Words

Last week I wrote my article not knowing who’d won the American Election. This week I feel the same.

The strangest and most dangerous aspect of this campaign was that at a certain point words ceased to matter. Mr T could say what he liked, even if it was ridiculous, impossible, scurrilously offensive, or even contradicted the next day. He was a symbol, beyond truth, free of the need most politicians have to make sense. It’s often said that Americans don’t do irony, or they may have queried some of his attitudes: empathy with the underdog from a lifelong boss; promises for better wealth distribution from a spoiled billionaire; diatribes against outsourcing jobs from someone who outsources jobs; fellowship with war veterans from someone who eluded the draft; promises of massive public spending from someone who thinks it’s smart not to pay taxes; business advice from someone who notched up four separate bankruptcies … etc etc. It didn’t matter because his words weren’t what we usually accept words to be. He’s as free to eat them now as he was to utter them. His current emollient tone is no more credible than his raving was, especially while he assembles his wolf-pack to fall on what’s left of decent American values. Meaning is so over.

Most presidential candidates promise change. Administrations, once in power, realise that their country’s problems are mostly insoluble and end up concentrating on damage limitation. Their supporters get disillusioned and wait for the next hustler to come along. But this time the promised change wasn’t based on fiscal policy or micro-management. This time it took on some of the bastions of western civilisation and put land-mines under them. Look, says the Coming Man, we know what we’re supposed to think and say but that’s not really us, is it. We don’t really like foreigners. We can’t trust Muslims. We’re fed up with women talking back to us. We think climate change is just another tax. We don’t want to pay for healthcare for the poor. We’re white, American, and it’s time we came first.

We Brits should complain. We held the dress-rehearsal, we made it alright for high-ranking politicians to utter what everyone knew were bare-faced lies. We allowed racism to lead our debate. We encouraged our poor angry whites to concentrate only on wrecking the existing system, not looking for a workable alternative. The lesson here and in America was the same: when times are tough forget the reasons and point at the foreigner, classic fascism.

In “A Man For All Seasons” one of Thomas Moore’s zealous aides claims that in pursuing the Devil he’d cut down every law in the land. “What then?” says Moore, “When the Devil turns on you, who will protect you then, the laws being down?”

I feel the same about words. They may be tricky, they may talk less loudly than deeds, but they’re all we’ve got. They’re our only channel for human discourse and agreement. Once words are devalued, used merely as weapons, excuses for our most shameful instincts, we’re lost. There’s no basis left for humanity or trust, dignity or thought, only a primary-coloured world of gestures and mob rule. We can’t have that.

 

Consultative

CONSULTATIVE

 “This referendum does not contain any requirement for the UK government to implement its results, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. This is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented …”

That’s not the text of a controversial decision by a group of bewigged judges. It is in fact a quotation from Paragraph 5 of the European Union Referendum Bill itself, as agreed by Parliament last year. That’s what we voted for. What a shame that wasn’t made a little clearer to voters by those whose lies and deceit during the campaign might make even Mr Trump blush. Even Mrs May’s brainless statement that “Brexit means Brexit” isn’t true.

The referendum has other issues in common with the American election. Many ‘Leave’ voters share the Trump idea that the most important thing is to smash up the institutions of the past, before even thinking what to do next. We may be sick of poverty and austerity and the gross inequalities between rich and poor, but will a solo UK be an improvement? Who knows? According to the most sober financial analysts there is no post-EU scenario which doesn’t leave us worse off than we are now.

On the other hand the EU, like Secretary Clinton, doesn’t inspire much public affection either. From its petty regulations to its totally unwelcome push for more centralisation it too often fails to represent what most of its members want. To crawl back to the EU now saying sorry, can’t think what came over us, would be just as unacceptable as ripping ourselves brutally out without a clue what to do next.

There’s nothing anti-democratic in taking as much time and negotiation as necessary to ensure the best possible outcome for our country. The referendum specifically does not “set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented”. The ties between our country and the EU are so complex and intertwined that it might take several years to unpick them all. If it needs that time it’s in all our interests that it should have it.

