Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Five and Twenty Ponies

Honest Englishmen at labour

Number Three has gone into labour, waters burst and all that sort of thing, the stuff pregnant women do when they can’t take the burden anymore and have every right to all the support their husband’s can give.

Being me, I hadn’t noticed.  Mind you, I wasn’t her husband.  To me she was merely a bit off colour.  She has been pregnant for ages and yes, she is really big but I am sure Doggy had been pregnant for longer.  We made her a bed in my room but these dogs are half feral so first chance she saw, she was out of the room and into the bush somewhere.  I guess, like Doggy did, she will dig herself a hole and nature will take its course.

Those of you following the soap, the novella that is my life in Angola will know that I gave up naming my dogs because every time I had a healthy one trained up, someone would steal it.  So for the last couple of years or so, my house has been home only to un-named strays.  First was a timorous, shivering black puppy.  I called her ‘Dog’.  Then there was the puppy Dominic bravely rescued from certain death as a Python’s lunch.  I named him ‘Dinge’, German for ‘Thing’.  Snakes were his nemesis for he was to die by snake bite.  Number Three was in a pitiful state when she found me.  She had appeared out of nowhere and somehow, for whatever reason, had managed to crawl to the door of my room where I stumbled over her at four in the morning.

She had been run over or at least hit hard by a vehicle and with the world still asleep, there was not a lot I could do except give her some water and a comfortable place to die.  The next day, she was still with us so I took her for the 160km round trip to the vet.  He said he would put her down for $100 which, he admitted, was a lot for a ‘street dog’ implying I should just have left her to die there.  ‘In my professional opinion,’ he pontificated as only the Portuguese can, ‘this dog is better off dead.’  ‘So there is nothing you can do for her apart from killing her?’  I retorted.  He turned his back on me and started to wash his hands.

‘OK’ I said, if that is your professional opinion, I’ll go home and do it myself’

‘It is illegal for you to kill a dog!’ he shouted, suddenly animated, ‘If you do, Eu vou te queixar!’ 

Now I thought this a uniquely foreign expression and attitude.  Eu vou te queixar, I will denounce you.  Imagine, an attitude like that engendered into a population.  In many countries, African, South American, even European (the Stasi in East Germany, that’s quite close to home) it was the norm.  Get pissed in a bar and say something, anything that might be construed as disrespectful to the reigning tyrant on the hill and someone sober enough to remember the following morning will denounce you to the authorities.  Now, here, it has been diluted a little bit since Sinfo can no longer rush in at night and drag you out of bed to an anonymous future as often as they did, but it remains in the lingua franca as a suggestion that your accuser knows people and can make life suddenly very uncomfortable for you.  And with good reason.  Rather like Witchsmeller Pursuivants, having had the smoke indicated to them, be they special police, security police or secret police, whatever their Nome de Guerre, however ephemeral the smoke, they will pursue the fire and Habeas Corpus no longer applies.

I read with interest recently that HMRC are enjoying considerable success with an ever increasing proportion of their prosecutions based on denunciations.  Whatever happened to the nation of pirates, buccaneers, gentleman of fortune and smugglers that beat off successively the Spanish, the French, and Nazi Germany?  Where is the spirit of a country, a Union with its own flag the population of which despised Redcoats, the revenue men, even though doing so risked meeting your maker dancing a jig at the end of a hangman’s rope?  A country where everyone kept their mouths shut, behaved as decently as they could and anti-social members of society who could not be dealt with at an early age by a swift slap round the chops by the local Bobby to the shame of their parents were dealt with by a stern beak applying the albeit sometimes blunt instrument of Law?  It was a mistake to ban corporal punishment in schools.  After all, the birch on the Isle of Man kept it an anti-social behaviour free zone for generations until this reasonable pratice too was finally outlawed.  Now it appears rather than robust policing and tough justice, we have human rights and snitching to the detriment of all.

In the old days, a policeman needed a warrant to break your door down and rush into your house.  Interestingly a customs and revenue man didn’t (leading one to question the priorities of Government).  Nowadays it appears almost anyone, however loosely connected to a government institution can do so.  Even parking your car on the Queen’s highway can have you clamped and facing a demand for outrageous sums of money with menaces.  Angola is described as a dictatorship but how far behind is UK if we consider what restrictions on civil liberty, freedom of expression, the right to privacy and a similar right to defend one’s self and property, along with the abuse of power by elected and increasingly non elected representatives make up a dictatorial regime?  Even councils can use the anti-terrorist law to spy on citizens.

At school, snitching would earn the culprit a jolly good thrashing round the back of the bike shed.  Informing just wasn’t done and I took plenty of whacks from the Head of Middle School’s well worn cane for refusing to give him the answers he wanted to his questions.  Better an honourable sore bum eliciting respectful sympathy than a dishonourable set of sore ribs and a bit of spilt port down the front of one’s shirt earning only scorn and a trip to Coventry.  Or as I witnessed happen to one particularly odious,  little shit of a teacher’s pet, being repositioned to hooker in the second XI and the first scrum dissolving to reveal his semi conscious and stud marked body pressed face down into cold Leicestershire mud.  Being the sports we were, we all dutifully clapped him off the pitch as his whimpering form was dumped on the sidelines to recover on his own,

I am all the more surprised, therefore, that Call Me Dave, who went to a rather smart school, should be presiding over a regime which not only tolerates snitching, but actively encourages it.  Citizen spying on citizen, neighbour on neighbour.  Of course reporting a crime is the civic duty of every citizen.  The trouble is, virtually everything is a crime nowadays, especially everything involving loss of revenue.  So what if a plumber does a decent job for you and accepts cash?  Is it my problem if he breaks the law by avoiding the odious tax burden the country now places on its citizens while allowing those who can afford a decent accountant to pay a fraction of what this honest hard working tradesman faces?  We all joke about ‘rich’ plumbers but there will be a few reading this who will laugh heartily (bitterly?) at such a contention.  We have income tax, national insurance contributions, capital gains tax, taxes on savings, taxes on investments, stamp duties, a tax on everything bought and sold and even death duties.  No wonder everyone is trying to dodge it and how despicable a government resorting to tactics which breakdown all respect for authority.  I have nothing against the rich hanging on to their lucre, after all, through a combination of hard work, wit and good fortune they earned it and so what if their wealth was inherited and these offspring of the men that flogged themselves into an early grave are little more than idle rich?  I have all I need but continue to wheel and deal so that my son’s can be idle rich if they choose to and I’d be mighty pissed off if the fruit of all my labour went to the exchequer to fritter away.  But if the well heeled can get away with paying only 10% tax, why can’t the rest of us?  Rather than be part of a baying mob dragging some Gentleman from his fine horse and robbing him of his goods and chattels so we all end up in the mud together, I look at him and wonder how I could earn enough to buy a decent donkey and some silk robes as well.  Bloody difficult if you are taxed from cradle to beyond the grave.

Every decent citizen understands that to enjoy the benefits of society, each must make a contribution according to their means.  It should be a clear indication to otherwise deaf politicians that if a law is consistently broken, it is probably a bad one in as much it is evidently not the will of the electorate.  African governments, dictatorships, have been constantly criticised for corruption and waste; the huge vanity projects plunging their countries into un-serviceable debt.  But why single them out in that same pontificating manner the vet dealt with me albeit at a personal level?  Does the country really need to invest in HS2 when they can’t even run a basic rail service?  Angola is slowly rebuilding its rail links after decades of civil war and the bits they have going would make the average UK commuter weep with frustration and envy.  Yet here tax realistically amounts to no more than 20%.  In UK, adding up all the forms of taxation it is not unreasonable to suggest that two thirds of a citizen’s hard earned lucre goes to the revenue men.  I subscribe to the view that we as citizens agree to contribute a reasonable portion of our income to a common pot, managed by people we elect, to provide us the basic services we need; clean water, energy, education and health.  If the people we elect can’t balance the books, they should be sacked.  If they fail to balance the books, they should be pilloried on the village green.

I shall mention two individuals who could not have been considered politically further apart but both were prescient:

Enoch Powell published a slim volume entitled ‘Tax at 2/6 in the Pound’ (that is 12.5%) understandably out of print, the government probably burnt the presses.  In it he argued that once the burden of taxation exceeded a certain, in his opinion, relatively low level, revenue would fall and the cost of collecting it would rise with an attendant stifling of the economy.  In other words, he was suggesting that human nature would cause a quiet rebellion, even decent citizens would baulk and succumb to the temptation to evade tax wherever possible and, in consequence, the bureaucracy and associated costs would soar.

George Orwell wrote in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ that, ‘Left to themselves, the English might well produce a genteel form of fascism’.

Orwell was considered too left wing for even the BBC, an organisation for which he worked during the war, to allow a bust of him to be erected on or near their property.  Powell was considered so racist no-one dares to even think of erecting a bust to him.  However grudgingly, you have to admit they were both right.

Instead of a harmonious multi racial society, we have riotous assembly and ghettos.  Instead of freely available basic essential services we have vanity projects and pensioners freezing to death in garrets.  Instead of equable taxation and balanced accounts, we have a massive burden of debt that our children will have to bear.  And now we have state sponsored spying.  Indeed a genteel form of fascism.  Genteel until the revenue men or the bailiffs kick in your door, that is.

