October 31, 2004

Invisible gun

Heard just now on the BBC's Ten O'Clock News:
For the gunmen in Fallujah, the noose is tightening.
As this phrase appeared to refer purely to the Iraqis, I have to assume that the American soldiers assaulting the city are not using guns. What, I wonder, can they be doing instead?

  • Are they using peashooters?
  • Have they resorted to the employment of bows and arrows?
  • Do they propose to overcome their enemies by the judicious deployment of irony?

I think we should be told.

October 26, 2004

Too close for comfort

In the latest London Review of Books there's a piece by Jerry Fodor that caught my eye. Well, I say caught my eye, but given that I usually read it cover to cover, with the exception of poetry reviews and anything by Terry Castle, it didn't have to work too hard.

For all that, it kept me going in the Wenlock Arms before last night's chess game. It had a lot of justified fun at the expense of the self-satisfied wordplay that seems to pass for philosophy in the academies of the West. It's worth quoting at length - or at least, it's necessary to, in order to follow it. The subject matter is barely worth quoting at all.

A revisionist account of the philosophical enterprise came into fashion just after World War Two. Whereas it used to be said that philosophy is about, for example, Goodness or Existence or Reality or How the Mind Works, or whether there is a Cat on the Mat, it appears, in retrospect, that that was just a loose way of talking. Strictly speaking, philosophy consists (or consists largely, or ought to consist largely) of the analysis of our concepts and/or of the analysis of the 'ordinary language' locutions that we use to express them. It's not the Good, the True or the Beautiful that a philosopher tries to understand, it's the corresponding concepts of 'good' 'beautiful' and 'true'.

This way of seeing things has tactical advantages. Being good is hard; few achieve it. But practically everybody has some grasp of the concept 'good', so practically everybody knows as much as he needs to start on its analysis. Scientists, historians and the like need to muck around in libraries and laboratories to achieve their results, but concepts can be analysed in the armchair. Better still, the conceptual truths philosophy delivers are 'a priori' because grasp of a concept is all that's required for their recognition. Better still, whereas the findings of historians and scientists are always revisable in principle, it's plausible that the truths conceptual analysis reveals are necessary. If you want to know how long the reign of George V lasted, you will probably need to look it up, and you're always in jeopardy of your sources being unreliable. (I'm told he reigned from 1910-36, but I wouldn't bet the farm.) But the philosopher's proposition that a reign must last some amount of time or other would seem to be a conceptual truth; being extended in time belongs to the concept of a reign. Historians might conceivably find out that George V reigned from, say, 1910-37. That would no doubt surprise them, but evidence might turn up that can't be gainsaid. Philosophy, however, knows beyond the possibility of doubt - beyond, indeed, the possibility of coherent denial - that if George V reigned at all, then he reigned for a while.

"Philosophy, however, knows beyond the possibility of doubt - beyond, indeed, the possibility of coherent denial - that if George V reigned at all, then he reigned for a while." Thanks for that. Two and a half thousand years of rigorous intellectual analysis succeeds in proving the bleeding obvious. And not only succeeds, but makes proving the bleeding obvious its goal and its purpose.

But there's more.

Still, there was felt to be trouble pretty early on. For one thing, no concepts ever actually did get analysed, however hard philosophers tried. (Early in the century there was detectable optimism about the prospects for analysing 'the', but it faded). Worse, the arguments that analytic philosophers produced were often inadvertently hilarious. Examples are legion and some of them are legendary. Here are just two that will, I hope, suffice to give the feel of the thing. (Truly, I didn't make up either of them. The second comes from Hughes, and I've heard the first attributed to an otherwise perfectly respectable philosopher whose name charity forbids me to disclose.) First argument: the issue is whether there is survival after death, and the argument purports to show that there can't be. 'Suppose an airplane carrying ten passengers crashes and that seven of the ten die. Then what we would say is that three passengers survived, not that ten passengers survived. QED.' Second argument: the issue is whether people are identical with their bodies. 'Suppose you live with Bob . . . who went into a coma on Wednesday . . . Suppose that a friend calls on Thursday and says: "I need to talk to Bob: is he still in England?" You might naturally answer: "Yes, but he's in a coma." Now fill in the story as before, but suppose that Bob had died. When the friend says "I need to talk to Bob: is he still in England?" would you really answer, "Yes, but he's dead," even if you knew that Bob's (dead) body still exists and is still in England?' Presumably not, so QED once again. Now, I don't myself believe that there is survival after death; nor do I believe that persons are identical with their bodies. But, either way, these arguments strike me as risible; dialectics dissolves in giggles. If, as would appear, the view that philosophy is conceptual analysis sanctions this sort of carrying on, there must surely be something wrong with the view.
Indeed there must. One aspect of what's wrong with it was stated by Marx in the eleventh of his Theses On Feuerbach, but perhaps that does it more credit than the philosophers deserve. It might be more to the point instead to recall Dr Johnson's response to Bishop Berkeley's finessing of the reality of matter, and to suggest that if "this sort of carrying on" - or this sort of pissing about - is what they get up to all their lives, then the weight of the shoe might usefully be transferred to the backsides of the philosophers.

To be honest, though the actual passage that caught my eye was this one, at the start of the piece:
Sometimes I wonder why nobody reads philosophy. It requires, to be sure, a degree of hyperbole to wonder this. Academics like me, who eke out their sustenance by writing and teaching the stuff, still browse in the journals; it's mainly the laity that seems to have lost interest. And it's mostly Anglophone analytic philosophy that it has lost interest in. As far as I can tell, 'Continental' philosophers (Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Heidegger, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Sartre and the rest) continue to hold their market. Even Hegel has a vogue from time to time, though he is famous for being impossible to read. All this strikes me anew whenever I visit a bookstore. The place on the shelf where my stuff would be if they had it (but they don't) is just to the left of Foucault, of which there is always yards and yards. I'm huffy about that; I wish I had his royalties.
Foucault, Fodor. And that woke me from the stupor to which a couple of decent pints and the obligation of trying to follow analytical "philosophy" had reduced me. Because I know how that goes. My surname is almost exactly the same as Nick Hornby's. For a dozen years or so his books have taken up large amount of shelf space just to the left of where mine would be, if they were there to take up any space. But they're not. And I do not have his royalties. And if there's any kicking of backsides to be done, perhaps it should be carried out on and by myself.

October 25, 2004

And a wire means a telegram

Somebody half my age just walked into the library and asked if we had wireless connection to the internet here. I told him I didn't know, to my generation wireless just means a radio.

