To Bristol Zoo again, this time for bangless fireworks. Quick visit to the monkeys to say nighty-night first. The fireworks were bangless because animals don’t like bangs. Nor do tiny infants so we thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce the youngest daughter to Guy Fawkes night. What a blunder. Overcrowded, freezing cold, and the children enthralled for six minutes then utterly bored. The fireworks were nice enough but a £16 family ticket seemed steep for what was approximately 14 minutes of ooh- and aah-ing. Not that we’d have wanted it to go on any longer; it was like Woody Allen’s gag in Annie Hall about the two ladies in the restaurant: “The food here is terrible.” “Yes, and such small portions.” Then when we got home our neighbourhood was banging deafeningly away anyway, almost as much as it will be this week for Diwali.
What do we make of the BBC’s latest meltdown? Newsnight is, apart from Radio 4’s Today, the best current affairs programme we have. The self-flagellation on Friday’s episode was cringe-worthy, but this one is pretty serious. Falsely accusing a living person of being a paedophile is worse than failing to expose a dead one, and it seems that this ghastly blunder was easily avoidable too. The BBC does have a left-liberal-London bias but this shouldn’t be overstated: go anywhere else in the world for a grim vision of what BBC-less media would be like. It shouldn’t work in theory but most of the time it does. I’d hate to have the US situation where people consume television and radio news as we do our newspapers: to have our prejudices confirmed.
On the BBC website, meanwhile, Martin Jacques writes a very odd article arguing that China’s leaders have more legitimacy than the US President. By his definition of ‘legitimacy’ – a lack of popular opposition – North Korea’s government is the most legitimate in the world. But these are admittedly strange days for democracy. The Greeks and Italians have surrendered it to Eurocrats. At the next General Election in Britain there’s a very good chance that the widely detested Liberal Democrats will be the only members of the current Government that remain in office – via a coalition with Labour that nobody will have voted for.
And what are we to make of the American system after last week’s multi-billion dollar exercise in retaining the status quo? Obama’s victory seems somehow unwholesome. He has, by any kind of objective analysis, failed to deliver as the Great Hope President he promised to be in 2008. He hasn’t created jobs, national debt has increased by a third, he screwed up over the Libyan embassy siege, he’s failed to close Gitmo and he’s cheerfully executing people with drones – something in there to appall you whatever your political stripe. He appears to have won in 2012 by relentless, largely negative campaigning in scientifically-identified swing states. He gave a good victory speech.
But then again, why would anyone want to vote for Romney either? A slippery nothing man of no principles – which he had to be because the system required him to be rabidly right-wing to win the GOP nomination, then swing dramatically to the centre to try to win the Presidency. There doesn’t seem to be any way a Republican could become President without being a slippery nothing man.
So does democracy work? Of course it doesn’t, but nor does anything else. What Martin Jacques’ article in defence of Communist dictatorship elides is that there are things lacking in China at least as important as legitimacy-by-popularity. Like the rule of law, separation of powers and the ability of the populace to remove a rotten government without violence. When China has that lot they can start preaching to the West.
The three stories about a pineapple were merely a warm-up for the latest demands on my powers of bedtime story-telling inventiveness. My three year-old now nightly expects at least four different, internally consistent tales featuring permutations of characters from a bewilderingly random cast, including Rupert Bear, a Bad Pirate, some Good Pirates, a Baby Pirate, four toucans (don’t ask), Buzz Lightman (sic), a crab, a Totoro, herself, Tinkerbell the fairy, various magnets that come to life at night, a wicked cowboy called Sidney and (my nemesis) Barney the Purple Dinosaur. She will select a number of these according to whim and command that I conjure a tale featuring them and only them. I may not introduce new characters nor omit any from her stated selection. I have reasonably free reign regarding plot except that the ending must involve (a) Buzz Lightman landing on his head, and/or (b) everyone going to bed without any supper – both of which are endlessly hilarious happenstances, apparently.
I trust that right now, as you read this, your lapel sports a poppy, your upper lip a Movember moustache (ladies included) and there is a Children in Need Pudsey bear tucked under your arm. If not, what kind of monster are you? Why, you’re no better than a Newsnight editor! Personally I would widen the Poppy Police’s jurisdiction beyond politicians and people appearing on television and give them powers to lock up anybody seen poppyless in public without charge or trial, just like wot they did to that poor misunderstood Mr Mosley in World War II. But in the meantime, you can sponsor The Dabbler’s very own folly-chaser Gwyn Headley – officially the World’s Most Hairless Man – in his valiant attempt to grow a cookie-duster for cancer charities here – good luck to him and his so far infuriatingly reluctant bristles, by the pictures it looks like he’ll need it.
Jonathan Law’s series on Henry Williamson is one of the best things we’ve run on The Dabbler. In her response Anne Williamson asks us to take a ‘more objective’ view of the author. I leave it to our readers to decide for themselves whether it is Jonathan or Anne (Henry’s daughter-in-law and keeper of his estate) who is likely to be the more objective. But Editorial’s final word on Williamson is this: as David notes in the comments to Anne’s piece, people who claim to be overly concerned with Truth should be treated with suspicion. Such as the 9/11 ‘Truthers’. I think we can all forgive people for misguided views formed in idealism or trauma or ignorance, but defending Nazism after we knew what we knew is unforgiveable and the best you can say of such beliefs is that they are mad. Tarka is a great book, of course.
Top commenter Peter – who is on a terrific roll at the moment – rightly admonishes Gaw for his anti-Canadian remarks. On Only Connect last week the ‘missing vowels’ round was themed, brilliantly, on Things Invented in Canada. Answers included Trivial Pursuits, the paint roller, instant mashed potato and the Wonderbra. For these, and for much else, thank you Canada, and God bless you.
Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.