Sunday 26 May 2024

The Sunday Ishmael: 26/05/2024

 If he had hoped to take advantage of my absence on holiday to sneak in with his announcement of the date of the general election, then Rishi should have brought an umbrella-wallah to the party in order to avoid ridicule. As it was, the snail-trails of rain down the lapels of his superfine worsted did all my work for me. I don't know - take a week off and the Tories are making arses of themselves the minute my back is turned.
Wearing sincere face despite the soaking, Sunak told the nation: "Now, I cannot and will not claim that we have got everything right."
Too true, young Rishi, too true. 
But - exciting times ahead - the return of politics and promising and a crossword from mr. mongoose!
The best promise so far is the Conservative's announcement of conscription for 18 year olds should the Tories win the election. It's a brilliant move - how wildly popular will that be! The nation is terrified of 18 year olds - the little bastards with their knives and guns and drugs and video games and scatter-gun firing of photos of their genitalia. Not to mention sexual strangulation to achieve enhanced orgasms and a bit of old-fashioned rape, sometimes with a side-order of Rohypnol. In the last 12 months, the Office of National Statistics tells us, knife crime went up by 7%, gun crime up by 9%, robberies up by 13% and shop lifting up by 37%. Big, bearded, black Jimmy Cleverly, Home Secretary, said that this was because of the disproportionate impact of Labour-led London on the crime stats. Not his fault, guv, honest - but not so, as the BBC fact checkers rapidly ascertained. They are up everywhere. Why, a 34 year old woman was knifed to death and a 38 year old woman gravely wounded on a Bournemouth beach on Friday - police have arrested a 17 year old male.
So the nation will be clamouring for the super-rapid implementation of conscription - get our rabid young off the streets and beaches and subject them to the tough love thing that parents and teachers are woefully incapable of implementing.
On closer inspection, of course, it turns out to be a typical Tory wishy fudgy wudgy washy bollocks - only 30,000 places for a year available in the military, for those 18 year olds who fancy it, and the rest of them having to turn up at weekends for a spot of volunteering. How's that going to promote national unity, pride, patriotism and the wearing of clean, pressed underwear? Of course, we don't actually want to provide these homicidal, drug-dealing, knife-wielding teenagers with state of the art weaponry - but some military discipline and regular bowel habits would be infinitely preferable to  a bit of volunteering down the charity shop with Gordon Brown on a Saturday morning. And how will the scheme be enforced? Will the Courts be flooded with prosecutions against refuseniks, will they be sentenced to Community Service/Payback Orders, which they will equally not do, or sentenced to prison - and, as we know, Britain's senior police officers have instructed their grunts to make no further arrests because the prisons cannae take it? Full. No, better to load the recalcitrant teenagers onto planes and send them to Rwandaforfuck'ssake, where their propensity for extreme violence, misogyny and drugs will be greatly appreciated. Help build the nation.
Year after year of cutbacks of military personnel have left the British armed forces incapable of meeting its NATO obligations to provide battalions in the field. As the Secretary General warned the other week, all NATO member nations should consider introducing conscription. And with Nigel Farage committed to assisting Donald Trump into office - and we know how effective Farage is - he swung the Brexit referendum - then Trump will be a shoe-in and he has vociferously and repeatedly stated that he is fed up of America having to do all NATO's heavy lifting and we had better start providing for our own defence. And Russia warned this week that it will strike British targets "in Ukraine and beyond" because it is fed up with Britain's interference in the Ukrainian war.
So this "National Service" scheme of the Tories stands revealed as conscription of the better sort of young male gun fodder for the upcoming war - while doing it on the cheap, because, as it is a scheme rather than a restoration of the size of the military under its agreed pay and conditions, the kids will not be quite as expensive. And hiding it under a mask of general benevolence that includes volunteering.
Then there's the tricky business of the increase in diagnoses of autism. Research conducted by Newcastle University in collaboration with the Universities of Cambridge and of Maastricht reported in 2021 that one in 57 children in the UK is on the autistic spectrum, following a study of more than 7 million children. What will Big Bearded Cleverly do with them? He enjoyed every day of his time in uniform, is a decorated Lieutenant Colonel and an Army Reserve Officer, but probably did not have to overcome some of the disadvantages of having an autistic personality.
The political enemies of the Tories are denouncing the National Service scheme - it is expensive, it is contrary to human rights - well, its just not liberal. Given the massive popularity of such a scheme and the general British loathing of teenagers, Sir Keir would do better to stop bad mouthing it, instead declare that it will be a corner stone of Labour policy, but doesn't go far enough. The Labour Government could pledge to round up all the little buggers, including the illiterate and innumerate, religious fanatics, knife-wielding County Lines dealers, those missing limbs or a moral compass and incarcerate them in training facilities in the Scottish Highlands. Give them a nice warm uniform, make them polish their shoes and eat porridge. You'd have to surgically amputate their phones to prevent them from sending pictures of their genitalia to each other, of course. Now that sounds like a plan that I'd vote for.