October 24, 2004

8 Mile lines

On the back cover of the DVD of Eminem's 8 Mile there is a tag-line:
If you only get one shot, one opportunity; would you capture it - or just let it slip?
On the front cover of the DVD of Eminem's 8 Mile there is a tag-line:

Every moment is another chance

What was my name again?

It's getting worse. Last month I speculated as to what I would forget to take with me next time I went away. The answer turned out to be not the next time, but the time after, and not what I would forget to take but what I would forget to bring back. I left a pair of jeans and a sweater in my hotel room in Port Erin, and had to send off two giant and expensive stamped addressed envelopes to get them back.

The week before last, I saw the doctor in Occupational Health to discuss how I was coping with having returned to work. I mentioned that the major change in me over the last few months was that my memory, though never good, seemed to be shot to pieces when it came to things like this. I'm not sure he really believed me, because I couldn't really quantify it, couldn't really remember the whole list of all the things I've found myself forgetting.

But it's true, and it is getting worse. Yesterday I sat down opposite a man and played him a game of chess lasting nearly three and a half hours. After I lost, I shook hands, got up and walked around for a couple of minutes, and then felt like discussing the game with the winner, as one normally does. But I couldn't remember who it was. I wasn't sure. I'd just sat opposite him for most of a 210-minute session, there was scarcely anybody around, how hard could it possibly be to remember? But I couldn't remember. I couldn't be sure.

It was embarrassing. Eventually I had to go over to the bloke I thought I'd played and ask him, "excuse me, I know this sounds stupid, but you are the bloke I've just played, aren't you?".

He was. I could have been relieved by this. I wasn't. Christ. If you can forget something like that, what can you possibly be sure of remembering? What are you supposed to do about? How much worse is this going to get, and how quickly is this going to happen?

No wonder I lost, I thought. Some time later I had another thought that put it somewhat differently. No wonder I am lost.

October 23, 2004

Unlucky in pub

I went to the pub last night and sat in the corner with a pint of Guinness and a book. (I'd meant to look for a bloke from the local Green Party who often drinks there, but about twenty seconds before I arrived, I remembered it was their national conference this week and he probably wouldn't be in.) It was just for the half an hour before last orders and I found a quiet corner in the back part of the pub - quiet in the sense of there not being anybody else in that corner, rather than quiet in the sense of there not being a large screen with a loud commentary on a darts match nobody was watching.

At some point when the darts had broken my concentration on my book - or it might have been the other away around - I noticed that somebody had chiselled a word into the surface of the table I was sitting at. It was shallow, but chiselled is still the right word. It had been scraped out, not scratched. The letters were fully and evenly formed.

It might have taken a school pupil many lessons to complete, unnoticed, on the top of a classroom desk, and presumably it had taken several hours and several successive pints for the pub engraver to achieve the same. It was not a trivial act nor one trivially done. They had thought about it: they had had time to think about. They had decided exactly what they needed to say and decided to say exactly what they felt.

It read:


October 21, 2004

Tales of Guthrum

Yesterday, Guthrum wasn't eating. The night before, she wasn't co-operating. It was not a change of policy so much as one of degree. She doesn't eat a lot, and she doesn't co-operate a lot. But in the evening, she drove me to distraction, while her refusal to eat worried me all morning. She's the sort of cat to worry you. Not like fat and friendly Alfred who never goes very far away and is never off his food for very long. She bothers me, and worries me.

She's a biter, a scratcher, a wriggler, a sulker, and - me being a worrier - whenever she goes off her food, or goes off in a huff, I always worry that she won't come back. There were three cats here when I arrived, and the smallest and most shy of them, Ginger, went away and never returned. It touched on all my fears of abandonment and rejection, touched on them not enough to bring them spilling out but just enough to have them wash against the fringes of my mind and let me know they were there. So I worry about Guthrum now. I worry about most things.

She's been more than usually skittish recently, with changes of food and changes of diet, with changes of weather and changes of temperature. She rarely retracts her claws at the best of times, and recently, she's been tearing away at my legs, demanding food even when there is already food on the plate. A few nights ago she tried to bite me, for a reason which I still can't understand, and what was most worrying was that when she tried, she missed, and bit down on the sleeve of my sweater rather than the flesh of my hand.

On Tuesday night she refused to be put to bed. The cats need to be put in the kitchen overnight, with the door bolted to keep them inside, lest they crawl into people's bedrooms at five in the morning and mewl demands for breakfast. Alfred is no problem. You pick him up, you carry him downstairs and when he is in, you put him down and leave him there while he is still working out why the room he is in looks different to the one he was in before. Guthrum, by contrast, will not be picked up. Not for very long. Even after knowing her for more than two years, I can pick her up for just a few seconds and just a few steps. Any more and she twists and shakes and shrieks and bites until you put her down. You have fair warning, because in contrast to Alfred's befuddled silence, she ululates in complaint the moment her feet are made to leave the ground - and that is assuming she does not bite you first.

She can normally be shepherded, patted on the bottom until she moves in the direction of the kitchen, then gently manoeuvered down the last half-flight of stairs and through the door for as long as it takes to close it quickly. Even if that quickly is in contrast to the rest of the slow and painful process. In point of fact it's been easier to get her down there since the diets started, as the kitchen is where the foodbin is and she normally hopes to have another go at it last thing at night. Except on Tuesday night, when she wasn't interested in eating. She wasn't interested in the kitchen. She was scared of the kitchen. She wouldn't go near it, balked at it, wouldn't have gone in if you'd dragged her there. When I managed to nudge her off the settee in the living room, she ran onto the table, and when I nudged her away from there, she ran onto a chair and when I nudged her off the chair she ran across the floor and tried to wedge herself between the newspaper pile and the bookcase. I got her out of there, but it was like trying to remove a Suffragette.

From there she went onto the working table, and from there, back onto the floor, running around my legs and heading back towards the settee. I ran after her and scooped her up, ignoring the flailing of teeth and limbs for long enough to get her into the hallway. I closed the door so she couldn't get back into the living room. She sat pressed up against the door like a child pressed up towards the television.

I tried to nudge her towards the kitchen, but she didn't want to know. If I got her anywhere close she drew back as if she were being asked to walk the plank, twisted round and scurried back to her spot next to the door. I tried to entice her with an open tin of Whiskas. I walked over to her and wafted it in front of her nose, then retreated as slowly as I could towards the kitchen. Her nose followed the smell, and she followed her nose, only as far as the top of the steps leading down to kitchen. Thus far and no further.