For me to advocate taking to the streets, pitchforks and flaming brands to hand would risk my own incarceration and further justification, if by some miracle citizens heeded my call, for further restrictions of civil liberty.  But for those of you as outraged as I am, don’t forget the power of turning a blind eye to those with the nouse to buck the system, teasing the authorities until the system is unsustainable.  To explain that notion, I hand you over to Rudyard Kipling:

IF you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again - and they'll be gone next day !

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more !

If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you " pretty maid," and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been !

Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after dark -
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by !

'If You do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be give a dainty doll, all the way from
With a cap of
Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along 'o being good !

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by !



  1. Shouldn't you be boiling endless water and fetching towels for the dog?

    You are not less than correct about the much-vaunted "big society" of modern Ingerlund. Two-thirds is roughly what we grunts eventually pay overall in tax, and what we get for it is a scheme of dustbin men handing out on-the-spot fines and local parish councillors handing out cash rewards for "information received".

    My guess is that it must have felt a bit like this in the run-up to the Roman decline and fall. It's all very depressing, even if mentioning in a public forum that I am depressed about it is going to cost me a fixed penalty fine from the UnSpeak NonThink Ministry.

    We live in a country ruled by people who can't spell paranoia and yet have fostered enough of it to keep us all twitching. This is going to get me jailed for certain but, well - bloody revolution actually IS the only cure now. Our despots are far too comfortable and secure, this crop must be thrown away and replaced with a less certain bunch of psychotic criminals. Seriously!

  2. "Citizen spying on citizen". I don't recognise this picture of England and I live here. It remains a wonderful country. The English are so inventive, so creative and so self-deprecating. We have so much to be grateful for. Okay there are problems, injustices, irritations - nothing's ever perfect - but speaking as someone who has visited every continent apart from Antarctica, I am so pleased that my home is England which I consider to be the best little country on this planet. I can't understand why you're ragging it.

  3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/6210255/EU-funding-Orwellian-artificial-intelligence-plan-to-monitor-public-for-abnormal-behaviour.html

  4. I am not knocking the country, after all, I served it long enough (and have been informed that the preserved pension I was due aged 55 I can now only claim at 60 'cos the rules have changed). It is all a question of perception, looking at it from the outside. All we read about is kids on BMX's knifing other kids etc. and a government agency, HMRC and even councils setting up hotlines to allow citizens to report fellow citizens.

    I was knocking the politicians, outrageous taxation and the burden of debt to be carried by future generations.

    Your blog is brilliant, the photos magnificent and it really shows the England I remember and Sir Owl of the Wood laments but it'll never make the news here in Angola. All we hear about is the bad stuff and I watch Sky and BBC as often as I can and read the Telegraph and the Independant on line.

    On the subject of knocking countries, all I read about Angola is corruption, dictatorship, crime, violence, war, landmines.

    The fact remains, though, that in UK taxes are bloody eyewatering and are stifling growth. I also make the point that ever more legislation, ever more surveillance brings us little steps closer to a dictatorial regime, closer to what the UK press think of Angola.

  5. Kipling is growing on me
    and has done over the past few years or so....
    I wonder what he was really like?

  6. The Chinese have a saying (Mandarin) "Mei banfa" which, loosely translated means "Nothing can be done!". It's used commonly to express frustration at the conundrum of ceaselessly having to deal with a greedy and corrupt administration.

  7. John G, Kipling is my favourite poet. He was also considered the soldier's poet. He wrote with great sympathy about the environment he found himself in and the races that peopled it. He wrote some magic works for childre, Puck of Pooks Hill, Kim and The Jungle Book to name just a few. For us adults there was the marvellous, The Man Who Would be King. He was widely travelled but India was where his inspiration lay. Despite India's not unnatural aversion to anything smacking of the days of the raj, his house there is maintained as a museum. He was also a Freemason.

    The Smuggler's song is one of the few poems I can recite by heart and have frequently done so for both my boys as a bed time story when they cannot sleep.

    John D, they also have a saying (sadly I know not the Mandarin) saying, 'May you live in interesting times' which at first sight seems benign, even a blessing but is actually a curse.

  8. Hippo, you write so very well, having me spellbound, I almost don't care about content.

    I also followed your Telegraph link.

    Orwell - Let's not shoot the messenger. He only predicted the future. And now the future is here. Only worse.

    Leaving taxes aside for a moment, there are two ways of looking at the increasing state funded surveillance: Mine and yours. And mine is very simple: So fucking what?

    If people want to spend time and money snooping into my private affairs, recording every carrot I buy on my supermarket's loyalty card - fine, be my guest. There are better ways to waste one's life but whatever makes nerds and geeks happy. I am not little Gretel lost in the woods: I don't give a shit. And I say this as one of the most private people you'd wish to extract from their shell. It's nothing to me. Nothing.

    Neither do I believe - as you appear to - that we live in a "them and us" society. We, all of us, are responsible for the society we live in. Vive la Revolution.



Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.