The Agony


So where have I been since October last year? Well, obviously I’ve been right here in Exmouth and I’ve been quite busy; but I don’t particularly feel like telling the world at large what I’ve been up to.

I don’t usually go in for political commentary here, because usually everything that can be said has been said on the internet before I find out about it, but occasionally I read something utterly vulgar and depressing and I think it worthy of a punt.

The most obvious thing to deplore is what has upset the Daily Fascist, which is a paper that people read in order to be outraged. The protest during yesterday’s Armistice Day silence was vulgar, tasteless and calculated to be as offensive and nasty as possible, and it clearly succeeded in being all of those things. What it did for the plight of Muslims throughout the world is far more debatable, but somehow I doubt that was ever the point. The aim of the protesters was to become instant hate figures, and hopefully to provoke some violence from the police or members of the public. That this failed to happen is clearly not due to the forbearance of the Great British Public, which is predictably violently angry about the whole affair, but somehow I wish it were. I wish that everybody had commented on how childish it is to pour scorn on a solemn national ceremony in the hope of starting a fight; how laughable and pathetic it is to seek martyrdom when the people you want to kill you are paying more attention to what happened on The Apprentice last night than to you or your religion; or that someone who takes Armistice Day as a celebration of British military power has completely failed to understand the ceremony and is therefore an idiot.

Sadly, that is not how the people of Britain have responded. Some have set up hate campaigns against British Islam; others have simply called for the deportation of those who engage in these ridiculous publicity stunts, demanded their arrest and criticised the police for protecting them from the violence they intended to provoke. The people of Britain are in this respect failing to understand their enemy, and therefore failing to hurt him effectively; and I think that we could learn something about that from our grandparents.

The enemy in this case is the religious extremist. He has absolutely no sense of humour, takes himself very seriously, is utterly convinced that he is right and believes anything he does for the good of his religion as he sees it to be justified. He will do anything to be heard and cannot abide any attempt to argue with him; but what really hurts him is one of two things: either to be ridiculed or to be ignored. The religious extremist has a lot in common with the political extremist, and back in the ‘forties Britain had to deal with political extremists who had managed to take over a country and were therefore far more of a threat to us than a lot of cretinous hillbillies with stupid placards. Yet even while bombs were falling on British cities and the enemy was trying his hardest to break civilian morale, the civilian population was defying him with two very simple weapons: the ‘business as usual’ sign and the lampoon. People laughed about Hitler; they laughed about how fat Goering was, and what a skinny runt Goebbels looked; about Hitler’s ridiculous fringe, or how his moustache made him look like Charlie Chaplin. They refused to be afraid of their enemy and turned him instead into a figure of ridicule. They then proceeded to try as much as possible to live their lives normally, because that defies an enemy who wants to break public morale, but mainly because the only other thing to do was to give up completely.

In this respect, the Metropolitan Police have done exactly the right thing. They have denied the enemy the martyrdom he craves and instead given him the opportunity to state his case in such a way that nobody will ever agree with him who was not already a rabid supporter. They have given him enough rope to hang himself, but have prevented Britain from perpetrating a lynching, while the only people who have been dishonoured or sullied by yesterday’s vulgar display are those who perpetrated it. We have been protected from being dragged into the gutter of unreasoning violence that extremists of all stamps inhabit while demonstrating that we really believe in free speech, and we will not be the losers by that. We would do well to remember that the moment when British fascism ceased to be a realistic political movement was not at the Cable Street riot, but at Oswald Moseley’s most triumphant rally at Olympia, where the extremists had free rein to expose their moral bankruptcy to the full glare of public scrutiny.

If we must pay attention to the nutters, then, I would like it to be in the form of comedy. Perhaps their protest could be overdubbed with dialogue from Yes, Minister, or re-cut so that they appear to be dancing to the Birdie Song. I’d like to see the placards Photoshopped so that they say ‘Sorry about the bag; didn’t have time to shave’ or ‘Danish Bacon is great’. I want to see people laughing at the enemy, because it will hurt him; and I think he deserves to be hurt.

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It seems that a lot of people are posting songs that they like on a Monday. Since I don’t really know many songs that you don’t know already, and since bandwagons are anathema to me, I’m not inclined to follow suit. I am inclined, however, to mark the beginning of the week by posting some artistic works that are occupying my mind. This is the rationale behind the collection of arbitrarily selected verse that will form my communiqué for today.

First up is a poem about unwillingly learning the finer points of handling firearms. This is one of the pieces in The Terrible Rain, and I think it speaks for itself.

Naming of Parts

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,

For today we have naming of parts.

Henry Reed

Continuing the Second World War theme, a poem about pilots drinking in pubs, which also takes a look beneath the desperate revelry. This has all of the ingredients for the perfect poem, and I’m surprised that I don’t number it among my favourites.

In the Local

You see them in the “Local” anywhere
In town or country near a fighter station
In flying boots and scarves – their ruffled hair
Like schoolboys out for a jolly celebration:
Eight in a car for four had raced along
And miracles were wrought to bring them here.
To pass an hour with banter, darts and song
And drink a pint or two of English beer,
And talk of “binds” and “dims” with lots of natter
Of “ropey jobs” and “wizard types” and “gen”
Amid much laughter glasses chink and clatter.
Deep underneath was hid the real men,
Who saw their comrades fall out of the skies,
And knew too well the look in dead men’s eyes.

W.A.G. Kemp

Departing from war, we have William Cowper on insanity. This is the final stanza of the poem, and my favourite part of it. The last two lines are perfect. I think of them often.

Him the vindictive rod of angry Justice
Sent quick and howling to the centre headlong;
I, fed with judgment, in a fleshy tomb am
Buried above ground.

To conclude, I think something short is in order. They don’t come much shorter than Matthew Prior’s The Lady who offers her Looking-glass to Venus. None of us are what we were, and the lady in question is undeniably a fool, but I do like the grand gesture of forswearing mirrors. If only vanity were as easy to cast aside as a looking-glass.

Venus, take my votive glass:
Since I am not what I was,
What from this day I shall be,
Venus, let me never see.

I shall leave you with another of my periodic quotations. This one is taken from the of The Oxford Library of Words and Phrases that I acquired recently.

Quod enim mavult homo verum esse, id potius credit.

For what a man would like to be true, that he more readily believes.

Francis Bacon