A Land Under Siege

To be absolutely clear, I am in favour of self-isolation or quarantine, if you prefer, where necessary.   I fully appreciate the efforts of the National Health Service in meeting the challenge of COVID-19.  I am desperately sad for all of those families who have lost loved ones, and I feel the pain of those thousands who are fighting for their own survival, either suffering the disease, or from annihilation by DEBT.

I think it is time to ask some questions.

In UK at the moment, there is no media coverage for anything apart from the virus, its effects, and ‘Our heroic National Health Service’ .  Presumably other things are happening in the world, but we do not hear about them.  The news media has a job.  It is to report the news.  It is not doing it.

Saturation-level propaganda is a bit of a speciality where the British Establishment is concerned, so whenever terminology like ‘The National Health Service’ is subtly adjusted to read ‘Our National Health Service’ we know we are being manipulated towards sympathetic patriotism.   ‘Our National Health Service’ is incomparable; it is the best in the world, and so on.

No, it isn’t.

It is better than some, it is worse than others.  It is streets behind the German equivalent, for example.  The heroes are the people on the ground who struggle with the limited tools they have been given, because ‘Our National Health Service’ only serves the poor bloody infantry.  Anyone who can afford it ‘goes private’, including those poverty-stricken doctors who quietly accumulate small fortunes from their private clientele.

Shutting a whole country has further, less publicised effects.  It all but eliminates small business, leaving the field clear for the better-padded moguls to move in.  And small businesses will fail to sustain an artificially low unemployment figure, because a lot of those people living on the margins will soon be forced to return to the ranks of the unemployed.

Debt and the inability to service it may be manifested in destroyed dreams, broken relationships and ruined lives.  Confinement to some is intolerable, especially to those who live alone, or those whose mental state is already disturbed.   A government’s task is clearly to walk a fine line between prudence in terms of the virus’s spread and preserving financial stability – or at least that is what it should be doing.  So when we are told a plateau in the number of those contracting the virus has been reached, only to have it dismissed as ‘the eye of the storm’ and be advised that quarantine will continue for a further three weeks, we are entitled to question.

Be a conspiracy theorist for a moment.  No-one doubts the authenticity of the virus, or the need for some response to it, but it is, in some ways, very convenient.  It serves, for example, those who would wish to further increase the funding and influence of the National Health Service.  Make no mistake, the British Medical Association holds our medical profession in an iron grip, and it advances the cause of doctors, their working conditions and their salaries, very well.   It serves the interests of those wishing to delay or reverse the process of Brexit, because nobody is talking about EU issues now; and it serves a Chancellor who prepared a huge giveaway budget that defied the basic rules of economics, and will now ‘have’ to be scrapped.

Hastened by COVID, in years to come High Streets will be rearranged, Malls closed, on-line marketing and working from home will become the norm.  If there is a future for small business in this country, and if we can continue to steer clear of the EU reef, and if property prices are forced to a realistic level, then it will have redressed some of its terrible cost.

If, however, it merely becomes a tool for the Establishment, a series of excuses for promises broken, the embryo of a police state and a vessel to sail back into the jaws of Federalist Europe many thousands of people will have suffered and died in vain.

I’m sure the conspiracy theories cannot be true.  No sovereign government or its organs would stoop so low as to use a profoundly dangerous virus to further its own ends…

Would it?

It’s no use calling, Pandora – they won’t come back

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Inappropriate Touching? And who da kid in da Tree?

It was at Sunday School that someone told me either Adam or Eve (I don’t remember which) invented Original Sin, which I eventually understood to mean anything involving two bodies getting within touching distance of one another; especially if a certain kind of touching was involved. Superficially, I took in old, cracked oil paintings of unclothed Eve chastely holding hands with unclothed Adam, or of the chilly pair an olive tree’s width apart, their dignity preserved by gravity-defying fig leaves.  I didn’t really absorb the lessons of those early days, so I did not question them – only later, when things were beginning to happen to my own body, did I pause to wonder why my school lessons in Religious Instruction slipped deftly past the ‘virgin birth’ – ‘Jesus Bar Joseph’? – and wonder why an elderly Jewish carpenter would give his only son a Greek name?  Original Sin.   Ah, yes, of course!

I came late to my sex education, partly because I was shy as a child and did not share in some of my less inhibited friends’ experiments, and partly because my angelic pipes were insufficiently tuneful to place me in the church choir, so I never got to wear one of those convenient cassocks wherewith Father Flannigan demonstrated his personal immunity to Sin.  Weekday school playground was rich in anecdotes of choristers, both boys and girls, who learned to hit the especially high notes with the good Father’s able help, while those with artistic flair illustrated his endeavours on the school toilet walls. I had to make do with hearsay.

This is not to suggest I missed out on that essential ingredient of childhood in any way.  I had my share of experiences with ‘kiddy fiddlers’, from the sad, bent little man in the public toilets to the frustrated, lonely mother of one of my friends in my teenage years.  I will not elaborate too much, other than to say I was exposed to minor encounters in which neither birds nor bees played any poetic part, long before I became ‘of age’; and I gained from those experiences, rather than anything I was taught in a classroom.

In more adult years I would all too briefly brush with actors and actresses, an altogether more sensitized and tactile world of shared art and shared misfortune.  There is a phrase from the conclusion of Arthur Wing Pinero’s play ‘Trelawney of the Wells’ when Rose Trelawney realizes that, as an actor, her lifestyle sets her apart:   she describes her Company as “Splendid gipsies.”  Despite the play’s undeniable vintage, that description remains steadfastly true.   Joining a community of artists, as I was privileged to do, is gaining membership of a society with limitless generosity and untrammelled freedom of expression.  It also possesses an extremely healthy Bush Telegraph impregnated with a wealth of tales.  You could not pass a single beer-sodden Green Room evening without learning who was ‘a bit strange’ and who was not; whom to love, whom to indulge for their eccentricities, and whom to avoid.   The director who was ‘a bit affectionate, but an absolute darling to work with’, or the famous and immensely talented female singer with a very aggressive sexuality:  ‘don’t get caught backstage with her, sweetie’.  (A warning to other females, not males, BTW).

There were no victims in those Green Room discussions.  A fairly balanced distribution of ages and members of both sexes, yes, and true, there was always alcohol and usually an element of fatigue, but if you were seeking an ingénue, you were in the wrong place.  All were professionals, and I would say all knew exactly how far they would be prepared to go to secure a prestigious role.   I recall particularly an aspiring actress’s assessment of a director with whom she was due to audition:  “Darling, the job’s absolutely mine.  I can play him like a fish!”  (which proved to be right).

For myself, I emerged from those days with a palette rich in colour and a wealth of education about human diversity and resilience.   Experience, that which the academically imbued choose to rather patronizingly label ‘The School of Life’, taught me tolerance of others, their personal tragedies, their insecurities, often, and their perpetual alone-ness.  I learned to be at home with their differences, and where there were lines, personal lines, I needed to draw.  My real qualifications for life were gained in that Green Room, or from Father Flannigan’s choir practice, in that bar, or on that street.

I guess my education was no different from those of others, so I wonder at the apparent epidemic of outraged innocence that pervades everything media at this time concerning ‘inappropriate touching’ or minor assault.  We do not arrive at the essential signposts in our lives without having first learned how to read a map.  So ‘the rules have changed’.  No.  ‘Rules’, if we insist upon calling them such, must at least be written down; otherwise they are not rules, they are fashion.  Similarly, offences, if they are to be called such, must be proven.  Otherwise they are hearsay, otherwise they are gossip, otherwise they are anger, or envy, or greed.  If someone’s entire life is to be ruined, their career ended, their achievements set at nought, the very least requirement should be proof.  It should not depend upon an etiquette of constantly-evolving signals that are too easily misunderstood.

The truth?  Most of us, male or female, are touched inappropriately, spoken to suggestively, or affronted clumsily in some way, several times in our lives.  That does not make us victims.  That does not make us lose sleep at nights, throw ourselves into lives of addiction or quake every time a member of the opposite sex comes near us.   If it does, that says more about our own mental stability than anything else and yes, there will be the odd few to whom this will happen.  But most us could – should – simply smile, write it down to experience, and move on.

I used to be an advocate of the world-wide-web.  I gladly espoused its freedoms, joyfully joined in its crusades against corruption and falsehood.  I still do, but my mind is beginning to change.  I see how the distribution of power is beginning to be reversed; how easily those in positions of responsibility can become prey.  In the absence of a moral code, this medium, and its instigator, the gutter press, must exercise restraint or be restrained.   If moral democracy cannot survive, moral dictatorship will take its place.

The corollary to this is, of course, to say that there are a number of genuine cases of assault which are serious in nature, proven and should face a court of law, especially where the offence involves a child.  Whether names should be released before a trial is another issue, but there is a danger that these cases can suffer if a welter of copycat accusations follow each one.

