THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Apollo in transit
Reflections on "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean.

Of family, friendship and being alone

You can't choose your family but if I had chosen mine I could not have done better. Post-modernists insist I am "privileged." I am, but not as they imagine. It has nothing to do with race, class, wealth or sexual orientation. Anyone brought up in a loving family under the guidance of both a mother and a father is privileged. It's no criticism of single parents doing their best in difficult circumstances to make that obvious point.

There is an obnoxious but necessary stage of a young man's life when his main focus is on asserting independence. I may have overdone the obnoxiousness in my youthful zeal to break free from my parents' hands-on care. To make things worse, they made the mistake of criticising my choice of fiancée. I responded, as any fool might have predicted, by being loyal to her. She herself (understandably) took against them in consequence.

She drew me (as she would probably have done anyway) into the circle of her own family. Again, I was lucky. That family too embraced me and my late wife's mother became a good friend. I gave her help and advice on practical matters and she was my advisor on softer ones. Her daughter had her issues and was difficult to live with. Her mum knew that better than anyone and quietly provided "after-sales" support throughout the marriage. She was also often my advocate when her daughter was inclined to focus on my faults, real and imaginary. The marriage would not have lasted thirty years without her.

When the late Mrs P died, her mum lost it, understandably. There's no greater tragedy than for a parent to bury a child. Stricken by her grief, she couldn't help me in mine. The Misses P. also needed more support than they were able (though they tried) to give. Fiercely loyal to their mother, it became clear they felt the wrong parent had died. I struggled and failed to help them as their mum would have done if our places were reversed, so perhaps they were right. I would have traded places if I could.

At that point, the nuclear family in which I grew up came back into its own. Mum and Dad never retired from their job as parents. They'd just been – as the French say of redundant employees who can't be fired because of crazy labour laws  – placardisé. Literally, placed in a cupboard. Metaphorically, shunted aside and ignored.

They helped me handle my grief as only they could. They'd known me as a small child before my face closed and I learned to dissimulate. They saw through the brave appearance my friends were keen to accept with relief. I don't blame my friends for that either. Have you ever tried to console a two-metre tall, one hundred and fifty kilo man? There's no way to hug such a beast that doesn't look and feel wrong to all concerned. 

As they become frail and elderly, my parents are still my advisors. I shall miss them when they go. I already miss the late Mrs P's mum, who died recently. The de facto new head of that family – the sister with whom the late Mrs P conducted a lifelong sibling-rivalry feud – has made it clear she sees the Misses P (and therefore me) as "other". Now her mum is gone, we're out. 

What of friends then? We can, they say, choose them. But do we? Most of us have no review process. A pleasant moment or two, often under the influence of alcohol – a shared experience or three at study, work or play and there they are. I watched grief and loss separate wheat friends from chaff friends in my dark days. In this winnowing the results were not (to me at least) predictable. In fairness, I'm not sure I'm not myself chaff. Certainly before grief and loss educated me as to the true value of friendship, I might well have steered clear of a grieving friend to whom I could offer no practical help. So, unlike Miss P the Younger, who formally fired friends who hung back when her Mum died, I am forgiving of those who just didn't know what to say.

As I have faced grief again in the last few months, it has been noticeable this time around – though friends know I consider Freud second only to Marx in evil's premier league – they're suggesting I "talk to a professional". I hear that as "don't talk to me." I have asked too much of them in the last decade and must study deserving of their friendship. It's not possible to placardiser a friend. That cupboard has no locks.

I am tired of being a burden. There's no dignity in it. So far from plotting against me, the universe no more acknowledges my existence than it does that of Meghan Markle. I mention her because I realise I have – shamefully – been adopting her approach to life's disappointments. She's an unlikely guardian angel but mine may prove to be the first life she affects positively – albeit by a powerful negative example. 

In an unguarded moment, I told my Dad the other day, "I just need a win." Whether I get one or not, I need to buck up. I had a long run of good luck and it ran out. Many only get bad luck so, on average, I am still blessed.

My frail, elderly parents are both now under the care of what their local NHS (with Northern bluntness) calls The Heart Failure Clinic. It's the same bluntness with which they brought me up, so my parents can't see why that name bothers me. I suppose I have spent too much time since I graduated from their care with the word-obsessed, over-sensitive bourgeoisie. If there's silver lining to my clouds of despair, it's that I found my way back into their lives before they ended.

