Perhaps the most depressing aspect of politics in Britain today is not that our prime minister is a serial liar and philanderer, or that he U-turns at a moment’s notice according to the headlines in the newspapers, or that most restrictions on masks/gatherings etc have been removed on the very day that the number of new Covid infections in the UK is within 20% of the peak in early January of this year (54,486 yesterday), or that the current rate of increase of infections is faster than we have yet seen, or that in an island nation that has 'taken back control', he allowed—with plenty of notice of the event—the Delta variant to enter the UK when the easiest thing in the world would have been to close the borders, or that in spite of the lifting of restrictions, the public is advised to continue to wear masks/social distance, an advice which can only lead to confusion, dispute, and conflict within shops, pubs, restaurants etc.
No, the most depressing aspect of all of this, is that Johnson’s supporters in the country don’t apparently care.
Why is this? Is there a sort of psychological ostrich pandemic along with the physical one, in that these people genuinely do not want to know? Do they just want good news regardless?
I know that one or two supporters of the prime minister read this blog—or rather are confronted with links to it via Facebook. I challenge them to respond. Why do you continue to support this mountebank? His policies have already done incalculable harm to the interests of the UK. We are a laughing-stock abroad, and face bankruptcy at home.
Perhaps the most galling thing of all, is that when Johnson decides he’s had enough (or perhaps his colleagues do, or even the country does), he’ll be able to go on the talk circuit at £50,000 a pop, and the rest of us will have to live with the consequences of his actions.
Very sad to see that Andrew Mitchell, that rarest of a critically endangered species—a Tory MP with a conscience—has failed in his attempt to get the UK government to reverse its cuts to foreign aid. No doubt many will applaud this failure, but it marks another shameful step in the relentless withdrawal of this country from its duties and responsibilities to the world at large.
We are constantly being told by many of those who voted yesterday against restoring the aid back to 0.7% of GDP, that we are the ‘fifth largest economy in the world’. Yet we begrudge this minuscule amount of charity to the poorest and neediest in the world, the exploitation of many of whose riches enabled us to be where we are today.
Shame on you Johnson. Under your ‘leadership’, to paraphrase John Major, a previous Tory prime minister, Great Britain is transformed into Little England.
Anyone looking at the various posts I have made over the years, cannot fail to see that I am a music-lover. I might have moaned about Benjamin Britten or execrated Harrison Birtwistle, but I have certainly waxed lyrical—ecstatic even—over Wagner, Beethoven, Berlioz, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler; and also Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Chuck Berry. I even made my living by playing music for a year or so. But music, be it classical, folk, or rock ‘n’ roll, is for listening to; possibly, in the case of the latter, danced to (although my wife and I have also danced to Beethoven’s third symphony, to the great amusement of my post-graduate examiner at Essex University...)
What I absolutely cannot abide though, because I think it is an insult to the musicians, and a misery to the unwitting listener, is muzak. I once spent the weekend at a friend of a friend’s house in Phoenix, Arizona. Around 7:30 am, when the lady of the house was dressed and about, the muzak started—in all the rooms of the house excepting the bedrooms—and continued all day. It is a measure of the outlook of this particular household, that in April, average temperature in Phoenix, 24ºC, (it’s effectively in the desert) the outside swimming pool was deemed too cold for swimming ... But I digress.
I have now visited a number of eating establishments in my local area, at least three of which have recently been refurbished for six figure sums. The service is always excellent and the food is first class, but ... there is, in every place, piped music. Worse than that, the volume is at a level that it interrupts conversation. Even worse still, those establishments with gardens or outside areas, pipe the music there too. There is no escape from it.
Why is this? Do the customers want it? I find it difficult to believe so. Is it done to please otherwise bored staff? Is the public deemed to be so illiterate these days on a diet of Strictly Come Dancing, Love Island, interminable sport, or endless films about how we ‘won the war’, that we are incapable of conversing with each other? Well I am sick of it. Tomorrow is a special day for me, and I have elected to have a nice meal at home rather than in a restaurant—yes, I know, most restaurants are closed on a Monday but ...
I give warning to local restaurateurs; in future, without exception, I will ask them to turn their music right down. If they refuse, I will report them to the Health and Safety Executive as being responsible for a clear and present danger to our mental health and physical wellbeing.
I have updated the extended obituary of my mother and added some pictures; it can be read here: https://www.mirlibooks.com/mirli.html. It includes a rather amusing story which she related regarding my own provenance.
