But they will not go to bed. Long after lights out the pitter-patters and thump-thumps of strange games can be heard in their bedroom. Conspiratorial murmurings. Earnest discussions about meerkats. Then the whine of the gate and the pit-pats along the landing to the top of the stairs where they sit side-by-side, Tweedles dum and dee. C is dramatic, expressive, long-limbed, turning to early gangle. E by contrast is a tiny plump Buddha, squatting impassively. Both have curly blonde moptops. ‘Muuuumneeeeee, Daaaaddeeeee!’ Wearily we appear at the bottom, ready to hear their case. C will voice it, E will echo in her squeak. Their reasons for not being asleep are spurious, improbable, fictive. “We’re scared.” “We’re hungry for pudding.” Or, best of the lot so far, “Our tummies are too hot.” (“Yes,” echoes E. “Our tummies too hot.”)
We look at each other. Don’t they realise that getting into bed and turning the light out is the very best bit of the day? Like so many other privileges of youth, ten-hour sleeps are wasted on the young.
Following the deaths of Tony Benn and Bob Crow, there are been various pieces pondering the reaction of the right-wing commentariat and Twitterati – i.e. why they’ve been so nice, in contrast to the Ding Dong the Witch is Dead with which the Left greeted the death of Thatcher (Crow himself, if I recall correctly, charmingly expressed the hope that Mrs T would ‘rot in hell’). My explanation is that there is an existential difference between the worldviews of conservatives and radicals, which is that for conservatives the whole shebang – politics (especially the trifling politics of Britain), work, life, death – is in the final analysis just a slightly ridiculous game, and you can shake hands with your opponent when it’s over and the earth will still continue to circle the sun. The Left takes things much more seriously. That’s not always a bad thing, of course.
That said….Bob Crow, eh? Left-wing my arse. At least he wasn’t shy about his bravura hypocrisy and greed; he was perfectly proud of it. The Marxist stuff is the biggest joke. Here is a man who quite openly exploited his control of the means of production (that is, the means of producing commutes to work in London) in order to make his gang and thereby himself a packet. Crow was a Loadsamoney Thatcherite Essex boy lout as much as any hedge-fund manager, and for the proletariat who needed to take public transport to their place of labour he gave not a toss. When the creatures of the Afterlife look from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again, Bob Crow will be a slobbering saddleback with streams of champagne and jellied eel-juice running down his jowls. RIP.
And RIP Tony Benn: an indefatigable, articulate, admirable, unique man who happened to be completely wrong about everything. Benn gave so many public talks that everyone in the country must have seen him perform at some point, even if only by accident. Presumably there is a special room in Hell for naughty Tories in which they have to spend eternity listening to Benn’s tape recordings of his own speeches.
Twenty-odd years ago I went with my A-level politics class to Westminster to hear various windbags attempt to ‘engage with young people’ (including Neil Kinnock, who was quite spectacularly uninteresting). I had a curly brown moptop, a Penguin copy of the Communist Manifesto and a ludicrous black leather motorcycle jacket. I sanctimoniously give a standing ovation to Tony Benn. Honestly, I shudder to think sometimes that I could have been one of those alarmingly numerous people who never grow out of sixth-form leftism – who decide early in life that they have all the theories they need and no further reflection is required.
Two noteworthy things that have repeatedly appeared in Left-wing paeans to Tony Benn: that he had ‘unshakeable beliefs’; and the idea, as one Tweeter put it, that “principle always outshines policy”.
So: a refusal to change one’s mind no matter what the evidence; and a belief that principles and ideals are separable from, and more important than, practicalities and consequences. Can anybody think of any modes of human thought that have led to more suffering and murder than those two?
At the very least, having ‘unshakeable beliefs’ is boring. One pundit who isn’t remotely boring is Charles Moore. Moore is without peer in his ability to continually find unexpected insights and original angles on a multiplicity of topics, although he can be a little tiresome in his futile antipathy to gay equality. Here he is in The Spectator, after writing about the PIE/Harman scandal:
Beware, however, of the smug current assumption that, although the 1970s was a ‘sexually confused decade’, our own is not. What madness are we committing? One, I suggest, is the now prevailing notion that almost anyone should be free to adopt children, buy them, or produce them by surrogacy. Like that done by abuse, the full damage will emerge only later.
