Thursday, 27 September 2018

L'Heure Bleue--the Blue Hour

L'Heure Bleue

The light changes in a moment. Usually the sky turns lavender with an eerie glow. Early October in the Quartier St Honore with the afterglow of the sunset lingering over the Tuileries brings this light. Walking in the Place du Marche, the market closing, the cafe terraces crowded and lit with candles, one breathes the warmth of Indian Summer. Women in summer clothes with light wraps on their shoulders; waiters ready to light the terrace heaters as aperetifs are served. Yet that light glimmers from a translucent sky that hints of mysteries beyond human ken: a moment seen as if through a crystal.
L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain formulated by Jaques Guerlain in 1012 is a famous scent that hints at forces beyond reality. That moment which tells us we are not in control. This breathtaking moment that can begin a love affair or turn order into calamity, peace into war:
It hints at time suspended, even as that lilac sky is suspended above the Paris  rooftops.
Jaques Guerlain said that one day l'heure bleue brought him a premonition of an imminent catastrophe which was to be World War I. L'Heure Bleue, the scent which he created symbolizes the Belle Epocque : as he recalled that moment where the leisured strolled between afternoon and evening at the hour when dusk after a warm afternoon brings this atmospheric light.
In the present day, that light continues in the moment between sunset and night. Before the lights come on in the streets and apartments, the sky glows as if lit through a pale amethyst.
I sit outside in my English garden, sipping a cocktail. I have never seen L'heure blue here until now. I know it from Paris where that moment of early evening after sunset in early October inspires one with mystical alertness.  Is it the hot summer or the imminence of great changes, portending some elusive future? Something is suspended, waiting: a moment that portends a new world. Mingled scents of wood smoke, fallen leaves, lingering roses reassure one that there is continuity or a sort. Stars and bats appear from opal fragments of light caught among dark branches. L'heure bleue is gone, leaving only faint disquiet for what may come.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Cycles of Renewal

Thirty Nine and a half years ago I was in that country that was still called Rhodesia, to write features on the colonial regime's final days: Ian Smith's government had struggled to survive twelve years of sanctions for its Universal Declaration of Independence from the British Crown but now faced transition to majority rule engineered by the British government. Thirteen years earlier, an impassioned speech I made to the London Liberal Party denouncing Ian Smith's UDI in November 1965 brought me invitations to stand as a Parliamentary Candidate: I did so in the following year's General Election.
Rhodesia was stamped on my CV from that point and when I made my first journalistic safari to Africa in 1973, I had hoped to go there. Instead, I stared across the Victoria Falls at it from Livingstone, Zambia and became the only journalist to provide a story on the shooting of some Canadian tourists by Zambian troops. (I gave the story to two other reporters--from Reuters and the Johannesburg Star in order to protect my hosts. The two were expelled from Zambia).
Rhodesia remained in the news, a bĂȘte noir to liberals world wide. I made my name writing exclusives from South Africa and East Africa on human rights topics for the Guardian. In 1978, with introductions in place, I made my long planned trip to Rhodesia.
I found a nostalgically English time warp from WW2 where melodies from South Pacific played by a string trio in the Meikles Hotel dining room were the sound track: a country divided by age and generation as much as by race and tribe.
The old made the politics, but it was the young who fought the bush war.  Like characters from Neville Shute's novel. "On the Beach", they danced in Salisbury's downtown disco to their favourite song " I'm Singing In the Rain" but their world was ending. Many told me they did not believe in the war: they wanted to drink in the bars with their African friends not shoot them. Others felt bitterly towards the British. The older generations who had made this confrontation into an echo of the WW2 in which many had fought for Great Britain, felt let down by the mother country: they clung to their British ways: church services on Sunday were a fragmented link with Queen and Country. Air Rhodesia did a fine job of patching up their old Viscount passenger planes; buses and cars were kept running with spare parts coming in via South Africa. Rhodesian beef was driven over the border to Botswana and flown to Lusaka to feed Zambia where farming had collapsed after independence. Young Africans of the different tribal groups watched, and hoped for a future of democratic freedoms and prosperity: now forty years older, many of these are demonstrating their wish to end Mugabe's regime.
It could have been better had Harold Macmillan who spoke of "The Winds of Change" not lost power after the Profumo scandal, had the minority Wilson government that followed Alex Douglas Home's short lived government, had more comprehension of the hopes of both sides. But the hoped for negotiated transition to majority rule had failed during Roy Welensky's Federation of the two Rhodesias and Nysasaland (which became Zambia, Southern Rhodesia and Malawi). Black faith in political promises faltered. Positions--UDI on the one hand, armed guerillas financed by Marxist states--hardened due to political weakness in London. Leaders in waiting, Joshua Nkomo, for the Ndebele; Bishop Muzorewa, moderate Shona leader, head of the Transitional Government, Mugabe the exiled Catholic Marxist; Ian Smith the departing man of history; I interviewed all except Mugabe but it was my interview with Ian Smith that was syndicated around the world. The disappointed but still obdurate leader who had been terribly scarred when his WW2 Hurricane fighter crashed in Egypt, fascinated the world.
At the start of that, my third long journalistic safari to Southern Africa I interviewed Nadine Gordimer for my political column in Harpers and Queen. The article with the opening phrase,  "Every writer needs a war," (headlined "In Black and White") can be read on Google. Rhodesia's struggle was my 'writer's war'. I could have wished it a more successful outcome.
Soon after, in 1979, I returned to the UK where I fought as Liberal Candidate for North Wales in the first European Parliamentary Elections. No one believed me when I told them the vote meant the start for a democratic Europe.

