Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Crossing the line: the subjectivity of truth.

2 Dec

Just how sorry are we for the Germans? The truth of the Japanese winner against Spain was a ‘now you see it; no – you don’t! ‘ moment. Over a decade earlier a Lampard goal for England v Germany – a metre over the line – had been ruled out by hapless officials, so not much sympathy in our household. Twitter was alive with Cleese shouting ‘Don’t mention the VAR!’ – all good clean fun. But the controversies of VAR symbolise our very real struggles with truth. Your truth is not my truth. And you can’t argue with my interpretation of my ‘lived’ experience. VAR can cancel what an expert and experienced referee sees and feels.

So far I have enjoyed the World Cup – the footie, not the punditry. Endless vacuous verbal diarrhoea from inarticulate pundits (well not all but most) with the shame of some foreign experts using the English language better than our own. Hey ho. Players fall to the floor, poleaxed, writhing but leap to their feet when a yellow card is confirmed on their assailant. Girls’ blouses. Shouldn’t say that.

Lady Susan Hussey, the abusive octogenarian, has been consigned to the bin of Empire. No doubt she is all 1950s clipped vowels and condescension. Ngozi Fulani of Sistah Space has done for her. Lady Susan was silly, even stupid but she crossed a line that has been drawn in thick red ink. The problem is not the red line, it is that certain red lines are much thicker than others – and are non-negotiable, not even to be discussed, talked through, understood. Perhaps there should be little compassion or excuse for Lady Susan. Perhaps she is a courtly anachronism. But I wonder if she deserved the vilification via twitter and the media. Sistah Space carried the day at the expense of an old lady. The old lady apologised but apologies no longer rate. Outrage wins. My truth beats your excuses.

JK Rowling has felt the cold wind of disapproval. Gender v sex. Two truths are told but only one interpretation is acceptable. If you disagree, cancellation not consideration is the inevitable result. It’s a sad state of affairs because conversation and honest debate is closed down. The excellent first Reith Lecture by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on Freedom of Speech, was wide-ranging and wholly supportive of the cliched but important notion of the right to express opinions of any sort (not untruths, nor inciting violence) without fear. This is no longer the case.

Of course the ubiquity of social media amplifies and distorts. I notice that friends lower their voices when discussing certain topics in a public space. Fear. Some topics are taboo, no go; who will disagree, who will be outraged? Rail strikes, all strikes for that matter, Trans rights, Just Stop Oil, ‘Invasion’ of migrants. Better keep quiet, stick to the football. That’s a minefield, though. Qatar. Dead labourers, backhanders to get the tournament in the first place, FIFA not allowing rainbow armbands; Gary Neville on Have I Got News For You.

And then there’s Matt Hancock. There was something apocalyptic about that awful programme. It demeans us. There’s a truth about giant mistakes made during the pandemic (and, we should recognise, a few significant achievements) – but when people have died, Mr Hancock should have stayed quietly doing his constituency work.

As the brilliant Christine McVie slipped off her mortal coil, Sir Elton, defying his years, is headlining Glastonbury 2023. Music seems to soothe and save us all. Last night’s tribute to Christine McVie and Fleetwood Mac, elicited the observation that ‘Many of those songs wouldn’t get released today’. Which ones, I wondered? I started listing in my head. It didn’t take me long for the blue pencil to score out much of the canon of the last 70 years.

Music is full of truths wrapped up melodically in a fiction. I learn more, quite often, from reading fiction than being presented with the truth according to others. My 2022 booklist is soon to be published. It’s funny how fiction can morph into fact.

To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus..

21 Oct

Macbeth knew a thing or two about ambition and how precarious the top job can be if you have illegitimately won the prize. The UK was once respected as a global standard for honesty and integrity in politics, secure and trustworthy in trade and economics. We have cascaded down reputation’s snake so far. Laughing stock.

