I have never been one for beer or pubs. Boasting one Scottish parent, my tipple has always been whisky – my interest stretching back to long-forgotten Hogmanay parties  when, as we rang in the New Year, a relative would knock on the front door and “first foot” carrying a piece of coal in one hand and a quart bottle of the golden nectar in the other.

In London two weeks ago (as I have already reported), I spent two hours hugging a single half-pint glass of warm beer in a hole-in-the-wall-semi-deserted pub on Fleet Street. The company was excellent but the place was miserable, looking like it had last been decorated (and cleaned) circa 1955. Back then, at the epicentre of world journalism,  it would have been permanently full of Trilby hatted  hacks lubricating their brains and fingers to facilitate their daily masterpiece which, following a short detour with the editorial staff, would be with the typesetters across the road and ready to roll quicker than most of them could say “Another pint please, love”.

Judging by what happens to newspapers in the season of goodwill, journalists must reach such a state of inebriation (now in purpose-built squeaky-clean concrete monstrosities in East London), that their brains and fingers part ways resulting in the regurgitated nonsense they spew out . In fairness, this is not entirely their fault. As world leaders are similarly sozzled, nothing much happens. I followed the BBC World Service News on Christmas Day. The headlines were the Pope’s speech in St Peters’ Square, the Queen’s speech to the Commonwealth (with a joint age of 190, I had difficulty containing my excitement) and a running commentary on the day in Bethlehem which, apart from being the birthplace of Jesus, is today a predominantly Muslim city in which nothing much happens.

With the notable exception of The Economist which sensibly skips Christmas week entirely, we – the public – are being subjected to re-heated, repackaged fare from the 2012 archives. It reminds me of school dinners where Friday’s meal was always meatloaf unquestionably produced from all the slops of  the rest of the week.

So, we are confronted with endless “Reviews of the Year” and “The Best of 2012”. We discover that a cocky bike rider is the greatest UK sports personality of the past 52 weeks  and that Lord Seb Coe has become a living legend performing the Churchillian task of leading his country to victory over the Chinese, Greeks, Australians and everybody else since 1896 in  Olympic pyrotechnics.

It really does no credit to the intelligence of any nation to ponder this kind of nonsense. Why not just hang up a sign saying “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible” (which is precisely what ITV’s News at Ten did on one occasion several years ago when newscaster Reginald Bosanquet was too pissed to even read the teleprinter) and go into hibernation until January 2?

Do people really want to be reminded about all those hardly remembered Republican candidates for President of the US who picked proposed corporate tax rates out of a hat on the basis of such sound economic thinking as “17.5% is half the current rate” or “12.5% is what the Irish charge – and it works for them”? And what about the French who merrily ditched Mr Bling only to embrace a kamikaze socialist who has so incensed the wealthy classes with his 75% tax rate that they are willing to escape to Belgium (Belgium!!)? And talking of kamikazes, did you hear the one about the Japanese Prime Minister who committed political suicide by insisting on doubling the VAT rate for the good of the country!? Then there was the Indian Government which finally lost an outrageous withholding tax claim against Vodaphone in the Supreme Court and promptly announced it was introducing a law retroactive to 1961. And the bankrupt Greeks who, with a backlog of 170,000 tax fraud cases managed to bring a case within 4 days against a journalist who blew the whistle on 2000 potential tax dodgers. Meanwhile, the Italian tax authorities came up with a novel idea for getting people to pay tax – a government sponsored programme for calculating how much tax you need to pay to fall beneath their radar. The Channel Islands threatened independence from the UK sometime in the next 500 years for being caught encouraging VAT fraud and Starbucks was royally roasted for  paying tax in the UK at an even lower rate than Mitt Romney (who?) in the US. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of the zero-tax Cayman Islands quickly backtracked on a proposal to impose taxes exclusively on foreigners  and, following his subsequent resignation, I understand he is helping the police with their enquiries.

And, while I receive quite a few offline comments (why not, online?) there is the question of whether anybody really cares about what I think about this Blog. The fact is that, of the 60 (sixty!) posts over the last year, the one I had the most fun writing, by a whisker, was the last one (I, incidentally, love Marmite) followed closely by the Dickens bicentennial (Hard Times, Great Expectations).

Nobody really wants to know all this so I shall be more responsible than the Fleet Street pros and shut up.  The other day,  my Welsh neighbour and I watched helplessly as  the cork of a newly opened  15-year-old Glenlivet tragically disintegrated into the bottle. After a difficult few moments, we determined that we had better finish it quickly. That is my current project and I am presently comfortably numb. Evelyn Waugh once defined Hogmanay as “getting sick on Glasgow pavements”. See you in the New Year, if I don’t stumble under a bus before then.

3 thoughts on “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet

  1. Glad to see that John and I share a love of Marmite. I live in Israel, and it’s a precious commodity that’s very hard to come by over here. So on a business trip to the UK I purchased several jars. My return journey took me through Amsterdam. Not sure why, but I had no problems passing security at Heathrow. Unfortunately the same could not be said for Schipol. There they insisted on separating me from my contraband, as each jar exceeded the 100 mls limit ( I think I’ve got the numbers right). So it was to be me to the plane, and my beloved Marmite to the designated trash can. I protested. Its just Marmite – its food – its innocuous. But the security officer wouldn’t hear of it. In a final attempt to show its and my innocence I opened a jar for his perusal. Probably not the wisest move on my part. One whiff, and he became more positive than ever that this was dangerous potent stuff – which to some extent I couldn’t really deny.

    Well, we’ve nearly reached the end of 2012, and so this seems to be an appropriate opportunity to thank John for his blog which I look forward to reading each week. It’s whimsical, enlightening, intelligent and always entertaining. Hope it receives the hits and recognition it deserves.

  2. This reminds me of the time back in 1974 when we were starting a year (or two or three) studying in Israel. A friend of mine, Adrian Frei, couldn’t contemplate the thought of 2 or three years without his beloved Marmite so he brought with a huge jar (pot?) of it. Stopped at the Israeli green channel by a burly, hairy Moroccan customs officer, who queried what it was, the luckless AF explained it was a spread. Opening it, the customs guy nearly swooned from the smell, and wondering aloud whether it contained hidden diamonds, he stuck his hairy arm into it and fished around. After exrtracting his hand with difficulty, leaving several of the said hairs behind, he told AF he could take it with him. AF gracefully declined………..

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