Posts Tagged ‘self awareness’
Brrr! It was bitterly cold as we cleaned out the chickens this morning. There was much stamping of feet and blowing on hands as we worked, and no one was surprised when Albert departed, having remarked in Captain Oates style that he would be gone some time. Off into the blizzard to reduce the burden on his colleagues? Afraid not, he was heading back for home and toasted crumpets! But we were too elated to be affected by desertion, we had all watched little Bradford City, whose entire team had cost £7,500 to assemble, knock Premiership oufit Aston Villa out of the Capital One Cup, thus qualifying for their first visit to Wembley since Eve asked Adam if he fancied a Russet.
We have long held the view that the Premiership is little more than an illusion. With the exception of a handful of teams at the top it comprises a host of teams there only to make up the numbers yet who emulate their Russian, American and Arab-owned rivals in making their players millionaires whilst charging their fans obscenely high admission charges. Trust us they say, you could travel the globe and never see talent such as this. The reality is that most of the Premiership sides are little better than any eleven fit and enthusiastic young men happy to kick a ball around for next to nothing.
Last night provided living proof of that. This was no 90-minute upset caused by Gods having to play on a mudheap in front of an hysterical crowd baying within inches of the touchline. The semi-final was a two-legged affair, half of which saw the ‘megastars’ playing at their own stadium. And honest endeavour won the day. Perhaps as the millionaires drove away in their Porsches they may just have heard a small voice asking if they really are as good as they imagine.
Premiership footballers are a classic example of the misplaced vanity that pock-marks Britain today. Like the city slickers and many leading politicians their every word and deed says we are wonder-men, we are geniuses entitled to ride above such mundane things as austerity and national interest. Now that humble Bradford have pricked one bubble maybe, just maybe a few other vanities will experience a reality check.
Yesterday we heard from Danny Alexander on the need to scrap our nuclear deterrent. At a time when our dear leader is warning us of the need to face up to growing terrorist threats in Africa it seems odd to be reducing our armed forces to the size of the Salvation Army. But the words that really caught our eye were those used by the potentially extinct Lib Demmer. “The fact that I have taken on the leadership of this review demonstrates the importance and seriousness with which we are treating this”, he said. Really? The thought that this inexperienced non-military bean-counter is in charge of our nation’s defences is to us more a demonstration that we are without hope.
But for us the most blatent example of arrogant vanity was provided by the responses to the script of a speech to be delivered today by the Prime Minister. He is expected to confirm his intention to renegotiate the terms of our membership of the EU, and to then give the British people the right to decide on an in/out basis. He will say that; “The margin of support for being in the EU is wafer-thin and it it is time for the British people to have their say”. He cannot of course actually do this until the Lib Dem lemmings have finally jumped, and he may merely be acknowledging that his MPs will accept no other route. But he has at least accepted that the people should be allowed to speak on an issue that will affect the lives of generations to come.
His critics led by Ed Miliband and, inevitably, Nick Clegg have been quick to condemn such a thought. They have poured forth a tirade of accusations but it is the underlying belief that is so appalling. Referendums, they say, create uncertainty, involve the ignorant in decision-making, a role best left to intellectual giants such as ourselves. Their misplaced self-belief simply doesn’t allow for the possibility that there may be people out there capable of understanding and taking part in debate.
Everywhere one looks in these troubled times one spots people in powerful positions who genuinely believe that they are Gods, people above and far from the madding crowds. It is perhaps fanciful to imagine that a football match will trigger a wave of self awareness and humility amongst our self-appointed stars, but it is a pleasant thought to hug as we shiver and rage!
TODAY’S QUOTES ARE ON POWER: “I’m offended by political jokes. Too often they get elected”….Will Rogers “Government is to life what pantyhose is to sex”….P J O’Rourke ”One suspects that George W Bush only stood for election because he misread the word as ‘electrocution’ and knew that was something he liked”……Jeremy Hardy ”I have orders to be awakened at any time in case of a national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting”….Ronald Reagan “Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory”……J K Galbraith “Being critiised by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep”…Denis Healey “We started off by setting up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn’t obey the rules”…..Alan Bennett “Working in Westminster is like having the nutters on the bus beside you all day”…..Amanda Platell “Prime Ministers are wedded to the truth, but like other married couples they sometimes live apart”……Saki “If PMs don’t do it to their wives, they do it to the country”….Mel Brooks
Had you arrived at our allotments this morning you might well have assumed that some kind of new year celebration was in progress. Eight codgers were darting in and out of a surging mass of excited chickens in what looked like a frenzied version of La Boheme. But nothing is quite what it seems, we were trying to grab a hen with a long section of sellotape hanging from its beak. Swallow that and its goodbye hen! Having succeeded we tested our intellectual powers by asking how the strip got there. We drew a blank.
