Thursday, 25 September 2014


AWriter’s Notebook

No.51, September 2014

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    High Road, Low Road, No Road
Poetry: Again by Alison Prince
Review: Arrivederci Commissario!  Helen Dempsey

The Scots have made their decision. We are united once more; so the politicians celebrate. After a lot of good sense north of the border  from both those for and those  against independence, we enter the era of honour and fair play; of politics set aside; of British common sense demonstrating itself to the world. This is crap; and so have been most of the comments by the power elite reported in the media.

    Friends, the Scots were voting for something more than independence. Indeed it is arguable that they were not voting for independence at all: what they wanted was to be shut of  the kind of government they have suffered under from Westminster; the government of cuts in social welfare, the ideology which introduces legislation that enriches the rich and punishes the poor. They wanted an end to Toryism, just as the English, Welsh and Irish may wish to do once given a vision of what is possible.

‘Believe us, we’re listening…’
Heeding the politicians’ clamour of promises and cross-my-hearts, you would guess that Scotland’s example has been on their minds for generations, regardless of the fact that they’ve wrangled for generations over what to do with the House of Lords.  Locked in to the mentality of their parliamentary privileges, having so benevolently kept the nation’s blessed nurses and other professions vital to the nation to a one percent pay rise while they dish out the shekels  to themselves, rest assured they have the CONSTITITION  in mind. PR man Dave wants to rush it along, 20-20 style; slow-motion academic Ed prefers two innings and a five-day game. Though it will milk the headlines for a few weeks more, reform will fade from the government’s agenda as swiftly as the Royal Charter on the press.
    Years ago it was put to Yorkshire that they become part of regional government. A vote was taken. Nobody was interested, because the good folks of Yorks were well aware that, as far as the ruling class was concerned (Labour in this case) change meant more of the same.
   It is such a relief, however, to know that so many things have been pledged, that politics will be abandoned by all parties in order to debate the common good; to learn that the advance towards independence of the English would under no circumstance be influenced by party ambitions.
 Of all the promises made during and after the campaign nothing summarises better what the Scots have known for centuries, that English assurances are as reliable as King John’s vows to honour Magna Carta (also referred to, more accurately, as the Barons’  Charter).

The country will never be the same again: official
Yes, there will be ‘constitutional reform’. It will promise change. Before you know it we will have a nation cleared of any resemblance to the past. The ruling cabinet will be made up of Etonians. Britain’s best education will be provided by public schools. Sunday will still be prayer day on the BBC and there will not be a cat in hell’s chance of having non-believers speak on Thought for the Day. The income of the royal family will be tripled. Prince George will become Lord of the Isles on his fifth birthday and inherit fishing rights for lochs Awe to Tay from Eck, from Morlich to Ness. The nurses will receive 2% over ten years following the concluding transfer of the National Health Service to American medical conglomerates.
     Statutes and formulas galore will have been assembled by City-based consultants at fees  equivalent to the income of Greater Manchester which will share the role of capital of Merseyside with Liverpool on a six-monthly rota. Devolved committees with powers of recommendation will be responsible for dealing on a local basis (yet to be defined) with issues such as what to do with immigrants, the sick, the elderly, disaffected youth, taxing Starbucks, banks, corrupt business practices, down-and-outs, hedge funds, Wikileaks, jihadists, all of course as usual in the name of equality, fair distribution of wealth and the abolition of prescription charges (over the dead bodies of the Conservative Republican Alliance).
     Cornwall will be restored to its ancient kingdom status and the Cornish language permitted to be spoken on the  royal births and deaths. As a result of Scotland’s promised privileges, plans for a motorway in Cornwall will be postponed till 2025.

Much to do
Of course most of the items listed above are currently well in hand. The difference is that the Citizens’ Charter will speed things up or slow them down accordingly. It will be subject to independent debate across the new counties of Yorkshire-with-Lancashire, Surrey-with-Kent and Inner-with-Outer London, the new regions or Landes of North, East, South and West and the new conurbations of North-and-South Watford. Needless to say, Parliament itself will continue  to shut up shop for four months during the summer months.
    Having proved such a failure, public ownership of facilities and social services for New Britain will be the responsibility of the private sector. Schools will be expected to earn their keep, profitability to be the sole  criterion of new league tables. History teaching will go easy on Edward 1’s ravaging north of the border,  the role of the English in the problematic events at Glencoe, the massacre  and post-combat slaughter at Culloden and the Highland Clearances.   If it has not already been delivered, the Stone of Scone will be returned to whatever location will command the greatest attention of the paying public.
    As for decisions concerning what is of exclusive interest to the English, the Welsh, the Irish as well as the matters of exclusive interest to the Scots, these will be the responsibility of a Royal Commission operated by retired judges, diplomats, former ministers of state plus a 1% representation of local taxpayers over 40 with residency rights of a minimum of 15 years. Except where necessary, all posts will be open to women applicants.
    The future is well on its way to fruition, though there are still doubters. As one English voter recently settled in a new council  house on the shores of Loch Lomond was overheard to say, ‘A new face for the English? I’ll believe it when I see it!’

