Somewhere inside my television today, writing this sentence on Tuesday morning after hearing about the cancellation of the vote, great events will be left unresolved in Westminster and Brussels. Journalists will record “packages”, to be replayed through the day until I finally watch them, about politicians not after all voting together about the interminable issue of the day. A government will soon fall, or it won’t – I tell you now, writing on Wednesday afternoon, before the confidence vote, that I’m not going to come back and edit this later in the week – and political life will go on, relentlessly discussed. I have a bag with “Carrying Stuff Around Is The New Leaving It Where It Is” printed on the side. “Left unresolved” is the new “finally settled”.
Elsewhere today, somewhere out across those fields and beyond the houses, babies will be born; lives will begin (and end); there will be celebrations, and illnesses, and triumphs, and disasters; and washing up will get done. People will get hot, cold and go to work. Replacement bus services will carry rail commuters to their desks. Vast airliners will ferry people in their thousands from, say, Seattle to London, while other vast airliners will ferry people in their thousands from London to Seattle. Corner shops, not all of them on corners, will sell tobacco and newspapers and brief conversations about football to lonely old men, and vapour stores will sell things to suck.
It’s a popular name, so there’s a reasonable chance that one of today’s babies will be called William. More than one, possibly, but that William, the one we’re thinking about, will emerge into the world baffled by the unfolding of his limbs and the air on his skin, and he’ll breathe all of a sudden, and the first sound he makes will be a plaintive cry that attracts the attention of his mother. Then, let’s assume, he’ll get some breakfast, wrap up warm and go to sleep. At intervals through the day, people close to him will be impressed, in a not entirely positive way, at the force, consistency and all-round un-ignorability of his output.
Advent calendars will be opened, chocolates will be eaten, and Christmas-present lists will be compiled. Online-banking apps will be used, and if that ad is to be believed – the ad I’m thinking about – at least one young-ish photogenic man will lie on his front on a treatment table, with a forest pf acupuncture needles in his back, grinning happily at his smartphone as he checks the balance on his current account. Other ads are available, and somewhere, there’s a photogenic woman in a gym, a towel around her neck, who’s paused on the way to the shower, and sat down on a bench, to grin at her banking app.
I don’t take my smartphone into the shower with me, and nor do I know any acupuncturists, but today is busy for me too. I have a piece to write – no, not this one – and a “let’s meet for coffee” date with a friend, and a trip out to a storage unit in Redruth, and probably a late lunch, and roof bars to fit to the roof of my car, and bills to pay (two of them), and trees to visit, and mysterious strangers to meet, and an unfolding destiny to keep from getting tangled up with all the laundry I need to sort out, and to-do list on which I need to change the ‘Tuesday’ at the top to ‘Wednesday’, and dragons to slay, and then this evening I’m meeting a graphic designer to talk about a book cover. [Here I am on Thursday, and I am NOT updating.]
And all the while, in Westminster and Brussels, they’ll be burbling on about the trade deal. A tree fell yesterday, onto the road between Falmouth and Truro. It wasn’t in a forest, and there were no bears nearby going about their private business, but a lot of people heard it and we all saw it – picture posted on Facebook. I’ll go that way later, find out if it’s been cleared. Maybe from Bailey’s, the country store – not from the roadside – I’ll pick up some logs today. William, the baby, will continue to act on the assumption that the world owes him a good lunch and a warm place to sleep. His face and the story of his birth will spread across social media. At least one bright star will light the heavens tonight, as it did last night.
Ministers will brief against each other, off the record. At the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, at least one tourist will check in via Facebook. People will be wheeled along corridors to rooms where they will be invited to count down from one hundred – rooms where they will miss the day, waking up tomorrow with pains where they had tumours. Young journalists who don’t know whose gravestone bears the words “Grand Inquisitor” – a question from a regular quiz in one of last weekend’s magazines – will tell us how serious the various possible outcomes of the eventual vote could be, and then when the outcome finally arrives, they’ll tell us how serious its possible consequences could be. [NOT updating this. I refuse. Shan't!]
There’ll be weather forecasts, and lunches served in cafes, and dogs walked, and thunderstorms, and ships sunk, and heart-warming stories shared on social media, and pictures of cats, and every time I turn on the radio, the discussion will be about the possible consequences of what could happen in – how many weeks, did you say? Outside my window, there is one of those eight-legged, red, shallow-water drilling rigs. You know the things? The eight legs are so that they can shift position. The business of the sea, like the business of the land, will continue while the radio talks about the trade deal.
Behind me as I sit here, because unlike those bears earlier on, this room only exists when I perceive it – there’s an aching void that is shiningly dark – there’s light everywhere, but nothing to reflect it – and luminous with an absence of stars. In my kitchen sink, there are knives, forks, spoons, and last night’s plates. I think I might turn my back on those. [Voids have feelings too, you know.]
When William asks about today, if he ever does, the story told will be one of realising that the time had finally come - come late or come early or come exactly on time; the story told will be one of rushing to the hospital; of their reception at the hospital and of (let's say) the funny-in-retrospect thing William's young father said when he first held William. His parents’ eyes might meet as they tell the story, and they might be as much sharing the memory with each other as with their son, and it’ll be jazzed up slightly for his benefit, and if any other relatives and friends are there, they might chip in with their memories of his arrival…
…and if this is the kind of stable family unit that appears in TV ads, they’ll all be sitting around a table wearing party hats and grinning at each other – but I’ll bet my Peter Rabbit 50p piece that nobody will mention the brand of the butter, let alone that other B.
