Basel

basel-1We went to Basel. Strange that we’d never been before, because it’s only 88 kilometres (55 miles) away, an easy enough drive. Closer than Strasbourg and Freiburg, about the same distance as Colmar, a little further than Mulhouse. But Basel is in Switzerland, so there’s that.

Anyway, we were thinking of going to the Christmas market in Montbéliard, which is fairly close, but also tough for parking, and someone recommended Basel instead, and an underground car park under some kind of retail space.

We didn’t need our passports. This, in spite of the fact that Switzerland isn’t in the EU, and another reminder that Britain is a shit country with a shitty, xenophobic national character and I wish I didn’t live there. Another piece of good news is that our phones (on the Three network in the UK) continued to have a data connection in Switzerland at no extra cost. The list of countries that you don’t pay roaming charges in on Three is now pretty comprehensive. So Google Maps kept working, and we sat-navved our way into the centre of Basel (Bâle in French), and parked in the underground car park.

One Swiss Franc (CHF) is worth 79 pence, so fairly comparable to the €uro (85 pence). There’s an Apple Store in Basel, so I’ve now realised we could have bought my daughter’s new laptop for 1999 CHF (£1584) instead of £1749. I guess exchange rate smoke and mirrors would take care of the rest. Anyway, some places would take €uros instead of Francs and give you change in Francs, a good deal for them.

But we weren’t there for shopping, and our only transactions were for blow-your-face-off mulled wine, pretzels, and bratwurst. We were there for the market, and the lights, and to wander the streets. I’m assuming there’s one big Chinese town that supplies all the tat for Christmas markets? There can’t be that many artisans making laser cut wooden ornaments and suchlike. We saw truffles for sale at CHF 3.33 per gram (so, um, 33 francs for 10 grams), and enjoyed wandering around the Harrods-like food hall of the Globus department store.

The Christmas market was defended by strategic concrete barriers, and I noticed the police turning away all commercial vehicles from around the area – even a van was not allowed.

Apart from that, what was most pleasant about walking around Basel was the almost complete absence of cars. Trams everywhere, lots of them, quite old-fashioned looking, but charming, and frequent. But everywhere else, you could pedestrian without being molested by the Busy-and-Important motorist types. Now, there are pedestrian zones almost everywhere, but in my experience, you almost never walk down a pedestrian precinct without having to dodge multiple delivery/service vans, and a seemingly endless procession of people who, for whatever reasons, have decided that the No Motor Vehicles sign doesn’t apply to them, and that they are therefore perfectly entitled to drive their car up and down the narrow cobbled streets. Everywhere you go, there are mini Clarksons with sharp elbows and rumbling engines, telling you that they’ll relinquish their cars when you pry their cold dead hands from the steering wheel.

The other really nice thing about Basel was that there were lots of places to sit. I mean, benches and seats and all kinds of sitting-down surfaces were everywhere. And no spluttering exhausts. Sure, your stereotype of the Swiss would have them exceedingly well-behaved, and the streets were remarkably clean and (unlike Berlin) almost graffiti-free, and there were no visible homeless people, all that, but it was just really nice to walk the streets without being annoyed by cars. And cars, as we should all by now have realised, have basically ruined everything. Without cars, everywhere is a nicer place to be. It’s just one of many reasons to look forward to the apocalypse.

 

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

cloudbound_comp1-1Cloudbound is the sequel to last year’s well-regarded Updraft, a YA fantasy novel that I liked a lot, and which was shortlisted for a number of awards, winning a couple. What I liked about Updraft was its world-building and its pacy style. I always felt as if the author knew much more about this world than she was telling us, and it was fun to work it all out. Unfortunately, all of these elements are missing from the sequel, Cloudbound, which lumbers along in a meandering and repetitive way, with a leaden narrator who is seems wilfully obtuse. The overall effect is as inspiring as reading something like the minutes of a staff meeting at the council housing department.

Updraft was narrated by Kirit – the ambitious daughter of a trader, who is taken by the Singers (monk-like enforcers of the City’s many rules) and initiated into the secrets of their society. She’s lively, curious, rebellious and fun to read. Cloudbound, on the other hand, is narrated by her far less interesting friend, Nat. Now, Nat seems to continually get the wrong end of the stick about everything, trusts everyone he shouldn’t, and needs to constantly stop and remind us about what just happened, what he wants to happen, and why we’re all here in the first place. It says something about Nat as a character that my heart immediately sank when I opened the book and started reading, realising that his was the narrative viewpoint.

The vividly described bone City of Updraft is now sketchy and vague, with unclear geography, and our characters seem to spend an awful lot of time tumbling around, out of control, plummeting towards and into the clouds. Which would be fine—except that in Updraft, dipping below the clouds was certain death, but now is suddenly apparently perfectly safe. Down and down and down they go.

Nat supposedly has loved ones – a wife or partner who is pregnant, apparently – but they’re never around for long, and Nat doesn’t seem to have much passion for his lover or concern for his unborn child. It’s very strange, as if written in short bursts but never actually read through to see if it hangs together.

The plot seems wafer thin, padded out by lots of repetition and by lots of half-baked plans which go wrong immediately. Make your hero suffer, right? Except I cannot root for any so-called hero who is both indecisive and inept— so much so, that he can’t come up with a workable plan, even when surrounded by otherwise competent friends. Down and down they go.

And then you get close to the end, and you realise that there is going to be no final act in which our heroes finally get it together and defeat their enemies. Instead, the narrative just kind of stops, almost mid-sentence, and with dismay you understand that you’re holding in your hands the problematic middle child of a trilogy. Which, obviously, I’m not going to be reading to completion. You end up feeling like you’ve been sitting in a bath that’s slowly emptying. And then it’s over and your skin is cold and you forgot to bring a towel.

If you read Updraft and enjoyed it, I’d stick with that, and not let the experience get sullied by this lukewarm sequel.

Here’s the thing

vote-labour-key-posterThe last thing the world needs right now is another column inch about Corbyn, so here are several.

I’m no psephologist but I know what one is, and I know they’ve all done the maths, concluding that Labour under Corbyn will not be able to persuade those I’m-all-right-Jacks in the Southeast of Englandland to vote for him.

So the whole idea behind the Labour Party parliamentary putsch has been to restore the idea of a Labour Party that can win some marginal seats in Southern Britain. Because they’re right, aren’t they? No way the former Mondeo Man, now the BWM 3-series Man, or Audi Q5 Woman, are going to vote against their own self interests. They never have. People vote for the party they think will make them richer.

The “miracle” Blair achieved was to create a Labour Party so right wing that people in the marginals actually voted for it. So now the Received Wisdom forever more will be that for Labour to win an election, they have to be exactly the same as the Tories on almost every issue, even as far as agreeing spending plans and welfare cuts.

Meanwhile, large swathes of Britain were taken for granted or forgotten. And into that vacuum of giving a shit stepped the nationalist parties, the SNP and UKiP. And there went Labour’s core support. Which means that Received Wisdom in the right wing of the Labour Party is that they have to also make the same noises about immigration as the UKiP as well as agreeing to punish the poor for being poor.

And here’s the thing. Once you’ve gone that far, once you’ve lost Scotland and your more racist former supporters are voting UKiP, and all the noises you’re making are exactly the same noises as the Nasty Party, well who gives a shit about you any more?

Which is where Corbyn fits. We need, so desperately, a mass movement of Labour similar to that of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Because out here in the real world, things are pretty fucking horrible. We’ve got a new generation of robber barons bleeding us dry; obscene levels of inequality; the steady erosion of hard-won rights; and a Parliamentary Labour Party (mostly lawyers) that votes, over and over, against the interests of working people. So when a new mass movement elects Corbyn as Labour leader, it’s not about winning elections. If the cost of winning elections is to be a a slightly pinker version of the Tory Party, what’s the point? Labour lost the right to rule when Gordon Brown bailed out the banks and then allowed the narrative of the financial crash to get out of his control.

All of the anti-Corbyn arguments are about winning elections, but those are the wrong arguments. It’s the differend, people. We’re arguing about different things. Winning elections really isn’t the point, unless is means higher taxes for the rich; the private corporations out of the NHS; and end of free schools, academies and grammar schools; a living wage; a ban on zero hours contracts; and a new programme of public spending (who pays? you do). We don’t need a Labour Party in power who just apes the Tories. What we need is a Labour movement designed to raise the consciousness of a new generation and agitate for progressive social change. We need a movement that’s fit for purpose and for the long term benefit of working people. And if that means a few empty Labour suits lose their comfortable seats in Westminster over the short term, well, good.

A book: Class War

class war coverUpdate: fellow blogger Rashbre has put up a review of Class War, which has some interesting insights. 

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I need to write a better blurb for it, but: it’s about Dave Coote, a teacher who’s struggling along in an academy school and facing up to the fact that the job is becoming impossible because of creeping privatisation, corruption, and management bullshit.

There’s other stuff happening, too: a former student who drops in to ask a favour and turns his life upside down. And then there’s the evidence of financial mismanagement Coote comes across and what he decides to do about it.

It’s a work of fiction, of course, and published under a pseudonym because: reasons.

It’s a quick read: 68,000 words. Available for Kindle and Kindle Apps:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon Canadia

Amazon Oz

Amazon India