubt reply.
‘Up here in the loft, trying to find that bag of toilet rolls.’
‘Oh, you old romantic, you!’
It was all very well for Shakespeare. He used parchment.
Criminals by any other name
AS the world fights its greatest existential threat for seventy years, it’s good to know that the probation service is managing to get its priorities right.
From now on the criminals, villains, thugs, wasters and other sub-human dross passing through their hands will NOT be known as ‘offenders’.
This is an effort to re-set the language and create an ‘inclusive culture’.
These creatures will now be referred to as ‘persons subject to probation services’, thus sparing them the contempt and opprobrium they so richly deserve.
This latest lickspittle terminology, another example of ‘woke’ insanity, serves the same purpose as other ludicrous euphemisms dreamt up by loony liberals to evade the unpalatable truth.
For people like me, however, criminals in all their many manifestations will remain trash, garbage, sub-human junk and the filthy detritus of society.
Get my point?
‘I would be interested in seeing an example of Marquis’s Coronavirus Art. Anything in the pipeline?’ George T, Cornwall.
ED: Watch this space.
‘It will take a force even mightier than Marquis to get kids away from their smartphones during this crisis. In fact my fear is that it will deepen their dependency even more. At the end of three months, they will be glassy-eyed automata so fixated by social media that they will never interact with real human beings ever again.’ Philomena, Surrey
I’m reading Instead of a Book by Diana Athill
A book of essays by Gore Vidal
Portrait of Cornwall by Claude Berry
You can’t deny I have wide-ranging tastes
Crayons for dessert? Mmmm...
FOR Christmas, a daughter-in-law bought me a box of chocolate crayons.
‘You can either use them to draw, or eat them,’ she said.
They have now joined our stock of tinned veg, Indian ready-meals and frozen muffins as we hunker down for the long haul.
If they can help me to keep drawing breath over the coming months, they will have served both purposes at the same time.
Build a sculpture from
the junk in the loft
THE Great Pandemic Lockdown could become one of the most fruitful creative events in British history.
Parents with the daunting job of keeping children occupied can turn this into an arts and crafts revolution, with every child encouraged to make best use of their talents.
It can be used to convey the message - undoubtedly true - that every one of us has art in our soul.
And, even more importantly, it can be used to demonstrate that there’s no such thing as boredom for those with the will to create.
A friend who runs a school website asked me for some ideas on how to keep kids occupied during the lockdown. I provided the following list. All you parents out there might find it useful.
* Get each child to draw a picture and write a poem describing their reaction to the virus to be compiled into an anthology to be published after 'the duration'. Possible title 'Poems of the Pandemic, 2020', a book they could keep for life.
* Get them to draw or paint a 'portrait' of the virus, using their imaginations to convey their feelings about it. These could be part of a post-pandemic exhibition.
* As mentioned yesterday, how about a daily journal recording everything they've achieved during the day.
* It's also a great opportunity to get children involved in gardening for at least one - and preferably two - hours a day, teaching them about the regeneration of life after winter, which has interesting parallels with what we're going through.
* Ditto cooking - how to make a simple, tasty meal.
* The teacher profile I mentioned could include questions like: favourite book, favourite piece of music, keenest interest, favourite hobby, favourite sport and personal hero.
* Website could include a 100-question general knowledge quiz (once a week?)
* Encourage them to see the lockdown as their role in helping the national interest, and to feel involved in the making of history. They could recall other major events of the past which the country has had to face - the great plague, the English Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the two world wars, the great depression,
* Explain the lockdown by drawing comparison with the wartime blackout, and campaigns like 'Loose tongues cost lives'.
* Get every child to write an essay about their favourite figure in history.
* What about using old fabric to create a tapestry? Or using rubbish from the loft to create 'sculptures' or 'installations'?
* Most important of all, use this opportunity to convey the message that there is no such thing as boredom for people with creative minds.
Village shops are among
the lockdown heroes
OUR village store is rising manfully - sorry, it’s run by a very nice lady, actually - to the lockdown by continuing to supply goods that the superstores no longer have.
Last night, I had a bag of lovely oranges delivered to my door along with a jar of marmite - both vital for keeping up my vitamin intake during these deeply troubling times.
The shop, aided by a team of volunteers, is becoming ever more irrelevant to our existence as the crisis continues.
The other social hubs of the village - the two pubs and the school - have closed, though the pubs are continuing to provide a takeaway service. So it’s up to the shop, from which I usually buy my week’s supply of newspapers, to keep life ticking over for the duration.
So long as we come through this plague, small shops will - I hope - become one of its beneficiaries, with a healthy rise in revenues, and a new appreciation of just how important they are.
I, among many others, will give our little shop more of my business in the years ahead because our village simply wouldn’t be the same without it.
Let's have a lively explosion
of colourful lockdown art
WITH parents now faced with the prospect of keeping their children occupied at home for possibly months ahead, it would be very easy to fall back on the i-Pad with its wide array of ghastly games.
But I think now is the time to wean the little blighters off those screens and get them into some real, hands-on creative projects.
Schools are already organising on-line lessons for stay-at-home kids - and a good thing, too - but there will also be endless opportunities for expanding imaginations in a way that is entirely alien to many modern families.
For instance, art. I believe everyone has some level of potential in art. Most of us can draw, paint or simply make marks on paper. Whatever your level of competence, there’s great fulfilment to be enjoyed simply by expressing oneself through images.
Forget all about traditional conventions and expectations. Very few of us are budding Titians, Rembrandts or Raphaels.
But every one of us has the capacity to get lines on paper in a highly individualistic way. And I can tell you, from personal experience, that there are few things more absorbing than the simple, and highly individualistic, business of creating.
All of us living today will remember the coronavirus crisis as one of the major events of our lives.
It will be talked about for evermore in the same breath as world wars and great plagues.
Major crises often produce great art, like Picasso’s Guernica, his moving depiction of slaughter and anguish in the Spanish Civil War.
Setting children the task of creating a picture that best expresses their feelings about what’s happening in the world could be a productive and rewarding way to eat up time as we face long weeks in lockdown.
They could also be encouraged to write a daily journal, an essay about their feelings, or even a poem to describe the unusual nature of their predicament.
In years to come - long after the virus has been sent packing - they will be able to show their children and grandchildren the stories and pictures that emerged from The 2020 Plague.
Adversity is a great stimulant for artistic endeavour. This is a real chance for children to show what they can do away from the dictates of a formal curriculum.
Will it be a Baby Boom or Baby Bust?
ONE of the big questions hanging over the lockdown is whether it will produce a baby boom or a dramatic drop in the birthrate.
It all depends on how seriously couples take the ‘social distancing’ directives. If they need a cuddle to ease their virus woes, the graph will go up. If they decide to sleep in separate rooms, the graph will go down.
In nine months time, there could be quite a few spare beds in the maternity units.
‘Like you, I’m all in favour of the government commissioning a cruise ship to self-isolate leading Remainers in Antarctica. Any chance of Greta Thunberg joining them?’ Len Potts, Warwick
For bright people, there's no such thing as boredom
TWENTY years ago, a newly-acquired American friend gave me a tip that has served me well. He said: ‘Never wake up to an empty day.’
As over-70s go into lockdown because of the coronavirus, the need to pursue projects and structure time becomes an even more urgent priority.
Gazing at the same four walls every day, with nothing to divert one’s mind, is a fast route to insanity.
In fact, the mental fallout from the current crisis might yet prove to be even more calamitous than the economic impact.
Boredom was cited in a leading newspaper this week as precursor of clinical depression, a plunge into ‘black dog’ days and dark thoughts.
But I tell my children that boredom simply doesn’t exist for people with lively minds.
At the moment, I arrange my days into segments.
* 6am to 9am - update my website, read the news
* 9am to 10.30am - breakfast, coffee, long chat with my wife on issues of the day
* 10.30am to 2pm - work on books and art projects
* 2pm to 4.30pm - exercise, usually with a walk
* 4.30pm to 5.15pm - dinner (more chat with my wife)
* 5.15pm to 7pm - watch television programmes (antiques and travel).
* 7pm to 9pm - bath followed by emails and computer news checks
* 9pm to 10.30pm - TV documentaries and news
* 10.30pm to midnight - Read books, sometimes write
* Midnight to 6am - Sleep
It’s a satisfying routine combining social interaction, creativity, reading, exercise, relaxation and sleep. Get the balance right, and you are on course for a fulfilling, if somewhat limited, life.
I pity those without the skills, or the intellectual resources, to create a productive existence in isolation. It must be a fate worse than death.
Yes, nature still has the final say
WORKING on the basis that everything - even deadly plagues - have an upside, I’m convinced the coronavirus crisis could end up changing life for the better.
It is already clearing air of carbon emissions around the world and forcing a reassessment of the western world’s money-driven priorities.
It is also demonstrating how futile accumulation of wealth is in the face of a global killer.
The human race had become co conceited, so complacent, that it thought its own destruction lay in its own hands, with its sophisticated weaponry and potentially lethal computer science.
But nature is still in control. And we are at its mercy.
‘I agree with you absolutely on the BBC’s bias. Like you, I obtain tremendous satisfaction from seeing the embittered faces of people like Grieve and Miller. They got it so badly wrong didn’t they?’ P. Ferry, Devon
The spirit of goodwill
in Britain's best village
THERE’S nothing like a national emergency to bring out the best in the British.
As Hitler found out to his considerable cost, a united Britain is not only impregnable, it is invincible.
A race known for its natural reserve, and a tendency to be stand-offish, suddenly blooms into an irresistible force for good when the chips are down.
An example of this indomitable spirit dropped through our letterbox last night.
Two wonderful ladies in the beautiful seaside village where we live knew we were among self-isolating ‘oldies’ and offered to collect and deliver our groceries.
Accompanying the note was a full price-list of provisions available from the village store, and contact numbers for them both.
And the service was offered free of charge.
Flushing, in the far reaches of Cornwall, has always been a desirable place to live.
During the Packet ship era, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was home to the wealthy captains and admirals whose ships carried the mails to far off lands.
In late-Victorian times, it became a famous health resort because of its mild winters and lovely summers.
The Cornish Riviera express brought thousands from London and the Home Counties to Truro every summer so they could catch the branch train to Falmouth. Many of them then caught the little foot ferry to Flushing - ‘The Madeira of England’, as it was known in brochures of the time.
In spite of its many attractions, Flushing has never taken on the 'Chelsea by the Sea’ pretensions of Rock or St Mawes.
It has always been, first and foremost, a real Cornish village with families whose roots extend back to the Packet era and beyond.
It is known for a strong sense of community, with more social gatherings throughout the year than in any average town. These include an arts festival, craft markets, music recitals and lunch clubs.
Now, in a time of crisis, it is once again pulling together for the general good. Its spirit of goodwill is incomparable.
Whenever anyone asks me to identify the best decision I ever made, I always say: ‘Apart from marrying my darling wife, the best move I ever made was to Cornwall, and specifically Flushing.’
Hear, hear to that. There’s nowhere else quite like it.
‘Your MeToo and penthouse stories were ‘f…..g’ brilliant.’ Gerald, Chesham
‘Is there a known antidote to the Marquis virus now infecting my household? My wife and I now read your blog at least three times a week simply to check in on your oblique angle on life. I notice that you are consistently two or three days ahead of the newspapers on most of the big issues, including coronavirus. Where do you get your info from?’ Paul Lee, Hants
ED: Pure instinct, old chap.
Grim weeks ahead for
the Lucky Generation
AS I square up to four months or more in self-imposed quarantine, I have to admit I feel more vulnerable at this moment than at any time in my seventy-six years.
With every relevant pre-condition imaginable - except asthma, I’m very pleased to say - I feel very much as a grouse must feel when the tweedy types turn up with their shooting sticks and shotguns in mid-October.
As viral sweepers try to lure us over-70s from our hideaways, only a fraction of us will achieve lift-off and escape the fusillade of shot blasting off our tail feathers.
The rest will be paralysed in flight and fall to earth.
With cancer, heart disease and diabetes clogging up my health files, and a gall bladder removal thrown in as a footnote, one sniff of coronavirus will be enough to propel me into oblivion.
I’ve been compelled to face up to the dark spectre of mortality before. In 2013, with cancer and heart ops coming in quick succession, I was as close to death’s door as it’s possible to be without being dragged through it. Here we are again.
Born amid wartime chaos in 1943, but at a time when Britain’s fortunes were changing for the better, I belong to one of the luckiest generations in history.
We were reared during an era of post-war rationing, lived through the austere but delightfully wholesome 1950s, grew into adults during the wondrous 1960s, when youth came into its own, and enjoyed a liberated age when opportunities opened up even for those in the lower reaches of British society.
Two great generations before us had given us a lasting peace after half a century of turmoil and deprivation, and I like to think we made full use of it. Greater prosperity, world-wide travel, food aplenty, challenging occupations, property ownership…we had the lot.
With medical research eliminating the viral killers of old, we felt as safe from infection and contagion as any generation has ever felt. We never stopped congratulating ourselves on our good fortune.
The raw truth is that, had I contracted my various illnesses fifty years earlier, it’s unlikely I would have survived. The NHS provided me with medics right at the top of their game. Their brilliance brought me through.
So blessed have we been, in fact, that we began to feel that our ultimate demise lay in our own hands. Climate change was the big threat - a roasting of the planet by the ghastly by-products of our own excess. Or nuclear warfare, an apocalyptic climax to global bellicosity.
Then came this - an invisible, silent and ruthless killer from a meat market in China.
Even the cleverest of our doctors and scientists didn't see it coming. Yet it has the power to paralyse the world in a doomsday scenario that would have tested the imagination of H.G.Wells.
Keep your heads down. Stay indoors. And let’s hope against hope that we get through it.
Forget the bog rolls, grab
the News of the World!
AS a dyed-in-the-wool working class lad, I find it hard to understand the clamour for toilet rolls as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
Shoppers are actually FIGHTING one another to get their hands on a roll of quilted tissue as they face a long period of lockdown.
Of course, toilet tissue has become one of life’s staples since the late 1950s, when Harold Macmillan told us we’d never had it so good.
But before then, ragged-arsed proletarians like me would have seen a bog roll as a luxury, not a necessity.
In fact, our outside loo was lavishly served by cut-up copies of the News of the World, a paper much favoured for its soft newsprint.
When my parents invested in their copy every Sunday, they were not simply buying a broadsheet full of salacious material. They were also buying that week’s supply of toilet tissue.
We, of course, never used a bourgeois term like ‘toilet’. To us, the bog was a lavatory - more commonly known as The Lavvy - and was not to be recommended on icy mornings in the East Midlands.
In midwinter, you were likely to find icicles hanging from the cistern. Pipes were lagged with hessian sacks to prevent bursts in extreme weather.
Sitting down was not recommended. You were likely to stick to the seat, so cold was the plastic material used in those days.
We were ‘upper working class’ because we had a flush toilet. My Aunt Phoebe had a dry lavvy - also known as a thunder box - which had to be emptied once a week by two courageous workmen who chucked the contents into what was indelicately known as The Shit Cart.