By this time it was nearly half past midnight, I'd already put on gloves in order to protect myself and I decided to give up. Before she went down to the kitchen she'd be more likely to run up the stairs, and I couldn't let that happen. So if she wanted to sleep in the living room, there she would have to sleep. I would let her in, shut the door, set an early alarm and let her out to be fed before she could wake anybody else in the house. It wasn't what I should have been doing - unlike the kitchen, which has a cat flap, there's no way out of the house for a cat who doesn't want to be there any more, and it's not a good idea to coop up a cat. But I was exhausted and out of alternative ideas. I let her in, shut her in, and went upstairs and set my alarm for 5.59.

I woke up at eight o'clock. I don't know what happened to my alarm - I turned it off, or I never turned it on. When I went downstairs there was a note saying that Guthrum hadn't been fed, and she herself was back in the sitting-room, curled up on the scratching post on which she refuses to scratch. She was chastened, as a cat is often chastened when it has been locked in accidentally. Her eyes were lacking their usual defiance. She wouldn't move, let alone go to the kitchen for some food. She wouldn't move, or moan at me, or hiss at me if I tried to stroke her. I was mortified.

I even brought her some food, in a bowl and put in front of her where she was slumped. She wouldn't eat it, wouldn't touch it, wouldn't even sniff it, just lay there and looked bleakly and blankly in front of her.

I went to sleep for a while (I do not work on Wednesdays) but when I woke up again she was nothing changed. I went into the kitchen and made myself some lunch, rattled the foodbin all I could, but she showed no interest. I went back to the living room, turned on the PC and put on, for music while I went on the internet, a video of Offenbach's Tales Of Hoffmann, a production starring Placido Domingo and Agnes Baltsa and directed, at Covent Garden, by John Schlesinger.

At the start of the second act (that is, after the interval of this production - it's actually at the start of Act IV) is the famous Barcarolle, which is probably best known today because it was the record played by Robert Begnini in the concentration camp in Life Is Beautiful. Curiously enough it's a piece I've always associated with cats, because I first heard it on a television advert for Bailey's Irish Cream nearly twenty years ago, in which, during a romantic dinner, the chocolate liqueur was passed between the couple above the table while beneath the table, a cat went slinking around the legs. (The effect was rather spoiled by the fact that in the final shot, the cat rolled over and looked almost exactly like Bagpuss.)

Anyway, when the introduction to the duet began I left the PC, ran across the room and turned it up, and stayed in front of the television until it had finished. And when it had finished, I had to hear it again. So I rewound until the screen showed the raising of the curtain, and Claire Powell, as Nicklausse, began the first verse over again:
Belle nuit
Oh nuit d'amour
Souris à nos ivresses
Nuit plus douce que le jour
Oh belle nuit d'amour
And then, with Agnes Baltsa, as Giulietta, joining Powell, came the chorus: and on hearing the chorus, Guthrum, having barely moved for something like five hours, struggled like a giraffe to her feet.
Le temps fuit et sans retour
Emporte nos tendresses
Loin de cet heureux séjour
Le temps fuit sans retour

Guthrum was transformed. She arched her back, and stretched, and shook herself, and scampered across the room, and ate.

October 19, 2004

Alpha fail

I am supposed to be learning Greek, and have hardly learned a word. Every week is the week in which I am going to start, and every week is the week in which I do not. It might be a gag if I were learning Spanish: I shall begin mañana. But I cannot make the joke in Greek. I have hardly learned a word.

I am learning Greek, or not learning Greek, because I am not learning German. And also because I am not learning Welsh, or Russian, or Czech, or any of the other languages on which my eye has alighted for long enough to buy a phrase book and a tape but not long enough to take advantage of them. I have my Greek tape, and my booklet, and they remained unplayed, unread and unlearned. Really, I should start tomorrow.

I am supposed to be learning Greek because two years ago I intended to learn German. It semeed the ideal counterweight to English ignorance of languages and stupidity about Germans. Even better, the trigger would be a German victory in the World Cup. In a country dominated by anti-German feeling, in which particular and prominent resentment football plays a prominent and particular role, I would not only celebrate a German World Cup win, but celebrate by learning their language.

I determined on this course round about the quarter-final, round about the time that England went out, leaving - since France and Argentina were already eliminated - nowhere for our national sense of resentment to go, but to go where it likes best. (I have occasionally wondered if this is why England are almost always outperformed by Germany, progressing further than them only once in the last eighteen major tournaments. The English are weighed down by resentments and the Germans are not.)

Meanwhile a generally average German team, dominated by an inspired Oliver Kahn, were overcoming both their opponents and their own inadequacies, with a series of 1-0 wins - something that amused me in itself - to reach the Final. So I was all ready. Three genders, nouns with a capital letter, that ß character, organisational skills, a high regard for philosophy, clean service stations, people who take back their library books on time and so on. When the first half started, I was hopeful. When the half-time whistle went, I was starting to get confident. Then Oliver Kahn went and threw it into his own net and that was it. I got on a train to Hampstead and walked halfway over the Heath before I calmed down. German went unlearned.

When it came round to the European Championships I decided not to let myself off so easily. I was stung, perhaps, by some stupidities of David Blunkett in criticising Asian families for not speaking English at home, the only possible effects of which policy would be to decrease the total amount of bilingual children while increasing the number of ignorant and resentful adults. Anyway, I decided that as English people in particular, and English-speaking people in general, do not learn enough of foreign languages (or anything of foreign languages - remember Bonjour! and people reckon they're practically fluent) I should make up for it by learning the language of whichever nation won the trophy.

Of course, it might have been England. For that matter, it could very well have been France, and French I know already. But it turned out not to be English or French or Portuguese or Czech or any language that I had remotely expected. It turned out to be Greek. Another series of 1-0 wins and it turned out to be Greek.

I was quite pleased. I've always had an interest in languages which, from a Western European perspective, are a little idiosyncratic. I've more than once thought about learning Welsh, because it looks like no other language, because it looks incredibly beautiful and because its practical value to an Englishman living in England is practically nil. I once considered asking my then employers to send me on a course to learn Arabic for much the same reason, with the added attraction that they would be spending money on something of little practical use to me and none to them. Russian appealed to me as a child, with its different alphabet and its connotations of communism. Even as an adult it has been a language I come across a great deal, with its prominent place in the literatures of Marxism and chess.

Then there's Czech, which I would have liked to have learned, because it is only a small country, because it has the impossible ř character that even Czech children cannot say naturally but have, instead, to be taught. According to this, Czech is:
considered to be one of the three most difficult languages to learn in Europe. (After Finnish and Hungarian.)
I quite fancy Finnish and Hungarian too. They're strange, they're different and not even people who learn languages are likely to learn them. All these reasons. Vietnamese, that's another one that interests me. Or Korean. People learn Japanese, and maybe these days even Mandarin Chinese. But they don't learn Korean. Perhaps I should learn Korean?

