Big money in US politics, Harry & Meghan, War footing to tackle Coronavirus, & a good musical.

Thoughts from early and mid-March 2020, written up later in the month. Posted 30 April 2020.

Including: The most controversial opinion of the Year – CATS is a Good movie and a decent musical.

A little more detail in the attached Word document.


Big money in US politics

The most educational thing about Michael Bloomberg quitting the race to be Democratic nominee for US President is the obscene amounts of money spent.
$500 million. Big money and guns are dual cancers in American politics. As I always say in Ukraine, imagine if those rich business people spent the money doing public works. Though it’s not like Russia using a whole state apparatus to do bad.

In solidarity with Harry & Meghan.

On January 9 I wrote: Watching ITV news at Ten, & reading the Daily Telegraph, the ‘Royal experts’ interviewed about Prince Harry & Meghan are a horrible nasty bunch of people, with maybe one exception. Only on a level with the Cabinet & current crop of Tory Farage MPs


Meghan & Harry I sympathise with though they’ve not been tactful with other members of the family. The establishment and right wing press has turned on them in nasty fashion, certainly the Daily Telegraph and the ‘Royal correspondents’ of TV and newspapers


Looking at the Daily Telegraph this morning what nasty horrible people attacking Harry. While on the ITV documentary last night, Sun photographer Arthur Edwards is such a nasty entitled embittered old man, & Sun editor Dan Wootton the smarmiest scumbag that you could invent.


13/01 I’ve been reading discussions about the controversial decision by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan to be less prominent members of the British Royal Family and spend more time in Canada. I am not pro or anti the monarchy, it is largely symbolic and good for tourism. I support Harry and Meghan in this because so much of our tabloid and right wing press that I hate are being nasty about them. [They also do much good campaigning and charity work.]


On the Sussexs. I find these titles hard to remember. Critics are sneering about the idea they will make money out of their title, I am sceptical but think it could be done well.


It will be good for the Commonwealth if Prince Harry and Meghan spend more time in Canada, while also returning to Britain and visiting other countries privately and in their public work. This will complement the great work that Prince William and Princess Kate, and Prince Charles do.


War footing to tackle Coronavirus.

20 March.  Finally the Government is moving on to a war footing, heard [Health Minister] Matt Hancock say something like that on radio just before. I’d come round to that just after the budget at the start of the week I think. That a total War footing like in World War 2 or World War 1 is needed to deal with the scale of this problem and the challenge to our society.


Doing things differently continuing afterwards. I agree with this point from my friend Johnny Santer:

I hope this wakes people up to the fact that the global system is broken beyond repair. The death-throes of late-stage capitalism. We need to regroup, rethink and put planet & people first. …

it highlights that IF we left everything to market forces etc the collapse of society would be a matter of weeks away. A major “reset” / rethink button has been pushed I hope and good things are to come as a result of introspection & global reflection.” 19 March 2020.


Another, a better, way of doing things is possible. The best of the response to this crisis has demonstrated that. Regardless of nationality, ideology, religion, race or age the virus targets everyone and we all need to work together.



10/01 Brexit is for me still a political, economic, philosophical and metaphysical disaster. What will happen no one knows.


People have this panic buying all wrong. It isn’t household goods & tins to buy. Is it only me? I’m obsessively buying Easter Eggs and beer on offer :-).

Half in jest only …

People have this panic buying all wrong. It isn’t household goods & tins to buy at the moment, it’s beer and chocolate. There are great offers on chocolate and beer. I can’t say I’m panic buying chocolate, but I am impulsively buying Easter Eggs on offer, & need to stay out of the Home Bargains, discount stores, garages etc. so as not to overdo chocolate and biscuits. Certainly before lock down there was no shortage of beer in the shops here and some great offers. Brewers & retailers need a boost with St Patrick’s party and many others cancelled. My plan later last week was then this week to see if can buy takeaway beer to help pubs and breweries, and food to help restaurants. I’m not sure how much that is still possible, some places still doing collection / delivery. I feel bad buying supermarket beer now. But I’ve been buying from supermarkets large & small, small shops, local shops, a brewery direct (Llangollen as we were there), the products of European, global, national traditional and some smaller producers, including stocks of alcohol free beer and wine. I even bought the on offer Corona in our local big ASDA. I thought the misunderstood Mexican brewery / giant conglomerates, could do with some support. Plus it was on offer, I don’t even particularly like Corona but will have some to celebrate in the garden when this is over :-).


