THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

History's greatest tweet?

At first I only used it to publish links to posts here. As the blogosphere faded and Twitter became the online forum of choice, I made the foolish error of being drawn in. Sadly (and more sadly not because of my participation) it has now become so influential that decisions on who may not use it are believed to influence elections in the great democracies of the West. Our legislators seem to care more what is said of them in this disorderly online bar-room than in the homes of their constituents. If MPs are not careful to the point of paranoia what they say there, they are in danger of being metaphorically hauled from their carriages by the cyber-mob.

Perhaps I am just nostalgic for more leisured discussions during the brief heyday of blogging? An unkind comment I once made back then about the "tabloid" style of fellow-bloggers seems naive now. Snappy as their writing was, they were Dickens compared to the ranters of Twitter. They were also delightfully tolerant of difference compared to the cyber-Stasi now howling for the suppression of all contrary thought.

I told a friend yesterday that I was a failure because no-one had even called for my Twitter account to be cancelled. This, despite my "inappropriate" views and my ethnic "original sin" ("white privilege" as its high priests call it). I just don't have enough readers for Emperor Jack's praetorian guard to fear me. My "wrong think" is too ponderous and polite for any single tweet to go viral from a base of a thousand followers.

A tweet is just the right length for a put-down or a sneer. At best it has room for a slogan. Few have the skill (I certainly don't) to attempt advocacy, diplomacy or that forgotten key skill of public discourse – persuasion – under its constraints. Even those geniuses of verbal economy who wrote the American Declaration of Independence or my blogging muse Thomas Paine (historically unrivalled in the political influence of his carefully-weighed words) could not have refined their best poetry into its nasty little haikus.

I have been trying to think what great Enlightenment wisdom could be expressed in a tweet. None of my choices are as powerful as the most successful (and destructive) "tweet" of all time;

"From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."

How many lives have those few words destroyed? How much human progress has been prevented by its meretricious appeal to the untutored mind? At the age of 16 it had me in its whoreish clutches and I was lucky to escape. Young Jeremy Corbyn never did, poor soul. 

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Old Tom, original and best, could have tweeted;

"Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."

He would never have wanted to pass on his thoughts in bite-sized form though. He would have hated not having the opportunity to place them in historical context, to develop his arguments and, vitally, to consider how they might be wrong. His friend Jefferson, a Welshman with our love of words, but blessed with more literary skill than morality, could have tweeted that; 

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. it is its natural manure."

However the best historical "tweet" I can come up with is from Montesquieu;

"If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary not to make a law."

Gentle readers, what would you suggest as history's greatest "tweet?"


Lost for words

I hope you had a pleasant Christmas and that it's not too late to wish you a happy new year. I hardly feel able to call myself a blogger now, given how infrequently I post. I blogged because I thought it better to light a candle than curse the darkness, but public support for our state's response to COVID-19 now seems to suggest modern Britons love the dark. 

It's hard to know what to write of the present situation. In a democracy no wise elector expects perfectly-right choices. We try to select the least bad of those on offer but what are we to do, say or think when government is wrong and opposition only demands it should be more so?

I confidently believe that historians will one day bracket the story of COVID-19 with those of the South Sea Bubble, the Salem Witch trials, and Tulip Mania. That's not to say the virus is not real or serious. It is. There was a South Sea Company. There was a trade in tulips. There may even have been witches in Salem. It's not the fact of the virus that I dispute but the validity, efficacy and morality of our response to it.

We are now many months into the "two weeks to save the NHS" in Britain and still that powder puff of a hulking institution is not safe. Not, at least, according to the rent-seekers who live upon it or the political types for whom it is the most sacred of all cows. It's certainly not safe for its customers. Many of those who caught the virus did so in its hallowed halls or in the care homes to which its angels of death despatched them for said angels' convenience and/or protection. In a classic example of Bastiat's notion of the error of focussing on the seen versus the unseen, our entire funded-by-state-force medical system is concentrating (with a remarkable lack of success even by its own low standards) on one virus while paying the least possible attention to all other ills.