The vote on 23rd June did not say that Mrs May and her Three Amigos should have the sole say on when and what we do. Parliament should set the agenda and priorities of what we want to achieve, and Parliament should have the final say, bolstered if necessary by a second referendum, on whether we’ve achieved it. That’s the sensible and constitutional way to carry the referendum result forward. The alternative is to bow to the dark threats of racist and mob violence ramped up by such as Nigel Farage, and the most disgusting display of hatred and ignorance I’ve ever seen from the right-wing press. If we’re going to go out for heaven’s sake let’s take our time and do it properly.

I don’t wanna go to Hartlepool…

I DON’T WANNA GO TO HARTLEPOOL

In my week Thursday morning means The Cornishman, and Thursday night means “Question Time”. There’s plenty not to like about the programme, apart from being aired so late at night that it’s easy to retreat from political gibberish into a peaceful sleep. The idea that only politicians have interesting views or that if you have one politician you have to have the whole spectrum of them stifles good argument, though you can imagine the online storm that would fall on the BBC if they didn’t show due ‘balance’. But it’s worth watching just to listen to the audience’s contributions and even the tone of their applause, one of the few ways of gauging what ordinary people are really thinking.

What they’re thinking in Hartlepool kept me up half the night.

Hartlepool has certainly had a tough century of it, beginning when they were heavily shelled by the German Fleet at the beginning of WW1. As a key manufacturing town it took a beating after WWII, losing first its ship-building industry and then, by degrees, its main employer British Steel, losing an estimated 10,000 jobs in all. No town can take such blows with a smile on its face, and when it came to the EU Referendum it expressed its anger and frustration with a Leave vote of nearly 70%. The sense of being forgotten by those in power was one reason, but almost as decisive was the bitter resentment felt when any of the few jobs available were taken by incoming EU immigrants.

Objections to their attitudes from the soft South are regarded as patronising, so even though Cornwall is an equally poor area for employment I won’t go there. What was disturbing was the impression that having won the battle of the referendum Hartlepool seemed to think they’d won the war of public opinion. In the face of speaker after speaker was the fierce self-confidence of a victorious team. What they’d won was a promise to re-align European political and trading arrangements, but what they thought they’d won was something else.

Despite the clear harm that a sudden dislocation from the EU would do to Britain’s economy, they wanted to get right on with it. Any argument for a careful, timely separation was met with derision – “Which bit of democracy don’t you understand?” They, the people, had spoken and they wanted their political servants to carry out their wishes straight away (possibly thinking that no imaginable downturn could make them any worse off).

As for immigrants the hostility on display was naked and ugly. No immigrant, or even well-settled resident of any kind of foreign extraction could ignore the unspoken subtext of Northern Brexit. Get back home. Now. This means you.

There were tolerant voices in the crowd, there was some applause for common sense and thoughtful moderation, but this was shouted down or drowned by the general lowing of triumphant hatred. There was even an enthusiastic roar of support for Donald Trump. In Hartlepool, and by degrees everywhere else, the racist beast is out of its cage, blinking in the unexpected sunlight of what it believes to be democratic approval.

 

 

 

 

Dylan – A fan gibbers…

DYLAN – A FAN GIBBERS…

Penzance was there from the start …

My 6th form gang was a 60s cliché of black clothes, cigarettes, coffee,                                                    parties, flirting, serious serious talks about life, and above all, music. Someone’s brother sent over an obscure record from America and it did the rounds at school. It was just called “Bob Dylan”, a picture of a round-faced young-for-his-age troubadour with an old man’s voice, average musical skills and often borrowed tunes. But there was a spark there, enough for me to take it home and tape it on my old reel-to-reel. Some weeks later my girlfriend invited me over and sat me down, but it wasn’t me she was excited about. “Listen to this!” she says, “You MUST listen to this!” It was “Freewheeling”, and we either listened or talked about it all day. None of us had ever heard anything like it. I even gave a talk about Dylan at school, and some of my lucky friends got a ride up to London to see him on his first tour.

