Days of Beige

D’Arcy and Sybil approach the promenade café, as they do once a week, for a late breakfast.
They are dressed in their Saturday clothes. D’Arcy is wearing needlepoint corduroy trousers and a safari jacket. Both are beige, and baggy on his thin frame. A narrow-striped shirt, paisley cravat, and suede shoes complete his ensemble. Light on his feet for an octogenarian, D’Arcy springs to the door with a flourish. He pulls it open for Sybil and salutes smartly. Smiling coyly she pulls at his arm and says what she always does.  “Oh D’Arcy, behave.”
Mr Singh, the café owner, comes round his counter wiping his hands on the teacloth which always hangs from his shoulder and greets them.
“Good morning Mr D’Arcy. How are you today? Mrs D’Arcy. You look lovely as always. Is that a new dress? Very beautiful.”
He knows it is not a new dress. It is the same pale blue dress she wore last week, and the week before, the one she got at Sue Ryder in the High Street at Easter. Her black patent court shoes match the small bag hanging on a chain, loosely, from her shoulder.
Mr Singh ushers them to their table, the one by the window, the one with the white plastic ‘Reserved’ sign which he deftly removes.
“Your table”, he says, as he flicks the seats with his cloth. “I trust this is satisfactory?” He knows it is satisfactory. It is always the only table vacant at 11 on a summer Saturday morning in his busy establishment. He enjoys the game they play. He is their Majordomo, they are his valued guests in a grand hotel dining room somewhere.
D’Arcy pulls a chair back for Sybil to sit and Mr Singh does the same for him.
“And what can I get for you today, something special perhaps?” He knows the answer.
“I think we’ll have two of your toasted teacakes, some thin cut marmalade and a pot of your finest Darjeeling tea, if you please Mr Singh”.
As D’Arcy and Sybil settle into contemplation of the week past, Mr Singh turns towards the kitchen. He is stopped in his tracks by the café door being wrenched open and two more customers come in. It is Shane and Trisha. He thinks “Oh God, not today, please” but feels his skin go tight around his jaw as he must say something else, with a smile. “I’m sorry, but we are full just now, perhaps you can come back later, yes?”
Trisha half turns to leave but Shane points and moves towards the two empty seats at D’Arcy and Sybil’s table.
“Nah, this’ll do, won’t it Trish. We don’t mind sharin’, even with wrinklies.” He laughs.
Mr Singh and D’Arcy look at each other. Mr Singh’s eyes plead and say he doesn’t want any trouble. D’Arcy raises a hand to acknowledge his plight and his eyes say they don’t mind sharing.
Shane and Trish sit, placing their mobile ‘phones on the table. Not waiting to be asked Shane orders. “Two mugs of tea, and two bacon and egg rolls, Gunga Din, and make it quick: people to see, places to go.” Mr Singh returns to his kitchen and Shane mocks the gentility of the old couple opposite.
“I say Trish, the tone of this gaff has gone down a bit lately ain’t it. What’s that pong? Old people always whiff a bit, don’t they?” Sybil is wearing her priceless Jean Patou scent, the one from the tiny black bottle she keeps on her dressing table, the one she got in Paris at the end of the war. Trish giggles, but looks at Sybil’s kindly calm face and feels a wriggle somewhere inside. She is uncomfortable but the goading is cut short when the orders come. Her ‘phone pings. She picks it up, looks at the screen, snorts “s’only Chantelle” and puts it down again.
Sybil and D’Arcy unwrap their butter patties delicately, carefully scraping each paper clean before folding them precisely. They quarter their teacakes, and cut them again into neat triangles. The treat lasts longer that way. They are used to making things last.
Shane and Trish grab at their rolls, but then look and grin at each other. In grotesque parody of the gentility across the table, they cut their rolls into pieces. Then, mouth open, they noisily chew a quarter at a time, the runny egg dribbling down their chins and over their fingers.
D’Arcy and Sybil continue to talk quietly about the week gone and the day to come.
“It turned out nice after all, didn’t it D’Arce? I thought the rain was in for the day, but it turned out nice.”
“Yes. Nice. I thought it might, something about the clouds looked, you know…promising.”
“Yes. Promising. You’re usually right about the weather, aren’t you? We could walk down to the bowling club later, if your legs are alright, D’Arce.”
“Yes, good idea. Is your teacake nice?” Mine’s lovely, I think they’re always good in here.”
Shane’s ‘phone pings. He picks it up, looks at it, guffaws “Facebook” then resumes his goading.
“I say Patricia, if you’re up to it, we could go dahn the skate park. By the way, these rolls are quite superb ain’t they? The egg works with the crispy bacon so well, don’t it? Oi! Gunga Din, my compliments to the chef.” Then he turns to D’arcy.
“What do you think D’Arce old chap. ‘Ere, ‘ave a try.”
And with that he lifts his plate and slides a half-eaten part of his roll onto D’Arcy’s teacake. Egg oozes into marmalade.
D’Arcy stares at his plate, and then at Shane. Trish feels the wriggle again, but smirks. D’Arcy looks back at his plate and then at Sybil. “Oh dear,” she says “that’s not nice is it. Not called for at all”.
“No, not called for Sybil. Perhaps we should go, we don’t want to cause any trouble?”
Shane, sensing his advantage, presses on.
“What about Sybil ‘ere, she looks like she could do with a bit of protein. ‘Ere you go luv.”
And he scrapes part of Trish’s roll onto Sybil’s plate.
D’Arcy and Sybil look at each other again, resigned, and Sybil picks up her bag and makes to leave but Shane in, mock regret, implores them to stay.
“Oh, don’t go. I’m sorry. Let me get you another. Oi, Gunga Din, Mr and Mrs D’Arce ‘ere ‘ave ‘ad an accident. Another two teacakes if you please.”
Sybil sits again, her hand still on her bag, and looks again at her husband.
“It’s no use D’Arce. We’ll have to do something.”
“I suppose so, Sybil.”
Shane feigns alarm “Oooh, careful Trish. We’ve got ‘em all annoyed now, they might….”
But, before Shane can finish his sentence, D’Arcy and Sybil each pick up a fork and pin his denim jacket cuffs to the table. Trish’s scream chokes as Sybil wraps the chain of her handbag round her neck and pulls her, face first, into the remains of her egg roll. While Sybil holds Trish down, D’Arcy reaches for Shane’s mobile phone and places it in the centre of the table in front of the immobilized youth.
Looking directly into Shane’s eyes, he brings the heel of his hand down on the handle of a knife which spins into the air. In one flowing movement he catches it again and drives the buttery blade through the ‘phone’s screen. Applause breaks out in the café.
D’Arcy and Sybil wipe their hands on Shane’s hair and walk to the door.
“Well Sybil, to be honest I wasn’t sure we could still do that, were you?”
Oh yes, D’Arce. I know we’re getting on a bit but S.O.E training was very good. Those were the days. So, bowling then?”