Sycamore Lives Matter
I'm particularly fond of sycamore trees. The young leaves in spring are the most tender copper colour.
The canopy is magnificent in summer
and the autumnal shades are very fine indeed (not in Orkney, obviously, where the equinoctial gales blow all the leaves off before they can turn red and gold).
Here's a nice little video about a year in the life of a sycamore tree:
Sycamore is native to central, eastern and southern Europe. It is thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans, but other reports suggest it was introduced in the Tudor era around the 1500s.
It provides food for a variety of animals, including bees, pollinators, caterpillars, birds, and insects. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths, including the sycamore moth, plumed prominent and maple prominent. Sycamore seeds are eaten by birds, such as greenfinch and goldfinch. Sycamore bark is eaten by insects, including sycamore lacewing and sycamore aphid. The flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, and the seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals.
Sycamore trees provide habitat for a variety of animals, including birds, mammals, insects, and fungi. They are popular nesting sites for blackbird, robin and blue tit. They also provide shelter for small mammals and bats. Sycamore trees are home to a wide variety of insects, such as species of ladybird, butterflies and beetles. They also host a variety of fungi, such as the sycamore bracket fungus and sycamore toadstool.
Sycamore generally has a lifespan of 200-400 years in the wild. However, in cultivation, they can live for much longer, with some specimens known to be over 500 years old. Mature trees are extremely tolerant of wind, so are often planted in coastal and exposed areas as a wind break. They are among the very few tree species that thrive in Orkney.
There's a 200-year-old sycamore in Kirkwall, called the "Big Tree", because, well, there aren't many really big trees.
It has rotted away inside and is supported by internal scaffolding. In 2017 it won a national competition run by the Woodland Trust and was named Scotland's Tree of the Year. The Big Tree was nominated by members of the public. It is a well-known and much-loved landmark in Kirkwall. During the Napoleonic wars international trade collapsed and the kelp industry boomed in Orkney, producing ash to be made into soap and glass. A number of Orcadians became very wealthy and built grand houses in Kirkwall. One of these houses had a walled garden in which three sycamore trees were planted. In the 1870s, a new owner felled two of the trees causing a public outcry that saved the third. As Kirkwall grew the Big Tree eventually found itself in a street rather than a garden. The People's Postcode Lottery provided the prize, a £1,000 care package for the winning tree.
In ancient Greece, the sycamore was associated with the goddess Hera, queen of the gods and goddess of marriage and childbirth. In Celtic mythology, the sycamore was associated with the world tree, a sacred tree that connects heaven, earth, and the underworld. The Celts believed that the sycamore was a home to fairies and other spirits, and they often planted sycamore trees near their homes for protection.
In Norse mythology, the sycamore was associated with Freya, goddess of love, fertility, and war. Freya's chariot was said to be drawn by two cats, and she was often depicted sitting in a sycamore tree.
In Christian mythology, sycamore is associated with the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he called him down and invited himself to Zacchaeus's house. This story is often interpreted as a symbol of God's love and forgiveness for all people, regardless of their social status or past sins - like collecting taxes. This might, actually, have been a different tree- as there's a possibility of a mistranslation.

In addition to its mythological and religious significance, the sycamore tree has also been used in traditional crafts and customs. In Wales, sycamore trees were used to make 'love spoons' - decoratively carved wooden spoons that were given to your lover. In some parts of the UK, the winged seeds of the sycamore tree, known as 'helicopters', are used in flying competitions and model-making by children.
Sycamore timber is hard and strong, pale cream and with a fine grain, and is excellent for carving. It is used to make furniture and kitchenware, such as ladles and wooden spoons as the wood does not taint or stain the food. The wood is particularly suitable for making stringed instruments, particularly violins.
However, despite all this, there are people whose life mission is to pull up and destroy sycamore saplings, on the basis that they provide competition to Britain's native trees, because they are fertile and successful and are not native here nor to the manor born. It's a sort of tree racism. Hence my new slogan:
Sycamore Lives Matter.

Talking of violins, whilst I was on my holidays, I was taken to a Fiddling Concert. Honest, not invent. I had to sit on a hard pew in an improvised concert venue and listen to a drunken Norwegian fiddler. 
Leastways, I think he may have been drunk, on the evidence that I'd seen him in the pub earlier that day (whilst I was searching for lunch) with a pint in hand, he was wearing very odd clothes, I couldn't understand a word he said, he didn't stand up, but crouched over his fiddle and made truly dreadful music. Alexander Aga Røynstrand is famous, though, in fiddling circles. The blurb said his solo performances have allowed him to craft unique interpretations and convey his personal sentiments through his music and he takes it upon himself to introduce this enchanting music to a diverse array of listeners. Right.
This was followed by Rant - four badly dressed fiddling women from various parts of the Highlands and Islands,
 who played diddly-diddly music, a lot of very fast reels, to the delight of the audience, who expressed their pleasure by banging their feet on the ground, making whooping noises, doing a sort of dance on their buttocks whilst seated and punching the air. One woman ceased breastfeeding her large and mobile toddler, to his noisy displeasure, so entranced was she by the raucous performance. My companions enquired afterwards if I had enjoyed it. I cautiously replied that the women were very talented musicians but the concert had been ruined for me by the bad behaviour of the audience. What bad behaviour? they enquired, obviously puzzled - so I mentioned the buttock dancing, whooping, feet banging, screaming toddler and breastfeeding. Ah, they kindly explained, that is audience appreciation. It is what you expect in Folk Music.

If, instead of my drivel, you would like to read some original ishmael or stanislav, then the four-volume Call Me Ishmael oeuvre, collected and curated by editor mr verge, is available on Lulu and Amazon.

