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“Au revoir! Auf wiedershen! Arrivederci!” What A Difference A Decade Makes

For a week now I have been trying to figure out how to begin my Tony-bye-bye. Ten years ago I was Labour – now I am not. Ten years ago I was optimistic about the future – now I am not. Ten years ago I really did believe ‘things would only get better’ – now…………

There are many out there (almost anyone) who will be more competent and eager than I to trot out the list of every promise made and not kept; every transgression committed. The habit of grinding someone into the dirt with the alacrity we so often demonstrate here when one has fallen can now continue and shift into high gear. However I would consider myself being untrue to my principles if I did not take this opportunity to thank Tony Blair for much/most of the past ten years. For whatever his ‘faults’ and mistakes he, at least initially, brought a wave of hope to a political climate that most sorely needed it. Yes he may not have accomplished what he set out to. Yes he will be held responsible for much that is wrong. But he did try and I for one, while understanding why he had to go, will miss him.

But ‘what now my love’…………

I am a new Conservative – no not due to Tony Blair as an individual but more down to recognizing the Labour Party as a group I was no longer willing to be associated with. In the main I began to find them ill-mannered, in the main ill-advised but most of all, in the main mind-bogglingly ill-equipped for the job. And now we have Gordon Brown. In my opinion: extremely ill-mannered. Often ill-advised and with what appears to be a stunning lack of interpersonal skills and an inability/disregard for opinions other than his own…….. ill-equipped for the job of Prime Minister.

There was a fascinating programme on television a few nights ago about a reporter trying to gain contact with Gordon Brown. Very telling that one of Brown’s minions said ‘I don’t even get to talk to him’. Put that together with Michael Portillo saying earlier that when he was the Shadow GB wouldn’t talk to him either. This repeatedly is the theme – a man who ignores others. Doesn’t bother to pay attention therefore unable to respond when called upon. Very insightful story came to light recently of Gordon Brown at a meeting in Europe where he said his piece then removed his headphones and did ‘busy work’ while everyone else spoke. When called upon to respond he was of course unable (as he hadn’t been listening) so he just repeated his original diatribe in answer – surprise, surprise his answers didn’t match their questions. It will be interesting days indeed now that Our Gordon has to move from the autonomy of his fiefdom into the no-holds barred arena. He might have been able to ignore folk before but those days are over.

Bring on a General Election!

*Morag shuffles off to make badges and posters. Just one problem, whose name shall we put on them…………

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Mediocrity For The Masses

……“It was not their irritating assumption of equality that annoyed Nicholai so much as their cultural confusions…they seemed to confuse standard of living with quality of life, equal opportunity with institutionalized mediocrity, bravery with courage, machismo with manhood, liberty with freedom, wordiness with articulation, fun with pleasure – in short, all of the misconceptions common to those who assume that justice implies equality for all, rather than equality for equals.” (Shibumi)

Am I the only person who feels this is an unerringly accurate portrayal of where our society is headed?

When I heard the new blah-blah that maybe children shouldn’t be raising their hands in class I went ballistic. Apparently some Bright Sparks/Nitwits have decided that if you’re too shy to raise your hand then you won’t get anywhere in life. Therefore we need to ‘fix it’ so that no one has to inconvenience themselves – after all we all know that in life if you sit indoors with the curtains drawn the world will come and beat down your door to entreat you to share whatever your pearls of wisdom are. For heaven’s sake!

Gordon’s crony Education Secretary Alan Johnson has said: “This practical report takes hands-on learning from the classroom about strategies that work, and gives that knowledge back to the front line. We need to make sure that no-one is left behind at any point — from the most gifted and talented children at the top of the class, to the quiet child who is well-practiced at hiding from the teacher’s gaze at the back of the class.”……… I was actually thinking of running a competition to find a more idiotic collection of sentences anywhere in this week’s news.

Life is not equal. We’re not all equal. Some of us are shy; some of us are backwards about coming forwards. But you’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to learn that if you want to be noticed, acknowledged, create a role for yourself – you ‘raise your hand’. The concept of encouraging this kind of ‘nobody raise their hand’ nonsense is enough to ensure that Mr. Johnson must be relegated to the minor leagues. I don’t know who these people were developing their ‘strategies that work’ with but we should be about building confidence in our children and teaching them to be comfortable and proud of their abilities NOT encouraging them to hide behind the bookshelf because someone will come and find them. The world doesn’t work that way.

THERE’S NOWT AS QUEER AS FOLK

One of the things one realizes as the years go by is that anything the mind of man can conceive or believe can be realized. No matter how daft, how outrageous, silly and plainly pointless an activity could be, somewhere there are a group of folk indulging in it. That’s all well and good though until it involves my hard-earned money.

Today we find out that all the work we’ve done from the beginning of the year to now has pretty much gone to taxes. This is one of those bits of information that I could really have done without hearing.

Especially today when I found myself at the local chemist counting out pennies to pay for my NHS prescription. Usually I have no problem paying for my prescriptions (financially) – but somehow there seemed to be a temporary blip in the coffers. Though if I am honest my rage today was emotional more than financial.

A couple of days ago I came across an article saying that the NHS is now doing a booming trade in genitoplasty. Ladies are now getting bored with the normal run-of-the-mill plastic surgery i.e. breast augmentation, nosejobs etc, and their choices for surgery are now moving ever southward.

In 2005 the NHS performed over 800 of these operations which was double what it had been a few years before and the estimates are way higher now in 2007. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what this procedure is then I would suggest google ‘genitoplasty’ – even Miss Mindbender is a bit too ‘shy’ to discuss the intricacies of it here. Medical procedure? My posterior! The common reason that the NHS is accepting to grant this operation is ‘inability to ride a bicycle’, ‘inability to wear tight clothing’. Fill in your own response to this……………………… I’ll bet some of the pensioners who are being denied hip replacements will be thrilled to know that people are taking our hardearned money to ‘tidy themselves up’ so that they can ride bicycles and wear tight clothing. If you want to pay for such things yourself then who am I to stop you, but my money cannot, should not, be directed towards such procedures.

When I was sitting there today counting ‘six pound eighty one, six pound eighty two…’ I thought of where the money is going and it made me frustrated, angry and sad. I wish I had some words of wisdom or solace as I like to end on a happy note, but maybe I am finally running out of steam.

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Now Even Our News Has To Be Pretty?

This week a study came out which said that more than 31 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were written last year. This was 6% more than the previous year and probably 80% more than it needs to be. The fact that this is so is for a combination of reasons too complicated to get into right now. For those of you pointing out the fact that I am not a doctor so what do I know – you are partially correct. I am not a doctor. However a few years back I was part of a nightly health series. The premise of the show was that each night there was a different condition highlighted. We would bring on someone who was currently suffering, someone who needed to be cured and a doctor. It became a running ‘joke’ with us on the show – ‘disease of the toe: antidepressants; ‘loss of hair: antidepressants’; ‘loss of husband: antidepressants’. Issues to due with prostates, erectile dysfunction, testicular anything: Proper Treatment. Of course there is a legitimate place for antidepressants but 31million prescription………….come on now (frown).

What does this have to do with politics or social-theory? A lot. It is a reflection on the ‘I don’t want to feel anything’ culture that we now choose to inhabit. Anything unpleasant rears its ugly head and we need to mask it or avoid it. God forbid we actually do anything about it. Why is that? Probably because most of us feel we can’t do anything about pretty much anything ‘bad’ in our world so if we can’t change it then let’s rob it of its power to hurt us. We hold it in, bottle it up, hope it goes away. Well of course it doesn’t. So every few years we need to release all this pent up hostility/aggression/frustration/sadness/et al. And it could be anything that trips the switch. Someone new to ‘hate’ on Big Brother, someone new to ‘love’ on X-Factor. That’s why so many of us like politics, a constant fresh crop of demagogues.

The first time I really became aware of this ‘collective outpouring’ was when Princess Diana died and now we are seeing a repetition in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Let me be clear. I was devastated, nay distraught when Diana died. Trotted off to Kensington Palace pushing the buggy with the child carrying one rose and us grownups lugging the contents of an entire flowershop. Weeping, bawling and general gnashing of teeth. Railing against the universe, you name it and it went on. Did I really give a monkey’s about Diana? Still not sure – yes she seemed nice enough but were there more important things in my own life that needed attending to both practically and emotionally – most definitely! But what was easier, crying for me or crying for a stranger?

As a mother I can completely empathize and understand the distress the McCann family must be going through.

However there is something terribly, terribly wrong in how this has been covered and it leaves a bad taste in some mouths. Are some lives more valued than others? Is the pain of some families deeper? If Madeleine had been on holiday with her single-mother from Slough would we care as much? If Madeleine had been a wee brown girl from Merseyside would we have cared in the same way? And most importantly are we man enough to admit the answers to those questions………..

Many commentators infinitely more competent than I (which means just about everyone)……..are now starting to raise their heads above the parapet and ask these questions and I say hats off to them. This is NOT about poor Madeleine and the distress of her family. This is about how the media chooses what we are interested in, sometimes to their own advantages. When we see primetime anchor newsreaders climbing out from behind their desks and going a couple of yards away to see what happened to two toddlers found dead in their beds rather than hopping on a plane to go somewhere sunny so they can show concern and support – then we may feel a bit more secure that we are really getting a cross-section of news, not just what’s ‘pretty’…………

Am I saying that we shouldn’t care about Madeleine? Absolutely NOT! Forward emails, put up posters, tie ribbons everywhere you can think of ——– but do it for everyone not just the pretty ones. Maybe if/when we start caring about more of the pain and suffering that goes on around us on an everyday basis – and doing something about it –there will be less of it, who knows we can only pray…………

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Beware the Man Behind the Screen – Gordon Brown comes out of the shadows

Sigh………I guess promising the Universe that I would be a good girl and eat my spinach if it would ‘just make that man disappear’ didn’t work. OK then fair enough I’ll have to put some elbow grease into this then.