I must move in unusual circles. Only one couple in my group of contemporaries is in the "lock us up, we're scared" camp to which opinion polls suggest most Britons belong. My other friends and family my age and older agree with me. None of us think there's a conspiracy. None of us deny the virus is real and dangerous. None of us question the need for a public health policy response to COVID-19. But all of us agree that the British Establishment is drunk with power and gleefully revelling in its unconstrained exercise. All of us agree that terrible damage is being done, not to some abstraction called "the Economy", but to the life expectancy of cancer, heart disease and other patients, to the livelihoods and future employment prospects of business-people and their employees, to children's education, to the mental health of people (and especially young people) denied healthy social outlets, and to the liberties of us all. All of us agree that the legions of the state are using this epidemic to bolster their power, increase their funding (and their numbers) and in many cases to enjoy even more well-paid leisure than usual; to make sinecures of jobs that were scarcely onerous to begin with.

I have tried to follow my own advice to my elders frustrated by this situation. "You are not in charge here. These mistakes are not yours. Focus on the joys you still have and remember that you're well-off compared to people really suffering. Read a good book. Read some poetry. Phone a friend. This too will pass." It's good advice because if I think about the political situation, I tend to despair. I am saddened that the liberties I praised and defended were so chimerical. At the first plausible pretext, the men of power suspended them so comprehensively that it seems they never existed. They were mere indulgences permitted to us by our masters rather than (as I had always thought) our inalienable rights as humans.

The man whose name I hubristically usurped as my nom de blog spoke of "the times that try mens' souls" to rouse his contemporaries to action. So faint a shadow am I that I am close to admitting my own soul has been tried and found wanting. The best encouragement I can offer is this. When the truth emerges, as it must, and the consequences of policy responses to this pandemic become apparent to the meanest of intellects, there will be the best opportunity in modern history to expose both the evil effects of statism and the wicked, self-serving natures of many within the state apparatus.

Keep your powder dry, fellow-citizens, and repeat under your breath Tom's wish that “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Let's strive to ensure that the gross misconduct of our authorities finally reveals to our young people (so sadly indoctrinated to the contrary by state-funded teachers and Marxist academics) Tom's truth that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”


Day 6 on the Thames Path: Tower Bridge to Canary Wharf – Mission accomplished

Rather than give up on my exercise regime during Lockdown #2 (a mistake I made during Lockdown #1), I resolved to walk the Thames Path in sections from Hampton Court to Canary Wharf. Walking is less efficient as exercise than swimming. According to my tracker, today's walk burned only the calories I would usually expend in swimming for an hour. In fairness, I have done better than that on other, longer sections – but all the walks took more time too. I have never enjoyed physical exercise. I only do it as medicine. Walking costs too much for my taste.

Work on the Tideway (aka the "Super Sewer") and the presumably-furloughed employees who usually open the gates through Docklands housing developments subject to daylight hours rights of way, meant I spent too much time out of sight of the river. Today this was often just a Thames-proximate Path. On a couple of occasions I took the opportunity to go down alleyways that led to a river view, only to have to come back to Wapping High Street, or wherever, to resume my non-riparian stroll. 

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I was surprised by how smart Wapping is. Huge amounts of money have clearly poured in since the days when locals bemoaned the closing of the docks post-containerisation. There are elegant wharf and warehouse conversions; some of them by Housing Associations so not (intentionally) occupied by the wealthy. Even the social housing (always detectable by the state of the balconies, even though the cars outside – often Jags and Mercs these days – are no longer a reliable signal) seemed mostly very pleasant. Rather than an area of deprivation, it looked (after considerable redistribution of wealth, presumably) a very agreeable community to live in. It's nice to know someone's enjoying the proceeds of my lifetime of work, I suppose.

I spent some of the most fun times of my life working on the negotiation of lease for a major initial tenant in One Canada Square (the Canary Wharf Tower). The banks who financed the development had committed to lease there themselves, provided x,000 square feet was let to other banks by a deadline. I suppose they wanted to make their borrower prove that the Wharf would work as an extension of the City of London. Our client was a bank and its lease hit that limit – as it turned out – in the last hour before the deadline. Our client's negotiator didn't know the details, but had sensed that something was up. He procrastinated to get us as close as possible to the deadline to maximise his negotiating advantage. Such was the landlord's desperation in the end that our lease was ridiculously favourable. I had a lot of fun devising imaginative, plausible (but impossible) demands to help him delay. 

Passersby may have thought I was appreciating the architecture when the sight of that building made me smile today, but in truth I was remembering the only time I was paid to take the p*** for months. I know some of you think that's what lawyers always do,  but I promise you that was the only time for me!

My health club opens next Wednesday and I have two swims booked, b.v.*, already. So my walking days are (I hope) over. I can't say I have enjoyed the activity itself, but I have enjoyed getting a sense of the shape of London. I had been to many of the places before, but had not fully understood where they were in relation to each other. Walking through a city will fix that for sure. In fairness to walking, you can combine it with photography – and you can get to see new things worth photographing. Swimming's no good from that point of view. Still, I shall be going back to it – and motoring to my photoshoots!

The photos from the final day are here. I hope you enjoy them. 

*Boris volenti.


Day 5 on the Thames Path: Vauxhall Bridge to Tower Bridge

This is one of the shortest sections of my planned walk, but richest in photo-opportunities. From the MI6 Building to the Houses of Parliament, Lambeth Palace, the more famous bridges, City Hall and (more poignant to me) the various buildings I worked on when I was a young property lawyer.

My then firm was neither one of the genteel Inns operations handling aristocratic estates nor one of the corporate City outfits where "dirt lawyers" are looked down on. Our reputation was on the aggressive side (snobs were known to call us "spivs") but I believe it was the best place to learn the ways of the racy, exciting real estate business that is still (even after almost a decade of retirement) the world where I feel most comfortable. It was my experience at that firm that made me feel far more a real estate person than a lawyer.

I wouldn't bore you with the details of old deals even if professional ethics permitted, but I remembered them fondly today in all their long-forgotten details. There is one building featured in today's photographs which has such complicated subterranean boundaries that I'd bet I am still the only person who fully understands them. I remember the reaction of HM Land Registry when I suggested to them that they could only be properly represented by a hologram.

There's a life lesson that I reflected on today though in how little all those things we agonised and fought about matter now. I missed key moments of my daughters' lives to deal with issues the people fighting over them have long forgotten. I hope my daughters are wiser than I was when their time comes.

The walk barely needs describing. The most casual visitor to London will recognise most of the landmarks featured so the captions to the photographs will suffice. If you can't name a prominently-featured building, then I took a fee for legal advice in relation to it!  The photographs are to be found here and I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed making them.


Day 4 on the Thames Path - Putney Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge

I took a couple of days to let my damaged feet heal. Then I took another couple because Mrs P the II and I embarked upon a project at home that provided plenty of exercise! Today we took to the path again, this time on the North Bank. Returning to Putney Bridge we set off on the least riparian day of the walk to date, as building works, the Hurlingham Club and other obstacles (such as the construction of the new Thames Super Sewer) kept us from the banks of OFT. We were no longer in the countryside. This was real London.

The weather was perfect – cold, mostly sunny and dry – and we made reasonable progress. I thought I would end up with fewer photographs today because the residential streets of even the pricier bits of London don't appeal to me visually when they are (as at present) lacking in human interest. The proper study of Mankind is Man and (though my career was in real estate) I find people generally more interesting than buildings. London's streets normally teem with "characters" but at present they're still eerily quiet – by London standards. I grant you they still "teem" by the standards of rural North Wales, where I grew up. Yet I ended up with more images than on previous days. 

We made it to our destination, from where I plan to resume the walk on Friday. Today's pictures are here for those among you, gentle readers, who care to see them. The only portrait in the set is of me, windswept and interesting at best, and (to tell the truth) rather tired at the time. Image © Mrs P the II.


Day 3 on the Thames Path: Kew Bridge to Putney Bridge

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Kew Bridge is close to home. I crossed the bridge to the steps I ascended, exhausted, at the end of Monday’s walk and set off. I’ve spent a lot of time on this section of the Thames near my home in Chiswick, but never on the opposite bank.

The guide book I’m using to plan my days says:

This is one of the greenest and most beautiful lengths of the Thames Path, with no irritating diversions. Just after Kew Bridge the path passes Kew Pier, from which boats depart for Richmond, Hampton Court and Westminster. The following stretch is pleasantly countrified, along an unmade track with trees and flowering bushes on both sides, which at points join up to form a canopy overhead.

I passed Mortlake and the local cemetery where it’s likely my earthly form will one day be incinerated, and walked on to Barnes, where the cultural references include blue plaques for the founder of the Royal Ballet and Gustav Holst plus a Stormtrooper from Star Wars on some local’s balcony. 

I ate my sandwich lunch, prepared by Mrs P2, on a bench outside St Paul’s School. A Remembrance Day service was in progress, ending with The Last Post. I’d been feeling footsore and sorry for myself but this reminded me of what a real problem was and inspired me to take on the final march for the day.

After Hammersmith Bridge (closed for emergency repairs to the great inconvenience of locals) I passed the London Wetland Centre and had the chance to see progress on the new stand replacing the one where my seat used to be at Craven Cottage. Having been excluded from my football home by our COVID tyrants it was quite nostalgic to see the place. From there it was not far to my destination and the bus home from a stop on the middle of the bridge. 

Today’s pictures are here


Day 2 on the Thames Path

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I was quite proud of yesterday’s effort but before I could blog about it received an email of encouragement from a long-time reader who told me he’d had a similar idea for lockdown and had walked the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Winchester. That’s eighty-four miles and he did it — not in twelve days as I plan to do mine — but in five! His last day of walking was twenty-nine miles. I feel embarrassed now to describe my paltry stroll, but can only say well done, sir! 

I returned to Teddington Lock, where I finished on Friday, and set off on the sylvan South Bank path. I hoped to make it to Kew Bridge but decided to get to Richmond first and see how I felt. Rain was predicted but didn’t arrive. At Richmond it just didn’t seem like enough of an effort so I pressed on thinking I would stop when I’d had enough. The path had no earlier options to end, however, as it ran alongside Kew Gardens. I’m a member there and could have cut across — if there was an entrance on that side. There isn’t, or at least not until half a mile from the end. Exhausted I sat on a wall and ate my sandwich then pressed on. It was seven and a half miles and (while fit readers may snigger) it was almost beyond me. By the time I got home having taken a bus from Kew Bridge Station, my total for the day including to and from Overground Station and bus stop was eight and a half miles. 

My photos are to be seen here if you’re interested. Even through gritted teeth I found the route beautiful in Autumn colours. 


Thames Path Day #1

Thames Walk 1
During the last lockdown, I gained four kilos. After my heroic efforts losing forty kilos in 2018, I wasn't happy about that. As soon as my health club reopened I stepped up my exercise programme to three hours swimming per week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and got my weight back down. I don't enjoy a second of it. Exercise is medicine. I hate it, but I hate more the consequences of NOT doing it. 

My heart sank when our tyrannical government announced lockdown #2 and my health club emailed to say it would close on Wednesday evening. I had my last swim on Wednesday morning and resolved that I must replace it with something rather than just allow my health to deteriorate. I was a transactional lawyer and respond well to a project, deadlines and goals. So I reasoned that, rather than just walk around the neighbourhood every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I should set myself some objectives. I decided to walk The Thames Path from Hampton Court Palace to Canary Wharf. If I walk on the three days I usually swim, taking the bus or Tube home at the end of each section (and returning there on the next planned day to continue) I reckon I can achieve that during the current lockdown.

At my age, I know my own psychology well (self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, they say) and so I announced my intentions on my personal Facebook page. I am now ego-involved. My friends will mock me mercilessly if I fail. This ensures I can't backslide.

This would have been illegal during Lockdown #1. The rules forbade travelling to places for exercise. This time however we can exercise as often and for as long as we want as long as we observe social-distancing, only do it with people in our household (plus one other) and observe the rule of six, social-distancing and wear masks when required. 

Today Mrs P the Second and I walked from Hampton Court to Teddington, stopping for a packed lunch in a park in Kingston-on-Thames. A good friend lives in Teddington so we had a socially-distanced outdoor chat with him at our destination before heading  home by bus and Overground.

The picture above is of the beginning of the walk, looking up the river from the bridge at Hampton Court. All the pictures from today are here. As the tyrannical response to COVID19 has prevented me from making (and blogging about) my usual motorised excursions around Europe, this pedestrian trip is all I can offer.  


My political journey

I grew up around clandestine Conservatives behind Labour lines in the North. The North-East of Wales to be precise, but the border was in sight and our TV came from Manchester. My family were old-fashioned Tories; God, Queen, Country and leave business alone (except when it’s foreign and shouldn’t be allowed). I was forbidden coca-cola because there was nothing wrong with dandelion and burdock. My family were mostly that kind of provincial c(C)conservative. 

Apart, that is, from an eccentric great aunt who had been Labour all her life. In 1946 she had voted for her brothers’ transport company to be expropriated. Of course she used the euphemism “nationalised” but she knew - and relished - what it meant. She used to say such endearing things to studious young Tom as “children educated by the state should never be allowed to leave the country - you owe us and should stay to pay your debt.” She was against private education too, so rather insisted on this imprisoning debt. I think the imprisonment was part of the appeal to her controlling nature. Unlike the rest of our family of tradesmen, shopkeepers and truck drivers, she worked as a civil servant and looked down on us money grubbers scornfully even as she grubbed our money.

She was a terrible advocate for her party; far too openly authoritarian and far too liable to speak of the masses as cattle. She was a snob too. Even as a Socialist young man, I thought her ideology sprang more from contempt for the masses, than from love. They had to be helped, poor dears, because they were so obviously bloody hopeless. How lucky they were to have her. Recognise the type? It's not new.

My teachers were more effective recruiters. Of all those who taught me from the age of 4 until I left University at 21, I think only two were Conservative. I can’t even be sure about the first one - a French teacher at secondary school - as it was scarcely a safe admission to make so far inside the Labour heartlesslands. There was just something about her demeanour that suggested it. As for the second one, he was an eccentric homosexual law lecturer; about 500 in gay years. He tucked his shirt into his underpants and pulled them up above his trousers. He was in advance of hip hop fashions, perhaps, but the overall effect, when combined with a tendency actually to drool in the presence of attractive male students, was off-putting. Perhaps he was a double agent making Conservatism as unattractive as possible? He said sensible stuff about the Berlin Wall at Debating Society though - to jeers from Leftist students. After the fall of the wall, leftists affected always to have opposed the totalitarian excesses of the USSR and Warsaw Pact but believe me it was all “our socialist brothers” back then. There were leftist opponents of the Soviets in my university — the Trots who thought the Revolution had been betrayed and should be continued ferociously forever. Over at Oxford at the time, Tony Blair was one of those.

By the age of 12 or 13 I thought I would vote Labour when the time came. By 14 I was reading a grovellingly flattering biography of Marx. By 15 I was reading the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital in translation. I heard the siren words “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need” and — for a while — I was lost. As an earnest young intellectual bathing in big ideas, I thought I was going to change the world. Of course as an adolescent male seeking to assert his independence from his father, the fact that my Marxism made him a villain was a bonus. Poor Dad. How he worried about me. How embarrassed he was when I was suspended from school for my revolutionary activities (selling Free Palestine and The Thoughts of Chairman Mao on school premises and being Welsh chair of the Schools Action Union, which organised the only school pupils strike in British history under the slogan “Don’t take the cane, break the cane!”). It was all from love of the masses of course. I didn’t see that I would be delivering them into servitude to a grim regiment of people like my steely-eyed great aunt — merciless and free from doubt or moral restraint. 

There was one good consequence of this nonsense. The late Mrs P. was no communist herself but, years later, she said she was first attracted to me because I was the only boy she knew “who was at least trying to think”. If I had never been an aspiring Maoist thug, there would be no Misses P today.

If Ricky Tomlinson, his band of thugs and their pick-axe handles had not turned up on the building site where I was working in my school holidays I don’t know if I would have continued on that path. I have compassion for my deluded enemies partly because I think “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” I hope I would have read myself out of the foul swamp I’d read myself into but had I arrived at University a leftist, I might well have been lost forever. There were many clever fellow students there who read nothing that challenged their Marxism and I could well have become their mindless comrade.

Just as my daughters owe their existence to Mao Tse-Tung’s sociopathic violence so I owe my classical liberalism to Ricky Tomlinson’s rough thuggery. It's funny how these things go.

To be continued...

 

 

 

 


An hour well spent

I don't normally go for podcasts, as I can take in information faster by reading and don't spend much time in traffic these days. This however, is worth your time.

My last post was, I confess, a bit defeatist. I certainly felt defeated. Douglas Murray does not. On the contrary he is optimistic that the forces of evil are vulnerable and makes convincing arguments for going on the offensive. Rather than bemoan "cancel culture" he thinks it's overstated and urges the "silent majority" to speak up.

Referring to Kay Burley's ludicrous smears in relation to former Aussie PM, Tony Abbott, he is hilarious. He points out that she once grabbed a female fellow journalist by the throat in anger, squeezing so hard that she left a bruise. Playing her own game, therefore, it's possible to say that Kay Burley once grabbed a woman by the throat and injured her. Anyone who appears on her show is condoning the strangulation of women. By her own logic, she should be cancelled!

No right-thinking person wants Kay Burley silenced of course. Her bluster turns people off every argument she tries to advance and she serves a useful function in exposing the weakness of Tory ministers, but it takes Douglas to pierce the pompous veil so elegantly. I commend him to you.