The News of the World was considered preferable in the immediate post-war era to the first ‘bought’ toilet rolls I ever saw - a sharp, abrasive brand known as Izal.
‘I’d rather use a sheet of sandpaper than that stuff,’ my Dad often said.
Today, loo rolls are considered essential. In my boyhood, they were either optional or unavailable.
Perhaps it was the demise of the NoW after the hacking scandal some years ago that finally rendered quilted tissue so crucial to our well-being.
The Sun on Sunday, crap rag that it is, is too harsh for modern bottoms, apparently.
‘Your blogs on your penthouse and MeToo for men were Marquis classics. Keep ‘em coming.’
Alan Penfold, Southwark
‘I take it that your women assailants were NOT clients of Specsavers.’ Your Old Mate Vin, Midlands
ED: As you will recall, Vin, I was not always a cod-shaped old geezer with a baggy backside and no hair. There was a time when……you know the rest.
Brace yourselves for four
months in quarantine
AS my wife and I, like all over-70s, face an enforced four-month lockdown as the UK government gets to grip with the coronavirus pandemic, plans are already in hand for a hammock to be hung on our patio so that our children can throw food and other supplies over our garden fence.
All family conversations from tomorrow will be conducted on face-time, and deliveries of any kind will only be permitted into the house if properly disinfected.
My wife assures me that we have enough food in the house to last us for the duration, and I’m planning to stop myself going nuts by writing three books by September and painting enough pictures to stage a ‘Quarantine Special’ exhibition at a venue to be determined sometime in early 2021.
I have already made a pile of unread classics (see earlier blog) and intend to stage several tournaments with my missus ranging from Scrabble to Pontoon, Ludo to Hangman, Snap to Snakes-and-Ladders, and Monopoly to Drop The Dead Donkey.
We have dug our table-tennis set from the loft, and plan to ride five miles a day on our static bicycle.
Please no cold callers, pedlars, beggars or Jehovah’s Witnesses during this national emergency.
For the first time in thirty-eight years of marriage, my darling wife and I will be together 24/7 for at least a third of a year, placing our generally harmonious relationship under sustained pressure for the first time.
We have agreed that, should either of us be unlucky enough to contract the virus, one of us will move into the garden shed. As I have several pre-conditions, I have privately decided that that person will not be me.
As we confront this looming ordeal, we take consolation from the fact that things have been worse.
Eighty years ago, German bombers were flying past our sitting room window on their way to attack Falmouth Docks. Concrete bollards were erected in the village streets to prevent German tanks getting ashore.
Bombs fell on neighbouring Mylor, killing several civilians, and one bomb that fell just a few feet offshore blew out windows all over the village. A boulder off the seabed flew several hundred feet before crashing through a warehouse roof and destroying several pieces of stored antique furniture.
We take as an example the indomitable spirit of an old Cockney lady whose home was blown to bits in the London Blitz.
As rescuers dragged her out of the rubble, her face and clothes covered in dust, plaster and glass, she said: ‘That Mr ‘Itler, he’ll go too far one of these days, he will.’
When Hitler saw the Pathe newsreel recording the event, he must have known he had no chance of winning the war.
Let’s hope we survive this war, too.
‘Loved the piece on MeToo men. I’m assuming the maids were half-cut at the time.’ Friend of Old, London
ED: I’m compelled to admit that one of the maids was slightly tipsy, having downed two or three glasses of my best Bacardi. The big blonde who draped herself over me was also partially plastered. But so was Harvey Weinstein during some of his escapades.
At last, a chance to
read War and Peace
AS I brace myself for a long period of self-isolation, I’m putting together a pile of books that have been gracing my shelves for half a century without being read.
Now is the time to finally crack the mystery of War and Peace, a volume so daunting in weight and dimension that I’ve been using it as a doorstop since 1970.
Isn’t now the opportunity to make a serious attempt to tackle Ulysses properly once and for all, to unravel the intricacies of Joyce’s poetic prose?
Have I finally run out of excuses for not reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a breeze-block of a book that holds down a towering pile of tax-related documents that I’ve been accumulating since I drew my first wage-packet in 1960?
Will Finnegan’s Wake finally get the attention it apparently deserves? Can I possibly finish the terminally tedious Pilgrim’s Progress? Will I ever traverse that rocky terrain known as The Wasteland?
As I brace myself for a go at The Canterbury Tales, I’m acutely aware of the accusing hulk of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, which I began reading in 1976, but never got round to finishing…
And Boswell’s famous biography of Samuel Johnson…I’ve read sizeable chunks of it, but never managed to get from front to back without sinking waist-deep in verbiage…
The Complete Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow…must I?
Am I really obliged to muscle through Pride and Prejudice, with its fragrant young ladies in search of suitable menfolk?
The Book of Mormon, left behind by bright-eyed young American missionaries in the 1950s, will never make the cut, I’m afraid.
And the dear old family Bible? As an adolescent, I scoured it for the rude bits - ‘and Ezekiel entered Rachel, leaving her with child’ and ‘Jacob did pisseth up the wall in anger’ - but I never did make it beyond the first few pages of Deuteronomy.
More surprising, perhaps, is that I’ve never yet read a book by John le Carre, even though I possess several. Is now the hour? Will three months of self-imposed incarceration finally prompt me to pick up a spy thriller for the first time?
I’ll keep you posted.
I THINK I've said all I need to say about the EU referendum, but there are a couple of points I want to make before I pull down the shutters on this unseemly bilefest, with its unholy mix of rampant resentment and bitter recrimination.
Firstly, I find it utterly disgusting to see outraged Remainers foraging around for excuses to overturn the people's vote. They are hell-bent on finding something - anything - to justify a legal challenge to the result. They won't succeed. The British want their country back. End of story.
Remainers need to accept that they lost the fight, absorb the blow and move on. Brexiteers, meanwhile, can feel content that their just cause won the day. Their victory will now prompt freedom movements across the continent.
Secondly, you only have to watch response to Nigel Farage's admirable speech in the European Parliament to see just now much many of our European 'brothers' dislike us. Juncker the Plunker can barely contain his rage at our impertinence, and his dreary northern European colleagues were aghast when Farage laid it on the line and told them they had never had 'proper jobs' in their lives.
Imagine this: the EU gravy train - laden with scores of MEPs, commissioners, officials, flunkeys and all their office equipment, including computers - decamps from Brussels to Strasbourg, 200 miles away, every month to hold parliamentary meetings. Then it trundles all the way back again.
Nothing symbolises the clunking inefficiency, the crippling indecision, the nauseating complacency of the EU better than the slow train to Strasbourg, which swallows up hundreds of thousands of taxpayer euros every month for the simple reason that its dithering management can't agree where EU headquarters should be based.
Britain, whatever its imperfections, deserves more than this. So glad it will now be free of its useless, slatternly ex-spouse, with its profligate ways and sundry shortcomings.
Meet the Metropolitan Effete
Blustering Boris bows out
ONLY once during my long journalism career did I coin a phrase that really stuck. It's given me a measure of pride ever since.
It concerned a splendid young Welsh boxer called Johnny Owen, who died tragically after mounting a brave challenge for the world bantamweight title in America.
In an article about Johnny in the very early days of his career, I called him The Merthyr Matchstick - a reference to his extremely thin frame, unusual for a fighting man.
He liked it so much that he had it embroidered on his ring gown, and he was nicknamed The Merthyr Matchstick for evermore.
In writing about the EU referendum, I've stumbled upon another highly apposite nickname - the Metropolitan Effete.
