I am a free citizen of the United Kingdom. The police have no business whatsoever telling me whether and when to stand to attention, sit, wave, smile, salute, two-finger salute, hiss or boo. And they certainly have no business at all telling me which way I should face.
This has nothing to do with “respect for the dead”. If it were about that, Mrs Thatcher would have had a funeral with family and old friends, some of whom of course would have been her political allies. In that case it would have been quite wrong to show disrespect. We, who disrespect her legacy, would have been right to simply stay away and let her survivors mourn in peace.
But that is not what’s going on here. This is a huge piece of political theatre, exploiting her final departure to trumpet the Thatcherite legacy. As such, it begs for a theatrical response. Those who decided to stage a quasi-state funeral are the ones who took this outof the realm of respect for the dead, and into the realm of demonstration. The demonstration might be one of power in the form of gun-carriages and other military pomp, or it might be one of objection, through turning the back.
And it is the right of any one of us to do so – the idea that permission is required is appalling.
Probably a relatively low proportion of the people that I know would have voted for the Tories at the last election, although, given the train-wreck that Labour had become, I could understand the temptation. So perhaps I am preaching to the converted.
The thing is, that Polly Toynbee, always well worth reading, has summarised with frightening clarity how hard he UK government is now grinding down on the disadvantaged. Whether or not you agree, it is not a bad idea to keep your eyes open by reading what she has to say.
So Cyprus has rejected the so-called bail-out. Well done, I say. Perhaps they will default, and perhaps it will be a disaster, but at least they are being honest about the fact that their finances are already a disaster.
When someone who is not very well off has difficulty keeping up the payments on a loan, the idea might occur of taking out another loan at high interest to “help” with the payments. “I can help you with that,” says the loan shark. “I can help you with that,” says the central bank.
Under European rules, the savings of small depositors are supposed to be guaranteed. We read that, “Officials in Brussels insist the Cyprus savings tax will be a one-off and the guarantee stands across the rest of the EU.” (Guardian) Which means, I think, that they are guaranteed until the IMF and the ECB want to expropriate our funds. Then they are not guaranteed.
Nevertheless, “Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and chair of the eurogroup, issued a terse statement demanding that the Cypriot pledge at the weekend be honoured.” And that, I think, means that, in his eyes at least, something said to him is a pledge that must be honoured, whereas all the noise from Brussels and from the Cypriot government about people’s bank deposits being safe is merely provisional.
Angela Merkel has said, so I believe, that if the euro fails, it’s the end of Europe. Now I am not a trained economist, but since that is no bar to becoming, for instance, Chancellor of the Exchequer, I venture my opinion: she is just wrong. It is the euro that is strangling Europe.
As a big supporter of the whole European ideal, I was quite excited and enthusiastic when the euro came in. But the truth is now obvious: it has been badly thought out, mismanaged, fudged and was possibly even a bad idea from the beginning. The sooner we realise that the eurozone can unravel, the less damage it will do to the still glittering dream of Europe itself.
So if we didn’t know it before, we know it now: the financial system has become too important for the health of our society.
Without so much as a by-your-leave, without warning, in the face of repeated assurances to the contrary, and in conflict with the EU’s own market rules, money is being taken from all sorts of people. All you need is to have money in a bank in Cyprus, and the Cypriot government will help itself to some. Not the slightest regard is being given to what is fair, or to whether the victims can afford to lose their money. Money for which they may have worked hard, with which they might have been about to buy a house, which might be their total life savings, and on which in many cases they will already have paid tax.
For one, brief, naive moment one might dream that the banks themselves would say, “Hey, that’s our customers’ money, you can’t just take it.” But that would require believing that banks have the interests of their retail customers at heart. My imagination doesn’t stretch that far.
If I may quote from the Guardian:
Sharon Bowles MEP, chair of the European parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee, said she was appalled by the savings levy, saying it “robs smaller investors of the protection they were promised”.
Bowles added: “If this were a bank, they would be in court for mis-selling.”
“The lesson here is that the EU’s single market rules will be flouted when the eurozone, ECB and IMF say so. At a time when many are greatly concerned that the creation of the ‘banking union’, giving the ECB unprecedented power, will demote the priorities of the single market, we see it here in action.”
And if the precedent is set, how many more governments will decide that the way out of a tight corner is simply to raid the bank accounts of their citizens?
So perhaps it is time to dust off that old cake tin, fill it with your spare cash and put it back under the floorboards. The risk of fire or of (conventional) robbery may not be so much greater than the risk that your government will one day simply decide to help itself.
At the time of writing, debates are still going on, and it is possible that the Cypriot government will in the end reject this deal and go some other way. That makes damn all difference: the fact is that they thought of it.
It may even turn out that the proposal comes to be regarded as unbelievably stupid and insensitive but again: they did think of it. Those in charge at the EC, IMF and the ECB looked at bank accounts, the small bank accounts of the young, the old and the poor, and all they saw were a few numbers. They never saw the people who worked, who saved and who trusted the banks to at least keep the money safe. It turns out that it really is safer under your mattress.
Those of us who have options to keep even small amounts of money in different countries will need to consider where we put it. Germany? Sure. The UK? I think so. Italy, Portugal, Spain? Better not. There are thieves about.
For 8 or ten days Bertie bore the nickname “Conehead Stumpybum”:
The picture shows what “Conehead” is about. Not a lot of fun – you can’t lick yourself anywhere, and you can’t wash your face or ears. Plus, even with the improved jumping, the cone sometimes catches on things, and it gets food on the edge, and when you go to the litter tray for a number two… it’s good you have someone to keep an eye on it!
But now he’s just Stumpybum.