Honest Not Invent, Vent Stack, Ishmael’s Blues, and the latest, Flush Test (with a nice picture of the late, much lamented, Mr Harris of Lanarkshire taking a piss on a totem pole) are available from Lulu and Amazon. If you buy from Amazon, it would be nice if you could give a review on their website.
IIshmaelites wishing to buy a copy from lulu should follow these steps 
please register an account first, at This is advisable because otherwise paypal seems to think it's ok to charge in dollars, and they then apply their own conversion rate, which might put the price up slightly for a UK buyer. Once the new account is set up, follow one of the links below (to either paperback or hardback) or type "Ishmael’s Blues" into the Lulu Bookstore search box. Click on the “show explicit content” tab, give the age verification box a date of birth such as 1 January 1960, and proceed.
Link for Hardcover :
Link for Paperback :

At checkout, try WELCOME15 in the coupon box, which (for the moment) takes 15% off the price before postage. If this code has expired by the time you reach this point, try a google search for " voucher code" and see what comes up.
With the 15% voucher, PB (including delivery to a UK address) should be £16.84; HB £27.04.

Sunday 12 May 2024

The Sunday Ishmael: 12/05/2024

Did anyone else see the Laura Kuenssberg Show this morning?  She (or her producers) had assembled a veritable rogue's gallery to inflict their opinions on us. For the government we had David Cameron, Baron of SomewhereorOther, Foreign Secretary and Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford on Avon.
Remember him? Used to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and Conservative Party Chairman until his attempt to protect his millions was scotched by the HMRC. He apologised to  the nation this morning and said he had bought off the tax authorities with just under £5million.
For the opposition, we had Jonathon Ashworth (who looks like a nice boy but has a really nasty sneer when provoked) 
and Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South. Sultana is a piece of work, and no mistake. Still identified with the passions and delusions of the young, although, at 31 in October, she is getting a bit mutton for that demographic, Sultana turned up for her Kuenssberg gig with a jotter filled with hand-written notes, highlighted with two different colours - red and yellow, like an industrious female fourth former. 
is that a chip on your shoulder, or are you just really happy to see me?
Belligerent, opinionated, rude and verbally incontinent, she clearly owes her allegiance to an intolerant international religious movement and is outspoken in her condemnation of the British government and its refusal to allow Hamas to wipe out the state of Israel. You'd better get used to her, though, because she is wildly popular amongst a certain sort: in May 2023, she was ranked 47th on the New Statesman's "left power list", which described her as a "rare" "genuinely viral politician" with the highest number of TikTok followers of any MP, 438,000, along with 273,000 Instagram and 324,000 Twitter followers. She made me reflect on the unenviable position of Sir Keir Starmer, who has to smile and smile and smile again at the lunatics he has to accommodate within his broad camp, and remind himself that it is better to have them in the tent pissing out than outside, pissing in. She is obviously unmanageable. She must have ignored the memo from Sir Keir, instructing his unruly flock to hail the defection of Nadine Elphicke, formerly Conservative MP for Dover, as a PR triumph, and she loudly stated her undying contempt for the newly-minted Labour MP in the following terms: “[Elphicke] was a member of the [Eurosceptic] European Reform Group; she voted for Liz Truss in the leadership; she’s at odds when it comes to fire and rehire; she has attacked trade unions and their activities; [she’s] not great on the environment either. So unless she’s had the biggest Damascene conversion ever, I just don’t buy it.” 
There's actually a lot to raise eyebrows about in Elphicke's Damascene conversion ( Christian simile, much?). A lawyer who specialised in housing policy, she succeeded her now former husband – the disgraced former Tory M.P. Charlie Elphicke – as the MP for Dover. He was convicted and jailed for sexual assault in 2020. 
She announced weeks before the 2019 election that she had been “unanimously” selected to fight the seat, but it was later revealed that the local Conservative association had put Elphicke forward as the only candidate. She was also temporarily suspended from the Commons and told to apologise after being found to have tried to influence a judge presiding over the trial of her ex-husband, Charlie Elphicke, who was jailed for two years in September 2020.
So Sultana's refusal to toe Sir Keir's party line puts her firmly in bed line with dear old David Cameron, who announced: “(Elphicke) was actually quite a rightwing MP, who had absolutely no affinity with Labour policies or Labour people or Labour philosophy. (The fact that) they welcome her in, I think it says a huge amount about the Labour party. If you don’t have a plan, if you don’t have policies, if you don’t have things you stand for, you will literally fall for anything.”
Baron Munchauson of Chipping Snoredum acquitted himself as a conviction politician of integrity, whose values are firmly in place. He spoke with sincerity and passion and defended Britain's decision not to resume funding for UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). You'll recall that Israel alleged that at least 12 UNRWA employees were directly involved in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7th, that another 30 supported the attack in some way, and as many as 12% of the organization’s staff were affiliated with Hamas. 
I had to go and have a little lie down, after that lot. Well, I am recovering from another bout of bloody Covid, thanks to a shedding chum who'd been abroad. No respiratory symptoms, this time. Swollen fingers, sore hips, can't stand up for very long, head sweats, extreme fatigue, sore eyes and the head staggers. Maybe this creeping feeling I'm getting that the Conservatives, despite their manifest self-interest, over-moneyed privilege, grandiose sense of self-importance, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, self-belief, arrogance and haughty behaviours (woops, that the definition of narcissistic personality disorder, mrs ishmael. Yes? And your point is?), despite all that, the Tories are better behaved than His Majesty's loyal opposition. Or maybe that's the Covid talking. 

