Even my technology’s in on it. “Here’s what you need to know about Brexit this morning,” said my phone to me when I picked it up for the first time today. I’m writing this on Wednesday, 8am, after breakfast - after not turning on the radio, after making coffee in peace, after eating cereal (full disclosure: muesli) and then thoughtlessly picking up the phone. I’ve switched the thing to silent now and put it on the far side of the room. But it’s too late. It told me last night, just before I went to bed, that the vote had gone as expected. I think I saw the phrase “fighting to save her government” and there was something about a vote of confidence. Been there, done that. I’m busy today. I’ll check the news at lunchtime.
Mind you, I like that phrase “need to know”. Makes me think of those old-time spy novels, and films, and intrigues as practised in the fiction of my youth. Among the middle-aged men in bowler hats and night-blue overcoats who used to meet in St James’s Park in the late nineteen-fifties to feed the ducks and talk about the looming (but still just avoidable if the hero goes on a dangerous mission behind the Iron Curtain) spy scandal, information was always shared on a “need to know” basis, which generally meant that hardly anybody got to hear about it. Just the baddies and the half-dozen civil servants around the minister, one of whom was clearly the traitor. Furled umbrellas, anybody? It never quite rained in St James’s Park in the fifties, but it was never warm and sunny either.
Today, we have a technology-enabled wonderland - sorry, liberal democracy, and if we assume that the politics we’re seeing is the politics we’re getting - which seems safe enough given that all conspiracy theories require the conspirators to be omni-competent (ha ha, come off it) - then we can work out that my security clearance is roughly on a level with a senior minister’s in, say, the Macmillan government circa 1957. Never mind that I have all the technology I need to fake a moon landing right there in my washing machine; the significant change is that I have the news media, the social media, Wikileaks, even my phone delivering “Witchcraft” material (thank you, John le Carre) to my kitchen worktop, bedside table, er, living-room television, et cetera, all day, every day. My “need to know” is taken for granted, and, um, the delivery is reliable.
My desire to know? Not really. My nostalgia for heavy old bakelite phones with a rotary dial instead of a scrolling display of “news” headlines? Absolutely. I remember thinking years ago, as I sat in an office reading one of the Len Deighton spy novels, that those novels - crumpled macs and weary cynicism for the heroes; immaculate overcoats for the high-ups who didn’t really get it - were written for people who worked in dreary offices where they weren’t saving the world for democracy. Not exactly to give their lives meaning, but to provide some kind of comfort. I may look like the wearily cynical owner of a crumpled mac, as I sit at my desk reading a book in my lunch-break, but wearily cynical owners of crumpled macs can be interesting too, you know.
That’s three paragraphs out of five without the B-word. And here I am, all those years later, sitting at my desk. It is - because I don’t write this all at once; I leave it and come back to it - time for my lunch-break. I could go and find myself a Len Deighton novel, or a le Carre, or I suppose I could act out a scene from one of them, in the sense: get myself a real-time briefing on what’s happening in Westminster and beyond. Turn on the radio, I mean, not pull on my overcoat and head for St James’s Park. But - no. Life’s too short to spend time on “affairs of state”, as they used to be called. They’re arguing. They’re going to go on arguing. The EU is going to go on - spookily - speaking with one voice. Our lot are going to go on yelling at each other, and in the wider “national conversation” on social media, insulting each other’s intelligence.
For what it’s worth - I know, it's not worth much, but I’ll only take a couple of sentences - I still say that Brexit doesn’t matter. However this plays out, we’ll still be in a relationship with Europe. What’s significant about today - and tomorrow, and with any luck the next day - is that after two years (plus) of confident assertions that the future will be a disaster if we don’t come to our senses and leave/remain - after two years of that confident drivel, we’re beginning to recognise once again that the future is utterly unknowable.
Not knowing what’ll happen next is a characteristic of a real future. Endless talk about what “could” happen is just a holding pattern. That “deal” failed. And now the disembodied voices in my radio are asserting - as confidently as ever, mind you - that we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Thanks, people. Welcome to the refresher course on reality.
Anybody here remember Oskar Homolka, by the way? I know Michael Caine wore the mac, but still.
So I put it on one side and launched into a piece about typewriters and forecasting (as you do). Spontaneous, last-minute and written straight into Weebly (usually, I start out in Google Docs - in a long and lengthening document called Blogs through October). Turns out I’m in favour of typewriters and against forecasting. That piece is down below if you want to read it. [If you’re a grammar nerd, by the way, do let me know whether you agree with that hyphen a moment ago, in ‘last-minute’.]
First of my two subjects in last week’s failed post was left-handedness (and we’ll find out in a moment whether it belongs with the second). I’ve written about left-handedness before, I know, but it’s my go-to example of a potentially hazardous condition that affects a minority without attracting any special treatment. I’m not saying that we should all stand up and offer our seats on buses to left-handed people - but we don’t, and there is some evidence that being left-handed is a risky condition. Put “Hidden dangers of being left-handed” into Google.
Doncha love the bit about psychotic disorders? Scroll down far enough, and you’ll come to the ancient piece from The New York Times that tells us: “Left-handed people tend to live significantly shorter lives than right-handers, perhaps because they face more perils in a world dominated by the right-handed.” Now, just to be even-handed (sorry), search the phrase “Hidden dangers of being right-handed”. There aren’t any. That phrase also takes you to results about the dangers of being left-handed.
