Some of my earliest memories are of listening to the ‘wireless’, and I continue, when I can to listen to Radio 4 and Radio 3. Every now and then, one hears an absolute gem. Who can forget Jim Naughtie announcing to the nation immediately before the Eight O’ Clock News, that he would be interviewing ‘Jeremy C*nt’, at ten past eight (of course, Jeremy Hunt, a minister of something or another in Her Majesty’s Government). First prize for the world’s most apposite Freudian slip. How Naughtie managed to read the news after that, with everyone in the Radio 4 control room almost certainly doubled up in terminal hysteria, is a miracle of radio broadcasting.
Then there was the famous occasion when the normally unflappable and patrician Charlotte Green had a fit of the giggles – also reading the news – following the playing of the world’s first sound recording.
And today, there was another treat. Paddy O’Connell, a most witty and amusing presenter, chairs Broadcasting House, Radio 4, 9 – 10 am on a Sunday Morning. Among his guests today was Kirsty Wark, an ‘elder stateswoman’ BBC person, broadcasting, I think, from Edinburgh. She was reading from a newspaper interview with Lord John Kerr – author of the infamous Article 50 – who was criticising Theresa May for appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, since she didn’t trust him; Kirsty added, ‘No shit, Sherlock!’
Two of the main characters in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited first meet under inauspicious circumstances. Sebastian Flyte leans through Charles Rider’s window – from the outside – and vomits into his room. Rider’s college accommodation at Oxford is on the ground floor and Sebastian is somewhat the worse for wear after he and his chums return from a good night out. Sebastian’s friends carry him away, and one returns to apologize:
‘The wines were too various,’ he said: ‘it was neither the quality nor the quantity that was at fault. It was the mixture. Grasp that and you have the root of the matter. To understand all is to forgive all.’
It seems to me that such a healing sentiment is desperately needed in this broken country of ours. The United Kingdom is split, our Parliament is split and the major political parties are split. And the problem is that no-one is listening to people of opposing views.
17.4M people voted to leave the EU, 16.1M voted not to, but why did they all vote the way they did? Did the Remainers believe Project Fear? Did they think that the country would slide into a pit of fatally damaged industry, crashing house prices and deep recession? And what about the Leavers? Did they believe that unrestricted immigration from the EU was damaging the infrastructure of the country, and taking jobs from British workers? Were they of the view that an ‘unrestrained’ UK would do far better in terms of trade outside the confines of the EU? Did they reject the concept of the EU project sliding into political union?
In a very real sense, the truth or otherwise of any of these views does not matter, because people hold them for better or worse, and so the country is paralysed. The only way forward, when the choice appears to be binary, is to compromise. If we stay completely in, half of the country will feel betrayed; if we completely leave, the other half will forever hold a grudge.
What we must do is try to understand the point of view of the ‘other’ side. It is no good calling either Rees Mogg or Anna Soubry insulting names, that simply increases resentment. It is time for men and women of good will to get together and sort this mess out.
Most politicians are conscious of their place in history. If the present lot screw this up, they will be forever remembered by future generations as Quislings who betrayed their country because they were too obstinate and stubborn to compromise.
There is a story, probably apocryphal, that Sir Thomas Beecham once observed: ‘One should try everything in life, except incest and Morris Dancing.’
I have tried Morris Dancing, but not – in so far as I am aware – incest. I have also tried a number of other things with varying degrees of success, and I have described a few of them in these posts and elsewhere on this website. But there are two ‘things’ that I could (and can) never make any sense of at all – thermodynamics and accountancy.
I was reminded of this while reading Jim Al-Khalili’s book Paradox (a Christmas present). I like Al-Khalili; his BBC Radio 4 programme, The Life Scientific, is interesting and informative, and he is one of the better contributors to the programme In Our Time. His book though, is disappointing – to me at any rate – because I do not find his explanations very helpful.
However, it was his chapter on Maxwell’s Demon, in which he invokes the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that left me more confused than when I started. You can look up Maxwell’s Demon and the laws of thermodynamics in Wikipedia; the second law says, in essence, that disorder in a closed system always increases. Fine. But how that is then quantified and applied to the real world using a measure of disorder – entropy – has always eluded me. I’m amazed at the insight of the 19th century engineers who developed the theory and applied it to make better steam engines.
Similarly accountancy. I once spent two years studying the subject, and came out knowing one single thing: that accountancy uses a double entry system (which was, I believe, invented by the Italians several hundred years ago). A friend once lent me a large well-printed and illustrated book – effectively accountancy for dummies. On page 3 there was a statement that such and such an item was a credit, whereas I could not see that it wasn’t a debit (or it might have been vice-versa) and I crashed.
I did hear a vaguely relevant story that might have been circulated by the Monty Python team. A young woman, having been told by her doctor that she has only six months to live, asks him if there is anything that can be done. “You could try marrying an accountant” he says. “Will that make me live longer?” she asks. “No,” replied the doctor, “But that six months will seem like a lifetime…”
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs