Way back in the Stone Age, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I could get away with claiming to be young, I saved up my pocket money and bought an album called "Slade Alive".
I don't remember anything about it now, except that it was red and I played it a lot. I also played “Electric Warrior”, T Rex, and my friend Mark had us all round to listen to “Master of Reality”, Black Sabbath, when it first came out. Then I grew up. I think.
But walking through M&S earlier today, picking up a reduced ham-and-pickle sandwich just as Noddy Holder launched into “So here it is, Merry Christmas” on the store’s soundtrack, I wondered for a moment whether I really am a 56-year-old father of four living in Falmouth...
...or am I still lying on a sofa, somewhere in the early seventies, watching the music weave itself into the pattern of the wallpaper?
Turned up Facebook the other day, and for once, had an answer to the question, "What's on your mind?" It was the name of a local marketing-services consultancy. It occurred to me that I didn't quite know why I had the said outfit on the brain, but its name came immediately into my head when I looked at Facebook's question. So I wrote it down, along with a paragraph wondering why it had managed to get so firmly lodged between my ears.
I wasn't bothered. I probably do approximate to a target customer, so my knowing about them, and feeling vaguely friendly towards them, would count as a success in their terms, and that was fine by me. But how did they do it? I'm as resistant as the next man to the relentless, attention-seeking, faux-cheerful, white noise from social-media utilities and other users of the online-marketing playbook, so what was different this time?
I figured it out. Not difficult, and it was nothing special, but to me, the interesting part is that it depended on a context in which I hadn't noticed them. Yes - 'hadn't'.
There's a blog I follow. The subject lines come up on Facebook, I click on them, trigger cookies, read them. No, I don't subscribe to them. Just - whenever, on impulse.
I don't particularly notice who writes them. There isn't any of that "and by the way, have I mentioned the thing I'm trying to get you to buy?" stuff clumsily worked in. Just an interesting question, concisely answered.
Yes, of course they're put out by the marketing-services consultancy. And of course it's very simple, and you might think it obvious. The 'take-away' for me is the inverse correlation between the amount of self-promotion involved, and the impact of the self-promotion on me. Almost as if they were genuinely motivated to answer the question they were posing.
It always comes back to content. But maybe it comes back to content without 'ulterior' motive. In the sense: make it useful, and forget the clumsy hints.
I wonder where the romance has gone in the Scottish referendum. An argument for independence is that Scotland will be able to keep the British currency. An argument for union is that power will be devolved from London to Edinburgh. This is Scotland. Scotland. Clans. Loyalty. Burns Night. Bagpipes and pipers, Highland regiments, legends, feuds, that Australian actor in Braveheart. Haggis, Glamis Castle, grouse moors and lochs.
Scotland. Scotland. I'm English, but my children are half-Scottish. If I had a voice in this, I wouldn't want a squabble between politicians about currency units and tax-raising powers. I'd want everything that I celebrate when I celebrate my country.
We need airstrikes and they need to be "carefully targeted", said the retired general on the radio this morning.
Why "carefully targeted"?
On 4th May 2009, the US Air Force carried out the Granai airstrike, in which around 100 Afghan civilians were killed. “Apologising” afterwards, the USAF explained that “the inability to discern the presence of civilians and avoid and/or minimize accompanying collateral damage resulted in the unintended consequence of civilian casualties.”
So you see, carelessly targeted airstrikes just won't do.
Nor do airstrikes where you can't "discern" the civilians in the target area.
On 4th September 2009, ninety civilians were killed in the Kunduz airstrike.
On 9th October 2009, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The citation told us that Obama had “captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
Obama accepted the award. “I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds,” he said in his acceptance lecture. “All responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.”
Embrace airstrikes responsibly, you civilians.
And hope for a better future.
If, after thirty years' absence, you come off the A12 at the A414, and drive eastwards towards Danbury, you will be struck by the quantity of trees. It's very green here, the wider roads and the flat horizon concealed by mostly young trees planted close in to the road. Even the familiar houses and landscapes concealed by the trees.
A one-word policy decision by the road-builders or the council: trees.
As if everything new is to be hidden by trees, with collateral concealment of the old not considered.
The Bell has a big italic B that wasn't there on its roof-line when it was just the pub, and there's a black turtle in the pond at Eve's Corner. The main road through is busy. But the yacht chandler is still there, The Griffin as well, and the church and churchyard haven't changed. Take one of the first lefts after you pass the village sign and state-of-the-art road maintenance ceases to be an issue within a few yards - the trees are old, the houses are visible behind their hedges, and the road surface has character.
Find your way to the main bridleway through Lingwood Common, and the new world asserts itself for just a moment - there's a sign bearing a lengthy explanation of what's being done to help nature along. But if these are the woods where you grew up, what you will really notice is that all the old ways, the secret paths and hiding places, are all still here. The head-high bracken has been mostly replaced by waist-high new trees, but if you were younger and smaller, you could push a tunnel through this foliage just as easily.
You had to be lifted into this tree once, to start climbing.
So what I think is, we need to be careful about the forced classification of people. We've had serfs, peasants, working class, middle class, "We, The People", the proletariat, capitalists, hard-working families, immigrants, minorities, I heard "young British Muslim men" discussed the other day, the unemployed, people who say "As a writer, I..." or "As a woman, I...", and many other classifications into which it is often convenient to push people. The poor. The voters. The fans. The public. Minorities.
There's a danger here that we lose sight of the individuality of individuals. We talk about "the middle class" as though they're out there somewhere hogging public services. All of them, simultaneously. We talk about "immigrants" without necessarily thinking about the great variety of pressures that brought them here. It's convenient and no doubt it's necessary. But anything done in the name of "The People" that excludes "This Specific Person", whoever that might be, is problematic, surely?
Whether we're running High Speed [insert number here] through somebody's back garden because it will "create jobs" (incredible, the confidence with which that outcome is promised), or embarking on some other social-engineering project in the name of (say) the people or the unemployed or young British Muslim men, we could usefully start by reflecting on (1) whether we've actually consulted any of them, and more importantly on (2) whether, if we did get them all together in a room and ask them first, they'd agree on an answer.
Impossible to do right by everybody, but necessary not to forget that there are individuals, with the same human rights as everybody else, who don't fit neatly into any of the classifications. Once their rights are ignored in the cause of the majority, we're in danger of resorting to cliches: it's a slippery slope, et cetera. The term "human rights", since I seem to have started using it, is meaningless unless it refers to the individual as much as, if not more than, the group.