Saturday 30 January 2016

The Joy of Words and in particular Crosswords

From Portals to Words - portals are doorways into worlds that owes their shape to ideas and we are always trying to get a better grasp of those ideas by using words to describe them and then refining those words time and time again in order to try and adequately 'nail them'. To capture adequately the ideas. But ideas can be like slippery soap. And soap can in the end dissolve. Words and ideas are tricky things to deal with.

I have always loved words as instruments to express and clarify thoughts and ideas. The newspaper began to attract me when I was very young but I soon rejected it on the grounds that there were too many ideas and words I could not comprehend. Eventually, my vocabulary caught up enough to fall in love with newspapers and reading books, although my passion was intermittent. When I first came across the crossword in the newspaper - what we would now recognise as the Quick Crossword, the Simple Crossword - I tried it and failed to make much progress. I did not return for a long time.

It  wasn't until I was in my early twenties and working in my vacations in a Welsh pub that I began to marvel at the landlord's ability to master the Cryptic Crossword in the Guardian. He began to show  me some of the secrets of solving these wondrous puzzles but he was a very busy publican and I was less than comfortable in coming face-to-face with a skill I found difficult to master. But Glyn the Inn had sown the seeds.

By my 40s, I was hooked. Now, in my 60s, I've settled for the 'Everyman' Observer crossword as my cryptic crossword to solve each week and the Guardian 'Quick Crossword' as an occasional daily exercise. The satisfaction lies not only in instantly knowing the required word or fathoming the ways to work out the cryptic nature of the clue's components. It also lies in finding out what had escaped your attention or grasp or knowledge banks. Thanks to a World Wide Web site for crossword fans and my copy of Chambers Crossword Dictionary very little, if  anything, remains without solution. My knowledge banks and my skills level in this activity increase all the time.

That is a very satisfying feeling. Having an understanding of the world that matches the crossword setter's.  It was all the more humbling then in the autumn of last year to sit on the train returning from London to find that the Evening Standard Cryptic Crossword was beyond me. I would not be beaten. I  checked the answers online and began to practise on the daily online version that I had now  discovered. It took a week but eventually I was inside the setter's head. I now began to load up my completed crossword for a place on the Leaderboard that accompanied the daily online puzzle. By December, my moment of crowning glory came: with 2,010 points I  headed the All-time Leaderboard. But hubris followed. I'm still there, immortalised, in top place. But the site has developed technical issues and I can no longer load up my solution.

Still all the more time to discover wonderful things on other crosswords. Did you know, for instance,  a five-lettered word meaning 'icy cold': G?L?D. I didn't.  Until I did my research.  It's GELID.

Friday 29 January 2016

Shouldn't we be ashamed to have such leaders? Take your pick. Cameron's migrant "gaffe" (or is it his "dead cat"?). Osbornes's 3% Google tax deal.

Well, shouldn't we be ashamed to have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who speak and behave in such a manner?

Scene: Prime Minister's Question Time

Location: House of Commons

Prime Minister's intention: Rubbish the Opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn. and the shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.

Cameron's words: 'They met a bunch of migrants in Calais; they said they could all  come to Britain'.

Did they say this?  No.  Does Cameron believe they said this?  No.

Shameful. The politics of the gutter.

'Bunch of migrants''?  Alex Salmond said this was 'pretty disgusting' language. Was this what the psychologists call 'seepage'? Cameron's real feelings slipping out when he was under pressure? My wife and I thought so at first.

Shameful. The politics of the gutter.

But then we picked up the story in the Independent newspaper that this was no gaffe. Instead, it was a reply scripted in advance to deflect attention away from issues that Jeremy Corbyn had used to attack the government earlier in P.M. questions. We found out that this could have been the "dead cat strategy" in operation - the Conservative election campaign manager Lynton Crosby is a known advocate of such a strategy. "Throwing a dead cat on the table " will distract people from a topic you wish they would stop discussing. In this case, Osborne's 3% Goggle tax deal.

Shameful. The politics of the gutter. Whichever of the two explanations.

And Jeremy Corbyn? Is his the politics of the gutter? Was he lying when he said he would bring a more kindly approach to politics?  His opponents would love to have people believe that Corbyn's politics and policies would have us all in the gutter. But their own neo-liberal economic theories deliver a stagnating economy that generates only low-growth for a few and very high dividends for the very small number at the top. Corbyn's economic vision is broadly similar to all the main economists who reject the failed neo-liberal economics that have underpinned such suffering across the world. If you are happy with low growth and increasing inequality, attack Corbyn. If you want a world shaped by kinder, more productive and more humane values, shame Cameron and Osborne.

