In the dragons' den
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
My recent long holiday allowed the luxury of catching up with old friends. One of them looks like Dylan Thomas and comes from the same neck of Milk Wood. His idea of fun was to fill his house with my bogeymen; NHS administrators, Welsh Office bureaucrats, Comprehensive School headmasters, Scots Socialists etc. and leave me among them with nibbles and wine.
I have now been away from Britain so long that I have lost my vote. I have also forgotten how it works. For example, I was astonished to be reminded how men and women stand apart at middle-class provincial parties. This would be considered terribly rude (not to mention weird) on the Continent. Yet there it was. A group of women were at one end of the house, betraying every last secret of their marriages. At the other end, with me, were their men. As my eyes glazed, they chatted amiably about football and the best routes to avoid the traffic jams in which British people now spend most of their lives.
The best thing about living outside the Anglosphere is escaping the stupid rules about what it is polite to talk about in a social context. Trust me, a Slav (or for that matter a Frenchman) could not imagine anything more tedious than a party at which conversations about culture, politics, religion and sex are off limits. I guess that now makes me a Frenchman, or a Slav.
I was drinking too much, as one does when there is nothing else to occupy the mind. When we moved on to being amateur managers of the local who-gives-a-damn sports team, my head went. One minute, my wife was glancing across nervously; the next I was enquiring whether the Scotsman knew that only 163,000 of his countrymen made a net contribution to the Treasury. Then I observed to NHS guy that the only larger organisation than his was the Peoples' Liberation Army, but that his was a more efficient killing machine. To the extent there was a drunken plan, it was merely to stimulate a discussion in which I could take part. It failed.
A couple of gambits like that in French company, and one would be away. French education equips them for political, even philosophical, debate and they love it. Give me one French Socialist and a couple of bottles of good wine and all would be well - except that they are so good at political argument that there is serious danger of losing, even given linguistic home advantage. They are foemen worthy of my steel.
But these cowardly Celts would not fight like men. They were hit and run, guerrilla debaters, focussed entirely on slowing my advance while escaping unscathed. They had no intention of coming out onto the field of battle and facing the big guns. Not even when I had drunk enough to make my aim unreliable.
After an hour three things dawned on me. Firstly, my friend had set this up to relieve the tedium of his provincial life. We have known each other for decades, and while he had returned to his roots he well knew how different my world is from that of his local friends. He had lit the blue touchpaper and retired to a safe distance to watch.
Secondly, I realised that nothing I said was making a difference. I had as much chance of changing any of these minds as - to be fair - they had of changing mine.
Thirdly, I realised that Britain has passed the tipping point. The one businessman in the room took me aside to say quietly that what I said was true, but that that he could never publicly agree. More than 90% of his business came from Government, specifically local government, contracts. His sensible plan was to ensure that as much as possible of the avalanche of Government waste was liberated for the good of his family.
I think it was at this point, that I theatrically announced that all was lost, found a quiet corner and went to sleep. This, my wife told me, had greater satirical effect than anything I had said when awake. The point was well taken that, having tried my damnedest to extract entertainment from them, I had found them sadly lacking.
I know I come badly out of this story. I sound like the golf club bore. In my darker moments I fear that, if I were but a member of a golf club, that is exactly what I would be. However, my blogging New Year resolution is to be less careful in what I write. Like the Pub Philosopher, I will tell it as I see it. Like the Tin Drummer, I will let my consciousness stream freely.
Looking back on that terrible evening, I find that what galls me most is that I cannot, for all my efforts, be sure that I made them hate me. Damn their eyes, they seemed to enjoy it. The more I explained how ticked off the English were with being financially sodomised by the Celts, the more they saw themselves as worthy successors to Llewellyn the Great (or in one case, Robert the Bruce). The further over the top I went, the more they thought that everything their Mams had told them about Englishmen and Tories was true.
Apart from my giggling Welsh friend, Wat Tyler was the only winner. Time after time, public servants demanded evidence for my contention that their working lives were as pointless as their pensions were unfunded. Time and again I referred them to "Burning our Money". Wat, if you have seen a surge of activity from government servers in South Wales, you now know why.
Do your best with them dear boy. I am spent.
Posted by: Deogolwulf | Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 07:28 PM
Love the post and I especially identify with your observation of how the men and women separate at this kind of party. That would be unthinkable in Italy! I'm sorry to have to tell you I'm a Celt and when I tell people here that in Wales there are male only choirs they look at me dumbfounded and exclaim, "WHY?!"
Posted by: Welshcakes Limoncello | Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 05:49 PM
...Thirdly, I realised that Britain has passed the tipping point. The one businessman in the room took me aside to say quietly that what I said was true, but that that he could never publicly agree...
You can imagine, Tom, how this post affected me. It said it exactly.
Posted by: james higham | Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 01:55 PM
Great post, like you I like a good argument. I know that this life is one great illusion and that it is for entertainment only. I have no great feeling of nationalism, I am impervious to sport of any kind support no one in particularl. But if you want to make a stand on anything I will twist and turn use spurious facts, even sometimes what might be the truth,to knock you off your position. I just love the blogs.
Posted by: peter whale | Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 11:02 AM
I just lost my brilliant post - basically I argued that these p[eople have all been gerrymandered, and no matter how stung the rest of us are over our pensions, disposable income and freedom, as long as the house price holds up, it's OK. I'm banned by Mrs. Lear from boring our friends about how screwed we are.
My eyes frequently glaze over, and, as you suggest, go to sleep. It's safer.
Posted by: kinglear | Tuesday, January 09, 2007 at 10:31 PM
Next time you get invited to one of these, let me know and I'll come with you!
Posted by: Steve | Tuesday, January 09, 2007 at 08:26 PM