Lifestyle columns in the Guardian destroy people’s faith in humanity . I’m rejecting it

From Wednesday, I’m going to live without reading lifestyle columns in The Guardian. I want my life back. I want my soul back.

I’ll never know how many people link to this blogpost below the line in comments on an article on The Guardian website. Nor will I get to read comments suggesting that a blogger and tweeter like me needs to embrace the whimsical delusions of self-publicising charlatans. And that is no bad thing, for the moment this blog is read by more than five readers – pandering to the worst excesses of  sensationalism, populism and deceit over honest exploration of the important question of how to pronounce scone – I (and you) lose, and those who need to be held to account for commissioning bollocks in serious newspapers win.

The reason I won’t see any reaction in the Guardian is because come Wednesday I will live a state of Utopia with a self denying ordnance whereby I cast aside so-called modern conveniences like those columns providing answers to questions people send in about relationships (I’ve never found  them particularly believable – I mean, a Henry vacuum cleaner, the “necessity” of wearing dungarees, and your BFF?).

From Wednesday, I’m rejecting the world of simple unadulterated pseudery entirely. That means no Guardian lifestyle columns, no fashion tips, no make up columns, no why this pasta has transformed my life, no 101 things to do with humus, no consumer survey examining how best to accessorise your chestnut stuffing with a garland from a number of high street (and two independent) shops, no pretentious Tom Goods explaining how they’re going back to nature, no readers’ examination of the problems of relationships going stale because you’ve both read the Pamela Stephenson advice and shrugged and rolled your eyes, no semi anonymous open letters to family members or friends who made some faux pas in 1993 that you’ve never forgiven, and no articles that have involved some bloke making a bet that he can get “solar photovoltaic system” into a column shared widely on twitter.

Rejecting a part of a newspaper website that people on the twitter consider to be the basic necessity of life wasn’t done on a thoughtless whim. I already miss not being able to share sarcastic comments about people that the liberal elite have already decided are idiots.

I decided to eschew complex pseudery for two reasons. The first was that I found myself happier away from the Guardian lifestyle pages and the relentless sanctimony they generate, and instead living intimately with other parts of the internet (where there are videos of Margarita Pracatan and articles about television programmes from the 1980s). The second, more important, was the realisation that the Guardian lifestyle pages destroy, in more ways than one.

It destroys our relationship with normal people. It first separates us from folk like ourselves, while simultaneously converting life into the ramblings of people so reeking in sanctimony that even Gandhi would consider giving them a slap. Not only does it enable us to destroy warm feelings for society efficiently, over time this separation has led us to valuing people we encounter in day to day life less in case they’re the sort of person that will midway through a conversation say “Did you read that piece about quinoa?”, meaning we protect and care for society less. By way of this vicious cycle, we are consciously causing the mass extinction of goodwill to all men, and at Christmas too.

We know that, at the very least, some columnists are harming our view of the world, our society and, ultimately, ourselves. Therefore we can recognise the need to reject these lifestyle (and other) columnists. We’re going to have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. I’ve drawn mine.

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Katie Hopkins: an apology

The following text has been prepared for immediate release.

 

 

19 December 2016

Katie Hopkins: An apology

We are sorry for Katie Hopkins.

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A detailed and considered analytical review of the TV show Question Time

It’s rubbish. It’s been rubbish for years. That’s why most rational people stopped watching. They invite awful people on because they are trying to annoy you.

So:

Don’t watch.

As an alternative consider one of the following courses of action:

Read a book.

Browse a celebrity lookalike agency website.

Speak to your family members.

Go to bed.

Following this advice will make you a happier person. And if enough of you stop watching the whole monstrous show might be ditched in favour of something less like a phone in on Talk Sport.

 

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Silence

You never feel worse than when someone leans across and touches your arm, inclined head, and with lowered voice, asks, Are you okay? You want the hand off your arm, but that won’t happen until you answer, might not happen even then. So you rush through the possibilities of how bad you must look for someone to take the time to ask. Pale skin? Slightly fevered? Disengaged? Red-eyed? Do they know? What did they see? Did you flinch during the news? You reach up to your eyes. They’re not wet. Not that. Not this time.  None of these things. None. At least, no more than usual. And once clear on that you’re left wondering whether this is just making conversation, or genuine concern?

Fine. I’m fine.

Non-committal. The easy answer. An answer that avoids answering, but easier than saying nothing. The hand is withdrawn, but the touch lingers on your arm and you reach to brush that phantom weight away but – aware of the eyes that follow your movement – you stop, reach down, grasp your wrist. Breathe. Your interlocutor’s curiosity is temporarily sated; retreats.

It is not always a passive act not talking, not telling. Not picking up the phone, and dialing the number that’s on scraps of paper around the house, is an active choice. You tell yourself that not responding to the well intentioned text or the email is for them, not for you; that you don’t want to impose, to overshare, to burden.