The incident reminded me of something my Gran used to say. The older you grow, the more you realise how little you know, was the gist of it. And she would often add that as we grow older we become more set in our ways, less set in our convictions. It increasingly seems to me to be the case. Michael Foot famously remarked that old age is not all it is cracked up to be and in a physical sense he was right for, to quote Leonard Cohen, we ache in the places where we used to play. But he was wrong in a psychological sense for with advancing years comes enlightenment, the realisation that in reality nothing is what it seems, and we, like Manuel, know nothing.
Many of us once held fierce political convictions. The Tories cared only for the rich and posh middle-classes. Labour was the bastion of the oppressed working classes. Liberals were..well even then they were chameleons. Now we find ourselves supporting none of them. Our once crystal-clear definitions have been swept away and we see all too clearly a bunch of incompetent and dishonest carpet-baggers who care only for themselves.
We once metaphorically touched our caps to those with titles for here was the true aristocracy of Britain. Now we see them as major donors to political parties or, at best, cronies of powerful people. Likewise democracy. We once believed with passion in the power of the people, now we see making a cross every four or five years as empty symbolism. Manifestos are fiction, the people have little or no influence on what those elected actually do, referendums on big issues are always ruled out.
We once respected uniforms. A monkey wearing a uniform would have had no trouble lining us up in an orderly queue. Now we recognise policemen, and all the other uniformed officials with power, as simply men and women dressed up, some good and some completely useless. Even our awe at sergeant-majors has dwindled in the minds, they were not really men who served Queen and country before all others, they were bullies whose shouting and bawling concealed a vacant space between their ears. Of course some of all of these were brave on occasions but was bravery really meritorious when it was simply a product of their genes?
Doctors, priests and royalty also fitted neatly into our appointed slots of worthiness. No longer. Doctors know a good deal more about the human condition than we do, but they are human and they make mistakes. We no longer see priests as someone appointed by God, merely people who gained high marks in theology. Royalty? Yes we see the usefulness of having a respected independent as head of state, but the idea that anyone is other than a fallible fellow human being has melted with the snow of so many winters.
There are many more examples of our age having toppled mental certainties but hopefully you have now grasped my point. In effect we have reached the realisation that the world is truly a stage, one of villains and good guys but all much the same as us. Some wiser or craftier, others less so.
It is a very comfortable place to reach for it means that every issue and every person is judged on logic. We can even judge ourselves in the same way. Did we really love our chosen path or were we merely using every guile to advance our personal standing? Were we always scrupulously honest when to be so would have endangered our prospects? The chance to cleanse our souls has been granted to us.
Sadly, my Gran’s other point about our becoming more set in our ways has also become reality. Most of us now retire to our beds the moment the BBC News ends, sit in the same seat at football, have the same meal at the same time each week. Unlike our beliefs, our ways have gelled to the point of concrete.
But at least our views of what happens this year will be objective. Unlike many young columnists we have no pre-set agenda. mentally at least we are gloriously free! But don’t rush to get here, Foot was right in that creaking knees and elbows are poor reward for long survival.
I have never completely lost my infatuation with pantos. As a small boy I loved the annual treat just after Christmas and the various characters always played on my mind’s stage for months afterwards. There was always a mixture amongst the motley crew, some kindly and others ranging from loopy to plain evil. There was always a happy ending and an air of madness in the air as we walked out into the January gloom.
Yesterday the Beeb was kind enough to provide me with a mid-year panto, a treat hitherto unknown. The show was under the direction of Nick Robinson and told the story of five days that supposedly changed the face of British politics for ever. As with all panto endings that must be taken with a large pinch of salt on the chips, but it rounded the show off well.
