Saturday, 23 June 2012

You Can Bank On It

Whatever the real cause of the NatWest computing system debacle, the vulnerability of us all to the weakness of money has been exposed. The fluidity crisis - for that is what it is - is now affecting many who are not customers of the affected banks in the RBS group.

The most common problem is probably that of employees of firms which run current accounts at NatWest out of which wages are paid. And what if you are a supplier waiting on a payment from such a firm? A little thought will bring to mind many other everyday types of transaction dependent on a properly operating current account clearing system.  It's easy to imagine the knock-on effects and how terrifyingly quickly they could spread through all our lives. We, like capitalism itself, depend on money, not just the possession of it but the movement of it.

At the heart of capitalism is the movement of money, not the possession of it.

In both co-operative and non co-operative societies, essential things have non-derivative true value. There are not many of these. Food, potable water, adequate clothing and shelter. Then there are what might be called the first derivatives such as land for farming or hunting. In co-operative societies, these first derivatives are held in common ownership for the benefit of all.

Most of us live in non co-operative societies. We have to pursue our lives and seek our wellbeing amid a turmoil of derivatives. And derivatives of derivatives. The concept of value has become individualised, not societal. We "value" things for the comfort or power or status they bring us, rather than for any intrinsic true worth.

When things go wrong, however, most people rapidly encounter their relationship with the essentials, not the derivatives. How to buy enough food, how to pay the rent, how to stay warm and dry. And these were the concerns reflected in the vox-pops on the NatWest news reports.

It would be interesting if people now began to ask the fundamental question, "what is money?"

Perhaps the most radical question of all.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Stolen Day

Sometimes lovely things happen. And when you don't expect them, they are even lovelier.

On Monday we drove back to Steeple Langford in the vain hope of finding a pair of lost glasses. As some kind soul had found and handed them in at the local pub, we had the rest of the day to ourselves, rather than having to spend it at the opticians and dealing with an insurance claim.

The sun was shining and it was warm. So we strolled through the village and out the other side into the delightful Wiltshire countryside.

Crossing a field via a footpath, we ended up in a secluded meadow by one of the branches of the River Wylye and lay watching the white clouds melt in the sun.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Side Show

We are being "treated" to a side show which is known as the Leveson Enquiry. For many weeks now we have been invited to marvel at what is constantly described as a "probing" or "subtle" or (posh word) "forensic" examination by Robert Jay with occasional interjectory enquiries by Leveson himself when he rouses from inevitable sleep. Indeed the endeavour to remain in any useful state of consciousness for anyone watching is challenging.

Occasional excitement is provided. But it comes without warning and one needs to remain in a state of alertness simply not possible for anyone requiring normal levels of stimulation. One can only marvel at the ranks of sometimes recognisable journalists and at their ability to stay awake and even look busy. What can they really be occupying their minds with?

Of course, any sensible person knows what has really transpired between the politicians and the most powerful section of the print press over the last several decades. There's simply nothing to be learned. The thing to fear from the outcome is another sort of Dangerous Dogs Act: benign in conception, disastrous and ineffectual in practice.

But at the moment, the Leveson Enquiry is a side show. Not in itself watchable, but ably distilled for us by the media. We may take pleasure in the apparent discomfiture of our despised politicians as they take the witness stand, but this only adds to the effectiveness of the enquiry as a side show and a distraction from the ghastliness that is actually happening.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Down In the Mosh Pit

I learned something new today: the word "mosh". It, of course, appeared first to my eyes in the preview descriptions of the London Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Like many typically British cynics, I began to have naughty, satirical thoughts. "So this (harumph) is how we are going to be presented to the world, is it? Like we all live in a rural idyll, defer to the local lord of the manor and chew straws in idle moments? An opportunity lost after the fawning jubilee for a chance to celebrate this country's people and achievements. What! No mention of Britain's outstanding contributions in science, the arts and in social justice? (Harumph again)"

I have been dreading this opening ceremony for many months. As its director, Danny Boyle, wisely reflects, "failure is built in". So for him to undertake this is evidence of courage. But the really interesting point is: why should failure be "built in"? Why should this be so? It is, of course, because if there's one thing the British like doing, it's Moaning. And the Olympics have certainly given us an unparalleled opportunity to Moan. Moan about the cost. Moan about the disruption. Moan about the ticket allocations. And now, moan about the Opening Ceremony.

Perhaps this preview is an attempt at expectation-management. Or maybe, more accurately, moan-management. "Let's tell them now so we can get all the moaning over with before the Big Day." This is so intelligent, that it can't be true (and that's a subtle moan in itself).

As a matter of fact, I hope to end up enjoying and being proud of the Opening Ceremony, especially after the debacle that was the Jubilee River Pageant. I'm sure that once the Games begin, there will be plenty to Moan About.

I can at least rely on seeing one thing I have never seen before - a mosh pit.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

How to Survive a Jubilee

First of all, it seems I was wrong in a previous post. The weather for the Jubilee Pageant was not nice at all. Unless you are a journalist in need of a few platitudes, that is. From what I read in The Telegraph, you would have thought that the torrential downpour during the river pageant was God's special answer to a collective British prayer for a soaking.

