Are We Still Fighting Them on the Beaches?

It’s tempting to wonder how much of current British (or English) politics can be explained by the aftermath of the last war. With the 75th anniversary of VE day not long ago and with Brexit still hanging in the air like mustard gas, it seems to explain a lot, including why people might have held their noses and voted for Johnson. In fact as this Guardian article suggests they may have voted for him because of his faults rather than in spite of them. It was clear Johnson was a narcissist. He thinks of himself as Winston Churchill whereas the Churchill dog is nearer the mark. Cummings proposes; Johnson says ‘Awww yesss!’

Cummings, if reports are to be believed, is particularly good at three-word slogans. Take Back Control, Get Brexit Done – these were clear vote-winners. Stay at Home was even better as it had the virtue, unlike the others, of actually making sense. But there is a growing feeling that his slogans no longer make sense. Do Your Duty is particularly hollow coming from a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him; and for those who fought in the war or did other duties as well as those unable to be with loved ones as they died, it is particularly insulting; and for these reasons I don’t think it’s going to go away.

But still, there are worse people in the world and one of them was Jeffrey Epstein. We’ve been watching a documentary series about him on Netflix and he’s emerging as a man who would stop at nothing in his need to control others, be they politicians or police officers or women or other financiers. Johnson is a narcissist, sure, but he wants to be liked; to be seen as a jolly showman, a master of ceremonies who shows up to bask in glory and use words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘world-beating.’ Surely by now it must be dawning on his supporters just how hollow these words are?

But with or without Johnson I think the illusion largely remains in this country that we can ‘go it alone’, both economically and in every way. The tragedy of global capitalism is that we have global trade but parochial attitudes, whereas it ought to be the other way round: ‘think globally, act locally’, not ‘buy globally, think parochially.’

Kirk out

What Do You Think of it So Far? Rubbish!

British readers of a certain age will get the reference right away. At a certain point during their show, Ernie Wise would turn to Eric Morecambe with a hopeful boyish grin and say ‘What do you think of it so far?’ to which Eric would always reply ‘Rubbish!’ So – what do you think of it so far? It’s pretty rubbish, isn’t it? We have the worst death rate in Europe, a chaotic response to the crisis and a government advisor who breaks his own rules and refuses to apologise and a Prime Minister who by backing him, jeopardises not only his own position but the standing of his government. Rubbish barely covers it. As Marina Hyde points out in the article I quoted yesterday, Boris Johnson wanted to be Prime Minister. He wants to have been Prime Minister. It’s just the bit in between that he struggles with. What a clown.

So let us consider the opposition’s response. I’m reserving judgment on Keir Starmer; I don’t see him as another Blair, as many on the left have suggested, though he’s certainly not another Corbyn. He seems cautious in his approach, which may be because that’s his nature or may be because he’s wary of taking too many risks at this stage. It’s the predicament of every Labour leader; with most of the press automatically against you, do you pursue a radical agenda or do you play it safe? Either way you can’t win. But since I was highly critical of those who never gave Corbyn a chance, I feel duty bound to give Starmer a chance – at any rate his current policy of standing back and letting the government destroy itself seems a sensible one.

Speaking of duty, I see Johnson has had the temerity to call on the public’s sense of duty in co-operating with the ‘trace, track and test’ programme; and many of today’s headlines rightly call upon him and Cummings to lead by example. Johnson seems to be getting daily further out of touch with public opinion. Well, this is what you get for electing a narcissist.

Kirk out

‘No Such Thing as Society,’ Implies Cummings

If you think about it, the recent actions of Dominic Cummings illustrate perfectly the Thatcherite maxim there’s no such thing as society.* In putting himself and his family first, in neglecting the needs of others and the common good, he exemplified that maxim in action. Me and mine come before you and yours; that’s what it boils down to, plus an egoistic plan to interpret the rules in your own way. Supposing we all did this? Supposing we applied our own interpretations to, say, the speed limit? I might say ‘Well, I know it’s supposed to be thirty round here but it’s fairly quiet so I choose to interpret the speed limit as forty-five.’ Or, on the motorway I might say ‘Yes I know it’s actually seventy but I take that as a rough guideline. The road is clear so I interpret seventy to mean up to eighty-five.’ And so on. This is the worst kind of egoism and yes, we are all prone to it; I cannot hold my hand up and say I’ve never broken the speed limit. I find it very hard to stick to thirty mph on a straight road with no traffic; I am often tempted to exceed seventy on the motorway. However, were I caught I would absolutely expect to suffer the penalty. I would I hope admit my mistake.