Speaking of which, amidst the controversy surrounding the Covid vaccine, ishmaelites might wish to note that if they, or a relative managing the estate of the deceased, has experienced severe illness, hospitalisation or death in consequence of the vaccine, than a claim for a one-off tax-free vaccine damage payment (VDP) of £120,000 can be made to the government. The government is keen to point out that these cases are very rare, and that the VDP is not a compensation scheme and that those affected can still take action against the vaccine manufacturer. Astra Zeneca has admitted in a High Court document that its Covid vaccine can "in very rare cases" cause Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome, which results in blood clots and a low platelet count with life threatening consequences. Proof that illness/death resulted from the vaccine is dependent on diagnostic tests and post mortem examinations. For survivors, there is a "60% disablement threshold".
This is a photo of Papa Westray on a nice day. The name means "Island of the Papar (Priests)"
Papa Westray is first mentioned in the "Orkneyinga Saga" as "Papey in meiri" - "the greater island of the Priests/Monks", "Papa" being the word used by the Norsemen to identify the early Christian monks who arrived in approximately 800AD. They are still there.
It is a small island off the larger island of Westray, which is an island within the archipelago of 70 islands constituting the Orkney Isles and is  a 90 minute ferry ride from Orkney Mainland. I am sure that it will look breathtakingly beautiful in the film The Outrun, on general release this year, having gone down well at the Sundance Film Festival in Texas. Based on a memoir by Amy Liptrot, a former Orkney resident, it describes how the protagonist, played by Saoirse Ronan,
having unwisely gone to live in London, became addicted to alcohol and illegal drugs and returned to her home on Papa Westray to recover from her addiction through - oh, I don't know - wild swimming, I think, maybe a bit of baking, gazing out to sea, (it's a while since I read the book), and writing a memoir. The book was picked up by the BBC, enjoyed great popularity amongst the chattering classes who like this sort of plotless, narrativeless introspective memoir with a happy ending, was sold to the  movie people and the author has gone to live happily ever after in Hebden Bridge. (Honestly, you can't make this stuff up).
We Orcadians are happily looking forward to a boom in property sales as wealthy Londoners, wanting to overcome their drink and drug problems, stuffed full of cash from the sales of their over-priced London properties, planning on sorting out their alcohol and coke problems with a bit of wild swimming; engage in a bidding war to snap up houses that have been languishing on the market. Then we can all go and live in Hebden Bridge.
A delightful irony is that the Orkney isles (not Orkney mainland), have no police force, but the population of the archipelago has an interesting relationship with alcohol. The cathedral city, Kirkwall, originally pronounced Kirkwaa, its name derived from Kirkjuvagr, meaning The Church Bay, has a population of 9, 293, and around 15 or so pubs and bars. There's two whisky distilleries, a brewery and a gin distillery, which makes a gin called Kirkuvagr. You can sample the produce at each of them. Not really the place to come if you want to get off the booze. Especially Hoy.
best not go wild swimming here
There's a colony of alcoholics on Hoy, and no police presence. The Kirkwall Sheriff Court's pages in the local newspaper frequently feature amusing and instructive stories. Here's one about a Hoy resident, 67 year old Hugh Seatter, who really doesn't like English people. He was recently found guilty of causing a reasonable person fear or alarm. He stormed into the Council's offices, threw a council tax reminder, on which he had written: English bitch at the customer services staff member, instructed her to "stick it up your fucking arse" and shouted: "You can tell that English bitch to stick it up her arse. Orkney, Orkney, Orkney! She should be shot with the greylag geese."  He then left and was arrested, after some difficulty, at the Hoy ferry terminal, where he told the officers "I didn't threaten anybody. I told them to shove it up their fucking arse". He then told the arresting officer, "I would like to head-butt you" and produced a lock knife. When the officers eventually got him into the back of the police car, he stared fixedly at PC Cuthbertson and said "They're all fucking English", before enquiring if the officers thought he was black and that was why they were arresting him. He then enlivened the journey to the police station by making pig noises. At trial, he said he hadn't threatened the officer by saying he would like to head butt him, he was just giving him a bit of advice, and that the Council tax department is "like a bloody Nazi government, or in Russia."
Mr. Seatter's case has been deferred for sentence to the 7th June, when he will appear for a separate trial for further offences of threatening and abusive behaviour to council staff.

I'm tired now and going for another little lie down, but, should you wish to read some original mr ishmael or stanislav, then the four-volume Call Me Ishmael oeuvre, collected and curated by editor mr verge, is available on Lulu and Amazon.

Honest Not Invent, Vent Stack, Ishmael’s Blues, and the latest, Flush Test (with a nice picture of the late, much lamented, Mr Harris of Lanarkshire taking a piss on a totem pole) are available from Lulu and Amazon. If you buy from Amazon, it would be nice if you could give a review on their website.
Ishmaelites wishing to buy a copy from lulu should follow these steps :
please register an account first, at This is advisable because otherwise paypal seems to think it's ok to charge in dollars, and they then apply their own conversion rate, which might put the price up slightly for a UK buyer. Once the new account is set up, follow one of the links below (to either paperback or hardback) or type "Ishmael’s Blues" into the Lulu Bookstore search box. Click on the “show explicit content” tab, give the age verification box a date of birth such as 1 January 1960, and proceed.
Link for Hardcover :
Link for Paperback :

At checkout, try WELCOME15 in the coupon box, which (for the moment) takes 15% off the price before postage. If this code has expired by the time you reach this point, try a google search for " voucher code" and see what comes up.
With the 15% voucher, PB (including delivery to a UK address) should be £16.84; HB £27.04.