As Liz Truss stepped up to the lectern a demonic smile played on her lips. She seemed to enjoy launching herself at the sword of self destruction. Her endgame had been satisfied by shaking the purple hand of a dying monarch and a nightmare curtsy to the Queen’s bewildered successor. Vaulting ambition was complete when she engineered the sick celebrity of being the shortest-lived PM in our history. With Kwasi she rushed towards a grisly infamy with insane relish.

The Tories have been in thrall of those whose personal ambition and short termism have trumped integrity, service, long term planning and..truth. Parliament, the Party and the People have been secondary to personal conceit and ambition. Of course there are plenty of honourables in Westminster but so many have been blown off conscionable course by the the sound and fury of reprobates. It’s hard to watch Johnson, Rees-Mogg et al without shouting at the TV: You lying, cheating, self-serving, stuck up, shambolic bastards. Liz Truss’s parliamentary pension alone will be at least half her PM salary for the rest of her days – indeed all the disgraceful Tories will be laughing all the way to be bank while our National services crumble and our economy tanks.

Of course it is regrettable that decent MPs get tarred with the same brush as those at the helm. Strange that Jeremy Hunt appears to be the adult in the room as he sipped from the poisoned chalice of Chancellorship. The fast-track leadership election will be a desperate attempt to save a Conservative Party on a ventilator. If Boris Johnson gains any traction they are doomed. As with Macbeth he is ‘…in blood/stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more/ returning wee as tedious as go o’er.’

Ad hominem, ad infinitum

14 Jul

In his death throes, Boris turned yesterday’s PMQs into even more of a pantomime as he unleashed his Inbetweeners-style silly verbals on Keir Starmer. Serious questions were batted away with a brio of non sequitur and ad hominem. Answering questions truthfully and succinctly has become redundant; Punch and Judy is all.

I confess that I giggled like a naughty schoolboy at BoJo’s snide taunt of Starmer. ’Captain Crasherooney Snoozefest,’ he jibed. Pure panto but politics it ain’t. Or is this the level we expect? It’s not wit, it is farce; not incisive, merely evasive.

Social media encourages half-wits to slag off others without engaging in discussion respectfully. Adopt a point of view (perhaps unquestioningly), stick to it – and viciously attack anyone who demurs. The result? The majority retreat to silence and the more extreme minority fill the space. Moderation and compromise become even more abstract nouns. Too often the more genuine concerns of minorities are hijacked by the sound and fury of those with questionable credentials.

As the runners and riders for the great office enter the starting stalls, I note that the so-called culture wars are moving on to the agenda of one or two. How important a wokery debate will be as the principals enter the home straight is anyone’s guess. It could be a clever tactic for an outsider to champion social moderation. Local pub chatter is regularly of the ’FFSake, really?’ variety on all manner of ’vital’ issues from biological men competing in women’s sport to plural pronouns to pulling down statues.

I sit on the sidelines somewhat. One of the quiet majority who don’t know what to say. I don’t like to offend – or be offensive. I fact check as best I can which is sometimes difficult. I am an avid listener to More or Less on radio 4, one of the best fact checking programmes or podcasts around.

Of course, the views of a moderate, white, 70 year old retired teacher are of little interest to most but we do our children a disservice if we don’t encourage them to seek out truth, test their views and attitudes and enter into discussion and debate vigorously and respectfully. That teachers and lecturers have a fear of being ’cancelled’ is a real danger in these febrile times.

Boris Johnson clearly learned early that being a witty clown and treating your opponent as a figure of fun would win him, if not friends, then supporters. Charisma? I don’t think so. Keir Starmer might wish for a greater spark but he doesn’t need to copy much else from the Johnson oeuvre. Let’s hope that the next Prime Minister is genuinely ’Right Honourable’.

Swimming Against the Tide.

27 May

I went swimming today. Well, my version of it. That is a reasonable breast stroke with my arms and a sort of butterfly flipper action with my legs. The full frog’s legs rotating my knees makes patella dislocation a worrying possibility.

