Saturday, June 30, 2007

Enthusiasm and Brains

A week is a long time in politics, so the old saying goes. Sadly, it is some time now since this dictum has been akin to saying a Ford is a fast car. We have speeded up so much that a mouse click is the only suitable micro-measurement for catastrophe.

But this week has been a long time coming, and it seems a long time since Monday already. Tony Blair ended his numerous encores, and took a final bow in the Commons on Wednesday. Gordon Brown ended ten years of nail-biting impatience by moving into the prime ministerial hot seat. And, within forty-eight hours, a plot to welcome the new cabinet with two large nail bombs planted in central London was mercifully averted. This time.

But as Blair is carried towards the Middle East on the froth of popularity, and Brown drifts into Downing Street on a tide of Protestant work-ethic, I’m struck by how perfectly they represent the Gog and Ma-Gog of reform.

The revolutionary of the sixties was the angry young man. Now, of course, anger is a strictly unfashionable passion; the in-thing is earnestness. Tony Blair paved his reforms with the dubious hardcore of good intentions, promising to clean up the nasty little mess left behind by the corrupt Tories. That is why, after exempting Formula 1 from the cigarette advertising ban - at the request of Labour Party donor, Bernie Eccleston, Formula 1 Mogul and millionaire - Blair had to assure us all he was a ‘straight kinda guy’. Oh, well that’s alright then. We baulk at twisted Tory politicians who try to trick us, but straight-kinda-guy Labour politicians can deceive us with our blessing. He was the ‘people’s prime minister’ because he meant well. He stood alongside President Bush in his war on terror and really truly, madly, deeply believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which could be delivered to the West on scooter in 45 minutes. Oh, and by the way, if hundreds of people die in Iraq every day, we must remember that Saddam has been removed from power. Freedom to be blown up: just like in London. By June 2007, Britain might have been flooded with Tony’s good wishes were it not already flooded with unseasonably high precipitation. His latest mission as Middle East envoy approaches Roy-of-the-Rovers levels of fantasy self-fulfilment. Appointing Tony as a Middle East envoy is a bit like having Sid Vicious as a school learning assistant. Perhaps - let's face it - that is what is wanted by those who have appointed him: I mean, if Good Envoy Tone cannot solve the problems of the Middle East, only war can. How else can we understand such a spectacularly obtuse choice of envoy? I'm sure it's done with good intentions. In any case, Tony’s enthusiasm is like having his political ballies up; nobody can touch him. Let’s hope none of those nail bombers try.

And now for Gordon (queue morose bagpipes) who arrives in what I assume is a Brownian motion, with all the puffiness of a heavily constipated pig and a reputation for elephantine intelligence and porcupine sensitivity. His mantra, as he stood before No.10 on Wednesday was, ‘change, change, change’. Note the chicanery. Ten years of Labour government have put them alongside the Greeks in their contribution to civilization. But we now need change, change, change. Why? Because that is how a massive bureaucracy justifies itself, with ever greater rationalization, even if it makes the appropriate genuflexions towards decentralization. But Brown wants technocracy too; he can ignore the people if their leaders are clever and brilliant … like Gordon himself. Blair belaboured us with his unrelenting goody-two-shoes enthusiasm; Brown will overwhelm us with his illumined, startling braininess. ‘Brilliant intellect’ is one of the de rigueur phrases to be included in all Brown profiles. Blair’s intentions were so good, nobody sound could disagree with them. Brown’s plans will be so clever, nobody sound will be able to naysay them.

So, here we have them, the Gog and Ma-Gog of reform: Blair the demagogue (now, perhaps the oligogue) and Brown the technocrat. Blair means death by enthusiasm. Brown means death by petrifaction.

And this is what freedom means: choosing how you will die. Just ask the people in Iraq.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rain, rain, go away!

I don't know if this is the end of civilization as we know it, or weather, oops, whether we are all just forgetting how bad an English summer can really be. But, Lord love a duck, nobody can deny that today was the worst summer day ever recorded in terms of rain fall.

I can corroborate this in no uncertain terms. Leaving Fareham at 1.30pm, I fully expected to be back in Manchester and diving into a meat stew and a glass of Shiraz at 7.15pm or thereabouts. Instead of which I was met with a cancelled train at Reading, then shunted onto a train which claimed to be going to Manchester but which only went as near as Warrington. Yours truly was duly stranded until nearly 8.30pm in what can only be described as one of the bleakest outposts of the North West. There was, it seemed, some shades of a reasonable excuse. Vast stretches of the Midlands were under quantities of water unheard of since the days of Noah. But it was no use saying 'I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine' since the crowded conditions on the Virgin Voyager - vergin' on the ridiculous, as we say - made it virtually impossible to get near the buffet for liquid refreshments.

((Shudder))! Anyway, I'm back in Manchester and trying to put some sense into an eventful weekend. Expect an update with more cogitations tomorrow.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Cheeky correspondents

A point of order, Mr Speaker, we'll have no cheeky messages please in the comments feature without the means of sending a bit of cheek back in your direction. Richard, who posted on 15 June, please take note!

Service has been resumed

Both of you might have been wondering what has happened to Chesteretté these past few weeks. Of course, neither of you might have been wondering that at all. Theburunderthesaddle might, for all I know, have been like a virtual frontier town, the wind whistling through the old posts, cyber tumbleweeds grouping for protection around my profile description, and somewhere in the distance the sound of a harmonica wheezing out a haunting chorus of Dixie.

But, I can assure you that nothing but the most pressing of responsibilities prevented me from frittering away another few hours of my life on blogspot. Indeed, it was nothing less than the preparation for my doctoral viva ...

... oh yes, the doctoral viva. Hours, days, weeks of feverish and often ineffectual preparation were distilled down to about seventy of the sweatiest minutes I'm likely to endure this side of the Equator during which the two examiners sat themselves just far enough apart for me to feel threatened AND surrounded.

But in the end ... I passed with 'a minor' which means I have to make a few changes to the text and have the thesis rebound before it is finally accepted. My external examiner has suggested one or two interesting pistes I should explore for publication, though I shall not mention them here. I discovered in our discussions that he has himself just secured a contract with Continuum for a book about the English Catholic literary revival (now where did he get that idea from? From his wife, he told me!). (See: That'll teach me to keep my big mouth shut!

Anyway, I passed. Ta daaaa!

So, it's done (more or less) and my first real holiday for about four years can begin once I've handed in my corrections.

It's still the calm after the storm at the moment. I retired to family near Basingstoke on the day and shortly afterwards headed back to Manchester where I was greeted by a victory parade in my honour around Albert Square.

As you can see, Manchester, 'the rainy city', lived up to its name on the day.
And so here I am, back in the bosom of the old Alma civitas, tapping my fingers with impatience and wondering what to do with myself. Role on the next doctorate (and you can take a running jump if you think I'm going to reveal what its about!).