A leap in the not so dark !

Had it not been for the sight of beautiful maidens waiting on bended knee when we arrived at the allotments we codgers would have forgotten that today is the only one in four years when ladies are permitted to seek out the men of their dreams. As you will gather our fervid imaginations were in overdrive by Monday morning standards today. It was probably down to yet another dry morning after what the Met Office tells us was the wettest winter recorded since Julius Caesar decided that the toga was not a dress for all seasons. Either way it was a pleasant diversion from fretting about being members of Gorgeous George’s Northern Powerhouse, whilst living in an area named this morning as providing the 24 towns and cities in greatest decline.

But it seems to be inevitable that what we see bears little resemblance to what we hear from our dear leader and his fellow politicians. As we settled in the hut for a repast that would have made Eric Pickle’s eyes water, we spotted a classic example in this morning’s comics. According to the latest figures from the EU’s own Eurobarometer optimism about the future of the Union amongst its member states has plummeted to new depths. In France 52% of the population see the ‘club’ as a “failure”. Germany clocks in at 48% and smaller countries are even more pessimistic with such as Greece at 63%, Cyprus 58% and Austria 56%. There are rosier figures, notably in Poland and Romania, which report low levels of disillusion at 21%. We think we can work out the reason for that.

Now we are really confused. isn’t this the very institution which our dear leader tells us is our only hope of survival? It is indeed, but it seems that vast numbers of our fellow Europeans are clamouring to get out at the very moment when many of us are clamouring to stay in. On the latter point we can tell you that over the past few days we codgers have conducted our own very unscientific survey. Each of the twelve of us undertook to ask thirty people chosen at random for their views. The collective result is interesting.

A relatively small number said that, in roughly equal measure, they have already decided. Their totals balanced out. But the vast majority said that they are undecided, and do not trust politicians of any political persuasion. And they resent the daily outpourings of threats, most of which are so infantile as to comprise an insult to the intelligence of a demented ferret. It seems that what people want are objective assessments, something notably absent thus far.

Even this amateurish mini-survey prompted us to take a closer look at the fear-tactics being used. Arguably the most dramatic was Friday’s ‘letter’ from a group of ex-Generals warning us that ‘Brexit’ would render us vulnerable to attack from everyone from Isis to Vladimir Putin. Within hours of the letter’s publication signatories such as Sir Michael Rose had demanded apologies since they had not so much as seen the document, and others had claimed that it was the work of civil servants whose knowledge of defence was akin to that of Aston Villa.

Hot on their heels came articles from people such as Col Richard Kemp, the recent army commander in Afghanistan. He argues passionately that of all the arguments in favour of leaving the EU, defence is the most clear. Most EU members lack of commitment to defence is shown by their low spending – no other country equals the amount the UK spends in absolute terms, or as a percentage of GDP. Nato is the only military alliance and there is no suggestion that we would leave that. By leaving, argues Col Kemp, we would gain control over our borders and be better placed to confront those with “the potential to undermine the very fabric of our society”.

This is an important decision even though there are significant signs of the whole EU structure disintegrating. What we really find astonishing is the talk about the British people “leaping into the dark, being subject to profound shocks, being incapable of standing alone, of being too small”. If David Cameron really believes this it is, to quote Iain Duncan Smith, surprising that he would wish to run such a pathetic country.

At this point in the conversation many of my pals expressed great concern that anyone so much as contemplating a leap into the not-so-dark could be seen as anti-European. As our favourite madman has rightly pointed out it is entirely logical to love Europe, its culture, and its people whilst wishing to leave a Fifa-like bureaucracy that many of them now hold in contempt. Boris isn’t always right, but on this he talks sense.

There are months of this tortuous campaign to come, but we are weary of it already, and today we resolved to put it back in its box and to close the lid. We will reopen it only when both sides begin to treat us all as intelligent human beings. Meantime if our dear leader wishes to destroy the Conservative Party by threatening such as Michael Gove that is his affair.

Meantime we prefer to fill our heads with real threats, such as the fact that 14.4 per cent of our secondary schools already have excess pupil numbers, whilst many more are at the limit. An additional 300,000 young people are set to enter by 2020 and there is a real risk of their not being able to be find a place.

Unless ministers begin to pay attention that is a real risk of a leap into the dark, rather than an imaginary one!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I see Nato as the cornerstone of our security – not the EU. It works very well and I don’t see any need for a smaller organisation to usurp the role already carried out by Nato, which has a global reach”….Captain William Carver, Veterans for Britain, who completed two tours in Afghanistan.

Spring is in the air !

Like small boys on Christmas morning we eyed the pile of large cardboard boxes with more than a quiver of excitement this morning. We have long fancied a white birch to be seen in a neighbouring garden and a little research had revealed it to be Betula utilis var jacuemonti. In our mind’s eye we can already see a row of gleaming white trunks at the southern end of our allotments, an anticipation only slightly marred by Albert’s reminder that by the time they reach six feet we will all be that far down in a place that has no birch of any description. We shrugged his usual wet-blanket approach aside on the grounds that if one thought in this way one would never do anything.

Tomorrow we will dig holes to Monty Don dimensions, fill the base with donations from our hens and hey presto – Spring will be in the air. Already the daffodils are vying with the snowdrops to heighten the born-again feeling that always quickens our pulses as March looms. The resident blackbirds are gathering nesting material, hedgehogs are stirring in their log-pile quarters, and a low hum from the beehives suggests that other creatures are limbering up. What more could any man or woman ask? It sometimes felt as though the monsoons and fence-smashing winds would last for eternity, but once again mother nature is about to prove that good things come to all who wait.

Even for mad old codgers like us. That at least is the label we attract from many visitors to our hen co-operative, particularly the runs devoted to elderly chooks which long ago laid their last eggs. We never kill what many would regard as redundant creatures, our reasoning being that we owe them a happy retirement in return for a lifetime of contributions – something of a contrast to the state’s treatment of humans. And we are quite proud of the fact that our Columbian Blacktails, even in their dotage, still sport glossy plumage and, occasionally, red combs. Which is more than can be said for their fellow hens who end up on supermarket shelves.

Like humans in the days when it was possible to actually see a GP, they are stuffed to the gills with antibiotics and various other concoctions. Yesterday a report from the Food Standards Agency revealed that more than half of fresh shop-bought chickens have tested positive for the food poisoning bug campylobacter. Around 280,000 people suffer consequences, some distinctly unpleasant. Sainsbury’s had the highest overall level of chickens testing positive for the bug at 65.7 per cent, followed by Lidl (64.9) and Aldi (62.5). We tell you this not to attempt to dissuade you from eating chicken, but to emphasise the importance of free-range. The forced rearing of hens in battery like conditions is not only barbaric but dangerous.

By now we had retired to the cosy, fuggy allotments hut to consume a snack which we delude ourselves is always well earned. Today’s headlines in the daily comics told us that Gorgeous George has warned that there is to be new austerity belt-tightening in his March budget. But not it seems for MPs who are to get an inflation-busting increase of 1.3 per cent in April, to add to the back-dated boost of 10 per cent they “reluctantly” accepted just nine months ago. Perhaps the only consolation is that if our dear leader’s ‘In’ campaign succeeds in handing governance to Brussels we will not need them at all.

And, open borders apart, we codgers are not entirely opposed to such a development. Yesterday the European parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of an embargo on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia which, MEPs believe, is guilty of “widespread and systematic attacks on civilian targets”. Since the revelations of the sheer brutality of the Saudis by the United Nations the UK has licensed more than £2 billion of arms sales to them.

Sadly man’s inhumanity is not confined to man, for another story that caught our rheumy eyes was that of the continuing massacre of what is arguably the world’s most impressive beast. The President of Kenya is to host a historic gathering of African leaders in April to address the elephant-poaching crisis. It will be followed by the burning of a vast 120-tonne stockpile of ivory, a mere fraction of the slaughter carried out over the past year by poachers. They do this to exploit the vanity-demands of humans, many of whom will never rest content until the last elephant is gone.

It is sad that even as the natural world is once again renewing itself, man continues to destroy it. But we were in no mood for sober reflection. In our little world it is again time to prepare for beauty that “Solomon in all his splendour could never match”. And it will soon be time to head for Old Trafford and the latest instalment of the thoughts and deeds of Arsene Wenger.

But we won’t be eating the chicken burgers!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Courage is of no value unless accompanied by justice; yet if all men became just, there would be no need for courage “….Agesilaus 11.

Migration threatens to overwhelm us, and we are not alone!

Clear skies, no rain, no wind, no frost – what more could any allotmenteer desire? The mood amongst my fellow codgers was distinctly upbeat this morning as we cleaned out the hens. Even they looked quizzical, as if to ask why the new day was devoid of challenge. But their mood quickly changed with the arrival of the resident magpies, whose rat-a-tat greetings always spook them. Once the Arthur Scargills of the avian world had flown off to torment others the Columbian Blacktails soon settled to share their breakfast with the usual assortment of sparrows and bluetits.

We lesser mortals – that’s how it often feels to minds that lack the wisdom to live in the Now – cast one last look at the unusually tranquil scene before retreating to the hut where today’s ‘duty caterer, Tom, had laid out an impressive array of such health-giving fare as doughnuts and pork pies. Time for our daily gossip, one activity at which we seem to have increased our capacity at an age when so much else has diminished.

First up was our delight in seeing the Flying Scotsman back in action. The restoration has taken ten long years, but the odds are that all those who have laboured felt it all worthwhile as the magnificent giant swept all before it on the way to York. If only Dr Beeching had had the foresight to retain sections of the steam-powered lines – the Isle of Wight comes readily to mind – millions would now be flocking to experience the sense of magic that only steam-drawn carriages can create. But at least the King is back from the grave, and we have reservations for a day to remember.

A day to remember of a different variety occurred on Wednesday. Some of us are sad enough to regularly watch our dear leader’s Question Time, and this one was a corker. With the nation facing multiple crises, the two supposedly most powerful politicians in the land were facing each other across the despatch box. It is a weekly affair, one that reminds us that we Brits are sensible and have a grown-up democracy. Or does it – is Donald Trump quite as daft as we claim? We ask that because most of the allocated time was devoted to Jeremy Corbyn’s suit. “My mother would tell you to wear a suit and tie and to sing the national anthem”, cried our favourite Old Etonian.

You could see his point, because decent people such as Mussolini and Reggie Kray were always nicely turned out in a suit and tie. Idi Amin was always immaculate before he had someone boiled alive, whereas Ghandi was a scruffy urchin, which is why no one took notice of his views on healthcare. In any case the bearded one was wearing a suit and tie, and had he too received years of training in the art of PR would surely have replied: “Well, if your mother tells people to wear a suit and tie when they’re already wearing one, no wonder she signed a petition against your cuts”. He would also have responded to the maternal call for a rendering of the national anthem.

It would have seemed odd during PMQs, but needs must. But did she mean just one line, or all the verses, most of which none of us can manage without an autocue. Perhaps JC should at least have made an attempt. “God save our gracious Queen, I have a question from Gladys of Surbiton about street lights, God save our Queen, Bert from Reading wants to know about ten-year old potholes”. Frankly, and with all respect to the matriarch of the Cameroons, it was a pretty silly idea to install in her beaming offspring’s head.

But then the man that rose to be our leading star and mentor is impressionable. We only know this having read this morning’s article covering an interview afforded to the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. It seems that his early infatuation with his coalition partner faded. The man he hero-worshipped turned out to a scheming political rotter. However, we should perhaps treat young Nick’s intelligence with caution since he ends his confessions with the warning that entering into a formal coalition spells death for the junior partner – something that most of us predicted within minutes of that infamous marriage ceremony in the Downing Street rose garden.

The one subject that they all steered well clear of was immigration, although Nick did mention that his former boss had returned from Brussels with “thin gruel”. And in passing, Dracula (aka Michael Howard, former Tory leader) has let it be known that he supports a ‘Brexit’.

But without yet again boring the pants off our readers, we have to say that this subject is rapidly becoming a major one. For the second year in succession the net UK migration has sailed past the 320,000 mark – the equivalent of two very large towns. As in Rotherham the establishment averts its eyes from a subject that they fear could see them labelled as racists. But that is pure nonsense. The developing crisis is not one of race, colour, religion or gender, it is one of capacity. Every public service is now collapsing as a result of funding cuts combined with a dramatic increase in users. Unless government can increase funding in line with demand, our hospitals, schools, roads, local authority services and all will seize up.

Michael Gove, the most studious of men, yesterday remarked that unless we reinstate border controls to let in only those whose skills we need we face disaster. Fiddling around with benefits will deter no one from Eastern European countries for whom the UK ‘living wage’ represents untold riches. Unless even at this late stage David Cameron can reach agreement on closed borders his referendum is in reality a straight choice on population growth.

Ironically we are far from the only EU state worrying about open borders. In Germany and many other countries now struggling to cope with incoming numbers, at least half of which are not refugees, right-wing parties are climbing the polls at a frightening rate. Nowhere is that more evident than in what was once Merkel territory. Politicians who once held EU dreams are feeling very insecure. In today’s edition of The Spectator, the editorial wonders if in just two years time there will be an EU to leave.

We suspect that our dear leader’s “best friend” Boris has realised that.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Hopefully, voters will decide to leave this disastrous and stifling union”…Peter Hargreaves, co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown.

Paradise sounds more like hell !

We didn’t need a thermometer to know that last night’s frost was the hardest of the winter. Even the hen-run gate bolts needed the hot water treatment, and it took several buckets to melt the ice on the pond before a loud ‘plop’ signalled the release of the pent-up gases in the manner of Eric Pickles after a mid-morning snack. But the sky was blue, and the sensations of a winter morning were infinitely better than the morale-sapping monsoons that have plagued us for weeks. One reader has asked how the hens like the Scott-like mornings – since they can’t talk we don’t know but they seemed perky enough as they wandered around resplendent in their shiny winter feathers. And egg production remains high, surely a sign that they are happier than Albert.

As we cleaned out the coops we returned briefly to the subject of the EU referendum. We believe that we have detected the tactics of the Downing Street spin-doctors. People are by nature wary of change and the surest way to reinforce that tendency is to frighten them. Each day new warnings of the fate that awaits anyone stepping out from Aunty Merkel’s warm embrace pour forth. Today it is the turn of the former Defence Chiefs who, faced with the loss of both pensions and knighthoods, have told us that after a Brexit we would be far more vulnerable to attack. Try as we might we cannot imagine why. We would still be a leading member of Nato and our borders would be better protected. But as with this mornings claim by former Foreign Secretary David Owen, who already has his peerage in the bag, that we would be safer we are presumably meant to believe that the words of the mighty are sufficient.

If we needed any reminder that all members of the establishment are scarcely paragons of virtue it was provided by yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time. This was as bad a PMQs session as our dear leader has ever delivered. He has rarely been so comprehensively unlikeable: simultaneously misleading and snobbish. His tirade about the quality of the bearded one’s suit was, frankly, pathetic. If this is to be the intellectual standard of parliamentary debate we surely have little to treasure in the ‘sovereignty’ that little Michael Gove tells us we are about to lose. And the Cameron U-turn on Boris was little better. On Tuesday the rebellious Mayor was a “despicable opportunist”, yesterday he had become “a valued friend and highly respected public figure”. Perhaps the realisation that the human haystack commands the support of more than half of all Tory MPs has changed that Flashman mind.

But our appetite for such trivia was replaced by our bigger one for the dreaded sugar as we settled around the glowing hut fire for our daily intake. In no time at all our thoughts had turned to what is undoubtedly the real threat to the security of the whole of Europe. It isn’t Vladimir Putin or even Donald Trump, it is the ever growing cancer of the so-called Islamic State. Slowly but surely our European neighbours are forgetting their pledge of togetherness as victims of the most barbaric organisation the world has ever known drives millions from their native lands, whilst the fear of random bombings haunts their own citizens.

It is of course very difficult to wage war or provide security against people prepared to act as human bombs in the belief that paradise will be their reward. And with an increasing number of British citizens eager to head for Syria in search of that dubious end it is perhaps apt to remind ourselves of what awaits them. People in Mosul call it “The Biter” or “Clipper” – a metal instrument newly introduced by Isis officials to punish women whose clothes they claim do not completely conceal their bodies. A former school director, who fled earlier this month, describes the tool as causing agonising pain by clipping off pieces of flesh.

Isis insists that women be fully veiled, wear loose or baggy trousers, socks and gloves, and are accompanied by a male relative whenever they step outside their own homes. Public whippings and executions have become daily events and for women in particular living under Isis control is, to quote one refugee, a “living nightmare”. If this is a foretaste of the paradise to come one can only imagine it to be hell itself.

Of course the western powers continue to bomb supposed Isis enclaves but how can this ever do much more than increase the determination of the remaining innocent population to escape, or die in the attempt? Yesterday the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a referendum on the plan for mandatory migration quotas. The referendum will challenge last September’s binding decision by the EU for the relocation of refugees. Last week Austria set an 80-a-day ceiling on arrivals, and various other EU member states are preparing similar “illegal” moves. The whole of Europe is heading into a state of chaotic siege, and unless a realistic recognition of the need to fight Isis on the ground occurs the situation will continue to worsen.

Viewed against this ever growing murderous situation it seems strange indeed that yesterday our parliament was preoccupied with Jeremy Corbyn’s suit and the dangers of leaving a ‘club’ now in danger of disintegration. It seems to us codgers that if someone somewhere doesn’t soon face up to the reality of Isis it will not be only their crazed followers who will discover that paradise does not exist.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” A politician never believes anything he says, so he is always amazed when other people do”…Charles de Gaulle.