I've never been happy with this group's own choice of name - the Metropolitan Elite - because it implies superiority, and the only thing superior about them is their attitude.
In choosing 'Effete' instead of 'Elite', I think I've captured the essence of their character in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, which has really exposed their fundamental fragility.
Hemmed in by suburbia and deprived of clean air, these sad souls are physically and mentally incapable of accepting that they lost the argument, and that their alleged inferiors won the day.
Famous for their protestations of tolerance, overly fond of buzzwords like 'bigot' and 'racist', they now find themselves adopting bigoted and intolerant postures of their own in the face of defeat.
One of their favoured cries is that old people should not have been allowed the vote, as they have little or no stake in the future. That sounds very much like bigotry and intolerance to me.
The word 'effete' implies a certain limpness in the face of adversity, an inability to square up to harsh realities.
The Metropolitan Effete - perfect. I hope it lives on as a succinct encapsulation of this group's underlying character.
BORIS JOHNSON has bowed out of the Tory leadership contest after an alleged act of treachery by his Brexit sidekick Michael Gove.
If the claim is true, Gove needs to be congratulated for saving the nation from a blustering buffoon with no talent, no principles and no interest in anything but the satisfaction of his own ego.
The Bullingdon bruiser joined the Brexit campaign at the eleventh hour because he felt it was the best way of achieving his aim to become prime minister.
But to everyone with even a trace of perception, it was clear that Johnson was merely mouthing slogans for a cause he didn't really support with his heart and soul.
He was cynically using public disgruntlement with the establishment as a vehicle in which to propel himself to Downing Street.
Everything about Johnson is phony, from his carefully tousled blond mop down to his carefully modulated plummy voice. The man is bogus from the top of his fat head to his rumpled trousers and scuffed shoes.
As I noted earlier, Johnson might well have what it takes - with a bit of training - to top the bill at the Hackney Empire, but he had absolutely nothing to qualify him to lead the nation.
Now that he's out of the running, let's hope he stays out of the running. Not just for weeks, months and years, but for eternity.
LOST: A four-letter word for some
AN obsessed, deeply fixated Remainer has been pestering me with arguments for staying within the corrupt and inefficient EU.
Like scores of others on the losing side, he seems to believe that sounding off about the alleged folly of the British people is going to change things back to his way of thinking. It isn't.
There is only one way, it seems, to get the message into his able but misguided head, and that is to keep repeating: You lost, you lost, you lost, you lost ad infinitum into eternity, preferably with the help of a ghetto blaster.
He still won't be convinced, of course, but at least we can get on with something else while he pursues his forlorn cause and futile dreams.
Keep the WAGS away from major soccer tournaments
ENGLAND's defeat by Iceland in the Euros was the soccer equivalent of being beaten by Falmouth Town. A team 'worth' millions - on paper, at least - was humiliated by a side whose part-time assistant manager is a dentist by profession. Most of his players have other jobs because there is no professional football in their dark, chilly, northern homeland.
I don't doubt for a moment that the molly-coddled, super-rich England squad at least had the grace to feel ashamed, but it's time for someone to get to grips with the underlying cause of the national team's abject surrender in major tournaments.
Roy Hodgson was right to step down. He is a pleasant, intelligent man - he even reads books, something unheard of in the soccer world - but he never seemed to have a coherent strategy, and his team selections left most people baffled, even his own players.
What we need now is a disciplinarian with a plan, and the implacable will to enforce it.
First move, I believe, is to banish WAGS from the scene while players prepare for major games. This assemblage of vamps and look-at-me airheads (with some exceptions) need to be off shopping at Dolce and Gabbana while their men suffer the deprivations required to train for big matches.
In boxing, there has always been an understanding between manager and boxer that, for six weeks before a big fight, it's vital for a fighter to steer clear of the missus or girlfriend.
My old mate Freddie Hill, trainer of the Finnegan brothers among many others, used to say: 'Pre-fight sex is bad for boxers. They're f....d before they even climb through the ropes.'
Another trainer used to say: 'Rumpy-pumpy leads to Humpty Dumpty, who sat on a wall and had a great fall.'
Second priority is to pick players who have an absolute passion to play for their country. I get the impression that some feel England games are an unwanted intrusion into their gilded lives.
In English rugby, good management is already returning handsome dividends.
Let the next England soccer coach be an intelligent tough-nut with the character to meld a team of undoubted talent into a unit capable of winning trophies at the highest level. Another defeat by Iceland, or anyone else of their ilk, would be too much to take.
Remember, the great Clement Attlee had no charisma
I'M backing Michael Gove in the Tory leadership race. Yes, he's a no-charisma oddity, but so was Clement Attlee - by far the best peace-time prime minister of modern times.
Churchill famously said of Attlee: 'He's a modest fellow - but then, he has much to be modest about.'
He also mocked him for his 'invisibility' - in other words, his lack of presence.
Later, he withdrew his comments, accepting that Attlee's reserved veneer cloaked a true man of vision.
I get the feeling that voters are fed up with the age of image. They want an age of substance instead.
Gove is not a Boris Johnson type, a shameless self-promoter for whom principle counts for nothing. He was the adopted son of a decent Scottish family and studied at Oxford on a scholarship.
He was not a cosseted Bullingdon oaf, but an unimposing little chap who had to make his own way in the world, starting his career as a junior journalist on an old paper of mine, the estimable Press and Journal at Aberdeen.
There is no doubt he is bright. He also appears to be honest, a quality as rare in politicians as paddy fields in Greenland. He has firm views, apparently sound principles, and a journalist's ability to express himself clearly and without equivocation.
Just as importantly, he wisely saw through the charlatan Boris Johnson and had the nerve to knife him in the back politically, thus saving the nation from becoming nothing more than a vaudeville act for the amusement of the watching world.
Attlee was an almost apologetic little chap who surrounded himself with some of the big beasts of British socialism. In six years he turned a war-shattered nation into one of hope, creating the Welfare State and a new age of ambition and accomplishment for people who for generations had been denied the prospect of either.
Gove is the man who not only helped to extricate us from the tentacles of the dreadful EU, but appears to have the conviction and commitment to lead Britain into a glorious new age of success among nations of the wider world. Go for it, Michael, you may look like a pop-eyed nerd, but you're almost certainly the best prospect we have.
Brilliant Wales show the way
WALES is known primarily for rugby, but its soccer men have now put the principality firmly on the map after its splendid defeat of Belgium in the Euros.
Their 3-1 win against a team peppered with superstars embodied all the virtues England lacked when they were frozen out by Iceland.
Pride, commitment, energy, skill, teamwork, plus a strategy worthy of the name, combined to seize a convincing victory despite going down to an early goal. It was an uplifting night when little Wales restored national pride by showing what good management can do.
Manager Chris Coleman, hardly a household name, has put together a unit of mixed ability but awesome power to strike fear into football's hierarchy. From this point on, they need fear no-one. Not that they ever did.
With a fine captain, tight defence and a single superstar - Gareth Bale - they have what it takes to go all the way.
Bewildered Blair wants to be
seen as 'serious statesman'
FANTASIST Tony Blair wants a role in the Brexit process because he believes 'serious statesmanship' is required.
The calamitous PM turned wild-eyed Bible basher evidently sees himself as the potential saviour of the nation.
The man who dragged us into an illegal war, and sent thousands of people to their graves, is so delusional that he imagines himself to be a figure of authority and gravitas.
Poor old BLIAR, the most reviled politician of modern times, is clearly undergoing some kind of inner crisis. There is such a messianic intensity about his every utterance that one wonders whether he and David Icke are suffering from the same condition.
