Sunday, 20 December 2015


It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand.
Podemos won't win tonight, but they might win tomorrow: so say the polls, officially illegal in Spain during the last week of the campaign, but in fact freely available provided you look at Twitter and understand the less-than-complicated coded language that @Electograph uses.

The display purports to tell us the prices of fruit and vegetables in the market of Andorra la Vella (handily outside Spain, something that has proved most convenient for the large number of Spanish and Catalan companies and political figures who have found the statelet a convenient location for their bank accounts). It also tells us how many stalls are expected to be selling each comestible, the largest number being for blue fish, blue being coincidentally the colour of the Partido Popular, while the purple aubergines stand in for Podemos, standing second, in a campaign which they began a fair way fourth.

I've always liked that circle: it reminds me, though it is not intended to, of the Circle of Life.
"We in Mand are so very far from the Revolution that maybe we are near it," said one of the girls, wistful and smiling: "The Circle of Life!" and she showed the extremes meeting, in the circle of her slender, dark-skinned fingers.
It has been, oh, thirty-three years, or thirty-four, since I first read Le Guin's The Dispossessed, and believed afterwards, for a period of time, that we could change the world and had something better we could change it to.

It wasn't a long period of time: it lasted until the miners lost. Or rather less than that, given that I never really believed that they were going to win. But I remember standing in Trafalgar Square, at the end of February 1985, watching the fighting outside Downing Street as the police piled into the last big march of the strike, and deciding, knowing, that the game was up, not just for the miners but for everything else I was hoping for. I was nineteen.

And here I am, at fifty, and in a few hours the election - in which I do not have a vote - is over, and though Podemos will not win, there might, there almost just possibly maybe might, be the numbers for a government they could head, if they come ahead of PSOE, if a dozen other things go well. And then what? Who knows then what. We have peanuts, beer and wine in for the election show tonight. That's as close as I like to get now.

At some point always comes the disappointment: tonight, tomorrow, some time after that but not long delayed.
"You knew this, Winston," said O'Brien. "Don't deceive yourself. You did know it - you have always known it."

Yes, he saw now - he had always known it
We have always known it. But we keep hoping all the same.

Just over two weeks ago, a touch before the campaign officially began, I was working in a primary school in Valladolid. As many schools do, they played music at the start and end of break, rather than inflict a school bell on kids young enough to be spared its tedium and harshness. Normally a school will play something short, cheerful and bouncy (and even something inappropriate, like the school in Madrid which plays My Shirona) but the music teacher, who got to make the choices, had decided to play Ludovico Einaudi's Nightbook.

The kids didn't seem to mind, or even to notice how intense the Einaudi was. But I felt it. And it was a cold week, snow on our van the first morning, a freezing mist putting hands into warmer gloves and gloves into warmer pockets - and even inside, where the heating was on at least part of the day, it was gloomy, the direction of the sun completely lost to us.

Then Einaudi, reinforcing the gloom, intensifying it, filling me with foreboding. And prompted by that mood, I realised something was bothering me - and that this was that I never got my head round what happened, so quickly, in Greece. As if it was a bad experience that I had registered, set aside for lack of time, but needed to have affect me, even knock me over, some time later. As if I had tried to miss it at the time, and managed, or half-managed. But it had not missed me.

Not just Greece, though, but all the sadnesses and disappointments from thirty years beforehand. And the Circle of Life. And the miners.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Michael X

Michael Gove is very concerned about radicalisation. He used to be concerned about radicalisation in schools and now he's concerned about radicalisation in prisons.
Islamist extremists are attempting to radicalise prisoners by deliberately getting custodial sentences or gaining jobs in jails, according to the Prison Officers Association (POA).

The warning comes as the justice secretary, Michael Gove, has ordered a review of how the prison and probation service tackle the radicalisation of offenders. The review will include an investigation into Muslim preachers radicalising inmates, according to the Sun.
How very odd. Odd, because one thing that everybody knows about Michael Gove is that when he was Education Secretary, he had a portrait of Malcolm X on his wall.

The Guardian last year referred to
the twin pictures of Malcolm X and Margaret Thatcher on Gove's office wall
while the Statesman, month before last, preferred
in his Whitehall office, Gove hung pictures of Lenin and Malcolm X.
In 2011 Channel Four had
He's got a picture of Malcolm X on his secretary of state's office wall to drum the message home.

He's also got a picture of Barack Obama there. And Lenin too
and last year the Financial Times had
Alongside Theodore Roosevelt, Barack Obama and Margaret Thatcher is the unyielding image of Lenin – whom Gove claims invented the phrase “education, education, education” – and the portraits of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
Why the different accounts, who can say. Maybe some of the writers actually witnessed the portraits and others were just trying to remember what the other ones had said. Or maybe the interviewers were too dazzled by Gove's legendary politeness to check the portraits properly. Still, Malcolm X is common to all the accounts. Everybody knows his portrait was on Michael Gove's wall at Education.

Maybe it still is, now Gove has moved to Justice. You'd kind of like to know.