My local Fusion Lifestyle sports centre has red polo-shirted employees doing a good job while looking bored. I had to book my 9.15 am lane swim as there appear to be vast numbers of wet bobs desperate to plough the lengths. There are three lanes: slow, medium and fast. Naturally I choose the safety of the middle and find myself sharing the lane with eight others.

Before I break water, I have swiped my membership card at the reception desk and, barefooted ( a requirement) headed for the changing cubicles which, appropriately these days, are mostly singles, with the occasional door signed ’family change’ – an ironic instruction indeed. I wedge my pre millennium sports bag into a locker which no longer takes those old fashioned pound coins but requires swimmers, if they feel that their possessions are precious, to furnish themselves with a padlock. I take my chances that my needle cord jeans and Boots shower gel won’t get local petty thieves excited. I head for the pool.

About twenty assorted souls are waiting for a red polo shirt to appear, which it does on the stroke of 9.15. Goggles on – it’s a myth that a bit of spitttle clears the lenses – and I am locked into a tunnel world of clouded vision and chlorinated echo. The trick in the highly populous middle lane is to gauge the speed of the leader and maintain distance. It is useful that pool etiquette, despite the cultural zeitgeist, is pretty binary. There are women in one piece costumes and men in trunks. There are one or two males in groin-slice Speedos but they just look silly. The rest of us are in standard sexless boxers as befits the general maturity of the group. I’d say the age range this morning was twenty to seventy with the average around forty. This may not be very useful information but it made me stop and ponder awhile.

I am a length counter which is crushingly boring but it stops me thinking, a huge benefit. It helps that I am in a visual fog. A few swimmers vary pace: freestyle then breast stroke then back stroke. This isn’t good for lane management. I’m a steady Eddie and my pace is metronomic. I sense when a breast stroker wants to up the ante with a freestyle burst – it’s usually a man – and I edge towards the lane rope to give leeway, while cursing the selfishness of it all. Today, an elderly gent – well my age – managed to propel himself through the water far more slowly doing freestyle than with breast stroke. Arms and legs were flailing wildly and his bow wave was prodigious, but forward propulsion was negligible.

I occasionally stop for a breather but as my goggles have a disturbing mirror- reflection, my fellow flippers don’t much want to chat. So I get back to the task in hand:60 lengths. Oh God, how long will this take? I take care not to get too close to the backsides of women as I imagine it makes them uncomfortable – but I haven’t asked if this is the case. I suppose close proximity might be equally worrying for a male. Whatever, swimming in lanes is the most sexless activity imaginable. As I contemplate this I touch the foot of one of the speedo-groin brigade and he kicks ahead, rather like a road rager roaring away from traffic lights.

As I reach forty lengths I contemplate calling it a day but then a couple of my lane buddies get out and I have clear water, the traffic eases and my enthusiasm returns. With the excitement, I lose concentration and swallow a couple of mouthfuls of chlorinated H2O. I splutter and cough but have to quieten quickly; I don’t want to disturb the slumber of the red polo shirt. (Unfair – every time I gaze his way, he seems to be staring at the pool).

During a brief respite I check on the progress of the other lanes. For this I lift my goggles, forgetting that my earplugs are attached. The suction-release and the new wave of sound disconcert me briefly but I regather my thoughts and watch the slow lane. Here all is serenity. No one is bothered by pace. Four women are chatting in the shallow while another four slowies are serenely wafting up the pool. I spot a sidestroke which is pleasingly old school. My mother used to be an elegant exponent. An older gent is sculling on his back happily. I look forward to a demotion to the slow horses.

By contrast the fast lane is an erratic and competitive racetrack. One or two are ploughing up and down in a stamina-fest, while others race hard for a couple of lengths, check watches or the big speedo clock on the wall and make mental notes. There are more swimming caps in evidence with this fast track group and most have hydration (water) flasks (bottles) at the shallow end to indicate the seriousness of the training. There’s more tension in this lane because each individual has a more important agenda and the speed means a greater chance of bumping and being put off your stroke. They are all freestylers. Does anyone say crawl these days?

Sixty up. Enough. Goggles off. A feeling of relief and freedom. I wonder what it must be like to be hard of hearing and have limited vision because the clarity I now experience is such a contrast to the fog of the last hour or so. A hot shower – two of six cubicles not operating; Fusion take note. Barefooted I return to the foyer to recover my shoes. I smile at a couple of ladies who have clearly been in the pool with me. No sign of recognition either way. That’s what I like. Anonymity.

There are several analogies that I could make between my simple experience of a well regimented lane swim at the Fusion Lifestyle sports centre and much of the national and international chaos which seems to engulf us at the moment. But after my swim, I’m calmer, so I’ll just put the kettle on.

War, Williamson and Warne.

7 Mar

It is difficult to write anything in these dark times. Today the sun shines and Spring is at hand in rural Kent. The forecast is good for golf tomorrow. A short flight from here Ukraine languishes in a wintry hell. The reports from extraordinary journalists of Ukrainian bravery and Russian aggression have dumbfounded us all. We watch in horror, feeling our own impotence. Sure we can raise money, send parcels, voice support. But only 50 visas so far? For God’s sake Priti, Dominic or whoever is in charge. You demean us all.

Matthew Syed’s excellent piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times The was has woken the West to its own decay, is one of several articles of late pointing out how Putin has watched the decadent West disappear up it own arse. Syed notes that civilisations have a tendency to climb to a high point of success before decadence, greed and corruption swallow up society. A survey in 1950 asked students if they agreed with the statement I am a very important person. 12% said yes. By 1990 this had ‘exploded’ to 80% and is still rising. Syed’s point is that we have become ‘…more vain and self-obsessed, more focussed on rights than responsibilities, more likely to seek fame as an end in itself rather than achieving something worthy of fame. We are also more likely to heatedly disagree on trivial matters such as whether the word curry amounts to cultural appropriation – a classic case of what the British anthropologist Ernest Crawley calls calls “the narcissism of small differences.”‘ We have disappeared up our own orifices and while Xi Jinping and Putin were getting stuck into their global strengthening at the expense of whomsoever appeared to be in their way we were ‘arguing over gender-neutral toilets.’

The sick joke which is the ennoblement of Gavin Williamson can be seen as part of this disgraceful and corrupt descent into government without standards or probity. The man was a fawning failure. He is knighted for keeping his mouth shut. As we chase Russian money round London we have some of it sitting in the House of Lords or paying for the vodka at Downing Street parties. What a state to get into.

And Shane Warne. Great and Genius are bandied words but both apply. While influencers and Tik-Tokkers get millions of followers to fill their unforgiving minutes, hours…days – Shane Warne played cricket with such flair and panache and personality. That ball which bamboozled Gatting. I was honoured to be at Old Trafford when he snaffled his 600th test wicket. A day to make the world of cricket smile and applaud. We now mourn him on the same weekend as such dark forces engulf Ukraine. Perhaps us all.

Cancel culture helps Boris but hinders Keir.

3 Jan

Our universities are in turmoil. At UCL academics seeking promotion are being told to show commitment to limiting the number of ’dead white able-bodied men’. In Oxford a ’woke score’ could be used in the hiring procedure for lecturers. These titbits (apologies) from the Telegraph have been spun accordingly, of course. But…the trend in allowing our public discourse to be hi-jacked by vocal minorities is not a new one. Just think Farage.

J. K. Rowling, damned by her privileged multi-millionaire acting mates; professors at Sussex and Durham, pilloried by a screaming minority of right-onners..the list will go on. As the pyres of moderation and centralism smoulder at the BBC, at our universities or elsewhere, the silence from the majority is deafening. But in our democracy, the majority is not disenfranchised. That is the problem for Sir Keir Starmer.