I’ve voted

Today I cast my votes in the Labour Party leadership elections.  These are both in the plural because, people may not realise, there were multiple candidates for Leader, Deputy Leader, a Conference Committee and so on.  It took some effort to read the candidates’ statements and, frankly, they were pretty useless.  Instead I relied on external commentators to fill in the background and, on the whole, they didn’t make very encouraging reading; very few candidates come out of close scrutiny with a resounding endorsement.  Some seem to be gaffe prone, others appear to have little experience.

The thing which bothers me most, and I’ve blogged about this before, is that nobody is talking about taking the fight to the Tories any sooner than 2020.  I seriously worry that there will be an election before that, perhaps in as little as 2 years, driven by the in-fighting in the Conservative Party over a referendum on EU membership.  The way things are going with mass migration (and UK immigration) rising to the top of the popular agenda I see an increasingly fragile Conservative majority in the House of Commons being tested by UKIP and their adherents.    If Labour aren’t ready for that, and as a consequence lose a snap election in 2017, they may not get another shot at power until 2022!

I’ve written to the present Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, and to all the leadership candidates to ask their opinion on this; I don’t expect a reply any time soon.  If I get one at all it might at least indicate whether the threat of years in the political wilderness is real, not because Jeremy Corbyn is, or isn’t, elected leader but because the leadership as a whole has taken its eye of the ball.

Slippery or what?