Clearly he’s talking about gay couples adopting. But what Moore misses is that the question we now ask is not “Should gay people be allowed to adopt?” but “Should a child be prevented from going to a responsible, loving home merely because the adopters are gay?” To which the consensus answer is now, No.
However, where Moore surely has a point is in the danger of people adopting not for the sake of orphaned children but because they like the idea of the parental ‘lifestyle’, or, even worse, to prove a political point. Two things you quickly learn as a parent: (1) a lifestyle is the thing you used to have before you had children; (2) children who don’t happen to be your immediate genetic offspring are far, far less interesting, loveable and worth sacrificing your own interests for than the ones who are. Good adopters, straight or gay, are remarkable people and surely very rare.
Nige’s post here includes a David Hockney sketch which I happened to see when I was in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool the other week. It was part of a Hockney retrospective which included a whole load of supergay doodles and a couple of major works, notably Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool. When an artist has a whole chunk of a gallery to himself, your expectations are raised and you naturally start thinking about whether they deserve the accolade. Is Hockney really one of the ‘great’ artists? I think I’d have to say ‘Yes’. His works have a mysterious quality that means they stand out from the merely accomplished. I’ve no idea what it is, but it’s there all right.
To Shrewsbury! You didn’t expect me to say that, did you? Nice place, Shrewsbury, very English even though it’s virtually in Wales. The town is on a sort of river island: lots of nice cafes, Tudor crap everywhere. I strolled around in toasty Spring sunshine feeling groovy. After this London diary some readers have said they feel sorry for me in my sad, lonely wanderings about the country. But really it’s all about the weather. It was bucketing down in London that week. I’ve said before that if I lived in a blazing hot country I would quite happily switch my brain off and live like a lizard: sleeping, eating simply, occasionally swimming, soaking up the sun’s natural soma. Another, fantasy, me does just that. Agh, it is the world’s pity we only get to live one life and not at least a couple of simultaneous alternatives. The only reason I do anything much is because England is wet and cold; if it was hot and sunny I wouldn’t bother with all this Dabbler rubbish. On the motorway south it was baking, and very loudly I played Nirvana’s Nevermind which, for the nihilistic ramblings of a drug-addicted suicide, is a remarkably joyous piece of work.
To Bristol Grammar School, to hear Frank Key address a Sixth Form Literary Society! You didn’t expect that either, did you? It was arranged by the inestimable Roland Clare, editor of By Aerostat to Hooting Yard, who introduced Frank with a comprehensive, lavishly illustrated and frequently hilarious lecture on nonsense. I have to say, though, that for all the amusement afforded by the surrealists, the dada-ists, John Lennon, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band and others, none of the nonsensarians are nearly so funny as Frank Key reading his own material. The only ones who come close are Ivor Cutler and the Bible.
Frank warmed up his unsuspecting young audience with Little Dagobert and the Binder Symphonies, at which there was much baffled tittering, then battered them mercilessly into submission with How to Think of Things Other Than Juggling, which contains the longest sentence he has ever written. It’s quite a thing, listening to a really, really long sentence being read aloud. One goes through a full range of emotions, from hilarity to despair and back again. It’s a journey. I could see some of the sixth formers seriously struggling at the midway point. “At least it’s not Neil Kinnock,” I wanted to say to them. But, as all things must, the sentence did at last pass, and Frank took pity on his audience and finished with a corker.
Afterwards I mingled with some of the pupils and assorted guests, including some of Bristol’s most thrusting young eccentrics and, quite unexpectedly, the well-known philosopher Julian Baggini. A youthful poet with a curly black moptop analysed Frank’s long sentence with admirable seriousness, praising its hypnotic effect. When all had dispersed, Roland and Frank and I stood around and surveyed the buffet leftovers. How deeply moving it was to watch the penniless authors methodically consume the free sandwiches.
“Wake up, Daddy!”
“It’s morningtime, wake up!”
“Wake up, Daddy!”
“Why not Daddy?”
“My tummy’s too hot.”