He is, in every way more truthful and reliable, honest and solid than Boris Johnson. Unlike our PM he has integrity, solidity. He combs his hair. Apart from needing a charisma transplant, he should be our leader. There’s a problem, however.

The media sound and vision is all shouty and polarised. Our big institutions kowtow to this and that. The shouty ones are labelled lefties. From statue-topplers to vegans, extinction rebels to Harry Potter virtue-signallers, Starmer’s fight for purchase on the slippery ascent to the Premiership is thwarted by association. Would it were not so.

The Epstein-Maxwell-sweatless Andy story, along with the ’boost’ stories of vaccination and an unlocked end to England’s year have buoyed Boris’s oh-so leaky ship. BoJo will be hoping for more cancel culture stories to flood the new year market. Allegra Stratton and cheese and wine parties will fade from view. Sir Keir and his party will be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Step up Starmer. Speak your mind, tell the nation what you believe in and stay close to the centre. At the extremes things tend to fall apart.

Passionate intensity…the age of offence…and no leader in sight.

16 Nov

It has been hard to think of something to say. ‘Events, dear boy, events,’ said Harold Macmillan when asked about the greatest challenges which faced a statesman. Well it’s been a similar story for anyone who wants to write in a measured (perhaps humorous) way about almost anything that has been going on these last five years. Today I have been listening to Azeem Rafiq speaking to the Digital, culture, Media and Sport select committee about racism at Yorkshire C.C.C. and in the wider game. I was expecting to sigh periodically but I was impressed. Impressed too by Roger Hutton, the ex chairman who fell on his sword recently.

It is hard to distinguish one frictional issue from another these days. And to prioritise. I could start a list beginning with climate change -and the intransigence of the really big players – continuing with what the Russians and Belarussians are doing for the migrant crisis and world stability and finishing, much later with Female Genital Mutilation. Following the catastrophe that has been Brexit, we at home (I mean the UK of course) have seen the public discourse become increasingly toxic. Racism and its history, all things to do with sex and gender identity, the febrile rise of social media and the probity of our politicians have, amongst other things, been bloody battlegrounds. Not debating grounds. Battlegrounds.

Cancel culture (CC) is the shutting down of all debate with those whose views are found to be contrary to the groupthink. It’s the heads must roll, my way or the highway treatment of inconvenient opposition. Kathleen Stock, most recently has become the CC’s latest scalp. It appears that minority groups hold greater sway in this new world. That’s not to say that they’re wrong but if discussion and process (and the law) are dismissed, too many stay silent until the ballot boxes become available. As an old git, I do wonder if students at Sussex University (just hypothetically) sit around agreeing that an unthinking text sent a decade ago is more outrageous than Russian troops massing on the borders of the Ukraine.

It’s sad that the air needed for the balloon of debate has been sucked out. What has crept into the flaccid vacuum is corruption, distortion, extremism. In such circumstances totalitarianism and corrupt leadership flourishes. We are so desperate for some moral integrity, a genuine example of inspiring leadership. I care not the political colours my readers but surely can’t we agree that the man who sits at the head of our nation is an embarrassing, amoral shambles? It is at times like these, these last five years, when our nation has needed direction, courage, moral authority, collaboration and compromise, togetherness, understanding, tolerance of all views, open debate and all the rest of it – and what have we had? Almost the opposite of it all. Those who have promoted a better future and a more enlightened discourse have too rarely been politicians. Recent self-interested sleaze stories make me bury my head. I had to turn off Rees-Mogg defending Owen Paterson. I don’t vote Labour but I have time for Starmer. At least he seems honest, if grey. I’d accept grey, I have to say.

I’m reading Sally Rooney’s latest and revisiting W.B. Yeats’s selected poems. One of Rooney’s characters, a thirty year old, in Beautiful World, Where Are You, says ‘…I’m out of step with the cultural discourse…adrift from the world of ideas, alienated, no intellectual home. Maybe it’s about our specific historical moment or maybe it’s just about getting older and disillusioned.’