It’s almost worth taking this seriously. Roughly 10 per cent of the population are left-handed. I am left-handed. In certain moods, I drop in to kitchen/hardware stores and ask for left-handed scissors. I’m often told (or perhaps rarely, but it stays with me when it happens) that there is no demand. Ditto, garden centres and left-handed secateurs.
Population of the UK in 2017 was 66.02 million. [66.02 million at the end of 2017, I think, in case you’re tempted to ask the obvious question.] That’s 6,602,000 left-handed people cutting things with scissors moulded for their “wrong” hands. Six million customers, I should say, who have - I’m just guessing here - given up asking. No demand - yeah, right. That’s a six, followed by (if you ask 2,000 of them to wait outside) six noughts. Every one of them - further assumption - with money to spend.
I now own more than one pair of left-handed scissors, because as well as being creative, quick-thinking, et cetera, I am persistent. Look up “Do left-handed people’s brains work differently?” online. If you’re right-handed, I’m quicker-witted than you are, apparently. But don’t worry - read this at your own pace. I keep my left-handed scissors in a drawer, because I don’t want to lose them. But I do get a pair out specially when a right-handed person asks to borrow my scissors.
More often than you’d think, actually. Maybe I shouldn’t waste this problem-solving brain of mine on manoeuvring people into borrowing scissors from me. Maybe I should do it more often. I’m part of a minority for whom the entire world is configured the wrong way round, and that’s how it feels for me when I’m using the wrong kind of scissors. So there. No wonder my tribe has more accidents than yours does. Maybe it should be illegal to sell right-handed scissors to left-handed people.
Spend just a little more time with your search engine, and you’ll find that left-handed people are more creative, imaginative, quick-thinking, attractive, amusing and all-round wonderful than right-handed people. I know; I wrote some of that stuff myself. If you’re right-handed, you might also notice the various articles putting forward the ridiculous notion that there’s no real difference between left-handed and right-handed people. You can believe that, if you want to; it’s well within your intellectual capacity.
Have I offended you yet? The other subject I wanted to bring into that post last week was women’s football. I had just read a thing on Facebook about girls playing football. It was posted by a mother whose daughter plays football, loves football, wonders why she doesn’t see more women playing football on television. Lot of comments. Point made that “the England team” is the one with men in it, even though “the England women’s team” ranks fourth in the world while the men are down at fifth (FIFA rankings; the men went up to fifth in October 2018; the women went down to fourth in December 2018).
It’s almost a cliche now, to push women forward all the time, and the truly vital battles for rights and equality are happening in parts of the world where - may I put it this way? - having to go means having to go outside (and be vulnerable). Those battles are not happening in the boardrooms where the TV rights to football are up for negotiation. Nor in the places where I buy scissors, obviously. But that Facebook post did start me thinking about the vagaries of discrimination. Nobody notices left-handed people, and somehow, nobody notices that so much of the football on television is played by men.
I could put together a credible Health & Safety case for compulsory displays of left-handed tools alongside right-handed tools, but actually, why bother? We’ve all got something that puts us at a disadvantage, and I’m not convinced that the challenge of living in a right-handed world hasn’t been good for me over the years. But girls and football - that nagged at me last week, and still does (although I find that there are more women’s games televised than I had assumed). It would be impossible even to write a sentence comparing boys and girls and containing the words “are better at football than”, but if you follow the money, you get to the men’s game.
That doesn’t make sense even at the most basic level. People - men and women - like looking at women. That’s true in retail, true in marketing and advertising, just plain true. People like looking at men too, yes, but you can’t tell me that twenty-two women running about with a football aren’t going to be just as worth watching as twenty-two men, can you, really? I don’t imagine that the assorted backers of the men’s game are, in so many words, discriminating against the women’s game, but I do suspect that some of our attitudes run quite deep and don’t change as quickly as we think they do. Even now, whatever we think we believe, what we actually sit down to watch is...
Common sense - perhaps I mean conscious sense - doesn't come into it. I suppose real, deep change takes time, and anything involving money changes slowest of all - the mass audience follows the money just as the money follows the mass audience, and okay, you tell me the one about the chicken and the egg. But I still want to write about this.
There are parts of the world where gender issues are potentially life-threatening, and the football question seems likely to sort itself out over time. Okay. I get that. But I realise now what was nagging at me last week: this is about children, not men and women. That’s why I still want to write about it. How would it be - this is the thought that came to me - if all the campaigns for social justice in the world - feminism being the obvious example but not the only one - were run on the principle that every child has a right to a role model? Run for the benefit of the next generation as well as whatever we’re demanding for ourselves.
And think about this. I like those occasional moments when somebody says to me “Are you left-handed? I never realised!” as though it’s something special. I hope left-handed children get that. There are left-handed pens for learning to write, and possibly, I don’t know, left-handed keyboards and gadgets and all the rest of it. Whatever there is, I’m also in favour of children, all children, having the right to feel special, even if only (ha!) for being left-handed. The tenuous link - from left-handedness to girls’ football - is the link between feeling special and having a role model. Tenuous, yes, I know, but you tell me that a small child dressed entirely in a certain team’s kit, with a certain number (and name) on the back isn’t feeling special.
Where the post went completely wrong last week was in the idea that followed all that. I thought about campaigns for change, and I thought about how we all “fight” for our own rights - it’s always a battle, somehow, never a negotiation, and it’s always about our own rights - and I thought: parents. I thought: imagine a movement that gave fathers with daughters, mothers with sons, parents generally, not to exclude non-parents, a common goal. They’d work together, effectively, for a better future. More than they would for themselves.
Then I thought: how the heck am I going to fit all this into a coherent argument?
Then I thought: typewriters!