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Moving Moosevan by Jane Palmer

The Women’s Press, 1990, 152 p

 Moving Moosevan cover

Perhaps it was my familiarity with the central premise and the tone, or that the setting has moved mainly to Earth in this sequel to The Planet Dweller but I found myself much less irritated with this book than that one, more willing to go with the flow. (Palmer is trying to send up the SF genre here and I generally find SF and humour don’t mix well.)

Moosevan, who it was established in the previous book lives inside planets, has taken up residence in Earth. Her adversaries The Mott have found a way to break through the barrier preventing pursuit and are intent on mayhem.

Moosevan herself is rather missing from the narrative, revealed only by her actions – of which beginning to move Britain and Ireland south towards the equator is only the most obvious. Most of the talk and action (which tends to be of the relentless sort but rather cartoonish) revolve around the human and alien characters but none of these ever really rises above caricature. Palmer’s technique is very broad brush indeed. There are occasional grace notes which might still jar (not many SF novels of the time mentioned Maggie Thatcher, Bert Kaempfert or acid house parties) but also the odd phrase grounding the narrative. “There had to be better causes for which to ladder your tights.”

Moving Moosevan is light reading. It has its place.

Pedant’s corner:- for goodness’ sake (if the apostrophe is there it ought to be followed by a further ‘s’, goodness’s, otherwise leave it out,) “for them to secure their grip” (them and their, therefore ‘grips’,) “wild creatures … must have been holding their breath” (breaths,) “tried to diffuse the argument with a hollow chuckle” (defuse, that would be,) “a network of thinking metal units were working (a network .. was working,) “‘this planet it about to sneeze’” (is about to sneeze.) “A pile of Ordnance Survey maps were stacked” (a pile … was stacked.) “‘There are a number of species’” (strictly, there is a number of species,) “that the army …. were still trying to” (that the army … was still trying to,) “none of the group were too sure” (none .. was too sure,) “Yat knew that the terrible trio were back” (the terrible trio was back.)

Oh, Maggie, What Did We Do?

Anyone looking for a metaphor for the parlous state of the UK today doesn’t need to go very far. They only have to look at Theresa May’s speech at the Tory Party Conference yesterday. Just about everything that could go wrong did. The prankster illustrating the lack of authority the office of Prime Minister now holds. That letter falling off the slogan in the background which says it all about how austerity has hollowed away national cohesion and expertise. The slogan itself – a blatant example of truth reversal (they’re not building the country; they’re tearing it apart; they never do anything for everyone, they act for themselves, those who fund them and the extremely well-off.) A leader struggling to overcome the problems (albeit not entirely of her own making – though she didn’t do much to prevent their coming to pass and arguably contributed to their increase) in front of her.

And what on Earth was that about the British Dream?

There isn’t a British Dream*. We don’t do that sort of thing. We’re not USian.

But the phrase reminded me irresistibly of this song written by Roger Waters and taken from Pink Floyd’s album The Final Cut, from which I filched this post’s title. And the question it poses is a good one. I can trace all the ills that befall life in the UK today to that government from the 1980s. Kow-towing to the power of money, rampant exploitation of workers, poorly paid jobs, lack of social housing, high private rents – all have their roots in those times.

There are two unfortunate references in the song’s lyric, though. “Nips” (but that of course enables the rhyme) and “England”. She did damage to a hell of a lot more than England, Roger.

Pink Floyd: The Postwar Dream

*If there is it consists of getting the better of Johnny Foreigner and despising its own working class.

May Day

So. This is May’s day.

… — … … — … … — …
Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot. Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot. Dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash; dot, dot, dot.
Mayday! Mayday!

We in the UK have recently been sailing troubled waters but now we are coming out of a lea shore and are about to enter the full blast of the storm. Who knows what the political landscape of these islands will look like in three years’ time? A second Scottish Independence referendum has been made ever more probable by the UK goverment’s stance on a so-called hard Brexit and deaf ear to other voices.

Scottish independence might have been achieved on a relatively friendly basis in 2014 but I doubt that’s at all likely now.

The febrile English nationalists (for that is what they are) who have driven this headlong rush over a cliff have no thought of (or care for) Scotland – and still less for Northern Ireland for which this represents a double crisis, the “cash for ash” scandal having led to a breakdown of the power sharing arrangements. They will exact a heavy price for what they will no doubt see as a betrayal of “England, their England”.

I believe Theresa May is trying to look stern when she lectures all and sundry in the House of Commons and on television but to me she looks threatening – as in, don’t dare cross me, my revenge will be sweet – despite there being no substance behind her bluster. Scotland can look for no favours from her.

I never thought that another politician could achieve a position lower in my esteem than Margaret Thatcher did but Theresa May has managed it. (David Cameron, aka Mr Irresponsible, though he is entirely responsible for the mess the UK now finds itself in and amply demonstrated his irresponsibility by doing so and more so by running away from the consequences, is merely a buffoon by comparison.) May is potentially dangerous. Not so much in herself as in what may come after her.


From the Show Business world of my youth, Mary Tyler Moore.

From the Politics of my young adulthood, asker of the West Lothian Question, hounder of Thatcher over the sinking of the General Belgrano, a real thorn in the side of the establishment, Tam Dalyell. His home The House of the Binns is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. The good lady and I visited there a few years ago now and saw Tam at a distance. He looked frail. We did, though, later strike up a conversation with his wife, Kathleen Wheatley, over armorial china of all things, and she seemed a very down to earth person.

Well-known actor, a memorable Caligula in I, Claudius, also The Naked Civil Servant, The Elephant Man and Doctor of sorts, John Hurt.

Mary Tyler Moore: 29/12/1939 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.
Thomas (Tam) Dalyell: 9/8/1932 – 26/1/2017. So it goes.
John Vincent Hurt: 22/1/1940 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.

Stop the World: I Want to Get Off

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.

“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.

“I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country” – Donald Trump.

“We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

“The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours” – Theresa May.

“Where there is discord may we bring harmony” – Margaret Thatcher.

Well; the last of these three didn’t work out well.

I don’t expect the first two to do so either.

Not Friday On My Mind 35: RIP Cilla Black

I know it’s not good form to speak ill of the dead but I’m afraid I can’t share the “National Treasure” stuff surrounding the passing of Cilla Black. She was undoubtedly a substantial entertainment figure of the 1960s though, with several big hits and many smaller ones. Yet to my mind her singing voice became too harsh when she upped the volume. In softer tones she could be quite effective though.

As to her later incarnation as a television presenter, I saw Blind Date once. It wasn’t for me. I never watched Surprise, Surprise.

I went off her completely when she was introducing some awards ceremony or other and mentioned Margaret Thatcher, at which the audience booed. Cilla then protested (against all reason) “But she’s put the great back in Great Britain.” Maybe for successful entertainers, but not for those left behind.

This was Cilla in her 1960s pomp, in a clip from Top of the Pops:-

Cilla Black: Surround Yourself With Sorrow

And here she is in her softer register. (Interesting that in the intervening almost forty years since I first heard her perform this song, to reflect our modern sensibilities the lyric has been changed from “ye’ll gerra belt from yer da’,” to “Ye’ll get told off by your da’.”)

Cilla Black: Liverpool Lullaby

Priscilla Maria Veronica White (Cilla Black): 27/5/1943-1/8/2015. So it goes.

Surviving the Shipwreck by William McIlvanney

Mainstream Publishing, 1991, 253 p.

Surviving the Shipwreck cover

This is one I read for completeness. (And it counts for the Read Scotland 2014 challenge.) McIlvanney is one of the most prominent Scottish writers of the second half of the twentieth century, with a string of highly regarded novels to his name, all of which I have read with immense pleasure and admiration. Despite his output being mostly outwith genre (unless the Scottish novel is a genre) he is credited as being the “onlie begetter” of Tartan Noir – not an accolade he sought or even necessarily agrees with – but many Scottish writers of crime fiction speak of him as an inspiration. (And not only writers of crime fiction.) Surviving the Shipwreck is a collection of his journalistic work from the 1970s and 80s.

It starts with a preface setting out the thread of the pieces within – the shipwreck of the book’s title is the loss of social idealism, of belief in our ability to reconstruct society more fairly, of that strand of left-leaning thinking that isn’t Marxist (McIlvanney says the Scots always found Marxism/Communism to be wrong-headed) but had been submerged by the prevailing political climate and, despite the banking crash of 2008, still is.

The first piece was written in the run-up to the first referendum – the one that was won in 1979 but was also lost due to the requirement for more than a majority to bring a Scottish Parliament about. (In effect dead people voted no.) In it he lays out the hopes and fears that Scots had about the prospect, many of which were repeated in the referendum of 2014. In a particularly brilliant phrase he describes the displacement of what might have been political energy into other areas, the most recent example being “the B picture remake of the Darien Scheme that was Scotland’s World Cup sortie into Argentina.” He also predicted the eventual (typically Scottish in its lack of resolution of the problem) result. What struck me on reading this in 2014 is the change that actually having an extant Parliament in Edinburgh has made to the Scottish psyche. There is much less anti-English feeling, much less fear of being too wee and too poor, much more confidence in Scots’ ability to do things for themselves. The displacement of energy into football too is much less pronounced (but that may have been due to the fact that Scots came to realise that by and large our footballers are – at least at present – mediocre at best.)

Then there is a piece on the city of Edinburgh’s manifold dualities, which made me reflect on how perfect that then makes it as a capital for a nation of so many divisions; another on the corrosive effects of poverty and how the benefits system traps people in it; the mysteries of disco and its differences from the dancin’; the experience of the dog track; the delights and miseries of following the Scottish football team, “The train standing at Platform One is the Wembley Football Special. This train has an Inferiority Complex Car where light traumas will be served throughout the journey. This train goes by way of Paranoia, calling at Little Dependency, National Neurosis and Ultima Thule,” not least to Argentina in 1978, when McIlvanney, along with five companions, undertook one of those epic trips through the Americas and remembers most of all the kindnesses received everywhere, but especially in Argentina; the dispiriting experience that is Las Vegas; the reduction of life to personal economics; the accepting nature of old fashioned pubs; the necessity of highlighting the plight of those left behind in the wake of materialism; the mutual incomprehension of men and women; the resorts people will turn to to alleviate their lack of funds; the haunted nature of living in North America, the lack of inter-community feeling; the more humane socialism of Scotland compared to Eastern Europe; the necessity for teachers and pupils to reach a meeting place; the challenge both to the cosy detective novel and also to the dismissal of a fiction if it can be labelled genre that his novel Laidlaw represented; the defining characteristic of the Glaswegian (humane irreverence); cultural elitism in T S Eliot’s poetry criticism, and more generally; the manifold losses – not just of jobs and worthwhile lives – that monetarism inflicted on Scotland; the genesis of his novel Docherty in the lack of presence of working people in literature.

In Gulliver’s Last Voyage McIlvanney essays a Swiftian look at Scotland’s attitude to its history, a series of forgettings and inventions underlain by the fact that, at some time in the past, the country was sold against the will of its people.

Notable insights were:-
(We have) “a society where the government is dedicated to ignoring the damage its policies inflict on ordinary lives.”
“Everybody can understand selfishness and greed, and Thatcherism has constructed what passes for its political philosophy out of these two brute instincts. The dignity of just complaint must never be lost. Without it, we accept what we shouldn’t accept.”
“The greater radicalism that has at least nominally persisted in Scotland may be partly attributable to the fact that the country (was) virtually powerless. It is easier to have noble ideals when you are not obliged to live according to their terms day by day. But that greater radicalism is also partly attributable to a tradition of taking ideas seriously. We must not lose that. Taken seriously, ideas are dangerous but not as dangerous as the absence of taking them seriously.”
“The policies of this government resolve themselves into one basic premise: they are a licence issued to the wealthy to exploit the poor… Margaret Thatcher is a cultural vandal. She takes the axe of her own simplicity to the complexities of Scottish life. She has no understanding of the hard-earned traditions she is destroying. And if we allow her to continue she will remove from the word “Scottish” any meaning other than geographical. (There will be) incalculable damage to the future – the loss of belief in society, the anti-social tendencies encouraged, the lesson branded on thousands of minds that you are alone and your society doesn’t care.”

These criticisms are still relevant I fear.

Pedant’s corner:- they didn’t use to be there (the phrase is “used to be”) and that bad (badly)

Tony Benn

Two in two days. First Bob Crow, then Tony Benn. Are there any prominent left wingers left in the UK?

I must say it has been faintly sickening to hear those who had nothing good to say about them in their lifetimes come out with all sorts of praise now they are safely dead. I did think it was unwise of David Cameron to say of Tony Benn, “There was never a dull moment listening to or reading him, even if you disagreed with him,” as it invites invidious comparisons.

Anthony Wedgwood Benn, as Viscount Stansgate, was the first person in the UK to renounce a peerage. This was in order to retain his seat as an MP which as a peer eligible to sit in the House of Lords he could not under the law as it stood. Had his elder brother not been killed on active service in the Second World War his campaign to be allowed this would not have been necessary and that law might still be in place. Ironically Benn’s success in getting the law changed afforded Alec Douglas Home the opportunity to do just the same with his peerage and so become Prime Minister – an office Benn himself never achieved.

Benn has been represented in today’s news coverage as somehow unwilling to come to terms with politics as it unfolded. Another way of saying this would be to say he was not a trimmer. Instead he stuck to the principles of fairness he had long espoused. I note here that a certain other conviction politician broadly contemporaneous with Benn was lauded for not being a trimmer. Funny old world, eh?

Mind you, if you’re anti-establishment in the UK you seldom receive a good press. (Unless you are recenty deceased, obviously.)

Robert (Bob) Crow : 13/06/1961 – 11/3/2014.
Anthony Neil Wedgwood (Tony) Benn : 3/4/1925 – 14/3-2014.
So it goes.

Syria and Parliament

It seems that an outbreak of sanity has occurred in the UK Parliament with its vote against military action in Syria.

Now, chemical weapons are horrible things (even if you are just as dead being killed by high explosive or shell fragments or blast or a bullet; it is difficult to see a moral difference) but I fail to see how attacking Syrian government forces can make life better for the average Syrian even if responsibilty for the use of such weapons were to be established beyond doubt.

Not to mention the wider implications. Pour oil on to a fire, why don’t you? Bombing yet another mainly Muslim country will only encourage those Muslims who have a grievance against the UK already.

[And don’t forget there are many reasons for that grievance. I noted only yesterday that British forces were involved in killing locals in Iraq in the 1920s. This followed the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which laid the path for the eventual Jewish takeover of most of Palestine. Then there was the overthrow of Mossadeq in the early 1950s. The collusion with Israel over Suez in 1956, the Suez invasion itself. The illegal invasion, on totally spurious pretexts, of Iraq in 2003. This is just those instances of UK intervention which impact on the Middle East. (A term which is itself anglocentric.)]

Quite how adding in another external faction to what is a civil war in Syria would help in resolving the situation there is also beyond me.

Just because people say something must be one doesn’t mean you can do anything you like.

Mr Irresponsible (aka David Cameron) has once more shown himself up to be a blustering bully. I suspect his enthusiasm for miltary intervention in Syria is that he believes sending in the armed forces helped both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair to be re-elected. (A belief in which he is probably mistaken.) What he hasn’t learned is that the Iraq invasion – or, more accurately, its aftermath – poisoned the opinion of most British people against the assertions of Government spokespeople and Prime Ministers over the reasons for using troops and weaponry.

Military action against Syria could be like stirring up a hornet’s nest with a stick. There is no telling what the consequences would be.

A better response to use of chemical weapons, or any atrocity, would be to make sure that anyone responsible for what are considered war crimes is held to account by the international community. This would mean instant arrest should they stray outside whatever jurisdiction is keeping them safe from it and then arraignment before an international court. This stricture ought of course to apply to anyone, from whatever country, not just those our politicians say they don’t like.

And as to the effects of chemical weapons it might be best to deluge Syria with kits containing antidotes to the chemicals likely to be used – which would render their deployment pointless.

It wouldn’t stop the killing though.

I’m afraid this has been a somewhat unfocused rant. I can’t see a quick way out of the present Syrian imbroglio, the two sides seem too far apart for that.

Civil wars tend to be intractable. Intervention in them needs to have a purpose beyond, “Something must be done.” I didn’t think any of our politicians – least of all Mr Irresponsible – had enough wisdom to see beyond such simplicities. Parliament has at least resolved not to do more harm.

For the moment anyway.

Market Forces Ding-Dong

There has been a lot of outrage expressed (some of it probably confected) over the campaign by some to have the song Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead get to number 1 in the download charts this week.

Isn’t this one of those examples of the law of unintended consequences?

For the irony here is that it is those who were/are the most avid acolytes of the “Blessed Margaret” as they saw/see Mrs Thatcher who are the ones most loudly decrying the situation. (And make no mistake: we have been subject to a concerted effort to portray her as some sort of secular saint – it was hours before I heard any sort of countervailing opinion on the BBC News on TV or radio on Monday and on Tuesday Matthew Amroliwala persistently tried to force Douglas Alexander to agree that her legacy was entirely beneficial.)

Notwithstanding the point that using the song in this way is arguably sexist – there is no male equivalent to witch that carries the same degree of derogatoriness – wasn’t her attachment to market forces well documented enough and isn’t this the perfect example of those same market forces?

To assert the primacy of “the market” and then to say that a choice people make under its auspices is wrong or reprehensible is hypocritical at best. You cannot be both for the untrammelled workings of a market and at the same time complain about any of its manifestations – except from a position of intellectual bankruptcy.

If you claim that some choices ought to be limited or should not be made then you admit that markets need to be constrained. You have lost the pass, conceded the game.

The question is then of where to draw the line, not of having no line at all.

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