Monday 6 May 2024

Happy May Bank Holiday

This is May Morning on Magdalen Tower, by William Holman Hunt, a major Pre-Raphaelite painter. No apologies for posting this picture again - I covered it last May Day, along with the usual snarkey-ness about May Day traditions.  This picture is an exquisite example of the artistic principles of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner. They designated themselves pre-raphaelite because they considered Raphael's (1483 to 1520) classical poses and elegant compositions to have been a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art.  Here's Raphael's portrait of the Duke of Urbino - judge for yourself-
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art. They particularly objected to the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, (1723-1792) founder of the English Royal Academy of Arts, whom they called "Sir Sloshua". Well, they were young men at the time, fired by vision, filled with enthusiasm and kicking against the Establishment. 
Here's Sir Sloshua's portrait of Lady Elizabeth DelmĂ© and Her Children, 1777-1779 -
Sir Sloshua's work and sloshy in general, meant, according to William Michael Rossetti:  "anything lax or scamped in the process of painting ... and hence ... any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind".  The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, and considered mimesis, imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art. 
So, look again at May Morning (1890):
The freshness of the sky, the sense of height and distance, the swift movement of the birds and clouds, the sun on the faces of the choristers, the aged figure to the extreme right contrasting with the youth and vitality of the boy choristers, the depiction of sturdy, vigorous adulthood in the small group of clerics, the shocking deep red of the priestly gown leading the eye into the heap of vibrant May flowers scattered on the pitched roof of the tower, the subtlety of the many shades of white of the choristers' surplices, lit by the early morning sun, and the central image of the pretty boy, with his golden curls, just about to discard the white lily, symbol of virgin innocence, onto the piled flowers at his feet - there's nothing sloshy here. It is carefully detailed, finely painted, with a mastery of craft skills. It is actually quite small. Here it is in the frame designed for it by its creator - a depiction of the sun.

There's a whole separate craft skill in framing, and, of course, fashion dictates how a thing should look - modern sensibility would expect this painting to be in an understated plain black frame. Which would miss Holman Hunt's religious reference.
Now, some would disparagingly and erroneously call May Morning chocolate box art.
 Chocolate box art originally referred literally to decorations on chocolate boxes. Over the years, however, the terminology has changed; it is now applied broadly as an often pejorative term to describe paintings and designs that are overly idealistic and sentimental.
Using his own paintings of children, flowers and holiday scenes Richard Cadbury, the son of the founder of Cadbury's, introduced such designs to his chocolate boxes in the late 19th century.  Renoir's paintings have been described as "chocolate box" and have been derided by Degas and Picasso for being happy, inoffensive scenes. Constable's landscapes have also been so described. It's just fashion, really, and the accident of Richard Cadbury decorating his chocolate packaging has given the art snobs a handy sneer. 
The dissemination of comparatively cheap cameras and photographic processes rendered obsolete all those artists making a small living by faithfully depicting, as realistically as they could, portraits and landscapes to hang on the walls of the middle class. The invention of photography initially spurred artists on to be more photo-realistic than a photograph. Richard Estes (born May 14, 1932, in Illinois) is regarded as one of the founders of the  international photo-realist movement of the late 1960s. His paintings generally consist of reflective, clean, and inanimate city and geometric landscapes. Here's one:
Apart from the photo-realist movement, photography freed artists from the earnest labour of making paint on canvas look like something - realism, and allow them to ditch the trade skills and produce conceptual and abstract art. This sort of thing:
Venice, by Howard Hodgkin.
Or this, The Green Chateau, by Hodgkin, 
which sold for £1.3 million as a part of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on October 6th, 2017. Here's the blurb: "With its opulent palette of strong primary colours, it’s a prime illustration of Hodgkin’s breakthrough period, executed between 1976-1980. Challenging the boundaries between painting and frame, the artist covers the latter with a sumptuous, bright red stroke, expanding the limits of the emotive image with a geometric narrative unfolding at its centre."
You'll have come across the aphorism: I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.
It really should be re-rendered as: I may not know much about art, but I like what I know,
Or:  I may not know much about art, but I know about money. 
Which is amply demonstrated by auction audiences clapping the money when a painting achieves a price that would have made the safely-dead artist go cross-eyed.  

There's an exhibition on at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery:   ‘Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts and Crafts Movement’.
Birmingham has the best and most complete collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Selected from its outstanding and internationally renowned collection, Victorian Radicals presents paintings, drawings, jewellery, glass, textiles and metalwork that explored a radical vision for art and society. The collection also celebrates Birmingham’s historic importance as a centre for the Arts and Crafts.

The exhibition explores three generations of progressive British artists working between 1840 and 1910: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their circle; the second wave of Pre-Raphaelite artists who gathered around Rossetti from the late 1850s, including William Morris and Birmingham-born Edward Burne-Jones; and a third generation of designers and makers associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, working from the turn of the century to just before the First World War.

By the early 20th century, Birmingham’s School of Art was one of the most important centres in Britain for progressive art and design. Women artists were particularly significant in the School, including the painter Kate Bunce and her metalworking sister, Myra; stained-glass designer Florence Camm; enameller Fanny Bunn; and embroiderer, painter and designer Mary Newill.