As the fur continues to grow back and the scabs heal, the view from the rear looks as if it will soon be fit for public consumption too. Well, almost. Maybe. But the wonderful thing is - it doesn’t hurt any more!
Spare a thought if you have a minute, cat lovers, for Number Three Cat Bertie, also known as “Beefy Boy”, “Destructo-Cat” and so forth. Having fallen into our lives out of a kiwi vine on the very day in the middle of last October on which Felix Baumgartner fell out of the sky, he first showed himself utterly famished and interested only in sleeping (often on my lap), eating and crapping.
He was obviously in a certain amount of pain, and the first thing was two weeks of regular washing of his ears (beginning at four times a day, reducing to 2) with disinfectants and detergents to clean them out and get rid of what was clearly acute earache. Oh yes, and castration, let’s not forget.
For several weeks he was unwilling to go outside the office for anything, and when he first started little ventures he would keep coming back in order to use the litter tray.
There was clearly something wrong with his jumping – he would, for instance, try to jump on the desk and end up crashing into the waste bins underneath. And after a while, his spirits began to drop, and he returned to spending nearly all his time sleeping.
After examination the vet, he was put onto the course of anti-inflammatories, and it was during that time that an important step was taken: because his eating and crapping had come down to much more normal levels, he began spending the night in the house with everyone else. Although he still hasn’t accepted the “usual” litter tray, he uses the one that he made his own in the office, now relocated to the “library”, as we call the book balcony.
The anti-inflammatories did a good job, which made it easier to see that his tail was always drooping down, usually dragging on the ground, and when he was in the mood for a lark and tried to run at high speed in pursuit of a bit of paper or another cat, he would trip along like a hobbled horse. He has been having a problem keeping his bottom clean, but I won’t go into that in any more detail.
Yet another examination at the vet showed that at some point in the past, presumably shortly before he arrived, his tail was broken at the base, and was now nothing more than a dead weight, having neither feeling nor use. It was just liable to get stuck in things and cause him severe pain at the place where it was broken off. The vet was even able to squeeze his tail hard with forceps while he was looking out the window, and his reaction was something like, “Dum-di-dum, trees outside the window…” As I said, no feeling at all.
So yesterday it was cut off. Amputated. That will mean 10 days without going outside, wearing one of those cones of his neck to prevent him licking the amputation site, along with more antibiotics and so forth.
This morning, though, I can report that he seems really well. He’s starting to get the hang of having the cone around his head, including fitting it over the bowls to eat and drink; he has been amusing himself by knocking things over and trying to stop me using the mouse; and has already executed some cupboard-to-desk leaps in a style that I can only call masterful. It seems that the broken tail was actually worse than useless. Normally, of course, a tail is part of the balancing system of such animals. Now that it has gone he’s getting no signals from it at all, which is better than the completely wrong signals he has been getting until now.
His shaven, stitched and scabby rear end is not pretty, but it stopped bleeding yesterday evening. I’ll spare you a photograph. (Veterinary students may apply.)
He is a total sweetie, and was obviously never fit for life as a “village cat”, but has bonded so well with the toothless Tashi, now 13 years old, and with the still-feels-drawn-to-the-feral-life Gillie that the three of them have become a proper little feline band. Hopefully he now has many happy years in front of him.
It is well known that the story of Pinocchio is said to have been written by Carlo Collodi when he was living in Pontremoli. Is it possible that he was inspired by the story of the dancing dolls of Castagnetoli?
Castagnetoli is supposed to have 40 regular inhabitants – it is one of those places that has become depopulated over the years, and the process seems to be going on still. It is a couple of kilometres off the “main” road, about 10 or 15 minutes by car from Pontremoli.
It is said that if you are lying awake in Castagnetoli at about two o’clock in the morning on certain nights of the year you may hear the clickety-clack, clickety-clack of the little porcelain feet and the tippety-tap, tippety-tap of the little wooden feet as the dolls skip down the narrow alleys of the old village. Slipping out from the backs of their dusty cupboards and their cardboard boxes, they make their way out of the old homes to dance in the moonlight, perhaps in the little Piazza, or perhaps outside the church. Their music, so I hear, sounds a bit like the Sardinian pipes, though a bit higher in pitch and more silvery. The rhythm is well-supported by the sound of their feet, and can be quite complex.
The story goes that this is most likely to happen a night or two after the full moon, especially if the sky is clear, and particularly near the “cross-quarter” days, halfway between the solstices and equinoxes. Perhaps that is because, like Pinocchio, they themselves are “half-way” beings, not human but not exactly fairies either.
Like fairies, though, it is probably not advisable to try to watch them, though I haven’t come across any stories about what happens if you do catch a glimpse.
I did struggle with the flute – honest I did. And I made real progress, I swear. But I never managed to make it sing.
I’m lucky enough to have a nice guitar – it sings to me. So although I haven’t abandoned the flute entirely, I’ve started to strum again. Like so many guitarists, I used to be able to twang away without ever coming to the point of having a specific set of pieces/songs that I could just do. I’m not going to fall into that trap this time, and a set of a dozen or fifteen numbers is almost ready. In the meantime, some scraps from round the garden table – so you’ll forgive the sounds of crickets, running water and dogs barking!
This isn’t the interesting, focussed blog you might have been looking for…
"Pica Pica" is, as I'm sure you knew, the name for the common magpie. It's no more than a collection of bits and pieces I wanted to make available for friends and family. I have other blogs for dharma related material (at DangZang), and a small one for translation at my work site.
In this misty morning Under the Bodhi tree We all sit close together And pray for universal well-being. My mind goes to my loved ones Who have passed away. I never cease to miss them. May they find their way to peace. My mind also goes to those Tibetans Who have burnt themselves alive […]