I feel this morning that there should be prizes in literature for the following:
Most Ignored Really Good Book
Best Serious Novel With Sex You Would Actually Want To Have
Worst Book To Teach Other Writers A Great Deal About Storytelling
Best Sad Book That Is Not Egregiously Manipulative Or Contrived
Book That Stays With You And Actually Changes The Way You Think
Book That Made Most People Who Read It Happier And Nicer
And possibly also:
Best Novel Written Entirely Whilst Nude
Best Original Fiction Featuring A Duck Or Other Waterfowl In A Major Role
Because we ignore outliers at our peril.
I’ve given up on you.
I used to love you so much. I spent hours learning your every mood and mode, your history and form. Now you just depress me. You’re empty, meaningless and stupid: a machine for getting nothing done and costing money and lives.
I thought the Liberal Democrats could help. I was so excited when they were polling high before the last election. Then they decided to expend that huge bump on an experiment to prove coalition government could be made to work. In pursuing that completely unexciting agenda, they ended up proud enablers of the latest toxic Tory throwbacks. They put their weight behind illiberal laws, stood mute on reactionary policies, toed the line. To prove what? That everyone hates the tagalong? We didn’t vote for the party of facilitation. We voted for the party that was making waves, that was going to change the dynamic of Westminster, and that was what they threw away.
And then there’s Labour. Oh, Labour. To choose between David and Ed – the first a handsome devil with a lovely smile, the spitting image of another bold charmer in whose government he served; the second less polished and therefore more trustworthy, but by the same token uninspiring, at least to me. This is the party you vote for because you loathe David Cameron and his neckless, feckless Etonian cadre so much you don’t care that you’re giving yourself to someone every bit as feckless but pulling in a fractionally different direction, in hock to fractionally different versions of the same polluting industries, the same bankers and transnationals, the same braying tribal drivel.
Which brings us to David Cameron, and the moaning, thrashing zombies of his party and the weird little cannibalistic homonculus growing from its shoulder that goes by the acronym UKIP. There was a time when Conservatism embraced an uncompromising allegiance to personal liberty, to the rule of law. Now, just writing that, I actually have to explain what it means: it means that no one, whether they are the driver of a rag and bone cart or a senior officer in our intelligence service, may break the law with impunity. It means that the executive branch of government obeys the constraints imposed upon it by treaty, by law, by precedent, and does not seek to weasel out from under. It means that laws are made with the intention of being imporus and impenetrable, not looped to create backwaters of tax avoidance and torture. It means that law applies to government, and that justice is available to all, and the process of justice is public and can be seen to be done. Spying on citizens, stripping them of their rights, obfuscating crimes committed by allies or by our own agents – no one should have the gall to do these things and stand before Parliament, let alone before a good Conservative local party. The mere suggestion of such horrors should see a candidate driven out of Kent or Sussex with switches made from thorns. Today’s Conservative party and its dependent sack of anti-EU nonsense have no conviction that doesn’t profit Russian oligarchs, American food giants, or Canadian pharmaceutical companies. They bleat about immigration and then open our borders to the grimmest sinners in the world.
Note to the glorious leader: You’re not in trouble because you’re a high Tory, Dave. You’re in trouble because you’re an empty shirt.
Where did all this come from? This pointless thrashing? Why am I inflicting it on you? Because this party conference season has yielded nothing but risible nonsense from a parade of clowns. Chris Grayling and Theresa May on the Human Rights Act and the ECHR: is the need to be able to move traveller convoys off vacant lots so profound that we will withdraw from a treaty authored by Britain in the image of our convictions? Nick Clegg telling his crew to savage the Tories on tax after spending four years facilitating their evisceration of the NHS and education. Ed Miliband’s failure to engage with the deficit – whether a slip or an omission hardly matters, it’s like not mentioning the sea in a debate about fishing.
All my interests are notionally represented. I’m a white, middle aged, married middle class male with kids. I couldn’t be disenfranchised if I tried. But there is no one speaking to what I believe, no one offering anything in this soup of stupidity, imbecile headline-grabbing and brattish petulance that lifts my heart. On this showing, whoever wins next year will be as vacuous and ineffectual as any government we’ve ever seen. Victory will be expressed in negatives, if at all: the NHS didn’t get destroyed; the education system didn’t get wrecked; we didn’t leave Europe; we didn’t frack; we didn’t kill welfare or penalise the poor.
I don’t want someone to light a great revolutionary bonfire. I’m not Russell Brand or Emma Thompson, marvelous though they both are. Perhaps I’m a bit petty: I just want enough political heat to warm my hands, enough to feel that someone sensible is doing something ordinary to fix what is broken. It’s not as if there’s a paucity of problems to tackle.