One at a time. Or none at a time. Because despite its original, ancient, individual alphabet, despite its rarity as a language learned by foreigners - how few English people, I wonder, ever learn a word of it despite the fact that they go on holiday there - despite the fact that it derives from the language spoken by Aristotle and Herodotus and Pericles, despite the fact that I have the phrasebook and the tape, I have failed to get going. I have failed to get going at all. All I can remember of one evening's abandoned work is kali spera and kali mera. And I cannot even remember which is which.

I shall learn it before the summer is over. I shall learn it before Xmas. I shall learn it before I am forty. From one to the next to the one after that, and nothing learned except my own ability to put things off until later.

Let us look it up. That is what librarians do. It says here that the word is avrio. It even says:
(Commonly used Greek expression - I'll do it tomorrow!)
Mañana. Avrio. I'll do it tomorrow.

Or the day after tomorrow. Or the day after that.

October 17, 2004

I wish to register another complaint

17 October 2004

The Superintendent
Edgware Police Station

Copies to: Harrow Observer, Wealdstone FC Supporters Club

Dear Sir/Madam

I want to make a complaint about the policing of the football match between Wealdstone and Borehamwood at Edgware Town on Saturday 16 October, which I believe was negligent and lacking in initiative, and thereby allowed unnecessary alarm and distress to be caused to law-abiding members of the public present. If this complaint is not directed to precisely the right individual or address I would be grateful if it could be forwarded and if I could be informed of the person and place to where it has been sent.

I attended the above-mentioned match, yesterday, at the invitation of a friend who often goes to Wealdstone matches. We were both surprised, on arriving just before kick-off, to find that the ground was segregated and that the Borehamwood fans were kept in a small area in the stand at the opposite corner of the ground to us – we were standing in front of the burger fan not far from the clubhouse. We were soon to find out, however, that this segregation was a wise move, given that a large number of the away fans seemed bent on behaving as badly as they could get away with.

Throughout the first half, for instance, there was loud and obscene chanting from that area of the ground, which at times degenerated into racist abuse. There were several concerted and audible chants of "I'd rather be a Paki than a Stone" and "you're just a town full of Pakis". There seemed, however, to be no arrests or ejections as a result, which surprised me as I am sure racist chanting is an offence. Moreover, as the game turned against their side they became more menacing toward the Wealdstone fans at the other end of the same stand, and moved across the neutral area in order to be as close to those home fans as they could, with all the attendant threatening noises and gestures that went with that. Their intent was clearly menacing, and talking to home fans after the match, it was clear that both fans and stewards felt very threatened by the away fans' actions.

Given this turn of events, one would have expected that segregation would have been strictly enforced at half-time and for the rest of the game. However, somewhat to my surprise not only were away fans allowed into the clubhouse at half-time, but they were allowed into the home areas in the second half. We became aware of this very soon after the half started, because several individuals in the area immediately behind us (i.e. between us and the burger van) started taunting the home fans, calling them "gutless" and so on. One of them threw part of his burger at my friend, hitting him on the head. It is hard to see what reason they could have had for being there in the first place – it is impossible to see why they were allowed to remain there after they made it clear they were there to provoke trouble. However, despite the presence of police officers in the immediate vicinity, the intruders remained.

As the half wore on it transpired that there were six or seven Borehamwood fans in this part of the ground, all of them making remarks about the home fans and about individuals in particular, including myself, my friend and at least one other person. One of the away fans, for instance, mentioned a home fan with a yellow and green shirt, and said loudly that he was looking forward to giving him a kicking.

Once this began, people became seriously alarmed and asked police officers to deal with the intruders. I saw a woman ask a police officer at some length to take some action, which did not happen. I myself sought out the most senior police officer present and asked him to do something. "I'll deal with it", he said. "I've been dealing with it all my life". In fact he did not deal with it. There were more police officers in that part of the ground than there were away fans, but they took no positive action whatsoever. They just stood there. The away fans took this as a sign that personal abuse and threatening comments were perfectly acceptable, and continued to make them.

What made this worse is that once anybody had approached the police and asked them to act, and then been ignored, they were then extremely vulnerable because the intruders had seen what they had done and picked on them personally. I, for instance, was loudly called a "grass" by the away fans, who went on to talk loudly about how much they hated grasses, and so on. They went on to say that they could always come back another time, being "only a bus ride away". There was no purpose in such a conversation other than to alarm and threaten the person at whom it was directed. Being both alarmed and threatened, I went once again and asked a particular police officer, wearing badge number *****, to have these individuals moved. He was completely unco-operative, saying that he’d heard nothing that would allow him to take any action and suggesting that anybody who wanted to could just move away.

I found this suggestion outrageous, for at least two reasons. Firstly, why should people who are the subject of threats move on, as opposed to the people who are making the threats? Secondly, perhaps even more importantly, to move away would be to take ourselves away from the area where the police were standing, and therefore if the away fans pursued us, we would be completely on our own. I was so outraged by this that I said I would take the number of the officer and complain about him, and I am therefore doing precisely that.

The menacing remarks continued to the end of the game, though mercifully nobody was actually assaulted. After the game the clubhouse was closed for a while, presumably from a quite justified fear of the Borehamwood supporters, and the home fans in the area near me, nervous for their safety, arranged lifts for those of their number who were without transport, so that nobody had to risk their safety out on the streets.

Afterwards, I was extremely angry at the way the afternoon had gone. Angry, of course, at the thugs attaching themselves to Borehamwood, but angry, too, at the failure of policing that I had seen. I am quite aware that the powers of the police are, and should be, limited, but there was nothing in law or in the particular situation that necessitated such a pathetic response by the police officers who were present. They were not outnumbered by the people causing distress in the home area. Nor was there anything preventing them, seeing as segregation was supposed to be in force, from telling away supporters who were in the home end that they should not be there and were required to move.

Instead, the tactics adopted were clearly those of keeping an eye on events, presumably to make a move if anybody was physically attacked. There may be times when such tactics are the right ones. However, in circumstances where other options are available, where people are already feeling menaced and threatened, and where members of the public have already asked the police several times to intervene, such tactics actually constitute a refusal to take responsibility. If anybody had been physically attacked, the police would quite rightly have borne their full share of the blame. As it was, many people, talking afterwards, felt both badly shaken, and badly let down by the police. Dealing with it all his life? The officer never even tried to deal with it.