[Mexican beer Brewed in the UK of course], like the Cobra – better for the environment perhaps and unlike most international brands of ‘Greek’ and ‘Ukrainian’ beer they don’t here claim they are British beers.

Points from: Campaign Against the Arms Trade email 24 March

Arms to ventilators?

Rolls Royce, which produces military aircraft engines, and aerospace companies like Airbus which profits from the sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, have been called on by the UK government to help produce ventillators – showing change can come when the political will is there. The case for moving our engineering skills from industries that take lives to ones that save them has never been stronger.


Rethinking ‘security’

We can also see more than ever that our security is not advanced by wars, or by spending billions on nuclear weapons systems and aircraft carriers, but by building fairer societies that support the most vulnerable, and by investing in our public services.


The most controversial opinion of the Year – CATS is a Good movie and a decent musical.

Frances and I went to see the CATS screening at the Philharmonic Hall last night. Christmas present for me. It was great, very good. If some odd parts, very thin plot & patchy singing. Mostly very enjoyable. A great cast, though I only recognised five during the show. I recommend going to see it at the cinema if it is still on anywhere near you. Website-consolidated-posts-March-2020.doc (5952 downloads )

The Steel Balloon – a ’60s atomic thriller on political and science reporting.

The Steel Balloon Hugh McLeave, Pan edition, 1967.

Wise words from a 1960s thriller, on the quality of the press. Wise words for Brexit time, written by the novelist the Daily Mail science correspondent. A now very old fashioned seeming thriller set amid the early British atomic energy programme. The hero, naturally a Fleet Street science correspondent, has to stop every five minutes at a phone box to call his newsroom. A fairly straightforward plot compared with modern movies, mysterious death and disappearances, blackmail, spies, sabotage. And the obligatory road trip through Scotland (39 Steps, Enigma – or is it a train journey in Enigma?). (1st ed. Frederick Muller, 1964). Pre-motorway of course. And a nice little cameo for a George Smiley, presumably a comic tribute to the Smiley who John Le Carre had created three years earlier.

The quote about political reporting, p. 55 I thought at the time was a call for more in depth and better quality reporting on political matters. And a moral that the public get the press that they deserve, now I’m not sure about the former and this quote is not about the latter. I was struck by the relevance when I read the book last Summer but it equally applies now in the time of Coronacrisis. When the popular British press are being a bit more responsible (the quality British and US outlets and others doing great work) but many people, in sharing information, videos and pictures of unknown provenance and validity on social media, are helping spread confusion, ignorance or prejudice. Fortunately far more people are thinking carefully about what they are doing to help tackle the crisis. Of course the hero of ‘The Steel Balloon’, reporter David Lovatt, is regularly reminding us of the need for better public understanding of science. Page 56 is a reminder by a Jewish professor of the stupidity of prejudice based on religion or race. The Coronavirus is also showing us that.

Michael Dobson’s talk on ‘Spaces for Shakespeare’ in Zaporizhzhia, south east Ukraine.

A review for Shakespeare Magazine of Professor Michael Dobson’s lecture in the ‘Shakespeare Days in Ukraine’ series, and as part of his tour of Ukraine, in April and May this year. This is on the Shakespeare Magazine website. The review includes the link for the Shakespeare Days in Ukraine festival from this Spring. A very impressive programme of events coordinated by Professor Nataliya Torkut and members and friends of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre. It is worth noting that Zaporizhzhia is in the region next to the War. It is a completely peaceful city despite a war in parts of two regions of the country 100 miles away. There are more shopping malls than Liverpool and more sushi restaurants than Manchester (pity, I don’t like sushi). I would have said more coffee shops also but the UK has had a further explosion of coffee shops in the last 18 months so we’re probably equal to this large city in SE Ukraine, bigger than Liverpool, that nearly no one in the UK has heard of. Great support for the people there that an intrepid Shakespeare public scholar from Birmingham has been to visit. (There are many alternate spellings, Zaporizhia from Russian, is more common still online, and you see Zaporozhye also). There are many great things about the city – Russian, Soviet, Ukrainian, industrial, post-industrial, concrete, green and nature; but the roads and pavements are terrible except in some public areas, and the driving catastrophic.


The Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre website:

Mostly in Ukrainian (a few links in English).

Culture Days in Britain Summer 2018.

I don’t usually write about culture on this website. But this Summer in Britain I’ve visited by chance or design several exhibitions that have been really impressive. The Grayson Perry exhibition in Bristol, Tolkien in Oxford, the Singh Twins in Wolverhampton, and Japanese culture in Cardiff have been highlights. I didn’t think I would enjoy the Grayson Perry but I really did. It is very impressive. And very similar but very different was the Singh Twins’ banners that I saw in Wolverhampton. Highly important series of works by the three artists. While the Kizuna (friendship) exhibition in Wales and the Chinese warriors in Liverpool brought these sometimes very familiar seeming Far Eastern cultures closer to us. Well done to all involved. And if you have a day off, or a free afternoon think about going to one of your local galleries or museums or take a bus or a train to the next town or city and you will usually find something that interests you.

Hogarth punch bowl 1750

Marina Lewycka ‘Two Caravans’. Penguin, 2008.

Marina Lewycka is well known as the author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, albeit people might not recognise the name. This sequel is not blessed by a catchy title (published in America under the better ‘Strawberry Fields’) but it gives a great deal of insight into the problems faced by migrant workers in Britain and also the tensions in modern Ukraine between Russian / Soviet looking mostly former industrial south east and intellectual European looking modern Ukrainian youth. This from a book that is ten years old – I was surprised as I didn’t think the Short History of Tractors (which I have never actually read) was as old as that. Sourced for me by Nicholas Willmott, bookdealer of Cardiff,* I was surprised to find this book was published in 2001. It is a tale of Ukrainian, Polish, Chinese, Malaysian, and a Malawian worker picking strawberries in Kent, of Russian and Moldovan gangsters, dodgy agri-business practice, and English and European eccentricities. It visits, in reality (a eco-protest camp) or in the personal tales (Moldovan / Transdniestrian border / post industrial post Soviet Ukraine) places I have been and paints pictures that I recognise (albeit the world of people trafficking is something I only read about in reports and articles).

Ukraine of course is not in the European Union (many people in Britain don’t realise it is in Europe) so the novel illustrates the truism that there have always been European migrant workers before the EU and from non-EU European countries. The difference in treatment is played out in surprising ways. Does Brazilians pretending to be Portuguese explain why there are so many South Americans in Liverpool more than ten years ago (which I think is great) despite Labour and Tory governments being ostensibly anti-immigration? Just as in the book, the mix of people makes for a much more interesting city and country, but a key problem is that the new workers and existing residents get little chance to meet and interact. Hence the difficulties of the young hero and heroine (intellectual student Irina from Kyiv, and ex-coalminer Andriy, from Donbass) meeting the English gentleman and glamorous lady of their dreams or textbooks. The picture that Ukrainian / Russian textbooks paint of idealised English men and women in an idealised England is what students in Ukraine still tell me today (though they also believe our country is covered in fog, has terrible food, and we are cold because we can’t afford to heat our homes).

David Blunkett gets an affectionate cameo role, as do a large cast of supporting characters from Australian chef to African care home nurse. Some of the poetry of the cheerful young evangelical Christian from Emanuel I find a bit much (he is infectiously cheerful) and I come to like the mysterious dog that just appears but wonder if the explanation for tragi-comic dog was somehow cut out by mistake. At the time of the acclaim for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian I assumed that the author was a young emerging or new Ukrainian writer. I had no idea that Marina Lewycka is the daughter of Ukrainian refugees, born in Kiel, grew up in Yorkshire and elsewhere; educated at Keele and had her first book published at 59.
I don’t know the situation for migrant workers in Britain today. Would the book be the same if written now? A new account for our times is needed.

* & father in law.

M H Baylis ‘Black Day at the Bosphorus Café’. Old Street, 2015.

I don’t read a lot of crime fiction just as I don’t watch much crime drama because it is always about murder. This annoys me as murder is a very infrequent crime, so the dramas are always very misleading about crime in society, and because they are not very sophisticated or interesting as they are always about murder.* Of course Agatha Christie, Morse, Endeavour, Foyle’s War (often filmed in Liverpool), occasional Taggart and Hot Fuzz are exceptions. I made an exception for Black Day at the Bosphorus Café for two reasons. Firstly because I liked the brightly colourful cover, second because the author is my old school friend Matthew Baylis. I’d bought and never quite read his first two books so thought I’d better read this one. And it helps traffic in my local library, the wonderful Sefton Park, a Carnegie on Aigburth Road in Liverpool. I then bought a copy. It is the best book involving crime, north London, and planning law I have read since former Python, Terry Jones’ Trouble on the Heath (an excellent ‘Quick Reads’).

