Friday, May 28, 2010

Question Time

The attempt by the ConDem Coalition to seize editorial control of the BBC's "Question Time" by refusing to supply a Cabinet Minister if Alastair Campbell was also on the panel is outrageous.

It's common practise, by all accounts, for a certain amount of negotiation to occur before these programmes, but a flat refusal to supply a member of the Government if the "Question Time" editors didn't do as they were told is an unacceptable abuse of our allegedly free media. Or it's an attempt to abuse our free media, anyway, since it didn't work. Congratulations are due to the BBC for their refusal to be bullied.

Of course, the Government have said, since, that they were not attempting to choose the "Question Time" panel; that they were actually just taking time to choose an appropriate Minister to counter the presence of Mr Campbell (or something), and that the BBC had booked Conservative backbencher John Redwood before they (the Government) located anyone. But that has the sound of the excuses that we all make, when we get found out.

Mr. Campbell himself says it was probably a case of boneheadedness on the part of the ConDem media team, who didn't foresee how their intervention with the BBC would play. That Mr. Cleggeron may not even have been aware of what was happening until afterwards.

I think there were probably some old scores that someone was attempting to settle too, given how central Campbell was to the New Labour revolution in the Nineties. He made a lot of enemies back then, as the Labour Party did itself, by stepping outside of its habitual role in parliament, and winning.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peter Orlovsky

I read on various blogs and social networking pages that Allen Ginsberg's lifetime companion Peter Orlovsky is seriously ill.

Anybody familiar with the literature and counter-culture of the 1950s and 60s in America will know what a significant figure Orlovsky is. He served as a muse for Ginsberg throughout the latter's life and is an accomplished poet in his own right.

His poems possess a lyrical eccentricity and unrestrained appreciation of beauty that place them in both the avant-garde and the classical traditions. Just try his Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs and you'll see what I mean.

The word on his health is not promising, but let's hope against hope that he makes it. I'm not sure how many more of those crazy wisdom poet saints our society can afford to lose.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nutter Is Such A Subjective Kind Of Word

Sometimes I fear for this country.

Yesterday I heard someone say, without any sense of irony, on a phone-in about the deportation of a suspected terrorist, "The only way to get rid of these fanatics is to shoot them."

And perhaps even more worryingly, he was allowed to say it, and not admonished by the fellow chairing the discussion for his inflammatory statement. If a Muslim had said the same thing about we supposedly reasonable, moderate Englishman, the chair would have been fired and the radio station shut down.

But the man phoning in was English of course. This is his country. If a man can't be an intemperate nutter in his own country, where can he be an intemperate nutter?

The suspected terrorist, as I understand it, had been tried without seeing the evidence against him. But his deportation, after the trial was over, had been stopped because the suspect said he feared persecution in his own country.

Which caused outrage, naturally, among those who had put their copies of The Sun and The Daily Mail down long enough to listen to the show.

We were treated to many tirades like the call to murder described above, and all in the name of some natural order or common sense patriotic view that the liberal establishment were attacking with their desire to defend "everything except their own country".

I have said elsewhere, and I believe it, that true patriotism is living up to your country's best principles rather than going down to the level of the worst of your enemies. We are supposed to be, in the United Kingdom, a beacon for democracy, fairness, equality, tolerance, are we not?

Or perhaps I have got it wrong and all we stand for is illiteracy, substance abuse, shaven heads, St. George flags, bullying, intolerance and spite?

Standing up for absolute values of decency and justice would win us the diplomatic war against all but the most pathological of our enemies, I say. But I fear the minority I have been in for so long is shrinking around me with every day that passes, and every new pseudo-liberal pronouncement that the Coalition makes to delude itself and us about what's happening in the country.

These days I hear so much stupid, hate-filled conversation every time I step out of my house, I wonder if I even live in England anymore.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

11 Ballot Papers? Willie Walsh, I Hope That You're Blushing

The High Court ruling yesterday blocking the planned strike by BA cabin crew on the most ludicrous of technicalities does profound discredit to BA and to the Law.

The strike was stopped because Unite, the union, had failed to notify those balloted, which I believe numbered between 10,000 and 11,000 employees, that 11 ballot papers were spoiled.

This is the law, interested parties are telling the tv and the newspapers.

Leave aside that there was an overwhelming vote in favour of strike action. Leave aside that the 11 spoiled papers would have had no effect on the outcome of the ballot if they'd been correctly completed and counted into the total number of votes. It's the law.

