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

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.


Depp vs Heard

Celebrity gossip is not my thing. This case has been particularly unedifying. In a rational world, people would now pay less attention to the opinions of play actors, having seen what shallow, narcissistic souls (and I speak as a devoted theatre person who admires their professional skills) they often are.

What has been interesting about the trial is the MSM vs Social Media aspect of it. Wounded journos bemoan the fact that people have followed the trial – not through the lens of their analysis and opinion – but via such odd channels as TikTok. I understand their point of view. They are professionals and would like people to trust them. However, they just don't seem to understand the role they played in losing that trust. They would do better to work hard to win it back, rather than insult the customers they've so clearly lost. The intense social media interest in a defamation trial shows the demand for coverage is there. Perhaps they should begin to think about how best to meet it? No-one (as the Remain campaign has still not learned) was ever insulted or abused into agreement. It's just bad advocacy. 

I have watched a couple of the videos of which they complain out of curiosity. They consisted of people I had never heard of pointing fingers and raising eyebrows in the corner of a screen showing video from the court. Every so often they'd point downwards to a "subscribe" button. Having practised law myself, I was just as unimpressed as the journalists with this approach to court reporting. Unlike the journalists, I recognised that their customers' preference for it is a profound critique of the MSM. Just how much trust have you lost, dear journalists, that people trust these clowns more?

I formed a strong suspicion that the "influencers" in question had a very limited understanding of what was going on. That didn't particularly concern me. Most people don't understand most laws and still less most court procedures. That "influencers" can make money grimacing thus doesn't bother me. Good luck to them. What was really amusing however was the reaction on social media to the outcome of the trial. The "believe the victim without ever establishing they were a victim" mob is in uproar. Some hilariously misguided points are being made.

Firstly this bubble of fanatics is convinced that the ravings of their social media foes during the trial somehow influenced the outcome. If only people had read their tweets and not those of the Nazis*, Ms Heard would have won. Firstly, she didn't entirely lose. Mr Depp's suit succeeded. She did defame him. Part of her counter-suit succeeded. He did defame her. Whatever damages he wins will be offset by the damages she wins. They've both damaged their careers with this nonsense and (as so often) only the lawyers have really won. As a retired lawyer, I am relaxed about that. I am confident both legal teams will make better use of these idiots' wealth than they would have done themselves. I see excellent private educations in their offsprings' future!

Secondly, the jurors were among the few people in America without access to the social media (or indeed the mainstream media) coverage. They were probably (statistically) also among the majority of Americans who don't pay much attention to the enraged rants of people correcting other people's errors on the internet. The jurors formed a view on the evidence presented to them in court. They did so with guidance from the judge as to its relevance. Legal process is not perfect in America or anywhere else but it wouldn't have to be very good to be a more reliable route to truth than Twitter etc.

I read an exchange today where someone told a tweeter saying the jury had not believed Ms Heard that it might be true "in his bubble" but evidence from agencies in the field proved otherwise. I have never seen a point more spectacularly missed. Statistical evidence from social work or law enforcement agencies in the field may or may not prove that most domestic abusers are male and most victims female, but that says literally nothing about the facts of this (or any other) specific case. That some women are abused does not prove this one was. 

When studying law I was taught that modern civilisation began when legal relations stopped being determined by status and were instead determined by contract. Much energy is now being expended to reverse that. Rather than reviewing their evidence to determine what happened between two equals in law, we are being asked to accept that Ms Heard is telling the truth because she's a woman and that Mr Depp is an abuser because he's a man. Let's pass over for the moment that the very people insisting women can't lie can't define a woman. They are essentially reviving the medieval concept of "nobility" to ascribe inherent moral superiority to new categories of nobles. 

Surely they can see this is a route back to the "status" oppressions of old? If someone is always to be believed because of their status (rather like a feudal prince or lord) they will be able to oppress those of lesser status with false accusations. As in the story of Robin Hood, where a lie about the outlaw's father allowed a superior lord to seize his land, so modern lesser humans will lose out to unscrupulous members of the new "nobility".

Economic equality is a crock of shit. All attempts to enforce it will create poverty at best. Equality before the law, however, is the beating heart of a healthy civilisation. If you are claiming legal privilege on the basis of your status being anything other than just "human", you are an enemy of civilisation itself. What are now called "protected characteristics" may (or may not) be significant politically but, to be just, the law should be blind to them.