Yeats, of course, was fired up in The Second Coming. ‘…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.’

Inconvenient Truths

1 Apr

I haven’t blogged for some time. I’m trying to make sense of all that is going on . I have consumed news, analysis and opinion from as many platforms as I have had time and inclination. Salmond v Sturgeon; BAME and BLM and the recent Sewell report; statues and poor Sarah Everard; policing and pandemic; vaccination and vacillation; a battered Batley teacher; the EU v the UK; Harry and Megan; Cummings and goings; hate crime and ‘trans’ and who the hell we are; Uighers and Myanmar; influencers, activists and gaslighters; Trump’s lies, Boris’s lies; everyone’s lies.

The Assault on Truth by Peter Oborne is subtitled The emergence of a new moral barbarism. A friend lent me a copy and it’s a searing condemnation of Messrs Johnson and Trump. The blurb states: This book proves the scale and shamelessness of the lying by the Johnson government….and how the media and their political allies let them get away with it. Given that Mr Oborne is, mostly, a contributor to the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Spectator, this is a short and sad analysis worth our attention. When our leaders have such a disregard for truth and, thus, a contempt for those whom they serve, the cascade effects are many and varied.

Social media has become little more than an echo chamber for the confirmation of opinion. Any dissenting voice is trashed, trolled, taken down, harangued, abused, gaslighted. Reasonable dialogue based on sound data and other information, calm sharing of experience and opinion and trust in the integrity of the other has been shot to pieces. A new vocabulary of acronyms and shorthand expressions has sprouted to give a strange validity to the various battlegrounds which seem to spring up like psoriasis on the body of our nation, our world. Language itself has become a stick with which to beat an opponent in an argument rather than elucidate the discussion. When was the last time a politician being interviewed answered rather than evaded a question? Boris Johnson obfuscates and evades at every turn at Prime Minister’s Questions, the most celebrated interrogation of our democracy. When cancel culture becomes cancel truth or no platforming means no free speech, who can we trust to tell the truth?

Boris has a lot to answer for but it isn’t as simple as Boris. Politics has become about winning – only. That means the next election (or Brexit or Scottish independence etc, etc)- only. About power and ego and self-interest – only. When these are the things that matter, truth and honesty take a back seat. And those of us who take care to read and understand and empathise and seek out truth…sadly we remain rather quiet or rattle around in our own echo chambers waiting for dark.

My father used to say, Be honest and tell the truth and you won’t go far wrong. I’m not sure that he quite lived up to his mantra and I’m sure that I haven’t. But I have tried. There are a number of truths that I have had to face (and still do) which have been hard to take and difficult to admit. In my 70th year as a white Anglo-Dane I have a set of attitudes and opinions that have shifted from the monochrome 1950s to the rainbow of the 2020s. While I accept that some of my thoughts and opinions might be outdated – and I can’t deny certain prejudices – I have always been keen on the truth and sportsmanship and listening with tolerance and thinking the best of people and expecting my leaders to be better in most things.

When I was staying with a lovely Hindu family in Cochin, Kerala, some years ago, my hostess offered the view that I must be very proud of the integrity of British politicians and, in particular, prime ministers. She and her husband went on to talk of the corruption of Indian politicians, local and national, many of whom, they said, feathered their nests at every turn. This charming couple had a rose-tinted view of the UK -and its politicians- as a land which bred integrity and honour and had, to some extent, exported these values round the world. As the crimes of Empire are now being writ large, the vestiges of honorable characteristics and good intentions remain. Certainly in that small household in Cochin.

At the time, my reply to my hosts was that, yes, by and large I thought that our politicians were honorable men and women with less self interest and more duty and service in their hearts. What would I say now? Obone says that under Boris Johnson political deceit has become not just commonplace but automatic. What follows, perhaps, from this is that others, on all sides of the house, have to play the game the same way to get the same leverage.

