On being out of touch, Fawlty Towers, the far right, Bob Dylan and kindness in cancelling protests

14 June 2020

China has announced a new, apparently spontaneous outbreak of Covid-19 in Beijing.  England has stopped drawing attention to R – the number of people that will catch the virus from an average infected person – because it’s still too close to 1 to be sure another rise in cases and deaths isn’t imminent.  China responded by an immediate local lockdown while England eased the lockdown because the Office for National Statistics has reported that, in the first full month of the lockdown, Britain’s economy shrank by 20% and we’d rather lose people than businesses.  Wouldn’t we?

Politicians here are so out of touch with reality that, when the lockdown was imposed, we were told we had to remain within our primary place of residence and we could only exercise our dog(s) within our home or garden.  My wife and I spent some time deciding which of our residences to designate as our primary place of residence but, after a long and hard struggle mulling over our options, we stayed here because (a) we don’t have even a secondary place of residence and (b) we wouldn’t have to clear dog poo off the floor of a flat on the 33rd floor.

This lack of comprehension of British society is of course closely linked to the assumed right of unelected top officials to disobey the rules they wrote for the hoi polloi.  Also, of course, the casual introduction of Greek and Latin phrases such as hoi polloi is meant to impress people, when all it actually does is remind those of us older ones who actually did study Latin at school that, inside the front cover of every Latin primer, some wit had written “Latin is a language as dead as dead can be / It killed the ancient Romans and now it’s killing me”.

All Boris Johnson seems to have done is to exclude ‘experts’ who don’t agree with his politics from the daily briefing.  For example, on 30 May, when asked about Dominic Cummings’ 550-mile panic-struck, law-breaking drive to the north, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam said that rules are rules and apply to everyone;  he hasn’t been seen at a briefing since.  Then, at a trial run for the 1 June briefing, England’s chief nurse, Ruth May, also failed to support Cummings and was dropped from that day’s press conference.

It’s not even what politicians say, it’s how they say things, and the power words have to manipulate people.  In America, Joe Biden has predicted the military will remove Donald Trump from the White House if he loses November’s election but refuses to leave.  This apparently simple opinion actually introduces the ideas that

  • Trump could lose the election
  • Trump’s so unpredictable that he might refuse to accept the vote
  • the military support the office of President, not any particular president, and would eject Trump and his gold-plated hot water bottle by force

all in one short sentence – clever stuff eh?

Words have also been causing a problem with repeats of Fawlty Towers and whether to withhold the episode showing the John Cleese character being all too sensitive to the nationality of some German guests.  At this point, I must make a confession:  I’m one of about 26 people in Britain who didn’t find Fawlty Towers funny – it depended far too much on cruelty and the bullying and humiliation of others for my taste.  I know Basil Fawlty was a caricature and we were meant to be disgusted by what he did and laugh at him, but it didn’t work for me.

I prefer gentler humour like the joke that’s doing the internet rounds at the moment involving a priest, a rabbit and a minister walking into a bar.  “What’ll you have?” the bartender asks the rabbit.  The rabbit replies “I dunno, I’m only here because of Autocorrect”.

The Black Lives Matter response to the American police killing of George Floyd has been heart-warming and one hopes this might be the turning point but BLM protests in England have met increasing opposition from the far right which, over the years, has involved groups like Britain First, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (whose average IQ can be judged from its name), the English Defence League, UKIP, British Freedom Party, BNP, the National Front etc.  Their hobbies seem to be limited to giving Nazi salutes, shouting “Ing-er-land” and ABH.

Out of curiosity, I’ve been trying to discover what the far right stands for.  It’s easy to discover what they don’t like but much harder to find something positive.  They talk about “White lives matter” (geddit?) and “Taking our country back” and “Preserving British history and culture”, but what does this mean?

Even ‘white’ is a problem.  Which of us is actually white, perhaps only people with albino pigmentation and those suffering from vitiligo;  certainly nobody who’d even contemplate changing their skin colour to brown by lying in the sun.  And what is “our country”?  Does this include the other nations in the UK, and the Channel Islands or is it just the Ing-er-lish?

The Fox News host Tucker Carlson succeeded in reducing the whole thing to absurdity when he attacked the Sesame Street puppet Elmo, who happens to have scarlet fur, after his father (Elmo’s not Carlson’s) explained to him that “[protestors] are sad and upset, and they have every right to be, Elmo. People are upset because racism is a huge problem in our country.  Racism is when people treat other people unfairly because of the way they look or the color of their skin.”

“Taking our country back” and “British history and culture”?  Back when?  Which culture?  Anglo-Saxon perhaps?  That would rule out Tommy Robinson for a start because he has Irish roots and the Irish were originally Celtic;  it’d also rule out most of our monarchs for the last thousand years.

After the cold of the last ice age had retreated and people drifted over from Europe, we built tourist attractions like stone circles, sold beakers to visitors, discovered metals and extended our trade routes into the far east.  But perhaps they mean the great and glorious days of Empire which lasted for centuries until the Ninth Legion disappeared and Rome fell apart.

Or the subsequent invasions by Angles and Saxons and Vikings and French and Germans;  and the emigrations of Brits to commit genocide in America, Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, India, you name it, with all the inevitable inter-breeding.  I’m happy to say my DNA contains some Scandanavian genes which have presumably come down through the Shetland side of the family who were descended from the Vikings so I don’t qualify either.

They also seem to have taken a particular dislike to Muslims (a trait they seem to share with Boris Johnson) but I’ve never heard them mention Jains, or even Sufis.  But then, they probably think Jains are fans of Jane Austen (they’re Janeites, OK?)

The other problem I have is why they care.  There are nice people and nasty people and there’s no way of telling which is which until you get to know something about them – you can’t tell from their dress or their skin colour or the language they speak or any religion they do or don’t follow.

So, Far Right, I still don’t know what you want and I still lean to your opposition.

The inherent kindness of the opposition was shown this week when organisers of BLM and the London Antifascist Assembly cancelled the events and protests they’d planned for yesterday so confrontation and violence could be avoided.

And finally, this week’s good news:  on 19 June, Bob Dylan is issuing a new album, ‘’Rough and Rowdy Ways’, which includes the song ‘Murder Most Foul’ I mentioned a few weeks ago, and one critic has said it “may be his most consistently brilliant set of songs in years”.

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