‘I do not believe politics is about celebrity’………is like when I make comments along the lines of ‘only girls with loose morals go topless’ – in other words it’s not that I really believe such a thing, it’s that I know I can’t play the game that way so I try to change the rules to suit. We live in a media-driven world and while the majority of us wish it wasn’t so – it is. If you are a politician you need to acknowledge the power of ‘presence’. Of course politics is not about celebrity but ignoring that the playing field now has different obstacles to navigate is like people who say ‘I don’t have a mobile phone because I want to rule my own life’. Grow up. The best way to win the game is to play it from the inside and beat them at their own rules.

‘Put citizens in control’………….once again the metaphor of the not-too-popular kid running for school election who in a desperate attempt to gain power promises beer in the soda machines and smoking in the playground. Citizens who want to have some ‘control’ know that it involves raising themselves up off the sofa and shuffling (or powerwalking) down to the polling booths…..but of course Gordon isn’t going to be encouraging that wee activity anytime soon.

Much has been made of his image. There is a contingent of persons (mainly female) who are ready to anoint him LL Cool G (in homage to the 80’s rapper LL Cool J which stood for Ladies Love). Personally I don’t get it but as he is quick to point out – and I am quick to agree – it’s not about his sex appeal (or lack of it).

However it is about his personal appeal. It is about how we react and respond to the man. There was an interesting woman on the news tonight who advises politicians and other folk on how to make themselves more accessible to all and sundry. She pointed out that the smile really needed some work. Personally I would rather he not do it at all – it scares me and reminds me of ‘come into my parlor said the spider to the fly…’ Miss Body Language and Presentation Advisor was saying that there is nothing more off-putting than a fake smile and that he needs to learn how to be happy on the inside so that his smile is genuine. Hmmmm if I were he I’d be happy as Larry. And for those people who keep harping on ‘but he’s so lovely when you see him talking to children’ – fine, then let him be a primary school teacher. While the likes of George Bush do appear to have the emotional intelligence of the shortpants brigade the fact of the matter is that I for one am extremely uncomfortable at the thought of being led by a man who only comes into his own when talking to 10 year olds……

For all the people who complain about the money that Labor did NOT spend. And all the taxes they did collect. And all the services that went down. And all the people in need. What do all those things have in common? Money. Who was in charge of the kitty? Gordon. So what, is he now going to have a total change of heart and decide that maybe it is a good way to spend money after all – these issues that he wasn’t willing to cough up for before will suddenly be worthy? Give us break. And this is probably the biggest reason to vote Conservative – if you really want a change. Gordon Brown, and I’m trying not to be pessimistic here as it goes against my nature, will bring us more of the same if not worse.

He wants to ‘put the citizens in control’………..fine……….the citizens (at least a fair few of us) want a General Election. You’re so confident in yourself then let us have a chance to confirm your mandate. Come on be a brave boy and put our money where your mouth is……….

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Bye-Bye Babemaker

With Head Held High and a spring in his step Tony Blair bounded up the steps of the Queen’s transport today headed for Sedgfield to reveal the worst kept secret since Victoria Beckham’s ‘has she or hasn’t she had them done’. As we ALL now know Prime Minister Tony Blair will knock on the Queen’s door on June 27th. He will walk into her presence as Prime Minister – he will walk out of her presence no longer such.

Don’t know about the rest of you but I’m slightly confused as to what I feel. As one who tends to look for the positive in any situation I have been casting my eye over the past ten years to see what good has come out of the Blair Years… ….ok….done that. Now let me cast my eye over the bad………ok……. now done that as well. How does it balance? As he said it’s for us to decide.

Morag unpacked her suitcases on these shores in 1992. Arrived from New York (via Belfast) – after years of holidaying here marriage and circumstances dictated this was going to be home for the foreseeable future. Old Jamaican saying of ‘come see me and come live with me’ proved spot on. Lollygagging in Annabel’s and shopping in Liberty was slightly different than the Northern Line and Safeway’s (Morrison’s to you young folk). A lot of the quirks I had found endearing became instantly annoying. Everything closing at 10, bad service, grumpy people, constant pessimism etc.etc. Then once I settled in, the UK became like that lovely great-aunt that you always loved and then somehow accidentally ended up living with. She wasn’t the same when she removed her hat but she let you play with her hair and you loved her for it.

These were the Major years. For reasons too cumbersome to explain in those days Morag spent a bit of time wandering the halls of Westminster (in a purely social sense). Sitting in the bar with people pointing out John Smith and saying ‘There’s our next Prime Minister’. Sadly that was not to be. Politics were grey. Politicians were even more so. Many of the women wandering the halls of Westminster were in patent stilettos and had security passes that said ‘Guest’.