Yes, the heavens opened and we could all rejoice! Time to show the world how we Brits can Keep Calm and Carry On. Let it never be said that we can't cope with a bit of rain and wind. We welcome it, for it makes the occasion truly British. See how we sing, cheer and wave flags! What a disaster it would have been had the sun shone brightly and the Thames' sparkle eclipsed the Royal Bling.

In our case, see how we flee to the hills to escape it all. Lansdown, just outside Bath, to be precise. By the time we had arrived at our place of escape, the clouds were gathering and curtains of rain could be seen in the distance. At least there was not a shred of bunting to be seen. I suppose it's about a mile from the parking place to Prospect Stile, easy walking with only a few white racecourse rails to duck under. Someone in the far distance was walking a dog. Otherwise, we were alone on this Middle Jurassic flat-top.

Didn't take long for the rain to embrace us. Soaking wet, we carried on, determined to reach Prospect Stile as we cheered ourselves by reflecting on our escape from all the madness.

Suffice to say, we got so thoroughly wet that our return walk conversation was entirely about the logistics of getting into the car without turning its interior into a soggy disaster.

Home at last. Hot showers, tea and television. The river pageant was drawing to a climax. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Was that scowling vision in white our Own Dear Queen? Were those drenched choristers really belting out Rule Britannia in the teeth of a specially imported Atlantic gale? For me, it was cringingly embarrassing, made even worse by the BBC commentary. It was compelling viewing!

That storm, however, was as nothing to that which broke this morning over the report that jobless youth were bussed in to London to act as unpaid stewards for the river pageant, treated appallingly and made to sleep under a bridge before changing in public for their duties. No hot showers, proper shelter and meals for them when it was over. Let alone a fair wage for a tough job well done.

It has taken me several hours to stop trembling with rage.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Avoiding the Jubilee

It trundles relentlessly toward us, like the Juggernaut. The Jubilee. We can either submit to its awesome power and add our little mass to its greater mass, or get out of the way and hide.

But where to hide? And how to get out of the way?

If the weather is really bad (unlikely given the royal family's undoubted hotline to God), it would be a simple solution to simply stay indoors and spend the next few days reading, watching DVDs, sleeping and eating, to emerge blinking into the daylight when the worst has passed.

If, as is far more likely, the weather is lovely, this would be unbearable. And in any case, unless you live on a remote island, the whole of which you own and control (remind you of anyone?) , the persistent sounds of merrymaking from the outside world would seep annoyingly through your windows, and make you want to die.

If you want to completely escape, you must first identify somewhere to escape to - otherwise what's the point? Where could you go? A good starting point would be to identify parts of this country that are the least royalist. Trouble is, at least for the duration, there are no parts of the country that are not royalist, it seems.

I had thought of Antarctica, but no. It would be worse there than here, and besides is bloody cold.

"So unlike our own dear Queen!"

I have on my bookshelves a large volume with the title Sixty Years a Queen. I don't want this to scare off my fellow republicans, so I'd better explain that it is about Victoria, not Elizabeth II, and I bought it because it contains several illustrations by my great grandfather, who was one of Victoria's court painters. The notion of buying such a book celebrating the fact that Elizabeth II has managed to keep breathing for 86 years is repellant.

What is interesting is the soporific effect on the population of Elizabeth's long - and largely sensible - spell as our head of state. We have been lulled into a false sense of security because of her ability to Refrain from Interfering. The truth is, however, that we simply do not know how much or how often she has indeed interfered, since it's difficult to draw boundaries between "offering a view", "influence" and "interference", especially when the actor is of such high social status (can't get much higher, after all). Perhaps it's just spin that she is famous for Not Interfering. Who knows?

What we do know is that the heir to the throne is a career Interferer, and furthermore has had definite and measurable effects on all our lives, and he isn't even king yet! We are due for a nasty shock. In more than living memory, we have "benefitted" from monarchs who have been benign and appealing in various contrasting ways. Edward VII ("Edward the Caresser") was fat, likeable and internationalist. George V, by contrast, was dull but dutiful, and collected stamps. George VI "did the right thing" in the Second World War, according to popular legend. But let's not forget the very close call we had with his brother, the Nazi-loving Edward VIII.

Although she is quite a bit older than I, I am one generation closer to the Victorians than is the queen. Victoria was her great great grandmother, while my great grandfather was Victoria's contemporary. I am fascinated by the 19th Century, which was seminal in founding our modern state and culture, and which saw the Second Enlightenment. So much was wrong back then, but so much was right, too. And at least there was a feeling that - if things were wrong - we could and should do something about it. And things were done, and much was put right.

Now, we're just depressed and tend to throw up our hands in cynical resignation. This is dangerous in the extreme. Just how dangerous will become all too apparent after the death of Elizabeth II, and for this reason, I wish her a very long life.