I would like to have, please, specific answers to some specific questions:

  • Why were people not ejected for concerted racist chanting in the first half?
  • Why were away fans allowed into the home area in the second half, given that segregation was in force? Did the threatening atmosphere in the first half not lead the officer in charge to believe that trouble was likely to be both the result and purpose of such an incursion?
  • Why were they allowed to remain after making menacing remarks?
  • Why were they allowed to remain after home fans had asked for them to be removed? Why was there no appreciation of the vulnerable position in which home fans then found themselves? Why was there no appreciation of the vulnerable position in which people who complained then found themselves?
  • Why did police officer ***** refuse to act when specifically asked to do so? Why did he consider it appropriate to direct people who felt threatened to move away, rather than intervene and ask people who should not have been there to return to the correct area of the ground?

I am still shocked and angry twenty-four hours after the event and I think I am entitled to some explanation for your officers’ inaction. I also think that the supporters of Wealdstone, and for that matter the general public, are entitled to know why they were let down on this occasion. With this in mind I have forwarded copies of this letter to Wealdstone supporters and to the media.



Authorial intervention

No sooner have I written of my liking for Eliot and his footnotes than I read Alan Garner in the Guardian saying pretty much the opposite about The Waste Land.

He didn't like it as a schoolboy:
I thought it was a con because any poem that needs notes has not been properly worked
and he doesn't much like it now:
Perhaps I'd be a little less dismissive now, but I don't withdraw all of it.
Hmm. Spooky.

October 16, 2004

Line correction

There's a poster on the London Underground advertising the National Portrait Gallery - I just saw one on the wall at Stockwell crossing from the southbound Northern Line to the Victoria Line. In large letters it displays the following quote:

Human kind
cannot bear very
much reality

and underneath, in smaller letters, says:
excerpt from The Four Quartets by TS Eliot.
But next to this claim, somebody has scribbled:

No! It's from "Murder In The Cathedral"!

Intrigued - since one only infrequently sees corrections of attribution scrawled on advertising posters in South London - I went home and looked it up.

The answer - that it's both - reminds me of one of those argument-settling columns you used to get in comics, or still get in the sports pages of some Sunday papers: the reply, in this instance, being "you and your friend are both right". Or, on reflection, that though they're both right, the graffitist, in correcting the poster, was also wrong.

Certainly, the line comes originally from the play - it's spoken by Thomas Beckett in Part II. But shortly after completing the play he wrote Burnt Norton, the first of the Four Quartets, and there it is again:

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
I like Eliot. I think he was the last poet I read properly, since I find it hard to read now, hard to read novels, harder still to read poetry. But I remember going through The Waste Land in my fellow lodger's Selected Poems not long after I arrived in London. (And rereading The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock, which I remember quoting in a long email to my friends just after I got out of hospital, having been close to death, two years before.
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

It's not so important to ask what a poet meant in a poem: the real meaning is the one which you discover in it. But it only occurs to me, now, that I don't know what I meant by that line, when I quoted it then. It sounds confused, permanently changing one's mind, frantic, which is how I was at the time. But it was not the impression I was trying to convey. I was not how I thought I was.)

Anyway, Eliot. I do like him. He's full of thoughts and aphorisms and insights accurately put, the way I like to feel language used, the way I like to see ideas expressed. And he seems to me deep without, in fact, being linguistically difficult, or pretentious: the difficulty is all in the range of reference. Eliot is full of imported verses and bulk quotations, sometimes slightly altered, perhaps most notably the passage from The Waste Land taken from Antony and Cleopatra:

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne
in which Shakespeare wrote not Chair but barge. He knows what he is doing is potentially difficult in a number of ways - I do not think there was any poet before Eliot who provided, with his poems, footnotes to explain his own work. But I do not find him difficult to read.

Anyway, given his technique of importing material more or less directly from previous works and sources, it perhaps should have occurred to me, as it failed to occur to the graffitist, that - like Mozart repeating Non piu andrai, from Le Nozze Di Figaro, in Don Giovanni - Eliot might have quoted himself. Perhaps I should go back to Stockwell Underground station and scrawl it on the poster, just so the graffitist, in the fortunate yet unfortunate position of knowing enough poetry to be wrong - can be put right?

October 13, 2004

Clarion recall

Somebody at the Paul Foot meeting - I forget who - compared the loss people felt at the death of Foot, to that expressed by the editor of the Clarion when William Morris died in 1896:
I cannot help thinking that it does not matter what goes into the Clarion this week, because William Morris is dead. And what socialist will care for any other news this week, beyond that one sad fact? He was our best man, and he is dead.

It is true that much of his work still lives, and will live. But we have lost him, and, great as was his work, he himself was greater ... he was better than the best. Though his words fell like sword strokes, one always felt that the warrior was stronger than the sword. For Morris was not only a genius, he was a man. Strike at him where you would, he rang true ... he was our best man. We cannot spare him; we cannot replace him. In all England there lives no braver, kinder, honester, cleverer, heartier man than William Morris. He is dead, and we cannot help feeling for a while that nothing else matters.
How apt, how utterly appropriate, I thought at the time, and still think two nights later when there has been time for the sentimentality of the moment to wear off.

Appropriate, because I love William Morris, just as I loved Paul Foot - for their creativity, their imagination, their greatness of scope. For their ability to speak of one time while thinking of another and to see the actions of great bodies of people as the cumulative actions of many individuals. Appropriate, because it was precisely the sort of comparison that Foot himself would have made, thinking as he always was of the labour movement as a movement in history as well as in the present, sometimes weakening, sometimes strengthening, always having many things in common no matter how disparate the time, the causes fought for or the numbers fighting for them. When Foot died he was writing a book about the struggle for the vote, a struggle which, it occurs to me now, was the greatest political theme of the century in which William Morris lived, one whose consequences shaped his politics and his turn to socialism, - reversing the ordinary pattern - as late in life as early middle-age.

The editor of the Clarion was Robert Blatchford, of whom I would like to know more than I do. I would like, too, to know more of the Clarion, and to have something like it now. (I cannot really think of a socialist journal of any circulation in this country today - nor any recently, not since the demise of the New Socialist and not unless you count the New Statesman, which most of the time I do not.)

Nor can I ever hear enough about William Morris, who has enthused me for most of my adult life. I remember first hearing him discussed in a lecture by the late Raymond Williams, not long before his death, in which he quoted the line I mentioned once before, about the familiar paucity and mutual rancour of the attendees at a party meeting:
there were six persons present, and consequently six sections of the party were represented.
I laughed, and resolved to read his News From Nowhere, his vision of an egalitarian and largely rural future, as soon as I could. I think I had managed to do so, and enjoyed it - I am not sure - before I read an article by Paul O'Flinn which helped explain his reasons for writing News From Nowhere in the way he did. (Years later I worked in the library at the university where Mr O'Flinn lectures, and he was somewhat surprised to be interrupted, when routinely checking out his books, by the new library assistant thanking him for the splendid article he had written several years before. I like doing things like that. It's one of the reasons I work in libraries.)