What this means for the rest of us is a huge reduction in democratic rights. If our political discourse is conducted in a parallel world of untruth, our judgement of what is and what is not is made futile. We don’t know who to believe or who is lying least. We can make no fair judgements. Into this void slips opportunists, activists and influencers whose mission is to amplify their message and drown out dissenters. As we googlebox what is going on we are pulled this way and that and, mostly, we let them get on with it and turn to other things: What’s for supper tonight? I’ve booked a table at the pub for the glorious 12th. Turn off the six o’clock news, Richard Osman’s House of Games is much better.

This response, tempting and natural as it may be, is dangerous. If we become indifferent to truth we chip away at our freedom. Quite a chunk has been hacked off already.

My Granddad never…

20 Jan

I wrote this a few years ago and it didn’t see the light of day. Not sure why but as Joe Biden is about to take the oath of office and the maniac is airlifted from the White House, it seems a good time to praise the stoicism of a previous generation.

My Granddad Never..

Wore jeans or shorts – not even when he was playing tennis. I have a photo of him looking like Fred Perry in long whites with a Dunlop Maxpli.

He never knew seatbelts or health and safety or Doombar. These are very important now.

He died in 1972 so he never knew Margaret Thatcher or Monica Lewinsky but he might have caught sight of Sir David Attenborough. He never knew we were in Europe so Brexit wouldn’t have caused him the pain it caused me.

He never looked casual so he would have approved of the headteacher who sent silly boys home for wearing trainers. He wouldn’t have known what a trainer was anyway. He might have liked the head saying zero-tolerance despite it not being invented until Arthur Scargill came along.

He never knew smoking was bad for you so his house was filled with pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke and smell. I rather liked it.

He never knew what it was like to be a teenager at school. In the 1911 Census he is registered as a clerk. He was 13. He never complained about this and he never worked for another company. A Blue Circle Cement man through and through. All his life. Well apart from his stint in the Queen’s Own 7th Hussars. He knew Lawrence of Arabia. He never talked about him.

He never raised his voice. He thought that he was lucky to survive and have food on the table. He wore suspenders to keep his socks up and braces to keep his trousers up and armbands to keep his shirtsleeves tidy. He would never be seen dead without his sartorial aids.

He never thought antimacassars would go out of fashion. Or that Brylcream would be renamed gel when David Beckham came along. He never knew David Beckham. More’s the pity, he never knew Lionel Messi.

We never called him Granddad. Poppa it was. And Nanna. Nanna and Poppa. Always that way round. Never Poppa first.

He never complained. I think Nanna was quite high maintenance but since Poppa didn’t know this phrase, he never used it.

He never listened to weather reports on the wireless, he just tapped the barometer. That told him all he needed to know. That and the seaweed hanging by the front door. He never watched television at home. He was into his 50s before people started owning these strange machines and so he contented himself in watching it at our house on Sundays.

He never knew about political correctness. He was just himself and never ground axes or adopted causes to promote himself.

He never rode a bike that I saw and certainly had no idea about lycra. He never knew what a mid-life crisis was. He thought feeling sorry for yourself was an indulgence. He liked his middle-age spread and never sought to reduce it. He never went to a gym – there were none. He would never have thought of jogging. I only remember him as old. In those days old meant over 50.

He never knew the term Alzheimer’s but that’s what he got, quite early. He never thought of himself as young at 74 when he died. Nanna didn’t cope so well without him. She carried on smoking and set fire to herself. This didn’t kill her because people who are high maintenance live longer.

Poppa was never unkind to us. He gave us pocket money on Saturdays. By 1960 this had climbed to half a crown. That’s 12.5pence. It was a lovely, heavy coin.

He would never have thought that I would write about him and remember him so fondly. Will I do it again? Never say never.

Think the Opposite? 2.

7 Jan

The first version of this was tapped on my little iPhone. Too many errors, finger dexterity poor. Now I have no excuses sitting here at my laptop.

The forces of oppositional madness seemed to be in charge last night in both Hong Kong and Washington. I have written before of the ‘my way or the highway’ approach in totalitarian states and, in the case of Trump, a sociopath. The basis of this approach could be said to be lying. When questioned about any aspect of their regime the Chinese will either say mind your own business – or lie. Uigher muslims really do like ‘retraining’.

As for the Donald, well lying is the political tactic on which he won a presidency and the same could be said for politicians closer to home. Fake news is hardly a new term but the idea that we, the voting public, should scrutinize carefully, what we hear and read, is a more unusual notion. We are used to politicians putting ‘spin’ on figures to prove their points but we are less used to suspecting that what we are being told could be barefaced lies.

In the light of this revelation I have been training myself to test the opposite view of anything that is put in front of me. When my mother used to give the family oxtail stew (yuk!) and tell us is was beef, after a few mouthfuls we knew the awful truth. Sometimes we kept quiet to keep the peace – and we realised that she was economising. When she started to crow that we didn’t taste the difference, we put her straight. I’m not sure what this analogy quite means but I hope you will.

When prioritising vaccination groups, why weren’t teachers, along with NHS staff placed at the top of the list? Someone thought the opposite, clearly, but yet if teachers aren’t front line, who is?Which brings me on to education. What a pickle we are in at the moment. Poor teachers, poor pupils and poor, very poor Gavin Williamson. That the delivery of online lessons would be patchy in delivery and patchy in receipt would seem to be probable. The opposite has actually been the case. Many parents and pupils have spoken of how teachers have gone the extra mile and delivered the very best in a bad situation. The tricky problem has been that technology and childcare at the receiving end is inconsistent. Kit and broadband and harrassed parents. If superfast connectivity and the latest iPad were ubiquitous – no probs. The opposite of high tech is low tech. Anyone heard of textbooks? Maths books with answers in the back; exercise books with weights and measures and all manner of info on the back cover; English tomes (remember Rhodri Jones) with comprehension, essay and language exercises in developing chapters; science, geography, history…the lot. Pencils and biros. Self marking. Only saying.

I’ve been thinking about skills based curriculum v knowledge based. We have veered towards the former because educationists have been fixated with transferable skills (whatever they may be) and google. What we don’t know can be accessed in a trice. Problem here is that lots of people know nothing. Look at Pointless each afternoon. Old people seem to have facts at fingertips, youngsters with degrees in Politics can’t name a prime minister other than Boris. A slight exaggeration but you get it? I listened to Amal Rajan’s radio 4 chat t’other day and some fine people were talking up the advantages of automaticity – i.e. knowing something by heart so well that you can bypass several steps in processing and understanding problems. The numbers 9 and 6 should automatically suggest 54 if times tables have been drilled in. Perhaps reinvention of the wheel but you only have to witness the extraordinary ability of the young mind to retain information when repeated ad infinitum to realise that education has devalued its greatest resource. Ask any woke 18 year old to recall lyrics of any popular song from the last 20 years (and often beyond) and you will see that repetition and automaticity could be an educational lifesaver – and an aide memoire for life. Just saying.

Even bloody, bloody Brexit. I have read and heard James O’Brien, Owen Jones et al endlessly and, of course, I have been on their side versus the Farage, Rees-Mogg, Boris bandwaggoners. But I learn things when I listen to all arguments and I do see that the magastatism of Europe and the unwieldiness of 27 countries’ decision-making and the problems of unfettered immigration..and so on. I simply prefer to be part of the European project which seemed so worthwhile philosophically and economically. But entrenched opposition has got us nowhere. The UK is set to split, perhaps, and ‘better together’ may soon be an outmoded slogan. If we had all been prepared to see the opposite view and, therefore, moderate our own, we might have found a better way forward.

Just saying.

%d bloggers like this: