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

Season's Greetings

Our state tormentors are taking a break, which makes the holidays even more special for decent folk. However you celebrate - please enjoy. Life is for living, as best as we each can, Whatever our problems and regrets, there is joy to be found in the company of family and friends. This is not a day for politics or gloom, so I simply wish you all the very best for Christmas and the New Year. Here's hoping for better times ahead.


Of a particular Crown Court jury

I was picked for a jury in the end. Our verdict was delivered last Thursday. I can now discuss the case and the proceedings in court but it remains illegal to discuss our deliberations. I will say nothing here about what went on in the jury room. All opinions are my own. I do not speak for other jurors.

I won't identify the case though you may guess from the details here. I am sure the defendant will be pleased if you do. He's a full-time political campaigner and told the court repeatedly that he wanted to be arrested and charged so he could have his "day in court" to speak out about "the real criminals" in HM Government. He claims to have played the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service for fools in order to achieve that goal.

I suspect he will have been disappointed. The trial attracted little press interest. All accounts I have seen since it ended (I didn't look while it was in progress, as directed by the judge) are identically worded so probably came from a single agency. The defendant will have hoped for more journalists to show up. 

The defendant estimates his impact on the world very highly. On the day he was arrested, he was protesting a suggestion that HMG might send teams armed with COVID-19 jabs into the homes of the unvaccinated. He believes that plan – which he described as terrorism – was never implemented because of his actions that day.

I doubt the idea would ever have been acted upon. Even taking needles to the doorsteps of the potentially unwilling would not have gone down well, let alone the forced vaccinations he seemed to think were intended. The vaccination teams would have needed police protection and the "optics" in a world where people film such things on their mobile phones would have been awful. 

The defendant's motivations were only relevant to understanding why he was there that day. They were not relevant to his guilt or innocence. He wasn't prosecuted for his opinions. In fact, his own video showed the police officer waiting patiently while he expressed his opinions on a FaceBook live stream.

He was arrested outside the home of a prominent politician. His arrest was for criminal damage due to a miscommunication between police officers. Accepting he had not committed that crime, the CPS authorised an intent charge instead. He was indicted for taking objects (posters and glue) to the scene with intent to cause criminal damage. 

He had been arrested fourteen times before but never brought to trial. It would have been easier to get his day in court if he had been more robust in his actions. He was keen to point out that he abhorred violence and differentiated himself from the "Stop Oil" protestors prepared to commit crimes to make their point. He seems to have been carefully calibrating his actions so as to get arrested without offering any violence. I think he might well have been released without charge for a fifteenth time if it were not for the police miscommunication.

He claimed in court he brought the posters and glue to give the impression that he was going to put them up. He did so to get arrested and charged. The Crown's evidence was his video saying he would put up the posters and redacted extracts from a police interview in which he said several times that he would have done so. He had lied to the police so that he would be arrested and charged. He never intended to cause criminal damage. He just wanted his "day in court". 

It seems to me he was guilty of wasting police time by telling those lies. The Criminal Law Act 1967 says;

Where a person causes any wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to any person a false report tending to show that an offence has been committed, or to give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property, or tending to show that he has information material to any police inquiry, he shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for not more than six months or to a fine of not more than two hundred pounds or to both.

So his defence to Crime A was that he had committed Crime B.

The defendant was the only defence witness. I found it hard not to smile when his counsel earnestly pointed out her client didn't have to give evidence. It was obvious that time on the stand was his goal. Prosecution counsel tried to keep him to the point in cross-examination but his own counsel (probably on instructions) let him ramble. The judge was polite to the point of indulgence in this respect, but did cut him off a couple of times when he strayed too far from the subject at hand.

His opinions were irrelevant to his guilt or innocence. It didn't matter what was on his posters or why. All the jury had to decide was whether we were sure he intended to glue them to the politician's home. The judge's summing up and directions were clear and painstakingly impartial. He said the defendant claimed to have been "bluffing" to the police about his intentions, rather than "lying", for example. There were three components to the alleged crime; having the materials, intending to use them and lacking a lawful excuse. There was no dispute about his having the materials and no suggestion of a lawful excuse. 

We returned a verdict of not guilty and I am comfortable with our decision. I am also comfortable with our jury system. After this experience, I am happy and relieved still to retain my confidence in this ancient institution. We took our responsibilities very seriously. We discussed all relevant issues at length and came to a mature conclusion on the evidence. I was actually rather impressed.

From time to time, especially when juries don't deliver the results our establishment would like, there is pressure to "reform" the jury system. Such suggestions should be resisted. In general, though as Kant said "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made",  juries do justice rather well. If I were charged with a crime of which I was not guilty, I would want a jury to decide my fate.

There's much scope for reform of criminal justice in our country. The courts could certainly be far better run. The time wasted is horrifying. That horror is amplified by the calm acceptance of it by officials to whom it is obviously normal. To be fair perhaps that's because my life was spent in the private sector where time is money and money is survival? Maybe fellow jurors from public sector backgrounds were not nearly as shocked by all the faffing about?

I don't think so though because this was not my first experience of it. I began my legal career in the 1980s doing criminal defence work. The partner who offered me that job was a renowned specialist. The law had recently been changed to allow specially-qualified solicitors to appear in higher courts. He found out I had done well in the first advocacy training course for solicitors to lead to that qualification.

I enjoyed advocacy and was probably suited to the work. I had wanted in my youth to be an actor and, to be honest, I liked the performative aspects. I gave it up after a year to do commercial work partly because I hated the amount of time wasted on waiting around. The courts were as organised as any monopoly needs to be – i.e. not at all. I couldn't imagine a life driven by that. This week reassured me I chose correctly all those years ago.

Screenshot 2022-11-05 at 06.06.45As someone with a real estate background I was also shocked by the poor design and layout of the modern buildings housing the court.

In the private sector HM Government is known as "the simple shopper." All its spending is in Milton Friedman's fourth category of "someone else's money spent on someone else." It's famously useless at purchasing; typically securing neither quality nor value.

I can only assume, from the sublimely inefficient layout, that the architects who designed our court building saw "the simple shopper" coming a mile off.

The biggest difference from my long-ago experience of the courts was all the technology. Not only are there laptops and tablets everywhere, it has affected evidence-gathering too. Back in the day, the jury would have heard about the events in this case from policemen reading (with permission) from their (paper) notebooks. We got to see the events over and over again on video from FaceBook.

As in so many aspects of modern life, we have more data to process. The question is whether it leads to better decisions or just wastes more of our time. On that, gentle reader, the jury is still out. 


Why are we a soft touch for Albanian “asylum seekers”

As a libertarian, I’d be happy to abolish immigration controls as soon as we have dismantled the welfare state. The only immigrants then would have job offers and/or a viable business plan. Any asylum seekers would be genuine. We would have a list of persona non grata to avoid international criminals making their home here, but people off that list would be able to come and go freely.

That, however, is not where we are. As long as we provide a lifestyle for the unemployed that is — by world standards — generous, we’re going to have to control immigration.

This article in today’s Telegraph contains the following interesting fact;

Last year, 55 per cent of Albanian applicants were granted asylum in the UK. The acceptance rate for Albanians in Germany, Sweden and many other EU countries was zero, in France it was two per cent, in Ireland three per cent and in Spain four per cent. So how come the UK accepted that more than half the claims were legitimate?

It’s a good question. Especially as Albania is a safe country legally unlikely to generate genuine asylum cases.

I don’t know the answer but I have a theory. A friend retired early a few years ago from her job as a judge in the immigration courts. Asked why, she told me her courts had been packed during the Blair/Brown years with judges she thought more inclined to favour implausible asylum claims.  

Readers may remember New Labour’s policy, after 1997, to engineer mass immigration. A policy that Labour adviser Andrew Neather gloated was designed to

Rub the Right's nose in diversity

Labour presumed (with the Left’s usual proprietorial attitude to immigrants) that this would mean more votes for its candidates.

The effects of that policy on appointments to the judiciary may be what made my friend uncomfortable in her job. The “Conservative” Party in government never seems to reverse Labour policies so it’s quite likely the same approach still applies. It is a theory based on an anecdote so I can’t be sure it’s true. It would however account for this incredible disparity between the UK’s approach to Albanian asylum application and that of similar countries. 


Of juries #2

If, gentle reader, you had hopes of more posts this week I must disappoint you. With great haste, to spare the taxpayer the cost of today’s lunch and half the minimal loss of earnings allowance for today, the clerks just discharged everyone not currently serving on a jury. Those of us in our second week were discharged without thanks. Those, like me, in our first week are required back at court next Monday to have our lives devalued further at the hands of our surly masters. 

So, maybe next week …


Of juries and justice

This week and next I am on jury service.

The jury is the last of Britain’s institutions in which I have any faith. I learned about “criminal equity” (known in the US as "jury nullification") during the legal history part of my long-ago law degree. For example, the hated “game laws” providing for capital punishment of poachers were reformed against the wishes of the landowning gentry in Parliament because juries refused to send men to their deaths for those crimes. They acquitted the guilty to subvert the system. In the end, to secure convictions, Parliament had to scale down the punishments.

As a libertarian I believe that most of our current laws should not exist. Perhaps there will be some scope for criminal equity if I am asked to convict someone under one of those superfluous laws? I should be so lucky.

So far, as I was not selected for any of the trials, I have had a day of my life wasted in a scruffy, noisy and uncomfortable "Jury Assembly Room." Looking around me, it's clear I am – as is of course to be expected – going to meet people outside my usual circle. I look forward to that with interest. As names were called out for each jury, there were precious few Smiths and Joneses. I'd estimate about one traditional British name per jury. Interestingly, there were almost as many names from Eastern Europe as from the Sub-Continent. I may get the chance to practise my Polish.

The officials marshalling us citizens like cattle seemed efficient enough though their training did not involve public speaking. They had difficulty projecting their voices (if indeed they were trying) and they were not supported by any sound system. Given the noise from the in-room cafe (selling meals at precisely £5.71 – the maximum allowed expense), the general hubbub of a crowded room and the fact that the court is under the Heathrow flight path, that made it difficult to hear them at times.

They had the usual condescending tone of people whose wages are funded by state force. I enjoyed it when the lady welcoming us had a script to read thanking us for our contribution. She just couldn't sound convincingly grateful. Let's just say I fancy my chances if I ever get to play her at poker.

I also noticed the usual over-familiar use of first names. The private sector is just as guilty of that these days, but it's particularly annoying from state functionaries from whom I cannot walk away. In fairness, I despise the British state so much that its employees would need to be epically polite to please me, even if they wanted to. In truth, if they knew how much they get on my nerves, I suspect it would make their day. So I must just grin and bear it.

My only direct interaction was to enquire politely about reimbursement of taxi costs. The lady said "no" before I finished my sentence and without enquiry about my reasons for asking. I am not short of money for the fares and will put my own comfort and convenience first regardless. I just wish now I'd never asked. It wasn't worth the irritation for the sake of a few quid. I guess the optimist in me still hopes for one pleasant interaction before I die with the state funded by most of my life's work.

It's a criminal offence to write about details of the trial or jury deliberations. I wouldn't do it anyway as that's a good law. We could not reasonably ask jurors to participate in criminal trials if they were at risk of their identities or opinions being exposed to people they might convict. However, I will let you know my general impressions of the process.

Let's hope I retain my faith when my service ends.


Nurse Ratchet

Yes, I know the movie character was Ratched. Bear with me. According to Wikipedia, she is also;

a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority in bureaucracies

She's a symbol of what I want to write about today and her name echoes the essential problem. 

Sir Keith Joseph was a key influence on what became known as Thatcherism. He coined the phrase ratchet effect to describe the way in which each new Socialist government moved policy leftwards, whereas a Conservative government never moved it back. If the UK State was a car, then the Labour Party was the accelerator (gas pedal), the Conservative Party was the brake and there was no steering wheel.

The direction of political travel was never in doubt and only the speed could be adjusted by the electorate. Sir Keith's point, well-taken by Margaret and constantly railed at by Tory wets was that the ratchet had to be broken if the Conservatives were actually to move towards their goals. For all that Leftists call themselves "progressives" (perverting the language as they love to do in order to thwart honest discussion) real human progress should be in quite another direction.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the end result of the ratchet effect must be that everything either belongs to the state or is under state control. Democratic Socialists and Communists have always had the same ultimate goal. The former are just more patient. They will cheerfully discuss each step of the journey with the electorate, as long as the planned route never changes. All it takes to see the destination is to zoom out a little and observe the completely consistent direction they and all their predecessors have taken. 

Margaret's achievement in breaking the ratchet was significant. For a while, though she had no such intention, the Left even feared that it had been reset so that the wheel would turn the other way. Tony Blair certainly felt the need to reassure voters that Thatcher's reforms would not be endangered by electing the Labour Party under his leadership. He even claimed to be her ideological heir; a bold lie even by political standards. 

It has been clear for some time however that Sir Keith's ratchet has been refurbished, well-oiled and set back as it was before Thatcher. This is why, as I made clear in my last post, I had no interest in the Conservative Party's choice of new leader. It turns out I was wrong that it didn't matter at all, however. The choice of the political naïf Truss has at least shone a searchlight on the situation. She tried to be a sort of Thatcher mini-me and failed dramatically. At the first hint of any movement rightwards, all hell broke loose. Even though another self-absorbed leadership contest will surely scupper the Tories for the foreseeable future, her position is already in doubt. 

I am not sure if it needs a conspiracy theory to explain why a nation that keeps voting Conservative keeps moving leftwards. I don't believe there are dark cabals planning it. I don't think they're even needed. Someone like me, who believes – along with my namesake – that 

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

is simply never going to apply for employment by a state as huge and pervasive as the UK's.

I have horrified state employees in conversation by saying, in perfect truth, that my conscience would not allow me to sleep at night if I had their job. Not because what they do each day is necessarily always bad, but because every penny they are paid to do it has been taken from others by force. My proudest boast is that every penny I ever earned came from contracts freely entered into by clients with choices. If I had ever worked for the state, that would not be true. 

So it's not surprising that, when the state apparatus has grown to be – as it is in the UK – a gorilla in a flea circus, that the people working for it are broadly in favour of a state on such a scale. No conservative or classical liberal could possibly wish for that, but it's the highest aspiration of a Leftist. So the Prime Minister may be "Conservative", her cabinet may have some "Conservatives", and the electorate may be mostly conservative by instinct, but the state apparatus rolls leftwards regardless. It's going to take leadership by someone with more of a personality than Truss to take on that mighty foe and win.


Why I have nothing to say about the new PM

If you're in a minority in cabinet (and, if you're thinking at all, you probably are quite often) you must let your colleagues know about your concerns. However you mustn't say anything to undermine the agreed policy in public. You stand behind the decision. This isn't dishonesty in a broad sense; it's basic teamwork. Most voters have been part of a team in their lives and understand this well. A minister who thinks a policy is very wrong has the option to resign. If it's morally wrong or likely to cause serious damage to voters, that's what the minister should do.

"Cabinet responsibility" is therefore not a problem to voters. We get it. We would probably take against a minister who was disloyal in this way. We might even sympathise (while of course – for we are only human – enjoying the PM's discomfiture) when a dissenting minister briefs the press anonymously.

This is one reason why the recent Conservative Party leadership election has been so problematic for the government. Like a primary in the US, it has provided endless ammunition to the opposing party as candidates tried to differentiate themselves. A bit of Blue on Blue was inevitable. It's an index of the poor quality of the Reds that no more serious damage was done. The fact that modern Leftists seem to look more for opportunities to insult their opponents than to engage them in reasoned argument is a gift that keeps on giving.

Some interesting data emerged – for example as to the COVID 19 lockdowns – but the fact that the people claiming they'd opposed them were in Cabinet at the time – and didn't resign – prevents them gaining the moral high ground. We're still left feeling betrayed that the "the science is clear", "there is no alternative," "Save the NHS"  propaganda was a lie, of course. It just doesn't make us love the people claiming they always knew. And of course it's embarrassing data HM Opposition can't exploit, because its stance on democidal lockdowns was consistently "sooner, harder and for longer". 

As a supporter of Austrian economics and a proponent of minimal Government/maximal Liberty, I couldn't take seriously the various candidates' sloganising about free markets and free societies. The Johnson regime was wrong on pretty much everything but Brexit in ways that suggest that – though the Left can't win an election in Britain because most Brits are conservative – they're winning all the arguments in the corridors of power. Until a "conservative" government actively purges the Deep State including the Civil Service, the police, the NHS and the education "blob", it will always now be conservative in name only. To these "Conservatives", "Liberty" is a nostalgic name to call your daughter, not a principle to die for. 

On such issues, for example, as Net Zero (the ultimate cause of the current cost of living crisis;  the proximate cause being the actions of a Russian leadership emboldened by our suicidal energy policies) this Conservative Government is to the left of reality itself. The Deep State in Britain (the permanent establishment that is merely fronted by elected politicians) is to the left of the Chinese Communist Party. It doesn't care who the Prime Minister is. It doesn't need to. 

So no, I can't get excited about a change of PM. It's as interesting and important as changing the figurehead on a tall ship. The UK Ship of (Deep) State will sail on serenely to the nation's doom. Liz Truss might be slightly more aerodynamic than Bunter Johnson, but not enough to make a difference to a ship so vast, clumsy and barnacled.

Nothing has changed and I see no reason to hope that anything will until it's too late.


Reflections on "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean.

Jimmy_Dean_1966
© William Morris Agency (management)

I am listening to this song today and remembering how I used to make my daughters (and any other children who found themselves in the back of my car) sing along to it on road trips. 

I probably first heard it – played to me by an uncle who took informal responsibility for my musical education – not too long after it came out in 1961. I'd have just started infants school. I heard it a lot over the years that followed.

Given the size of said uncle (and all the other men in my family) I knew that one day I'd grow up to be the size of the song's hero.

The boy Tom was a serious, thoughtful little chap and thought that one day he'd have to aspire to be that way – metaphorically.

It was a daunting prospect and good reason to enjoy the rest of a carefree boyhood while it lasted.

The only mine I ever went down didn't collapse on me. I never faced such a test of courage. Who knows how I would have fared? I might well have been one of the other miners: praying, my heart beating fast and fearing I'd breathed my last. Still, the song embodies for me the ideal of what it means to be a "proper man".

Today, that's "toxic masculinity" and is to be despised. "Courage" is now used as a word to describe public whingeing about one's first world problems – real or imagined.

Mr Paine the elder, a wiser gentleman than he knows, has often told me over the years that we have to die in the end, because the world changes until we no longer fit in it. Perhaps, when your highest ideals are looked down upon, it is time to move on?

Maybe so but I still love the song. YouTube does not permit it to be presented here, but follow this link to hear it. If your woke education permits, enjoy!


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.


Apollo in transit

I am a practical man and a problem-solver by nature. Some say I lack emotional intelligence. Perhaps I do. It's an attribute I find hard to take seriously. When someone claims it, in my experience, it can often be translated as "Hey! I'm dumb but I'm nice". 

That's not to say that I don't have emotions. In the months since last November, I've had too many of them – or perhaps just too much of the same one. Either way, it hurts and doesn't achieve much.

I made a new friend online in recent months. We volunteer together on a trivial pastime project entirely unworthy of our skills and experience. We are both widowers, both retired and of the same generation. He was an engineer. I was a lawyer. We have nothing much in common but get along well. I was excited when he told me his name appears in the NASA Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. Like me, he was a boy at the time, so didn't work on Apollo itself. His credit is for a later technical contribution.

Earthrise
Earthrise, by Bill Anders | Image Credit: NASA

Those who worked on the Apollo Program are among the few government employees I have ever admired.  The astronauts were (and still are) my heroes. My new friend gave me access to the operating manual for the Saturn V rocket and other such wonderful documents. It's hard to explain how much pleasure I took in looking through them. Suddenly it was Christmas 1968 again and I was an 11 year old boy waiting anxiously for AOS (acquisition of signal) from Apollo 8 to confirm that the SPS (service propulsion system) had ignited to achieve TEI (trans-Earth injection).

NASA alway did the best TLAs (three letter acronyms).

My new friend also recommended From the Earth to the Moon, a late-nineties TV series (currently available on Amazon Prime). At the time of its original release on HBO, I was working crazy hours in a demanding career. Any TV I saw was chosen by a wife and daughters with no interest in such stuff. When I organised a trip to Cape Canaveral during a Florida family holiday, they ganged up on me as we were about to set off and told me I was going alone. I was upset but, hey, I had one of the best days of my life.

I'm enjoying the show – including the appearance in the story of my namesake Thomas Paine, the NASA administrator who oversaw the first seven Apollo missions. It's pre-woke and tells the story straight. Yes it portrays the society of the time in which an astronaut could say affectionately to his worried wife (without her flying off the handle, or even looking miffed); 

You take care of the custard. I'll take care of the flying 

But it doesn't use the phrase "toxic masculinity" once.

The costs of this epic endeavour were not just the billions extorted from American taxpayers or the strains put on the astronauts' families. Three men: Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee laid down their lives in grisly fashion on the launchpad during a routine test. As so often in such epic tales, it's not the fallen heroes who are remembered. The glory goes to the ones who come home in triumph. In my book, those men are among the greatest heroes Mankind has ever known. 

One particular scene in the show may (time will tell) help me to gain some perspective on my woes. Two characters – Harrison Storms, an executive at North American Aviation and Joseph Shea from NASA – walk in a park and discuss their fates. Both had been scapegoated for the Apollo 1 tragedy. The script puts these words into Storm's mouth;

You know in my years in flight tests I saw a number of crews slam into the desert floor. Too many. I loved those guys and each time that happened I wanted to die. But I’ve learned that you’ve got to let go of the "what ifs". They’re meaningless and they’ll kill you

In the next episode the script attributes these words to Wally Schirra, commander of Apollo 7, when asked by a documentary-maker how he felt about the Apollo 1 disaster; 

You mourn the loss but you don't wear the black armband for ever.

Maybe Captain Schirra lacked emotional intelligence too. Or maybe he was just wise enough to play the cards life dealt him and not waste it on regret. 

By the standards of most humans, let alone real heroes, I don't have a problem worthy of the name. Someone I love stopped loving me. It happens. It seems to have happened to me a lot, so perhaps there's something wrong with me. If there is, I can't identify it and – at 65 – it's unlikely I can change it. So it may be time to let go of of the "what ifs" and stop wearing the black armband.

I'm not sure the Apollo 1 story would have given me that insight if it were not for the fact that it also woke memories of my young self – a boy full of hopes and dreams – quite a few of which came true.