Having so satisfactorily answered the question “What do I have to do, to get people to read my blog posts?”, I decided to celebrate by filling this space with my correspondence. So here goes. I wrote Brexit wrexit, don’t it?, and Patricia Finney replied as follows:
Funnily enough, the Roundheads were (violently) against being in the then equivalent of the EU and the Cavaliers were sort of vaguely for it, when they thought about it, which they usually didn't. The Roundheads won because they used better technology, which included new cavalry tactics and a better strategy, not because they were Righteous, although that's what they thought. Don't know what that means in terms of your blog.
As for Brexit Wrexit, I know you're sure there'll be the usual English fudge (CofE-style) and I hope you're right. The signs are good for the fudge which is great. 90% of the time the deal is made, the fudge happens and everything carries on as before with a few tweaks.
There is that annoying 10% of the time when the fudge doesn't happen and then everything goes to hell - Hitler was probably very disappointed when the nice fudge he offered the British in ?1940 didn't happen and that loony Churchill got power instead. When we look back, of course we know it was the right result. But that's not how it looked at the time.
"Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason?
For if it prosper none dare call it treason." [John Harington]
So I'm reduced to mysticism - the hope that whatever happens in the Brexit short-term, in the long term it'll turn out OK thanks to something ineffable about Britain and its people or whatever.
I still think that a good third of the Leave voters in 2016, voted that way to give Cameron (remember him?) a good kicking, with only the vaguest notion of what the EU actually is. I also think that given the chance again, many of them will vote Remain so they can give Theresa May a good kicking - and I quite understand why few politicians like the idea.
I think another referendum would be great (and possibly best of three if the Brexiteers shout loud enough and anybody believes them), but I don't see it happening without a constitutional crisis.
So I replied:
If Brexit was the work of populists, as currently demonised, I don't buy the idea that they would have listened to Leave politicians for long enough to be fooled by them. Immediately before that first People's Vote, Mr Cameron went to Brussels to extract concessions, and came back with nothing. To the extent that 17 million voters can be given one motive, I'd guess they voted against the EU, which has been an issue since Mrs Thatcher's time, and against the prevailing assumptions of the political centre, which isn't populist by any definition. Against the political centre, in other words.
But I don't care about Brexit any more. Whether we're a trading partner or a member of the EU isn't as big a question as we're being incited to believe by the political centre - the "media-political complex". It's a question, but the future is unknowable and can't be determined by any amount of debate. Something will happen, but it won't be determined by a vote in parliament. The UK doesn't know what it wants - Lord Halifax would be the Remain/status quo/keep-a-hold-of-nurse candidate for PM - and the EU's doing a fair impression of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy single-mindedly working to hold itself together. With internal borders being closed to migrants, etc., the EU isn't quite the European ideal either.
What fascinates me is that we haven't addressed, or indeed resolved, whatever it was that made 17 million people vote against the EU, after all those years of EU membership and all those EU benefits. Instead, we've convinced ourselves that the Leave voters were misled/mistaken. We've raised the spectre of "the Brexiteers", and come to believe that a second People's Vote would go for Remain. But we haven't fixed the reasons why the first People's Vote was for Leave. Those 17 million voters have been told that they were wrong, repeatedly, but nobody's asked them why they voted that way, nor done anything about it.
Calling the second referendum a People's Vote, as though the first was something else, is surely insulting to the People who Voted in the first referendum, and hardly guaranteed to get the desired result. Just as we all expected 'Remain' in 2016, we're all expecting 'Remain' in 2018/9. One more referendum, and we'd end up with best of three anyway, is my guess.
Nothing catastrophic will happen if we Leave/Remain. We'll be in, or we'll be out, and we can start to deal with that. But the fudge won't set properly, if you want to put it like that, if we don't ask the reason why we are where we are.
To that, Patricia replied:
Yes, of course, you're right - we need to ask the 17 million voters who voted Leave why they did it.
I've done that as far as I can (a totally unscientific and unbalanced poll) and the answer splits between "keep Britain independent/hate Brussels bureaucracy", "don't like migrants" and "kick Cameron."
I think it's absolutely disgraceful that nobody has bothered to ask, there have (as far as I'm aware) been no studies on it apart from demographic ones (younger and more educated people tended to vote Remain, older and countryside-living tended to vote Leave) which doesn't get you very far.
We're heading for a USA type mess where everybody is shouting at the other side and nobody is listening.
Meanwhile, out in the wild country to the North of here, Simon Minchin had just laid a fire of the finest hardwood from the forests around his home, opened a bottle of the finest claret from his cellars and left it to breathe for a moment before decanting, and settled back into his creaky-but-still-favourite ancestral armchair to wrestle with opening his new box of organic green fire-lighters, when his inbox chimed with the news that I’d … see above.
Some while later, my inbox clanked, and I read this.
I met Robin Snelson. Nice man.
Which seems like a good place to leave it. Patricia’s book is just out, and Simon’s book is out next year. Search the usual engines, watch the usual spaces.