5 January 2020
If you can think of a single way in which 2020 could be worse than 2019, you’d probably win a prize somewhere, even though there’s an extra day to cope with this year, so this is going to be as positive as possible, by ignoring recent events that aren’t.
But first, a warning for anybody who still reads books, and some recommendations. I recently read my first ever Jeffrey Archer book but only because a friend said he wrote good yarns and then another friend lent me a copy because she thought I’d like it.
Archer had been a prominent Conservative politician who was charged in the late 1980s with giving a sex-worker a paper bag containing £2,000 in £50 notes for personal services (as a philanthropist, he said, rather than as a guilty man). The most outrageous thing about his trial was the obvious infatuation of the judge (Mr Justice Caulfield) with Mary Archer, which became embarrassingly obvious when he instructed the jury: he said she had such elegance, fragrance and radiance, it was most unlikely her husband could be guilty. The jury decided he was not guilty.
Caulfield died in 1994. Archer was made a life peer in 1992.
One of Archer’s key witnesses later admitted he’d provided Archer with a false alibi, his former PA’s diary confirmed Archer had lied about his whereabouts and another woman said she had been having an affair with Archer at the time. He was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice in 2001 and sent to prison for four years.
He seems to have spent the time since his release squatting at his typewriter pounding out penny-dreadfuls, including the one I was lent.
It was very badly written and a puff on the back cover promised me an ending that would astound even Archer’s most devoted fans but was obvious from about half way through. So, having done my duty, I’m now reading Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk, in a newer translation with a lot of stuff omitted from the one I’d read in my twenties. It still makes me chuckle.
Just before Christmas, there was more good news when Donald Trump gave a fascinating speech in Florida, parts of which were so bizarre and incomprehensible that it makes his removal under the 25th amendment seem inevitable as his already tenuous contact with reality finally slides into full-blown psychosis.
In his speech he claimed that he knows more about Isis than his generals and understands politicians “better than anybody”. He also said of wind power that “I’ve studied it better than anybody I know” and while he admits “I never understood wind*”, he said “You know, I know windmills very much. They’re noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday. You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen in your life.”
Followed by many Devonians were relieved that their memories weren’t failing them when the Met Office confirmed that, between mid-September and the end of December, Devon only had one day (in mid-October) when no rain fell.
Meanwhile, in the north of Scotland, the temperature rose one night to 16.8oC, a record high for December. It was caused by a Foehn wind (pronounced rather like ‘fern’, originally Föhn but translated into English for the benefit of those who can’t distinguish an umlaut from a diaresis) which blows when a cold wet wind rises over a mountain, forms clouds that release the cold and wet as rain onto the windward side so it can run down the lee of the hill as a warm dry wind. Magic innit!
While Cambridge University accepted money in 2018 from a philanthropist (Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr, yes that Stormzy) to provide British black students with financial support during their degree courses, Dulwich College and Winchester College have recently refused money from another philanthropist (Sir Bryan Thwaites) for scholarships for white boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. No doubt they had their reasons …
Kindnesses in the new year so far include that done by our local garagiste for a couple of friends of ours who were looking for a cheap, good, used car (something that secondhand car-dealers don’t stock, but Gary’s a mechanic, not a dealer). He knew of one that wasn’t quite what they were looking for so he said, on New Year’s Eve, drive it for a couple of days and see what you think, making it absolutely clear this put them under no obligation to buy it. So they spent a couple of days in it, and bought it, and he gave them a special discount for being friends.
I also discovered an American non-profit organisation called Random Acts of Kindness which believes that “Kindness is the catalyst in solving the world’s biggest challenges”. And, in the UK, Camerados, which aims to help people get through tough times by looking out for each other, “halfway between a stranger and a friend”.
More kindness in the world be nice this year …
* Melania – more sprouts for the Tangerine Dream please, and tell him to lay off Iran because, if he doesn’t, we won’t have to worry about the climate emergency any more, or anything else for that matter.