I heard the news today, oh boy

I have never had a more visceral reaction to a politician, because he transports me. He takes me to places in my memory where I felt vulnerable, where I felt scared. And I know that from talking to others his presence, his speeches, his attitudes have that effect in them too. And with his sexism and with his racism and with his anti-intellectualism he represents all I despise. And with his demeanour, and with his attitude, and with his actions he represents all I fear. When he speaks, when I hear that contempt for others, for women, for non white, for all that is not Trump; when I hear that sloganeering demagoguery, pat four word solutions, baseless assertions; and when I see that sneer, that posturing, the head tilted back, the snorts, the sniffs, yes, when he speaks he pushes the buttons you don’t want to be pushed if you have ever been afraid. Because he is the bully in the playground taunting, pushing, but letting others fight his fights, standing at the back, egging on, laughing. Because he is the authoritarian teacher sneering and belittling the weak, throwing the duster across the room, laughing at the child in the row behind you who can’t answer the questions. Because he is the man outside your door, nudging it open, his face reflected in the mirror.

For the past few weeks every news broadcast has left me in a heightened state, anxious as I am transported. And now we have that for four years.

And I am scared.


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Her face, the right hand side of her face, was orange.

That struck me last week. Sitting eating, and talking, catching a reflection in a window, feeling transported twenty plus years sitting eating, and talking on the floor, or on low sofas where my knees were above my waist, or on beanbags, in various student flats. But usually sitting in front of three bar electric fires. And my friend, one side of her face reflecting the light from the fire – the three bars visible in her eye. I felt safe because during my first year at University those nights in front of the electric fire stopped me leaving.

Unable to get into halls of residence, hours from home, I was in lodgings a very long way from anywhere – staying with an elderly couple who had decided to take in students following the sudden death of their daughter. The atmosphere was tense. Most nights the couple would sit and drink. It was not uncommon to wake up with him in my room, drunk. Sleep was fitful. Eventually, I tried to go to sleep with suitcases filled with books behind the door to try to stop him coming in. And days were no less stressful. I was barred from cooking, but unable to afford regularly to eat out. So I didn’t eat every day, would sometimes miss two or three days. Not eating becomes easier. You exist in a heightened state – sensitive to every sound, experiencing life in a Powell and Pressburger pallet. Come November, the leaves of the trees that lined the street had fallen and were bold russet browns, and orange. Vivid orange. As if painted on. Not eating meant I could exert some control over at least one aspect of my life.

Meanwhile, the degree was going little better. The first person in my family to go to University, studying a subject I had fallen into because I had no idea what to do and degrees were to get jobs, for professions, I found the work relatively uninteresting. Geographically isolated, socially awkward, I did not make friends easily. And after the first week of frenzied activity where conversations followed the same line – what subjects did you do? What were your grades? What are you studying? What’s your favourite novel? Your favourite film? I would go back to the lodgings at night, and being so far out, and mindful it took so long to get back to the centre, I would spend evenings reading from my angst ridden teenage student library which ticked various boxes. There was the Plath (poetry, of course, and the fiction), Kundera, Marquez, a smattering of Alasdair Gray, some Kelman, MacCaig, and a much read copy of The Trick is to Keep Breathing. And I wrote. Oh, how I wrote. Those things I couldn’t talk about, wouldn’t talk about, for years. Laden with adjectives, stylistic experiments – attempts to get inside my head.

And I wanted to leave.

I wanted to go back home, to pack it all in.

But I knew how upset my parents would be, how upset my father – who despite protestations from his head teacher had to leave school at 14 to bring money into the home – would be.

So I stayed.

And I hated it.

I hated every aspect of being away, of the whole damned place.

Until I met her again.

I bumped into her outside the law school. She had been at my school, older than me, effortlessly elegant, short hair, long coat, clear sad eyes. At school in the spring after the Lockerbie disaster, the spring after my grandfather died, I had sat with her in a room, one sports day, while everyone else was outside running, or jumping, or watching, and we’d chatted and I’d cried remembering my grandfather – and she didn’t judge and didn’t hug, but listened, and shared. And one day during my first term as a student I bumped into her crossing the road next to the law school. We stopped and chatted, and she invited me to her flat a street away from the law library.

And so, later that night after we had eaten (she’d cooked. She’d insisted I eat. She was right) I was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of a three bar electric fire, her face, the right hand side of her face, orange. The evening was pleasant. We talked. About books. And about films. And about the future. That night we planned to meet again, and weekly (sometimes more frequently) thereafter we did. And each week she made sure I ate, and each week we talked, and we talked, and we talked. And when the landlord drunkenly tried the door to my room, and when I felt increasingly semi-detached in the law school, there was one night each week I looked forward to, where I felt safe, and where one week months later she trusted me more than anyone ever had before.

And time passed, and the degree got better, and (eventually) life got better, and I moved into a flat, and throughout we continued to meet weekly, sharing tales of new books, or new films, or our new loves, or consoling each other after bereavements or break ups. And over time there were other friends, others I could sit easily with chatting about film and television and books, always books.

And those friends were important. A support in difficult times, and a joy in good.

But over time, as people transform – with new relationships, with new jobs, with new families – the circle of friends, of those you keep in touch with and meet regularly, grows smaller. And while you never lose those shared experiences with new commitments there are new priorities. Contact becomes less frequent. The dynamic changes.

And where like me your personality means that it took a long time to build that circle the lack of contact, through the consequences of love, and the growth of a family, or geography or a multitude of factors exacerbated by neglect, leaves you strengthened in some ways, but in some ways increasingly insular. And for a time that seems to be the pattern.

But last week catching a reflection of an orange light in a window, while sitting eating and talking about families, and relationships, and books, about writers you have loved for years and those you have recently encountered, and sharing a love of television, and scripts and scriptwriters and directors and performances, and remembering schooldays, and student days, good and bad, with new friends, a new social circle who only one year ago I’d barely met, transported me twenty plus years, transported me to bumping into her outside the law school and what in the weeks, months, years after I had gained from that. And I so appreciate this chance to have a second circle of people who matter to me, and with whom I feel comfortable, with whom I feel safe.

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A hastily written rubbish topical poem on the proposed commissioning of a new royal yacht

“How enhance trade with friends o’er the water?

Taking advantage of Wills, Kate and daughter?”

“Steady on chaps you know what we ought to,”

Quoth one quaffing toff, his nose terracotta.

“To plug British stuff from farmer or potter

At public expense commission a yacht.”



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Memories remembered

You know the sequence in Ratatouille? The critic attends the restaurant and asks for ratatouille. He takes a mouthful. And we fall, viewer and character together. We fall through the years, into his childhood. Proustean. That’s what the reviewers said. Proustean. But this happens outside books. Outside films. It resonates because we experience it. We understand. We feel. The piece of music that takes you back to being thirteen again having difficulties with girls (or boys); that line in the book you read to your children transporting you to those nights with torches under the bed clothes; the smells, the tastes that remind you of dinners in front of the telly, plates balanced on your knee, Eric Wallace on the television.

And odd things set you off. Words. Being alone in a room. The anxiety of hearing someone else’s half told story. Half glimpsing a man, younger than you now but not the man then, with eyes the colour of phlegm. The man on the television boasting.

And remembering transports you. The judder into your own past leaves you needing to explain. But the telling, the act of explaining, makes the transportation more visceral. Puts you in the room, the mirror on the chest of drawers giving you a glimpse outside, of who you know is there. It lets you hear the television, the vibrations echoing round the house, the ribald laughter from the living room. And you are left wondering if the remembering, if the very act of recollecting, that teleporting into your old body that happens with a memory, transforms. Are you remembering the retelling? Or remembering what happened?

Either way, you hate Paul Hogan.

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Citizen of nowhere – a hastily written vaguely topical poem

Seems I’m a citizen of nowhere

Which is really no bad thing

‘cause the PM leaves me in despair

With her sleazy kipper fling.

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Station, 1st October 2016

In front of the disaster memorial

Held safe by an old brick atop the wall

A spray of flowers wrapped in cellophane

Marking where he stepped in front of the train.


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A hastily written rubbish topical poem reflecting on the Labour leadership contest

No rich teas, digestives or bourbons

Will enter the gullet of Corbyn.


Can a man with no taste for a hob nob

Be a real  candidate for the top job?


Will a typical British elector

Cast a vote for a biscuit rejector?



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Why the Keith Vaz game?

I first became aware of Keith Vaz after the fatwa. I was working on an essay for my O Grade Religious Studies class on The Satanic Verses when the story reached a new level. Protestors in England, accompanied by the – to me, then – unknown MP featured in Time magazine and the UK press. The Time magazine picture was of a copy of the book being held up, its pages blackened as flames engulfed the dark blue cover, the wrestling couple on the dustjacket seeming to fall into hell. My memory merges this with the fatwa from Ayatollah Khomenei calling for the death of the author. Through his criticism of the book, and his condemnation of the writer of a work of fiction Mr Vaz seemed to have chosen the wrong side of the argument. I’d read the book. I’d enjoyed it a lot. That first sequence where the two fall from the aeroplane still haunts me. I was surprised to find what seemed to be a reference to a Doctor Who story I’d read as a Target novelisation midway through a section. The differentiation between the characters’ fantasies and hallucinations seemed clear. And it was a novel. Political, challenging, powerful. But a novel. Mr Vaz had chosen his side. And I chose mine.