It explained the circumstances that shaped its ideas, both regarding the future he imagined, and the struggle he imagined leading up to it:

"Tell me one thing, if you can," said I. "Did the change, the `revolution' it used to be called, come peacefully?"

"Peacefully?" said he; "what peace was there amongst those poor confused wretches of the nineteenth century? It was war from beginning to end: bitter war, till hope and pleasure put an end to it."

"Do you mean actual fighting with weapons?" said I, "or the strikes and lock-outs and starvation of which we have heard?"

"Both, both," he said.

It was that part of the book which has always stuck in my mind about News From Nowhere, even more than the journey which Morris undertakes along the Thames or the world he encounters: his chapter How The Change Came, with its decades of "both, both" and its drama in Trafalgar Square.

Had I read it by February 1985, I might have thought of How The Change Came, when I looked back from Trafalgar Square to see the miners and their supporters fighting the police all along Whitehall and outside the recently-erected gates of Downing Street. It seemed an image and a moment for great turning-points in history, though, as we knew at the time, it was the turning-point that leads to defeat, and the only change that came was that things were much as they were before except without the hope of changing them.

I would at least have liked to have thought of Morris at that moment. As it was, as I remember uncomfortably (just as I remember, equally uncomfortably, that the next time there were riots in Trafalgar Square, I was actually at Oakwell, watching Barnsley beating Oxford) that what came into my head was Tolkein, an opposite to Morris except for their shared love of older, ancient things. Lord Of The Rings, and Sam saying something to Frodo about "here we are, at the end of all things". And there we were, at the end, it seemed, of all good things, and the eagles never came.

I would rather have thought of Morris than of Tolkein. I would rather it had gone the way of Morris than the way of Tolkein. Now Tolkein is everywhere, and Morris is forgotten - and even I, working, as I do, in Hammersmith - I have not even been to see where he lived, and where he began his journey down the river, on "a beautiful night of early winter, the air just sharp enough to be refreshing", just as it was last night, just as October has packed away the last of the London sun.

I should go and see for myself. Go and watch, "watch the familiar face of the Thames", watch and think of William Morris and Paul Foot, of where their lives and ideas took them and have taken me. If I could but see it! If I could but see it! This is what is needed, surely, just as Orwell came back from Spain and wrote to Cyril Connolly:

I at last really believe in Socialism, which I never did before
for without such experiences, all we have is grim reality, not just the tradition of the dead generations weighing on the living, but the tradition of the present weighing us down as well. If I could but see it. If I could but see it.

October 11, 2004

Owning up

I wonder if I detect any similarity between George W Bush promising an "Ownership Society" and Tony Blair promising an "Opportunity Society"? I wonder if, in each instance, the agent of our liberation will be the disappearance of entitlement to state benefits paid from taxation and their replacement - their empowering replacement - by private insurance schemes?

It's going to be an opportunity for somebody.

International tired old thing

I was at the Hackney Empire last night for a show called Our Left Foot, a tribute to the late Paul Foot. People like John Pilger, Michael Foot, Rory Bremner and so on, speaking about the great socialist writer and journalist who died earlier this year. It was very moving much of the time, not least because it spent - it had to spend - so much time recalling his accomplishments as a journalist, and in particular the number of people - some of whom were present on the stage - who were freed from jails in which they had no place, because of the work he did in pursuing these cases of injustice.

Words were said, over and again, to the effect that while Foot was patronised both before and after his death for his radical politics, the people who patronised him - while praising his accomplishments - could never, ever have achieved a single one of these successes. All of them depended on being prepared to take risks rather than play safe, prepared to ask difficult questions rather than accept evasive answers, but most of all on being outside the political and media establishment, the place where all that matters is what David Aaronovitch said in the Guardian or what Melanie Phillips said in the Telegraph or what Alan Milburn said in the House of Commons dining room, on or off the record, to either of them.

Pundits, columnists, writers of opinion pieces in which the opinions expressed possess no value except the financial advantages accruing to the writer who expounded them: these people have to patronise the likes of Foot, to protect themselves from their own shortage of substance and to preserve intact their own surfeit of self-esteem. I suffered from insomnia later that night and found myself watching Ann Leslie, of the Daily Mail, on an early-hours discussion programme on News 24. There was an inescapable fascination in watching this anti-Foot, this bloated and smug woman, perhaps the most self-satisfied individual I have ever seen, talk for around half an hour, all with an extremely-pleased-with-herself expression on her face, yet without saying anything that was remotely original, thoughtful or interesting. Ann Leslie. Jesus. She makes Mary Kenny look like George Orwell.

The evening closed with the singing of the Internationale. I wish it hadn't, though I knew it would. I have hated that song for twenty years. It reminds me of Orwell's comment in The Road To Wigan Pier:

I do think it a bad sign that it [i.e. socialism - ejh] has produced no songs worth singing.

Over a hundred years of Marxist meetings, which have, on occasion, attracted some of the world's most creative individuals, and the best we can do is this?
Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Now away with all your superstitions
Servile masses, arise, arise
We'll change forthwith the old conditions
And spurn the dust to win the prize.

So comrades come rally,
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale
Unites the human race.

In truth, the tune is not so bad. At least it sounded pretty good when they were singing it in Reds. But the lyrics are embarrassing. Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers. Can you imagine singing that without embarrassment? Can you imagine saying it without embarrassment? Wouldn't you worry about anybody who could sing that without embarrassment?

At least it recalls the message - ARIE, YE WORKERS - that Rubashov is passed in Darkness at Noon. But servile masses, arise, arise? Does anybody actually talk to their workmates, or address a political meeting, like that? How can it be inspiring to sing in a political doggerel?

Worst of all, it reads like a bad translation, something done hurriedly for an examination, or something by Constance Garnett. We'll change forthwith the old conditions /And spurn the dust to win the prize. The best you can say of that is that it is clumsy. Or that at last ends the age of cant is even clumsier.

Maybe it is better in the original French. Maybe it is much better. It could scarcely be worse. The only way in which it unites the human race could be in making them want to be as far away as possible whenever it is sung.