*Anyone who disagrees with them.

 


Where are we now?

It’s been two months since I last posted here. The Last Ditch is not dead but it’s moribund. The same might be said for me.

I have made some progress since Mrs P the Second left last November. I am no longer in purdah. I am going out with my friends. I am making plans for my future. I have progressed from saying that I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me to actually meaning it. That’s not the same as being happy about it  I still feel bereft, lost and lonely.

We have filed for one of the new mutual divorces. We have agreed on the financial terms of our separation. It has not taken many conversations with friends who have experienced divorce for me to realise that I am blessed. Mrs P the Second is being reasonable, kind and considerate. She clearly regrets hurting me and is trying to make this as easy as possible. If anything, I like her better than ever. By this stage of most divorces, the other party and her lawyer would have raised the emotional temperature to the melting point of love. I know how lucky I am (though a smidgeon of hatred might make it easier at this point).

The pandemic being over, I am making travel plans. I intend to tour all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie locations in New Zealand on an epic road trip next January/February for example. I hope my spirits will have sufficiently revived by then to make a good travel blog of the journey. I’m not shipping Speranza though. I will do it in a hire car.

Having no wife to leave my assets to tax-free I am revising my estate-planning. I’m responding to the wicked, perverse incentives of Inheritance Tax by planning actively to destroy the modest wealth I worked so hard and long to build. I hate that, of course. Those perverse incentives, born of envy and malice, will destroy our civilisation one day.

An Ancient Greek proverb said a civilisation is where a man will plant a tree to shade his grandson. By that definition IHT is uncivilised. No UK-resident family will ever own a global company in the way the Porsche family does. Much English energy that could have been expended on wealth-creation will be wasted. But “equality” (defined as “all being equally insignificant in the face of state power”) is more important to most English people now than productivity. Especially to the leftist “Deep State” Establishment wedded to that state power.

Open Web Page
Felicity

Those readers who know me will be unsurprised that I plan to destroy my wealth by automotive depreciation. My much-loved maternal grandfather was a store man at the Bentley factory in Crewe. He died young and still in service when I was sixteen. The company (then Rolls-Royce Motors of course) sent a car and bearers to his funeral. Talking to his co-workers I learned that grandad, though he had no interest in cars himself, had marked me as a petrol-head. He’d persuaded his craftsman colleagues to make me a scale model from offcuts of real cars. He was almost fired when caught trying to smuggle it out for me and was forced to destroy it in a furnace. Ever since hearing that story for the first time at his funeral, I’ve had an ambition to commission a new Bentley. 

I have already worked out the configuration for “Felicity”, as she is to be known. She’s to be a V8 Flying Spur in a burgundy colour. I plan to place the order when the divorce is final. My financial advisor is clear I shouldn’t tick off the Family Court judge by placing it sooner. Mrs PII is a robustly independent feminist who wants nothing from me but continued friendship, but our courts still see marriage as a financial transaction.

I’m not sure what the lead time is so this may take a while. I’m hoping to take my mother to the factory to collect Felicity. I plan to have Bentley place a plaque in the engine compartment that says “Commissioned in memory of” my grandfather. If you know Mum don’t spoil the surprise please. She hates all extravagance and is quietly horrified by all this. I’m hoping the plaque will make her smile. 


What is Putin up to?

I practised law in Central and Eastern Europe. My old firm had offices in both Moscow and Kyiv. I lived in Warsaw (11 years) and Moscow (7 years). The region is where most of my friends are, including both Russians and Ukrainians.

I am pleased to see some of the former putting dove of peace emblems on their social media profiles. It says much about Russia that I worry it may have adverse consequences for them. One of my Ukrainian friends was interviewed on BBC radio recently. It was chilling to hear his usual calm, reasonable tone as he talked of joining a citizens militia and preparing to resist invasion. He and I were law partners. I fear for his safety and that of his family. He was born to a Ukrainian family in Canada and had the option to leave. I respect and admire his decision to stay and fight. I hope, in his position, I would have his courage. As his friend, I wish he was in Canada.

I hoped against hope that Putin was sabre-rattling. Part of the secret of his success has always been that, one way or another, he keeps Russia in the western news, which soothes his electorate. Why? Because it was a shock to their collective psyche to descend from being one of two super-powers to just a regular nation with an economy the size of Belgium's. Britain struggled psychologically in descending from being the greatest empire in history to just another G7 nation, but we had decades to adjust. We had time to build such institutions as the Commonwealth to soothe the jangled psyches of citizens used to red world maps in their classrooms. Russia had only days.

I am not excusing Putin's aggression by saying the West has made terrible mistakes in handling the demise of the USSR. They flowed not from malice but from a naive, innocent and as it turns out optimistic belief that Russia would rapidly become just like us. Fukuyama's book The End of History and the Last Man (published as I moved to Warsaw) pretty much summed up our leaders' attitude in that respect. The West simply did not feel the need to take the Russian elite's paranoid views on NATO seriously. It saw Russia just as a new, economically-insignificant, member of the Free World. 

NATO was an anti-Soviet defensive alliance. Its weaponry was trained on Russia and the Warsaw Pact. When the USSR ended, it should probably have been disbanded precisely because Russia's military and intelligence communities (who, unlike in other Warsaw Pact countries, were not purged after the fall of the USSR) had grown up thinking of it as "the enemy." They felt threatened by it. That feeling was unjustified. NATO was a defensive alliance with a "no first strike" doctrine. It poses no threat to Russia now and, in fact, never did. The feeling is real though. More accomplished diplomats than ours would have understood its significance.

If post-Soviet Russia's economy had been bigger, it might have been listened to. Ignoring the fears of its generals and spies because it was now a country that didn't matter very much seems in retrospect to have been an error. It won't help a paranoiac to laugh and say he doesn't matter enough for anyone to be out to get him.

This became a worse (but still unrecognised) problem when Putin and his chekisti (ex-KGB men) came to power. The military, intelligence and political communities were in practice just different arms of the Communist Party in Soviet times. Real democratic politics was in its infancy when Putin came to power. Once he was in the Kremlin, Russia's political elite was once more completely aligned with the attitudes of old KGB guys like him.

I suppose we in the West thought we could just rewrite NATO doctrine and retarget its weaponry to handle other threats. NATO worked, so why not repurpose it? The other Warsaw Pact countries, after all, cheerfully applied to join. I was in Poland when that happened and can assure you my friends there still saw it (having had the same education as their Russian contemporaries) as an anti-Russian alliance. That's exactly why (knowing Mother Russia rather better than we did) they wanted to join! I mentioned to a person I met from the Foreign Office at the time that I thought it was a mistake because Polish attitudes were (a) entirely contrary to NATO doctrine and (b) likely to fuel Russian paranoia. She said (I quote from memory, but I am confident it's pretty accurate);

The Foreign Secretary privately agrees with you but the Cabinet doesn't. Anyway the Americans wouldn't hear of excluding Poland.

So while we in the West sincerely saw NATO expansion as harmless (and would probably have accepted Russia as a member, with some conditions) the Russians didn't. Neither did some of their former allies who were joining it – and the Russians knew that. We are not responsible for their paranoia, but we did feed it. 

That said, Putin is lying comprehensively in his depiction of NATO. There's a useful (and very mild) web page of refutations from NATO itself, which is well worth a read. He is just spinning a yarn to justify doing what he wants to do. He's pretty clearly expressed his view that the Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent nation. My hopes have failed. He's about to fix that "error" and, in so doing, write himself into Russian history as (he thinks) a hero. 

The Putin of my days in Moscow was cleverer than this. He knew that rattling his sabre was enough. I fear that his isolated life for so long among people too scared of him to tell him he's wrong has caused him to lose his mind. I don't fear for the West, which could defeat his armies as readily as we could defeat those of Belgium, I do fear for my friends in the region.

I explained to a Ukrainian lady I met yesterday that – while I could understand if she had no time for that at the moment – I feel sorry for the Russian people. They are a wonderful, cultured people who have almost always been badly led because of endemic corruption. The end of the USSR didn't end that, as anyone who'd read Gogol could have predicted. Russia didn't stop being a problem to the West when the USSR fell. It may prove to become a worse problem now because the old Communist leaders always responded rationally to circumstances. I fear this madman won't. 

The West's leaders must perform better now than they have so far because how they respond could expose the world to much more than the loss of Ukraine's independence.