* To be fair, Thatcher may not have been suggesting that people should be quite as selfish as this implies. She was telling people to look after themselves and their families first; it was an argument against the state rather than ‘society’; however it has been interpreted by Left and Right alike as a call to rampant individualism.

And therein lies the problem. Had Cummings only apologised his job would not now be under threat. Had he acknowledged the insult to the rest of us who followed the rules; people dying alone, people unable to see dying members of their family, people risking their lives to self-isolate; his job would not now be under threat. Instead he came up with an ‘explanation’ that insults not only our suffering but also our intelligence. Yes, we are all prone to error and should be slow to judge others who err. But as Rev Richard Coles pointed out (on his Facebook page) you cannot be a law-maker as well as a law-breaker. You must hold yourself to a higher standard. Cummings must go – and the sooner the better. Now. Today.

And here, Marina Hyde in the Guardian has a brilliant and witty analysis of why Johnson is reluctant to sack him.But I shall conclude with some words of Oscar Wilde might have uttered in this situation: ‘Never speak slightingly of society. Only those who can’t get into it do that.’

Kirk out

Wealth is Wasted on the Wealthy

I had an idea or two in mind this morning but now they’ve flown, and I’m feeling a little like Fran in this clip from Black Books when, given a job as a favour from one of Manny’s underworld mates, she is asked to give a presentation with no clue as to what her job is about or even what the company does.

The rich – or at least those who comment in public on the issue of wealth inequality – are fond of saying that they ‘earned’ their money and therefore have a right to keep it, thereby implying that poor(er) folk just don’t work hard enough. There also seems to be an attitude that they know how to handle wealth, whereas poorer folk wouldn’t be able to. There may be some truth in this; a number of people who’ve won ridiculous amounts on the lottery fritter it away and end up as poor as they were before. But it’s about the mindset. How rich do you feel? Do rich people really, genuinely appreciate what they have? Or do they take it for granted and only want more? How many yachts is enough?

Of course ‘the rich’ are not a homogeneous group, any more than ‘the masses.’ It all depends on your perspective; when you look at crowds from a distance, people appear much closer together than they are in reality. So that although ‘the powerful’ (who are largely contiguous with ‘the rich’) always pull together when threatened, at other times they are probably further apart than we imagine. Like Orion’s belt, they only look like a constellation from where we’re standing.

I’m working on supposition here, since the wealthiest people I know have large houses in the suburbs and a social conscience; I don’t know anyone with a private jet or an estate or a fancy yacht, let alone any owners of multinational companies or bosses who get six-figure bonuses. (My brother-in-law did once have a boat but it sank a couple of years back after he’d spent years doing it up.)

But do rich people actually appreciate how rich they are? I suspect they don’t; furthermore I suspect that, just as I have no concept of what it would be like to have millions in the bank, so they have no idea what it’s like to worry about the rent or to choose between heating and eating. As Paul McKenna says, after a certain point it’s not about what you have but your attitude towards it. Are you poor in mind? Do you always want more? Do you compare yourself with others who have more? How rich do you feel? To be ‘poor and content’ may be a mealy-mouthed cliche but if you’re rich and discontented there’s nowhere to go. You’re on a treadmill.

So: as Fran so helpfully says, what are we doing? What’s it all about? Is this the best that we can be?

What am I doing here?

Watch the clip – it’s really funny.

Kirk out

PS I’ve recently learned the Greek for rich, which is ‘plautos’. Hence ‘plutocrat.’

Cummings and Goings and Staying Put

I don’t honestly think I can add anything to what others have said about the disgraceful behaviour of the government’s chief advisor in going to visit his parents for no good reason when others are not allowed to visit their dying children in hospital, and the even more disgraceful response of the Prime Minister in defending the indefensible. He’ll regret doing that; as Withnail said of another rat, the fucker will rue the day!

Then the fucker will rue the day.

But enough; I need to stop thinking about that before I choke with rage. Aaaaaaaand breathe! So, what else has been happening in lizardyogaland? I’ve finished Girl, Woman, Other and have a slight hiatus in my reading as I’ve now caught up on just about everything. It’s a great feeling, and there’s room for more so I’ve ordered Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe about which I will tell you more when it arrives. On the TV front I have rediscovered the classic series from the 1980’s The Jewel in the Crown. Starring Art Malik, Tim Piggott-Smith and Geraldine James it covers the final years of the British Raj in India. I was utterly glued to this when it came out and am delighted to have found it again. it’s based on The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott which of course I read as soon as the series was over. More of this anon.

Have a good day, whatever you’re doing. It’s a delightfully sunny one here in lizardyogaland…

I’ll just leave you with this:

Kirk out

Girl, Woman, Other. Racist, Moi?

I’ve finished Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning portrait of black womanhood in contemporary Britain, and what do I think? I think it’s highly readable, engaging, pluralistic and refreshingly free of the kind of shaming that cripples the liberal white reader with guilt. I find novels like Beloved so hard to read not because they are not good – Beloved was stunning – but because I feel so horribly guilty. Even though I wasn’t there and (probably – I hope) wouldn’t have done it if I was, I feel guilty by association. But Girl, Woman, Other is correct – but the best kind of correct; not politically correct but sincerely open, not just to the brave new world of identity but to the old-fashioned, the unreconstructed, the anti-feminist.

There aren’t really any main characters as such; the novel moves from one scene to another, one narrator to another with characters who at first seem disconnected but who all join up in the end like dots to make a picture. Nor does she seem to say that this is a definitive picture, merely a snapshot, a view from one writer at one time. There are lesbians and non-binary people, successful theatre directors and cleaners; but the most impressive thing is that unlike most writers, Evaristo does not assume that diversity excludes the conventional.

Nevertheless, wonderful and inclusive as the book is, it leads me to examine once again my own attitudes to race. I’ve just read this article which made a big stir in 2014 when first published on Reni Eddo-Lodge’s blog – and I ask myself, am I guilty of the things she describes? Do I think that unless the n-word has been uttered or some racially-aggravated assault taken place, that there is no racism? I usually try to look at these things in terms of sexism; to translate it into men treating me in a certain way and think, how would I feel about that? To be honest I recognise a lot of what she describes (they don’t want to hear you but don’t get angry or you’ll be stereotyped; they shut down when you talk about your experience) but maybe it’s not the same. I don’t know. But I do know that I have a lot of unconscious prejudice inside me – and whilst I’m not necessarily responsible for how it came there I am responsible for it still being there.

Aside from that, in spite of Boris Johnson’s optimistic ramblings I am staying locked down until the middle of June at the very earliest. But then I’m fortunate in being able to work from home.

Kirk out

I Falsed When I Should Have Trued

Joy! My Chocolate Bossa CD came yesterday. I’ve had a listen and I really like it. I shall listen again this morning.

I’ve been thinking about truth and lies. I guess, as both Liar Liar and The Invention of Lying illustrate, that most of us usually try to tell the truth most of the time. There has to be a good reason, something that trumps the truth, for us to tell a lie: fear of being sacked, perhaps, or reluctance to hurt someone. In any case as Pilate said, ‘What is truth?’ He was perhaps being disingenuous but it’s a good question and as I’ve recently found the Greek word for it, aletheia, it seems a good time to ponder it (actually to tell the whole truth, lol, I did know the Greek word already as it comes into Phillip Pullman’s alethiometer.)

But my concern this morning is with the difficulty we often have in telling lies effectively. In certain situations it can be hard to lie convincingly, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the panel game The Unbelievable Truth. It’s also on TV, called Would I Lie to You? but I haven’t watched it as I don’t like TV panel games. The idea in The Unbelievable Truth is that each member of the panel gives a short talk on a subject, all of which is false apart from five truths which they try to smuggle past. There’s obviously a great deal of skill to this, in trying seamlessly to work in five truths to a series of falsehoods; and the best players usually mislead the rest into identifying falsehoods as truths and vice versa. But what I’ve observed is that it’s often the rhythm that gives you away. Somehow those inexperienced in this game, no matter how clever their ruses, always give it away by telling a truth on the fourth ‘fact’ or by changing the tone of their voice or giving other cues. On the venerable TV series Call My Bluff where contestants had to give three definitions of a word only one of which was true, control of facial expression was key and those with the deadest pan, so to speak, killed it. So what I’m saying I guess is that the truth always wants to come through and most of us find it hard to suppress that.