By Alison Prince

Beside my mother in the cinema
I saw the stick-white bodies of people
bulldozed into graves, and understood
that this was what the war had been about.
Our own deaths had been accidents – the bombs
struck randomly. But this slaughter was planned,
a system coldly carried out.

 Appalled sympathy wrapped victims
and survivors in the deep respect
due to those who might point to our guilt.
They never did. It had not been our fault -
we could not know. But all the same,
a debt stood to be paid and at the least,
we felt we must remember and  take care
that such a thing never happened again.

Who could have known that those
with a camp number tattooed on the arm
would have descendants who look back and find
a tribe to blame for all the current ills?
War never stops, but this new targeting
of children, dark-haired as  the bombers' own
children, is again well-planned.

 In a mosque's rubble a thin boy hunts
through damaged books thrown in a skip
on top of other stuff. I remember
the smell of stone-dust and the stale
reek of doused fire and, too, the pride
of being still alive. I hope he found
something to sell or, better, to take him
beyond the ugly tedium of war,
just for a while. We are now too far gone
to ask for more.

Arrivederci Commissaro!

Helen Dempsey fears the winter without the comforting vistas of Sicily and the bow-legged, balding Inspector Montalbano

Gosh and alas, the dark nights are approaching and we are to be deprived by BBC Channel 4 of Salvo (Inspector Montalbano) and his dedicated and dishy assistants, Fazio and Mimi, the glimpses of the deserted streets of Vigata, the programme’s evocative music and – in the final instalment, a parrot singing the Internationale.
    Il Commissario played by Luca Zingaretti is not exactly one’s image of the Italian heartthrob; he is short, bow-legged and shorn. But he has a mighty chest as the production team regularly remind us in most instalments catching our hero swimming in Sicily’s languid waters prior to him being half-way through a coffee before the phone rings and he learns of the latest murder to be solved.
    Unlike most western crime series which are often laconic in the extreme, made up of grunts and silences, ‘Montalbanio’ as one would expect from a population blessed with an eternity of sunshine and pavement cafes, consists of talking, not just between the key characters as plots deepen and become more convoluted, but with a horde of minor portraits, usually witnesses of all shapes, sizes, ages and appearances who are given speeches sufficient to serve as lessons in Italian and encourage British visitors to venture beyond Buon giorno and, yes, arrivaderci.
    Serious critics would shake their heads at the vein of populism that runs through the series. There must be more women of spectacular beauty and seductiveness featured in ‘Montalbano’; yet Salvo, though he might be tempted never surrenders his priorities: his work, his quality food and wines and his girlfriend who, convenient for narrative requirement, lives and works far off.      Like all policeman’s ladies, she is the victim of forgetfulness, lateness and neglect.
     Whatever the temptations, even the prospect of a weekend in Paris, our Salvo is impossible to shift from his immediate context – and why should he when his mis en scene is made up of exquisite sea vistas, crumbling country mansions, spectacular interiors, courtyards and eye-catching stairways?
     I’ll miss Montalbano because like all good detectives, while willing to bend the rules, he is honest and fair, the sort of character, firm, brave and unpretentious, who drives a car utterly devoid of distinction. He is resistant  to bullying by his superiors, often authoritarian towards his colleagues who in turn he often finds exasperating. Yet at Christmas time they compete to invite him to join their family celebrations. I’d be happy to do the same. Benvenuto, Commissario!

Dear Ed.,
As a dedicated reader of A Writer’s Notebook I was delighted to be invited with my wife to your celebration of Blog 50 at the end of August. The gust swirling round the cleaners’ cradle at the Shard was a little unnerving at first. My wife lost her coque-au-vin but that was amply compensated by our chance to meet your famous correspondent, Ned Baslow, who kept us entertained with tales of his trials and tribulations concerning the celebrities due to appear at the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Festival of the Arts.
     My wife and I have booked tickets for Extracts from Homer’s Odyssey read by the author himself; and we had a lot of fun returning to Tunbridge Wells anticipating the interval when there will be a competition to award Mr. Homer a first name – as Ned argued, the loss of a great poet’s first name is as bad as somebody pressing the Delete button before the final stanza of his masterpiece.
    However, Mrs. Baslow, who is studying for an Open University degree, said all this naming was a nonsense, the word Omer (with or without an h) was the ancient Greek equivalent for ‘Anon’.  It is amazing how much you can learn dangling half a mile above London with a sausage roll in one hand and half a pint of Guinness in the other!  Yours etc.,
Peter and Glenys Bird.

 Our thanks to Peter and Glenys and to the dozen or so guests who dropped us a line. Also to Alison for her beautiful poem, and our first-time correspondent Helen Dempsey. We’re all a bit sad that Inspector M. won’t be demonstrating the gentle art of Sicilian crawl under a Mediterranean sun. Instead BBC 4 will be serving up the same old Nordic angst – perpetual ice and snow, mangled corpses, and characters verging on the bi-polar and not a laugh from one instalment to the next. Which means the critics adore it…

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