He needs to go to bed, take his medication, and resist the temptation to promote himself in the public prints.
Otherwise someone will be forced to summon the men in white coats to escort him on his final journey to a home for the bewildered.
WATCHING Kim Kardashian parade her gi-normous butt and blimp-like boobies across the newspapers for the hundredth time this month, I am forced to wonder whatever happened to Germaine Greer's feminist revolution.
With Cheryl Fernandez-Hernandez-Fetuccini-Macaroni-Carbonara-Ravioli smiling wanly from the gossip pages, Lady Gaga twerking like a young hippo wherever you look and Posh Beckham tottering around in silly get-ups on nine-inch heels, I feel compelled to ask: where did it all go wrong?
Greer, Tweedie, Burchill, Raeburn and umpteen other strident feminist harpies spent years urging women to abandon their 'sex object' stereotypes and become serious, dependable human beings.
Forty years on, there are more bare bums, cavernous cleavages and bulbous bosoms around than ever before. The vamp, tart, hussy and other variations of the genre are in the ascendancy.
Exploitation of one's physical charms, so condemned by Greer and Company, now operates on an industrial scale. Talent shows are full of brazen, self-promoting nymphets while top sportsmen are engulfed by look-at-me WAGS in Gucci shoes carrying Hermes handbags.
Though I'd be the first to concede that women have made strides in the workplace since the Seventies - and a good thing, too - the feminist movement's overall objectives have not been met.
Its main 'achievements' to date have been the breakdown of family life as we knew it, and the creation of a new defiant wave of female exhibitionism, with boobs and backsides on show as never before.
Far from burning their bras, chucking away their make-up, and wearing baggy dresses to hide their charms, today's women are more ostentatiously feminine than any generation of the last two hundred years.
Hard luck, Germaine - you can't turn back the forces of nature.
Losers stage London demo
LEFT-WING layabouts and pimply know-nothing students were out in force in London this week trying to overturn democracy.
The anti-Brexit campaigners were saying, in effect: 'We know better than the majority who voted for Brexit. We want the vote overturned.'
If their antics weren't so sinister, they would be hilarious. It's like losing the FA Cup Final and saying: 'We want a replay.'
Remainers were convinced that normally timorous Brits would fall in line and vote to stay in the corrupt EU.
But for once they showed backbone and voted 'Out'. The 'In' crowd are apoplectic. They can't bear defeat, so they want everything to be miraculously transformed into victory. It won't happen.
Of course, these same pseudo-liberals - who piously and sanctimoniously preach
tolerance during every waking hour - are unable to show any when events turn against them
They are prepared to subvert democracy in pursuit of their own warped agenda. These are the same kind who want to clamp down on free speech by banning 'unsuitable' speakers from college campuses. They are instinctively disdainful towards working people and anyone over the age of sixty-five. They are, in short, a waste of space and their pitiful cries will go unheeded.
It's time for Wee Jimmy to explain herself
NICOLA STURGEON - or Wee Jimmy Krankie, as I like to call her - is a bright wee hen who's never lost for words, but I do wonder about her recent behaviour regarding Europe and the UK.
Whether she likes it or not, my beloved Scotland is part of Britain, which has just voted to opt out of the EU. It is not within her power to declare UDI and defy democracy. It's to the EU's credit that it's resisting her overtures and telling her to buzz off.
As an Anglo-Scot myself, with Scotland's interests very much at heart, I am forced to wonder why she would back the break-up of the UK in favour of enslavement to an increasingly despotic superstate. It doesn't make any sense at all. And I've never heard the usually loquacious Nicola make a single attempt to explain the logic behind it.
As part of Britain, Scotland is a privileged component in a strong union bound by shared interests. With its devolved powers, its bigger-than-average share of the national budget, and its sundry other benefits, Scotland is doing okay for itself as an important player in the world's fifth biggest economy.
Why, then, opt to become a peripheral province in a union that is slowly imploding under the weight of its own incompetence?
Wee Jimmy may hate Westminster for its myopia and aloofness, but that does not mean opting for rule by Brussels, with its haughty bureaucrats, huge financial demands and diminishing returns. The EU is the embodiment of arrogance and aloofness, as Juncker the Plunker demonstrates daily.
With Brexit, Scotland has the golden opportunity to be part of a bright new future for the UK. It could play its traditional role as a great international pioneer, building alliances with a much wider world, instead of being smothered in the suffocating embrace of Eurocracy, which offers nought but pettifogging restrictions on everything we do.
See sense, Jimmy. Play your cards right and you'll win even more concessions from Westminster, thus becoming Britain's most favoured region, or nation if you prefer.
Trust me, this is a fine bookshop
in a truly beautiful rural setting
MY quest to find Britain's best charity bookshop took me down the long, beautiful drive of Trelissick in Cornwall this weekend. And there I discovered, tucked away in the courtyard, an absolute jewelbox of literary delights.
Trelissick, a grand porticoed 18th century house overlooking glorious parkland sloping down to the shores of Falmouth harbour, is a National Trust property graced by a superb arts and crafts gallery, a beautiful garden, an excellent souvenir shop, a very pleasant cafe and, of course, the bookshop, which occupies an old outbuilding .
You can spend an entire day at Trelissick with no trouble at all, imbibing the place's many delights, including steeply undulating fields, peaceful woods, fantastic seascapes and good food in the restaurant/cafe. A coffee in the courtyard is a special attraction.
I came away with four books for six quid (most titles sell for one or two pounds), one of which was an excellent illustrated full-colour hardback about the writers of Hampstead.
With its extensive arts book section, shelves of military history, a huge choice of non-fiction (history, gardening, sailing etc), dozens of biographies, essays, poetry, classics, and a whole roomful of fiction, the shop offers browsers a guaranteed hour (or two?) of pleasurable foraging.
In addition to all that, there is also a significant selection of Cornish books, including novels, guides and historical studies.
The shop not only testifies to the intellectual health of the area - its donors are clearly highly literate people - but also offers very good books at very reasonable prices, thus guaranteeing high turnover and endless variety.
A volunteer told me: 'We're very lucky. The quality of books we receive is extremely high. Books sold help the National Trust and the preservation of Trelissick, which is a wonderful place.'
Not quite Out of Time
AS a young reporter in the 1960s I used to cover pop concerts at Northampton's ABC Theatre. Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Karl Denver, Cliff Bennett, Mike Sarne...all the pop and rock stars of the age used to descend on our local fleapit. It was bliss.
This week I relived my youth. The Ivy League, Swinging Blue Jeans, the Fortunes, Herman's Hermits and Chris Farlow arrived in Truro on tour to recapture the spirit and verve of pop music's greatest decade.
Had anyone suggested to any of them in 1964 that they would still be at it in 2016, they would have erupted in laughter. None of them expected to last more than a few weeks.
But their fans, the Mods and Rockers, were out in force at the Hall for Cornwall, their quiffs and three-quarter jackets long gone, their winkle-pickers now replaced by more sensible footwear, and the girls' beehive hairdos rearranged into silvery perms.
With their zimmer frames and motability scooters at full throttle, bald heads blazing, hip replacements creaking, knees buckling,
hearing-aids popping, they rose to salute their heroes, whose superb voices and outstanding musical skills brought back memories of the most amazing era in pop music.
When the Blue Jeans gave us Hippy Hippy Shake, those hips still capable of shaking shook like crazy.
One ex-groupie, now near eighty, was on her feet throughout the show, arms held aloft, posterior pulsating, as she kept pace with the rhythms of yesteryear.
When top-of-the-bill Farlow waddled on, his hair very much a whiter shade of pale,
the whole house exploded to his timeless classic, Out of Time.