How right they were. But, another cycle, another future is beginning: for both Zimbabwe and Europe, let's go on hoping and working for democracy' renewal.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Donald, Women and Me!

I've kept quiet about this for some time. But yes, Donald asked me for a date. I met him when he came over to London with his then fiancé Marla Maples for whom he was divorcing first wife, Ivana. The Mail on Sunday asked me to interview Marla for a photo shoot for their YOU magazine. Donald was there, for once trying to keep in the background. However he had already vetoed 'You' magazine's plans for a picnic lunch in the gardens of the boutique hotel near Sloane Square where the Mail on Sunday had lodged Marla, Marla's mother and Donald.
It was a hot July Saturday afternoon and I arrived by cab from my Montagu Square flat to be told that Donald wanted fish and chips so the champagne and seafood picnic were being spurned in favour of a fried lunch at the famous Sea Shell Fish and Chip restaurant in Lisson Grove, W2.
The Sea Shell had no other customers on this hot afternoon, so we were easily seated at a table for four. Donald spoke little while we ate, chomping his battered cod and chips: ignoring snide comments from Marla regarding his weight. Later we had time to chat while Marla was changing various outfits for her photo shoot.
I gave Donald a signed copy of my just published biography of John Major and he expressed interest in the idea that I might write a new Trump biography. He was impressed to the point where Marla began to show jealousy. She objected to me joining them at Tramp for dinner than evening and next day when my taxi was caught in a Victoria Street traffic jam, the ferry taking the party to Greenwich left without me. I was told Donald kept asking, "Where's Nesta? Where's Nesta?
At a lunch organised by 'You' the following Monday, he kept glancing unhappily at Marla. As we quietly chatted at the table he revealed his uncertainty's re her being the right girl for him. Her looks made her hard to beat, "but...." he sighed, and my mind went back to the mean way she had taunted him at the Sea Shell. This aspiring actress, who had been quoted as saying "Best sex ever" about Donald, whom she had met on the street while walking home, might have been less in love than ambitious to marry a mogul.
I filed my piece, but before it could appear in print, the couple had had a fight and split up.
The Mail asked me to ring Donald and interview him.
During our phone call he asked if I would be available for a date in London the following week as he planned to come over on business. (He had already asked me if I practised safe sex). "Go back to Marla, Donald," I told him. "She's the right girl for you." But I was wrong: they married but it did not last.
I included Donald in my hugely successful "Britain's Top 100 Eligible Bachelors," a collection of mini biographies of rich, famous and powerful men. While researching him for what was billed as 'a gold diggers guide'. It played to a widespread fascination for sex power and money. The impression I formed of him was that he is incurably insecure with women, one of those men who is never sure that he is loved, who is always looking for approval and never gives up trying to find it with one woman after another. It's also the motive behind the vulgar flashing of his wealth. He clearly has to keep boasting--about his wealth and his conquests; the top gorilla who can have every female in the tribe.
Photos show he was extremely handsome in his youth, and oddly, beauty is often correlated with insecurity. Handsome men and, beautiful women too, are often trying hard to prove they really are desired. And Donald is a classic case: women, he believes, either love him for his looks or his money, never for himself. As time has passed the looks have faded, the money is still there but he now wants to add political power to his armoury. He first considered running for the White House job in 1987 and I had been asked to interview him, while on a trip to the US, by the Telegraph Magazine. But he changed his mind about running only to pop up again twice. Now, third time may not be so lucky after all. But consider the consequences for women of Trump in office.
A Donald who can't keep his hands to himself might be no worse in the White House than Jack Kennedy who was a notorious womaniser. So much for the curse of looks and money.

Alas, poor Donald.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

George Osborne: a brief profile

Naked ambition. He will lay down his country for his life. Someone who works obsessively on his own future but who gambles with other people's money and rights. A dangerously dedicated and selfish worker for his own gain. A ruthless liar.

What an epitaph for a Chancellor of the Exchequer!
He is due for a shock. Perhaps many shocks as his plans come to naught.
It is for reason of his obsessive ambition that Osborne has made the most disgracefully untrue claims of the outcome of the Referendum for Brexit.
He has staked his own future on the outcome of the vote: if we stay IN, he gets Cameron's job. If we Leave, he gets nothing except a well deserved kick in the pants. As a Telegraph headline on Thursday (June 16th) declared, "Chancellor finished if Britain quits Europe, say scores of Tories."
The claims that he would bring in an Emergency Budget after a vote for Brexit was the last straw. That claim alone could damage Britain's ratings, our future borrowing and trade deals. He has launched the most extraordinary claims of disaster for the British economy following a vote for Brexit. Instead of focusing on the best possible outcome, he is fictionalising on the worst case scenario and he has persuaded his friends on the IMF and other international bodies to do the same. Why? Because Brexit for George is Curtains. He is staking his entire career in a gamble that he can kill the Brexit surge with his dire predictions of disaster, job losses, tax hikes and austerity.  So that he can replace Cameron as Prime Minister.
But he is a fool without political judgment. Few in the Conservative Parliamentary Party will forgive him or vote for him as a result. Few if any Conservative MP's would support him in a leadership election. Following his announcement that he would, after a vote for Brexit deliver an Emergency Budget involving tax hikes and austerity cuts, he was lambasted. Sixty-six Conservative MP's said they would vote down such a Budget. Labour would not support it either, and in the Daily Telegraph Business section, the respected columnist, Ambrose Evans Pritchard wrote that Osborne should "no longer be trusted with the keys to 11 Downing Street."
I agree. He has already messed up the housing rental sector and has caused three revolts in Parliament over his ill judged Budget austerity cuts on the poorer people in our society.
Worse, Osborne still believes he can become the next British Prime Minister. But he can only do so if British voters choose to Remain in the EU.
Otherwise he is very definitely OUT of the running. Therefore he is lying and twisting the truth to serve his own ambition: even if his claims damage his country.
His fraudulent claims that the rich will be the ones to benefit from Brexit, delivered last week in Porthmadoc, North Wales are the exact opposite of the truth. The rich, whether citizens of the UK or international power brokers and financiers, businessmen and elites of all kinds are clearly the ones to benefit from a vote to Remain in the EU. The Brexit vote belongs to the poor, the hard working middle classes and those who believe in Britain as their nation and who have had enough of handing control of their destiny to unelected committees of other countries and the unelected EU government in Brussels.
During and after Cameron's failed negotiations with the EU, Osborne was buzzing from capital to capital trying to fix his future by ratting on Britain's interests.  He is visibly prepared to sacrifice his country to his own goal of becoming Prime Minister.
He will never make it. Nor is he capable. In the Cameron/Osborne deal forged on the anvil of the Blair/Brown deal, he will fail. Why?
Because he does not have what it takes to govern 'one nation' or to be that special unifier of a government called "First Among Equals."
Osborne must go. And the faster, the better, for the good of this country.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Dithering, Procrastination and Prevarication

I first planned this blog in February 2016 as Cameron announced completion of his failed EU negotiations. It was to be headlined, "The Destiny of David Cameron: Part 2. On Yer Bike Dave!"
It was evident from those failed negotiations that Cameron was doomed and my verdict was and is that he should resign. MP's of his own party are now calling for his departure: he has lost all credibility. After his ludicrous 'predictions' of what will happen after a Brexit, his word is worthless. Whether Britain Leaves or Remains in the EU, one thing is clear, that after June 23rd 2016, Cameron must go: he cannot be trusted to lead the government or the country.
Cameron or 'Conman' as I am now calling him, has kept Britain in a constant state of indecision and confusion since he came into office in 2010. After the Coalition, a brilliant achievement of consensus but one which brought daily dithering over government decisions, came the Scottish Referendum, then, unavoidably, the 2015 General Election. Now we have the EU referendum--a result of Cameron's promise to voters that helped him get elected. The fault is not all Cameron's. The state of confusion and indecision are actually part of the nation's make up at this time. We are a divided nation. The division between the haves and have-nots is dramatically exemplified by property owners on the one hand, and on the other, those who know they have no hope of attaining that basic capitalist goal. Never before have the problems--in housing and social services, now exacerbated by unrestrained immigration and unrestrained 'foreign investment' in our property market been so overwhelming. But the divisions between the 'People' and increasing coercion by the Brussels bureaucracy are now reflected all over Europe in new political alignments and anti EU protest movements. Still the fat parasites in Brussels stick to their arrogant ways. But, the potential for revolution against 'Power at the Centre' from the EU that is causing ever intensifying revolt, is greater than ever before.