‘Dylan’ soon became a thing of its own, defying the categories we knew; not pop, rock, folk, soul-baring confessional, social polemic, poetry, madness – it was all of these, but in a restless mixture that never stayed still long enough to be defined. For my generation of fans he walked with us through our lives, there in our bedrooms, at our parties, in our small hours, on the beach, in the car, in our heads; though it was always understood – almost part of the charm – that he didn’t care a damn about any of us. But he never let us down. Irrespective of his influences from Dylan Thomas to Keith Richard he was in his own space, raising the bar of what song-writing could do. Aspiring jazzmen are told that Miles Davis is still the one they have to get past. For any song-writer it’s Dylan.

Some huffy commentators have questioned whether it was right to give a literary prize to one who didn’t express himself in books, but most people accept that the Nobel committee were spot on, if a little late in the day. At least he didn’t have to die to receive his due.

It’s been a long, long journey from “Song to Woody” to “Must be Santa”, and like many others I’ve sometimes had to sit it out in respectful silence, but I’m happy to say he changed my life. Film-maker Irvine Welsh, less than impressed, described his prize as “A nostalgia award from the prostates of senile, gibbering hippies” My prostate swells with pride, and I’m pleased on behalf of my fellow SGH’s to tell Mr Welsh that when he produces a film of a tenth the poetry and emotional heft of “Blood on the Tracks” we might take him seriously.

Dylan didn’t ask to be a genius, he just did what he did. Seeing him still endlessly touring with no discernible voice, rattling around from hotel room to hotel room at the age of 75 doesn’t indicate a very contented soul and you wouldn’t want to be him, but it’s so good to see his astonishing talent honoured at last, and at such a level.

How do you like your Brexits in the morning?

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR BREXITS IN THE MORNING?

If you believe what you read there are only two kinds of brexit currently on offer, hard-boiled or soft boiled. Utter nonsense, as we’ll see later, but let’s get those two out of the way first.

Soft-boiled Brexit is perfect for those with very delicate stomachs. It’s the closest thing to none at all, only eaten because there’s really nothing else on the menu. It means a very slow cooking time indeed, waiting several months before you even put it in the pan and then a further two years of slow simmering. At the end of this time it should come out with a little extra tariff and quite loose borders, and be available over most of Europe.

Hard-boiled Brexit is an alternative option, favoured by many with a dyspeptic or choleric constitution. The kitchen technique is known as ‘triggering’. For this the temperature should be turned up, the cooking time shortened, and the lid closed down tight. Any signs of colouration should be discarded. This comes at a higher price and consumers should be aware that it can cause long-term dysfunction in major organs. It will however be very popular in some areas served with a white sauce chauviniste.

As the preparation of this dish is very complex, diners may find themselves served with an inferior product, Scrambled or even Fried Brexit. In such cases lawyers or large firms of accountants may be called in to investigate and you could find your dish extremely cold by the time they have finished picking it over. Delays of up to seven years or more have been mentioned by informed sauces – sorry, sources – by which time it should probably be mercifully despatched into the bin with an appropriate blessing : Brexit Benedict perhaps.

One brexit dish which has so far eluded even our most skilled chefs is Scotch Brexit. No matter how carefully this is approached or how painstakingly put together this seems to resist the cooking process, tending to explode and scatter pieces of brexit everywhere. Other regional variations are hardly more successful. The Spanish Omelette Brexit comes with a sour taste. Even worse, a large container ship which docked at Dover marked “French Brexit Toast – over to vous” was found not to contain foodstuffs at all but the entire edifice known as The Jungle complete with occupants.

The more exotic forms of brexit should also be avoided. These include Pickled Brexit, disgusting to all except the intoxicated, and Devilled Brexit, an even harder and more violent version of Hard-boiled Brexit, see above.

Despite this cornucopia of recipes, as voted for by you in the Great British Brexit-Off, there are many people – almost half the population – for whom it has no appeal at all. Cases of Brexit Intolerance have already been recorded in all parts of the United Kingdom, characterised by outbursts of sighing, tutting and mumbles of “How can people be such ******s”. Sadly this condition cannot be eased by resort to the NHS as they claim to be waiting for an extra £350,000,000 per week (known in financial circles as “A Boris”) before treating anyone. There appears to be no viable cure on the horizon.

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