With more than 160 works on display, by artists such as Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Elizabeth Siddall, the exhibition’s paintings, drawings, watercolours, and decorative arts explore the relationship between art and nature and the search for beauty in an age of industry.
Melody by Kate Bunce, Birmingham Museums

Set of Curtains, Mary J. Newill

If you are anywhere near Birmingham, do go along. You'll need to leave your car behind, though, because the city fathers, who have driven the city into bankruptcy, have imposed a car tax of £8.00 per day. I'd take the Mercedes in and hang the expense, but I live 603 miles and a sea crossing away.

Sunday 5 May 2024

The Sunday Ishmael: 05/05/2024

O Scotland! Scotland!.... If such a one be fit to govern, speak:
Fit to govern? No, not to live - O nation miserable! With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter'd, when shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?                                 (l.100-105, sc.III, Act IV, Macbeth)

Steady on, mrs ishmael - untitled, why, yes indeed - yet another unelected First Minister; and Scotland - yep, miserable nation, that's true, and he's certainly not fit to govern, but I'd hardly call John Swinney a bloody-sceptred tyrant. More likely he'd have you gnawing your own leg off with boredom than smiting you on the pate.
At 60, this sweet, bald old tortoise is a veritable youngster  compared with the octogenarian President of the United States and his 77 year old rival on whom Biden is determined to hang a criminal conviction to scupper his chances of election. Dear little old Swinney is even one year younger than Ancient Ralph Fiennes. But you know how they say age is just a number? And Swinney was born ancient -

Here he is, aged six months, having a tantrum.

and is careful to present himself as thoughtful, loyal, financially astute, a subdued performer, a safe pair of hands and in possession of a "deep Christian faith". He even got an annulment of his first marriage in order to marry his current wife in the Catholic church.
He has been around forever - MSP for North Tayside from 1999 to 2011, then MSP for Perthshire North from 2011 to the present. He was Leader of the SNP from 2000 to 2004, when he was censured by colleagues who said there was no room in Scotland for his brand of extreme nationalism and Alex Salmond advised him to resign in exchange for senior party figures not calling openly for his resignation, so he did, triggering a leadership contest, which Alex Salmond won. Funny how things work out, eh?
Swinney then held various Cabinet roles under both Salmond and Sturgeon, where he entirely failed to distinguish himself,* and held the post of Deputy First Minister from 2014 to 2023. Which places him right in the centre of the senior SNP figures interrogated by the police as part of their Operation Branchform investigation into the embezzlement of SNP funds - which resulted in the resignations of Sturgeon and her husband, Morrell, who was recently formally charged with embezzlement.
In August 2020 he was subject to a vote of no confidence in Parliament, with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all accusing Swinney of creating an exam results system which "unfairly penalised pupils at schools which had historically not performed so well". The Herald newspaper reported that: "Mr Swinney endured a deeply uncomfortable hour in the Holyrood chamber, as opposition MSPs said he had been a serial failure at the education portfolio, and he knew it." The motion was defeated by 67 votes to 58 resulting in Swinney surviving the vote and remaining as Scottish Education Secretary.

*In March 2021 Swinney was the subject of a second motion of no confidence. As the minister in charge of liaising with the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Swinney twice refused to publish legal advice requested by the committee. After two votes in Parliament failed to persuade him to publish the advice, opposition parties announced a motion of no confidence in him. Swinney u-turned and published the advice; the Scottish Greens declared they would not support the motion of no confidence and it was defeated by 65 votes to 57. (Bloody Greens again)

*Also in March 2021, Audit Scotland published a report concluding that the results of Swinney's efforts to reduce the poverty related attainment gap in Scottish education were "limited and [fell] short of the Scottish Government’s aims. Improvement needs to happen more quickly and there needs to be greater consistency across the country." In 10 Scottish council areas the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest children increased.

Despite all this, the SNP establishment has decided that he is the man of the hour, will repair the relationship with the Scottish Greens - who like him - (see above) and take the SNP forward into greater triumphs. Kate Forbes, who was dithering about, considering standing herself, was bought off by the promise of great things in a Swiney Government. He's warned off other potential candidates, saying they would: "delay the ability for the [party] to start its rebuilding". He accepts that the party has had a "difficult" two years. I'll say. "Difficult" is typical mealy-mouthed, Swiney-esquery. Despite Swinney issuing understated threats like a Mafia boss, 'tis rumoured that Graeme McCormick, extremist nationalist, is gathering the 100 votes necessary to announce his candidature. Deadline is Monday noon. Central to McCormick's campaign is that "a majority vote will result in SNP MPs being instructed to dissolve the union, establish the sovereign government of Scotland, advise the UN that the union is ended and that Scotland will adhere to the terms of the Vienna Convention on the dissolution of a former state. Under international law, this is the "how" of delivering our nation statehood.”
Oh dear.

