The myth of empire, hope for the rust belt and the News Quiz dream team

3 February 2019

Tweedledum had been complaining that Tweedledee had spoiled her faithful old rattle, but she now has a brand new one which she says is nothing like the old one so her gang’s most humiliating defeat in living memory was actually a huge triumph.  Meanwhile the Speaker tut-tutted and said “people expect better behaviour” in the House of Commons.  Not me mate, I’ve got used to the baying of hounds on both sides with nobody ever saying anything substantive or constructive (or, recently, even intelligent).

It’s embarrassing.  Didn’t we rule the world for a few years with an empire that covered a lot of the world page in my school atlas (and this was after our largest colony had fought Britain for its independence and won so it could, some 230 years later, elect a C-list TV celebrity with no political experience as president)?

I mean, you just have to look back into history to see our imperial contributions to world peace:  our part in the Crimean War that ultimately led to the establishment of the USSR, both Boer Wars (during the second of which we invented concentration camps) that led to apartheid, our role in the creation of Palestine and, later, the state of Israel, the militarily irrelevant bombing of Dresden in 1945 that killed an estimated 300,000-500,000 people, most of them civilians (for a slightly unusual take on this, read Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’), the cack-handed partition of Pakistan and India, etc etc etc.

The interesting question is why we wanted an empire and, obviously, the answer is money.  In the 16th century, small gangs of heavily-armed thugs roamed over the Atlantic stealing Mayan gold and Spanish loot.  Later, South Africa had diamonds and West Africa had people who could be kidnapped and sold as slaves.  Australia was as far as it was possible to send really evil people like those who’d poached one of His Lordship’s pheasants for Christmas lunch.  East India was even run by a company for decades.

Perhaps it really will be best for Britain to revert to its original status as a small, damp and insignificant independent state just off the mainland European coast whom nobody cares about.

And perhaps America should accept its president has made it a laughing stock internationally, and he’s so stupid that he’s dangerous and the end of the world is now closer than ever.  Bottling out of the stand-off and ending the Trump shutdown without receiving any concessions won’t have done his self-regard any good either.

My brother’s just been to America to see a performance of the pantomime that he and a friend wrote and says their friends there hope that what excited people in the rust zone is Trump’s claim that, having started with nothing, he made it to President so, if he can, anybody can.  So they need to learn is that all he actually started with was a father who was a billionaire and, even though he’s lost a lot of it through sheer incompetence, he’s still a billionaire, just a poorer one, if ‘poorer billionaire’ isn’t an oxymoron.

Have I mentioned my favourite album title of all time?  Seasick Steve’s ‘I started out with nothing and I’ve still got most of it left’.  (My second favourite is Deana Carter’s ‘Did I shave my legs for this?’)

The saddest news of the week was that Jeremy Hardy died of cancer at the age of 57.  It’s thirteen years since Linda Smith died at the age of 48 and twelve years since Alan Coren died at the age of 69;  both of them also had cancer.  That’s ¾ of the ‘News Quiz’ dream team dead.  We can only hope that Andy Hamilton is taking great care of himself.

Jeremy Hardy once said on the News Quiz “I don’t get this fashion for happy funerals. [Somebody] said he wanted all his mates to be in a good mood and smile, and this is a very fashionable idea, that when you die, it’s supposed to be a celebration and joyous and everyone laughing, but I want people’s lives torn apart when I go. I want to be embalmed and brought out when we have guests.”

He’s also reported to have said “Northern Ireland is part of Ireland, not Britain, as can clearly be seen from aerial photographs.”

One of Alan Coren’s apercus was his comment on the Netherlands that “Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of the country is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers”, while Linda Smith said she was born in Erith in Kent which wasn’t twinned with anywhere but had a suicide pact with Dagenham.

We need more people like them.

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