Saturday, 8 May 2010

General Election - We're still waiting!

Well, though the aftermath is not yet over, a bit of relief to temper the disappointment. The big 'downer' being that the result confounded just about everybody's expectation that the Lib Dems would not only do well but spectacularly so. In the event they actually ended up with five fewer seats than before, thanks to the vagaries of our silly voting system. They now have 57 seats out of the 650 whereas if there was a seats/votes proportionality it ought to have been nearer 160. (Among the Lib Dem casualties was the tragic loss of one of Parliament's leading atheists and its most vocal secularist, who very narrowly lost his seat to a Conservative.) The best part, though, is that the Conservatives failed to get enough seats to govern in their own right, even though it was their biggest numerical seat-gain since 1931. As at now there are talks between the leaders of the Conservatives and Lib Dems to try to form some sort of coalition, though I cannot imagine there being enough common ground between their parties to work - a Labour/Lib Dem partnership would have seemed much more likely to survive, though the Lib Dems propping up a party which certainly did NOT win carries the danger of being tainted by association. Another hopeful sign among the results was that the small number of out-gay MPs has increased yet again, including even among the Conservatives - and none of the high-profile former out-gay MPs on both sides was ousted. Also much relief that that awful woman, who ran a Church claiming to 'cure' gays through prayer, failed to win. Another noteworthy 'happy' is to see this country's first-ever Green Party member elected. Okay, she's only one out of 650, but nevertheless she is a key beacon of hope for the future. (She would have been my own representative had I still lived at my previous address.) Also reassuring to have found that not a single one of the several hundred far-right candidates, including those of the newish 'Christian Party', came anywhere near sniffing distance of winning a seat. All pathetic, 'worthy' losers!
So it's still a case of 'wait and see'. Verdict so far? - Nowhere near as good as I'd hoped but could have been so very much worse.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Election - starting to get scary

With only four days to go it seems a predicted Conservative victory is the increasingly likely result, though the party would probably not have a majority against all other parties combined. In our crazy voting system it would mean that if they are only a handful of votes short of that critical majority, they could well be looking for support among the odd-bods and extremists of the right, and making compromises with them in order to achieve the passing of the bulk of the Conservative programme. (If they turn out to be dozens of seats short then they'd have to compromise with the Liberal-Democrats - whom I'll be voting for - in order to get the numbers that they'd need to form a short-term coalition.)
For me, there's quite a list of objectionable items on the Conservative agenda - tax breaks for the richest, repeal of the fox-hunting ban, being pro-nuclear weapons, but paramount has been their leaving the mainstream Conservative group in the European Parliament and their joining instead the nationalist, homophobic, anti-semitic group of Eastern European states, ostensibly because the latter are, like them, against a federal Europe. But, having said that, there is at least one of their policies I will applaud, viz their commitment to ditch the Labour government's insane, hell-bent determination to press ahead with a national, all-inclusive (and hideously costly) ID card and DNA register. It almost makes supporting the Conservatives worthwhile - almost, but not quite. (The Lib-Dems are also unsurprisingly opposed to this '1984'-style register.)
But what is increasingly frightening now is the growing influence of American-inspired, Evangelical-movement involvement in financial support for the Conservatives. Today I read of one of the latter party's female candidates in this election who has just been revealed as having worked in an institution that attempts to 'cure' gays through prayer. There's a good chance she'll win the seat as the current member was involved in the M.P.s' expenses scandal. Dear oh dear! What might we be in for? It's true that the Conservative Party has reformed significantly since the homophobic days of Thatcher's premiership (though she herself rarely talked directly on the subject, she did allow her Ministers full rein to expound their prejudices.) But David Cameron has now publicly apologised for those times and claims to have 'de-toxified' his party. But we do hear occasional prejudiced murmurs from certain members of his team, showing that there is some of the old ugliness under the surface. However, I do think that he has largely succeeded in moving the party on. But with these newer religious influences and pressures from his bigoted 'pals' in Europe I don't think it'll take too much to undo the progress that's been made over the last 10 years or so. So, now you may understand why I, among many, I think, am apprehensive about the likely result.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

I so wanted to experience Stephen's 'Company'.

I've greatly admired Stephen Sondheim since I first saw one of his shows (which was, indeed, 'Company') in the mid-70s put on by students at Oxford University. A few days ago there was a TV interview with the great man himself on his then approaching his 80th birthday - and a well-preserved octogenarian he is too! But when I first saw what he looked like all those years ago I was smitten. He was hot! Then I found out about his particular 'predilections', and I do mean 'particular', and my mind was in overdrive. We would be so compatible! Then in 1991 I used to know a theatre critic who took me to a live talk and Q & A session with Mr S. at London's Barbican Theatre. The man would then have been 3 or 4 years younger than I am now. To say I was excited would have been the least of it. The theatre was packed out for the event - and for me it was a case of 'spot the star' as there were so many 'A' list British acting celebrities there. (I found myself sitting right behind the wonderful and adorable Julia MacKenzie.) When he appeared my jaw dropped. He was every bit as handsome as I'd hoped. That did it. I don't remember much about what was said during the Qs and As because my fantasies had taken flight. Even though the audience was big I was easily in his sight-line, close to the middle, about 8 rows from the front. I was willing him to look at me. Surely once he noticed me our gazes would lock - and then he'd think "Wow, he's not bad!". The entire session was spent in mind-games but though there was no obvious sign that he'd noticed me I didn't give up hope. Perhaps if I hung around afterwards someone would bring me a note - "Hi! Have you got a minute to talk? S.S." My answer would be unequivocal but I'd have to hold back a near-orgasmic enthusiasm. We'd have a drink together. He'd ask me if I'd like to come back to his hotel with him. (Would I? Sure as shit I would! - but it would take all my powers to stop visibly trembling otherwise he might think I had a dose of the D.T.s.) I'd accompany him back, we'd have a meal, a few drinks, laughs, then the discreet, exploratory touches, then....... After a night of considerable mutual satisfaction he'd pop the question "Ray, baby, would you like to come and live in NY with me and be my assistant?" "Only if my heart doesn't give out, you sex-bomb, you!" The rest would be history - but what a history!
Oh well, dream on! But if only I'd had the guts to force his attention on me by asking a question, my life could have worked out SO differently! As it is, now I don't even have a 'George' or, in fact anyone else, with whom to spend a Sunday in the park! ;-)

Monday, 26 April 2010

Election Fever is high - though we ought to be thankful for small mercies,

With just 10 days to go before our General Election the party campaigns is the main news item every day. I must confess not to be bored by it (yet). In this country the campaign lasts only one month, whereas I get the impression that in the USA, for example, it goes on somewhat longer. In his much-missed weekly radio talks, 'Letter from America', the late Alistair Cooke used to tell how Americans never ceased to be surprised when they learnt of the relative brevity of our campaigns and that on the very day after the election the winning new (or the previous) Prime Minister is ensconsed in Number 10 Downing Street and immediately starts to govern. This time, however, it could be especially interesting as every single poll for some weeks past has been projecting that no single party will have an absolute majority in its own right, and therefore the winner between Conservative and Labour could have to seek coalition with the 'middle party', the Liberal Democrats. The latter is really 'middle' only in name as it has been for some time the most radically progressive of the three main parties. It is also the party for which I shall be casting my vote. There's a web-site available which asks you about 2 dozen questions and, based on one's answers, tells you which party comes closest to your ideal. I had been expecting the Green Party to have come out on top for me but it actually came second. It was also good to see in the latest TV debate between the three main parties, the Lib-Dem leader, Nick Clegg, declare that he isn't a 'believer'. It won't do him any harm overall. He may, in fact, attract additional votes by saying that. But I wonder if a party leader in the States could get away with saying that if he wanted to be in serious contention. Wouldn't it be a 'kiss of death'? (But I think I saw recently that Walter Mondale did say just that when he was the Democratic Presidential candidate.) Anyway, so Lib-Dem it will be for me, even though the party hasn't gained its own majority to rule here for 80 years now.
I'm also thankful that there is no significant religious vote in this country. There have been occasional pathetic bleatings from church voices but they are never more influential than 'noises-off'. In the 4 decades I've been voting, they've never had a significant enough sway with any party to matter. A few days ago a group of Scottish Catholic bishops urged that no votes should be cast for candidates who supported abortion-choice and civil partnerships. Although their remarks were reported in the news (as a 'minor' item) their opinion is hardly going to make any difference at all. (Btw What brass neck it is for Catholic bishops to lecture others on their views of 'morality' - in these times above all!)

I'm also relieved that we have no radio 'shock-jocks' nor any equivalent of 'Fox News'. Although our view of these are inevitably skewed through a trans-Atlantic lens, what I do see and hear I'm truly appalled at.

On the downside here is the fact that we don't have fixed-term Governments. The Prime Minister can call an election any time when s/he wants, as long as it is within 5 years of the previous General Election. Right through a government's term we hear calls for an election from the opposition parties time and time and time again. A real pain. But much more important is that our first-past-the-post voting system is hopelessly unrepresentative, giving disproportionate power to the two biggest parties. In our last election (2005) Labour received just 24% of the total vote yet gained a 60+ majority of candidates over all other parties combined - more than enough with which to govern alone. We are being told that in the forthcoming election it is just conceivable that Labour could actually come 3rd in terms of total number of votes cast yet could still have a majority in Parliament. Scope for reform, I'd say - but of course the two biggest parties resist suggestions of change as it's in their interests to maintain a system that works in their favour, whether it's Labour or Conservative, so we have never-ending ping-pong between them. But calls for a change in the voting system are currently louder than I've ever heard before, so maybe...just maybe.....
I also envy those countries which have a written constitution. The British one, such as it is, depends on a mish-mash of convention, judicial precedent and other nebulous concepts, all subject to varying interpretations. Of course a written constitution is subject to interpretation too, but at least it is enshrined in non-abstract black-and-white, which most people would find reassuring.

So all in all, an interesting fortnight or so ahead. (Yes, I did see Jon Stewart's amusing talk with John Oliver.) Meanwhile, with fingers crossed for something better, I'll be watching developments with intense and blogging further on the subject.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Momentous Event.

Had a wet dream last night. :-)

Friday, 16 April 2010

My pair of perfect and precious pussy-pals. (Well, nearly perfect.)


In human-year equivalents Blackso must be about my age now while Noodles is middle-aged. You can see the road that Blackso crosses every day to visit the park opposite, sometimes several times daily. Despite my repeated severe warnings to him he insists on taking his life in his hands, perches himself on the low wall and looks back at me defiantly while I frown at him from the window, my heart racing. The little devil has aged me considerably in the ten years I've had him. The wonder is that he's survived so long. Noodles, on the other hand, rarely crosses this road - and when he does it's usually at night or early in the morning when there's little traffic. Sensible chap.

Monday, 12 April 2010

A welcome addition to my 'happy list' - Scott Joplin

I really think this deserves to be on my 'List of Things that make me Happy' (to go along with - watching animals play, stroking my 'pussies', flowers, seeing other people laugh, saki/margaritas (in moderation), Woody Allen comedies etc.
I recently bought on eBay a book of the sheet music of the complete Ragtime piano solos of Scott Joplin (including some marches and waltzes). I'm working my way through them and they really are a delight to play. Of course they aren't exactly profound - they weren't meant to be - but they are skilfully composed, with some of them having very daring and unexpected key-change lurches. I suppose a parallel music type would be trad-jazz - undemanding stuff, yes, but positively cheerful. It's difficult to listen to (or play) one of these pieces without a smile creasing one's features.
I already knew two or three of them - including the ubiquitous, but still clever. 'The Entertainer' - among them the 'Maple Leaf Rag' in a finger-friendly G major but I see that that version had been transposed down a semitone from the trickier and far more challenging Ab original, so this is how I'll be playing it from now on. Lots more delights in store. Happy music!