Its lyrics were poignant. Out of Time. Almost, but not quite for the luckiest pop generation of all.
Evans above! Daft Chris quits - for good, we hope
TOP GEAR is a TV programme for boymen - or prats, if you prefer - who are stranded in a state of permanent adolescence. When Prat Major - Jeremy Clarkson - was fired some months ago, Prat Minor (Evans) was enlisted to take over.
Prat Minor's performance has apparently been so abysmal that viewing figures went through the floor. There are, it seems, gradations of prattishness, and Evans was non-league. He has wisely decided to call it a day.
As I wouldn't waste time or electricity watching middle-aged juveniles scorching tyres in souped-up cars, I am in no position to judge the quality of his performance. What I do know is that, whenever I hear Evans' deeply irritating voice on the radio, I immediately reach for the 'off' button.
Television, apart from deifying mediocrity, has over the years projected into our homes some of the most obnoxious, aggravating, tedious people around.
You can go all the way back to Michael Miles and Hughie Green, Carroll Levis and Magnus Pyke, to find evidence of this annoying trait of giving nationwide exposure to insufferable so-called 'personalities'.
Just think what we've had to endure over the years. David Frost, Russell Harty, Clive Anderson, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant, Russell Brand, Piers Morgan, Clarkson and his gnome-like sidekicks, Evans and his haircut, plus several newcomers whose names I can't remember.
Ask yourself: Would you have any of them round for tea? Not bloody likely. Yet here they are, all paid millions to pester the hell out of us. The sooner those still alive follow Evans' lead and retire, the better for humankind.
A perfect job for out-of-work Boris
EVER since Boris Johnson ducked out of the race for Downing Street, I've been wondering what old mop-head could do for a living. Well, now we know - he could be host of Top Gear.
With Evans safely gone, and Clarkson persona non grata, Johnson is just the fellow to carry this juvenile jape of a programme into new realms of prattishness. He could spend his time charging up and down disused runways in fast cars, doing skid-turns for the hell of it, and never again threaten to make a laughing stock of our democracy by running for prime minister.
He could even introduce every programme while hanging from a zip-wire, waving a Top Gear flag and yelling: 'Look at me - I'm so amusing!'
Perfect. An e-mail is on its way to producers as I write.
Sharia madness from Theresa May
IT fills me with dread and despair that the woman most likely to be Britain's next prime minister actually advocates a role for sharia law in our society.
Theresa May supports the principle that an alien force can impose itself on our nation and actually override our legal system with religion-based laws completely at odds with our way of life.
This kind of thinking is tantamount to a betrayal of all we stand for. And for what? To harness the support of a religious group that is growing ever more powerful as a political force.
A few months ago, I told one of my Metropolitan Effete associates that I loathed the idea of halal meat and all it stands for. In an animal-loving country like ours, it is deeply offensive to allow inhumane slaughter of animals.
He said: 'But it's part of our law. We have embraced it in the cause of diversity.'
My reply: 'Screw diversity. I want to live in a civilised country where civilised people live in a civilised manner.'
It would be interesting to see a feminist response to May's sharia law views. The implications for women's rights are, to say the least, potentially earth-shaking.
Where does it end? I don't know. What we've seen so far is only the beginning.
Time for Bambi the Bliar to face justice
SO Tony Blair was at fault after all. For all his ducking and diving, his fudging and dodging, Bambi was to blame all along for taking Britain into the Iraq War, thus squandering many thousands of lives, including those of nearly 200 British servicemen.
The Chilcot Report, which many feared would be an establishment whitewash, has, in fact, come good after seven long years of waiting - the Bush-Blair alliance uniting the two biggest boobies in world politics is condemned on several fronts for going into Iraq without proper consideration or preparation.
It will be interesting now to see how BLIAR tries to squirm out of it. On his past record, it's likely he will try to blame others, but now that he is firmly in the frame it would be nice to see the law take its course. Twenty-five years in Wandsworth would be a fair result, in my humble view.
AN interesting revelation in the aftermath of Chilcot is that Blair's strong religious views may have played a role in his decision to go to war.
This reminds me of an American TV interview with George W. Bush in 2003, just after the bombing of Iraq began, when he was asked whether he was guided in any way by his father, the former president George Bush.
Dubya said: 'I answer to a higher father.'
So both Blair and Dubya were putting soldiers' lives on the line in response to their religious views, as in 'God told me to do it.' It is truly terrifying that two western leaders were relying on what they saw as divine guidance, and what the more rational and intelligent among us see as nonsensical fantasy.
The jihadist who cries 'God is good!' as he shoots an infidel through the head is similarly motivated. However you slice it, Blair and Bush were terrorists engaged in their own holy war.
IT gets worse. We're now told by bestselling author Robert Harris, a former friend of Bambi, that Blair routinely wore make-up and thought he was the Messiah. It's beyond parody. We were led for a whole decade by a narcissistic lunatic, a God freak in lipstick. Aaaarrrggghhh!!!
Dodgy attorneys - a fact of Bahamas life
THE United States government has criticised the Bahamas Bar Association for failing to follow up complaints against local attorneys. No surprise there: I was told by a senior partner in a prominent Nassau law firm years ago that at least 60 per cent of his Bahamian colleagues were out-and-out crooks who routinely fleeced their clients.
In fact, during my decade-long stint as The Tribune's managing editor I exposed several crooked lawyers who stole clients' money to invest in other businesses on the side.
One dishonest woman attorney stole proceeds from a property deal to invest in a restaurant. A male lawyer's chambers were firebombed when he stole clients' money - lots of it - partly to fuel a cocaine habit.
My dossier on villainous Bahamian lawyers was so fat it had to occupy its own drawer in my filing cabinet. Aggrieved clients were in my office every week outlining their life-wrecking ordeals at the hands of ruthless lawyers. Many had been ruined financially by their dishonesty.
A secondary school teacher told me that most of his pupils wanted to be drug dealers or lawyers because both 'professions' offered endless opportunities for villainy and generous financial returns for doing very little.
A German investor, Harald Fuhrmann, conducted a one-man international campaign against Bahamian lawyers, claiming: 'Nassau has more than 1,000 lawyers, but no law. There is a buddy-buddy system in place which protects them from accountability.''
The legal profession in the Bahamas is a national disgrace, full of bent and incompetent attorneys who operate out of suitcases or back street offices. There are, of course, honourable exceptions, several of whom are friends of mine.
But one told me: 'There's no way I would want any case involving me or my family to go through the Nassau legal system.'
Particularly vulnerable are foreign clients, who are seen as 'easy marks' by dodgy attorneys. Their chances of receiving legal redress are so remote they are out of sight. It's one reason why, during my decade in the Bahamas, I was never tempted to buy a property. I simply didn't want to be at the mercy of legal jackals with no conscience.
I'm surprised it's taken the US government so long to expose what's going on there. Any foreigner tempted to do legal business in Nassau needs to heed the 'buyer beware' principle and proceed with extreme caution.
Do-gooders become Do-badders overnight
LIBERALS are the good guys, right? Tolerant, conciliatory, democratic, lovers of free speech. These are the people who cornered the market in compassion and will occupy the moral high ground for eternity. Fair comment?
There used to be a saying in politics that went something like: 'The Left care, the Right don't.'
As of this week - the aftermath of the EU referendum - you can discount all Liberal claims to tolerant, democratic, humane behaviour. They're just as vile as the rest of us. In fact, more so.
The outpouring of poisonous bile from the Remain camp has been more than nauseating. It has been deeply disturbing. The Trendies have become Trolls overnight. The Luvvies have been transformed into Haties.