As mentioned in a previous post, I have been doing some reading around the causes and consequences of the two world wars, with special reference to Austria. Margaret MacMillan’s Six months that Changed the World describes the Paris peace conference of 1919; for anyone wanting to understand where the modern world came from this is essential reading. I would also recommend Martyn Whittock’s A Brief History of the Third Reich, an accessible account of the effect on ordinary Germans of Hitler’s regime.
Most poignant though, is Stefan Zweig’s book, Die Welt von Gestern--The World of Yesterday. Zweig was one of the most well-known writers of the 1920s and 1930s, translated into many languages and widely read, although not so much in Britain. He was acquainted with many of the great authors and musicians of the period and wrote the libretto for one of Richard Strauss’s operas. A personal friend of Sigmund Freud, he brought Salvador Dali to see the founder of psychoanalysis in his final days in London. But Zweig was an Austrian Jew, and in Hitler’s Reich he was, in modern parlance, cancelled. His books were banned, and burned, and his Austrian citizenship was taken away. He was made stateless.
The World of Yesterday is a memoir of Zweig’s early life from the late nineteenth century until 1940 or thereabouts. It is particularly valuable as a first-hand account of life in Vienna before and immediately after the great war. His description of life for Jews later on under the Nazis was written before the advent of the extermination camps. It is still harrowing enough, like the hateful rule forbidding his eighty-four year old mother from resting on a park bench in Vienna because of her race. Zweig left Austria for England in 1934 anticipating what was coming.
For me though, one aspect of Zweig’s book that quite unexpectedly resonates with today, was his analysis of the nationalist madness in many European countries that accompanied the outbreak of the first war. He wrote:
The most peaceful and the most good-natured [people] were intoxicated with the smell of blood. Friends ... changed overnight into fanatical patriots.
He wrote an article ‘To Friends Abroad’ in which he stated that:
In direct and blunt contrast to the accustomed fanfares of hate ... I would remain loyal to them so that, at the very first opportunity, we might again collaborate in the reconstruction of European culture.
He commented on the power of the word:
In the first [war] the word still had power. It had not yet been done to death by the organization of lies, by “propaganda” ...
Recognize any of this? I too have told ‘friends abroad’, in France, Italy, Holland, Germany, and Austria that in spite of the xenophobia poisoning aspects of life in Britain, a good number of us would like, in the future, to ‘collaborate in the reconstruction of European culture...’ I just hope they didn’t see some of the vicious and shameful anti-German comments on Twitter following the recent football match.
My mother was born in Vienna in 1924, and I have been investigating the history of Austria in an attempt to put her early life into context; I was shocked at what I found out. The origins of the country are complex and multi-faceted. Suffice it to say that at some point it emerged from the Holy Roman Empire, and in the mid-nineteenth century formed a dual monarchy with Hungary to become the multi-national state of Austria-Hungary, ruled by a succession of Habsburg emperors. Subject countries included Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia Herzegovina, Galicia (composed of parts Poland and Ukraine), part of Romania, and sections of northern Italy. It was a prosperous nation: the population in 1914 was 53 million, and manufacturing capacity rivalled Britain, Germany, and the USA. The imperial capital was Vienna, a city of grandiose public buildings and a cultural life to match. There were theatres, concert halls, opera houses, and art galleries, and at various times Vienna was home to Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, the Strausses and Gustav Mahler. In the early twentieth century, it hosted radical movements in art, philosophy, and music. For more than 50 years Sigmund Freud practised psychoanalysis in Vienna.
Most people know that the first World War was sparked off by Austria-Hungary's decision to declare war on Serbia, blaming it for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—heir to the imperial throne—in Sarajevo. Russia waded in as an ally of Serbia, Germany likewise as an ally of Austria-Hungary; Germany then invaded France (an ally of Russia) via Belgium, and this brought Britain into the war.
Four years later Austria-Hungary had been defeated. One by one its component nations declared independence, and the economy collapsed. The currency went into freefall, and in the winter of 1918 in Vienna there was no coal for heating or wheat for bread. The population was starving, and reduced to bartering for essentials. Excessive hubris had destroyed one of the largest and most prosperous of European nations. The New York Times commented that the world should consider to ‘subsidize the Austrian capital ... The world’s stock of charming cities is not so large that we can afford to let one of the most charming pass into decay’.
