May 24: never mind people, isn’t boris Johnson rubbish!

There are a range of techniques involved in avoiding questions in the five o’clock session where ministers do their level best to boast and say nothing to the public. Here’s one. When the journalist asks you a specific question starting, say, can you say when Dominic Cummings was in Durham in lockdown with his wife and child?, you say: What I can say is…and say something irrelevant. This is the What I can say response. The What I can say response proves you can say things, even though they may not be apposite. This is communications technique number one, right out of the Dominic Cummings manual. No wonder he is so indispensible. Technique number two is when you repeat the question in more detail and with greater rhetoric.This is called Just repeat the question, also from the communications manual. Question: Is it one law for the politicians and one law for the rest of us? Answer: Very good question. Is it one requirement for the members of the political elite who, even though they make up the rules (double Boris fist clench) don’t seem to feel that the rules apply to them, whereas the ordinary people of this country who have done a sterling job self-isolating to keep the R rate beloe one, which is what we all have to do, and this is the most important thing and something which will dictate how quickly we can get back to normal and drive to places like Durham. Very good question. The next question is from the Bradford Times. The quality of response from the politicians, including Lizard in a Suit (Dominic Raab) and the Whey-faced Loon (Hancock) and Boris himself do not even deserve to be called casuistic, as that would imply a certain complex skill. In what the French call Le five o’clock the UK cabinet is rubbish.

May 20: lumberjacks all

Do you, like so many others, spend your working life logging? I recently made a complaint to my local council about the noise emmanating from a substation close to my flat. They eventually sent me a reponse and triumphantly announced that my complaint had been logged. My question as to whether they were going to do anything about it was greeted with disbelief. Was it not enough that it was logged in that great log-book in the virtual heavens? The power company have also logged my complaint. We have a record of your earlier complaint, they told me, it has been logged. Would you like to make another complaint? I considered for a moment. What would that mean? I asked, a mere innocent in all matters of logging. They are the experts after all; it was right I ask their advice on the matter. It would mean we log it again. Yippee! Double logging. Let’s go for it. Do you log? I am often asked to log at work for an imaginary day of reckoning. You know, I could always log something I haven’t done. Has that occurred to anyone? Does lgging get anything done? Probably not. Does it do any harm? Possibly. It stands in for doing something but protects you against legal action maybe. We are all lumberjacks these days.

May 3: the evolution of the queue

The great British queue is evolving. They have always prided themselves on queueing, the British. It has been part of their self-identifying story, like the stiff upper lip and keeping calm and pulling together in difficult times, all stuff that feels increasingly like nonsense and no more than a dossier of propaganda  pulled out of the hat for political purposes every so often. And so it is with queues. But the coronavirus queue reveals new  baroque strands. Outside the supermarket you have the two metre distance queue and the man who lets the gap grow. So that you are standing two metres behind a man watching a TV show on his phone who lets his gap grow to eight metres. This gives rise to anxiety in queue-ers like yoursef. When you turn a corner the strand of the queue could be lost. New people could slip in. You could be lost, become a mere pedestrian and not a queue-er, all that queue-time effaced, eradicated. And, in any case, you look forward to moving up in the queue. The moment you all shuffle forward. It’s one of the highlights of your day. What is this man’s motivation  for letting the gap grow in front of him? Is he oblivious? Is he a queue snob, refusing to recognize the strict regulations of queue culture, a queue libertarian? Is queueing beneath him? Does he see himself above the queue? He is like a car in a traffic jam that refuses to push along when the traffic creeps forward. What’s the rush? you might say. The traffic jam isn’t going anywhere. But no, there are streets that feed into the traffic jam and cars that insinuate themselves into the line and so take your place. Leaving a gap in a queue is never a harmess venture. When you vaunt your relaxation and casualness, your anti-queuenesss, what happens is that others pay.