And in your seat, and on the rush hour train, you have unwanted replays of moments, your – his – spots of time. No boat stealing, or lake hopping, though. Nothing so benign.  

Later you watch the cursor flash on the screen, type. And again you write, another night trying to capture those instants where he became you. But it is not right. It is never right.

CTRL+A.

Delete.

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Afterwards

You’d walked home that night: rewinding, replaying, rescripting.

You’d messed it up, telling her. Messed it up. After the plates were cleared, as you’d talked about life and books and stuff there were no openings. Never an opening. Willing, your mind willing, but your mouth had stayed closed. The man, the child, inside peering through the windows of your eyes – hearing the stranger who occupied your body talk pretentiously about Kafka and Felice. Tell her. Just tell her. Your stammer was back. Stressed. Too stressed. Remember your script. You’re prepared. Over-prepared.

You’d begun.

Clumsy. Awkward non sequitur. Not natural. Too planned. But necessary. It had to be planned. Moving things on. Letting her know that something had happened. You’d tried before. Lost the words. Lost them. Moments had passed before. Not just that night, lots of nights. But that was no way to start. Beginnings are always easier when you’ve finished, when you can work out where the start was.

She’d looked sad. Her eyes were sad, as you blurted everything out. The lot. The whole shebang.

And there were tears. Her tears. Your tears. Proper Juliet Stevenson tears. And you’d hugged. And she’d told you that it was okay, and you’d told her that it was okay. But, you both knew.

As you’d walked home that night, every person you passed seemed to stare. Was your face still red, eyes puffy? Did they know? Did they know what you’d said? They must. Look at them. Staring. They know.

You’d walked more quickly. You needed to be home.

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A Good Read

I often go to bed with the cheery voice of Harriet Gilbert by the bedside.

“Thanks for downloading A Good Read.”

I’ve been listening to A Good Read for over twenty five years.  At the time I started listening it had already been running for over a decade. During my time as a listener it has enlightened, infuriated, and provoked, and (of course) year on year incrementally increased the size of my library

The format is simple. An avuncular host and two guests talk about some books recommended by those on the show. The books recommended are generally in print and available in paperback (in recent years kindle availability seems acceptable – but for old school A Good Read listeners the loss of the recap at the end of show detailing book, publisher, and price is still hard to come to terms with). When I first started listening each guest selected two books for the host and the fellow guest to read; now each guest recommends one book while the host recommends a third.

Guests who appear on the show fall into various categories: there are the enthusiasts – who choose something they love and want other people to love it too; there are the show offs – who select a book to showcase their erudition and superior literary taste; there are the sentimental selectors – choosing a book that reminds them of a relative or a time they loved (and into this category there are those revisiting their younger years – selecting a book they loved as a teenager and who seem, as the programme develops (and for reasons that are all too familiar), to be attempting to recapture their lost youth); and there are non-readers – invited on the show because of a certain level of fame, too polite (or egocentric) to turn the show down, who struggle to nominate a book, and seem not to engage with the other books selected. The simplicity of the format, and the warmth of the host have made it an essential listen.

I have heard Kingsley Amis rail against pretension as his own choices of a Flashman and a Dick Francis novel met his carefully delimited requirements of a good read; Charles Moore enthuse over Jane Austen; and comedians choose a variety of short bleak novels of childhood trauma and tragedy; while Michael Grade came over all Harry Enfield being Barry Cryer in the Story of the Twos. And I’ve heard a writer admit he didn’t reread any books and simply choose the book he’d read most recently so he didn’t have to re-engage with a text.

I have often pondered what I would recommend if the call came. “We have run out of celebrities and worthwhile public figures We want some random punter to choose a book for another random punter.  What’s it to be?”

There are some guidelines I think the decent guest should follow:

Keep it relatively short. You are forcing a book on two other people, one of whom has a taste in reading you know nothing about. It would therefore be impolite to choose something that was too long. 250 pages or less seems an ideal length. A few hours to read – so if the other person hates it you’re not forcing them to persevere for days on end infuriating them more and more.

No poetry. I love poetry. I read a little poetry most days, but there are many people – voracious readers some of them – scared of poetry. They worry about hunting for messages, looking for symbols, and are reminded of school. You may be paired with someone who loves poems too, but you may be making the reading feel like homework.

Choose something that is relatively unknown. Is it worth going on the show and giving a publicity boost to the latest paperback by a regular top ten bestseller? So why not choose something that might be a discovery for people.

So bearing my three guidelines in mind what to choose?

