I've been watching heated arguments recently in the UK Houses of Parliament that remind me of kids squabbling over sweets in a school playground, and I'm thinking "These are the people that run my country!"
I'm reminded of a passage in a novel I'm re-reading at the moment – News from Nowhere by William Morris. Written in 1890, it's about a man named William Guest who falls asleep and wakes up in the 21st century to find the grimy, stinky, noisy London of the Victorian era transformed into a peaceful, friendly, unpolluted utopia, where society is so enlightened and advanced that there is no need for money, policemen, prisons, or – get this – government!
As Guest is walking around with Dick, his companion from the future, he says "Why, there are the Houses of Parliament! Do you still use them?" Dick answers, "Use them? Well, yes, they are used for a sort of subsidiary market, and a storage place for manure. "
Let's hope that the recent antics in this hallowed building are an indicator that we're well on the way to Morris' utopia, and that eventually this building will serve its rightful purpose – for storing manure.
I’m sad to hear of the death of Keith Mundy, a long-time friend and colleague, from prostate cancer in Bangkok.
I first met Keith in around 1975 when we were both living in hippy ‘squats’ in Sydenham, London – vast Victorian mansions adapted to a lifestyle radically different from their original intention, with their servants’ quarters, tennis court in the garden and so on.
We were never really close (Keith was always something of a loner) and we might never have met again if we had not shared the dream of teaching English abroad as a way to an exciting life, which we then both followed.
It’s almost like a religious experience, because when you click the ‘confirm’ button, it’s a moment of profound import, which will largely determine whether the arrows beside your team’s name will be green or red after the next round of games, showing that you’ve gone up or down in the league. I’m talking about making fantasy football transfers, the most exciting aspect of playing this silly but fun game.
First, you have to keep an eye on all the games in an English Premier League gameweek. That’s 10 games, lasting around 2 hours each—20 hours. As you watch, you need to evaluate the performance of all players on the pitch—around 25 players per game, so that’s 250 players, and make a mental note of any players that impress you. Those of us who don’t have time to study things so carefully settle for an hour-long roundup of the gameweek’s highlights.
Then, you have to decide which of your players you want to kick out of your team—those that are performing badly and those who are injured or suspended for whatever reason, as they are not going to win you any points.
Next, you need to look at the upcoming fixtures and decide which of the players that you plan to transfer in have a good chance of scoring, keeping a clean sheet and so on.
After that, you have to look at the value of those players you fancy drafting in to your team, as all fantasy managers have a limited budget of £100 million, though this figure can be increased by careful buying and selling.
Finally, and perhaps most critically, you need to decide how many transfers you’ll make. Everyone is allowed one free transfer a week, and if you make more, you forfeit 4 points for each player brought in. If your hunch is correct and these newly transferred players perform well, it’s worth the risk, but if not, you end up cursing yourself for taking the chance.
It may be a silly game, but it has around 6 million players who all spend the weekend cheering and swearing as they watch their players performing well or badly. And besides, it provides a welcome distraction from the constant stream of bad news from the so-called real world.
As the royal wedding approaches, our blogger offers a surprising tip to Prince Harry on how to spend his honeymoon.
When Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor, better known as Prince Harry, walks down the aisle of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on 19 May 2018 to marry Meghan Markle, those of us who don’t have a personal invite will be watching weepy-eyed on TV. Though the concept of a monarchy may seem a bit outdated in the 21st century, there’s something irresistible about the pomp and pageantry that goes with a royal wedding, and Windsor does pomp very well indeed.
Now, Harry (can I call you that?), I’m sure you are planning to zip off with Meg (can I call her that?) to the Caribbean or somewhere out of public sight as soon as the ceremonies are over, but let me suggest that you do something totally unexpected. Why not spend your honeymoon beside the River Thames in Windsor, and give Meg a taste of true British culture?
Of course, first you should show her round the castle, but I shouldn’t bother with all the rooms, just enough to impress her. You might mention that it’s the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, and that it was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1070, because he deemed the site “a place appearing proper and convenient for royal retirement on account of the river and its nearness to the forest for hunting, and many other royal conveniences”. Perhaps you’d better not mention the fire of 1992, when thousands of irreplaceable treasures went up in smoke. It might give her bad dreams on the big night.
Putting the world to rights in five minutes
Our planet is in a mess—environmentally, economically, socially and politically. Hardly a day goes by without some horrific news about villages buried under landslides, politicians arrested for corruption or suicide bombers blowing themselves and everybody nearby to bits. Despite amazing advances in technology during the last century, we don’t seem to have learned anything about how to live together despite our differences. Even the modern sciences of psychology and sociology have no blueprint for improving relationships.
"Goodbye hello!”…reminds me of an old Beatles song, but the website hola.org is something much more insidious than anything we knew when we used to go round singing “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello”.
A friend recommended it as a useful site that would enable me to watch programmes on the BBC iPlayer, which is generally not available outside the UK, as well as any other websites that are generally blocked in the land where I live—Thailand.
Being a sucker for anything that makes life a bit easier or more fun, I downloaded it and for a couple of weeks enjoyed my new-found freedom—watching the final of Wimbledon tennis and a few insightful documentaries—but then the trouble began.
‘Tis a strange island, shaped like a pregnant woman dipping her toes in the sea, where I happened to be born.
It seems especially strange to me, having lived in voluntary exile abroad for nearly 40 years, and only popping back for short visits to see family and friends every few years. I always leave bemused by recent developments and wondering where this country is headed.
This visit is no exception. Though the climate and countryside is familiar enough, the towns and people wandering the streets are oddly alien. The high street of Maidenhead, my home town, is a commercial wasteland, a windy corridor bordered by charity shops and empty premises, which are now brightly decorated with artwork extolling the town’s merits, compared with white-washed windows on my last visit. Meanwhile the people I pass are speaking Polish, Romanian, Urdu, Hungarian, Russian or Chinese—anything, it seems, but English.
As the world waits anxiously for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne, our budding blogger reveals a crack in the psyche of the so-called United Kingdom. It’s called
THE BRITISH MONARCHY SCHIZOID SYNDROME
We Brits are an odd bunch when it comes to our views on the Royal Family. On the one hand, it’s not unusual to hear us ranting in pubs or at parties about the preposterous privileges that they enjoy, or how they should know what it’s like to do a hard day’s work or to do their shopping at Sainsbury’s. On the other hand, when a Royal Wedding or Jubilee comes around, we go all gooey and gaga, saying silly stuff like “Isn’t she sweet? Doesn’t she look lovely?” No doubt the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, from 2-5 June 2012, will be another such occasion, when we all bury the hatchet for a few days, smile at our neighbours and act like life’s one big party.
As my book Walks along the Thames Path has just been released in its fourth edition, I got to pondering the magical attraction that the source of a river has, and in the case of the Thames, the nagging doubts about its true origin. Then the pondering turned into a story, called...
SEEKING THE SOURCE OF THE THAMES
Locating the source of a river is not as simple as it may seem. For a start, most rivers have dozens of tributaries, all of which originate at springs, so just how do you decide which is the main source? Interestingly, there is no internationally recognized method of determining such an essential fact, though logic would suggest it is the spring that is furthest from the mouth of the river, or at the highest elevation above sea level, or that produces the greatest volume of water; yet this logic does not always apply.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.