Can a British referendum about EU membership deflect the rising tide of discontent? A vote for Brexit may start a contagious revolt across Europe.  The referendum campaign is a cynical move by Cameron/Conman to pave the way for Britain to succumb to further pressures from Brussels and that looniest EU obsession referred to by Donald Tusk of a "Utopian union of European nations in one Europe,' that of Freedom of Movement which brings the whole of Africa and the Middle East through our ports.

Promising a referendum after a renegotiation of our terms of membership was a device Conman used to unify his deeply divided party for the 2015 General Election and to win it. Not that he knew he would win it: Cameron is clearly not clairvoyant and had been quite prepared to deliver his resignation speech on May 8th. No one was more shocked than he that he actually was voted into office. This is a man of limited political judgment.  How come then that he is so convinced of disaster if Britain leaves the EU? How can he predict the future? 1. "House prices will fall" (oh but isn't that what we want in order to make affordable housing more available? And to release to the enterprise sector, capital, currently locked up in bricks and mortar). 2. "Sterling will fall" (isn't that what exporters need to open new markets outside the EU? So what if Spanish holidays cost more?--the Spaniards are now protesting disruption from excess  tourists), and if the prices of beers or wines rise as a result of a devalued pound--so what? We can import them from elsewhere or continue to make our own.

Cameron has arm twisted support from 'names'--appointed toadies from the Governor of the Bank of England to 'actors and producers' who benefit from EU cash handouts, to the big international banks and companies who's executives and owners don't even live here; those on Conman's Honours List (past and future) all parroting the same dire prognostications for our future. They have no business interfering in our electoral process. The Referendum is for the British people. Not for the Obamas, Bransons, IMF, American Banks, G20 members and Bank of England Governors who benefit from globalisation and its offshore profits. Why are they all so terrified that the UK will 'Leave' this incompetent EU? They clearly expect much profit from sacrificing the independence of the British people. Yes. Because our decision to 'Leave' will give such a shock to those Brussels bureaucrats and such a lead to the citizens of other nations who are now desperately unhappy with the EU's creeping totalitarianism that it will bust the whole crumbling edifice.

My bet is the solid electorate of this nation will rebel against this elitist support for the EU. And that after Brexit, small and medium sized businesses will grasp the new opportunities and, once released from stifling regulations (our own as well as the EU's) will surge forward in a burst of enterprise and global trade not seen since the 19th Century.

Conman has kept the nation on the edge of its seat since he came to office in 2010. This is massively distracting to business and is holding up decisions. It also creates a smokescreen for the fact that the government is doing little to solve mega problems in housing, infrastructure and energy production. Clearly, this style of 'government by suspense' must cease. It is dishonest and disastrous. And it is thanks to this dishonesty that Cameron must resign. Not only the several blatant lies he has told during this campaign but also the misuse of facts in the 'predictions' he puts forward mean that I could never vote for a party led by David Cameron. In or Out, he must step down on June 24th to make way for a PM whose words can be trusted. And woe betide that PM if he offers Conman a job on the negotiating team for our exit. When Cameron steps down we should be able to exhale in relief at release from the dithering, procrastination and prevarication that have been the brand image of his reign.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Can A Bearded Man Ever Pleasure a Woman?

I'm not criticising my neighbour but when I hugged him on impulse the other day as a thank you for finding a lost key to my bike lock, I was suddenly made aware that he had grown a beard. Ouch!

One sees it everywhere. Imitation Beckhams? Or are they imitation Imams? The worst is probably the total baldie with a great bush on the chin. "Mummy", do I hear a little girl cry? "Why are the men wearing their heads upside down?"

Equally with smokers and baldies, I avoid the bearded. One of my Paris lovers grew one and I made it clear I couldn't have a sexcessful evening with him unless he came clean shaven for our date. Bless him, he shaved.  On the spot!

It's not only the kiss that suffers. Full love making involves lingual caresses of other body areas. Does one really enjoy the sensation of a brillo pad between one's thighs? Or do we deny oral sex its place in the love making experience?