All of which reminds me of this Peanuts cartoon about True or False tests where instead of studying Linus adopts a strategic approach: Image removed on request

Kirk out

Hablando Salsa

If music be the food of Spain, play on! There’s a definite Hispanic theme to this week since the other day it occurred to me that having first had salsa but no tortilla chips, I now had tortilla chips but no salsa; and whereas making your own chips might be a bit of a tall order, making salsa was surely straightforward. Pausing only to consult absolutely no recipes whatsoever (I’m a When all else fails read instructions kinda gal) I decided that the key ingredients were: onions (check) tinned tomatoes (check) and chilli powder (double check.) Incidentally last night I made a rather shocking error when I assumed the yellow powder OH had bought was turmeric and put some in my tea. It dries up mucus so I have it for that purpose occasionally; however this turned out not to be turmeric but HOT curry powder. Ouch! But I digress; having assembled the salsa ingredients I fried the onions, added some tomato puree and the chopped tomatoes, stirred in some chilli powder and left to reduce for about half an hour. When cold I put it into jars and stored in the fridge. It’s good stuff and barely extinguishable from the shop-bought variety. Incidentally it’s interesting that in my lifetime mass-produced foods have gone from being a poor second best, to something we try to emulate. And yes, I know I should have written ‘distinguishable’ but my mouth is still on fire…

The other Hispanic event is that I’m awaiting the arrival of Chocolate Bossa, a Chris Conway CD. In my youth I never particularly liked bossa but just as you have to go to France to know what Brie should taste like, you have to live in a Hispanic country to understand the music; and since I lived in Spain I’ve developed a feel for salsa, flamenco and bossa. And all that jazz. I hope it comes soon.

Kirk out

It’s About the Two ‘R’s

When I started writing way back in the Middle Ages, there was basically only one way to do it; sit down at a typewriter and start bashing our your manuscript. Most people would handwrite something first as corrections were hard, so typing would be by way of a final draft. It was such a hassle correcting all your mistakes that you were allowed to submit a typescript to a publisher with some pencilled-in corrections, though too many of these were frowned upon. But in those days basically you sat down and just got on with it. Yes, there were one or two books you could read, one in the Teach Yourself series and one which I still have by Louise Doughty on how to write a novel in a year. Other than that the preoccupation was all with getting published rather than with the act of writing itself. True, there were writers’ groups which offered support and criticism in varying proportions, but basically the method was to read as much as possible in your genre and then get to it. Sit at your desk and write. Bum on seat.

Fast forward forty years and what do we find? An entire industry devoted to making you a better writer. Barely a day goes by without me being invited to join a course or a webinar or a tutorial or to buy this or that book or to follow such-and-such a programme – and there’s such a huge lexicon associated with this, it’s like learning a new language. I never knew such things as beta readers existed (I’m still not sure what they are) and until recently I had no idea what Save the Cat beats were. And don’t get me started on the number of academic courses out there. In the end you get the impression that before you can set finger to keyboard you have to amass an entire forest of diplomas. However did Shakespeare manage? you wonder.

Now I’m not saying all this stuff is worthless. Many people have gone on to successful careers after taking an MA in Creative Writing. I have found the Save the Cat books interesting and useful. But in my humble opinion there’s nobody, no matter how successful or qualified, can teach me to listen to my own voice. So whatever anyone else says, for me it’s about the two Rs – reading and writing. First read, then write. I read whatever takes my fancy, I learn from it and I sit down at my desk to listen to what my voice is telling me. Then I write. There’s no course in the world can teach you how to do that.

The aim is always to be a unique voice, one who can be identified by just a few lines or a paragraph. The authorities are always coming up with new ways of identifying people: did you know that a lip print can be used as ID? I was able to use this in a story where the MC (Main Character) comes home to find lipstick on a wine glass which starts her off on some detective work. It’s also the case that a person can be identified from their unique voice print; that even if you try to disguise the voice something about it will come through. So you could say that’s my aim in writing – to be detected as utterly unique by seeing my voice in print.

Happy Tuesday.

Kirk out

Do They Think It’s All Over?

I am distinctly concerned – not to say alarmed – at the change of mood in the country. People are out and about, not in their usual numbers but still there are a lot of folk abroad, walking and talking, sitting in the park, sunbathing, hanging out. It’s harder every day to practise social distancing and even though the supermarkets are still being quite rigorous, the customers often aren’t. In the park yesterday no-one was wearing a mask and in Sainsbury’s someone came past me very close, not wearing a mask and giving me no chance to avoid them.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where this is coming from. If you tell people the rules are relaxed and to use their common sense, to go back to work but not use public transport (how?) if you change the warning signs from red to green, not even bothering with amber, people are going to think oh, that’s all right then. Everything’s back to normal. And since the government have told people to stay vigilant they can basically wash their hands of whatever happens because it’s Not Their Fault. They warned us, after all.

But no matter what anyone says I’m staying home till I’m sure it’s all over – which as they found in 1966, is not when everyone thinks it’s all over. The whistle hasn’t blown yet, so I’m staying locked down, safe at home with my lockdown locks.

Because C19 is not all over – it’s all over the world. And that’s the difference.

Kirk out