So now we have Andy Burnham saying what a clever chap Jeremy Corbyn is!  He praises him for energising the Labour electorate and bringing young people into politics!  No doubt this eel-like wriggling is intended not to win, because it probably is too late, but to make sure he gets to be in a position of influence in a Corbyn-led party.  And why would he do that?  Well, there is talk of a campaign to unseat Jeremy Corbyn if he were to win, and that will be something to do with it.  However I think there is something else;  readers of my blog may recall that I forecast a general election not in 2020, when it is due, but in 2017.  I believe that the Conservative government is less secure than its majority might suggest, and will become even less so with a referendum on whether we stay in, or leave, the EU.  Those Conservatives on the right of the party, and in the anti-European camp, will become increasing fractious and flex their muscles by voting down some policies.  David Cameron will risk going to the country.

I think Andy Burnham may well have an eye on leading the labour party into that election, whoever is leader at the end of September 2015.  I also think he wants to see what happens in Scotland, where a new Labour leader will be fighting the Scottish Parliamentary election in 2016.

Slippery, or what?

Labour Leadership Contest 2015

The increasingly strident chorus of senior Labour Party politicians denouncing Jeremy Corbyn is saddening.

The possibility that you might not like the result is a consequence of democracy but, in this case, it seems Cooper, Kendall, Burnham et al can’t accept it.  They not only question Jeremy Corbyn’s political soundness but also that of his supporters: if you vote for him you are voting to destroy the Labour Party.  They and others have also besmirched those who are joining the party as supporters or full members, in the thousands, as “non-Labour infiltrators” bent on wrecking the party.   We are told they are challenging whether these new members support Labour’s “core values”.  Well, forgive me, but for the last number of years we haven’t really known what they are.  Isn’t it just possible that a good number of these ‘new’ members are, in fact, former members and supporters coming back to a Labour party after years of disillusionment?

Corbyn’s detractors don’t seem tbe able to understand that these new members may have been energised by the prospect of, for the first time in a generation, having someone for whom they would vote.  They don’t seem to be able to recognise that one reason why Labour Party supporters leached away to other parties, or abstained (and in Scotland resulted in their electoral wipeout at the hands of the SNP) is because many traditional Labour supporters had been alienated by the way the Labour Party had turned its back on traditional left values in pursuit of power:  New Labour had become New Tory or New Liberal Democrat.  I would go so far as to say that if the Labour Party had been able to  offer a more radical agenda to Scotland’s electorate than Ed Milliband’s, they would not have lost so many seats to the SNP.  There might have been a different national result, there might even have been a Labour government right now.

Now we have the unedifying sight of a New Labour establishment (and their mentors including Mandelson, Campbell, Tony Blair and now Brown) frightened by the possible consequences of democracy!  They all say that Corbyn would make Labour unelectable, but Brown and then Milliband seem to have been unelectable too.  What they really fear is not the electoral destruction of Labour at the next election but the dismantling of THEIR version of the Labour party.  Well, tough.  They’ve made the voting processes “one man, one vote” and it’s not THEIR party but their members’ party.  If, as a result of Jeremy Corbyn being made leader, the Labour Party spends some years in opposition, so be it.  At least it will be a principled opposition rather than a bunch of more-or-less similar politicians running round the Westminster ‘playground’ after the ball and shouting “go on, lets us have a go”.  I didn’t come down with the last shower of rain and I don’t like being patronised: I’ll decide on who I’ll vote for, and why, thanks Messrs Brown, Blair and Mandelson.


What happens after the books balance?

At the moment one question, more than any other, exercises my political mind.  What happens to our country when the economy is finally “rebalanced”?

The Chancellor, George Osborne, is continuing to pursue his dismantling of the state economy with the stated intent of getting the national ‘books’ into surplus.  Cutting billions out of government spending, and selling off what little remains of state holdings in private enterprise, he expects that we will have a surplus of several billions per annum by 2018.  Assuming he is right, of course, what I really want to know is what do the Conservatives want to do with that surplus: what is their long-term vision for our country, our state funded society, beyond that date?

Will they restore cuts in benefits?  Will they overhaul, modernise and reinforce our justice system?  Will we get bigger pensions, more schools, better funded local government?  My instinct is that the answer to all these questions is ‘No’.  I believe they see the rump of the public sector forever small, dealing only with unprofitable parts of statutory provisions, while we are increasingly driven into the arms of the private sector for health care, education, housing, and so on.

I think they should tell us, don’t you?