Now, I will conclude with a slightly sideways shift – I ask you to please consider this.

A few years ago the town of Middlesbrough, here in England, was visited by a doctor claiming to have evolved an entirely new way (known as the ‘anal dilation method’ – need I elaborate?) for proving child abuse.   Within a couple of weeks, during which children under scrutiny were hauled about like chickens, two hundred – yes, two hundred – children were adjudged to have been subjected to severe abuse.   Two hundred parents (mostly fathers) were placed under investigation, public hysteria spread and court lists began mounting up, before somebody had the presence of mind to stand back and question this sudden epidemic.  The cases were reviewed and the doctor concerned was ‘moved away’ to a practice where she was not directly involved with children’s backsides.

Shortly afterwards, social services in Scotland tried to prove that an entire Scottish island was a nest of paedophiles.  This was unfounded, too, but not before the island’s people were exposed to the attentions of the media pack.

It does seem to me that quite intelligent people can be subject to zeitgeist in such a way that they lose all sense of proportion; maybe in a hunt for publicity, or reward?  I don’t know.  But that might be food for educators who are ever more intent upon narrowing and focusing the business of learning.  Maybe the fetters of specialisation are not a good thing.  Maybe we should distance ourselves from rampant progress and just take our time.

 

 

 

 

ImageMy question for this week:  who polishes David Cameron?

A lot of guys follow him around, and they are supposed to be security, but I’m prepared to bet that one of them is secreting a choice of chamois leathers and a spray can of Mr. Sheen.

Now I come to think of it, why let it rest there?  I mean, everyone acknowledges that the original Ed Milliband was made by Aardman (although rumors he is Wallace’s lovechild are probably unfounded) so someone must be there to touch up the plasticine, right?Image

Whatever we may think of their morality, or of their qualities as people, those who rise to the top in public life do work extremely hard.   Every waking minute must be time-managed; and in this news-hungry generation image management is equally vital.  So, with apologies for my cynicism, I refuse to believe that 7 a.m. at the Cameron’s bears any relation to breakfast time at my house. 

Upstairs?  Well, yes, you can picture some normality there:  wife Samantha telling Dave emphatically that if he must get up at this hour he can fix his own bloody tie, perhaps – but thus far and no further.   If you are due to meet the President of France at 9.00 o’clock an absence of underpants because they’re all in the wash could cause a national crisis, and as for the kids at breakfast….

Imagine the damage one exuberant spoonful of flying jam could do, or the under-confidence engendered by riding your bike commando through London Traffic, rabidly pursued by squadrons of paparazzi eager for the split seam that could end your political career?

No, somewhere behind the door at number 10 there are ‘people’ who ensure that sort of thing can’t happen.  I can imagine them waiting for their Prime Minister to emerge from his private accommodation with a shiny photograph in their pockets, ready to see the image perfected before he is allowed out of doors.

Why is this aspect of public life so important to us, the poor worker bees?  I suppose because at a stroke it invalidates the ‘just like us’ element of democratic leadership.  I recall at one time being told that Prince Charles has a personal valet who helps him to put on his trousers in the morning.  If true, presumably such a person must be in a position to check on the underpants situation at the same time.  But how personal can such an odd relationship get?  And to be so entwined in the lifestyle not to see it as odd – that is a far cry from the daily affairs of the people in the street.  

Lady Churchill once said of her husband that he never went shopping; that he would have had no notion how to conduct himself in a grocers.  Our current Chancellor of the Exchequer Gorgeous George Osborne is a member of a millionaire family and he, like most members of the current government were raised in the tradition of Eton and Oxbridge.  They grew up with the ‘fag’ system and nothing has really changed since.

This is the essential paradox of democracy:  that those who rule us are not, in essence, democrats.   They may say they are, they may lay claim to democratic principles, but they live according a much older code – that of feudalism. 

So spare a thought for the ‘fags’ – the people in the background who should unify us, yet somehow keep the separation intact – who do the unseen jobs.  The great unthanked.  They are untouched by the media, yet they make the Great and the Good much greater and hopefully quite a lot gooder.   

This is my quiet little round of applause for them, the silent ones.  For the man who plugged Richard Murdoch into the mains this morning, for the woman who does Nigella Lawson’s washing up, and the little chap who lurks inside the traffic lights in our town centre just so he can turn them to red every time I approach them. 

They also serve!