The Health Visitor (why do these public sector job titles always seem like Orwellian euphemisms for something sinister?) knocked on the door. She had come to assess my eldest daughter (Brit Jnr, but hereafter in this Diary known as ‘C’) for her hearing and speech development. I opened up and in came a Force of Nature, hurling me backwards down my own hallway on a tidal wave of chatter. Nula, for that was her name, was one of those tiny middle-aged women who fill a room. In her wake came a trainee called Becky who was physically about three times the size of Nula in all directions but by comparison left no impression whatsoever. Nula sat me down at my own table and unleashed a battery of pleasantries followed by a battery of questions. At some point I recovered enough of my wits to offer a cup of tea. “Sweet of you, no thank you” she said, waving away the offer for both of them before Becky could make a squeak.
Taking her in I realised that Nula was a tremendous luvvie, with bold purple eyeliner and a needlessly flamboyant scarf, but also that she was a stander for no nonsense. More than a touch of Mrs T, or at the very least Edwina Currie. C fell instantly under her spell. Tests in the form of little games were performed with efficiency, actions taken, dates made, rat a ta tat and out the door they went. We waved from the window as they headed for the next appointment. Nula’s can’t be an easy patch. There are many non-Anglophones and Precariats. Just across the road there lived a young couple dependent on methadone (which, it seems, the welfare state uses to keep heroin addicts quiet when it has given up trying to either punish or save them). When their baby boy Jayden-Lee wouldn’t sleep they gave him doses of the drug, which killed him and they are now both in prison. You need to be compassionate and indomitable to be a good public sector health worker, with a skin like a rhinoceros. “Can Nula come and play that game again tomorrow?” asked C.
The term ‘Monbiot Apology’ refers to any public statement of apparent contrition in which the apologiser seeks to convey that a less noble person would not have performed the act for which the apology is deemed necessary, and is named after George Monbiot’s explanation that he falsely called Lord McAlpine a paedophile on Twitter because he, George Monbiot, is very brave (“I felt a powerful compulsion to do what I have done throughout my career: to help the voiceless be heard.”).
Further evidence of Monbiot’s innate nobility was revealed, by Monbiot himself, in this article, in which he allowed himself a rare pat on the back for launching a Twitter campaign demanding that Iain Duncan Smith prove that he can live on the £53 per week which a market trader from County Durham doesn’t.
What Monbiot has done here is to harness the power of ‘slacktivism’ – the business of ’supporting’ a cause or protest campaign merely by clicking a link or a ‘Like’ on Facebook, retweeting a Tweet or forwarding an email. And how feeble that power is, since the quantity of causes available for one-click support means that a person with sufficient self-righteousness can literally spend all day doing it while scanning comments on Comment is Free and pirating episodes of Game of Thrones.
We now need some kind of metric for measuring the ‘campaign inflation’ that slacktivism has caused. How many slactivist ‘signatures’ equals one real signature in an old-fashioned petition collected by people with clipboards and pens? It’s hard to say, but I would estimate that at the time that Monbiot’s IDS campaign had 300,000 supporters, the ratio was about 1,000:1, so his effort was equivalent to handing over to IDS in person a sheet of paper with 300 signatures on it. Only without, of course, the impact of actually handing it over in person. However, I also guess that this campaign inflation is increasing exponentially, so that by the time he had 350,000 supporters the left-hand side of the ratio had doubled, making it equivalent to only 175 signatures. And before long a campaigner such as Monbiot will need millions if not billions of Tweets and Likes before anybody important will pay the slightest bit of attention.
How petty our politics seem compared to Thatcher versus the North. So dominant in public life was Mrs T when I was growing up (she won the 1979 election on my second birthday) that for a good while I actually thought ‘Prime Minister’ was the feminine form of ‘President’, as ‘Queen’ is to ‘King’. Watching the obit programmes, it is still startling to see a major politician be so uninterested in tact and make no efforts whatsoever towards conciliatory language. Who do we have now in that mould? Actually there is one minister who seems to revel in taking to a stage to be booed by his implacable enemies. I suspect Michael Gove’s main regret is that Spitting Image is no longer around to make his puppet.
Never bring up religion or politics with strangers, but if you do somehow stray onto the latter, for goodness’ sake don’t discuss Margaret Thatcher. Those who hate her do so unconditionally and no shade of grey is permitted to smudge the line between black and white in their binary world. But this past week it has been impossible to avoid, and I’ve had a couple of awkward meetings where everyone, unsure of where the others stand, has floundered around for a safe remark about Mrs T. Turns out there are two basic gambits: (1) “She was certainly divisive”; and (2) “She lived on four hours sleep a night, you know.”
So I was pleased last week to read two articles (both, alas, behind The Times’ paywall) debunking these received wisdoms. Matthew Parris revealed that although she certainly worked long hours, when she skipped on sleep she got knackered. And Daniel Finkelstein argued, convincingly, that it misses the point to say she was ‘divisive’ because it takes two to make a division and Thatcher merely refused to accept impossible demands and didn’t put off fights til tomorrow if they had to be had today.
In an attempt to calm our youngest daughter (herafter ‘E’) as bedtime approaches we have taken to playing Classic FM. A few weeks’ exposure to that station’s soothing tones has made me realise what a limited playlist it has: I reckon I’ve heard the slow movement of the Concerto de Aranjuez at least four times, Albinoni’s Adagio at least six and Rachmaninov’s second Piano Concerto even more than that. They also play a lot of John Williams’ film music, particularly Jurassic Park. All lovely, but the conservatism is stifling. Say what you like about the license fee, a diet of commercial radio alone would leave us culturally a much poorer place.
Anyway, some Dabblers may recall that last summer’s Olympic Games were somewhat blighted for me by an attack of severe conjunctivitis with secondary uveitis, which effectively blinded me for a week or so. During the worst moments of that episode I was unable to keep my eyes open due to the pain but also unable to keep them closed because the build-up of fluid would put unbearable pressure on my eyelids and I dwelt in a timeless hinterland where day and night and sleep and wakefulness lost all meaning, and during this ordeal a nameless tune kept weaving round and round in my head as in a fever. I was able to whistle it, but could not for the life of me identify it and the struggle to do so became yet another torture in that twilight purgatory. Well, the other day I heard it again, on Classic FM. It is Ennio Morricone’s piece Gabriel’s Oboe, from the film The Mission, which, I now recall, I watched some months before the eye-plague. It is a very nice melody, and at least now that I know its name it might help ease my misery rather than add to it the next time nature throws some beastliness my way. Thank you, Classic FM.
On the subject of blindness, I visited the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road for the first time last week, and came across (a copy of) the most horrible painting in the world. It is The Blind Leading the Blind by Bruegel, and I recommend that you don’t look at it.