It's a stupid law when it has no impact on the outcome of the vote. Just one of many unreasonable, obstructive and petty pieces of legislation introduced by Thatcher and her cronies, and not repealed by Blair or Brown, to restrict a man or woman's right to withdraw their labour -- at the inconvenience of their employer, yes: that's the point -- to settle an industrial dispute.

Governments of all hues these days lean into money and away from the smell of raw humanity.

But it makes no sense for BA to use this technicality to prevent the strike because Unite only has to ballot its members again, and observe the petty rules more correctly this time, to continue what has been so stupidly interrupted. They will also have caused more anger and resentment among the cabin crews, which won't do anybody much good when it comes to achieving an actual resolution of the dispute.

My sense, though, is that BA doesn't want a resolution. Not with Unite, or its supporters among the crews. I think Willie Walsh wants to drive the union out of the workforce. And the new Liberal/ Conservative Coalition, with its aversion to any principle other than materialism, will undoubtedly go along with that (and it won't matter if the LibDem backbenchers object, since Nick Clegg bargained away their own right to vote freely).

The majority of the British public will go along with any plan to deunionise the BA workforce too, since strikes get in the way of nice sunny holidays.

Any industrial action that gets in the way of consumerism seems beyond the pale for the average citizen in 2010. Railwaymen? Bah! I have to be in Birmingham for a seminar tomorrow! The selfishness, and the naivete that demonstrates about how the industrial system works, is staggering.

Why do they think unions were formed, putting early members in great danger, in the first place? Because people are nice when they have swimming pools and yachts and 24-hour nannies to protect? Because society is really, intrinsically fair?

Yeah, right.

If Charles Dickens came back to life today, he'd be banging his head in frustration wondering why the hell nobody listened.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Virginia Woolf

I've been reading the diaries of Virginia Woolf just lately. She's an exquisite writer; somebody I find I like more and more as I get older; and I write my own novel much more easily when I've been reading her. Our styles have nothing in common, but the quality of her prose convinces me of something or other that I need to be convinced of in order to write. Whether it's the importance of what I'm attempting -- and what she did so brilliantly -- I don't know. Maybe it's just that there is stiff competition out there and before I'm dead I ought to stop calling myself a writer and write.

But a stray thought occurred to me about how the celebrity culture has distorted our expectations of success as I read the book over coffee this morning. Virginia writes that she considers one book -- I think it's "To The Lighthouse" -- a tremendous hit (though she would never use such a vulgar word) with the public because she has sold 1600 copies of it. Think about that. Yes, she became one of a handful of writers to achieve literary immortality; but in her lifetime she was thrilled about the sale of 1600 books. If Lady Ga-Ga sold 1600 copies of her new album or James Cameron sold 1600 dvds of "Avatar" both would be declared a disaster.

What that demonstrates is the importance of quality. You should strive for that first and then see what happens.

Very little would make me happier than thinking, just before they carry me off to the worm farm, that I have made something for the ages rather than the stupid fashions of our time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cool Hand Bruce

Last week was strangely bookended for me. Interviewed for a university place on Monday morning, discussing William Blake and Ezra Pound in a room full of books and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and then signing on at the dole office for the first time in many years on Friday, with crowds of quiet men and women waiting for their turn to be politely grilled on the "jobseeking" they'd done since they last signed on. They have to do this before they can get their next cheque, and despite the fact that I had to go through it myself, I think it might be a good thing. We all need a little help every now and then, and sometimes a firm push too, once we've settled into the easy routine of living broke and doing nothing.

The decision I've made to do a degree is going to leave me broke for the next three years at least, if I can afford to go at all. I still don't know because full-time students can't get Jobseeker's Allowance or Income Support; they can't, for some reason, get Housing Benefit either, although they can get Council Tax Exemption (the distinction between the last two escapes me). These rules all seem to be based on consideration of the student loan as income, which is absurd because £3000 of that pays for the cost of the course and you can get another £5000 at the most on top of that -- this, at least, is all the money I've been discovered I can apply for so far. I wait for friends who've been down this road before me to tell me otherwise.

The other presumption that entitlements are worked out under the guidance of seems to be that students are all 18, and that if they're not, they will be part of a household where somebody else can support them. I'm not. I have a partner who is earning, but we don't live together. Nor does she earn enough to prop me up through the next three financially grim years.