New Year, Old Story

Firstly, some sad news. Some of you will  – like me – have once followed JMB's Blog Nobody Important. It's open only to invited readers now but back in the heyday of blogging (when we all thought citizen journalism was going to change the world) you will remember her often mentioning her husband, whom she dubbed "The Old Scientist". I am sorry to report that he has passed away at the age of 89. I had the pleasure to meet him just once, when I stayed at their home in Vancouver on my North American road trip in 2013. He was a decent man who lived his life well and I feel for my friend in her loss.

Secondly, as I seem to have exposed more of my personal life than usual of late, just a brief report that – though my situation is as sad as before – I am getting on with my life and feeling better. I had a good run in Speranza to visit my parents last weekend. There are not many Ferraris in the world with over 91,000 miles on the clock, but (touch wood) she's in fine fettle and running well. I don't know why I don't drive her more. Call me shallow and materialistic, but she lifts my spirits every time. It is hard to feel sorry for yourself on the open road at the wheel of a bella macchina. I can't wait for borders to be properly re-opened so I can visit my friends on the Continent. 

Thirdly, a brief "state of the nation" summary from my point of view. If you think I am wrong, please tell me. Trust me; I would love to be wrong. 

It is gradually dawning on the British public that they've been had over COVID. They still don't tell the pollsters so but it's becoming an object lesson in the difference between stated preferences (which often signal "virtue" or seek to give the questioner what s/he wants) and revealed preferences (shown by how we behave in practice). For example, when out and about in London it's clear that only state fanatics and submissives are still wearing masks. I dutifully obeyed when on public transport in London for most of the Scare, but now I just carry one to wear if challenged by an official. Most travellers are not wearing them and the submissives now dare to do no more than cast a stink-eye. I hope the divisive hatreds stirred up by Government propaganda will now die down but I fear that many friendships have been irremediably broken. 

Most of the West panicked in a very similar fashion, though Florida has thankfully provided a control group for an experiment that would otherwise have lacked one. As data reveals the ineffectiveness of non-medical interventions (the use of state force) we can therefore expect a united front from the global establishment and its lickspittles in the media. Data will be spun. Evidence will be bought, paid for and rigged. Every government will point at all the others and say "we followed global best practice based on the data we had at the time." That may have been true for a month or two at the beginning but it's clear now that the British Government, for example, knew damned well that its tyrannical measures were not necessary. The real scandal of "partygate" is not that Downing Street civil servants at the heart of the state apparatus ignored the law. It is that their conduct reveals they knew their propaganda was false and/or wildly exaggerated. 

If they believed what they told us, the law would have been irrelevant because they would have been too scared not to comply. 

The British Establishment is safe however. Not least because, as it metaphorically thrashed the British public, HM Opposition's only complaint was that the whip was not thick enough, was not applied soon enough and was wielded with insufficient vigour. The Labour Party is not going to hold HM Government's feet to the fire for forgetting our every liberal tradition because HMG's ripostes will all be examples of Labour's demands for more, more, more state violence. 

It's hard to say now (as I have believed my whole life) that Labour cares less about Liberty than the Conservatives. I am not sure the latter has left any space at the authoritarian end of the political spectrum for Labour to occupy. The "Conservative" knee-jerk reaction to a perceived threat was to boss us all about in excruciating detail, while borrowing on a colossal scale to throw public money at the problem. If a Labour manifesto were ever to be written in plain English, that's pretty much what it would say. As "Conservative" support for government tyranny weakened, Boris Johnson, in effect, became the Leader of the Labour Party – herding its lobby-fodder to vote for his measures. Every time he wrote about Liberty (and he has done so many times in his career as a journalist) he lied. He may be the cleverest PM we've ever had, but he's also (and I recognise this is a huge claim) the least principled.

Intelligence without principles is more dangerous than the politicians' usual dozy uselessness. I see no better replacement from either side of the House, but he must go. 

I cannot imagine ever bringing myself to vote again. I have always voted (as I remember explaining to my Polish teacher as she prepared to vote for the first time in the immediate post-Communist era) in the cynical manner of an intelligent citizen of a long-standing democracy. I know them all for rogues. Their aspiring to have power over their fellows while living on them parasitically reveals them as such. So I have always voted for the robbers who would steal – and the thugs who would bully – less. I never saw my vote (except perhaps during the Thatcher years) as anything more than a damage-limitation excercise. When push came to shove, however, it seems – even in my world-weary cynicism – I was deluding myself.

Can we hope for any useful lessons to be learned from the pan-panic? When the butcher's bill is received for the non-COVID patients killed by state action, will it give politicians pause for the next emergency? We can hope so. I fear what they have mostly learned, however, is that if they deploy their psychological-warfare "nudge" units effectively enough, they can get us to put up with far more than they'd previously dreamed of. Buckle up, friends. I suspect you're going to see more of your governing classes than you previously feared.


Thoughts at year end

It's easy to identify wrong choices after the event but it's important not to lose your life to regret. Every door you choose to open, leaves not one but many closed. Who is to say which of the others would have led to better paths? If real life gave us a video game's opportunities to go back and make other choices, even three lives might still not be enough.

At dark times in my marriage to the late Mrs P., I sometimes remembered a time at university when I considered ending our relationship to pursue another woman. In those fantasies, the alternate Mrs P. and I lived happily ever after in fairy-tale style. In truth, that potential relationship would have had its issues too. I might well have married the other lady and found myself fantasising that I had chosen Mrs P. instead.

In a way, the last six months of the late Mrs P's life were the best of our marriage. The problems that had often made us miserable were put into perspective. Faced with the real problem of her cancer, they hardly seemed worthy of the name. Just as we'd grown together in the struggles of our early lives, the shared focus on her survival brought us close. As I took care of her in ways she'd never imagined I could, her insecurities about my love disappeared. Focusing on her care made me, for a while at least, less selfish. Things that might once have made me angry suddenly seemed far too trivial to fret about. Some of that perspective never left me. I am a calmer man than I was if not a wiser one. 

When Mrs P. died, I discovered how complex grief is. Among many things, I grieved the loss of my hope that one day we'd solve the problems of our marriage. It may well have been a forlorn hope; clung to rather than embraced. Perhaps if she'd survived her cancer our new perspective might have made for a perfect marriage? But she didn't. In these matters, as in so may, you just can't tell, so why waste time speculating?

In the month since Mrs P. the Second left me, I have experienced grief again. I have wished I never met her. I have cast aside every happy memory in dark thoughts. Yet the truth is she may well have saved my life. In my grief at the time I met her, I was taking no care of myself. That I lived to experience this new loss is painful but without her I might not be here to experience it – or anything else.

We don't learn much from success in my experience. It tends to make us complacent and stale. It was the success of the Kodak company – proprietor of arguably the world's best-known brand – that made its leadership dismiss digital photography when one of its employees invented it. Off he went to a competitor and off they went into the dustbin of commercial history.

When I look back on my life, I realise it was the errors and losses that helped me grow. In fact all that was best in my career arose from my very worst mistake. I have often used that story when counselling friends and colleagues worried about career choices. I tell them "make the best choice you can, but don't worry too much. The bad choice might lead to great things too."

With that positive thought I wish you all, gentle readers, a very happy new year. I hope that 2022 will be a better year for all of us.


The uses of Law

In an interesting article in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Dan Hannan (arguably the British politician I least despise) makes some sensible points, which you can read yourself here

In the course of that he says indignation about #PartyGate is misplaced because, amongst other reasons, no-one strictly complied with last years COVID rules. Of the critics condemning the alleged “gathering” he says;

My point is not that they are hypocrites; it is that the rules are wrong. Laws that no one follows are, by definition, asinine laws. By all means blame politicians. But blame them for imposing these absurd prohibitions in the first place rather than for behaving like everyone else.

Hannan has a decent mind and sound instincts, but here he strikes me as naive. We tend to think of laws as rules proscribing bad behaviour or (less often) mandating good behaviour. Practising law for a few decades as I did will make a cynic of the best of us but even a politician should know there’s another use of law — to absolve a rule-maker of responsibility.

In the private sphere, if more of us read the “standard terms and conditions” we sign up to blind (often these days on a “click through” basis) when contracting for goods and services, we’d find rules the suppliers never plan to enforce. Their lawyers put them there to ensure that in myriad circumstances — foreseen and otherwise — where a problem might occur, their clients won’t be legally at fault.

If your child finds a website that encourages her to commit suicide for example, the company hosting it will point to a rule forbidding such use of its services. It didn’t make the rule so that it could enforce it. It has no employees combing its servers for breaches. It made the rule so it could point to it when your child dies. That’s a dramatic example, but there are millions of others to which you would probably say “fair enough.” Businesses couldn’t sell many goods and services economically if they were expected to take the blame for any wicked use of them.

The fact is that in the public sphere government uses law in similar ways to address what spin doctors call “the optics” of a situation. It feels that “something must be done” about a perceived harm and will often promote new legislation without even considering whether existing law covers the matter. How many of the thousands of new crimes created during and since the Blair years can you name? If it’s any consolation, I bet your MP can’t name any more than you.

The government didn’t make it illegal to visit your gran, hug your mum at your dad’s funeral or have sex with your new girlfriend with any expectation that you’d be so servile as to comply. It did it so that, if any of those ladies contracted COVID, it would be your fault. That’s why Number 10 staff partied, Cummings conducted motorised eye tests and Hancock and Ferguson shagged.

The intent of the law was neither proscriptive nor prescriptive but exculpatory. It was one rule for everyone, but no one was seriously (in those circles in the know) expected actually to comply. This is a subtler complaint than the angry “one rule for us and another for them” beloved of bar room ranters, but in its way it’s actually worse.

I have used this quote from Montesquieu so often that regular readers will be able to sing along in the original French;

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

He also said — and how this still resonates today;

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice

You’d expect a libertarian to be cynical about laws, but anyone should be able to see the damage that such “click through” criminalisation does to respect for Law itself. I suspect the British government was as surprised by the servility of its citizens as I was disgusted. I tremble to think of our future now that it realises how weak we mostly are.

That said, I hope the mishandling of the pandemic by democratic governments almost everywhere will lead even the most servile to an understanding that Law is a dangerous tool that is lethal when misused. Make too much of it too lightly and you make criminals of us all — with criminal attitudes to compliance rather like Captain Sparrow’s approach to the Pirate Code — or Dan Hannan’s approach to the Highway Code!


Grief, loss and hope

I apologise for posting once more about my personal life. It’s not in my nature, I hope, to overshare. The Oprah Winfreyite idea that everyone has a personal “truth” that it’s somehow brave or noble to bare disgusts me. It’s self-indulgent and morally-corrosive. Having begun a sad story here however, I didn’t want to let lie the impression it must have left.

I have felt sorry for myself since that post. Apart from two doctors’ appointments I’ve stayed home alone thinking dark thoughts and kept away from friends and family. There was perhaps an element of improper pride in that. I didn’t want the people who love me to see me broken. 

Today I had a drink and a meal with an old friend. A simple and yet a powerful thing. We touched on my grief and my reaction to it, but mostly we talked of things I blanked out in my self-pity. It was enough to help me see that, though I’ve suffered a blow, my life is still good.

We began, for example, to hatch a plan for a trip to Japan — for whose culture and food we share an affection. I would love to make that happen and document it here. COVID has put travel (and blogging about it) on hold but it would be good to do more. To take better photos, a wise man once advised, “stand in front of more interesting stuff”. It would be good to dust off my photography gear and do just that.

Yes it’s hard to be rejected by someone you love. It’s sad when a relationship breaks down, for whatever reason. Being dumped is certainly not good for that self-esteem the Winfrey-ites value above all but so what? How we feel about ourselves is often a poor guide. The Kray Brothers did not lack for self esteem, for example. The world might have been better if they’d had less of it. Amour-propre used to be considered a bad thing.

Ultimately there’s no value in being with someone who doesn’t want to be there. The only good human relationships are consensual. That consent having been unexpectedly and disappointingly withdrawn, a good libertarian must blink back his tears and move on. My soon-to-be-ex wife has her story and I love her enough to hope, in the end, it’s a good one. I’m sorry I won’t be in future chapters but hey ho.

Thank you, gentle readers, for your words of support and encouragement. They helped. I apologise to those of you (and those of my family and friends) who reached out directly and were ignored. I did not mean to spurn your help, I just wasn’t ready to handle it gracefully.

I am sorry to have troubled you here with problems that were no concern of yours. Please let’s say no more of it and move on with dignity.