My feeling on returning recently to the UK and seeing these dreadful facial growths was that men were retreating from sex. Or was it that they felt so dominated by the confident females one sees striding around that they had to fight back and say, "It's ok to be male" and even more that, "A man has to convince you that he has the hormones to grow a bushy beard.

I've noticed the older male usually grows a beard. Grey, of course. Perhaps it's a statement that his sex life is finally over? But now the younger ones are wearing these feeble little fungi. Is this also a statement? Men must be Men! Awch! If they have no other way of proving their maleness: must they grow these often badly tufted outgrowths?

When Mark Antony accepted Cleopatra's invitation to dine aboard her barge on the river Cydnus, we are told (by Plutarch) that he shaved himself almost to the bone to impress her--and indeed to start his historic love affair with her. Are we to believe that Roman men who did not have the facilities available to present day men would have managed such a feat, using a very sharp knife?

My impression is that stubbled jaws and beards are a sign of disregard of and disrespect to women's sensibilities. Females have more sensitivity to touch and the notion of being scraped by a stubbled male face wherever it puts itself in her anatomy, is an insult to that notion of the love of women which should be at the heart of male approaches to sex. Or are women so desperate these days for a caveman experience after a belly full of beer and pizza (and I'm afraid that's what it amounts to for many) that they will accept anything? Face down, presumably?

Beards like the present ones were prevalent during Victorian times when women were corseted and closeted and had few political rights. Can it be that men by becoming bearded are striking back into the heart of female liberation by saying, beards show who's boss?

And then there's the 'Health and Safety' question, "When did you last shampoo your beard dear?"

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Vandals are at the Gate. What next?

Periodically I leave this sceptered isle for lands less prosaic. East Africa, America, France: I lived in them for years, left them, then came back to what I supposed to be home. Last time I returned it was not quite as desperate a venture as that of clinging to the underside of a lorry for the entire crossing. I financed my, nevertheless, refugee like return from Paris to the uk with a job for my Paris Production Services film facility: it contributed the bulk of what I nicknamed "The Colditz Tunnel Escape Fund."

That was because returning from France was more complicated than my escapes from Africa and America. Those latter flights to my London homes of those days were accompanied merely by personal baggage. When I moved to Paris however, I left no home in the uk and embarked for what I thought might be forever taking all my furniture, files and treasures. Most of those now rest in a friend's chateau in Burgundy but I had some pieces in Paris that I wanted to bring with me and all of this requires organisation, packing, shipping, and funding. After several months hard work I found shippers and a haven to which my stuff, including a 1912 Bechstein I inherited from my mother, could be carted.

I was a sort of refugee fleeing from the jelly bellied Francois Hollande and coming hard times in France after his election. The problem began when my landlady's husband died and she decided to sell my apartment where I had lived for 13 years. I had paid a total of some €150,000 to her in that time but I had no rights under the law to either buy the place as a sitting tenant or keep on renting it with a new owner. Moving had become a difficult option. I had been living in a privileged location, poised above the Place des Pyramides on the corner of the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens. The only blight to my southerly view was the wretched Tour Montparnasse. The other blights were related to my discomfort under the legal regime that favoured the landlady's over my own rights and which, due to demand, made it by now virtually impossible to find a substitute central Paris apartment. I did not think I could stand being a foreigner any longer.

I left a great love behind me, but it was a great relief to reach Angleterre. Alas, I found it greatly changed but still very civilized with sensible common laws for property rentals. Now I am watching with some horror, those others, less blessed than myself and without a British birthright, trying with intense desperation to come to the uk.

Recently, a photograph appeared in the Telegraph of a 22 year old Sudanese whose words "Britain is good" touched my heart. He was pictured sitting at the Toddington Service Station on the M1. I could not but chuckle. Never had such a banal place seemed so much like Paradise, it seemed. He had crossed to the UK clinging to the underside of a lorry. Now he hoped to study for a degree. I was moved. I cannot bear to think of him, after his brave enterprise, languishing in a prison cell.

I can also be moved by the plight of thousands who, whether political or economic refugees and with only the clothes they are wearing, are trying to enter the country by force, even with their children? Desperation to reach a country where welfare will help them and indeed where there are many lower level jobs: surely our compassion cannot refuse them? But, we can't let them blackmail us, can we? Legal immigration procedures must be enforced. We must have the immigrants we choose, not those forced upon us.

This is a terrible harvest reaped by the great success of the English language and by the equally great success of the British economy which can provide the jobs that are unavailable in the Social Chapter strapped EU.  And the freedom of movement allowed within the EU is also our great handicap. Italy, Hungary, France, just wave them through.

We are besieged and must man the battlements.