Friday, 20 January 2017

Trump, Trump, Trump...

Brexiteers continue the civil war that's been going on ever since former Prime Minister David Cameron announced the unbelievable news that UK voters would actually have a referendum on membership of the European Union.

Mr Cameron's successor, Theresa May, set the warring factions against each other again this week - intentionally or otherwise - by making a speech at London's Lancaster House in which she declared that Britain would be leaving the EU single market, at some time, in some way. Lancaster House was the place where Margaret Thatcher declared emphatically that membership of the single market was a really good thing. She may even have believed that, for a while.

While some Brexiteers like Nigel Farage cheer on Mrs May and, with Donald Trump as President of the United States, look forward to another Thatcher-Reagan era, others, some of whom publicly welcomed her as the best possible successor to David Cameron, are now prophecing catastrophe. Is it a car crash? No. Is it a train wreck? No. Is it a Jumbo Jet explosion? Almost certainly. What, then, does that make President Trump? Why, a nuclear holocaust of course. According to Polly Toynbee at least.

So, Brexit doesn't mean Brexit after all: it means Exit. The main thing that struck me about Mrs May's speech, though, was the outfit in which she chose to make it. The blue-green tartan bum-freezer jacket and matching trousers, hitched high round her middle, instantly reminded me of the Bay City Rollers, the 'tartan teen sensations' from Edinburgh whose biggest hit in the 1970s was Bye Bye Baby. The main difference between Mrs May and Les McKeown and the boys was that she wore flat shoes rather than boots with big heels.

Forty-odd years ago, while young Fionas, Daphnes and Theresas were leaping up and down with tartan scarves tied to their wrists, the man with a nose like a ship's rudder, Edward Heath, was tying Britain up to the European Economic Community, as it was then designated, assuring the nation that 'twas but a trading agreement, a market of six sovereign states. Thirty years later Uncle Ted superciliously admitted to BBC television reporter Michael Cockerall that it was in fact a political union.

No it wasn't. The 1972 European Communities Act was a web and sitting in the middle of it was the European Commission, spinning out ever more sticky strands to bind more and more member states together. The six became 28 or 27 plus 1. More nations need even more sticky rules, regulations, directives, thousands and thousands of them, many of them from international conglomerates a long way from Brussels. A great sticky ball of rules and regs larger than the Gordian Knot that Alexander the Great is said to have loosened with a single blow of his sword.

Is that what Theresa May has at the back of her mind, a single low to slice through thousands of strands of sticky red tape? Is that what President Trump has in mind as outlined in his inaugural speech attack on Washington's governing elite? - the talkers who do nothing but prosper while swathes of America turn into rusting tombstones. An unlikely image if you think about it, but President Trump is more a man of phrases than images. "The American carnage," was the phrase he used to describe the white collar crimes against America's blue collar industries.

Because I am easily distracted by trivialities, phrases from a popular song from the 1950s pinged into my mind before President Trump's big show in Washington. It goes:-

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk

And said goodbye to the circus
Off she went with a trumpety-trump
Trump, trump, trump
Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
And trundled back to the jungle
Off she went with a trumpety-trump
Trump, trump, trump

Nellie ended up on the road to Mandalay. Donald Trump unpacked his trunk in Washington, specifically at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I imagine him, the fuss of the great day over, taking off his trousers in the master bedroom, a day after ex-President Obama had put his on in the same room, perhaps, and turning to the First Lady, saying: "Melania honey, did you ever hear of the Bay City Rollers?" Chances are, of course, that Trump's pants could be tartan in honour of his mother's Scottish connection.

In response to all the Apocalypso Now doom-mongers, the time has come to echo that world-weary voice responding to the hapless J Alfred Prufrock in T S Eliot's poem and repeat:-

That is not it at all/ That is not what I meant, at all.

While it may be a mistake to impose the pattern of the past on the future, seeing in May-Trump another Thatcher-Reagan, I well recall that 1980 to about 1987 was a time of trouble, turbulence and fear, from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan. America was in retreat while the clunky Soviet Union was on the advance. Few foresaw in the mid-1980s the way things would work out by November 9, 1989 - the day when the German Democratic Republic accidentally abolished the Berlin Wall.

Perhaps it's not the great set-piece policy statements in London and Washington that make the real difference, except to the money changers, so much as unforeseen events along the way.   

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Bow Wow Factor

Some people are apt to get really boring about the misuse of words and phrases on radio, television and in the press. I'm one myself. I can't watch or listen passively. The frequent misuse of 'iconic', 'awesome', 'fantastic' and lately 'wow' is yet another indicator, to me at least, of the way the public is being treated like a regressive infant.

Only the testy old Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge appears to have any expectation of audience intelligence or at least a ready willingness to understand. But I don't suppose many would think of judging the nation by the standards applied to University Challenge, more like Gogglebox.

The willingess to use ready-made words and phrases as unthinking expressions of surprise, shock, incredulity or amazement exists against a soundtrack of Munchkin muzak in supermarkets, gyms, cafes and other public places. So no surprise that at a time of emotional cliches in popular music, invariably about love, the tendency to talk in cliches, like, is bound to be more noticeable. That doesn't make it any more tolerable, though.

I've just watched a programme on BBC2 about home make-overs in which amateur designers are given £1,000 and a bit of help to change a room in a house in the space of 48 hours. In every instance, two of the three judges inspecting the make-overs uttered 'Wow' as they walked into the room. Not a short, to the point, 'wow' but a lingering 'wo-o-ow', as though Greg Wallace had fed the entire prodution team of Master Chef with five loaves and two fishes. When God surveyed the created universe you may be sure he did not say 'wow, 'awesome', 'fantastic' lor even, 'wow, thar's iconic.'

I have a family relative who, last time I saw her, had a really annoying way of using the expression 'okay'. In response to virtually any new piece of information she replied, 'okaaaay?' interogatively, as though what you had told her was subject to some kind of commission of inquiry for validation. This is the same as saying 'right?' That little qualifier so common in conversation nowadays which indicates that the person using it is checking constantly that you are following his or her drift. Usually the subject is not at all difficult to follow, just bloody tedious, right?

Listen dog, next time you talk to me leave your wows in the kennel where they belong. Likewise awesome, fantastic and iconic. Either find a way of expressing what you think or feel or, if you feel and think nothing worth saying, then keep your mouth shut. Nod instead or shake your head.