Of course socialist anthems and peace songs are simplistic and sloganistic. This is why so few of them are any good, but also why even the ones that are good are sentimental and easily mocked. And I grant that we are stardust, we are golden is a little more than I can take, but that doesn't stop my eyes occasionally misting over when I hear I have come here to lose the smog, and the lines from the succeeding verse:

...everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

Risible, no doubt, but only in so far as hope and idealism seem risible to the cynical. The relationship is the same that Paul Foot had to the columnists. And there is nothing turgid about the lyrics or the tune.

So I have no problem with the existence or even the singing of socialist anthems. I'd just like a good one, which, from start to finish, the Internationale is not. Bandiera Rossa - or Avanti Popolo as my great-aunt taught it to me - is a good one. John Lennon wrote a better one, albeit one you wouldn't want to hear sung communally.

I want some sentiment that moves me, set to music that moves me, that can be sung in such a way that moves me as the Paul Foot tribute occasionally moved me. Because the right sort of sentiments should move you, because of their idealism, because they would seem risible to the cynical, because in that absence of cynicism lies their potential and their truth.
It's only a choice... a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.

October 07, 2004

I wish to register a complaint

I was supposed to be giving up having complaint sagas with bureaucracies, but it'd probably take a twelve-step programme to keep me away from them. So what you normally get is a twelve-step process anyway. One, they foul up. Two, you complain. Three, they don't deal with your complaint properly. Four, you complain about the way they dealt with your complaint. And so it proceeds....

7 October 2004

The Manager
Royal Mail Customer Service Centre

Copy to: Keith Hill MP

Dear Sir/Madam

I want to make a number of complaints about the disgraceful level of service I am receiving from the Royal Mail. It is very far from the first time I have complained about items going missing or being misdelivered – this is at least the tenth letter I have written, not to mention any number of phone calls - and I am not prepared to accept the way in which you have dealt with them.

Recently I was sent a new chequebook from my bank, the National Westminster. It did not arrive, and on 23 September I reported this to them. They cancelled it, and then sent me a new one, but to the local bank, to be picked up, rather than to my address. (I am no longer happy for valuables to be sent to my address as there have been so many problems with my post over the last few months, and I would like you to make yourself aware of the various complaints I have made over the past period when dealing with this complaint.)

I thought nothing more of it until I received a letter, on Tuesday this week, from the bank. This informed me that somebody had tried to cash one of the cheques from the missing chequebook. They, had, in fact, tried to cash it for £950. In fact, I have discovered today that they also tried to cash another one, for £900.

Obviously I take this extremely seriously. In the first place, it constitutes an attempt to steal nearly two thousand pounds from me - and maybe more if further cheques turn out to have been presented. In the second place, it is only the most recent, though by far the most serious, in a long series of items that have failed to reach me by post in recent times. In the third, I have been assured I do not know how many times that problems with my post are taken seriously, that my post is being monitored to ensure it gets delivered, etc etc. You no doubt have copies of the letters which have made these claims. However, it does not seem to improve – in fact I was already intending to write a letter this week to report my latest problem of non-receipt, for which please see my PS. And when it comes to an extremely serious theft such as the one I have just suffered, then I think it is time that proper action was taken.

It may already have occurred to you that I think somebody in the Royal Mail may be personally responsible for this apparent theft. If the bank has sent me something and I have not received it, then a very likely scenario is that it has been taken by somebody in the Royal Mail system who has recognised it as a chequebook. It is not, of course, the only possibility – on recent form the Royal Mail may quite likely have misdelivered it – but it seems the most likely possibility, as given that an attempt has been made to cash the cheques, a systematic operation is more likely than just the mischance of them being misdelivered and then somebody at the wrong address attempting to cash them.

I therefore called the Royal Mail this morning, assuming – in retrospect I cannot imagine why – that they would appreciate the seriousness of this, and would put me on to somebody whose job is was to try and locate and identify internal theft. Instead, I found it treated little more seriously than a report of misdirected junk mail. I spoke to somebody called D---- C---- at your S---- centre. He took some very sketchy and general details of the missing item, and said they would be passed on to your team that deal with such matters. I then expected to be told that these people would be in touch with me presently. How wrong I was. Mr C---- actually stated that they probably wouldn't be in touch with me at all.

This is appalling, is it not? I suffer an attempted theft, of serious proportions, which, it is entirely likely, is because of internal theft, theft by one or more of your own employees, and nobody will even get back to me about it? What sort of an organisation is it which thinks that it can behave in such a manner? What am I supposed to do, and think, about this? Am I supposed to just accept that my valuables may be stolen in transit and that nobody will even have the courtesy to discuss the matter with me? Can you possibly explain to me how reassured I am supposed to be by that, and how much confidence this will give me that this extremely serious matter will be investigated in any way? Given the record so far, which is that however may complaints I make, nothing improves in any way, what possible reason can I have for thinking that this is anything other than a brush-off?

Obviously I can appreciate that it is not so simple to find out who, if anyone, has been involved in this theft. That much is understood. What, however, I can neither appreciate nor understand is why you think you can receive a complaint of this kind and not even respond to the person who has complained, somebody who has been put in an extremely vulnerable position by the Royal Mail's own failings, somebody who remains in that vulnerable position and who actually needs some sort of practical reassurance. Instead, they are simply left swinging in the wind.

I am shocked and upset by the way in which you think you are entitled to deal with this. I am further shocked by the attitude of at least one member of staff to whom I spoke today, in so far as Mr C----, when I was unhappy with what I was being told, refused on several occasions to allow me to speak to a supervisor. It is quite elementary that you cannot refuse members of the public when they make such a request. I have had several jobs where I have been required to deal with the public, including my present employment, and it has always been entirely basic that such requested should be complied with. It further reinforces my picture of Royal Mail as an organisation which does not care about the experiences or feelings of members of the public who are unfortunate enough to have to have dealings with you. We are expected to put up with whatever we get, to carry on putting up with it and to do so without, apparently, even having anybody come back to us on important matters like theft, or even having the right to speak to a supervisor.

I would like to make the following requests:

  • I would like, please, a written explanation as to why Mr C---- refused me, several times, when I asked to speak to a supervisor. By his own account the conversation will have been recorded and I would like you, please, to listen to it.
  • Even more importantly, I would like, please, to have somebody who deals with internal theft to speak to me personally about this matter and explain in detail what you propose to do about it.
  • I would not like you to tell me what you are "committed to", to "assure" me of anything, or to send me a book of stamps by way of recompense. I want to know that problems are being taken seriously and that steps are being taken to resolve them. Until that happens, being told how seriously you take it merely adds to the frustration.

I have copied this letter to my MP, who I am asking to pursue this enquiry on my behalf.