So I have to rely on the hope that I will find a part-time job of some sort, something which suits my uni hours. This is difficult because my poor health these days procludes me from doing the job for which I'm trained. If I could get a gig as a night care worker for a few nights a week I would be sorted. But care homes don't want to employ staff who might have seizures.

Something will come along, though. I still have two or three months to work it out; and if I don't by then I'll just have to become an epileptic porn star.

Here's Your New Politics

This is the demographic make-up of the Cameron/Clegg Coalition representing "new politics": 23 millionaires, 29 white people, no black people, 1 Asian person, 26 men, 4 women, and no lesbians, gay men or bisexuals.

Sounds pretty much like the old politics to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Milliband May Have The Jazz, But Do I Really Care?

I listened to the speech David Milliband gave yesterday announcing his intention to stand for the Labour leadership in the coming contest -- if you can call anything a contest when there is only ever going to be one winner -- and felt a tiring sense of deja-vu about his words.

He is probably exactly what Labour needs to get elected to Government again. His Obama-ish rhetoric about humility and public service, and his declared plan to tour constituencies Labour didn't win talking to voters about the reasons why certainly sounded statesmanlike.

But haven't we, or at least I, been here before? Yes: in '83/'84, under Neil Kinnock, after Michael Foot stood on principle rather than pragmatism and Labour was hammered by Margaret Thatcher, and then in '93 or '94, whenever it was Tony Blair stood for the leadership. Kinnock made Labour electable again, somewhat to the cost of his own principles and trade unionism, and Blair (and Brown) did some wonderful things and some very bad things; but I questioned, listening to Milliband talk, whether I had the stomach to go through the whole rebranding-of-Labour process again.

Rebranding, after all, is what it is, even in terms of the policy changes. The exercise is to find a way to re-sell Labour to the country, as if it were a bar of soap or an energy drink. And unlike Kinnock (who I came eventually to admire) I do not imagine this Labour leader --we'll pretend we don't know it's David Milliband -- will need to be overdramatic in any changes he makes, unless he is to move Labour even further to the right. The manifesto that Labour stood on this time was a reasonable one, with the exception of the PR blunder their National Insurance policy proved to be. If they'd stroked the press barons and Gordon Brown had been smarmier and less funereal they might have won.

Perhaps I'm suffering from post-Election ennui. Or perhaps I'm just getting too old. I have, after all, been a political junkie for a very, very long time now.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the Parlour of the Devil At Last

We have what David Cameron is disingenuously calling the Liberal/ Conservative Coalition now. As if it were a fair and true balance of power and we had anything other than Conservative Government by the back door.

That, anyway, is my instinct. Others might say that I was intellectually a part of the "old politics" and that compromise is the mark of the new game in Westminster. Mr. Cameron even tried to persuade us that compromise is somehow the mark of a sophisticated mind.

Perhaps it is. It depends what we mean by sophisticated. Somehow when David Cameron utters such words (I can't remember if he used that one specifically, but he spoke in the same linguistic ballpark)  I associate them with insincerity and seduction. And when Nick Clegg utters them I associate the words with a kind of commendable juvenile idealism.

We have now a vote on creating an elected Second Chamber in Parliament and that's excellent. We have a referendum on A.V. which the so-called Progressives in the country may or may not win. But we also have the cap on immigration, the slash-and-burn of public services that Labour sought to prevent, and no removal of Trident. What have we really won?

I look forward to seeing how the Lib Dems behave when the free vote on the reintroduction of hunting is introduced.

Hot Damn, The Bard Of Semilong's Going To Uni

Political events are momentous at present, although now that we have a Cameron-Clegg Conservative/LibDem Coalition Government they might perhaps slow down for a bit. But things have progressed in my own life too, as I've been sitting by the radio listening to the news from Westminster. Today I received, and accepted, an unconditional offer to go to University as a mature student and do an English Literature degree this coming September.

This probably means very little to anyone other than me and my small, immediate circle, but if anybody has been brave enough to return to Suffolk Punch and its relentless grumbling bad news, finger-pointing and simultaneous self-reproach over the years, I feel they deserve to know when there is a break in the gloom, even if it's only a temporary one. And I'm determined this one's going to be permanent.