As time went on I was conscious of Mr Vaz as a regular media presence. He failed to attain high office, and became embroiled in various matters around the obtaining of a passport for a wealthy donor to the Millennium Dome project, ending up with his suspension from the House of Commons for a time. But he kept reappearing. And ended up elected as chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select committee.

Not long after I joined twitter (on an account long since deleted) I became conscious that his name cropped up in my timeline regularly. There rarely seemed to be a story in the media that Vaz did not manage to fit himself into with a quote. Every time a bandwagon of outrage passed Vaz would leap aboard. And so I started trying to avoid him. Deliberately not reading stories where I thought he would appear. I had started to play the Keith Vaz game.

I did not want to be reminded of the man. But he was an inveterate self-publicist liable to pop up on the radio or the television when you least expected it. And so for my amusement every time he appeared in the media, and I was reminded again of his existence, I tweeted that I had lost the Keith Vaz game.

Soon, other people picked up on this. I would be sent pictures of Keith Vaz, stories featuring something from Keith Vaz – either through replies or direct messages. And every time I was reminded of him I tweeted that I had lost the Keith Vaz game.

As time went on, this growed and growed and more people tweeted the same, and the game took on a life of its own (as memes do).

Until this morning.

Ah, this morning. When the conditions on the pitch have rendered the Keith Vaz game unplayable, and the game has been referred to in the online edition of the Mirror.

Throughout my time playing the Keith Vaz game I have been conscious that we have all been losers. Now Vaz himself loses the Keith Vaz game.

Game suspended.


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A brexiter’s love song

Old Tom Newton Dunn, old Tom Newton Dunn
Furnish’d and burnish’d by bright Wapping sun.
The strenuous efforts at mendacity
Of The Sun front pages set you against me.

His initial reactions, so full of joy,
The people have spoken, they’d played them for toys,
With such wilful recklessness, gaily he won,
Giddy with victory was Tom Newton Dunn.

But Tom Newton Dunn, poor Tom Newton Dunn
How mad he was, sad he was, the cost had been won,
The credit rating shot, the financial press
Warning of chaos, his pension worth less.

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For Jeremy is a decent man

For many months we have been assured by those who know a Labour leader who has performed more poorly in the opinion polls than any post-war Labour leader at an equivalent stage of their tenure that he is a decent man. We have been assured that a Labour leader who positioned himself in such a way during a referendum to determine the country’s future that voters even now have no idea what he stood for is a decent man. For Jeremy is an honest man. And Jeremy is a principled man. Because, Jeremy is a decent man.

And yesterday, where even allies from his own wing of the Labour party were resigning from his shadow ministerial team that honest man, that principled man, that decent – yes, decent, my word, how decent – man in order to salvage a political career decided to cynically use the tragic killing of one of his colleagues to try to quell frontbench and backbench dissent.

That honest man, that principled man, that decent man quietened the Commons by referring to the killing of Jo Cox. He said, “As political leaders, we have a duty to calm our language and our tone, especially after the shocking events of 10 days ago.”

And as the rowdy atmosphere of a House Commons coming to terms with the tumultuous impact of the vote to leave the European Union hushed that honest man, that principled man, that decent – ever so decent – man said,

“Our country is divided, and the country will thank neither the Government Benches in front of me nor the Opposition Benches behind for indulging in internal factional manoeuvring at this time.”

And what is this but cynical self-serving manipulation of a tragedy by an honest man, a principled man, a decent man?

For that honest man, that principled man, that decent – oh so decent – man will fight, fight, and fight again to save the person and the job he loves.

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A hastily written vaguely topical poem on the Brexit #usepens

“Don’t use pencils,” they started to blubber,

“Because the state has a giant rubber.

They’ll erase the votes. They must think we’re thick.

So when you head to vote, best take a Bic.”

But strangely enough that the nation’s spies

Would spend time doing this turned out to be lies.

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Did Michael Gove’s father’s business fail?

In interviews explaining his reasoning for feeling strongly about the European Union Michael Gove has referred to his father’s fish business, E E Gove and Sons, a wholesale fish merchant and curer, being badly affected by European fisheries policy. Mr Gove has explained that the business employed some twenty people and they all ended up losing their jobs as a result of the European Union. In an interview with the BBC he talks about the business going “to the wall” and being forced to close. And in an interview with Sky News he said, “My father had a fishing business in Aberdeen destroyed by the European Union and the common fisheries policy.” When hearing about a business going to the wall and being destroyed as a casual listener (albeit a casual listener with a professional interest in the law of insolvency) I understood this to mean that the business had entered some insolvency process. Failure of a business usually (one could go so far as to suggest invariably) leaves unpaid creditors, including unpaid employees. And when there are unpaid creditors the normal process is for insolvency proceedings to begin.

I was interested then when Severin Carrell in the Guardian wrote that he had contacted Mr Gove’s father and ascertained that the business had not gone to the wall or been destroyed but had been sold, apparently as a going concern.

My interest was further piqued when Mr Gove responded. He told the BBC audience last night

“My dad was rung up by a reporter from the Guardian who tried to put words into his mouth but my dad has been clear, he was clear to the BBC on Sunday night, he was clear to me when I was a boy, that the business that he invested so much care and time in had to close as a result of the common fisheries policy.

“I remember when my dad ran his business. Two of his employees were lads who were in a care home. They did not have parents. My dad took them in, gave them a job and allowed them to work in his business and to sleep there in a spare room that he made for them. That business closed. Those boys lost their home as a result of what happened. I know what my dad went through when I was a schoolboy and I don’t think that the Guardian or anyone else should belittle his suffering or try to get a 79-year-old man to serve their agenda instead of agreeing and being proud of what his son does.”

This suggests the business “had to close” forcing people out of work. It is less strong than the previous implication that the business went to the wall. I was sufficiently intrigued to check whether Mr Gove senior’s business was subject to an insolvency event and to see if Mr Gove is letting the rhetoric carry an emotional charge that overstates what happened.

If the business is a company in Scotland the usual insolvency process is liquidation – either initiated by creditors or by the company itself. Liquidation is currently regulated by the Insolvency Act 1986 – but the basic rules largely repeat the rules from the predecessor acts (primarily the Companies Act 1948).

If the business is a firm constituted by a partnership contract the default procedure for insolvency in Scotland is sequestration. A firm created by a partnership contract has separate legal personality (meaning that it can own property and enter contracts in its own right) but – unlike in a company – the partners of the firm are personally liable for the debts of the firm and an insolvency event affecting a firm can also impact on the individual partners. Sequestration in Scotland is carried out under the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 (which is in the process of being repealed and replaced by a consolidation statute recently passed by the Scottish Parliament). The processes in the 1985 Act largely follow the processes of the predecessor act, the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Ac 1913.

Alternatively, an individual can trade as a sole trader, using a trading name. In those cases business failure can be catastrophic for the individual as he or she is personally subject to sequestration under the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985.

In Scotland any liquidation of a company must be notified to the Edinburgh Gazette, the state’s official publication of legal notices. This has been the case since liquidation was introduced. The current rules are found in s 85 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (if the process is initiated by the company) and in the relevant court rules (for the Court of Session or sheriff court) where the winding up is initiated by creditors. Until 2014 any sequestration in Scotland (of a firm or an individual (or indeed any other body subject to sequestration) required to be notified to the Edinburgh Gazette under s 15 (6) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 (and predecessor legislation).

The Edinburgh Gazette then would have information about the failure of E E Gove and Sons if the business had gone to the wall or been destroyed (in the sense that an ordinary listener would understand it).

Fortunately the Edinburgh Gazette is now available on-line and is fully searchable.

A search for “E E Gove” brings up no relevant hits.

A search for “Ernest Gove” brings up no relevant hits.

The conclusion is straightforward. E E Gove and Sons may have been sold. It may, if a partnership or a sole trader business, have come to an end in an orderly fashion with all creditors paid. It did not “go to the wall” or be destroyed in the sense in which Mr Gove appeared to be tacitly allowing it to be understood.

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Ach, to hell with it – on not engaging with the referendum

I have not really engaged with the referendum campaign.

I feel angered that a short term political fix thought up by a bloke who can’t see more than one move ahead on the political chessboard, and which he appears never to have imagined would lead to an actual vote with actual voters expressing actual opinions on the topic, has taken up so much political energy and time.

It’s a vote I didn’t want called by a Prime Minister I don’t rate about a supranational structure I don’t care enough to be that bothered about.  

What is called the “debate” bores me. This is to a large extent due to what I perceive to be a lack of honesty on each side. This seems to have come as a shock to referendum newcomers – those fortunate souls who have managed to avoid the referendum mindset where all public discourse seems set in what could be perpetual binary mode, every issue narrowed down to agreement or disagreement on what we are required to think is a bigger question. But this is what referendums do. Binary choices mean there’s no room for nuance. So in this referendum we have two campaigns consistently overstating their cases – hoping that the lie is big enough to be bought by voters.

On one side there is Project Pollyanna, where with one bound we are free from European regulation, and we will negotiate access to the same trade zone we have just left with no costs, on the terms we want (whoever “we” are) because the people the voters have sent a message to will be so desperate to keep up good relations with us, and will strike a deal wholly beneficial to us with no downsides, and no desire to send messages to other member states that might contemplate departure, just because. And there will be no costs of uncoupling, no costs in legislating to reintroduce those regulations that we don’t want to lose, because this uncoupling will happen as if by magic – where a team of civil servants will make everything fine. And as part of the lies of this campaign figures are mangled, and from the mangled figures vast sums of money saved are committed again and again and again to areas voters like you bother about (Health! Agriculture! Housing!) because the campaign leaders assume no one keeps a running account wondering how many times you can spend the same cash pot.  And if you don’t like the Pollyanna campaign along comes a nasty scary man to warn you about foreigners with their funny religions and that every one of them wants to come here, and use your doctor, and live in your town, and take your job.

Meantime, the other side warns that a vote for the other lots will lead to four horsemen to ride out across the countryside and into your town or city. They will carry with them scythes to cut your property prices, and so stoked up with inflamed passions will the populace become that social conflict of a type not promised since the liquidation of a Scottish football team will be inevitable. The defence of the realm will be at risk because our spies won’t be able to carry out work and our military forces will lose their capability to work with other nations under the other treaties they currently use. And your family will lose more from its pocket each week than you make each week.

And as hyperbolic statements are traded people like me look at other issues to help them decide how to vote. But even there I’m at a loss.

I struggle with the identity stuff that seems to bother a lot of people just now and helps determine their support. I can’t get worked up about defining myself based on which bit of rock I’m from, or which bit of rock I live on now, or which bit of rock I want to live on in future. I don’t care. Those questions you get from schools or in the census that demand you tick a box to say whether you or your child fits a particular ethnic group, or how you self-describe based on the particular bit of rock you choose to associate with, cause me a difficulty. And those who provide the forms don’t let you leave them blank because someone somewhere else is tallying things and ticking other boxes determining how people characterise themselves.

And defining yourself by those you love or by your family relationships, or the things you love (“I’m a big fan of the books of John Banville, Nigel Kneale’s television dramas, the films of James Stewart and MGM musicals”) may be enough for you but isn’t going to help determine how to vote (what would the man who didn’t shoot Liberty Valance do?).

And if you’ve voted for three different parties in the last three elections then the fashionable over-association some people’s identity has with a political party isn’t going to help either.

So, how do you vote? 

How do you vote when you’re angry about a vote you didn’t want on a topic you don’t care passionately about?

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The EU referendum campaign – an in depth critique

























It’s a bit rubbish isn’t it?























PS – stop making stuff up.


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on being anti-social

You are standing having a conversation – awkwardly on the sidelines, yes, and stooping to hear while worrying that your stammer might reappear as you try to shape words, but still, having a conversation – and you are not looking for the way out, and you are not wanting to run away, and this is a big deal.

You didn’t have an eighteenth birthday party. You were invited to some, but turned down the invitations after that night. You could feel the beat of the music when you reached the front gate. Through your body. Thumping in your head. Constant. Beat. Beat. You stood at the door. Beat. Beat. Silhouetted against the window those inside interacted. Beat. Beat. You knocked (did you knock? Did you really knock?) trying not to be heard, looking for an excuse not to go in, an excuse to go back to the house, knowing that the “you’re home early”s could be more easily dealt with than what was in there, people who – despite sharing classrooms with them for years – you barely knew. There was no answer. You didn’t wait long, walked back along back roads to avoid bumping into anyone who might be going. It was cold on the walk back. You were sick in the small park near the house. You stood there for some time, leaning against a wall, conscious of each breath. Later invitations were easy to turn down, a range of excuses prepared.

Was this simply the teenage awkwardness of fearing your emotions where you feel each beat of the heart push the blood through you, where you feel that blood career through your body, where you feel that blood in your ears, and where every sound, every whisper, echoes so it hurts? Was it the shyness that comes from knowing someone you like might talk to you and find out exactly what you are and why you are? Turned out it wasn’t. As time passed it became apparent that it was something more. That anxiety, the discomfort of strangers, persisted – and gatherings were missed, reception invitations rejected, and excuses easier to come by the older you get. And when forced (usually, unavoidably, for work) into groups beyond two or three people you became conscious that you didn’t listen to what was going on but looked over the shoulders and over the heads of those near you checking for exits.

But there are a dozen people in this room. And you are standing having a conversation – awkwardly on the sidelines, yes, and stooping to hear while worrying that your stammer might reappear as you try to shape words, but still, having a conversation without trying to leave – with someone who only a few months ago you’d never met. And it might not seem like much to the naturally gregarious, those around whom a group gravitates. But it is. And it feels odd to be as comfortable as you are in the company of people you’ve met in person only a couple of times but who you feel you know well. But that’s social media for you – it’s genuinely social, even for the anti-social. Interaction on-line makes interaction with the real people easier. Because they know your foibles and quirks, and are quicker to forgive the awkwardness. And living becomes a little easier.

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A man. A plan. An offshore scheme. Panama.

Let me begin with a confession. I have for twenty five years been a Guardian reader. It started when someone passed a copy around at a party, and after reading Nancy Banks Smith I was hooked. They knew what they were doing though. She doesn’t write as much any more, but once you’ve formed the habit you’ll accept less strong fare but more of it. As time went on I’d read the comment pages, occasionally nod in agreement (never at Simon Jenkins though. I’m not an animal). Sometimes I think that if they ditched the Saturday Review section and Marina Hyde left I’d be away. But for what it’s worth I remain a Guardian reader. And subject to the stereotypical views attributed to all of that class. I am though less certain in my views, finding life complicated. Messy.

Which brings me to Panama .

My gut reaction is similar to that of most people. I feel queasy about it, uncomfortable with the mechanisms used. But…

You see, there’s always a but. Mechanisms to minimise or even avoid tax are common. You are even encouraged to use them.  For example, various mechanisms are put in place to encourage avoidance of certain taxes, eg to encourage saving and investment UK tax law allows a tax efficient device the ISA which allows investment (subject to limits) with no income tax due, or the rules on Potentially exempt transfers (PETs) in inheritance tax where lifetime transfers giving away part of the estate more than seven years before death are not caught and those within the period are caught at tapered rates. In relation to the latter I spent time advising clients in executries and wills and estate planning. If I did not advise on the use of PETs and using the spousal exemption to the maximum or in certain cases using a discretionary 0% rate trust (to allow the estate to maximise the amount passing without tax) I’d potentially have been negligent. Is this legal? yes. IS it moral? I don’t have a problem with it (it allows families to retain assets), but others will, as the net effect is to deprive the exchequer. The Panama situation is, on one view, this on a larger scale using the flexibility that different legal systems give you.

Is it the use of a “foreign” legal system that makes us uncomfortable? Even here, the use of foreign systems is something that happens regularly with no problems. People use different legal systems all the time in day to day business. For example, many Scottish businesses (advised by their lawyers) use English law in their contracts because it is easier to raise finance on English contracts rather than the more convoluted and formalistic Scottish rules (which requires notification of any transfer of a right to enforce the contract (and claim any payment under it) to the debtor in the contract). Is this use of a “foreign law” to circumvent the restrictions of Scots law legal? Yes. Is it immoral? Should the Scottish business be forced to use Scots law and as a result incur greater costs and place their business at an economic disadvantage relative to non-Scottish competitors? I, again, have no problem with this. I know a number of lawyers in other jurisdictions across Europe who use English law – sometimes to use the English courts, sometimes to use English contract law – and each time for the financial advantage of their client business. There is a growing business in Europe where companies verging on insolvency seek to change their centre of main interests to England in order to make use of the law of administration, corporate rescue. These actions all involve (to some extent) the circumvention of domestic rules for advantage. But this does not attract moral opprobrium.  It doesn’t make us queasy.

So why do the revelations of the Panama papers make us uncomfortable in a way that using PETs or a Scottish business using English law doesn’t? where are the boundaries of morality when a course of action is perfectly legal? What is the qualitative difference between the Panama revelations and these other mechanisms and approaches detailed above? I am interested in exploring this because subjectively they feel different. My moral sensitives are pricked. But I am struggling to explain why.

Because real life is complicated. It’s messy.

And the  more I think about this,  the more I incline to a view that if you want to prohibit someone’s freedom to act in particular ways this should be done explicitly – rather than relying on condemnation derived from a nebulous moral sense that may differ from person to person.

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Mistur Taggurt, they wur thu droppins o a gigantic dug



“A dinnae ken whae ye are. A dinnae ken whit ye want. If ye’re lookin fur a ransum tae pay fur yur dug’s microchip a can tell ye a dinnae hae cash. But whit I hae are a verra particuler set o skills, skills a hae acquirt ower a verra lang career. Skills thut mak me a nichtmare for fowk lik ye. If ye hand ower the dug now, that’ll be thu end o it. I willnae look fur ye. I willnae pursue ye. But if ye dinnae a’ll look fur ye, an a’ll fin’ ye, an a’ll issue ye wi a fixt penulty notice.”


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The albums that defined my teenage years

They say that the things you listen to as a teenager determine your listening habits for life. (I don’t know who “they” are, to be honest, but it seems the sort of thing that people who say they like listening to stuff, your Stewart Lees, your Grimmys offof the thing that Grimmy’s in, and your Fearne Brittons, would say.) And like most people who  encounter a fatuous aphorism on the internet I’m not going to quibble with the veracity of it, particularly when it is true. What I listened to as an angst ridden teenager hiding in my room refusing to engage with humanity did determine my listening habits for life.

Over the years as a connoisseur of the medium of audio I have acquired up to three singles, a number of cassettes, and an extensive CD collection. The foundations for that CD collection were set down long ago. In childhood.

Music was not a big thing in my house growing up. My mum and dad didn’t have a big record collection. There was the Andy Williams Christmas album, the Jim Reeves Christmas album, the Mario Lanza Christmas album, and an album called Welcome to Scotland – which featured poetry readings, atrocious music, whining, and left the listener feeling that if this was Scotland the production team were welcome to it. The Welcome to Scotland album was played rarely in the house. I remember hearing it only once, when visitors had outstayed their welcome and my mum and dad wanted to go to bed. (In those terms the album was very effective.) The other albums tended to be played at certain fixed points throughout the year (mainly in December, although occasionally into early January).

Without much music in the house when I was growing up I didn’t really listen to music on the radio, and avoided the programmes on the television about music. For people of my age watching Top of the Pops or listening to the chart countdown was some sort of ritual of maturity. I didn’t watch Top of the Pops other than on Christmas day when the telly got left on and no-one could be bothered to get up and switch it over or off. And I have still never heard a chart countdown, other than in hospital where a visiting doctor is reading things to passing medical students. People at school would talk about this band and that band and I had no idea what they were going on about.

But I did buy some stuff. And when I borrowed cassettes from the local library, would record them.

So what appeared in my extensive teenage record collection?

The first album I recorded (tape to tape is killing the music industry, you know) was the Yes Minister episode Doing the Honours. The other side had, I think, The Devil you know (where Jim Hacker thinks he’ll go to the European Commission). I’d never seen the show at the time, but the writing was so sharp and the characterisation so strong I could bear listening to the episodes again and again. After that I recorded the whole of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Primary and Secondary Phases – and spent more time listening to the latter (Rula Lenska and john Le Mesurier’s wise old bird) mainly because the recording was better. And there was a Not the Nine O’clock News album which had the trucking song, Gerald the gorilla, and the rest – and which I listened to so frequently my mum and dad bought a copy for me for Christmas.

The library also had a copy of the audio release of Genesis of the Daleks – a compressed version of the TV six parter, and I still take to crying “what about Sarah and Harry?” and  “primitive but undeniably a Dalek” at my spouse and the children at inopportune moments.

The first album I bought with my own money was a Hancock’s Half Hour cassette in a market in Blackpool. It had Twelve Angry Men on one side and The Lift on the other. I learned them by heart, and when a couple of years later Radio 4 broadcast a series of Hancocks over the Christmas holiday (beginning with the TV Set) I recorded the lot. Home recording became important to me. C60 cassettes filled with Whose line is it anyway (the episodes with Stephen Fry and John Sessions), Knowing me, knowing you; Saturday night fry, and the like.

At school I had an art teacher, obsessed with Bob Dylan – who played the whining nasal moan at class after class, to the approval of a bloke in the class who played guitar and nodded along to the music. I complained about this being played in the class and when asked what I’d listen to had a class subjected to the Barry Cryer guest appearance in Saturday Night Fry where Barry promised he could provide a lewd ambiguity for any occasion. This was not generally popular. But to be fair, was as unpopular as Dylan in that only two people in the room liked it. Ostracised and cast adrift from my peers on account of having nothing in common I retired from foisting my taste on people

And as I went through school and on to University and beyond I acquired Goon Shows, I’m sorry I’ll read that agains, Round the Hornes, as much Hancock as I could find commercially available, as well as the newer stuff that made it on to cassette – Fist of Fun, Harry Hill’s Fruit Corner, On the Hour and the like. In front of me as I type I have the Knowing me, Knowing you cassette releases from 1993. Eventually I moved from comedy to radio dramas. I got the George Smiley adaptations with Bernard Hepton as Smiley (vastly simplifying le Carre’s plots). Maurice Denham Maigrets, and from there classic serials.

From my teenage years then stopping to listen to something was primarily listening to comedy or drama. And while in time I bought some music it is still the case. When I look at the MP3 collection I have today it’s full of comedy shows either recorded off air (I have all bar two episodes of Down the Line) or acquired through the late lamented audiogo or CD rips. My CD collection has the complete Hancock radio series. My MP3s include Les Dawson,  Kevin Eldon shows, Eddie Robson’s Welcome to our village please invade carefully, as well as repurchases of old worn out cassettes from twenty years ago.

So, I go to bed most nights listening to a comedy. Just as I did as a teenager.

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Project Pollyanna

There is a risk to most things in life. Earlier today I wandered round to the local butcher. I crossed three roads on the way there, three on the way back. Each time I contemplated the possibility of being mown down by a passing motorist, perhaps a regular Areté reader enraged by my Granta book bag,  and each time I took the risk. Then I cooked raw meat, putting at risk not just me but my whole family. But after cremating the beef in an oven that was too hot for too long the one remaining risk was some carbon based poisoning. Living involves risks, and people assess these risks and act all the time.

But there is one activity in modern life that is risk free, where the prospect of someone mentioning that there is a risk, the teeniest tiniest risk that things might not work out, and a former Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his way to a television studio to condemn scaremongering.

For, apparently, if the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union this is risk free. A two year negotiation of terms to leave (during which access to the free market, and the principle of free movement of persons and free movement of goods remain up for grabs, with no clear advance determination as to the price for this in terms of continued adherence to European Union law) will not create uncertainty. It will not create any conceivable risk to any sector of the economy at all. The financial services sector will be unaffected. There will be no impact on interest rates. House prices will remain as they are. For departure from the European Union is an action which will lead to no adverse consequences, only good ones. Where people will be happier. The UK will have free trade with no restraints. We will either have vastly restricted or wholly unrestricted immigration (depending on who is selling the message). The sun will always shine. And for tea there will always be buttered scones (pronounced “scones” just the way you like it, not that abomination the other lot say).

At least this vision is the impression an observer has of the leave campaign following the reaction to the governor of the Bank of England’s evidence to the Treasury select committee today. Mark Carney said that there were risks if the UK remained in the EU – given the potential exposure to the ongoing commitment to economic and monetary union in the Eurozone. Mark Carney said there were risks if the UK voted to leave the EU – not least because Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon puts a two year cap on the negotiations of an agreement to leave, failing which the UK would be out  and trying to negotiate access to the single market from the outside. His comments were not unreasonable. They were nuanced. They recognised an essential of human life – that decisions involve risks, and that decisions are best made when you are informed of those risks.

But the reaction of Jacob Rees Mogg in committee, and leave campaigners after, suggests they don’t want voters to be aware of any risks. For all will be fine. Their response reminds me of the approach of Alex Salmond during the independence referendum in Scotland. Any concern (however, mild) was presented as “scaremongering”. Because, in his view (and in the view of the leave campaign now) there could never be anything bad happening as a result of the one decision the panaceamonger is trying to sell. But I am of the view that this is not a good approach to politics. People (generally) are not stupid. People know that actions have consequences. People know there might be some things that won’t be as good, but are happy to find out what would be better to balance that up. Pretending nothing can possibly go wrong is mendacious. It makes those open to being convinced, the key voters in a referendum, sceptical- for they know that no decision has no downside.

If those who campaign based solely on the risks are project fear, those that pretend there are no risks are stuck in project Pollyanna.

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The EU referendum, John Longworth and the British Chambers of Commerce

If you head an apolitical organisation that publicly takes a neutral position on a major political issue then when questioned by the media – as a representative of your members – you should not take a political position. So, during the independence referendum in Scotland the Law Society of Scotland did not take up any public position. It was conscious that among its membership there were supporters, and active campaigners, of both sides. And during the referendum the Society enhanced its reputation by providing balanced papers on a variety of issues on the implications of a vote in favour of independence. As a member of the Law Society of Scotland I am not conscious of any senior officer bearer taking up a public position during media interviews. Former presidents of the Law Society appeared on both sides of the referendum debate. But they did not do so in any representative capacity, and no then current office bearer, nor the chief executive assumed a public position. If any had – for one side or the other – the membership of the Society would, rightly, have objected that a person worthy of interview solely because he or she was in a representative role in the Society was not representing those members and should be suspended or dismissed. As it was, that didn’t happen and the Society left the referendum campaign with reputation enhanced – as a decent and honest broker trying to provide independent information to the public and the media.

This shouldn’t need explaining but given the hysterical reaction of disgraced former Cabinet minister, Dr Liam Fox (who resigned in disgrace) and Boris Johnson to the suspension of John Longworth, as director general of the British Chambers of Commerce it appears necessary to state this. The BCC represents 52 chambers of commerce across the UK. And through that it represents thousands of businesses of all sizes. That membership is split. The BCC has taken up a neutral position to respect that split. For the director general, interviewed solely because he is director general, to take a public position undermines his organisation and its membership. His suspension is not government interference or indicative of project fear, as the journalistic cheerleaders for the leave campaign (those fans with laptops like Julia Hartley Brewer), are arguing this morning. It is an organisation trying to protect its reputation and its neutrality.    Those who argue that the media was interested in the views of Longworth know the only interest people have in his views is as a representative of the BCC. I don’t recall the press rushing to the door of John Longworth for a quote prior to his assumption of the role of director general of the BCC in September 2011 (apart from the time he was representing the CBI  as chair of its retail and distributive trades panel).

He represents a neutral organisation. He took a line while speaking as representative of that organisation. He therefore undermined its neutrality. His suspension is right.


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