And what a brillinat cast the producer had assembled for our delectation. The main star is always the one with the final laugh and King Cameron performed well. He reminded me of the school swat of many a panto. He was constantly earnest, full of self awareness and often boring but he meant well, which is more than could be said for Prince Nick who seemed a little low in the self understanding department and had led him a merry dance. Most pantos used to have a magician, often one in the style of Tommy Cooper in that their tricks were too clever for the naive King but invariably went wrong at the end.
The Prince’s tricks were often so complicated that even he lost the thread. So far as one could gather he held a meeting with the Labour Party gang and returned to the King to report that they had offered him a referendum on the electoral process. The King then offered him the same together with so many other gifts that the Prince began to wonder if it was his birthday and Christmas with Lady Gaga rolled into one. In true Tommy Cooper style it was then revealed that the gang hadn’t said anything of the sort. The Prince performed an even cleverer trick. Having based his election campaign on opposition to early cuts he opened the box to reveal that what he had really meant all along was masses of very early cuts and he even brought the offstage Governor of the Bank of England in as his witness although the good Banker denied ever having said what Nick said he said.
I think that’s right but must admit that at this stage my childhood nightmares about the Prince of Darkness had been rekindled. It was fortunate that the Beeb broadcast the show after the watershed hour of 9.00pm for small children would have hidden behind the sofa as Lord Mandelson played the part of principal villain so effectively. He was sinister and creepy and even the adults enjoyed booing. I never did work out whose side he was on but when he remarked that the King showed promise the latter’s teeth began to chatter.
There were of course a number of walk-on parts and one that caught the eye was Great Uncle Balls who could well have been the explanation for the Lib Dem brother’s -there were no ladies in this show -claim that the meetings they had with Labour as a prelude to joining the King were hostile in the extreme. Of course the joy of a good panto is that it leaves many things unexplained and it may be that Prince Nick whipped up the passion because the last thing he wanted was a serious offer of marriage that he would have to carry to his less than enthusiastic followers. In fact we met one of them. Uncle Vince Cable played a sad and lonely old man whose heart told him one thing and head another.
The big disappointment was the absence of Baron Grumpy Gordon. Being the only honest one amongst them he probably felt that the truth would spoil the show and make the other cast members look foolish, something they seemed well able to achieve without his help. We did get an insight into his relationship with young Prince Nick however. It was said that as the clock struck midnight Grumpy telephoned Uncle Vince. Why not Prince Nick? No explanation was forthcoming, pantos never include such comments as he hated the sight of him.
There was also a lovely gnome who scuttled around doing the King’s bidding. Little Billy Hague entranced the audience with his monotone drawl and winsome chuckle. During the five day bargaining he was everywhere. One minute talking to one lot, the next the other and pursued thorughout by a howling mob of reporters to whom he honestly repeated that he hadn’t a clue as to what was happening.
But sadly the Beeb allowed just one hour for this televisual feast and it was time to switch off. But not before the happy ending. Prince Nick had proved his ability to trick the king and all his men but, in true Tommy Cooper style, had forgotten a few important things. During the show he was seen telling someone that if he married the Tory King his members would desert him in droves. And now they have and he is a prisoner of the King. But happily he is a kind ruler and, always provided that Nick says not a word, he will do him no harm.
Clearly I should end by reporting that they all lived happily ever after and saved the kingdom. But on reflection I shall steal a line from a reader who tells me that they were simply re-arranging the deckchairs of the Titanic! Be that as it may the thought that this pantomime crew are running the country is a sobering one for they are scarcely the Manchester United of politics!
NEWS ON THIS FRIDAY; The front page of The Daily Telegraph has a huge picture of David Cameron hitting a tennis ball bowled by Kapil Dev for six. Clearly the news that by 2050 the UK will be the most densely populated country in Europe is of less importance for that is printed below our new cricketing ace and alongside the staggering news that men in New York are to allowed to wear their trousers low enough to expose their long-johns.
The Guardian has ignored the new cricket star to concentrate on its latest leak. This one features the hapless Gove whose inability to count must be a handicap for an Education Minister. It seems that when he said that more than 1000 schools had applied to become academies he actually meant 153.
Oh yes, and the remains of the world’s oldest shrimp has been found in a field near Gretna. Officials have denied that it bears a striking resemblance to Jimmy Saville.
There was also
It is actually unfair to address this question to the Prime Minister rather than his predecessors but right now he is the only one capable of bringing to a head the nightmare of Afghanistan and the continuing death of our troops and civilians. Yesterday he spoke out as no other has done on the elements of the Pakistan state that promote terrorism so maybe, just maybe, he is prepared to face up to the terrible dilemma of continued sacrifice without a cause.