Revolutions come in two stages: the bit where everything gets smashed and the bit where you have to build it again. The first is great fun, the second is so very hard. I don’t really look around – in the aftermath of a referendum on Scottish Independence that has let the English devolutionary genie out of its radioactive bottle, in a country whose parties propose at the same time to spy on its citizens and deny them access to the courts to save money, in a nuclear nation that cannot afford healthcare, in a democracy where mineral rights to an entire region are still given over to the personal maintenance of the heir to the throne, in a nation of laws which will shortly begin the process of taking away rights, where women still get hounded for having opinions, where charities should stay out of politics and “stick to knitting” – and see much that isn’t broken. Bollocks to the revolution. I don’t give a damn for speeches any more.
I want a politics that gets on with it. Isn’t that the most British virtue? We’re supposed to be a “nation of shopkeepers”. Shopkeepers show up to work, do the job. They take stock, they see what needs doing the next day, and they get up and do that.
I want politics in a greengrocer’s apron, showing up to work. I don’t want flourish or anger or debates over foxhunting or the Alternative Vote or MPs’ pay. I. Do. Not. Care.
Do the bloody job.
[Image: Walther Dobbertin/German Federal Archives, CC via Wikimedia Commons. See here.]
So a guy’s driving along the road and he’s got these two giraffes in the back of the truck. And he passes under a low bridge, and just as he sees the bridge he realises that he hasn’t fucking measured the giraffes. And he completely freezes and cramps up and he doesn’t hit the break and there’s this awful noise like BONK. He stops the truck and gets out, and he knows that it’s not going to be one of the giraffes, it’s going to be a low-hanging branch and he’s going to feel like an idiot for worrying because hey, even giraffes aren’t that tall, right?
So he gets out of the truck and he goes round to see and that’s when his life comes to an end, emotionally speaking, because he’s wrong. Giraffe jam. One giraffe is standing over the other giraffe looking at this new, weird, flat-sided hairstyle and saying (in Giraffe-ese, which is a bit like mime in Esperanto) “what the fuck is wrong with you, Fred? Get up, man, we’ve got leaves to eat together and tall spindly babies to have!”
But that is no longer on Fred’s list of life options. In fact, that list is now null. Fred is not “dad”, which is what my autocorrect keeps insisting he must be. Fred is dead.
You know what? We live in Giraffe World. That’s the international human condition right there. “Oh, shit, it totally did not occur to me to measure the giraffe!” Well, that’s a shame, isn’t it?
(Funny story: I’m in the butcher yesterday and the guy behind the checkout is giving me a whole thing about the evils of asparagus. Asparagus in the UK is mostly imported, and that from places where people are literally killing one another over asparagus water. Oh, hey, Fred-the-headless-giraffe, you’ve got company! And I’m listening to this whole speech and I’m looking at this guy over the corpses of about ten beef cattle and I’m thinking: BEEF, dude! You want to have a land-use revolution, screw the fucking asparagus! Let’s talk COWS.)
And now an uncontacted tribe has come out of the jungle. (Probably because BEEF.) It’s a little bit amazing that there are still people living in total and probably blissful ignorance of modernity, but my main take-away from the uncontacted tribe story is: they have already caught our diseases. So now we have to go in there and totally remake their world because otherwise our colds will basically kill them – or we can leave them to their understanding and most of them if not all of them will expire. Go, Go, Global Village! So I can’t even think what I was thinking which is: it may be in your interest to melt undetectably back into the trees.
Today is a shit day, news-wise. A lot of them have been recently. The Arab Spring has turned into the Bastard Summer – which is, by the way, a surprise to no one who has studied the history of revolutions – and Israel just bombed another school in Gaza. The UN says that’s a blot on the face of humankind in the 21st Century. It’s not. It’s basically familiarly awful shit. If it’s a blot, our whole face is made of blots. You know what’s really a blot on the face of humankind in the 21st Century? The fact that sixty years on we have not got our collective arse in gear to create peace in the Middle East. Because Israel/Palestine? We did that. We-all-of-us. And we continue to do it by sponsoring the shitty behaviour of monsters on both sides in the name of things that do not matter and high ideals that specifically ask us not to behave like this.
So Fred, right now, means the world to me. Fred is climate, oceans, dead kids in Gaza and dead kids on a school bus in Israel. Fred is Ukraine and Malaysian airliners, Fred is antibiotic resistant MRSA in the rivers near water treatment plants, Fred is misogyny, Fred is blinkered human short-term bullshit wherever it may be. Fred is the computer that says no. Fred is anti-abortion protestors who support the death penalty and won’t pay for child benefits or even contraception. Fred is my government and yours and deniable prisons and the Snooper’s Charter and transparency for the masses and the new distributed totalitarianism. Poor fucking Fred the dead giraffe is not alone. He’s got seven billion humans for company on his road towards the bridge of doom.
Abstractly, I love you all. Collectively, you can be – like me – totally imbecilic. Individually you are people and you’re who you are. We might or might not get along but you’re worth more than this.
I got no answers, people. I got a dead giraffe with half his face plastered to a low bridge. Nothing’s gonna fix Fred. You want to take a swing at some of this other stuff?
Then let’s do it.
If you feel the urge: #iamfred