John Simpson at Devizes Arts Festival

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John Simpson at the Corn Exchange, Friday 31st May

One would expect a reporter of John Simpson’s standing and experience to be very careful and specific with his choice of words.

Simpson has been with the BBC for 52 years and has reported on 47 wars.  He is a man whose words are to be listened to, and on Friday night a packed house at the Corn Exchange were curious and enthusiastic to hear what he had to say and ask him questions about his long career and the state of the world as we know it today.

The man is all bon homie and old school decency, and one suspects that his affability and fair manner have got him out of many a sticky situation.  He starts off light, laughing about being punched on his first day on the job and being mistaken for David Attenborough, and chatting about family.  He has a book to promote but avoids saying much about that at all.

He talks about the BBC, saying that these days there is opposition from all sides towards the organisation and that he’s never been told to tone it down in all the years he has worked for them.  He talks about Trump, his ‘habit of tweeting insanities’ and strategy of giving away positions and key elements before presenting final agreements as amazing victories.  He’s disappointed that the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests will be overshadowed by Trump’s visit to the UK. He says that Gaddafi was off his head, that Saddam Hussein scared him, and that al-Bashir was weak and wanted to be liked.  He liked Thatcher, although ‘When she was good she was very very good and when she was bad she was something else’. He says that Mandela treated people as the best version of themselves and waxes lyrical about his admiration for Václav Havel. He acknowledges that China is to be taken very seriously indeed and thinks that the best strategy is to keep it in play.  China is, says Simpson, surprisingly open and anxious to be part of the international community.

He saves his most emotive words for how he feels about Britain today. ‘The line of confrontation’ he says, ‘is very disturbing indeed’. He compares the UK to France in the 50s, which was, he says ‘extraordinarily violent’.  He says that there is a ‘vicious divide which stirs up the weakest intellects’.  He talks about the ‘disgraceful’ messages that his colleague Laura Kuenssberg gets on social media and says that he holds social media responsible for the current ‘nastiness and violence’, for which he gets a round of applause.  He refers to ‘disturbing threats to freedom’ and says that he feels more able to talk freely about other countries than our own these days.  He’s dismayed to see our reputation plummet in the eyes of the world.  ‘It’s painful to find that Britain has become an international joke’ and ‘It’s important to realise the way we’ve damaged our country’.

He wonders if Brexit was ‘the tinder that started the whole performance’ but stops short of apportioning blame to any particular entity. ‘This Brexit business is going to change things’ he says sadly, wishing that we could be ‘back the way we were before all this started’.

There are points where Simpson catches himself just before he falls into an abyss of pessimism and says something about hope.  He does, after all, have a young son to be optimistic for.  Terrorism is 7 or 8% of what it was in the seventies, he says, and a billion have been lifted out of poverty in the past 13 years.  But when it comes to Britain he struggles to find any positives at all, and this from a man like Simpson is disturbing.  ‘We need to try and be less divisive ourselves and more accepting of other points of view’, he says, wishing for the best but sounding as if he is whistling in the wind.

He sticks rigidly to his three-quarter hour talk and fifteen-minute Q&A plan, but then he didn’t get where he is today by faffing about.  Those who wanted endless war stories are disappointed, but those who wanted his views on current situations are not.  He signs books afterwards and is very approachable.

I ask people what they thought of the great man. ‘His description of Mandela – it revealed that what we all hoped to be true of him actually was’ says one audience member.  ‘Honest’, ‘Genuine’, ‘Empowering’, and ‘Awe-inspiring’, say others.  ‘I was sitting there thinking what have I done with my life’ says my friend. The general feeling is that it has been a privilege to hear John Simpson speak, and that people have been delighted by his wit.

And then off he goes, with shrapnel in his side and a shard of hope in his heart, to his next adventure.

In the Market Place I take a picture of him smiling.

© Gail Foster 3rd June 2019

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Parliaments of the Absurd

Disappointment? Disbelief?
Dismay? Disgust? Is there a word
Like Weltzschmerz to describe the grief
The disappointment, disbelief –
As if a word would give relief
A’s for Arseholes and Absurd
Disappointment, disbelief
Dismay, disgust – is there a word?

The Emperor! How bright his crown
Is shining in the blinding light!
There’s unicorns upon his gown!
The Emperor! How bright his crown!
All hail! We follow him to town
(‘Dear God, he’s got his cock out!’ ‘Quite’)
The Emperor! How bright his crown
Is shining in the blinding light!

There are no words, it seems to me
Analogy will have to do –
A piss up in a brewery
An Emperor, who seems to me
To have his cock out – do you see
The tumbleweed and smell the poo?
There are no words, it seems to me
Analogy will have to do

Disappointment? Disbelief?
Dismay? Disgust? There is no word
Like Weltzschmerz to describe the grief
Distrust, disgust, and disbelief –
There are no words to give relief
In Parliaments of the Absurd
Disappointment, disbelief
Dismay, disgust – there is no word

© Gail Foster 30th January 2019

Brexit Backstab Bitchfest

*

There once was a government who

Were divided and hadn’t a clue

How to manage the exit

From Europe and Brexit

You first. Oh no, after you.

There once was a government who

Were at war.  It was blue upon blue

As they edged down the halls

With their backs to the walls

You first.  Oh no, after you.

There once was a government who

Were divided and nobody knew

What to do, so they bitched

And they backstabbed and stitched

Up each other.  You first.  After you.

*

© Gail Foster 12th September 2018

Why Deal With Truth When Lies Will Do

 
Vote Theresa, and you may
See Brexit worries fly away
On fluffy clouds of pink and blue
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, get behind
The flying pigs all flying blind
We’re just a turd on Europe’s shoe
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, have it hard
She’ll get our ball from Europe’s yard
They love us really, yes they do
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, what”s to lose
She’ll still have money for her shoes
And we’ll be in the food bank queue
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, stable, strong
All good, and we’ll all get along
Nah, we’ll still be Europe’s twat
Hogwash, nonsense, tosh an’ that
*

© Gail Foster 3rd May 2017