When all other rationale for what he had done had evaporated Blair and his ministers resorted to justifying the Iraq and Afghanistan ventures by claiming that they made Britain a safer place. Last week the former head of MI5, Lady Manningham-Buller, told the Chilcot inquiry that ” nobody can claim it was about making Britain safer, in fact it has made the situation much worse”. So what is the cause for which so much precious blood is being spilt?
Two items of news have made even more obscure any lingering hope. The first was the appearancve at Chilcot of General Sir Richard Dannat, former head of the army. He admitted that too few troops have been employed to take on so massive a challenge and added that the forces were running close to ‘a seizing-up moment’. It was after this that I read the leaked war logs.
Now here is unreality writ large. One almost had the feeling of watching a Space Odyssey computer game. There is talk of locating the enemy, directing fire and dropping bombs with pinpoint accuracy.No one would be killed bar the Taliban, all would be well as massively superior force overwhelmed a tinpot enemy. Clearly Blair, Bush and their generals were so dazzled by their supposed superiority in military might that they felt invincible. At no point is there any indication that they reflected on the lessons to be learned from the decade spent by the Russians attempting to do what they were now undertaking.
It really beggars belief to find that Nato, the Pentagon and Britain’s defence experts alike believed that all they had to do was invade with force, pacify the Pashtun and then ‘build a nation’ in a medieval land along western democratic lines . Equally revealing are the revelations of incompetence on a grand scale ranging through the failure of ‘hearts and minds’, the waste of aid, the ‘flip-flop’ on opium, the odious belief that money trumps zeal and love of country. And the logs are shot through with the arrogance of hi-tech addicts and the glee taken in killing leaders from the air. The thinking seemed to be that if enough Taliban were killed the enemy would run out of men.
What is most startling is the continuance of a strategy involving the bombing of civilian targets in the hope of killing Taliban. Each dead Pashtun is not, as Nato claims, a talisman of success neither are civilian deaths simply ‘regrettable’. The act recruits 10 more enemy. Every Taliban elder murdered breeds another, younger one, frantic for revenge. Every village decimated leads more and more to cry that at least under the Taliban they would remain alive.
Last week’e rocket attack on 45 civilians in Helmand was a massacre that would be a war crime if committed by infantry .Slowly but surely the population turns against the Nato forces. Yet no general has succeeded in getting the bombing stopped, the killer-computers appear to be on autopiliot.
The truth when viewed in the light of so many bereaved families is that we cannot ever ‘win’ in Afghanistan, a fact that Nato now openly acknowledges. And yet if we walk away tomorrow it will feel as if we have deserted those who gave their all for a cause invented by politicians for their own glory. The best we can do is surely to get through the charade of training the Afghan army and police and leave without a backward glance. No backward glance because we would almost certainly see the Taliban step forward from all the communities in which they already dwell -the Taliban is a concept not an army- to replace the present corrupt government with an even more appalling one. But there is nothing we can do unless we propose to occupy the land for eternity.
Cameron can demonstrate that, unlike his predecessors, he has self awareness, he recognises the impossible and he can stop the flow of blood. He can call for the bombimg to stop and pull the troops back into a training mode. It will not be glorious but at least all those families who lie awake in the still of the night dreading the next day’s news will feel comforted.
Nothing can ever justify what we did or the crass way in which we did it, but unless we seek another Vietnam we have to face the awful reality of where we are.
AND MEANWHILE; Encouraged by the burning heat of May and June, Albert and Tom decided to head for Blackpool after all for the annual two-week holiday in these parts. They had previously resolved never again having experienced an appalling summer in 2009. Sadly they were soon back. On the day they arrived the monsoons arrived too and our despondent pair returned to the allotment shed in a foul mood. The fact that we had lost one of heir ferrets didn’t help either but the last straw was the arrival of the youths given an ASBO for damaging the fences. They gave Winston Churchill salutes and using illegally aquired booze, toasted Theresa May!
In 1844, in a speech to the House of Lords, Lord Denman, then Lord Chief Justice, said that “trial by jury itself, instead of being a security to persons accused, will be a delusion, a mockery and a snare”. But we still choose to believe that juries represent true justice and choose to ignore the reality that often the verdict reached is the result of one advocate being more eloquent and persuasive than the other.