20 April: the gatekeeper

Before the UK Power Networks stands a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the city and requests dialogue with the UK Powernetworks, for he has this buzzing in his flat which was certainly coming from a faulty substation in the Montford Place substation and was stopping him from sleeping nights. But the gatekeeper explained that dialogue was almost certainly imposssible with anyone in authority. The only people he could put the man from the city through to were the PR people. Even the man from the city knew that this was a waste of time. The gatekeeper explained that a scout could be sent out to the substation but that the scout had only limited authority and could only penetrate the outer wall of the substation and had no real competence to examine the problem. For that an engineer would be required and because of Coronavirus engineers were not available. The man from the city asked whether after Coronavirus an engineer would be able to come and repair the problem. The gatekeeper said that enginners never showed themselves. Why, he himself had only ever once seen a real engineer and that was through a keyhole and it wasn’t even sure it was a real engineer, it could have been a mere scout. The man from the city continued to ask favours of the doorkeeper but the doorkeeper continued to guard the door. This was only the first doorkeeper. After him the next gatekeeper was twice as strong and after him there was another one even more formidable, so there could be no hope of getting through to where the engineers were. After  a long time the man from the city grew weary. The light in his eyes dimmed and he was reaching his end. He gathered up all his strength to ask a final question. But you are insatiable, said the gatekeeper. what do you want to know now? With his final breath the man from the city mumbled: How is it that in all this time I am the only one who has tried to gain access through the gate to the UK Powernetworks? The gate keeper recognized the man was breathing his final breath and explained to him: No-one else could be granted access through this gate for it was intended for you and you only. I am now going to close it?

Yes, I have problems getting through to UK Power Networks to fix the noise that is stopping me sleeping every night. I feel I understand Kafka more and more every day.








April 18: friend or foe?

As I am walking around the streets and I come upon a pedestrian walking towards me there ensues a complex negotiation. Am I friend or foe, or maybe both? We are like medieval travellers on the path through Sherwood Forest. I could be one of the Sherrif of Nottingham’s men, one of those so-called Norman foot-soldiers with their functional, egg-shaped helmuts, or I could be Will Scarlet. The hips shuffle the centre of gravity away from my trajectory; I do like wise. We are like two lizards on a wall with our parallelogramic shiftings; or else like pieces on a chessboard. Our eyes register foe, foe first, then one of us remembers to smile, or if one of us is a mask-wearer, nod, accepting our fraternity faced with all the uncertain rejigs that are going on around us. We are suddenly on a chessboard but unsure of our powers. We are cribbed.

Headphones don’t help, you know. People under headphones think they are as able as us, but they are oblivious. In the supermarket on their phones they skate around. It is as if they have never heard of this new chessboard we have to go around on. I’m doing the Rook. That woman’s doing the Knight. Why is this guy passing Go?

April 12: the strange rise of christianity

Easter sunday.The key day in the Christian calender. On the Friday before his death Jesus had shared a supper with his followers urging them to eat his body and drink his blood. He is later crucified on a cross to save the lives or souls of the rest of humanity. This vestige of cannibalism, the weird fetichisation of suffering, human sacrifice and the bizarre idea that one man’s death could stand in for the salvation of millions started to gain momentum through the political act of Emperor Constantine when he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. But how did this barbaric assemblage of superstition and horrific atavism gain traction and take over the world? And why do people who normally wouldn’t say boo to a goose remain in its thrall?

Happy Easter.

April 10: endogamy, exogamy and me

Endogamy is the practice of marrying or associating with members of your own clan or social group. Exogamy is that of marrying or associating with those of exterior clans, groups, races etc. We are more exogamous than we used to be, but perhaps not as much as we think. When I try and situate myself within this spectrum it is difficult to know whether the partners or close friends I have associated with in the past have attracted you to them by some elements that recall myself and my own clan, even though they may have elements that are clearly alien (race, colour, social class). Equally, life pulls you away from your home clan. You may go away to study and never return. Over the years the notion of home gradually disolves. Moreover, your home clan may in itself be a complex uncentred atom, more electron than neucleus. It might also be that you find extraneous elements in the other that refer you to yourself but may be peripheral to other viewers, elements to do with those modern things like common tastes and outlooks. Or, and this may well be the case for me, it may be that it was never you making the choice in the first place, but the other.