Email to a friend, 25th February 2018. Well, think about it. Across Falmouth, young mothers are drawing up shopping lists of what their babies need. Office workers are ordering in office supplies, and supermarket delivery trucks are jamming the narrow streets as they try to deliver groceries to their local stores. At the political level, members of the local council are discussing whether or not to install metered street parking, and what to do about increased student numbers, and litter, and seagulls stealing ice creams out of the hands of children. The directors of local copywriting agencies are drawing up PowerPoint presentations outlining social-media strategies for local businesses.
On television and other screens across Falmouth, BBC journalists are interviewing each other about the significance of North Korea’s participation in the Seoul Olympics. Which is nil, down here in real life. While conversations in the pubs and hostelries of Falmouth now turn to Spring flowers, the laying of lobster pots and website design, former Kremlin watchers analyse the latest tweet from the US president. I went into the flower shop the other day, to find out the florist’s views on the impact of EU data protection legislation on the retail sector in the UK. She was more concerned about dogs making messes on the pavement outside her shop. Hadn’t even heard of MiFID II.
Also. I bought a new laptop. It came with a built-in browser that was configured to give me a “news feed”. I can’t turn it off. The news this morning is: a stuntwoman in the Black Panther film is a real-life warrior; the actor Will Smith enjoyed his first meat pie; a model has a famous father. Oh, and Stephen Fry has released a statement: he did have cancer but doesn’t have it any more. Thanks, Steve; may I call you Steve? With my “news feed”, I’ve got all the news I need to make a success of my day in Falmouth. Or have I?
Knowing that Stephen Fry is feeling better isn’t quite as useful as knowing whether the St Mawes ferry is running, what the roads are like today, whether there’s a cruise ship in (thus, crowded streets), and the times of today’s tides. Don’t know any of that, but hey – as I set off to catch a ferry that might not come, I can at least reflect on the prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula.
The biggest gaps these days are not between the categories we make for ourselves - not class/gender/wealth/race/age (you and I are both baby boomers now – the age range has widened). Nor are they defined by the sets of measurable numbers we count – GDP, “the economy”, et cetera. The big gaps are between the real lives we actually live, in which (say) the office printer is low on ink, the baby needs changing, Tesco doesn’t stock organic yak’s milk, and the storytelling lives that we somehow buy into, in which serious-faced individuals discuss the interactions of remote presidents, and baying audiences applaud the latest not-even-here-today non-entity to have won a talent-show version of stardom.
I’m not so much saying that the real world is improving necessarily, nor decaying; just that it keeps on going. The narrator of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989, William Morrow) agonises over Reagan and the Nicaraguan Contras. Remember them? Their long-term impact on the price of fish? Turn on a radio today, and there’ll be somebody with a strong opinion on one side of a very short list of immediate issues. Not a new opinion; it’ll be one of the small range of predictable opinions about Trump, Brexit, Men/Women.
We’re tuned by nature to storytelling and ongoing dramas, but while we’re listening, we’re getting on with life. You know that sense of surprise, when something or someone that directly involves you comes up unexpectedly in the media? It’s because the media never does involve you, or relate to you, or touch on anything directly relevant to you. It is the tendency of any narrative that isn’t directly related to the day’s work, to become a fairy tale. And there are only so many plots available…
I would say that “the will of the people” is to reject the status quo that presented them with the choices they’ve been offered recently. Whatever else you might say about him, Trump is cathartic for the political class. I bet the “Who the heck do we put up next?” conversations now going on among US Democrats will spawn some interesting memoirs.
And by the way, the past few years have restored my faith in the will of the people – not because I take a particular side in anything, but because the electorate seems to be handling a series of insane political situations about as well as could be expected. The politics is played out, ripe for change. The people are handling it all quite well, actually, given their limited options.
Yes, the world does hum merrily along, but the sanity of the players in the “news” doesn’t matter half as much as tonight’s weather forecast, or the time of high tide, or a good supply of nappies for the baby. The law and order that matters down here is the traffic warden. Trump is irrelevant to whether or not the delivery driver can park for long enough to deliver.
I think you’ll agree that before too long we should get some people together in a studio to assess the implications or weigh up the pros and cons – which do you think would get the bigger audience numbers?
And meanwhile, babies continue to be born. Should we arm them with assault rifles?