From time to time evidence suggests that jurors are lacking in self understanding, regularly wrong and, equally, often not valued. One such case hit the headlines a few days ago and surely raises yet again the question as to why we so willingly step forward to pass judgement on others. The case at issue was the Imperial Consolidated Group trial which dragged on for 150 days. A juror sent a two page letter to David Cameron to complain primarily about the unfairness of such lengthy trials on jurors. Ironically the letter was sent before Mrs Justice Gloster began her summing up which itself stretched over 11 days at Blackfriars Crown Court.
In the letter the juror raised such issues as the stress of having to sit in intense concentration for eight months (it had originally been advised that it would last for under half that time). Also mentioned was the fear of being late or becoming ill, the burden of carrying out a civic duty for so long without break and the sense of being trapped. The juror also worried about the stress on the defendants, Jared Brook and Lincoln Fraser especially as she was aware that they had already been tried by a jury which could not reach a verdict.
After the marathon endurance test, the jury aquitted the defendants of conspiracy to defraud but could not reach verdicts on three other charges of conspiracy to defraud and fraudulent trading.
The letter was forwarded from Downing Street to the minstry of Justice, which quickly passed it on to Blackfriars, where it was handed to Mrs Justice Gloster, who shared its unflattering comments with prosecution and defence counsel. The issue however was not what could be said in answer to a legitimate complaint but instead whether the juror should be discharged from the jury after sitting there for seven months. The answer seemingly was that on balance it was better not to discharge her in case it upset the other jurors. Howver no acknowledgement was made in court that those directly resposible for her ‘sentence’ knew of her protest!
At the end of June, she and the other jurors delivered their split decisions and left court none the wiser about the legal establishment’s reaction, which appears to be that the money-making show must go on. This despite warnings from the then Lord Chief Justice about the dangers and unfairness of such long trials. Long fraud cases in particular have become, via legal aid, a licence to print millions but jurors-unlike in the USA-are forbidden to speak out.
This juror was not the only one in the history of twelve good men and true to attempt protest. The media regularly reports instances of jurors so concerned about the justice of the majority verdict reached that they have contacted the defendant to offer words of comfort. As far as one can deduce fron text these were intelligent people who passionately believed that their fellow-jurors had failed to understand some key evidence or had been persuadedby a brilliant advocate.
So there would seem to be a real case for abolishing the concept of twelve supposedly independent experts on two grounds. Firstly we have the stress fcator , secondly the question of intelligence levels high enough to see beyond rhetoric. At the very least there would seem to be an overwhelming argument in favour of complex financial cases being handled by a Judge sitting alone. I recently sat in on a public hearing on a planning dispute and this influenced my view about juries.
The Judge, or Planning Inspector in this case, regularly warned the respective counsels not to waste ‘fancy words’ on him. He was an expert and the fact that they knew this made the presentations purely factual and devoid of emotion.Watching the two Barristers I could well imagine that in a jury situation one would be decidedly more influential than the other. That risk was eliminated.
My other influence came from a case that a friend sat on. It only lasted for two weeks but he was full of stories about one juror, who he claims was both lacking in cricket knowledge not to mention rather lacking in the self-awareness department, who insisted that ‘the window cleaner did it’ despite the fact that the chamois leather wielder was merely a witness as to the colour of a car. It was probably at that moment that I decided that should I be on trial for ferret-related offences I will opt for trial by Judge.
Of course the choice isn’t available so I shall refrain from putting gin in my opponent,s ferret’s water just before the big race!
AND ANOTHER THING ; Oh dear Mr Clegg, you need to check the wheelnuts! The only justification that young Nick can point to for his sinking the identity of the Lib Dems into the Conservative Praty is the granting of a referendum on AV. Alas the Labour Party has resolved to oppose the bill and a goodly number of Tories is pledged to join them, presumably encouraged by the Prime Minister’s hostility to the idea of AV. Young Nick should not look forward to the usual adulation dished out by the Lib Dem’s annual conference!
SOMETHING I LEARNED YESTERDAY! The first boxes of Black Magic chocolates were unwrapped in 1933. In the first advertising campaigns the chocolates were depicted as the ultimate token of affection. Not an easy substitute for having to go shopping lads!