The Prime Minister does look more rattled at times, these days. Should he be? Well, in the concluding chapter of my 'Road to Corbyn' - to be published before the summer - I use a little publicised article in the Huffington Post (3 August 2015) to show why these shameful leader of ours might well be rattled. It's an interview with the former Conservative chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, in which Clarke warned that Mr Corbyn's brand of left-wing populism could be hard to campaign against in certain circumstances. "If you have another recession or if the Conservative government becomes very unpopular, he could win."

There. You've heard it from the lips of a former Conservative chancellor. The end of the politics of the gutter is a possibility. And have you looked at the news from the world's stock exchanges recently? If I were Cameron and Osborne, I would be a little rattled.

What do you think?           


Monday 25 January 2016

Through the Portal - a novice blogger discovers the delights of being online

The idea of the Portal I find really stimulating. Doorways, entrances, ways in, beginnings - these are concepts that have always provided a measure of  excitement for me. We all have our own mind maps that help us make sense of what is real and meaningful and such mind maps all had their beginnings in our heads. All our ways of making sense of  the world started with a particular Portal.

There is a tribal Tory Portal out there. I nearly got sucked in once but fortune has favoured me.

There is a Portal for those who favour fairness and justice. I am very pleased I have always been inclined to hang around this particular doorway. Sometimes, I  have plunged in through the entrance of this Portal and found myself diverted into cul-de-sacs of extremism and egoism. But I like the path I am following now as a supporter of  Jeremy Corbyn.

There is a Portal for those people who find themselves part of the Establishment. Their own success, fuelled by their ambition and talents, has gifted them entrance through this doorway that leads to recognition and status, and a measure of wealth and power, in whatever field you care to mention - politics, media, academia, industry, commerce, finance. The response of such people to the Corbyn phenomenon suggests to me the power of inertia. Many of those inside this Portal don't like their mind maps disturbed.

I had an interesting Portal in my early life as a child. It hung on the wall of  my parent's semi-detached in suburban north-Kent, now swallowed up in London.  An inexpensive, framed print of an autumn-tinged, woodland scene with mountains in the background. No human to be seen. My parents never went away on holiday so the picture on the wall represented something rather magical - a land of promise,  a future that was there to be explored when I was a Grown Up. When my mum died, three years after my dad's passing, I was nearly 50. I arranged for  the clearing of their  house and decided to take nothing away with me. The print that had meant so much to me as a kid had served me well. I no longer needed it in hard form. I had internalised its essence.

My point? Care about your Portals. Understand them. And don't get trapped inside them.          

Saturday 16 January 2016

Welcome To My Blog

Welcome to my blog. I am Rob Donovan, author of 'The Road to Corbyn - A Modern Day Pilgrim's Progress'.

Following the style of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, my work begins with the conceit of a dream in which Pilgrim, a contemporary seeker after truth, is introduced together with the characters Hope, Charity, and the Interpreter.

Pilgrim's journey is through the lifetime of the 2010-2015 U.K. government, and then forward, past the General Election of May 2015 and on to the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of  the Labour Party in opposition. Pilgrim becomes more and more convinced of the truth of the Interpreter's guidance. This is a socialist work that will stimulate Telegraph and Guardian readers alike. It serves as A Young Person's Guide to Politics and it is a must-read for all Labour Party members of whatever age and persuasion.

It should be published by the spring of 2016 and setting up this blog is in part a preparation for that launch. But this blog is a platform for more than just this. My description for this blog is 'Unrobing the emperors and other matters of concern' and that neatly encapsulates what is important to me. I am a child of the sixties and I become more and more convinced of the value of that decade in sowing the seeds of authentic and necessary rebellion. Sure, for me and many others, there were a host of issues from our adolescence and early life wrapped up with the rebellion but what was healthy was a new take on the world that could spot the crap and was no longer afraid to call it such.

I shall also be keeping you up-to-speed on my latest literary venture: a biography of Jago Stone (1928-88), artist. In his autobiography, 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion', Jago likened himself to a Don Quixote figure tilting at the windmills of convention. He was a guest of Her Majesty for nearly two decades of his adult life and later went on to claim that he had sold more pictures than any other British artist. I promise this will be a tale of a life well worth rescuing from obscurity.

What else from this blogger? What are my other matters of concern? In no particular order, there will be tales of the joy of running and the trials and tribulations of keeping fit - and the power and exhilaration of entering the cinema and yielding to the experience of film - and the excitement of reading and discovering new voices that shed fresh light on what it is to be a human being ...