Out Now!

Friday, 27 April 2012

An uneventful life

Accidents happen when you least expect them. I was eating an apple in the kitchen staring at the rain pelting across the window, and pondering on a chapter that was causing some difficulty. It was a three apple job – it could easily have been a four apple ponder – but for the accident.

I raised the apple – a Braeburn – to my mouth and chomped down with some force – so much force that the apple sheared in a crunch and the entire north face of the Braeburn continued its upward trajectory and hit my nose with even greater force.
I never realised before that apples sting. I felt my nose had come off. Wondered what I was going to say and how long the pain would last. In the mean time I destroyed the evidence, consuming the offending fruit in vengeful bites, but swallowing carefully in case the Braeburn planned a counter-attack.

My nose continued to throb. One nostril seemed blocked, by blood or an errant pip. It was time to see how bad it was, consider how much of the truth to tell my wife. Hit by an apple? For God’s sake. I entered the bathroom with some trepidation and stared into the reflection of a virginal nose, a nose unscathed, blameless, unblemished.

I felt cheated.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Send in the Penguins

The Romans were supreme pragmatists, expert at ‘borrowing’ the best military tactics and weaponry from those they conquered. The British, too, are noted pragmatists, operating on the maxim of ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ As the British Empire reached its peak so, too, did the eccentricity of its top Generals, their ability to recognise what was broke, or indeed a dead parrot, floundering in complacency.
The Boer war proved something of a shock, our eventual victory a close run thing, and immediately afterwards the Elgin Committee was established to explore what had gone wrong.

Some pushed for the abolition of the sword and lance as viable weapons for cavalry. Sir Ian Hamilton argued that ‘compared to a modern rifle the sword or lance can only be compared to a medieval toy.’

Leading generals were not impressed and continued to champion the use of lance and sword as cavalry weapons of choice.

General French and General Douglas Haig – key figures in World War I – were the most vociferous against reform, arguing the virtues of slashing and stabbing; the shock of the charge.

General Brabazon went one step further – the tomahawk. He argued that the power and momentum of a cavalry charge - with men swinging tomahawks - would sweep all before it. It had, he argued, proved highly effective on the Afghan frontier – which is clearly where we’re going wrong now.

Lord Esher, a man of dry wit, recorded Brabazon’s appearance at the commission:

‘He drew graphic pictures of a cavalry charge under these conditions, so paralysing to the imagination of the Commissioners that they wholly failed to extricate the General or themselves from the discussion of this engrossing subject.’

It was an interesting position to take because the Boer war had clearly demonstrated the devastating effect of artillery and long range rifles. Generals with their powerful, aristocratic connections, however, carried some clout.

The Elgin Commission did what the British always do in such circumstances.


The cavalry would be allowed to keep their swords but, much to the disgust of traditionalists, they would carry rifles as well, and learn how to dismount and fire.

I love eccentricity and so, clearly, did General Brabazon* but was the tomahawk any more eccentric than the lance – a nine foot bamboo cane, tipped and reinforced with steel?

The British tomahawk would have been made from English oak, steel from Coalbrookdale, and decorated with pigeon feathers, perhaps coloured. They’d have made a pretty sight charging against machine guns. It could have been worse. We could have had Generals arguing for blow-pipes.

We could of course have sent in the penguins.

*Ordered to shave off his beard, the younger Brabazon also shaved off one half of a large and luxuriant moustache, startling observers on the regimental parade ground.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Group think

I hate groupthink and what’s worse, there’s no escape. I’ve been there: Catholic, Marxist, teacher, musician – even writer – the effect is the same. Consciously or unconsciously you censor your mind. You can say that you don’t – like St Peter said he’d never deny Christ. And then the cock crowed.

The truth is you tailor your words and, if you’re not careful, your thoughts to a wider group view. There is a liberal/radical consensus, a tribe that can be insufferably smug, as though believing they are the repository of all that is truthful and good.

There are ‘rednecks’ gun lobbyists, euro sceptics, Tories, Neo Cons, Protestants, Catholics, Wiccan, Jedi and atheists - more tribes than you can shake a stick at and the bottom line is that each of them have probably the same measure of goodness and generosity of spirit. It’s just hard to discern and sometimes harder to acknowledge this without howls of protest from whichever tribe you happen to find yourself in.

The most insidious group think in this country is the BBC. You never get the news. You get an interpretation. It is good that I sit in the dark and alone with only a teapot for company when I put on the Today programme. The gloom is punctuated with much irritation, sometimes loud curses my wife wouldn’t tolerate. It’s the complacency, occasional self-importance, giggling undertone, snide asides and pharisaic questioning nudging the listener along the right tracks. Over the years it's become worse, a sly, benign intolerance.

The boast is objectivity, allowing every voice to be heard - only some voices are more equal than others. It is easy to ‘encourage dissident views’ if you select carefully and control the debate, then what you’re getting is the illusion of impartiality; not free ranging but battery thought.

The main stream media patronises and infantilises large swathes of the population and relentlessly pushes its sense of the truth. And yes, you may say, Fox news is worse; better the BBC than News Corporation. Well, in my opinion, what’s worse is having only one ‘tribal’ view. Having a yin but no yang.

Humans are tribal. I like to think I’m not but I am. I belong to the tribe that loathes anyone who ‘knows’ the truth. And the BBC reminds me of the Renaissance Catholic Church in that respect. It has many virtues and the vices of a monopoly. Ah, time for another cup of tea - or something stronger.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

There’s always tomorrow.

‘Alas, I now repent me sore that I ever suffered you to go away, I care for match nor nothing, so I may once have you in my arms again; God grant it! God grant it! Amen, amen, amen ... God bless you both, my only sweet son and my only best sweet servant and God send you a happy and joyful meeting in the arms of your dear old dad.’

Now who the hell, wrote that? Not me for sure. Nor have I ever exclaimed: ‘God's wounds, I will pull down my breeches and they shall also see my arse,’ though I have many times felt inclined to do so. And, on one memorable occasion, Jarvis Cocker did.

No, the guy responsible for both these remarks was our own dear, sweet dad, James 1st of England and 6th of Scotland.

The second remark is both funny and crude, especially coming from the mouth of a king. The first is just downright weird. As paternal letters go it makes Victorian sentimentality acerbic in comparison. James is not just wearing his heart on his sleeve; he’s embroidered it with jewels and flashing neon lights. The weirdness is that his love for his son, the ill-fated Charles 1st, is fused with his more carnal love for his ‘best sweet servant’ the Duke of Buckingham.

I’ve never had that problem. The Duke of Buckingham leaves me cold. But could I ever write a letter like that to my own children? My ‘sweet son’ would shudder being in the arms of his ‘dear old dad’. My daughter hugs me regularly.

My own father wrote me a brilliant letter shortly after I was born. He was at sea. It’s a strong letter, wistful, loving, hoping for great things. And yes, I think there is a case for fathers to write at least one letter to their daughter or son. It’s something treasured and never forgotten.

I’ve not done it yet. My father was wise, writing his shortly after I was born. The later you leave it the harder it becomes – a bit like writing a Will. You don’t want to think about death and posterity.