Sunday, January 31, 2010

Letter of the Week: The Yugoslavia 'precedent', by Neil Craig


This excellent letter, from our friend and regular commenter Neil Craig, appears in the Morning Star.

During the former attorney general's testimony to the Iraq inquiry the word "precedent" was used 16 times, overwhelmingly in regard to the precedent established by bombing Yugoslavia.

This was said to have been justified on the "new legal theory" that "a reasonable case could be made - I'm sorry, there was a reasonable case," to quote this eminent legal authority's testimony, that it was lawful to bomb people.

The interesting thing is that, whatever we may suspect about the honesty of the case made for WMD in Iraq, we know for an absolute fact that the case for the Yugoslav war - that Milosevic was engaged in genocide - was not only untrue but a deliberate lie. Like Iraq, Kosovo was a war undertaken without UN authority - and we never even attempted to get authority.

The real precedent provided by Kosovo, as Goldsmith said, is that "simply it is enough to say there is a reasonable case," however dishonestly, and that you can get away with murder. Mass murder.

Whatever whitewash we see at the Iraq inquiry, the case that Blair and his supporters are guilty of war crimes is undeniable. Indeed in Kosovo we saw the NATO-armed KLA, reappointed as NATO police, engaging in the ethnic cleansing of 350,000 people carried out under NATO command authority.

The NATO-funded war crimes commission has charged many Serbs largely on the grounds that they were part of a "joint criminal conspiracy." It can hardly now be denied that Blair, his supporters and at least his entire party organisation, were part of a joint criminal conspiracy to commit war crimes - and probably twice.

Neil Craig
Glasgow


The importance of the Yugoslavia ‘precedent’ cannot be underestimated.
As I argued here, and elsewhere, the road to Baghdad began in the Balkans, and, as Neil Craig says, the fact that Blair got away scot-free with an illegal and deceitful war in 1999, only emboldened him to do it again in 2003.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pinocchio Blair- Live in London!



Forget the Lion King. Pinocchio is back!
And he's clearly going for the Guinness World record for the number of lies anyone can tell in one day!

Here's Seumas Milne's take on today's events:

Once again, the chance to hold Tony Blair to account is being squandered by questioning that has ranged from the feeble to the shamefully complicit. Faced with such embarrassing cosiness (Lawrence Freedman plumbed the lowest depths), the former prime minister quickly overcame his initial nervousness. Far from conceding any ground over the aggression against Iraq, he repeatedly argued that the same "calculus of risk" now demanded similar action against Iran. The fact that he remains the Quartet's man in the Middle East should be cause for the deepest alarm.....

It's been classic Blair: the lawyerly evasions over the wording of the September 2002dossier, the self-deprecating asides over his Fern Britton interview gaffe, the deliberation conflation of the 9/11 attacks and Iraq's weapons programmes, real or imagined.....

Most outrageous, though, was his repeated and so far barely challenged assertion that Iraq was in "material breach" of repeated UN resolutions. In reality, the fact that Iraq had destroyed its WMD stocks in the 1990s means that it was not in significant breach of the resolutions at all. Even Blair's repeated claims that Iraq was failling to comply with resolution 1441 over inspectors' right to interview officials is simply not supported by Hans Blix's reports of the time.



And here you can read Mehdi Hasan's list of Pinocchio's ten worst Iraq war porkies.

And do you know what was the biggest lie of all? That Pinocchio genuinely believed that Iraq possessed WMD. Because if he had, we can be sure that he would never have attacked the country.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Arrest Tony Blair for crimes against peace!


The intention is to encourage repeated attempts to arrest the former prime minister. We have four purposes:
- To remind people that justice has not yet been done.
- To show Mr Blair that, despite his requests for people to “move on” from Iraq, the mass murder he committed will not be forgotten.
- To put pressure on the authorities of the United Kingdom and the countries he travels through to prosecute him for a crime against peace, or to deliver him for prosecution to the International Criminal Court.
- To discourage other people from repeating his crime.

We have no interest in people’s motivation, as long as they follow the rules laid down by this site. If they try to arrest Mr Blair because they care about the people he has killed, so much the better. But if they do it only for the money, that is fine too, and we will have encouraged an attempt which would not otherwise have taken place.
The higher the bounty, the more people are likely to try to arrest Mr Blair.


