Monday, 5 October 2020


There’s an obsessive fatalism that currently fills the airwaves and pages of the newspapers. We are doomed, as Private Frazer used to say grimly in “Dad’s Army”. But we are clearly not doomed; we are just being forced to change. And change isn’t comfortable. We, who lived through the early days of the Thatcher administration bear the scars. It is then when she and her team dismantled uncompetitive British Industry and let markets decide the fate of lame dogs, many of them not so lame. We know what radical change feels like.  A sharp, unpleasant and unwelcome shock.

Thatcher embarked on her “let markets and individuals decide” revolution with relish. Some sectors like Banking and Advertising did well. They were emboldened by her mantra of emancipation from state control. So, we (I was in advertising then) swept into America taking over businesses and being rather cocky. As Colin Welland proclaimed, when in 1982 the British film, Chariots of Fire won seven Oscars, “The British are coming.”  

Well, like all such revolutionary initiatives it worked well for a while especially for the young, callous and enterprising in service-businesses but not so well if you were a miner or stevedore or manufacturer. Short, sharp shocks work but not forever. 

I remember most of my life back then as being like surfing dangerously but with great exhilaration. It was creative and rule breaking…these were the most un-woke of times. Long lunches, great music, from Bartok to Blur. And yes, that was what it was like through the end of the 20th century and through to the end of the coalition – a bit of a blur. But a blur of excitement and happiness.

But times have changed. Especially recently. We have become increasingly grumpy and dislocated as a nation. Left and right, in and out, young and old, PC and not PC, each group unwilling to hear the other and debate, converse or think.  The idea of ‘cancelling’ someone who says something that distresses you seems alien to my view of free speech.

But we’ve had another sharp shock with Covid but not so short, sadly, I expect. 

Still my grumpiness began to ebb away last week. Was it just me or did motorists behave better? Did I see more smiles? Was there resolution rather than resentment emerging? Perhaps it was because the script writer has been hard at work…unbelievable things have been happening…Trump catching Covid.  Priti Patel thinking (is thinking the right word?) of sending immigrants to Ascension Island 4,400 miles from the UK. To see how batty she can be watch this:

Yes, Michael Spicer and Spitting Image show how satire still works like nothing else. 

But most of all it was these words that gripped me, sadly, because Derek Mahon, the Irish poet, died of cancer this week. He was described as a “Belfast Keats with a Popean sting” He wrote this poem which has become famous as the pandemic has gripped the world. Fatalistic? Grumpy? Doomed? Try a dose of this:

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Thank you, Derek. I really think it is going to be all right too. In a riot of sunlight. Thank you.

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