Tuesday, 13 January 2009

How would you feel if you were Hitler's brother?

You can get a good idea of the problems that Adolf’s half-brother Alois encountered from the story on the front page of the Sunday Dispatch of 14 October 1945, which had been used to wrap some lead figures I just unearthed.

ALOIS DOES NOT LIKE HIS NAME: HITLER – He’s quoted as saying “The name Hitler has sometimes been a source of embarrassment to me”, and his strategy was simple – the previous day he’d applied to change his name. To “Hiller”

The rest of the page is a testament to our lack of progress over the years:

900 GOOD HOUSES TO BE KNOCKED DOWN TO EXTEND LONDON AIRPORT – nearly 65 years later the same story, and the same village, Sipson, are in the news for precisely the same reason, as the Government announces its decision on Heathrow's third runway

PALESTINE ALL QUIET – “There have been no new military disturbances in Palestine during the last 24 hours, British military headquarters announced in Jerusalem last night”. However …

USA AND JEWISH CASE – “President Truman is understood to be considering advocacy of the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine, in place of the Jewish-Arab State envisaged by the British 1939 White Paper policy.” You get a clue to recent events when you read “This already delicate and difficult situation in which the British Government finds itself has not been made less difficult by the intervention of President Truman”. It’s all about us, really

US MAY RECRUIT A-BOMB SPIES – Apparently they were going to “live abroad in positions in which they would learn of any large-scale attempts to find the secret of atom bomb manufacture”. Didn’t they do well?

19th CHILD WAS 14lb – And after all those years of rationing too. The mother, from Grimsby, was just 43 and probably ready for further action

JAVA REBELS DECLARE WAR ON DUTCH – This was the work of Soekarno, a busy man, who’d declared an Independent Republic of Indonesia eight weeks previously. This time he gave advance warning of his tactics, listing his weapons of war: “all kinds of firearms; also poison, poisoned darts and arrows; all means of arson; any kind of wild animals ...”. Today, the airport is named after him

QUISLING APPEAL FAILS – Having already turned down suicide and exile, he faced the firing squad 10 days later. Today, traitors are named after him

MEN BEHIND DOCK STRIKES – This was the banner headline. Guess who they were. Step forward The Revolutionary Communist Party. However, in another part of the forest …

– Ah, those were the days.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Welcome to Boracic Park

That’s right – just now, while we’re still deciding whether to embrace poverty or kill ourselves, we’ve nothing better to do than write headlines with rhyming slang in them (boracic lint = skint, ie penniless).

And while our MPs are industriously fixing the income tax system so its worse excesses kick in about a quark above their salary, the rest of us are trudging round the recession theme park with our heads down looking for small change.However, since I wasn’t born yesterday, or even the day before, I can advise you about how recessions go:

Phase one – Denial

· Wall-to-wall media drivel from soi-disant experts about how to survive a recession and save your job

· Swingeing job cuts in the media

· Applause

· Young people saying life isn’t fair

· Old people saying they’ve seen it all before

· Miserable bastards saying this is the worst thing that ever happened in the history of the world

· Politicians, central bankers, treasury officials etc denying any prospect of a downturn

Phase two – Downturn

· Politicians, central bankers, treasury officials etc saying they’ve been warning about a downturn for years

· Companies going bust

· People having their homes repossessed by banks now partially owned by the people they’re kicking out

· More media drivel, but now with a harder edge, eg: how to live rough / grow turnips / make Christmas presents from gravel / darn socks / go bankrupt / emigrate / beg / shoplift / join the Foreign Legion / become an MP

· Gangs of middle class folk roaming the streets looking for rich people, politicians or bankers to lynch

· Global rope shortage

Phase three – Amnesia

· Sudden realisation that the recession has been over for two or three years but you couldn’t be arsed to go to work

· Credit boom

· Property boom

· What recession?

It’s all about timing isn’t it? By the time anyone’s spotted the problem we’re half way through it, and the only people who ever foresee a recession are those irritating swine who never predict anything else, and are thus as useful as stopped clocks – which are absolutely accurate twice a day. It’s just that you don’t know when.

Luckily I've had the foresight to get my hindsight in early, and I'm already working on the boom after next.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Welcome to Bear World

You thought that Bear Stearns and bear markets would be enough ursines to be getting on with, but no – welcome back to the Russian Bear, grinding its tanks across the Caucasus and scaring the shit out of everyone.

It’s like a blast of fresh air, straight from Siberia. The Russians have finally worked out that they don’t really like McDonald's, Levi’s, free elections, independent media, private enterprise or balsamic vinegar. They’ve given it 17 years, but enough’s enough, and they’re right – we know what we expect from our Russians, and it isn’t effete western rubbish like this.

Like it or not our view of the Russians is still defined by the Cold War – we want them inscrutable and brooding, scrunching around in their snow wearing boots, fur hats and greatcoats. We want them silent, sullen and morose, patrolling their borders and gulags, intercepting radio traffic, bugging hotel rooms, springing tender-traps, rounding up spies, and generally murdering people.

And it’s reassuring to note that they’ve lost little of their style. Liquidating a dissident in London is one of the set moves in this game so, rather than simply shoot Alexander Litvinenko two years ago, the poor man ended up dying on live TV poisoned by polonium-210. Nine out of 10 for artistic merit. And additional bonus points for having the prime suspect elected to the Russian parliament.

These guys are getting back into world class form, but what of the UK? Sadly, our response to the troubles in Georgia has conformed to the tenets of British Lite Culture. It’s true that strafing the Kremlin would probably be going too far, but wallowing in high dudgeon and squeaking with righteous pique isn’t going anywhere. Our Foreign Secretary is rushing around being pompous and building coalitions, and I fully expect ministers to start criticising the Russian military manoeuvres on the basis of their carbon footprint.

Somewhere deep in the Lubyanka a thick-set man with a crew-cut and plastic shoes turns to a henchman: “What has happened to the British? Where are their gunboats, their devious diplomats, their moles? Have they forgotten how to gloat, to infiltrate, to retaliate? Have they no wrath, no shame?”

As it happens, shamefully, we don’t. But by and large we’ve chosen to live in the present, despite the fundamentalist wings of both major political parties and the Anglican Church. Retro-politics is for folks who can’t hack it in the 21st century, but the Russians should remember who won last time. However, will they work this out before things get worse?

The answer to this involves woods and of course bears.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

It's a numbers game

In a cellar at dawn, I have severed the jugular vein of sacred bulls against a black rock. If your job application letter contains this line you are either mad or from Borges’s fictional Babylon, where the lottery company runs the state – or perhaps does not exist.

While in the UK Lotto is all about money, the Babylon Lottery goes deeper – the results of a draw may give you wealth or status, but could also decide your exile or execution. Every draw leads to several others, and each of these leads to more, so the lottery becomes infinite and impossible to grasp – any event in society might or might not be the result of an untraceable series of draws. In this regard it is exactly like the workings of the European Union.

However, the communication problem facing the UK lottery is that the only winners the PR team get to work on are those without the commonsense to opt for anonymity. And there’s only so far you can go with your glee over the good fortune of a rapist or armed robber.

We’re never going to find out about the sensible winners. Even if we know them personally they’re going to put their new Bentley Brooklands coupĂ© down to an astute investment or the death of a long-lost relative in the hedge-fund sector. I know I did.

But winning ticket-holders are only one side of the equation – on the other are the Good Causes, which get on average 20,000 lottery grants every year. Of course no-one can remember any of these, so the answer is obviously to change the rules and hypothecate.

You want to save a Leonardo for the nation? Give Jodrell Bank a makeover? Re-take the Bayeux Tapestry? Buy a seat for the Prime Minister on a Mars probe? Pitch it to the National Lottery Distribution Fund. They select the best (or weirdest) and publish a list of one a month for the next year. A Good Causes jackpot rolls over for three weeks and on the fourth the money goes to the project.

This would give the PR people something to get their teeth into. The selection controversies alone would be grist to the communication mill, but at least the wheel would be turning as supporters got behind their project.

So the message is clear: get special-interest lottery targets out into the open on a national scale and start fighting over them.

Unless you want to find yourself in a cellar at dawn with a knife and a sacred bull.

Monday, 9 June 2008

A rummage in the Ex Files

The UK is awash with memoirs from political has-beens: the ex prime minister’s whining wife; his giggling ex fundraiser-in-chief; and Bigfoot, his ex deputy. The only people who will read these are people who are either listed in the index or paid to (ie journalists and lawyers).

Each author has obeyed the first golden rule of memoir writing, which is to cash in while:

· people you are likely to savage (ie Gordon Brown) are still in the news

· publishers (and the public) can remember who you are

· newspapers are still interested in paying for serialisation rights

Large sums of money can be involved, so, if you fancy writing some memoirs yourself, why not use my handy template to save you time? For example, your chapters need to divide up along these lines:

· Early life – how you were so totally disadvantaged it’s surprising you survived at all, growing up in a slum with dysfunctional parents (or in a nice suburban house with a loving and supportive family – your ghost-writer will turn this into a nightmare for you)

· My struggle (it’s best not to use the German for this) – how you overcame everything, and dedicated yourself to the cause of saving humanity

· It wasn’t me, guv – blame lots of other people, but don’t bother naming them, for all the mistakes you made so publicly

· I told them at the time they were wrong – it doesn’t matter if this is untrue, you just have to get it on paper before your victims write their memoirs

· How the media lied about me – get your serialisation rights sorted, then lay into everyone else

· My secret illness – it doesn’t have to be bulimia; pseudo-psychological claptrap works well, but ensure your illness has symptoms which explain your crass behaviour. A famous British jockey, at his trial, relied on an illness whose only symptom was an inability to pay income tax

· My Rock – it doesn’t have to be your butler; it can be the wife who stood by you despite your serial adultery, or perhaps some religion or other you rightly kept quiet about at the time

· Why I hated the people I worked with – you need this for the media interest, but remember that their lawyers will be watching

· Why I couldn’t be honest with you at the time – copy something from Scott McClellan’s What Happened.

Whether you’re an ex politician or an ex CEO currently languishing in jail for fraud, this lot should see you through your book deal. But remember that when the Monster Raving Loony Party finally forms a government your book will take on a new life in the criminal justice system as people are sentenced to read it. To keep your street cred intact you'll want to come somewhere between community service and public flogging.