It has proved beyond reasonable doubt that these oh-so-pious do-gooders are for democracy, free speech and tolerance only so as long as things are going their way.
When the tide turns against them, watch out.
Among their hysterical responses in the wake of their referendum defeat were:
* A mass demonstration in London of worthless, benefits-scrounging, rent-a-mob wasters calling for the overthrow of democracy.
* A call for old people to be demonised for supporting the Leave campaign.
* A shameless cry for a referendum re-run in the forlorn hope that the vote would go their way second time around.
* A conspiracy to find legal loopholes they could exploit to overturn the public will.
* An utter contempt for free speech - unless, of course, it stayed on-message in support of their misguided views.
* A demand that parliament ignore the referendum vote and keep the nation in the corrupt EU.
* A totally inaccurate and irresponsibly mischievous claim that all Leavers were bigots, racists and dunderheads to a man.
So, the self-styled 'good guys' proved themselves to be intolerant, undemocratic, malevolent and anarchic to the point where they wanted to ride roughshod over a free vote and smear those who displeased them.
All of which added up to something very close to the totalitarianism they affect to despise.
Guardian reading pseudo-Liberals have high-flying ideals which evaporate under pressure. They think they know best, but they don't, as British voters demonstrated all too clearly in the EU vote.
They LOST. LOST. LOST. A horrible four-letter word they find hard to swallow, and which sends them into paroxysms of irrational fury.
Now that they've been exposed for what they really are, they need to do the nation a favour and take time out for a spell of self-examination and quiet reflection on the error of their ways. In doing so, they should hang their heads in shame.
Labour in crisis as dodos fight for party crown
A WOMAN called Angela Eagle is challenging Jeremy Corbyn for leadership of the Labour Party. The movement launched as one of the nation's great reforming institutions of the 20th century is to choose between a bloke who wouldn't look out of place busking in Balham, and a woman so unkempt she might just have fallen out of a giant spin-drier.
The party of Nye Bevan, Clem Attlee, Ernie Bevin and Stafford Cripps is in such a state of meltdown that there is no-one - not a single politician - with a scintilla of charisma and substance ready and able to step forward as potential leader in its hour of urgent need.
Readers of this website will not need reminding that I rate all politicians as third-rate at best, but the Labour Party seems unable to meet even this modest standard as it struggles to grapple with its inner demons, mostly the products of its deep ideological divisions, its conflicting class factions, its skewed ideals and its crumbling fan base.
Seeing Corbyn and Eagle offered up as prospective leaders - and therefore, in theory, prospective prime ministers - is like being asked to choose between tripe and bully-beef, both equally unappetising and lacking in nutritional qualities. I see no future for a movement whose ground support seems largely confined to the M25 compound, where knowledge of the wider world is severely restricted. This pair, so lacking in everything required to lead a major party, symbolise Labour's fast-diminishing relevance as a political force. Perhaps it's time for it to acknowledge that its time is past, and declare itself defunct for the greater good.
Quietly hopeful as Theresa takes the reins
AS one who expects every political new dawn to be followed swiftly by disillusionment, I'm not exactly holding my breath over Theresa May's emergence as prime minister. But I am quietly hopeful that she will become one of our better premiers - a down-to-earth meritocrat who will break up the traditional cliques and get down to business in earnest.
It will be interesting to see how quickly, and assiduously, her 'Brexit means Brexit' promise will be implemented. Certainly her feet will be held to the fire on this one - the Brexiteers will not tolerate any backsliding, and the suggestion that the divorce process will take six years is plainly not good enough.
EU Council president Donald Tusk has already said the break-up should be made as painful as possible for Britain to show other countries that there is no easy way out of this horrendous union. Having been spurned, the EU bureaucrats are determined to ensure their gravy train trundles on for some miles yet before it plunges over the precipice into extinction.
The appointment of David Davis as Brexit Minister is promising. He is a no-nonsense council house kid who does not belong to any of the old school networks. I have a strong feeling that he will get the job done in short order.
We already have the decree nisi. Now let's grab the decree absolute before the hideous EU harridan strives to hold us in its suffocating embrace and squeezes yet more life out of us.
Another Labour loon makes a fool of himself
FORMER Labour front-bencher Chris Bryant, last seen wearing underpants on a gay dating website, has emerged from well-deserved obscurity to blame Brexit for the Turkish military coup attempt.
This pixie-faced loon - an ex-vicar, God help us - is another Labour no-hoper who simply can't bear to see democracy in action. He hates the fact that the British people wisely chose to dump the EU and set their own course.
In fact Turkey - where democracy is trampled underfoot every day by the Erdogan government - was good reason in itself for rejecting the EU. It is only a matter of time before this massive islamic theocracy gains entry to the union, dumping millions more aliens into the European labour market and further polluting the continent's culture.
The only things the Erdogan government and the EU have in common is a taste for authoritarian high-handedness, a dislike of free expression, and a tendency to impose its will on the people without consultation.
I suppose Bryant was right in one respect. The Turkish rebels, like Brexiteers, opted for freedom from the stifling oppression of a tyrannical regime. As it happens, the coup failed and the repercussions could be painful, not just for the Army rebels but also half the Turkish population.
Erdogan - like the EU's bureaucratic overlords - is desperate to retain power at all costs and will go to extreme lengths to achieve his goal. With his huge palace and lavish lifestyle, he will feel disinclined to listen to the pitiful yelps of the little people. Sounds a bit like Juncker the Plunker!
Brexit minister David Davis today reasserted his intention to complete EU divorce proceedings by 2018. Good lad, Dave. Go for it, son!
When Boris the Buffoon meets Trump the Chump
GIVE Britain its due. It came through its recent period of uncertainty with admirable aplomb - and with its sense of humour intact.
The appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary shows that new prime minister Theresa May enjoys a laugh and is willing to give the rest of the world a wry smile, too.
Boris's habit of treating everything as a joke could play out well if Donald Trump becomes US President later this year.
The Donald is not only a joke, he is a very bad, distasteful joke, and it will be interesting to see how these two narcissistic blonds get on when they find themselves round the same negotiating table.
Trump the Chump Meets Boris the Buffoon definitely has showbiz potential.
Top of the agenda, I suggest, should be: How to Find a Decent Barber, one with the wherewithal to turn two clowns into serious human beings. It won't be easy.
Otherwise, Candyfloss and Moptop could go on to top the bill in Vegas or on Broadway, a double comedy act even I would pay to see.
No return to the educational dark ages
IT'S hard to believe that Theresa May, just days into her new job, should propose a return to the old, thoroughly discredited grammar school system, which was responsible for destroying millions of young lives in the 1950s and 1960s.
Grammar schools 'creamed off' - what a laugh! - the alleged top fifteen per cent of the school population on the findings of a one-day IQ test called the Eleven-Plus. The exam was the brainchild of an education 'expert' later dismissed as a charlatan.
The exam took no account of a pupil's overall performance during the school year, ignored talent, personality and character, and facilitated a cynical numbers game in which class, geographical location and 'exam savvy' could significantly influence the outcome.
Thus, most grammar school 'stars' went on to become minor civil servants, bank tellers, primary school teachers, certified accountants and small town solicitors. The schools were never intended to breach the walls of the entrenched public school system, and were generally seen as repositories for moderately bright, but by no means outstanding, students with a knack for passing exams and little else.
It's interesting to note that Sir Harold Evans, arguably the finest British journalist of his generation, was an Eleven-Plus failure, as was Lord Coe, the late political commentor Frank Johnson, and entire battalions of highly successful entrepreneurs.
