Stretford Blues

7 August 2022: Yesterday I decided to go to Urmston; the train journey took about five minutes. I wandered down the main road, past the Deccan Indian restaurant where we enjoyed many pleasant evenings in 2003. I wanted to visit the Barnardo’s Charity shop where I purchased my light grey Jaeger suit; but, alas, this shop has closed down and is empty and forlorn.

I went past the car park, where an artisan market was in full swing, with quirky ornaments and jewellery and handmade cakes and fudge stalls. I wanted to visit the Cancer Research charity shop where I bought my copy of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon; but alas, this shop was shut for Saturday, with a pile of donations left in the doorway.

I turned to Gloucester Road, hoping to see the Delicious Indian restaurant, where we spent many happy evenings in 2004; but alas, this place had been shut down, probably a victim of the pandemic. I managed to visit the RSPCA charity shop, and picked up a copy of ‘The first fifteen lives of Harry August’ for 99p. I’m reading this now, using for a bookmark the petrol receipt dated 10 August 2013, when I spent £12.78 to fill my Honda Deauville.

Then I decided to walk to Stretford, and found that so many new apartment blocks had been erected that I didn’t recognise the street. The house where I used to live is still there, a mass of rented flats.

So many memories attached to the nine years I spent living at that house; the malfunctioning door lock that left me unable to leave the building, or the broken boiler which meant that I had no hot water for over three months. Oddly enough, when the boiler got fixed, I discovered that my Toshiba laptop had been stolen.

I carried on past the Robin Hood, a pub where young Giuseppe Gregory was shot dead in the car park one night; the pub is now derelict, waiting for some property developer to seize control.

I went through the Stretford Mall shopping centre; there used to be a Tesco and a branch of Woolworth’s and some very nice independent bakers; but now it has a huge Aldi, and a Costa Coffee, and mobile phone repair shops. The Jobcentre where I would go to sign on is still there; I wonder if the lovely Maxine continues being hostile towards her victims (sorry, ‘clients’) if they appear to have not been searching hard enough for work?

And then past the old Post Office – of course, now shut down – where I went to collect my Austrian Schillings for a business trip.

The underpass is still there, but some sections have been closed off. Hideous graffiti cover the walls. I remember when the council installed some weird glass-and-metal structures containing odd postcards designed by the local youths. These frames had been in place for barely a week when some spray-can writing announced ‘The meatal is not stoping us write!’

Swarm of Random Textures

It’s Saturday morning, and the Legend Channel is showing ‘Descent’, a volcano-meets-centre-of-the-Earth disaster movie with some groovy music and absurd special effects, driving a massive drill through rock plates at thirty miles an hour..  Talking of things groovy, we went with John, Alan, Keith and Dawn last night to a bar called ‘Yes’ which had some funky music and a sixties-style coloured-oil light show.

Latest Covid-19 figures
US: 93.86 million cases, 1.058 million deaths  
UK: 23.37 million cases, 185.0 thousand deaths

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of being responsible for missile strikes on the Zaporizhzhia power plant, according to Energoatom, the state-run operator of nuclear power stations in Ukraine.

In the UK, a 12-year old boy called Archie Battersby was found unconscious in April after taking part in an online challenge. Since then, he has been kept alive on a ventilator with elaborate life-support medication, having been pronounced brain-stem dead.  His distraught family are campaigning to have him transferred to a hospice to die peacefully, but this was rejected by a judge as being too risky.

In America, Ivana Trump (one of Donald’s ex-wives) has apparently been buried in a corner of one of his golf courses. Her grave appears to be a simple rectangular plot, instead of the gold-plated replica Taj Mahal that one would have expected… Cynical observers have pointed out that the New Jersey legal system provides exemption from property and income tax for any land dedicated to burial plots. Good old Donald!

A62 

Serenely hemmed by double-yellow weeds,
The river bed of tarmac marches on  
Past harbours built from Poland, Bengal, Radium  
Arriving at a ruined city, from whose last tower   
The sentinel can monitor rebellious tribes  
In desperate caravans from Oldham up to Leeds 
And a swarm of broken promises  
Consumes the last few scraps of Albion’s domain.

The drifting finite-element brigade  
Begins to occupy the space between   
The buildings taking shape inside a lattice of belief   
Where textures hover like a coral-coloured reef  
And I find myself walking up this road and back again 
Not sure where to belong, I know that you 
Departed  on the day that I went wrong.  
Quick! Before the isotope matures  
We jump the splitting tarmac 
And feel the cobbles call to mind 

The boiling mass of old Egyptian rocks  
And then we struggle to understand   
Why he had a dozen copies of
The Glass Bead Game, and ‘Dislocation’ on clear blue vinyl,
A tie that once belonged to David Byrne 
And a vast organogram that told us how to overlap  
The strategy of bronze with the policy of stone.

Rain in July

It’s Saturday morning, and I don’t know what the Horror Channel is showing since I didn’t get up until 9.30. So I turned on the TV news and found an assortment of dreadful stories:

A queue of 3,000 lorries has built up on the approach to the port of Dover, along with vast numbers of holiday vehicles. This is being blamed on the French Authorities, who have (apparently) failed to supply the staff needed to process the post-Brexit passport checks. These lorry drivers are in a situation where they have no food, water or toilet facilities.

(Some people have commented that delays on the road to Dover were reported in the press during 2013, 2015 and 2017 etc, before Brexit had taken effect. However, these problems may have been due to industrial action or the Olympic Flame road closures…)

A trade agreement was signed between Russia and Ukraine last night to enable grain exports to be routed through Odesa. However, a missile strike this morning caused damage to the port, with the Russians being accused of launching this attack.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng popped up on social media last week announcing that he had changed the law so that any company whose operations were disrupted by industrial action would be able to legally recruit short-term agency staff to replace striking workers. And quietly, the concept of ‘Freeports’ was amended to become ‘Freeport Zones’, extending inland. And this is being linked to the idea of ‘Charter Cities’, where employment and transport are managed by private firms outside the law.

We might end up at a point where we no longer recognise the past for what it was.

People obtain gas and electricity from suppliers – a couple of years ago there were seventy-odd different firms providing gas and electricity to domestic customers, all competing for market share and offering lower prices based on a provisional forecast of how many clients they thought they could secure.

Then the wholesale price of gas went up, and these firms swiftly realised they could no longer make a profit; several of them were shut down and swallowed up by larger companies, leaving the customers stranded away from their artificially low fuel costs.

The government had put in place an ‘energy cap’, which forced the suppliers to limit the amount they could charge per unit of energy supplied. This restricted the firms on their profit margins, so they began to explore more creative ways of increasing their income; shifting the levels of ‘standing charge’ so that customers pay more for the privilege of having access to the energy supply, even if they do not use any.

The energy price cap has now been raised once and is due to be raised again in October, causing average fuel bills to go up to three times their former levels. Many people will be unable to afford these bills, and there has been some discussion about a campaign of civil disobedience by refusing to pay the direct debit bills.

If this happened, the energy firms could always ask the government to help them by arranging to have fuel bill payments deducted from wage packets like a form of tax…

In southern Iran, flash flooding has killed 22 people. In California, thousands of residents were evacuated after Mariposa county was hit by a massive wildfire.

Latest Covid-19 figures:
US: 92.17 million cases, 1.052 million deaths  
UK: 23.21 million cases, 182.7 thousand deaths

Salford Wet Realm

Perhaps we should have gleaming polyester drops
Of rain fixed to the window of every bus and train
Like bitter tears, reminding us each day
That they all know that we don’t know
How close we came.

Not a place, just a set of numbers  
Carved into the surface of a map    
She waits at a bus stop in the rain     
Across the street, reflected, she watches from a shop     

For eighteen years or so  
She’s done this journey time and time again   
Past buildings, landmarks, stations of the cross    
The shops have grown and then been wiped away    
Deep down we know that Salford lacks reality   
At least until it rains, and then    
The cars and houses, trees and people  
All begin to come alive   

She nearly got that job in ’94, but feels no  
Disappointment or regret  
Because she doesn’t know how close she came  
To seeing her trajectory revised  
By the cold magnetic lens of destiny  
That almost nudged her sideways into a very different life  
Whose days were filled with coloured shapes and textured songs   

And so, the windows of the bus still weep  
With dislocated shame, but she don’t care   
Reflected in a shop across the road, she sees the rain  
And never stops to wonder why
Her life turned out just quite the way it did.

The heat is on…

It’s Saturday morning, and the Legend Channel is showing ‘Firequake’, the everyday story of a flammable pollutant that causes tremors and belching flames. In one scene, the characters arrive at Prague airport and drive away in an old-fashioned white Skoda Estelle, just like my Martina.

Meanwhile in the UK, the race is on to replace Boris as Tory party leader and PM. After a couple of knockout votes, we are left with five contenders: Sunak, Truss, Tugendhat, Mordaunt, and Badenoch. This grim posse of deluded characters had a televised debate last night, promising to cut taxes and improve living standards for everybody in the UK while clamping down on benefit fraud.

The candidates were invited to state their greatest weakness, and Sunak said he worked too hard and strove for perfection in details – odd, considering that he had produced a poster inviting people to join his campiaign (sic).

His supporters – Matt Hancock – have made much of Sunak’s achievements, having been born into a modest household and then achieving enormous wealth purely by hard work and intelligence. His parents struggled by in menial jobs (one a pharmacist, the other a GP) and he went to a typical local comprehensive (Winchester College boarding school) before heading to Oxford. Somebody who manages global funds on behalf of major corporations is obviously very good with money, but it is unlikely that they would have any concern for the welfare of families or small communities.

The Met Office has issued an extreme heat warning; temperatures in the UK are expected to reach 40 deg C for the first time next week. But Sir John Hayes, Tory MP for South Holland (and consultant to oil company BB) has dismissed concerns about heat as unfounded, saying that there is no need to worry about rising temperatures.

Thousands of people have been evacuated in Southern France as wildfires sweep across the region destroying farmland and homes.

Last week the news reported that Sir Mo Farah, Olympic champion long-distance runner, had actually been trafficked to the UK under a false name and forced to work as a domestic slave before being rescued by a teacher. Lots of viewers went on Twitter to ask if Priti Patel would now seek to have him deported to Rwanda, her chosen policy for dealing with immigrant refugees.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 91.17 million cases, 1.048 million deaths  
UK: 23.07 million cases, 181.5 thousand deaths

It’s Sunday morning, and the Legend Channel is showing a glossy remake of ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’, where military hi-tech research causes time-travel mayhem.

The heat is on; UK temperatures are expected to break records this week, with transport infrastructure – never designed to cope with these temperatures – being carefully monitored and reduced services available.

No, Prime Minister

It’s Saturday morning, and Legend (formerly the Horror Channel) is showing ‘Jurassic Hunters’, the everyday story of a mining accident which liberates subterranean reptiles, who then proceed to wreak havoc on small-town America.

Meanwhile, politics has been interesting. Last week, Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher resigned after getting drunk and molesting a couple of male drinkers at the Carlton Club. Since this establishment is members-only (oo-er, missus!) Pincher was not accompanied by his minder, the Tory activist charged with keeping him out of trouble.

Some people began asking why Pincher had resigned over this episode, and it emerged that he was well-known as a serial groper. This then changed to ‘a well-known serial groper whose behaviour had been reported to the Whips’ office’ and then ‘a well-known serial groper whose activities had been reported to the Police’.

The Downing Street press office responded to these various claims by saying that Pincher’s misconduct had not been reported to anybody in the Conservative Party, then saying that it had not been reported to the Prime Minister – who had appointed Pincher to his senior post in February – and then the story changed to ‘the matter had been reported to Johnson, but he had to balance the obvious talents and energy of a loyal MP against a collection of unsubstantiated rumours’.

Dominic Raab was sent to tour the TV news studios on Thursday morning and quickly tied himself into four-dimensional knots as he carefully explained that Pincher’s behaviour was known, but ‘had not reached the threshold which would have activated the tripwire that would initiate formal disciplinary proceedings’ (phew!).

Then, halfway through the interview, Raab was told that a letter had been posted on Twitter by Sir Simon McDonald, a former senior civil servant. In this letter, Lord McD points out that the official Number Ten response has been dishonest and misleading at every stage of the enquiry into Pincher.

This accusation then prompted a slew of resignations, starting with Messrs Javid and Sunak from the Cabinet, followed by dozens of backbench MPs. In total, about 50 MPs stood down, offering letters to explain that they were fed up with the endless deceit and corruption in Downing Street. And Nadhim Zahawi, promoted from Education to Chancellor, told Boris that the game was up, and it was time to go.

Eventually Boris strode confidently out of No. 10 to a waiting lectern and delivered a victory speech, saying that the will of the people was that another leader should be appointed to run the country. He carefully avoided any hint of apology, regret, contrition etc…

Latest Covid-19 figures:
US: 90.29 million cases, 1.04 million deaths
UK: 22.88 million cases, 180.7 thousand deaths

No More Horror

It’s Saturday morning, and the Horror Channel has disappeared. Vanished. Gone.  Instead, I find myself watching something called ‘Legend’, which seems to offer many of the same high-octane psycho thrillers formerly trailed by the HC, but with more gunfights and fewer zombies. Ah, well. We can still rely on the real world to provide us with genuine sickening horror. Fore example…

In Ukraine, a missile strike destroyed an apartment block and leisure complex in Serhiivka, near Odesa, while Russian forces have captured two (more) British men and accused them of working as terrorists in support of Ukrainian rebel forces.

In the UK, Private Eye magazine has published a story about a senior Tory MP who was being sexually pleasured by a young woman when another MP walked into the office and caught them at it. The mainstream press has carefully ignored this news story. However, they eagerly pounced on the revelation that Chris Pincher, deputy chief Whip, has resigned after getting drunk and groping two men in a club.

In the US, the Supreme Court has overturned the historic Roe v Wade ruling, thus allowing individual states to impose a ban on abortions. This has led to ferocious arguments and protest marches, with some people claiming that a teenage rape victim will be condemned to bear a child while the man responsible walks free. And this is the nation where lots of people carry guns and dozens of children die each year in shootings; so much for sanctity of life…

The cost-of-living crisis proceeds to gather pace in the UK, with food, fuel and utility prices racing upwards.  Perhaps the Radio Times will carry a centre spread in December telling readers how to create a cheerful centrepiece for the dinner table when people sit down to their Christmas meal of beans on toast…

Latest Covid-19 figures:  
US: 89.50 million cases, 1.043 million deaths  
UK: 22.74 million cases, 180.4 thousand deaths

Lithium Nitrate

We don’t want the logo, we just want the car 
To carry us from one life to the next 
Where we can spread another pair of wings  
And please ourselves which vector to adopt; 
The bluebird sings before she leaves the nest  
And, falling, feels the magic keeping us aloft

I don’t want the window, I just want the view  
Across the meadow to a distant town  
Where youngsters gather in the graveyard  
They feel no need  
To justify their wild behaviour   
But the latex tubes and empty cans of beer  
Are echoes of the fun they had last night

You don’t want the trophy, you just want the goal   
That moment when trajectory and possibility collide  
To give a rugged spark of destiny that bears your name   
Coincidence? The crumpled flags of stone beneath your feet   
Are badly worn, but still they show  
The very name you chose to hide behind.

The Wakefield Massacre

Saturday 25 Jun 2022:  Twenty years ago, when I first moved to Manchester, the tram would go through Cornbrook. From this elevated point you could see a vast horizon in Salford; in August and September, the sun would be setting at eight o’clock and everybody would turn to face west and enjoy the glorious spectacle of a burning amber sky.

But now the property developers have thrown up a vast parade of steel-and-concrete monoliths to block the view, so travellers will no longer see the tiny black spires picked out against this golden backdrop.

I went to Warrington, and saw a new building being constructed; in a few weeks the steel skeleton will be hidden behind sturdy walls and windows.

I went to Manchester; the RMT union workers were on strike, so most train services had been cancelled, and the roads were much busier than usual. The weather was hot hot hot; from the upstairs window on the bus I could see two guys playing table tennis. One of them wore nothing but a pair of very short shorts, in order to display his hefty muscular torso.

The art gallery was showing a selection from the ‘British Art Show 9’; there were abstract paintings, neon sculptures, a sound installation in which layered voices recited a list of the names of slaves taken from a merchant’s inventory, and a set of works where cut paper revealed fragments of text behind architectural drawings.

We went to look at a house in Halifax; the estate agent was nowhere to be seen, so we rang their office, only to be told that a successful offer had been made and the property was no longer on the market.

We went to look at a house in Bradford; the estate agent’s blurb advised that the property was ‘in need of minor cosmetic attention’. A brief look around showed that there was a massive crack in the ceiling and one of the radiators was supported only by a piece of string nailed to the wall.

I punish myself by eating a salad to bring my weight down below 70 kilograms.

It’s Saturday, and the Horror Channel is showing Stonehenge Apocalypse, just right for midsummer weekend.

Yesterday we had the results of the two by-elections, one in Wakefield (where the Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being convicted of sexual assault) and the other in Tiverton & Honiton (where the Tory MP Neil Parish resigned after being caught watching porn on his cellphone in the HoC). Tactical voting successfully booted out the Conservative candidate in each constituency, with a massive swing to the Liberal Democrats in Devon. The Tory candidate locked herself in an office to avoid the mockery of the press, and Boris had managed to place himself well away from the danger zone by heading to Rwanda.

Sunday 26 June 2022: after a delay of three years, the Glastonbury Festival is back, and last night we had the Pyramid stage headlined by Sir Paul McCartney. His voice is not what it was, but then again, he is 80 years old, with an epic back catalogue of pop classics to choose from. And he brought on special guests Dave Grohl (who is still recovering from the loss of Taylor Hawkins) and Bruce Springsteen, both of whom approach him like adoring fans.

Last week, as well as losing two by-elections (one is unfortunate, two looks careless…) Boris lost the services of his Party co-chair Oliver Dowden, who resigned following the announcement of the results. Over the past few weeks, Dowden was one of the party faithful who regularly turned out to offer excuses for the behaviour of our great leader on TV news shows.

And now we hear that Boris wants to continue for a third term as PM, and that he wanted to build a treehouse fitted with bulletproof windows – estimated cost, 150 grand – for his toddler son Wilfred. Many UK citizens struggle to pay the mortgage on a house costing less than this.

It’s Sunday morning, and the Horror Channel is showing The Prisoner, to be followed by ‘Ice Storm’, an eco-thriller about a winter break that goes horribly wrong. Gas eruptions, earthquakes and avalanches. On Sky news we have Brandon Lewis, Conservative Northern Ireland secretary, telling us that Bojo is the right man to lead us into the next General Election. He recited a list of problems which can be solved only by the endless energy and enthusiasm of Boris – although some observers might comment that the cost-of-living crisis has been caused by the Tory party’s policies. And the millionaire cabinet ministers who pop up every week on Question Time actually get on our nerves with their constant assurance that ‘everybody is affected by the cost-of-living crisis.’

Latest Covid-19 figures  
US: 88.77 million cases, 1.04 million deaths  
UK: 22.59 million cases, 179.9 thousand deaths

Dystopian Borisphere

Today I shall be mostly wearing a pinstriped shirt by St Michael, purchased in July 1999 from a charity shop – possibly the Heart Research or Oxfam – in Tamworth, where I had arranged to meet a bloke called Trevor. Our liaison went no further than a cheap meal in a local pub. Where is he now, I wonder?

Last week, a short visit to the end-of-year Degree Show by students from the Manchester School of Art, where I saw paintings, sculptures, balloon models, and conceptual productions.

Saturday morning, 18 June 2022: welcome to the Borisphere, where we have had another turbulent week.

Our grate leader is supposed to conduct himself with effortless dignity and decorum, setting an example to the rest of us and upholding the cardinal virtues we expect to see in senior politicians. However, just in case he is tempted to engage in any thought, word or deed which might fall below these high standards, the PM employs an ‘ethics commissioner’ who can offer guidance.

However, it can be quite difficult to offer advice to a Prime Minister who has decided on a course of action and wants to be reassured that what he is planning to do is not ‘unethical’. Boris has made use of elaborate legal gymnastics to try and persuade the House that he didn’t go to any parties in Downing Street because he had no idea that they were in fact parties.

Today I shall be mostly wearing a pinstriped shirt by St Michael, purchased in March 1998 from a charity shop – possibly the PDSA or Scope – in Northfield, where I had arranged to meet a girl called Jenny. Our liaison went no further than a cheap meal in a local pub. Where is she now, I wonder?

And earlier this week it was announced that Lord Geidt, former ethics advisor to the PM, has resigned in protest at Johnson’s willingness to breach the ministerial code of conduct. This would be bad enough, had not Sir Alex Allan (Geidt’s predecessor as ethics advisor) also resigned in protest at Johnson’s support for Priti Patel and her regime of terror at the Home Office.

It would have been awkward for Boris to have to deal with questions about this issue when he attended a ‘levelling-up’ discussion meeting in Doncaster yesterday, but fortunately he was called away on urgent business to Ukraine, where he had a photo-op with President Zelensky.

Johnson has affirmed his support for the Ukrainian leader and promised to supply military hardware and training; however, the PM has a long list of things which were promised but never delivered, so it is possible that Zelensky may join the crowd of disappointed customers for snake-oil Boris.

Today I shall be mostly wearing a pinstriped shirt by St Michael, purchased in June 2001 from a charity shop – possibly Age Concern or Barnardo’s – in Stockport, where I had arranged to meet a lad called Philip. Our liaison went no further than a cheap meal in a local pub. Where is he now, I wonder?

These customers may include voters in Wakefield and Tiverton, who go to the polls next week for by-elections. These two constituencies were seduced by the promise of Brexit, the elimination of a migrant workforce, and a lavishly-funded healthcare system. So far the dream is as remote as it always has been, and people in these towns feel disillusioned by the antics of Boris and Co.

Another story doing the rounds on the internet concerns the lovely Carrie, wife of our esteemed leader. Apparently he tried to secure a senior, well paid job for her back in the days when she was just his mistress and he was Foreign Secretary. This conduct, while being exactly what we would expect from Boris, had ‘inappropriate’ stamped on it in glowing red letters. The story appeared on a few major news websites but was then swiftly removed, leading people to speculate that Johnson has taken out an injunction to stifle any discussion of his outrageous behaviour.

Sunday morning, 19 June 2022. The Horror Channel is showing ‘The Prisoner’, where Patrick McGoohan is trapped in a lovely smart holiday villa with piped music. Bizarre surrealist nightmare nonsense, a universe of pointless, faceless bureaucracy.

Today I shall be mostly wearing a pinstriped shirt by St Michael, purchased in April 2000 from a charity shop – possibly the Red Cross or Cancer Research – in Stafford, where I had arranged to meet a gentleman called Brian. Our liaison went no further than a cheap meal in a local pub. Where is he now, I wonder? I enjoy looking at Pre-Raphaelite pictures, with their seductive folds of silk and velvet fabric. The textures of this shirt conjure up a similar longing for a distant, not-quite-real past where I could spend every weekend meeting up with interesting strangers and adding new aspects of culture to my life.

The Horror Channel is now showing ‘Basilisk: The Serpent King’. A calm voice assures me that the following film contains scenes that may be unsuitable for young children. But of course; far better to let them watch the news, where they can learn all about the cost of living crisis, soaring fuel prices, the proposed national rail strike, military conflict in Ukraine, flooding in Bangladesh (millions of homes destroyed, dozens killed), wildfires in Spain (eleven villages evacuated), and the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where flights and hotels and alcohol will all be staggeringly expensive.

Herbal Cadenza

We forgot to include the zeta potential; and all those   
Years of careful work were washed away   
The lines were flat, with nothing left to show 
Like all the best conspiracies, we told ourselves  
You’ll never know the things you’ll never know

‘At least it’s not the other way around’, I heard you mutter   
In your sleep. Perhaps your dreams  
Had carried you away on holiday, driving on the wrong side of the road  
Or working in a lab, on a complex project or  
Experiment that killed too many rats.

‘This must be what it’s like to be a dog’, I told myself;   
The medicine was wearing off, and now I could    
See once again the pavement covered with secret messages and fragment signs, 
And lingered conversations left behind.

A world without paint is a world without glue, no need to think    
Outside this box to find your own coordinates. Perhaps we’re
All just rats, wandering  
Through a lab researcher’s maze, against the clock   
Our bloodstreams glowing with the gift of pharmacy     
And desperately trying to enjoy our few remaining days. 

Tuesday 21 June 2022: since it’s the longest day, I decided to get up slightly earlier. The TV news is full of the national Railway strike, which has reduced train services by 80 percent. This has been caused by the RMT union members walking out in protest at their pay and conditions.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps (also known as Michael Green, Sebastian Fox, or Corinne Stockheath) popped up on the news to accuse the rail unions of holding the country to ransom with their unreasonable demands for an inflation-busting pay rise. He has been using the argument that since nurses have accepted a low pay deal, then rail workers should be happy with a similar deal. He casually ignores inflation (about 7 percent now, forecast to reach 11 percent) and the campaign by the government to remove guards, leaving trains with just a driver and no on-board support staff. This would save a great deal of money but might have unfortunate consequences.

In 2019 it was revealed that privately operated train firms had paid out £200 million to shareholders, even though their services had been awful – with delays, cancellations and overcrowding leading to numerous compensation claims.

During his interview, Shapps (or Green, or Fox, or Stockheath) made the point that several aspects of the Rail workers’ terms and conditions were based on deals negotiated decades ago. We need to adopt a new, modern way of working for a modern rail service.

But the present government is firmly resistant to some modern ideas – any suggestion that funding will be directed away from London and to the regions is greeted with scorn. The train links to Leeds have been cancelled as part of the HS2 scaling-back programme, but the new London Crossrail Elizabeth line is nearing completion, three years late and at a budget overrun of £450 million.

Thursday 23 June 2022: Yesterday an earthquake struck the Khost province of eastern Afghanistan, causing widespread damage and at least 1000 deaths; heavy rain caused mudslides and prevented rescue efforts. The Taliban (rabid 13th century conservative despots) have appealed for help from the international community.

We have largely given up routine testing for Covid-19, but a rise in cases has been reported; latest figures 
US: 88.44 million cases, 1.039 million deaths  
UK: 22.56 million cases, 179.7 thousand deaths

The BBC reports that the polio virus has been identified in sample of sewage in London, probably originating from a traveller who was vaccinated somewhere in the middle east or Africa.

And a new three-part documentary, AIDS: The Unheard Tapes starts next week on BBC2, where archive interviews with patients are revived by young actors and their historical context reviewed by medical experts and political activists.

The national rail strike resumed for a second day; the government insists that it has no involvement at all in the dispute, and that all negotiation has to be carried out between the RMT union and the Rail Delivery Group. But the RMT leader said that the format of the discussion is that the union officials sit round a table with the RDG representatives and set out their demands in terms of pay and conditions. The RDG then leave the room and hold a confidential discussion with a third party who may or may not be in direct contact with the Department of Transport. The RDG then return to the table and set out an offer in which the slight improvement in pay is balanced by a severe drop in job security (or vice versa). Naturally this is seen as unacceptable and brings the negotiation to a halt. Each party then rushes off to their chosen media outlet and gives an account of the developments (or lack of).

Orbital Boris

The Folding of the Staggered Protocols

They couldn’t prise apart ‘the silicon chip   
Inside her head
’, so left it there   
Along with the meta-filter that lay trapped
Between the mirror and the lens, an accidental  
Graticule designed to tease apart  
The aspects of a half-remembered dream. 

A jagged wheel, inlaid with graphene, brass, and dragon-bone  
Will measure out the progress of your days, 
Engaging now and then with random teeth and rods
On other random wheels that might belong to other people’s lives,
Until at last the chip goes back to sleep.

The radius of the f-orbital, we estimate to be  
Eighteen light years, give or take;  
Some underlying structure, yet to be discerned   
Will show us where we all went wrong

The surface of the orbital, a swaying membrane underfoot  
Like giant petals wrapped around a hollow stone   
Whose shadow lets us watch the 
Folding of the staggered protocols

Between the lonely shadows, pillars wait  
For one more whispered promise to descend  
And in the distance, passing trains   
Convey no passengers between deserted towns

I walk past puddles left by last night’s rain; 
Shaped like continents, they sleep  
Afraid to carry dreams of upside-down apartment blocks  
And hanging trees with sky-blue leaves

My body and my personality are just  
The signals that the orbitals receive; I gather 
Fragments, but I’ll never know 
Just what the orbitals believe

And through a pane of wrinkled glass  
The landscape waits for me  
To load my bike and ride away once more 

It’s Saturday morning, and the Horror Channel is showing ‘Polar Storm’, an eco-disaster sci-fi drama where a passing comet disrupts the earth’s poles causing mayhem and destruction.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Prime Minister survived a vote of no confidence triggered by a number of angry backbench MPs. The vote, which took place immediately after the end of the Jubilee celebrations last weekend, showed that 41 percent of Tory MPs were unhappy with Boris and believed that his conduct would lose them the next General Election.

Johnson, naturally, was sanguine about this result, and claimed it was a reassuring triumph for his leadership. ‘We need to press on with the important tasks at hand, like…’

An anxious nation held its breath.  ‘…allowing tenants in housing association properties to buy their homes!’

This is a ridiculous idea, since property in the UK is amazingly expensive and people who live in housing association flats tend to be on very low incomes. But the announcement successfully took our minds off the unfolding disaster of the UK economy: soaring petrol prices, rising costs of domestic gas and electricity, supply chain disruption, delays in issuing passports for UK travellers, queues at airports and cancelled flights.

In order to make this right-to-buy scheme a success, the government will need to offer heavy subsidies to tenants; possibly an unwise move when so many homeowners find themselves hit with escalating ground rent leasehold charges, or flammable cladding costs.

Jubilee Phase Line

It’s Saturday morning, and the Horror Channel is showing ‘Monster!’ (again) about a collision between the realms of entertainment and daily life. It has been pointed out that Zelensky started as a TV comedian and was transformed into a genuine statesman, while Johnson came from the British establishment – Eton, Oxford, a safe Tory seat – and has managed to turn Downing Street into a circus, with documented drunken parties while the nation was under lockdown. 

The war in Ukraine is now over 100 days old and Russian forces continue to make progress, seizing control of parts of Donbas and issuing Russian passports in some parts of the country. The total casualties (Ukrainian civilian) are estimated to be about 4,000 dead and a similar number injured.

Latest Covid-19 figures:
US: 86.45 million cases, 1.03 million deaths  
UK: 22.30 million cases, 178.7 thousand deaths

The Jubilee weekend has been a curious event, with Her Majesty making a brief appearance on the balcony to greet the cheering crowds. However, she was reported to be experiencing discomfort and so did not attend the Service of Thanksgiving and is expected to miss the racing at Epsom.

Meanwhile, there are over 1500 residential dwellings in the UK fitted with flammable cladding material of a similar type to the aluminium composite panels used on Grenfell Tower. The owners are being asked to pay for remediation work and waking watch patrols, even though they were never advised that the cladding posed a fire risk.

The UK government has a deep and abiding loyalty to the idea of home ownership, mainly because this ties workers into a long-term commitment and encourages stability. And, more importantly, funnels the wealth of the nation back into the hands of a small number of well-connected individuals and corporations.

One of the benefits of leaving the EU six years ago was that foreign workers would no longer be able to enter the UK and take on seasonal, low-paid jobs. However, this means that we are suffering a shortage of workers in the travel industry, and now hundreds of families have been told (after queueing for up to nine hours at Manchester Airport) that their flights have been cancelled.

Meanwhile, travellers returning to the UK find themselves stuck in long ‘UK Passport’ queues instead of being able to breeze through the EU channel. The descent into chaos proceeds apace…

Sunday morning:
The Queen’s Jubilee pop concert has taken place outside Buck House; ten years ago we had the astonishing spectacle of Grace Jones, but this year we had Diana Ross miming to her erotic smash-hit ‘Chain Reaction’ while wearing one of Queen Victoria’s old dresses, a ginormous confection in black and white frills.

But fear not! Salvation is at hand in the form of Imperial Units, the revival of which is being proposed by Johnson and his allies as a symbolic triumph over the evil EU. We shall cast off the wicked artificial measures of litres and grams, instead embracing the traditional British pounds, feet, and gallons. Hurrah!

Lake Landscape, 1950

No-one’s ever done the platinum before;
I’m not quite sure we know how to behave.

Regal and serene, her Majesty  
Stares down in black-and-white from  
Photographs in every home across the land  
A tired nation tries to pull the varied strands of meaning into line 

While I, meanwhile, gaze slowly on these oval smears of paint  
Whose shape will never cease to fascinate  
These pools will never dry away to leave  
A foot or two of stinking mud when they evaporate

Aspects of corruption have betrayed 
This precious crown; the tarnished platinum
And greater ugliness the rubies overlaid

Not me, nor her could any notion form 
Of just how bright a future would unfold  
At least for those poor souls  
Whose folks had land and gold enough to spare

Well done, great stuff! I 
Never thought we’d get this far 
We’d better make the most of it, because  
It won’t be long before we have to go

God save our gracious Queen, strong  
Velvet chords delivered by a band of brass 
Or even captured on a band of rust  
It’s all the same to me and all the other men  
Who gripped by madness fill this land.

Perhaps, when lonely winter nights descend  
The Queen takes out a picture book  
And lets her gaze rest on this sweep  
Of distant lakes, a place that has no name, a refuge   
From the harsh and noisy realm that she calls home.