Maybe that was my "win", properly viewed? Who knows? Either way, so they can leave this life contentedly and so my friends can see my name on their phone without trepidation, it's time for me finally to learn to live happily alone.


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"reject the ideas of Smith, Locke, Mill and the rest."

I don't disagree with your description of the intellectual background in the UK but often people haven't even seen these ideas, i.e. it is ignorance rather than consideration followed by rejection.

What from those classic heroes do they find most alien? (Maybe we will be lucky enough to get another full post).

The common beliefs in England have changed unbelievably even compared to 20/30 years ago. I visit france and the old shrinking villages provide a window into the past but the same intellectual change is clear in the bigger cities. The tricky question is: if not England then where - and the gain must be material to cover the cost in cultural dislocation / language / distant friends.


Thank you John. I don't plan to stop blogging, though I have lost sight of my original purpose a little. On politics, I was at best preaching to an ageing choir. I have no sense that there's any hope of classical liberal, Enlightenment views – the ideas on which our civilisation was built – ever finding their way back into the hearts and minds of my fellows in the Anglosphere. Statism is ingrained now. The Conservative Party today is well to the left of the Labour Party of my youth. My own children – who have certainly been exposed to them – reject the ideas of Smith, Locke, Mill and the rest. Nothing short of the inevitable economic collapse that will ensue is likely to change minds now. Having watched the progress of my daughters through two famous British universities with global reputations, it is absolutely clear to me that academia is so tightly under the control of Reason's enemies, that it would take a new "long march through the institutions" by Liberty-minded people to win it back. Such people are not, by their nature, the fanatical conspirators in which the Left specialises. Even if there was any sign of it beginning, I just don't see it happening in time to avoid civilisational collapse. So I am not sure there's any point in me writing about politics any more. It's just too depressing. If I can get myself back out there to do some travelling, there's scope for travelogues I suppose. I think I am getting my head straight to the extent that I can spare you all this kind of maudlin post. I certainly hope so. I am frankly astonished that any readers are prepared to stick around for them.

John Miller

I’m glad to see some real mates have pitched in with their comments.

I say this from a purely selfish point of view, I admit, but please don’t stop blogging. I’ve been reading for longer than I care to remember…

Devil’s Kitchen

I may not be one of those close friends, but I am always happy to lend an ear over a pint or two.

You know where I am…


Lord T

Life is full of ups and downs. You had a lot of ups and a good life until you hit a big down. I don't believe life balances out so you will have as many downs as ups but I do believe that you must adapt to the downs and don't hold on to them. You hold on to the ups and remember them. Human nature is such that you can remember the good times with clarity but pain fades. It is our fail safe. After so many ups in your life you just have difficulty handling the downs you are not used to. Don't let them define your future.

You know who your friends are. You know that you need to provide support to the Misses and be there for them. As far as your other family is concerned, the matriarch may consider you others but others in there may not. It depends on the time you spent on the relationships. Unfortunately, blokes like us leave that part to the wimmin so you may not have it. If so, that isn't a down, that is just your relationship which you didn't invest in paying out what you invested. This is why old men tend to be on their own while wimmen have a circle to go around with for decades.

Focus on your family. They are the only things that you leave behind. Then focus on your friends, built up new ones and most importantly adapt. You have adapted all your life. It may be a big adaptation but it is no different from adapting when you got married, had kids, changed jobs, etc. They all needed changes made which you did.

Good luck. You know where I am if I can do anything for you.


Takes a long time to come to terms with losses that shouldn't, and you pray never do, happen.

They say time is a healer, and yes finally i don't cringe into a despairing weeping heap when i see the way my son's life ended repeated in a film, 20 years later.

Friends, even family don't know how to react to you, it's not their fault, they don't want to cause you even more grief, there's no grief handbook applies to everyone.

All i did with a colleague after the death of his wife was to offer an ear, a friend to talk to at any time whom wild horses couldn't get to break discretion, still don't know if i did right or wrong, he hasn't taken me up on it.

One day at a time does it.


Glad you felt you could share this. Endure, life has a way of surprising.

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