More details of the bounty here. (It's almost up to £10,000).
And bravo to George Monbiot for launching this initiative.

P.S.
If you're still unconvinced of the criminality of Tony Bliar, then please read this, this and this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Only Fools and Horses is a 'triffic' hit in Serbia


This piece of mine appears in The Guardian.

On the subject of OFH, I was disappointed to see the show's prequel, 'Rock and Chips', receive a panning by most tv critics. I thought it was rather good. How about you?

ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES: A 'triffic' hit in Serbia.
Unlikely as it may seem, Del Boy and the rest of the Trotters have achieved cult status in Serbia.
Neil Clark.

Prince Lazar. MiloŇ° Obilic. Prince Mihailo Obrenovic III. To this list of Serbian national heroes must be added another, more unlikely name: Derek Trotter.

The BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, which returned to our screens last night in the shape of a one-off prequel, Rock and Chips, has been sold to countries around the world. But it is in Serbia where Del Boy has achieved genuine cult status.

I first experienced the ­phenomenon on a visit to ­Belgrade in the late 1990s. The first question I was asked after saying I was from Britain was whether I was a fan of Del Boy. The second was whether I'd ever met David Jason.

During Nato's attack on ­Yugoslavia in 1999, Clare Short defended the bombing of ­Serbian state television by claiming it was a "source of propaganda". But when I was there all it seemed to be transmitting were the escapades of Trotters ­Independent Trading.

Today there are Serbian Facebook appreciation sites ­devoted to Mucke, the Serbo-Croat name for Only Fools and Horses, which translated means "suspicious job" or "shady business". In the ­Skadarlija district of Belgrade you can dine at Mucke, which claims to be the world's only restaurant devoted to the ­series. ­Naturally, Del Boy's ­favourite pina colada cocktail is also on offer.

In the kiosks on Knez ­Mihailova, the city's main ­boulevard, you can not only buy Only Fools and Horses DVDs, but "Dell Boy" [sic] badges, inscribed with some of his ­famous catchphrases. I bought one there last summer that read "This time next year, we'll be millioners."

Serbs who visit Britain for the first time are keen to hit the Trotter trail. "When I went to London my host asked me what I wanted to see first. ­Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, or Big Ben? I said I wanted to go to Peckham," Vesna Pesic, a businesswoman from Belgrade tells me.

So why is the programme, loveable as it is, particularly popular in Serbia?

"The life of Del Boy and ­Rodney is very similar to life here. They always have some crazy ideas to make money. They always get themselves in some ridiculous situations," says Svetlana Zecevic, an ­officer in the Serbian Ministry of Finance, and a huge fan of the show. As Del Boy might say, lovely jubbly.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hi-de-Hi! : the shows that prove today's comedy is a joke


video:mrjoemaplin

It's exactly 30 years this month since Hi-de-Hi first appeared on our screens. Here's my tribute piece to Jimmy Perry and David Croft's great series from the Sunday Express.
Above you can watch a classic clip from the show. Enjoy!


HI-DE-Hi! It’s exactly 30 years ago this month since the classic Jimmy Perry and David Croft comedy series made its debut on BBC television.

Set in a holiday camp in 1959 and featuring a wonderful array of comic characters the show was a huge hit with viewers, running for eight years and some 58 episodes.

The signature tune Holiday Rock became a hit and the programme won a Bafta for best comedy in 1984. Thirty years on the original camp comedy remains as popular as ever. last year there was a Hi-de-Hi stage show and the whole eight series are now available on DVD.

How can we explain its enduring appeal?

For a start the gentle, heart-warming comedy of Hi-de-Hi provides a refreshing contrast to the more aggressive and nastier humour that sadly dominates television schedules today.

Watch an episode of Hi-de-Hi and you’re left with a glow inside. Of how many of today’s comedy shows can we say that? Hi-de-Hi was a programme that could be enjoyed by all the family, young and old alike. My 80-year-old grandmother loved it and so did I as a teenage student. It’s a throwback to an age when comedy was inclusive and not merely aimed at one particular age group.

About the only comedy in recent years that has had this same cross-generational appeal is Only Fools And Horses, which is why so many of us will be tuning in to BBC1tonight to watch Rock And Chips, the show’s prequel. Hi-de-Hi was the third major comedy series from the pens of Jimmy Perry and David Croft after Dad’s Army and it Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

Perry and Croft’s formative years were in the Forties and Fifties and their work is characterised by a great nostalgia for the time when Britain was arguably at its best. Their humour is rooted not in an era of selfish, me-first individualism but in a time of great solidarity when people were working together for the common good.

Unfortunately in the past few decades our society has become more atomised and the wonderful spirit of camaraderie that saw Britain through the Blitz has evaporated. That said, it lives on in Perry and Croft’s work. “I think people looking at these shows see a gentler, nicer, decent and better kind of Britishness and they look back with genuine nostalgia,” says cultural historian Professor Jeffrey Richards.

Hi-de-Hi, like Perry and Croft’s other comedies, was based on the two men’s real-life experiences. Perry had worked as a redcoat at Butlins, Croft produced theatrical shows for holiday camps and because both men knew their subject matter well Hi-de-Hi had an authentic feel.

Another factor behind the show’s success was the inspired casting. Simon Cadell was perfect as the shy university professor Jeffrey Fairbrother, so out of his depth in running Maplin’s holiday camp. Ruth Madoc was superb as Gladys Pugh, the sultry vamp from the Valleys. The exuberant Su Pollard was born to play enthusiastic chalet maid Peggy, while real-life comedian Paul Shane was great as the camp’s comedian Ted Bovis.

Felix Bowness, passionate about horse-racing in real life, was ex-jockey Fred Quilley in charge of Maplin’s riding school. Veteran actor Leslie Dwyer was wonderful as the grumpy, child-hating Punch and Judy man Mr Partridge.

Good comedy always mixes laughs with moments of pathos and Hi-de-Hi was no exception. Who couldn’t feel sorry for Peggy, one of life’s great triers, in her never ending attempts to become a yellowcoat? Who couldn’t feel sympathy for Ted Bovis, the comic who had never quite made it? Whatever their failings all of the characters in Hi-de-Hi were loveable.

In one episode Ted, always on the lookout for some extra cash, engineers a scam by asking unsuspecting holidaymakers to donate to the Campers’ Amenity Fund. He puts the money he has collected on a horse, which wins at 33-1. In a meeting with Jeffrey Fairbrother he refuses to hand the money over, claiming that the bet hadn’t been put on but on hearing that an elderly couple had been robbed of the money they had saved up to pay for the flight to attend their daughter’s wedding in Canada he comes to their assistance.

In analysing Hi-de-Hi’s appeal we must not forget one very important factor: a comedy series lives or dies by its ability to make us laugh. Hi-de-Hi did just that. It mixed verbal humour with some great slapstick routines. Remember the scene when the pantomime horse rides a real horse over the fields? Mr Partridge, who is holding a bottle of whisky and a banana, sees the two horses. He looks at the bottle and then the banana. He throws the banana away and takes another swig of whisky.

Despite their proven track record Perry and Croft have not found favour with the new, trendy BBC management in recent years, with Perry being told that his work was too “traditional”.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of Hi-de-Hi wouldn’t it be nice if the corporation for once listened to the public and commissioned another Perry and Croft series?

And wouldn’t it be fitting if Britain’s two greatest comedy writers received official recognition for the enormous pleasure they have given to so many people in the shape of two long overdue knighthoods?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Profiting from Haiti's crisis


‘Wars, conflict- it’s all business', says Monsieur Verdoux, Charlie Chaplin’s anti-hero in the classic 1947 film.

He might have added ‘disaster relief’ too.

US corporations, private mercenaries, Washington and the International Monetary Fund are using the crisis in Haiti to make a profit, promote unpopular neoliberal policies, and extend military and economic control over the Haitian people.
While international leaders and institutions are speaking about how many soldiers and dollars they are committing to Haiti, it is important to note that what Haiti needs is doctors not soldiers, grants not loans, a stronger public sector rather than a wholesale privatization, and critical solidarity with grassroots organizations and people to support the self-determination of the country.


You can read the whole of Benjamin Dangl's excellent piece 'Profiting from Haiti's crisis', over at Global Research.

On the same website, do try and read this great article by Michel Chossudovsky, on the militarisation of US aid to Haiti.

And here is Michel’s brilliant 2004 article on the Washington/IMF/World Bank destabilisation of Haiti- and the similarities with the Washington-led destabilisation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia a few years earlier.

Monday, January 18, 2010

No, we won't forget it, Mr Cohen


Your hero Tony Bliar is a war criminal and will end up in a prison cell.

Nor will we ever forget the role that warmongering journalists like you played in propagandising for a blatantly illegal and immoral conflict.

Oh, and here’s the latest news from oh so democratic ‘liberated’ Iraq.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Press Blue Button for Privatisation


This article of mine appears in The Morning Star.
Do please try and sign the Bring Back British Rail Petition, mentioned below!


Will the BBC survive a new Conservative government? Despite David Cameron's claim that he was a "big fan" of Auntie on the Andrew Marr show last Sunday, the oldest broadcasting company in the world looks set for the toughest years of its long existence if, as expected, Cameron's manic privatisers get elected this spring.
Last year shadow arts minister Ed Vaizey, a member of Cameron's inner circle, suggested the selling off of Radio 1.
And although the Tories denied that it was official party policy, a Daily Telegraph report quoted an unnamed Tory MP who said: "Radio 1 and Radio 2 are ripe for a sell-off, perhaps even BBC1."
The sad thing is that the BBC has very few allies in new Labour either. In December the government added BBC Worldwide to the list of assets it wants to sell off, despite the BBC's opposition to such a step.
The calls for profitable parts of the BBC to be hived off is reminiscent of the way that British Rail was gradually dismantled in the 1980s.
In 1982 the profitable British Transport Hotels was sold off. British Rail's ferry operator Sealink, despite earning a profit before interest and tax of £12.8 million for the year ending December 31 1983, was flogged off to a Bermuda-based US-owned company in 1984.
And in the late 1980s British Rail Engineering was broken up and sold too. And we all know what happened after that.
Of course the BBC has many faults. There's the obscene salaries it pays its top "stars" and high-level executives. There's its biased reporting of international events - Auntie has provided massive coverage of anti-government protests in Iran, but much less on demonstrations against the illegal coup d'etat in Honduras.
There's its craven pro-Israeli stance, highlighted by its refusal to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for the people of Gaza last year. And its continuing enthusiasm - even after the debacle of Iraq - for inviting discredited warmongering neocons on to its current affairs programmes.
But all these things can be put right by making the BBC more democratically accountable.
Privatisation is most certainly not the answer.

********************************************************************

Apparently it was Duchess of Westminster Loelia Ponsonby who said: "Anybody seen on a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life."
Well, if bus fares continue to rocket in Britain, soon it will only be the rich who will be able to travel on them.
Alarmed at the poor deal that passengers are receiving from the bus companies, the Office of Fair Trading has decided to refer the bus sector, which receives around £2.5 billion a year from the public purse in subsidies, to the Competition Commission.
The OFT believes that greater competition between bus companies will lead to a better deal for passengers and taxpayers. But is that really true?
Do passengers really want to see several bus companies operating on the same route? Or do they simply want to have an affordable, reliable service?
Nearly 25 years on from the Thatcher government's destruction of the state-owned National Bus Company, it's time to acknowledge that bus privatisation - like the privatisation of the railways, water and the energy sector - has been a disaster for the general public.
The answer is not more competition, as the OFT seems to think, but to bring back the National Bus Company as part of an integrated, publicly owned, public transport system.

****************************************************************

On the subject of the destruction of Britain's railways, I'm pleased to announce that the newly formed pressure group Bring Back British Rail has organised an online petition to No 10 Downing Street calling for the return of a publicly owned railway.
The group, set up by rail commuter Ellie Harrison, demands:
An end to private interest in public transport.
A fully integrated, publicly owned rail network, in which the passengers are always the most important stakeholders.
Consistently low-priced fares and fast, frequent and efficient services which have the capacity to continually improve and expand in order to encourage more people to choose rail travel as a real, green alternative to their cars.

The petition, which at time of writing already has over 1,000 signatures, can be signed at petitions.number10.gov.uk/bringbackbr

*************************************************************

The neoliberal noughties were not a great decade for public ownership - but towards the end of the decade there were definite signs that the tide has turned.
In 2008 New Zealand renationalised its railway network. In Venezuela Hugo Chavez carried out a radical programme of nationalisation. In Argentina many assets sold off in the 1990s have been bought back into public ownership.
All over the world, public opposition to privatisation has grown. There can be few people today who don't realise that privatisation benefits only big business and the very rich, but unfortunately the hold that capital has over political parties in countries such as Britain means that public opinion is not reflected in the positions taken by our political representatives.

Let's hope that by the end of this decade, increased public anger with privatisation will finally force a change of approach, and that all the assets flogged off by governments around the world over the past 30 years or so will be back where they belong - in public ownership.

Neil Clark is co-founder of the Campaign for Public Ownership.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dutch Inquiry: Iraq war had no legal mandate


The BBC reports:

An inquiry into the Netherlands' support for the invasion of Iraq says it was not justified by UN resolutions.
The Dutch Committee of Inquiry on Iraq said UN Security Council resolutions did not "constitute a mandate for... intervention in 2003".
The inquiry was launched after foreign ministry memos were leaked that cast doubt on the legal basis for the war.
The Netherlands gave political support to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but had no military role.
The report demolishes the Dutch case for supporting the invasion, says the BBC's Europe correspondent Jonny Dymond.
It could also be taken to reinforce the international case against the Iraq war, he says.


In the First Post, Robert Fox writes:

While he (Alistair Campbell), was protesting that Tony Blair, honourable as Brutus, acted with the deepest sincerity and the best of intentions, a high-powered inquiry headed by a former Dutch supreme court judge, Willlibrord Davids, reported that the Netherlands and its allies had no excuse under any interpretation of international law for going to war in Iraq in March 2003.
This is the third inquest into the Netherlands' participation in the Iraq war in 2003; though the Dutch didn't join the invasion, they sent troops in support and to help with the occupation. This is the harshest judgment of the Iraq war so far, and comes from a legal system and tradition of men like Hugo Grotius, a founding father of the modern concept


Of course, the Dutch inquiry only confirms what those of us who opposed the war have maintained all along: that the war had no legal basis. But it strengthens even further the case for bringing those responsible for the crime of the century to justice.

What on earth are we waiting for?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gas shortage: Who got us into this mess?


This article of mine appears in the First Post.

Obsessed with the free market, Thatcher created the problem – and Labour hasn’t helped. As the National Grid issues a fourth warning about gas supplies, Neil Clark pins the blame on Lady T.

Britain is within seven days of running out of gas if the cold spell continues and fresh supplies don't arrive soon. Gordon Brown has assured us that supplies are not running out, but the National Grid yesterday issued an unprecedented fourth gas balancing alert. It also issued an appeal for more gas to be pumped into the UK after promised supplies from Europe failed to materialise.

The Conservative opposition have, unsurprisingly, been quick to make political capital out of the stoppage of gas supplies to nearly 100 businesses which occurred last week and which are likely to be necessary again this week. But they really are the last ones to talk. For it was the Conservative government, elected in 1979, which is largely to blame for our current energy problems.

Up to 1979, Britain, under both Labour and the Conservatives, had pursued a sensible, balanced energy policy - one which looked to the future and sought to make the country as self-sufficient as possible.

But in 1979, free market dogma took over from commonsense. From now on, Britain's energy policy was that we didn't have an energy policy. Instead of forward planning, 'market forces' would decide everything.

The state-owned British National Oil Corporation was privatised. And the government opted for oil to be extracted as quickly as possible, in order to pay people not to work, instead of extracting more slowly and taking into account our 21st century needs. In the words of Alex Kemp, professor of petroleum economics at Aberdeen University, "Oil revenues were used as part of macro-economic management rather than energy policy, looking 30 years ahead."

The gas market was "liberalised" - with British Gas being sold off in 1986.

And, perhaps most damagingly of all, Britain's coal industry was all but destroyed - not because it made economic sense (it didn't), but because of the government's desire to crush Arthur Scargill's National Union of Mineworkers.


You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Big Pharma strikes again: the 'false' swine flu pandemic


From today's Daily Mail:

The swine flu outbreak was a 'false pandemic' driven by drug companies that stood to make billions of pounds from a worldwide scare, a leading health expert has claimed.
Wolfgang Wodarg, head of health at the Council of Europe, accused the makers of flu drugs and vaccines of influencing the World Health Organisation's decision to declare a pandemic.
This led to the pharmaceutical firms ensuring 'enormous gains', while countries, including the UK, 'squandered' their meagre health budgets, with millions being vaccinated against a relatively mild disease.
A resolution proposed by Dr Wodarg calling for an investigation into the role of drug firms has been passed by the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based 'senate' responsible for the European Court of Human Rights.
An emergency debate on the issue will be held later this month.
Dr Wodarg's claims come as it emerged the British government is desperately trying to offload up to £1billion of swine flu vaccine, ordered at the height of the scare.
Last year, the Daily Mail revealed that Sir Roy Anderson, a scientist who advises the Government on swine flu, also holds a £116,000-a-year post on the board of GlaxoSmithKline.
GSK makes anti-flu drugs and vaccines and is predicted to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic.


Big Pharma hyping up the dangers of swine flu in order to increase profits? Who'd ever have thought it!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

In Memoriam: Terry-Thomas 1911-1990


video:jonnyredeyes.

It’s exactly twenty years since the death of one of Britain’s funniest film actors: Terry-Thomas.

TT has always been a big favourite of mine- I particularly loved his portrayal of upper class cads Sir Percy/Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage in those great 1960s Ken Annakin films Those Magnificient Men in their Flying Machines and Monte Carlo or Bust. (The latter is on Film 4 tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon at 4.35pm- any British based readers who haven't seen it yet are in for a real treat).

Above you can watch an interview TT gave on the Russell Harty show back in 1973. I hope you enjoy the bull story at the end!

Friday, January 08, 2010

2010 Man of the Year: George Galloway?


Well, we're only 8 days into the year, but George Galloway has already established himself as an early favourite for the 2010 Man of the Year award.

As one of the commenters on The Guardian thread says: This is the kind of politician we need in this country.
A politician who doesn't just talk about injustice, but who tries to do something practical to help end injustice.

And as for Egypt, the country which has arrested and deported George, what can we say? There have been many calls for a boycott of Israel in response to its cruel treatment of the Palestinians and its inhumane blockade of Gaza, but if we are concerned about the plight of the Palestinians, then surely we should also be talking about boycotting Egypt too- so long as the current corrupt regime stays in power.

As Seumas Milne pointed out yesterday, it's interesting- and revealing- to compare the virtual silence of large sections of the western media when it comes to anti-democratic practices in Egypt, and the brutal clampdown on opposition forces there, with the wall-to-wall coverage of anti-government demonstrations in Iran.

UPDATE: In similar vein, Mehdi Hasan over at the NS writes:
In recent months, there has been much talk of a "boycott" of Israeli goods but -- as defenders of Israel often point out -- advocates of such a strategy have to be consistent. If you're going to boycott Israel because of its morally reprehensible and near-criminal economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, why not boycott its accomplice Egypt as well?

2009 Man of the Year: Herman van Rompuy


A bit late for this award, but better late than never.

For the last couple of years, our Man of the Year has been Hugo Chavez, the man the faux-left and their warmongering neocon allies love to hate. But while Hugo played another blinder in 2009, both at home in Venezuela and on the international stage, I thought we'd give the dear boy a break for this year's award.

Herman van Rompuy, the modest and amiable Belgian politician has two great achievements to his name. First he kept his wonderful country together during his time as Prime Minister.
Second, his name is not Tony Blair.

If ever you feel a little bit down in 2010, just keep repeating the following words
'Tony Blair is not EU President'.

The neocons and their faux-left allies certainly wanted him to be.

But Herman scuppered their plans. And witnessing their indignation that a Belgian- yes a Belgian- and not the great World Statesman Blair landed the EU's top job, was one of the treats of the year.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why freezing winters warm my heart


Snow is falling all over Britain and over much of continental Europe too. Good!

Here’s my piece on why Britain would be a much better place if we had more traditional winters, from the Sunday Express.


DON'T fret over the inconvenience caused by arctic conditions. NEIL CLARK says a return to truly cold, old-fashioned winters, and the beautiful frosty landscapes they create, would make Britain a far better place.