In the midst of all this nail-biting, edge of the seat Scottish stuff, England has been holding elections for local councils. Unsurprisingly, the Tories have tanked and Labour has done pretty well. Suella Braverman, wearing a magnificent Labour-red suit,
appeared on the Laura Kuenssberg show this morning to vent her spleen, dish up some cold revenge, and basically go: Ha Ha, Ho Ho, Hee, Hee. God, she was as magnificent as her suit. Clearly not at all resentful that Sunak had dismissed her as Home Secretary on 13th November 2023 and replaced her with Big Black James Cleverly (she only mentioned a couple of times that she was not a member of the Cabinet, not part of Sunak's team and had no say in his policies), Suella (named after Sue Ellen Ewing in Dynasty, because her mum was a fan) listed Sunak's failings as Prime Minister which included migration, gender ideology, and the European human rights convention. And she regrets ever supporting him. So there.
Suella was the best bit of the whole local election shindig. The next best bit was the opportunity Kuenssberg seized, on the excuse that Labour had won Redditch, to include Jacqui Smith on her panel. You do remember her? No? Here's a few facts:
Jacqui Smith gained a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from 
 Worcester College of Higher Education. Working as a school teacher, she taught economics at Arrow Vale High School in Redditch from 1986 to 1988 and at Worcester Sixth Form College. She served on Redditch Borough Council from 1991 to 1996, and was selected through an all-women shortlist as the Labour candidate for Redditch, winning the seat in the 1997 general election. She employed her husband, Richard Timney, as her parliamentary aide on a salary of £40,000 (equivalent to £75,396.00 today). He earned his hefty salary by writing letters to the Redditch Advertiser, pretending to be an ordinary member of the public impressed by Jacqui Smith's outstanding performance as the local MP. Despite an income that most people would regard as generous, he entered a Parliamentary expenses claim for viewing two pornographic films and two other pay-per-view films on the television in their family home. 
 In January 2020, she and Timney announced they had ended their 33 year marriage. I'm truly surprised it took that long.
There was also the matter of  her investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards over allegations that 
she had inappropriately designated her sister's home in London as her main residence, despite stating in her website that she "lives in Redditch" .The arrangement had allowed Smith to claim over £116,000 (in then money) on her family's Redditch home since becoming an MP. When asked whether it was fair that she made claims for items such as a flat-screen TV and scatter cushions, she said that analyses of her receipts had been very particular and they were picking on her because she was a woman. In October 2009, it was reported that the Standards Commissioner, John Lyon, had looked into complaints over her expense claims. He concluded that, although her London home was a genuine home and she had spent more nights there than in her Redditch home, her constituency home was in fact her main home, and that she was in breach of Commons rules, despite "significant mitigating circumstances". The claims for pay-per-view films were also found to be in breach.
Then there was the decorating scandal. On 24 August 2011 it emerged that Smith had arranged for two prisoners on day-release to paint a room in her house, when they were supposed to be undertaking work to benefit the community. The Ministry of Justice launched an internal investigation into the matter, and Smith made a donation to the charity overseeing the scheme.The episode was condemned by Matthew Elliot of the TaxPayers' Alliance, who stated: "It's a disgrace that a former home secretary has used prisoners as her personal handymen".
It is a wonder that the woman can hold her head up at all, let alone appear on national television on a serious political show. Maybe a Kuenssberg producer of a Conservative cast of mind thought it would mitigate the Labour local election landslide by reminding us what Labour politicians used to be like, back in the day. Balance, you know. And hope that mrs ishmael would extract this delightful piece from the ishmaelian archive:

The Grauniad, Saturday 11 July 2009

By Simon Hack, Cookery correspondent.

Jacqui Smith is bounding through the corridors of Filth - through the mighty central lobby, where eminent journalists such as Sir Michael Kneepads Wight fellate shabby, scumbag politicians in exchange for a bit of unattributable gossip, past the ancient subsidised bars, down the stairs to her somewhat shabbier office. She seems so different from the hardened home secretary who made glum pronouncements on terror –everybody’s under suspicion - and migration control – wogs go home, unless you can donate large sums to Labour plc. She laughs, and tells me I'm not the first to have mentioned it. "This sounds a bit naff, but I've always been quite stupid, dull, flabby, and there's something about being a disgraced and wholly incompetent home secretary that suits me perfectly," she says. "But it was much worse over the past few months."

Disgraced cookery teacher, Jacqui Schmidt, the most mediocre home secretary in history, was talking to the Arsebridger Grauniad, the home of well-paid media celebrity and all things correct.
The Smith Gang of Two
Asked about her marriage to her employee, Mr Richard Wank; the girl from Redditch, an overspill town for Birmingham’s burglar community, says: One of the worst things is that newspapers are going around friends saying we know her marriage is on the rocks. "That's horrible. And it isn't, no. It’s off the rocks and down in Davy Joneses locker" No, she didn't force him to sleep on the sofa, he always did that, from choice, and yes she has forgiven him. “I fully intend to keep my husband on as my employee at forty thousand of your pounds per year. Who else would write nice letters about me to the papers and pretend he was a complete stranger?” It’s one of the great strengths about our marriage, the lies we tell. And his wanking.

The trouble is, she says, the government underestimated the public's reaction to expenses. "We should have recognised there was a problem coming and covered it up, sharpish. But then recognising problems is hardly government business, is it, not here, on Planet Hindsight? I and others were saying, no this isn't the thing that people will be worried about, what they'll be really worried about is the economy, which, thanks to us, is completely fucked."

Has Labour missed Tony Blair? "Of course. Yes, we've missed him individually, and we've missed that ability to communicate." Would he have dealt with this crisis better? "He has a real strength of understanding people's feelings and being able to communicate to people, he bombs them, shoots them, burns them and tortures them and you can’t communicate better than that; Tony Blair really is a pretty, straight guy, although some people say Mr Rupert Corpse of News International has evidence to the contrary. I think he would have got the zeitgeist about expenses and made everybody transparently shred their receipts just as he and Imelda did and then none of this would have happened. One of his strengths is he understands how people feel about things, he identifies it quickly and then he's able to lie about it. Just take his Catholicism, for instance, that’s the most sincere piece of lying from any bisexual freak of his generation. I think he would have been less good on the substantive issue of the last year - Gordon would have had to do that, a pity he didn’t." She calls Blair the greatest British war criminal of modern times, and names Brown second and Thatcher third.
An international criminal and his Moll, Tony
Asked about her future plans Schmidt said that her experience as a cookery teacher at the Leys High School in Redditch –motto, any girl not pregnant at thirteen is an outstanding success for Team Leys – combined with having been the most laughable home secretary in history would stand her in good stead. For now, though, she was spending her time making her famous and delicious Snotbuns and selling them, three for a quid, to the other thieves at the Redditch and Studley CarBoot Sale (for all your cheap stolen goods). The recipe is quite simple, she beamed, suddenly cheerful, take one cup of fresh snot, half a cup of flour and a handful of raisins, mix them all together with your hands and shape into small bun-shaped buns, bake in your John Lewis Oven for ten minutes and serve hot or cold, they are delicious and children and prime ministers love them.

In the longer term, what's the most important thing she has learned from all this? "To not get out of touch with what people think is the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do and when you are definitely doing the wrong thing insist that you are doing the right thing.Y’know, like in Afghanistan." She insists she will stand at the next election, and is far from done with politics. She'd love to have another crack at home secretary. Does she think her constituency will re-elect her? "If the general election was tomorrow, definitely not. You must be fucking joking.”
mr ishmael later explained: 

As stanislav, a young polish plumber, this writer launched the delightful confection, among others, that Ms Jacqui Smith’s previous career had been as a cookery teacher in Burglarsville High School, Redditch, and it runs to this day, the most inept and mediocre home secretary in history is, in the minds of many, always a jumped-up cookery teacher - and isn’t it the case that, what with the hubbyporn and the bathplug and squatting in sister’s broom cupboard, Schmidt acted in just the way you’d expect of a greedy, belligerent cookery teacher propelled into wholly unsuitably high office? The reality, in Schmidt’s case, has outrun the metaphor. Jacqui Smith; you couldn’t make her up, her taxpayer-salaried husband-assistant writing, under a nom de plume, to the local paper, praising the local MP, pretending she wasn’t his Mrs, that he was just a regular guy, spontaneously commending his elected representative. Since I was paying him, not the Labour party, that - the crass, cynical, illicit propagandising - for me, was the graver SchmidtSin, and in a proper country he’d go to jail.
Oh, yes, and she appeared on Celebrity Come Dancing. Was voted off in the first round.

What's on at the Theatre?
Another outing from the shouting, spitting and running around school of acting. That's What.
Rafe Fiennes was ridiculously old for the part and for some peculiar reason he chose to play the whole thing bent double, with a pronounced case of bow-leggedness. He had one note and that was a loud one. There was nothing of the heroic soldier, of calm intelligence, of thoughtful reserve as Macbeth struggles with the conflicting demands of conscience and ambition.. Nope – he just went straight into crazed, evil, bent-over-shout mode and stayed there. He did manage to calm down a bit for the Tomorrow and Tomorrow speech – if he hadn’t I might have left the cinema at that point. Lady Macbeth was, as usual, angular and unwomanly. When she claims to have given suck, one thinks, aye, right, what with? The three witches were badly-dressed chubby teenagers with too much make up.

The Porter was cut out completely. No Porter. Cut out. Gone. They had to have someone to open the door to Macduff, so they gave a couple of lines to one of the Murderers. But all that lovely stuff about equivocation went into the shredder - it would have supported a view that Macbeth was not just embodied evil.

I keep going to Shakespearean productions hoping for something wonderful, some actor who can dignify the words. I want to be moved by nuance and ambiguity. But I just get shouted at. Apparently, they could hear the shouting out in the corridor.

Here's the Youtube vlog I promised mr mongoose. 
We've had the restoration of a derelict wooden house in the forest in Belarus, the off-grid stone hut rebuild in the Italian Alps, and now we go to the Shahdag mountains in Azerbaijan, where a middle-aged couple tend the land and cook huge quantities of food in the open air on wood fires. 
Enjoy, as the waitresses command these days.

The four-volume Call Me Ishmael oeuvre, collected and curated by editor mr verge, is available on Lulu and Amazon.

Honest Not Invent, Vent Stack, Ishmael’s Blues, and the latest, Flush Test (with a nice picture of the late, much lamented, Mr Harris of Lanarkshire taking a piss on a totem pole) are available from Lulu and Amazon. If you buy from Amazon, it would be nice if you could give a review on their website.
Ishmaelites wishing to buy a copy from lulu should follow these steps :
please register an account first, at This is advisable because otherwise paypal seems to think it's ok to charge in dollars, and they then apply their own conversion rate, which might put the price up slightly for a UK buyer. Once the new account is set up, follow one of the links below (to either paperback or hardback) or type "Ishmael’s Blues" into the Lulu Bookstore search box. Click on the “show explicit content” tab, give the age verification box a date of birth such as 1 January 1960, and proceed.
Link for Hardcover :
Link for Paperback :

At checkout, try WELCOME15 in the coupon box, which (for the moment) takes 15% off the price before postage. If this code has expired by the time you reach this point, try a google search for " voucher code" and see what comes up.
With the 15% voucher, PB (including delivery to a UK address) should be £16.84; HB £27.04.