I don’t expect that Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, or Corriere della Sera will be running stories like that about London any time soon, but the B****t fallout is only just beginning. Food exports to the EU are down, and businesses are reporting difficulties getting staff because EU workers have returned home. There is also worry about the ability of the financial services industry—which contributes more than 10% of UK tax receipts—to avoid contraction over regulatory issues with the EU. When the effect of that starts to bite, we’ll look back on the so-called 'sausage war' with nostalgia.
B****t: the theft that keeps on thieving...
Andrea Leadsom, erstwhile candidate for Prime Minister and prominent anti-Europe campaigner, on Any Questions last week. She talked about the ‘fantastic opportunity’ offered by the Australian trade deal; British people would, if they wished, be permitted to work for three years in that country.
She did not respond on having it pointed out to her that when Britain was in the EU, citizens were able to live and work indefinitely in any one of twenty-seven countries in Europe ...
But intriguingly, not for the reasons we might have come to expect. Listen to Peter Hennessy’s take on Cummings/Johnson—37 minutes into Broadcasting House, 9:00 am Radio 4 yesterday. A masterful analysis of the Prime Minister—gifted campaigner, not built for government.
Hennessy proposed the ‘knicker-elastic’ principle; Johnson’s continual rule-breaking stretches reality. Eventually, it snaps back with painful consequences. It is the Ministerial Code, which Johnson signed off when he became PM, that could get him. By denying to Parliament that he made the remark about bodies piling up in the street, and if proof-positive emerges that he did say it, he will be seen to have broken the Code. One section of it states that anyone knowingly misleading Parliament will be expected to resign.
In the recent post on poor old Henry John Hatch, the one ‘trial’ I didn’t mention was the apparent estrangement from his daughter Lucy. She was an orphan whom the Hatches adopted, and at the tender age of eight, she gave evidence in respect of the charges against Henry. Lucy was present during three of the occasions that eleven-year-old Mary Eugenia Plummer claimed that she had been indecently assaulted by Henry. During one of those incidents, Eugenia said that Lucy was also assaulted. Lucy steadfastly declared that on the occasions when she had been present, nothing had happened.
In the book I presented extensive evidence, by necessity circumstantial, to show that it was remotely unlikely that Henry had committed the offences of which he was charged. The most telling of this evidence was detailed by the trial judge during Eugenia’s trial for perjury. Although both Eugenia and her younger sister Stephana claimed that Henry had assaulted them, neither child ever claimed that Henry had warned them not to ‘tell’.
So when it became clear that Lucy had left the Hatches, at least by the time she was nineteen, had reverted to her birth name, ‘Buckler’, and was living close to her birthplace on the south coast, I found myself wondering what had happened. Neither Henry nor his wife was a signatory on Lucy’s marriage certificate, although that was hardly suspicious. But when Henry made a will, there was no mention of Lucy.
There could be many quite innocent explanations. The Hatches were effectively bankrupt and living off charity after the failure of the court actions. Perhaps Lucy left in order to get a job and support herself. Possibly she reverted to her original name in order to avoid any taint attaching to the ‘Hatch’ name—since Henry’s misfortunes had been national headline news. It is also possible—although unlikely given Henry’s charitable nature—that there was a family schism for reasons entirely unrelated to the trauma they had all suffered in court.
Nevertheless, conspiracy theorists might speculate that Henry’s behaviour towards Lucy and/or Eugenia had been less than entirely innocent, and as Lucy got older she determined to distance herself from him. I do not believe that, although I recognize that it is a possibility no matter how unlikely. Lucy died in 1943 at the age of ninety, and like Eugenia took her secrets with her to the grave. There remains the remote possibility that she did confide in someone, perhaps her husband James Staniland Stocks, or her siblings—she was one of five. Somewhere, in a journal or letter, there might be some clue as to what really happened.
We are used to nice pat resolutions to the unceasing diet of detective/murder mysteries that seem to dominate TV drama at present. Real life is rarely so accommodating.
An interesting feeding-frenzy in the correspondents’ page of the Torygraph today as the loyalists turn on one of their own and tear him to pieces. It is a sad reflection on our politics that Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were incapable of damaging Cummings when he was ruling the roost, but when he dares to criticise the leadership, the Tory sharks go in bigtime.
Hancock’s Half Hour is nearly over. Wounded sharks usually make a swift meal for their comrades, and I think his days are numbered. Already he is demonstrated not to have been telling the unvarnished truth about care-home testing.
One comment emerged from the marathon committee session that really does resonate: (and I paraphrase) there is something seriously wrong with our political system when the country is given the choice between Johnson and Corbyn as prime minister. I believe I made this comment myself in an earlier post.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs