Friday, 15 May 2009

Fiddling while Rome Burns

Today I am eighty and only the intervention of a beautiful lady prevents this from being my last blog. Keith Waterhouse in the Mail, Paul Johnson in the Spectator, and the Guardian Wrap, a splendid digest of the news, have all sent in their papers this week. Tempted to join them.

With me it is neither intellectual exhaustion nor a diminishing of the urge to write. Rather, it is the growing belief that this is the age of Gibbon rather than Swift. Laughter is not enough. I believe that although in many ways we are living in a Golden Age it is like the last defiant flowering of a dying shrub. In the West civilisation is crumbling. The future lies with India and China, not Europe or America. Moslems are once again at the gates of Vienna. They will shortly outnumber 'white eyes' in Britain. Corruption is endemic in Parliament, the City, the Monarchy, the Law and local government. Undeterred by the costly folly of the Millennium Dome and although the country hovers on bankruptcy Our Rulers have taken on the Olympics. This week that cost the tax payer FURTHER £324 million towards the cost of the Olympic Village which wiser heads in finance have refused to finance. So far we have invested £650 million but will no doubt contribute to the £358 million still owed. Senior policeman have misused their credit cards to a mind boggling million pounds. Of the terrorists arrested, only seven per cent have been charged. In defence, the police claim that is also the percentage of serious criminals arrested and charged. Two disturbed non-criminals who might have been subdued by tranquilliser darts were shot dead by the police this week. The Chief Constables Association says it cannot uphold the law on hunting it took Parliament 48 hours to frame (that is 32 hours longer than they debated the smoking laws) Difficult to avoid the view that the police do not give value for money. To think we used to boast “Our Policemen are wonderful”.Barristers and solicitors have priced themselves well beyond their talent. I have never trusted judges since I discovered they heeded the 'advice' of the Lord Chancellor during the moratorium on the death penalty and “cooked the books” by reducing all murder charges before them to charges of unlawful killing. In consequence they must bear much of the blame for the increased number of murders since that infamous year. Moreover, neither the judges nor the Crown Prosecution Service spotted the corrupted evidence in murder trials which resulted, after the use of DNA , in pardons and compensation of many millions.If all that wasn't bad enough, the Elm has vanished, Wisteria is being attacked by foreign insects and Horse Chestnuts are dying all over Britain.

As to the House of Ill Fame and its cheerleader, the incomprehensible non-Speaker in any tongue humanity can unravel, the best suggestion, as so often happens, came from Sir Simon Jenkins in The Guardian: “My remedy is simple. Remove MPs from working for the state, laden as it is with PAYE, tax breaks, expenses fiddles and corruption. Make them self-employed, as they were before the war, paid an agreed salary but from funds supplied to and disbursed by their constituency returning officers. If they want a pied a terre in London, let the constituency own it. Let them pay VAT, fill in their own tax returns and make their peace on expenses with HMRC. This is hardly a drastic punishment, to have to behave like ordinary citizens.”

 Cromwell's view of the Rump Parliament was expressed  in terms which seem appropriate to the Current Parliament of Arseholes:

"[Cromwell] commanded the Speaker to leave the Chair, and told them they had sat long enough, unless they had done more good, crying out You are no longer a Parliament, I say you are no Parliament.”

He went on: "It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

“Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!”


Eighty? I never asked to live so long and I am not sure it is a good idea. The only surprise life holds for me now is waking up and finding which limb has started to ache.

 Like my friend the painter Sir Kyffin Williams, I was born on Ascension Day. He always insisted that meant we had two birthdays. I also insist on a rehearsal. This year it took the form of lunch at my favourite restaurant, The Plate and Porter, in March. I had sausage, egg, bacon, black pudding, tomato and fried bread, with two large Pink Gins since wine no longer agrees with me. My wife generously hosted (even to buying, without her usual protest, the gins). The guests were three favourite, funny people, two much loved Jewish friends and a beloved cousin. They brought me a dashing, bespoke walking stick, a voucher for a foot massage and a CD of my young cousin singing with the York Minster choir. The Jewish friend said it was all right to shake his hand and kiss his wife. They couldn't catch Swine Flu. They were kosher.

Today most of my family will be around me at another lunch party. There will be Farmhouse Lancashire cheese, sausage rolls, Melton Mowbray pie and soused herrings. I wanted Bury black pudding and tripe and onions but that has been ruled out, as has fish and chips. My eldest daughter is making a cake. She is an authority on libelous cakes. She made one for my seventieth birthday which had seventy marzipan bottles of champagne round its perimeter.The family clubbed together to buy me an E-Book, which is a great worry. I had an MP3 Player for Christmas. It took me until Easter to work out how to use it. Finally a grandson showed me and I am making sure he is at the party so that he can explain the electric book.Taz, our long dog, bought me a bronze ballet dancer for my collection. I cannot understand why my friends call ballet 'Poufs' football'. At any one time there are up to twenty glorious girls on stage and two men. Taz has bravely defied my wife who had a busy month clearing away ornaments, giving them to Cancer Research. She can be very vocal at my obsession with bronze ballet dancers. She wanted Taz to buy me a bonsai tree but he was of the opinion that at eighty I may not have many growing seasons left. Doesn't worry me. For an octogenarian, dying is a worry only to the people he loves. As I told the surgeon when he spelled out the dangers of the operation at my age and in my condition, the act of dying is nothing. There would be no pain. I won't even know it has happened.

Of more interest are the changes that are coming over me. I do not complain about my release from the tyranny of sex and the disappearance of alcoholism, the twin wayward pilots who have controlled my enjoyable journey through life. I am sad, though, that I can no longer get angry. Writing rude letters to banks, the Inland Revenue and sundry organisations was one of life's pleasures and I always felt better after a family row. No longer. Now I seem to spend most of my time looking for charities to support. I am currently helping a charity run by my younger daughter which finances an Indian children's village; sundry African projects via John Humphrys' excellent no frills charity; the PDSA; Chinese Moon Bears; tortoises; old hacks; innumerable charity shops which, to my wife's chagrin, results in filling the house with pot teddy bears; and a variety of support groups for wounded ex-servicemen. I used to support other charities but ceased to do so when I discovered the amount that goes in administration and the production of costly magazines. The ones I have chosen are those which give all my money to the sufferers. Goodness knows what my motives are. Lord Beaverbrook in his dotage did good works in order, it has been said, to assure his place in Heaven. I have no wish to spend eternity in a sort of Celestial National Eisteddfod, surrounded by creatures in long gowns, playing the harp, where I won't know a soul. I take the fact that I have survived cancer, diabetes, alcoholism and cirrhosis as a sign that God doesn't want me. I, in return, intend to take Oscar Wilde's advice to his friend Robbie Ross:

“When the last trumpet sounds, let us turn over and pretend we do not hear it.”

If you want to give me a birthday present, be happy and enjoy life and, as Mencken suggested, “Wink at an ugly girl.”