Baylis’ hero, Rex Tracey (nice homage there?) is a Okocim Polish beer drinking (don’t try it) cynical local newspaper reporter who also solve crime. Set in the fictional borough of ‘Harringay and Tottenham’, amid the very real multicultural and frequently changing north London, the backdrop is the death of a Kurdish girl, Mina, and murky goings on at the Council. In step with the mid-2010’s the Council is run by a charismatic former Lib Dem lay preacher turned independent. The book is a bit hard on the Council (it makes the Mayor of Liverpool look like a good public image), illuminates Kurdish and Yazidi identity, puts thought into the atrocities of the partition of Cyprus in 1974 and implications for communities today, and gives real insight into the challenges for local journalism amid rapidly changing technological and consumer times. It does this while Baylis weaves a colourful picture of the districts covered by Tracey. I have three minor criticisms. A map would be useful for those of us who don’t know these parts of north London, the real Haringey and Tottenham. Some of the political narrative is a bit jammed in. And it will be nice if some of these characters that the author spends so much time introducing us to survive into the future novels. The ambitious young female Labour candidate, Eve Reilly, perhaps or the now disgraced Council leader. Of the nicer characters, at least the local paper’s art reviewer Lawrence isn’t killed off. He’s quite like the old Daily Post arts reviewer.

* It is ironic, because as a Lecturer in Criminal Law we always teach the law largely through the rules about murder – because they are the most serious cases, the leading authorities and just a lot more interesting than the actual real crime, minor theft, assault, sex and criminal damage. Despite being a liberal cosmopolitan to his bones, Matt is tv critic for the Daily Express. This has often made me ponder the question posed by Professor Clive Walker in an article on directing terrorist organisations that I assisted him with “Does the IRA’s cleaning lady direct the cleaning for the IRA and therefore is she guilty of directing a terrorist organisation?” The answer is not clear. When I occasionally see his columns they are not overtly political, but maybe like Al Murray he subverts prejudice and intolerance (ignorance / fear of difference) through intellect and humour.

Al Murray’s ‘Watching War Films with my Dad’ Century 2013. Review.

Watching War Films with my Dad is much more than a memoir or the book on war films and growing up in the 1970s. Yes it covers each of those aspects. It is much more interesting than being a memoir (where it is in the Where did it all go right upbeat category) and it does include a lot of anecdotes, career history, tour highlights and some introspection. The latter mostly to reinforce points in the narrative. Yes it is a book about war films and war toys of every type, and with Al Murray being an enthusiast for World War Two history he of course delves into the facts, the errors and inaccuracies in the movies and toys. Told while he is flying a Spitfire at RAF Museum Duxford or filming a documentary about Arnhem. Anyone of our post war generation who grew up in the 1970s watching war movies will find the book interesting (he covers much more recent too). It is a book with anecdotes about modern Britain – in the comic incisive style of the Pub Landlord. What you can’t tell from the ‘A Memoir’, endearing title or comic Al Murray at D Day picture, is this is a book about history. Mostly about World War 2 and also World War 1. But Murray covers many other historical examples and periods as well. He tells you a lot that you didn’t know that you thought you knew about (how close the German victory on Crete was), unless probably you are another war history buff like my mate Dr. Clarkson. I didn’t know that writer Ben Elton was the nephew of Tudor history scholar Geoffrey Elton, which might explain why the first Blackadder, my favourite (co-written by Elton) seems to have some great attention to detail. Murray clearly loves France and Germany and likes to explain about these countries to his British and wider audience. He loves Europe but as a patriotic kid of the ’70s he loves Britain – the good Britain of values and being on the right side. Obviously he isn’t uncritical. His chapter on the history of history is excellent and very educational.

I borrowed Al’s book from Liverpool City Council’s Sefton Park library, Aigburth Road, Liverpool.

Note. I neglected to declare an interest. Al Murray was the drummer in my brother, Pat’s, band at and after Oxford, they’ve appeared in short films together by Martin Pickles, and I once had my hair cut in Al Murray’s kitchen.