Because one thing that everybody knows about Malcolm is that he found Islam in prison. He was radicalised, while in prison. He was so radicalised, in prison, that the FBI opened a file on him. He fitted almost every description of the sort of man who Michael Gove is seeking to root out.

But Michael Gove had a picture of Malcolm X on his office wall.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Killing a pig

I think I killed a pig on Friday night. A jabalí, a wild boar, but only a little one, one of three or four crossing the old road just beyond Siétamo. Normally you're lucky if you see a wild boar at all, though there's lots of them about: they keep themselves well hidden in the daylight hours, and if you see them at all it's either alongside the road at dusk or later, or sometimes crossing the road, but at a distance, in the daytime. But these ones were unlucky: they crossed the road long after dark but too close to the car that was coming round the bend and up the hill. I saw them far too late - so late that by the time I realised I had seen them, we'd collided.

It wasn't the bend that did it so much as the hill, which rises unevenly, almost in a set of levels, so that what's in front of you is hidden intermittently. But you're not expecting to see anything, in the lane ahead of you, that you didn't know was there already, assuming nobody is recklessly overtaking in the downhill, opposite direction, in which case you'd have no chance. The road used to be a dangerous one, combining single carriageways with frequent, long and half-blind bends, and then, on top of that, being the main road from Huesca to Barcelona, an ideal combination for the accident waiting to happen, the driver going a long way, in too much of a hurry, and given too many chances to go wrong. But then they built the motorway alongside, taking away ninety per cent of the traffic and leaving just the locals, who know the road and the places that you have to watch. But not the local wild boar, who didn't know. It wasn't any of their fault. But it was them who had no chance.

I had just - just that instant - passed a car coming downhill and the piglets appeared in the beam immediately I switched it back to full. Although there must have been a sequence - light, pigs, collision - and though I spent much of the night trying to separate them, they might as well have been simultaneous for all the difference that it made, or, for that matter, for all that I can separate them in my mind. I spent much of the night that followed trying to remember exactly what had happened. Or that's what I thought that I was doing - more likely I was trying to remember it as one often "remembers" an event that one wishes had not happened, trying to picture it until it comes out differently. The ball that hit the post goes in, instead. The space appears between the pigs and the car goes neatly through it.

But the collision happened, a thud on the nearside front. Had they been full-grown boars it might have been the car which suffered most, or come to that the driver. It was a hard noise, like somebody had kicked the front, and I expected something to be dented. I've had a hare run manically into the headlight before now, killing itself instantly yet doing no apparent damage whatsoever to the car. (I was too surprised, at the time, to even take the dead hare home for somebody without an urban upbringing to skin and eat it.) But this was a bigger noise, a thump rather than a bang, but a thump nevertheless. I drove perhaps another hundred and fifty metres, maybe more than that, turning off the road at the first safe place, the opening to a path to one of the many fields and olive orchards alongside the road, down which the farmers take their tractors. In the old, busy days of the road, their emergence was another of the things you had to look out for. If you knew enough to do so.

 I stopped and took the torch from the glove compartment. I went round to the front of the car and there was no apparent dent, not at the first look. The car is white and any damage should have been easy to see. But I seemed to have got away with it, until I looked further downwards, at the ground, and saw that there was a trickle of liquid from the bottom of the car, running down the path. I know nothing about cars - aside from a few weeks when I had a job out of town, I never drove one at all between the age of twenty-two and forty - but I assumed that this was something serious and I should go no further. I called home and waited for R to arrive in our van. She was there in less than half an hour.

We put out triangles and put on fluorescent jackets, as the Spanish law requires. We called the Guardia Civil and the insurance: the former sent a patrol car and the latter sent a pick-up, which took the car away and back to Huesca ciudad. It's a very long weekend and the garage doesn't open until Wednesday morning. There did, on closer inspection, appear to be a little damage above the wheel. Our insurance isn't going to cover it.

The whole thing was stupid though. I could have got home without difficulty: the flow of liquid was only from the reservoir that holds the fluid for the windscreen wipers, which must have cracked. I didn't need it to get home. I didn't need us to call the police or the pick-up. I didn't even need R to come and pick me up.

But at least I got home all right. Nobody else saw anything of the jabalís. You couldn't hear the noise of braking, or of cars slowing in order to swerve. R turned round beyond the point where the collision happened and said she couldn't see a body. No blood, no evidence of anything.

But I know it must have been more than the pig could stand. I hope it didn't live too long with whatever pain I'd made it suffer. I remembered Inside Llewyn Davis, when he similarly hits the cat on the road, and though he sees it limp into the woods, he knows, and we know too, that it couldn't possibly survive. I know what happened. It was practically a baby, just crossing the road with its family, and had I not been coming it would have made it safely and been home that night as well. Loads of wild boar round here, one of the officers said at one point. No doubt there are. But one less now, and one that I kept thinking about, that night and the next day, trying to imagine it all over again so that I missed it this time, as if the only one who cares about the dead is the man who did the killing.