The system was not only catastrophically unjust, it was also embarrassingly bad at selecting the right students. Hence, many Eleven-Plus failures would eventually find themselves in higher management positions supervising their alleged academic superiors. It was a farce.
Worse still, more than eighty per cent of the school population were sent to secondary moderns, truly awful establishments where aspiration and ambition were never even contemplated.
Unless Mrs May has radical ideas about how a new selective system should be run, she would do well to think very carefully about what most intelligent observers will see as a retrograde step. A return to the educational dark ages is not what we expect of her.
Voices at odds with the people
THE willingness - nay, eagerness - of some politicians to defy democracy over Brexit is a fair measure of their contempt for the electorate. They pay lip service to people power so long as it accords with their own prejudices.
Labour leadership contender Owen Smith wants another EU referendum, despite the fact that his party's traditional core support is firmly against it. Nicola Sturgeon, having lost the Scottish independence referendum, now wants to reject the EU referendum result because it does not fit neatly into her personal agenda.
What neither seems to realise is that democracy is not a political plaything, but the absolute foundation of everything we, as a nation, stand for. The people have spoken on Scottish independence and UK membership of the EU - and on both counts Smith and Sturgeon were on the losing side.
Now they must put up or shut up - or, better still, evaporate.
Britain's higher levels of judgment
WHATEVER Britain's shortcomings - and it has plenty - I've always said it has higher levels of discernment than most other nations.
For instance, Britain would never have elected Adolf Hitler - a scruffy, effeminate, dimple-kneed little headcase with a power complex - to office of any kind, even as chairman of Praze-an-Beeble parish council.
With his ridiculous moustache, his silly screeching voice, his idiotic haircut and his hilarious habit of raising his right arm at every opportunity, the preposterous Adolf would never have been taken seriously by cynical Brits.
With their renowned sense of humour, the British would have marked him down as a distasteful comedy act from day one, laughing him off the hustings in short order.
His English replica, Oswald Mosley, was regarded - quite rightly - as a ranting fool when he led his brainless, bullnecked fascists through the streets of London, and was swiftly banished into obscurity, where he languished for the rest of his life.
Similarly, I don't think for a moment that anyone in Britain would take seriously the walking absurdity known as Donald Trump. But many Americans appear to be buying his message, which ought to be frightening the hell out of all of us as the presidential election draws near.
Watching grown Americans pay hysterical homage to Trump is like watching pubescent pop fans at a Justin Beiber concert. One senses there is a serious shortfall in maturity, a grotesque lack of judgment, and a naive tendency to revere anyone with a big mouth and four billion bucks in the bank.
Dare I say it, the glassy-eyed adoration evident at Trump's rallies is not far removed from that witnessed in Nuremburg eighty years ago. Is Trump the new Hitler? The most outrageous thing about that question is that, on reflection, it doesn't sound nearly as daft as it ought to.
It must be the end for Trump the Chump
SURELY it's the end for Trump the Chump. The Candyfloss Clown looks set to implode after his latest gaffe. His 'grab a p...y' remark has deeply upset America's Bible bashers, who form a big slice of The Donald's support system. And the few women fans he has left are wetting themselves with indignation.
Most men have indulged in lewd jokes in their time, but Trump's frankly disturbing comments about the sex benefits of fame were distinctly off-colour even by rugby locker room standards.
They were more Jimmy Savile than Frankie Howard, not so much distasteful as deviant. As I've said repeatedly, this guy needs therapy.
Electing him President of the United States would be like enlisting King Kong to run the Bank of England. He has NOTHING - I repeat, NOTHING - that qualifies him for the job.
The fact that he has got so far in the race for the White House is a smear the United States will take a long time to live down. Its credibility has taken a pounding. Its reputation is more ragged than a Civil War battle banner.
As I was saying twelve weeks ago, Trump the Chump must bow out of the presidential race now or risk deeply undermining US prestige around the world.
Tories now have a clear run
I'M no Tory, but if I were I'd be breaking open the Bollinger right now. Theresa May's government must be the first in many years to find itself with NO effective opposition at all.
With Labour in turmoil, UKIP brawling in the wings, the Lib-Dems squeakily irrelevant and the Scot Nats in a state of total imbecility, it looks like Theresa and her pals have got a clear run for at least the next decade.
Labour and UKIP are in more or less the same predicament. They have served their purpose and need to go. They are both so riven by internal conflict that disbandment seems to be the only way out.
The Lib-Dems, led by someone who looks suspiciously like a schoolboy, are now so meaningless that they need to concentrate on local politics if they want to survive. Bleating about Brexit is a sure way to frighten off the half a dozen supporters they have left.
Wee Jimmy Crankie, after what seemed a promising start, is now a laughing stock in Europe. She seems to be leading the Scot Nats into oblivion.
Let's hope the Tories do not abuse the power they now enjoy.
Theresa must fight off the braying bully boys of the City, get tough with the toffs, and work on building the meritocracy she promised.
With no-one to oppose her, she has a golden chance to make her vision a reality.
Trump the Chump heads for the White House
THE world's one hope now that Donald Trump has bulldozed his way into the White House is that he is not the unfolding horror story he appears to be.
There have been times before - with Harry Truman, for instance - when seemingly hopeless cases have come good. The odds are far longer this time, but every sane person must hope against hope for a miracle.
Trump sees his triumph as Brexit writ large. The difference is that the British voted for their independence, while Americans voted for a big-mouthed bully, braggart and bullshitter who bears all the hallmarks of a tyrant.
Unless his performances on the hustings were merely a vote-catching ploy, and the man behind the bombast is a decent human being, we're in for a very rough ride.
Of course, many of Trump's loudly proclaimed intentions have some validity. It remains to be seen whether he has the wherewithal to see them through, and if Congress gives him the support he needs.
At the moment, things look bleak. The one thing to be said in favour of his election is that it represents - as did Brexit - a smack in the eye for the greedy, self-serving establishment so amply represented by the corrupt, dishonest Hillary Clinton.
If Trump somehow emerges as a genuine 'People's President', and delivers a plausible alternative to the old way of doing things, something may yet be gleaned from what currently looks like an electoral debacle of gargantuan proportions.
Trump must come good - for all of us
THE cosy, complacent Liberal establishment - full of faux compassion and sneering contempt - has taken a resounding smack in the eye from the Trump triumph.
Like Brexit, Trump - odious as he is - symbolises the people's disenchantment not only with their leaders, but the whole rotten political system. It was time for change - it now remains to be seen whether big-mouth Trump has the wherewithal to deliver.
There is no doubt Trump's rise to the presidency was aided and abetted by Hillary Clinton herself, a ruthless, deeply unpleasant and thoroughly corrupt member of the Liberal 'elite'.
That a nation of 360 million people could offer only these two appalling ghouls as presidential candidates says much about the electoral system there. Somewhere along the way, the ideals of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine et al got horribly skewed.
If there is anything to be gleaned from this fiasco, it is the knowledge that the self-styled western 'elites' - incompetent, corrupt and hideously self-serving - will never again sit easily round their dinner tables comfortable in the belief that power is theirs by right.
Like Charles the First, the French aristocracy, the Romanovs, and many more before and since, the Washington establishment has been told, in no uncertain terms, that the people will take so much and no more.
History has offered Trump the opportunity to become a great president. The question is: does he have the intellect, the character, the will, or the instinct to carry it off? All signs are that he doesn't.
Those of us watching uncertainly from the sidelines will be hoping against hope that The Candyfloss Clown - silly haircut and all - will, against all the odds, come good.
The alternative doesn't bear thinking about.