I haven't worked out how I'm going to support myself over the next three years, and that might be difficult. If a part-time job can be found -- my health problems make that a challenge -- it will not be too hard. If I can't get a job I'll have to consider some other option, and right now I don't know what that would be. The one thing I'm not going to do, however, is give up on the opportunity I have to do something I've always secretly desired just through lack of imagination, and end my life a bitter, disappointed man.

The degree is where I'm going. How I get there is, as they say in politics, a matter for further consideration.

Onward, dear reader, and upward, etc.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brown & Out (If The Sun Can Do It, I Can)

It's hard for any blogger to keep up with political developments at the moment as the deals that will create our next government are thrashed out in what they used to call "smoke-filled rooms" in the capital, especially if, like me, you have a hundred things to do as well as your blogging and no immediate access to a laptop or a phone with an internet connection (I know, I live like a savage).

But it was enthralling listening to Gordon Brown's statement yesterday, in which he offered the Lib Dems and the country the ultimate prize of his own resignation, and William Hague's subsequent counter-punch offering the Lib Dems a referendum on reform of the voting system. One political commentator likened it to a showdown in a spaghetti western (showing his age somewhat, as I was by understanding him); but I thought it had more of the feel of the desperate competition for Rene Zellwegger's love in "Bridget Jones' Diary", although I couldn't quite work out who was the Hugh Grant character and who might be Colin Firth.

Clegg played an extremely clever, but rather risky, game in opening up negotiations with the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives. It seems to have pushed the Tories into offering the referendum -- in which the Lib Dems are by no means certain to get the outcome they desire -- but some commentators have characterised the act as dishonourable and self-serving, as well as sneaky (since he didn't tell David Cameron what he planned to do).

Many supporters of Clegg are angry with him for opening negotiations with the Conservative Party, of course, since the dislike of the Tories remains deeply rooted in the minds of a large proportion of the population. But would he form an alliance, others ask, with Labour just to get electoral reform -- or for the possibility of electoral reform -- when even with their forces joined Labour and the Lib Dems would rely on the support of smaller parties (who would exact their own payment for that support, no doubt) or defectors from the Tory benches to pass any legislation at all? Is that how much he wants the stable government he and the other leaders spoke about interminably during the campaign?

This is Clegg's dilemma, and whichever way he leaps he will be harshly judged, as I have said on this blog before.

My own feeling is that Labour should let the Tories and the Lib Dems have their alliance without interfering and get on with the more important business of choosing a new leader and a new direction. Let the country see whether David Cameron can handle the economy as well as he thinks he can when it's in as big a mess as it has been in the lifetime of most observers (and no, that isn't Gordon Brown's fault). Then once Cameron has slashed public services and taxed the poor mercilessly, and the Tory Lib Dem alliance has collapsed, a new New Labour can come in and pick up the pieces.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

How Does One Get To Blog For The Beeb?

Every time there's a political news story on the radio, a blogger is hauled in for comment and described as a "Conservative blogger" or a "Liberal blogger" (it's possible those appellations might require a small "c", but that's hard to tell on the radio).

When I listened to a debate one of those internet commentators was involved in on Friday morning, I found myself wondering firstly, how a person would get a big enough profile in this vast ocean of opinionated swine to be called on by the BBC to share their wisdom; and secondly, how the vagaries of an intelligent mind could be squeezed into a box marked "Conservative" or "Liberal".

Or perhaps the minds of these bloggers don't have vagaries. Perhaps they think quite naturally within the perameters of their party's manifesto. This Liberal Democrat commentator on Five Live (I forget her name, tellingly), would not be drawn on what her own preference would be with regard to Nick Clegg's potential alliance with either Labour or the Conservatives. The presenter pounded her mercilessly, but all she would say was, "I think we should wait and see what Nick does."

I would have said, "If he makes an alliance with Gordon Brown the public will hate him for a thousand years. If he makes an alliance with David Cameron Satan will suck him down into Hell."

Maybe that's why I don't get invitations to speak on the BBC.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Election: Why Brown Can't Continue, Among Other Things

I don't know what to think about the General Election result.

I am delighted the Conservative Party have failed to win an outright majority, of course. I have a dislike for them that goes beyond reason, rooted in the social destruction they wrought in the 1980s.

I am saddened that so many Labour MPs lost their seats and sorry the electorate didn't take the leap of faith it looked ready to take and give more seats to the LibDems. It shows the old two-party system may now be wired into the DNA of the nation.

I am thrilled the Green Party won a seat, although the ward I voted Green in was held by the Conservatives.

And I could still laugh at the trouncing the Roderick Spode of the BNP, Nick Griffin, took in the constituency where he ran.

But Labour were always going to lose their majority because of Gordon Brown, whom the public has disliked intensely from the start. We prefer our politicians to look like schoolboys or estate agents these days.

Gordon Brown is a poor communicator because he is communicating a message which he doesn't believe in. I don't think he was ever convinced by the New Labour project, not in the evangelical way Tony Blair was.

With adjustments Brown would have fitted in nicely with Michael Foot, or Neil Kinnock. But the political weather had changed and he was prepared to attempt the change with it. I don't think, in himself, he ever succeeded.

This is why you hear so many stories about the contrast between the private and the public Brown. You didn't hear the same thing about Tony Blair because Blair was a believer. And, it must be said, a human hologram.

But the vote of the public has been cast and for Brown at least, the message is clear. The electorate doesn't like him. So for his own sake, in posterity, and for the sake of the public perception of the Labour Party, he must not seek to hold onto power now.

Just because he can is no good reason. I could go out of this cafe and still an ice cream from the spoiled child at the bus stop, but I'm not going to.

I would hate for the Conservatives to form any sort of a government, but theirs is the moral right, and they must be allowed to try. And with any luck Nick Clegg will chisel something useful for everyone out of them before any papers are signed.


This must, I might add, as that great Labour statesman Neil Kinnock has said, be the last election when first-past-the-post is the system we use to find our new government. If we'd had proportional representation last night the results would have been massively, massively different. And the wider the range of opinion in parliament, I think, the more democratic it is. Only narrow self-interest stops the big parties from embracing it.

Get Thee Hence With Your Silliness So I Say

Perhaps now the Election is over (or is it?) all those shaven-headed, Sun-reading, British Bombardier drinking "patriots" will take their Poundstretcher St. George flags out of their windows and off their cars (around my way there's even an ice cream van bedecked with them). I've got nothing against declarations of patriotism -- although personally I think that is faintly absurd as well -- but patriotism is not the real reason those flags are on display. Paranoid nationalism is the reason. The men and women trapping those flags in their windows so they hang half way down their walls, and flap ostentatiously in the wind for every passing car to see, think they're sticking it to us liberals who are running the country down by preaching openness and tolerance. They think they're telling Africans, in as forthright a manner as our twisted laws allow, to go back to Africa, and Poles to Poland, and Muslims to the great hot violent primitive land somewhere near Russia that the English nationalists imagine they all live in, whatever it's called.

"Nationalism," as Albert Einstein said, "is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." He was right.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hot Election News!

Simon Cowell, Gary Barlow and Carol Vorderman are endorsing the Conservative Party. They really are the party of intellectual substance, aren't they?

But hold on one cotton-picking minute. Is Simon Cowell the sort of person whose opinion we are supposed to be influenced by? (Or perhaps the Sun, who feature the story of his endorsement as some sort of justification or magnification of their own, isn't aimed at me, since I've always thought it was a pernicious, racist, sexist, homophobic, intellectually antediluvian propaganda sheet for semi-literate right wing extremists.If they were endorsing me as they are endorsing the Conservatives I would change my act quickly.)

What has Mr. Cowell ever done, though? I mean to turn him into someone whose support a political party would be proud of and the party's publishing paymaster (Mr. Murdoch) would splash all over his "news"paper? Create a bunch of ridiculous, unwatchable tv shows that foisted untalented micro-celebrities on the world who disappeared, generally, after six months, and left so little behind in the memory of their admirers or the history of music that even their names were hard to conjure after a while, much less their songs.

He made money, though, didn't he? And sadly I suspect that for some people making money is a cultural achievement these days. That it gives someone weight, even if they made their money by selling rubbish and treating their customers like fools, as Cowell did.

It's a shallow world we live in, boys and girls.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Rats And Sinking Ships

Labour has lost the election. It just hasn't actually happened in time and space yet. If you wanted proof you could have turned on your tv this morning and watched the Prime Minister and his wife talking about how he would give himself over to some form of public service if May 7th found him moving house again. They always play on Gordon's nobility when he's crashing in the polls. "If we lose on May 6th," Brown supposedly said, no doubt straightening his back and drawing in a Churchillian breath, "I'll take full responsibility for it." This doesn't make him look as broad-shouldered as he intends it to, of course, as everybody else will think he's fully responsible for it too.