I have a confession to make. Over the past few weeks I have fallen in love again with an old childhood sweetheart, a sweetheart who possesses great beauty and enormous charm, who is thrilling, exciting and quite magical. My wife doesn’t have to worry, though, for the subject of my affection is not another woman but a season: the traditional British winter.

There are some for whom the decidedly old-fashioned snowy, icy weather we have been experiencing recently has been most unwelcome but I am not one of them and neither was author George Gissing. He wrote: “honest winter, snow-clad and with the frosted beard I can welcome not uncordially.” I merely wish that every winter could be like this one, with regular heavy snowfalls and plenty of cold, frosty mornings. If that were the case, then I believe Britain would be a much better place in which to live.

If you were stranded on a snow-blocked road over the festive period, or one of the thousands of Eurostar passengers who had to endure long waits due to the breakdown of trains, then I’m sure you’ll be shaking your head in disagreement.

It is precisely because cold, snowy weather has been so infrequent in Britain in recent years, however, that it causes such havoc and disruption when it does arrive.
If traditional British winters did return, we’d all be better prepared and could enjoy the benefits of “honest winter” without any of the downsides. Our cars would be routinely fitted with winter tyres, our trains with miniature snow ploughs and our councils would have no excuse not to grit the roads on a regular basis. We need only look at Norway to see how a modern European country can function perfectly normally in winter.

Then there are the psychological benefits that a return to proper winters would bring. It is good for our mental health that every season is different. It makes life more interesting and provides us with a natural rhythm. In the past 20 years, the seasons here seem to have merged into one, with mild, wet weather predominating for 12 months of the year. Winter has been reduced to a slightly colder version of autumn, with snow and heavy frosts becoming increasingly rare. In some parts of the country during the Nineties and Noughties, a generation of children grew up not knowing the pleasures of building a snowman, sledging or snowball fights.

Cold winter weather is the perfect antidepressant. Go for a good walk on a crisp winter’s morning, when the temperature is hovering around 0C, and your breath “to heaven like vapour goes” and you come back feeling glad to be alive. do the same thing when it’s raining and the temperature is around 12C and you don’t get anywhere near the same buzz. Freezing weather is also a lot healthier for us, killing off all the nasty bugs and germs that thrive in mild, wet winters and make our lives such a misery.

I am lucky enough to remember the classic snowy winters of the early and late Seventies and early Eighties. I remember the sense of wonder of leaving a cinema with my mother during Christmas 1970 and finding that it was snowing heavily as we stepped outside. I can recall the epic snowball fights my friends and I had in the winter of 1979. They called that one the Winter of Discontent but it certainly wasn’t if you were a 12-year-old schoolboy.

My love affair with honest winter was rekindled when I moved to work abroad in the Nineties, first to Switzerland and then to Hungary.

There was one particular occasion I recall in Budapest, when it snowed heavily from Friday morning to late Saturday evening, turning the city, beautiful at the best of times, into a magical winter wonderland.

Since returning to live in Britain 10 years ago, my wife and I have pined for the sort of winters that we both experienced as children. Our spirits soar when we hear that a cold front is on its way, with the chance of snow or frosty conditions. All too often the snow fails to materialise but when it does it never fails to thrill. For a few days before Christmas our back garden was covered in a light blanket of snow but the scene was made even more beautiful by two days of hard frosts and freezing fog. Forget Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the greatest artists of all time for my money are Mr Snow and Mr Ice, with their ability to transform even the most unremarkable landscape into a work of unbelievable beauty. You don’t even have to go to an art gallery to see their work.

The return of proper, traditional winters would help restore a little bit of magic to our lives. Globalisation has undoubtedly made Britain a less colourful, less magical place to live over the past 20 or 30 years. Our towns and cities, previously so distinct from each other, are dominated by the same chain stores. The same few football teams win all the trophies. Regional differences in dress have all but disappeared. Life has in many ways become boringly standardised and sanitised.

Snow and ice remind us of times when things were very different. So here’s to a new decade of some honest winter weather.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy New Year (and Merry Christmas again!)



A very Happy New Year (and new decade) to everyone.

And a very Merry Christmas to those readers in Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere who will be celebrating Christmas this week.