Friday, 23 November 2012

The Curious Incident of the End of Civilisation as We Know It

I was at a political meeting earlier this week.  The first one I’ve been to in years.  It was about the announcement by Newcastle Council that they are planning to close at least ten branch libraries over the next year.  David Almond and others spoke well about how these cuts are unnecessary, indeed how the vast majority of the austerity cuts are unnecessary but are ideologically driven, and the importance of easy access to libraries.  Furthermore, the council have announced that all arts funding is going to be cut entirely within the next few years.

It’s interesting what sets you off in the end.  As anyone unfortunate enough to be a facebook friend of mine will have been aware of the number of articles etc about ATOS I’ve been posting/sharing if they haven’t already hidden me.  But it is this one that has really bitten.  This time it’s personal.

I have a simple question.  The Government tells us: lose the libraries or lose care for children/elderly.  Is this really what we have come to?  Is this really the stark and only choice?  We could afford the Olympics, we can afford police commissioners, we can afford to keep our soldiers dying in an unnecessary and already lost war, we can afford to give tax breaks to the rich.  But we can’t afford libraries, or can only do so at the expense of the vulnerable.  Libraries as reckless luxuries? 

Of course this is nonsense.  The cuts are political, not economic.  This is an attempt to return us to a pre-War country, which, thanks to Evelyn Waugh and others, many Tories view as a lost paradise.  Coupled with this is the truly disgusting belief that our only purpose in this life is to make money for someone else.  Nothing else matters.  An entire country as a workhouse with overseers born to the purple stalking the land sneering at those who made the morally incorrect choice to be born poor.  It’s like a version of Mad Max written by Oscar Wilde, but not nearly as witty.

And just to add to the poisoned punch, we have a government made up of billionaires breathtakingly out of touch with anything outside their gilded circles.  This has been building for a while, from Thatcher’s adoration of the finance sector to the corruption of the Major years and finally the betrayal by Tony Blair and his crony capitalism.  Now we have people who appear to have no concept of what it is to live under a certain income level.  People who believe that poverty is a lifestyle choice and, because of their own diseased morality, believe that everyone must be on the fiddle, like them.  I really could weep.

So, do I exaggerate when I say that these cuts are the most destructive thing to happen to our culture since the Puritan destruction of mediaeval art in the 17th century?  I truly hope so.  But I fear not.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Movember Woes

Well, I’m half way through the hirsute hullaballoo that is Movember.  If you’ve missed this annual event, it’s a fund/consciousness raiser for male health issues in which men volunteer to grow a moustache during the month of November, thus the name.  You can find details and so forth here.  You can also find me.  No photographs as my phone camera has broken (honest).  Not that I’m disappointed.  I’m more disappointed in my pathetic moustache.  I was hoping for a Zapata (one of those ‘60s droopy affairs) but fifteen days in and I’ve got something that barely registers.  Furthermore I’ve had to stop putting my hair into a ponytail because if I do it makes me look like one of those characters in 1950s British films that James Robertson Justice would shout at, and when I put my glasses on, then it’s a cuckolded husband played by a harassed Richard Attenborough. Which is worse.  

And I like my ponytail.  It keeps my hair out of the way and it irritates dedicated followers of fashion who, for some reason, seem to think they have a right to comment.  Movember irritates other people too.  I read one chap railing against it as being stupid and ineffective and, while he may be right, at least it’s fairly harmless and only effects the moustachioed and his immediate family, which is more than can be said for those prannets who announce that they’re going to cross some ocean on a space hopper and always seem to end up having to be rescued by the Australian Navy.

The other thing Movember does, it forces the men involved to face up to their facial hair growing abilities.  Women, and any bloke who’s never tried to grow a beard or moustache, will be happily unaware of the fraughtness that it creates in the rest of us.  In the ‘90s I shared lodgings with a bloke who had to shave twice a day and used to develop a five o’clock shadow รก la Fred Flintstone or Homer Simpson and as a student I shared accommodation for two years with a bloke who, within about three days, could grow a beard that would have won warm applause from any member of Jethro Tull circa 1974.

I, on the other hand, had to suffer the sorrow that comes on a chap when his moustache does not connect with his beard.  A small, yet pungently shaming gap remained either side of the mouth to sneer at my pretentions to Hemingwayesqe machismo.

And then, a couple of years ago, I was on a fortnight long narrowboat holiday.  I don’t shave when I’m on a boat, officially to save water, unofficially because I’m on holiday, and about two thirds of the way through the trip it finally happened.  They joined up.  Houston, I had moustache/beard interface.  I felt as though a great burden had at last been passed from me.

But, Hirsutius, the god of facial hair, is a cruel and capricious god.  As I admired my fine piece of horticulture, I saw two patches, equidistantly astride my chin, of white hair.  My first.  Truly is it said that the gods are not mocked.  Things were not improved by my two and a bit year old niece who, whenever she was sitting on my knee, would gaze wide-eyed at my white patches, occasionally lifting a tremulous hand to touch one of them, before snatching it back with a look of unease and discomfort.  So you can see that I had some, albeit forlorn, but still some hopes for this moustache.  Alas it is not to be.

Still, only fifteen more days to go.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Red and the White

I see that the white poppies for Remembrance Sunday are making a comeback.  Well, actually I don’t see that at all as I’ve not seen anyone wearing one.  In fact, now I think on it, I’ve never seen anyone wearing one and it’s not as if I move in particularly militaristic circles.

No, what I mean is that I’ve seen an advert for them and someone posting in The Guardian website mentioned them.  Apparently they were first put on sale in 1933.  I’d always thought of them as an ‘80s thing, along with ‘Nuklear Power nein danke’ window stickers.  A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that Margaret Thatcher disapproved of them which doubtless explains their sudden flurry of popularity.

The idea behind the white poppy is to show remembrance for war dead while making it clear that the wearer is against war and therein lies the problem.  I’m not sure that the red poppy does denote that the wearer is happy and comfortable about the prospect of people dying in war.  Rather the opposite I’d always thought.  Some white poppy supporters point to the fact that the red one is worn predominantly by Unionists in Northern Ireland in which case I would suggest that said Unionists be castigated for turning it into an overtly political symbol, just as the English fascist movements tried to co-opt the St George flag.  I loathe football, but I am pleased that assorted World Cups have won that back for us.

With the best will in the world, I find the white poppy uncomfortable.  It smells too strongly of the kind of sanctimoniousness that assumes a moral superiority to all around.  I always think of the lines in the Tom Lehrer song, The Folk Song Army:

                        We are the folk song army
                        Every one of us cares.
                        We all hate poverty, war and injustice
                        Unlike the rest of you squares.

And here in its entirety:

While the red poppy might (and I say might) have honoured only the Allied dead of the ’14-’18 war, it certainly does not now.  Furthermore as the appalling bullying that went on a couple of years back that demanded that everyone should wear one seems to have died down, I am wearing a red poppy this year.  And if anyone wishes to wear a white one, let them do so, but be aware that it may carry as many negative connotations as the red ones you abjure.