Fast-forward to 1997 – enter Tony Blair. What did he do? Did he do anything at all? Well yes he did. For all the things that he can be faulted for some things were accomplished over the past decade. There are many more competent than I who can list all the plusses and all the minuses so Morag will do what Morag does – talk about the intangibles. Oh and to note that there are now more women in Westminster wearing sensible shoes carrying attaché cases.

Yes Labor’s expectations were too high. And our temperament as a nation being what it is it is much more fun to bang on about ‘they said they would do this and they didn’t’. Yes one needs to be held accountable. But at least they tried. And that is part of the legacy that Tony Blair left. More of us now seem to care and have something to say. Now we will at least try and if we start putting some action behind our whingeing then we’ll be in business.

As for Iraq. Morag isn’t the best person to comment. I’m one of those who did not for one single minute EVER believe that the Iraq War/Conflict was about WMD. Also never believed that Saddam’s was anyone’s idiot and would have been sitting there patiently waiting for anyone to show up and catch him at it. I have always been informed, and I believe correctly, that we sold him a lot of the stuff to make the WMD so unless he had some intensely peculiar garden ornaments in his many palaces he probably put it to fit purpose. Why did we not find any? You’re home alone perusing the latest copy of NakedFarmGirls and your mummy calls and says she’s on her way home – what do you? Exactly………stash it, wash your hands and look innocent. The Iraq War was always going to be mainly about the Yanks and lining their pockets. The fact that we idealistically went along with that programme of foolishness…..well like I said – I’m not the best person to comment.

What Tony Blair did manage to do was drag politics into the 20th century and as he said leave it ‘comfortable in the 21st century’. Of course that is a huge exaggeration – we aren’t comfortable but at least we’re there. Finally. Yes he changed the way the office was run – but it needed to happen. And proof positive that things needed to happen is that we are now more than likely to be stuck with that entity that is Gordon Brown (but I shall save that for my next rant).

What happens now? Until a year ago I was Labor – but now I am Conservative. I think that is the way to go – with or without Gordon Brown in the driver’s seat (though even more so with him as PM). I think the only way for right-minded folk to proceed forward is to join the Conservatives – cut down on government interference and step up individual social responsibility.

But in the meantime I have to say I did stand up today and give a hand to the Boy Wonder. “I give my thanks to you, the British people, for the times that I have succeeded, and my apologies to you for the times I have fallen short. But good luck”(TB)

…………..he’s right if we don’t tip them out we’ll need it.

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What does one do with 1,000,000 camels?

Did you know that parts of Australia’s Outback are becoming overrun by wild camels? Yep, the country is now home to around 1 million camels roaming the vast tracts of desert. Camels in Australia?! Where on earth did they come from in the first place? Apparently camels were first introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s to transport goods across the desert.When trucks and trains made the beasts of burden unneeded, their owners simply turned them loose. The camel population has now exploded in parts of central, northern and western Australia. “The feral camel population is growing by about 10 percent each year and doubling in size every eight years,” says a local expert. These wild beasts are beginning to encroach on agricultural land, causing extensive damage. Camels used to be out of sight, out of mind, living in the more remote desert areas but now they are moving out into better country, to pastoral land. So in a nutshell these poor camels were deemed useless, thrown out to fend for themselves, they got annoyed and now they’re chomping back. There’s too many of them to manage easily and if one decided to do something along the lines of ‘eliminating the problem’ then animal rights activists from one end of the globe to another would be up in arms.

Where am I going with this………..

Yesterday afternoon I opened the door with my normal joy at seeing my son return home from school. He was standing on the doorstep, tall and tidy but his eyes were filled with tears, ‘Mama I just got mugged’. He was so calm that at first I thought he must be joking (he’s going through that strange 12-year old sense of humour bypass stage where he thinks the most peculiar things are funny) but when he fell into my arms I realized this was serious. ‘Are you alright?’ ‘Did they hurt you?’ ‘What happened?’ ———- the stock questions all come tumbling out. But what you really want to ask was ‘Why wasn’t I there?’ ‘How could I let this happen?’ ‘Why don’t I take him to school, sit outside his classroom door and bring him home in the evenings?’ – Well of course you don’t because you can’t and you shouldn’t.

My son was walking along minding his own business, 5 minutes away from his home. He was not using his phone (a Christmas present from his father). He was not playing his gaming console (a Christmas present from his godfather). He was not waving around his new watch (a £20. watch I recently bought him as reward for doing so well on his last school report). He was just walking home after a hard day at school, getting ready to have a snack, a 15 minute break and then beginning his nightly revision. 6 older teenage boys surrounded him ‘Keep walking!!!!!!’ – apparently this is the new method that way the incident attracts less attention and just looks like a group of boys walking along while they threaten you and relieve you of your possessions.

The police arrived at our door shortly afterwards and bless his cotton socks he was brilliant my boy. He was calm, unruffled, remembered lots of details. But I sat there quietly to one side realizing that his innocence is now firmly gone. My Baby Boy has experienced yet another rite of passage that is sadly oh too familiar in today’s society. He told me that he will be the 4th boy in his form room in the past few months to be mugged – and the only one who wasn’t hurt. Apparently the logic is that you see a boy in a private school uniform then that means he is rich and ‘has stuff’. Well of course that couldn’t be further from the truth in most instances. It might just mean, as in my case, that I thought if I work hard and sacrifice to send him to a good school then maybe he won’t be hanging around on the streets with 5 other fellas looking to harass other kids intimidating them and stealing their belongings.

What does my son being mugged have to do with 1,000,000 camels?…………A small segment of society that no one cared about? Ignored and put on the periphery of society? Left to fend for themselves? Multiplying? Running wild? Invading territory where the pickings are more abundant and there is more to feed on? Situation now way beyond the point of an easy solution…….

We all know that on many subjects I am just to the right of Genghis Khan. And I am certainly NOT going to give the ‘let’s give them some hobbies so they won’t be bored’. More inclined to say ‘let’s give them some morals so they know right from wrong’. But we have got to do something. These 6 kids aren’t out there mugging my son because they’re bored. Though there was a conversation between them about the wisdom of taking his Oystercard, you somehow know it wasn’t so they could have free transport to go to the nearest museum or library. These kids are out there mugging and getting up to all sorts because they have no sense of decency. No pride in themselves. Nobody putting a boot up their backside and telling them to toe the line. And I do NOT want to hear ‘and nothing to live for’. You don’t get an envelope with your birth certificate containing a slip of paper with ‘What you are here to live for’. You find that out yourself. And please don’t tell me ‘That’s not our job that’s what they have parents for’. Good theory – isn’t working as a reality – we’re picking up the pieces, or wiping the dust of our children’s knees.

We can think it’s not our concern as much as we want – it is now most places, and ‘soon to becoming everywhere and to a leafy lane by you.’ There are no ivory towers anymore and remember : If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Please send postcards with solutions/ideas to : Miss Morag Mindbender and her son, Close to Leafy Lane, Close to Your Home, Next Door to Your Children.

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You, Me and the Bank Manager – The true state of our economy

We wake up this morning to find out two things – ‘The richer you are, the easier it is to get more rich’ (duh! As the kids would say). And that ‘we are all living beyond our means’. Oh alright then – we might as well all roll over and go back to sleep now…….

The annual ‘Everybody Who Has More Money Than Me/I List’ has come out and yet again (grrrrrrrr!) I am nowhere to be found. Number One is a steel magnate who is so powerful and wealthy that no one has had the nerve to say ‘now about that hairdo’. Number Two is a Russian who despite his wife just relieving him of enough of his fortune (for bad behaviour) and earning her own place on the list – is still worth 10.8 billion pounds. And Number Three is the ever enigmatic and elusive Duke of Westminster – who by the way if anyone knows him please let him know that Morag would like to come around for a cup of tea and a biscuit. Read a profile on him last year and he sounds like an incredibly decent, deep and caring man who gives of himself and his money to help others less fortunate (no snide remarks about ‘that means all of us then’).

Philip Beresford (who complies the list), said that the richer you are is the easier it is to get more rich. Well yes and no. There is another economic theory that says if you put all the wealth of the world on a table and divvied it up equally that within a couple of years the majority of it would have found its way back into the hands it originally came from. Yes a few of us might sneak in but in the main most of us would pretty much be in the same position we were in before.Why is that? Because wealth is a mindset more than anything else. If you want to be one of the few who would move from one side of the table to the other you could do worse than going on Amazon and spend 6 pounds picking up a book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and turning to the finances chapter. It is basically a compilation of thoughts from the Bible through to Einstein on how to get certain things in your life and/or helping you identify why you don’t have certain things in your life. I am trying to put the principles in place and have already gotten a new secondhand bike – today a bicycle, tomorrow a Bentley. If it works for any of you I’ll expect a cut of the profits – cash in an envelope please to Miss Morag Mindbender……….

Our other bit of wisdom –and one I put much stock in – comes from Peter Spencer, chief economic adviser at the ITEM Club, which is an economic forecasting group backed by Ernst and Young. He says that as a nation we are skating/wobbling on thin ice because most of us are living beyond our means. Basically all this ‘Gordon Brown is a hero because we all have more dosh’ is a load of codswallop. Most of us don’t really have more dosh at all but the system has been skewed to enable us to live as we do.

I know I always sound like someone’s granny when I start banging on about how we spend money but it really is true and I am thrilled to hear a chief economic adviser to anyone say what I’ve been saying for a while now. If we don’t all stop it we are going to wake up one morning in a terribly awful position. I shall trundle out my favorite example – collective yawn from those at the back but I don’t care repetition is the mother of knowledge.

‘When our parents were young’ if they wanted to make a major purchase – say a refrigerator, they trundled out to investigate. They saw how much it cost, they went home and saved up for a year, they trundled back out a year later cash in hand and made the purchase. This meant that knew EXACTLY how much something really cost. And exactly what it took to achieve it. Nowadays if I want a new fridge I go on the internet before leaving for work, order it, pay a special delivery charge because I’m so damn impatient and want what I want and I want it right now. And by the time I return from work my new fridge is whirring away. I cannot tell you how much it really cost, and having it or achieving it has not caused a ripple in my life. Well of course this sort of thing is addictive so we have become a nation of people who buy without thinking and pay without knowing. So what we have basically done is developed the mindset of wanting to live the life of wealth without the mindset on how to acquire it. Thin ice – you betcha and there’s going to be a lot of us swimming in deep water quite soon if we don’t watch out.

Is there a solution – of course there is – isn’t there always? Here we go – in a quick paragraph and yes it is this simple:

‘Things’ aren’t what we really want – it’s the state of mind we believe having these ‘things’ will bring us to. Find easier, more meaningful, and cheaper ways to achieve the desired state of mind and you won’t need to spend all that money. Does that sound familiar? Yes – money has now become the drug of choice for most of us, now how scary is that?

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The Ten Times Rule and Banjo Bob

‘…here I lie where I long to be, (in my own bed)………… Morag has now returned to the blogworld – permanently. Two day suitcase change and she was off to the Yankland to attend a funeral service that had Mick Jagger and Henry Kissinger delivering eulogies – Eric Clapton playing and Phil Collins, Bette Midler, Crosby/Stills/Nash and Young, Ben E.King, Kid Rock (to name a few) singing – only in America. Even in death Bigger, Brasher, more Over-the-Top than any one person/place/or thing has the right to be.

Love it or hate it you’ve occasionally got to respect America’s balls and that is what I set out to do. I wanted to see if I could get past 9/11, George W., and all the things that have set most right-minded folk against America in the past few years and get a view on what America is really thinking now. For personal and emotional reasons (death of a friend – hatred of Bush) I have not been to New York in 7 years.

Despite living there for many a year my views of current America have, like many of us, become coloured by UK television which insists on portraying the majority of Regular Folk (i.e. folk not in ER or Lost) – as a nation of fat cretins without access to a passport or a pair of long-trousers. This truly is unfair – even though there were a few decades when English men were portrayed on US television (in the main) as lace handkerchief waving, yappy-dog carrying, mascara wearing young men :) Of course there are many fat cretins but Yankland is much more complex than that and it is possibly the habit of not giving credit where credit is due that has enabled them to sneak past sensible folk and wrest control from the rest of the world of certain situations they have no business controlling.

I’m not going to take your time up with stories of the lady on the bus who decided to tell us all that in two days she was going to be 93 and the bus breaking out in applause. Nor am I going to go on about the general level of communication, helpfulness, friendliness and openness that now exists in NY. Believe me 9/11 has changed America. It has humbled her peoples – except for the yahoos running the joint of course – and they are whom we now need to focus on.

America is like the overly exuberant toddler that the proud parents bring to the wedding. However lovable it might be, it will most likely wreak havoc. Yes the US is a separate country than the one in which we pick up our post but as the last few years have shown us as long as the UK insists on this ‘special friendship’ – it is almost as important to the residents of Cleveland, England as Cleveland, Ohio who the next President is going to be.

In November 2008 the US is going to go the polls to see who is going to replace the current Banjo Bob (a Morag-ism used to describe grinning fools in positions of power) and the race is already proving a more interesting one than any before. We have a handsome, young Mormon (handsome and young very important to US voters – think JFK). We have a man with a wife who has cancer (Yanks love a tale with emotional overtones). A woman who held her head high while her husband’s peccadilloes were paraded in front of a nation (think cigars and dry-cleaning) – oh and whose aforementioned husband just happened to be president. Then there’s A Black Man (well there’s just not any more that needs to be said there, at least not until you’ve sat down and had a cool drink). And this is just the beginning.

On Thursday night, in South Carolina, at Rep. Jim Clyburn’s Annual Fishfry (you couldn’t make that up could you) – the Democrats are going to have their first debate. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Christopher Dodd, Joseph Biden, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are going to strut their stuff.

Don’t waste too much time worrying about who the others are – for now concentrate on the first three. But keep one very important axiom in mind in this race – The Ten Times Rule, important in every walk of life – but even more so in politics.

Listen carefully: ‘If one is different to the majority in any way – be it gender, religion, ethnicity – one will ALWAYS need to be Ten Times better than the nearest’. How does this apply in politics? Hillary and Barack would have to be 10 xs more clever, 10 xs more bloody-minded. Have 10 xs more support; be surrounded by 10 xs more loyal and powerful lieutenants. They would have to be 10 xs more lovable. Ten times more strong to take what will be hurled at them. Their noses will have to be 10 xs cleaner. They will need to have 10 xs more people willing to get up off their backsides to go out and vote for them. And last, but most important – they’ll need to be 10 steps closer to God because only he could get either of them into the White House.

So the moral of the story? If you think that either of these two people can tick ALL the boxes on The Ten Times checklist, then relax and go back to trying to figure what the hell is going on on East Enders (?) But if, like me, you think hmmmmmm…… then you might want to keep an eye on this election. Much of what we are struggling with now on these shores, is a direct result of our relationship with who is president on those shores so while we may think it isn’t really any of our business – sadly it sort of is. They’ll be getting rid of the granddaddy of the Banjo Bob’s – let’s just hope they don’t replace him with another………….

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“JOIN THE NAVY SEE THE WORLD!” – The Price of Dignity

There was a time in the last century when the armed forces became extremely unfashionable. A combination of the Swinging 60’s, the disaster that was the Vietnam War, slogans like ‘Make love not war’; all contributed to a general feeling that joining the forces was now seriously uncool. This also came about at the same time that the powers of advertising were starting to realise just how powerful they could be so the two parties sat down at the table. Advertising and the Armed Forces.

Numbers falling short – what do we do? A bit of mindbending might be in order…………

‘Why are numbers short ?’ The Armed Forces are no longer cool – Solution – make it cool. ‘What are people now interested in?’ Travel, a career, education, money. Perfect – we’ll give it to them. We’ll get them to understand/ comprehend/swallow that joining the Forces is an opportunity to do/have all these things. You’ll travel the world. You’ll learn skills that set you up for life when you leave. You’ll meet wonderful people, make lifelong friendships. You will be respected in society and most importantly you’ll have just as much (if not more) fun as those long-haired hippie-freak anti-war friends of yours. Sooooooooooooooooo

Fast forward to 2007.

Well we’re in a fine pickle aren’t we? It is very difficult to embarrass Morag and she is not given to bouts of extreme national feeling. However I am now embarrassed, ashamed and saddened. How and when did we become a nation where it is considered ok or fine for members of the Armed Forces to come home and sell their stories? And please don’t even waste my time or yours with statements like ‘well someone else would have made money out of it so why not they?’ There are many unseemly activities that will always be moneyspinners should we then indulge whenever the opportunity for a bit of quick cash arises? The logic that money would be made no matter what so therefore……..should be beneath us – that is what ethics, morals and standards are all about. Knowing when to say ‘actually this is not appropriate’.

Better we had stood up and said ‘well actually the MOD needs to get the general population onside and as no one believes them anymore after the Iraq debacle and in an effort to continue the propaganda let’s let the story come from the horses mouths’ (albeit from typewritten reams of foolscap). I am hoping against hope that this is the real reason this quell-and-tell was suggested or allowed. Yes it would be despicable and manipulative (where have we heard this before…..) but I guess even knowing that it is a propaganda exercise pure and simple would be better than this tacky and tawdry spectacle we are now beholding. And that is without delving into the content of the stories…………

“I was frightened”, “I feared for my life”……..I can’t even repeat any more. Of course the hell you were frightened. Yes being in that position if you had any sense you would be fearing for your life. But ‘I heard hammers and sawing and ………coffin’? That’s one step away from a branch falls on your roof and you ‘just know’ King Kong has landed and has come to get you.

For those of us who can remember the concept of armed forces before they got tarted up it was “Join the forces defend your country. Good chance of kill or be killed. Good chance of torture or be tortured.” None of this see the world, have fun crap. And that’s where the problem lies (in my mind) – we have become a nation of people (many of us, especially the under 60-s) who do not understand the real concept of what armed forces are supposed to do. It is a serious job, with serious downsides. I’ve been watching hostages for many a long year now and trust me – those were the ‘happiest’ hostages I’ve ever seen. Iranian propaganda? Well you know what – better a bit of chess and some five-a-side than what you see going on at Guantanamo Bay. Better cheap and nasty suits than orange jumpsuits and shackles. Better ‘fake’ smiles and laughter, than sacks over their heads.

Before the shouting starts let me be VERY CLEAR about something. My complaint is not with the sailors. My complaints are with the puppetmasters not the puppets.

My heartfelt sympathies go out to the families of soldiers and sailors who have been killed on duty. Families who sent their children off to be trained and then got a phonecall that they had ‘somehow accidentally killed themselves’. Sympathies to to all the families with stories they wanted the world to know but because the MOD didn’t feel them worthy of being told they live nowhere but in their hearts.

Now when the Powers That Be at the MOD sit around a table they will be able to use their calculators to add up what price our dignity as a nation was worth. And hopefully we as a nation don’t fall for it and these papers become what they deserve to be – yesterday’s chip-wrapping.

And yes welcome home to the sailors, and yes we are all pleased that you are home safely – this isn’t about you this is about they who pull your strings, and ours. We’ve had enough.

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HOW WE LOOK FROM A DISTANCE – or “At What Price Bananas?”

Morag on the move…..“Sitting on a bus in Costa Rica staring out the window while eating the most delicious banana I have ever eaten (which for someone who grew up in Jamaica that is really saying a lot). I have given up trying to remember my access code to get into my blog and have decided to just take in what I am seeing and reporting upon my return……”

Every now and then my work presents me with something different/interesting to do and this time it was a trip to ‘points warm/hot’ delivering talks on a British cruise ship. Chance to lay prone in the heat and share thoughts with Middle England, sounded like a brilliant idea. And it was, except for the time I stuck the battery pack for my microphone in the back of my undergarments then somehow managed to saunter across the stage with the back of my dress tucked up in my….well at least I now know that I was wrong all along and yes it IS possible for me to be embarrassed.………….

What did I learn in my travels?

That Acapulco has not fared well in the past 20 years and now resembles a place in need of a Super Casino to smarten itself up a bit (yes I am being sarcastic – more on that later).That sometimes the fact they won’t let you off the ship in Nicaragua really is due to non-existent windy conditions. But it’s also possible that it is somehow connected to the camouflage boats and the men with the rifles sailing around the ship (by the way am I the only person who thinks a camouflage boat should have fish and seaweed painted on the outside…). I found that Panama City does not look like Havana but more like modern Shanghai with a skyline that makes Miami look like Scarborough (before the Super Casino…isn’t that where it is going to be now?). I learned that going through the Panama Canal is very interesting if you’re………..well not me. Though it was possibly interesting to the lockkeeper waving wildly through my balcony doors while I read VS Naipaul in my nightie (how was I to know they would be that close?) Costa Rica – heavenly with an incredible ecological gameplan for which they are now receiving world recognition. Aruba – stylish Dutch villas and sand like talcum powder. Grenada – lovely people, women who dress with great modesty and everyone looks like they go to church regularly. Trinidad – like Manchester, full of spirit and a bright outlook. Construction everywhere, oil money abounds and the most getup-and-go I’ve ever seen on a Caribbean island.

DOLLARS and SENSE

* In 1928 Richard Halliburton paid 36 cents to swim through the Panama Canal.
* The ship I sailed on paid $203,623 (don’t blame the Yanks it was the Panamanians who decided to turn the canal into a money-spinner).

* It takes 9 months for a bunch of bananas to develop and bananas that aren’t beautiful get made into babyfood because we won’t buy them for ourselves if they’re not pretty, but we’ll feed them to our children….
* Workers at the Del Monte plant make 50cents an hour and process about 4 thousand bananas in that hour.
* At M&S today I paid $1.25 for 5 bananas………..do the maths on the profit

I don’t want you to think I abandoned all political interests when I was away. Every afternoon there would be a newsletter outside my cabin with the dubious title of ‘Back In Blighty’……..well not really but similar. It is when you look at your world from the outside looking in that it can really strike you just how awful, tawdry and just wrong so much of it is.

SOME OF THE EVENTS I WAS GLAD TO HAVE MISSED

Super Casinos Debate – for anyone who thinks this infiltration of our country’s psyche by Tessa’s Terrible Tentacles is ‘not really such a bad idea what with the lottery and bingo and all’ I can put you in touch with two dear friends of mine in America who have taken to locking their 13 year old’s computer in a cupboard with a padlock and chain in order to help with his internet gambling addiction. Yes I know – but somehow they do it these kids. Like the wonderful Sayeeda Warsi (possibly our 2nd female PM??) said last night: ‘If 80% of us did crack then would the government advocate opening crack houses?’

Gordon Brown’s Budget – still trying to sift through the bumph but so far it looks like more of his nonsense. Mentioned him casually in a few of my speeches (funny how I can drag Gordon Brown into anything if I really want to) – and I was pleased to see that middle-England seems to dislike/disapprove of him even more than I do.

The Farmer’s Daughter – lawsuit involving a daughter telling a court that her father used to check his wife’s underpants for signs of infidelity. While he in turn told them that she (the daughter) had ‘intimate knowledge’ (my terms not his – he went for the vernacular), of possibly more people than was appropriate in someone who wasn’t a professional. All over some land. At what price dignity?

Ulrika’s Sex-Addiction – do we believe? Or more importantly do we give a monkey’s? Why do we care about all this celebrity-tat? It has GOT to stop. Being away from it for a few weeks made me realise (again) just how detrimental this obsession is to our society…not the sex but the celebrity.

Last but possibly most important – the Hostages in Iran. I need to back-read the info on this situation but I would say that it is nice for us to shout ‘they should have done something!!!’ – but what exactly does one suggest? But of much more interest to me is what is Iran playing at? I have a theory that this is all internal. They’ve been watching the Americans long enough to know that when you want to push an unpalatable policy and your country won’t agree you can help your cause along by creating an incident that shows why you need to do whatever it is you wanted to do in the first place. So my vote is that maybe this incident is all about the Powers That Be in Iran deciding that showing the populace how ‘disrespected by the world at large we are’ will get them to agree that nuclear toys might be a good idea after all.

What did I learn?
There’s too much money in this world – or it is in too few hands.
That some of the people with the least amount of money have the most amount of peace of mind. So if that’s true then what is it that we really should be chasing in our lives……..and for my thoughts on such matters keep your eye on this space……………..

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