PS I said I had another matter to report, which I would get to in a PS. Not for the first time, I have to report that a magazine, to which I have a subscription, has not reached me through the post. It would normally have got to me by 22 September, and it has not. It is a copy of the London Review Of Books with the cover date of 23 September. I have now been obliged to go an purchase another copy, for which I attach the receipt. This cost me £2.99 which I would now like to have refunded please.

October 06, 2004

Hegel remarks somewhere

One of the causes pursued by the Left in the Eighties was the right of a Constituency Labour Party to select the MP of its choice, and hence to deselect a sitting member if it chose. For this, it was almost universally condemned for being "undemocratic", an accusation so stupid as to strip all meaning from the word. Appropriately so, too, since in the discourse of mainstream political commentary undemocratic doesn't really mean undemocratic but largely means favouring the left.

It doesn't mean imposing an unwanted candidate on a constituency party: still less does it mean trying to keep third-party candidates off the ballot. It's undemocratic to have a strike without a ballot: it's not undemocratic for a ballot to go in favour of a strike and then for the strike to be called off. (And if they stuff the ballot to prevent a strike, it's an obscure story on an inside page. Where would it be if they had stuffed it to win a strike vote?) Boy, we used to have fun in the Eighties complaining about the media.

Anyway, the actual reason people wanted the right to reselection all those years ago was this: they wanted to get rid of people like Robert Kilroy-Silk. How to get rid of him now, that's a bigger problem. There's no doubt that Kilroy-Silk sees himself as the Enoch Powell de nos jours, playing the xenophobic and anti-immigrant card for all it's worth - it's the only politics he's got - and trying to establish himself as the country's leading demagogue of the Right. Nick Griffin - he's a thug. But Kilroy-Silk, charming and handsome even in his own opinion, he's somebody people might vote for.

I don't know, if some people reckon Lindbergh might have become President - or seeing as Ronald Reagan did - then I suppose we can imagine the quondam chat-show host tearing up the country over the next few years telling ever taller and shriller tales about the fiendish Europeans and the persecuted white people of old England. He wouldn't be the first would-be figurehead to have spent time as a Labour MP.

But there's something fundamentally absurd about the whole thing, something cartoonish, or closer to a sitcom, a Tooting Popular Front if Wolfie Smith had had the politics of Tim Brooke-Taylor in The Goodies. Or if not a sitcom, I'm A Celebrity, in which the joke has always been that the celebrities are has-beens, who will do anything for a chance to be back on the telly. Frank Maloney as mayoral candidate for London? Jonathan Aitken waiting in the wings?

Of course there has always been this clownish aspect to rightwing demagoguery. One thinks of PG Wodehouse:

"The trouble with you, Spode, is that because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone. You hear them shouting 'Heil, Spode!' and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: 'Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?"
and of Orwell, in far from his best essay:

Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh.

They're commonly-quoted passages, and one would expect to see them rolled out again in the near future, if Kilroy-Silk doesn't disappear in a puff of flashbulbs some time during the next election campaign. But it's absurd all the same. Mosley made himself ridiculous by his descent into demagoguery, and even then it was more frightening than ludicrous. But he didn't start that way. Powell, too, was a serious figure, a leading member of the Shadow Cabinet, someone who could read and think and still appeal to people who did neither.

But Kilroy-Silk has always been ridiculous. Ridiculous when writing for the ridiculous Express, ridiculous in all the years he hosted his ridiculous TV show and ridiculous when he was a Labour MP with nothing much more to his political philosophy than not being connected with the Militant (though that was more than good enough for the ridiculous Neil Kinnock). Nick Griffin, like Mosley, is at least frightening. Kilroy-Silk just makes me laugh, as if Captain Mainwaring were playing at being Hitler. He might look at himself in the mirror and think of Enoch Powell. I think of Marx and the Eighteenth Brumaire:

The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.


Somewhere in India, I probably have a doppleganger. I remember, when young, watching a news report from that country and seeing a boy of my age in a small crowd of people. He was a bit taller than me, and his skin was darker, but other than that he was identical in appearance - the face, its shape, its features, his expression. That was why I noticed him. That was why I was startled. Unsettled, perhaps, by the train of thought that leads from that, that all over the world there are people who basically look like you, with whom you have a shared identity than goes above and beyond - or rather, goes below, goes deeper - than simply that of our common humanity. Versions of me, all ovor the world, and I a version of them. From that, of course, you ask yourself what it would be like to be them, what you would be if you had grown up in a completely different environment, whether and to what extent you would still be you.

More unsettling, to be reminded of yourself unwillingly. On seeing my father for the first time in twenty years, I found myself thinking, immediately, disturbingly:

- that is me looking back at me, me in twenty years
- I don't want to be like that. I don't want to be like him.

It must be a common enough experience, and a common enough reaction. So, too, must be coming across people who remind you of yourself, not because their face is akin to yours but because you cannot avoid the fact that there is something that is true about them that is, uncomfortably, as true of you. Something about their character which is destructive, or negative or otherwise unattractive. (I might spend much of this month writing about BS Johnson, who reminded me of myself from practically the first page of Coe's biography and continued to do so right down to his disturbing end.) What we hate most in other people is the mirror they hold up to us: what we secretly hate, or fear, about ourselves.

Or more tangential. I was in the Bay Hotel in Port Erin on Sunday night, and there was another man at a different table, who, the more I thought about him, reminded me of me. He was alone, as I was, eating there to get away from the interminable closing ceremony at the chess tournament, as I was, dressed in jeans and t-shirt, as I was. He had something to read, as I did, whether for want of other company or to spin out the time. He was roughly the same age as me, but had that same peculiar aspect, one of looking slightly younger than one's age, less worn than the average, and yet having the air, the eyes, of somebody who felt much older than their years. He even had long hair. I do not have long hair any more, but I did, for years, and the change was was less a choice of style than an attempt to throw off an old identity. It is still me, even if it is a me which I no longer want.

Which is the point. It was not too hard to imagine somebody giving a description of this other man, and someone else, someone who knew me, identifying them as me. What am I like? I am like this, and this, and this. And if you take those characteristics and locate them in someone else, then that is somebody who I am like, however unwelcome the comparison may be. This other person, they are not much unlike you. They could be taken for you. What they are, is what you might have been.

On this occasion the comparison was most unwelcome. I know what the gentleman concerned does for a living. He is a journalist with the Sun.

October 04, 2004

Not unnoticed

1. Sign on door in the public library in Douglas:
2. Tonight's hoardings for the Evening Standard:
And here's me thinking that I lived in London.