The other unarguable illustration that Labour has already gone and that Mr. Cameron will be Prime Minister at the end of the week is the unedifying spectacle of Labour Cabinet Ministers telling voters to vote tactically in marginal constituencies if they want to keep out the Tories. I heard about this on the radio, which has been my source of early morning news ever since I realised that staring at a television screen even after a long sleep tends to make me want to go back to bed again.The comments of Mr. Balls and Mr. Hain  add to the perception, in the minds of voters, that Labour has broken apart at the very top; that even Brown's own allies don't think he has a chance of winning. It makes it look as if the electoral momentum is all with David Cameron. Which is true, yes, as Nick Clegg appears to have faded on the last stretch too; but to assist in turning a vague hope into no hope whatsoever is the act of a traitor.

Everybody in the Labour Party knew that Gordon Brown would not be able to win at the General Election as far back as when Mr. Blair stepped down and annointed him. If those within the inner circle had had the courage and the vision to choose a new leader then -- and if Brown, perhaps, had not had the colossal vanity he must have had to deny the obvious -- the country might not have been in the position it is now, facing a Tory Government which will decimate public services, restore fox hunting and gradually reveal itself to be every bit as nasty as its predecessors.

I think it was Ambrose Bierce who said, "People get the sort of Government they deserve." That's not necessarily true for everyone, but it will definitely serve for Balls and Hain in the coming four, eight, God knows how many years, as we slave, again, under the Tory yolk.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Red-Green Poet Tries To Sign On

"Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen" -- Woody Guthrie  Pretty Boy Floyd

Since I had to quit my job because of the bullying and harassment I suffered at the hands of the manager there, supported as she was by others at her level, who had portrayed themselves as the good guys in the company and then went along for the ride the minute she pulled out for public viewing the knives she was sharpening for me (we'd been having hassles on and off in private for years, and the only complaint I ever made seemed to encourage the director to view me as a troublemaker); since then (forgive that lengthy introduction: thinking about what happened still makes me angry), I've been living on my savings because I was hoping to find another job or win the lottery or get a freelance writing gig or a fabulous publishing deal before my money ran out. But I can't get a job because I have seizures and people think I'm a malcontent, both of which are true, I can't get a freelance gig because I can't squeeze my brain (or my sentences) into a narrow enough box to please an editor, I can't get a publishing deal because my prose and poetry don't even make a ripple in the literary pond -- I think I'm writing better stuff than a lot of people out there, but nobody else seems to -- and I haven't won so much as a tenner on the lottery in fifteen years.

So yesterday, despite the fact that I found even contemplating it stomach-wrenching, I phoned a Job Centre number I took from a Government website to make an appointment to go in and see someone about getting help with my money. What other choice did I have, I reasoned with myself, if I didn't want to end up on the streets? I'd already begun finding myself in the position of having friends refusing to let me pay for meals etc. because they assume that they can afford them and I can't. It's lovely of them, but it feels terrifically patronising if you have worked for a long time and you're accustomed to making the grandiloquent gestures yourself. (I know, my pride has been so overweening it deserves to be dismantled.)

But anyway, when the phone stopped ringing a recorded message told me that the number I'd taken from the Government's own website was no longer in use and redirected me to another one. There I was greeted by a human being who told me that new claimants for Jobseeker's Allowance (I was still calling it Unemployment Benefit) could not make appointments to go in and see an advisor. Under the present system, he said, new claims had to be made over the phone. "But I advise you to use a landline, sir, because it will take about thirty minutes and calls from landlines are free," he said. And when I told him I didn't have a landline, he said, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world, that calls from BT-operated phone boxes were free also. Obviously in this judgemental, hate-they-neighbour world we live in an unemployed person expects to have to jump up and down and flap like a performing seal to justify his entitlement to a return on the taxes he has paid, but should he have to stand in a phone box for half an hour on the corner of a street regardless of the weather and whoever might be out there watching? Apparently. Or perhaps it just hadn't occurred to the low level Government genius cutting jobs at dole offices, so that new claims had to be made centrally, that not everybody could afford a telephone line, as he could.

Incidentally, I came to the internet cafe to make the claim online this morning, which would be about £10 cheaper, only to have a message come up on the Job Centre website that the service was currently unavailable. I'm wondering if I should just go down to the Job Centre like Yosser Hughes when it opens again on Tuesday morning and insist that somebody talks to me. But I'd probably get arrested if I did.