Over the years there are some books I have given as presents more than any others. There was Dan Rhodes’s Anthropology,  a wise and witty book of short short stories (101 words long) that I gave to seven or eight friends one Christmas as a student. And there is one book that I have enthusiastically handed over to friends over twenty years, hoping that it meets with approval: Pfitz by Andrew Crumey, a novel published by Dedalus. I have bought fifteen copies of Pfitz during the past twenty or so years. It was one of the first books I gave to the woman who (naively, without full knowledge of my Doctor Who obsession) agreed to marry me. It is a book I’ve given to friends from a variety of occupations – lawyer, social worker, writer, journalist, lecturer, researcher. So, how did I come to encounter Pfitz?

As a student when I visited bookshops I would visit the Scottish books section. There I first encountered Alan Warner, Irvine Welsh, Gordon Legge, AL Kennedy, and more bizarrely Ian McEwan (of course, he’s a Mc, all “Mc”s are Scottish: Larry McMurtry, and those lads) and (later) Magnus Mills’s Restraint of Beasts. And so in my final year as a student, while taking time off from exam revision, in Waterstones in Edinburgh I encountered a writer new to me, Andrew Crumey, and his first novel Music in a Foreign Language (which subsequently won the Saltire first book prize). I bought it, and enjoyed it – an alternative history novel where a post communist Britain emerges after the fall of communism around Europe. I was looking forward to his next novel.

And Pfitz appeared in 1995. It was a novel that reminded me of Calvino, or Borges, or Lem. But most of all, at that time, it was a novel that set me thinking of the first novel by Dennis Potter, Hide and Seek, which I had borrowed from the library in Carlisle in 1989 and became slightly obsessed with. Pfitz was a historical novel flirting with fantasy, dealing with serious philosophical topics. Set in the eighteenth century in a land ruled by a prince who creates imaginary cities.  And the prince’s subjects work on the development of these cities, culminating in Rreinnstadt – a city as encyclopaedia: a museum and library at its centre. And every one of the prince’s subjects was set to work on the design of the city – preparing maps, designing buildings, and creating the biographies of all the inhabitants. The maps prepared are incredibly detailed – with not just the overview of the streets, but every building, and with every room in every building, and with the location of every person in the city. And these maps are not static but change over time, so what every subject of prince is creating is an entire city, and its populace – each of whom is the subject of a biography with their background, and why they are there. And Pfitz is about one of those working on Rreinnstadt, Schenck, a cartographer, who falls in love with a woman working in the biography section, and who finds on a map an indication of a figure, Pfitz, who appears to be the servant of a count.  And Schenck, at night, creates a biography of Pfitz to enable him to spend more time with the object of his desire in the biography department. And from there Crumey fashions a murder story, a romance, a tale of rivalry and jealousy, and an examination of what reality and what fiction is. And while it deals with weighty themes it is light, delicately constructed, and witty. It is fun. It’s good fun – where else in modern fiction would you encounter a travelling man at the fair with his performing bumble bees in the self told biography of a character? It’s light, but not froth. It’s witty, but serious. It’s a good read.   I will not say more but I would unhesitatingly recommend it.

So, if you were on A Good Read what would you recommend?

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Why Trump won: a personal reflection

As a professional columnist with views and opinions on things in the news I have obviously had to come up with an opinion on the seismic events which have happened over the past forty eight hours. I have spent much of this time reflecting carefully on the events and decided that a thing I think about a thing has been vindicated by the decision of the American electorate.

I have an opinion on a thing in British politics, and you will realise from looking at my previous columns that irrespective of any empirical evidence or data that view is one I think week after week in relation to stories on this topic or that. The thing I think is occasionally supported by an anecdote relating to someone I met, or a family member, and appropriate extrapolation from that shows clearly that people in the United Kingdom will act in a certain way justifying the thing that I think, and if the politicians I agree with do not think in the way in which I suggest then there is no way that the public (who are just like this person I met across the whole country, and the whole cultural and socio-economic spectrum) will think that too. Or if they do think what I think  and the public don’t endorse them they simply have not acted sufficiently strongly in putting forward arguments in support the thing I think.

And it is clear therefore that, while watching the thing in another country on the news, this view meant that a person who was more in line with what I think would have been better at winning the election against a person who managed to win the votes of those who disagree with that thing I think. Selecting someone who was trying to appeal to people in another country, rather than selecting someone who would have appealed to me, was a calamitous decision. If the person who was selected was going to win in any way they could only have done so by being more like me in their thinking. And if that was the case the appeal of the person who doesn’t think like me and attracted the support of the people who think like him, rather than me, would have been negated. And a landslide in support of the thing I think would surely have resulted.

The lesson for Britain in this is clear. By ignoring the thing I think, and losing an election, the thing I think must be placed at the centre of thinking in British politics. And with that as the big idea, victory for those I agree with is guaranteed, unless they are insufficiently committed to what I think, I think.

 

 

syndicated to all newspapers.

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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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Circles

Orange.

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.”

Eh?

 

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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?

 

No. 

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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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