These are the two things that hit me like sledgehammers this week – apart from my own friends, three of whom are enduring every kind of personal trouble – family, job, health, breakdown and breakup.
The magazine in me (I worked in magazines 40 years ago) says it would be nice to end on a note of positivity.
But if you start talking back up, everybody ignores the downs for a bit longer.
How can it be “amazing” that the crowd greeting the Pope in the Philippines was almost a million more than it was at the time of the last Papal visit?
Contraception is not endorsed by the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church – which means a lot of people.
And Jamie Oliver’s wife, famously flat of stomach and lean of thigh, is talking about a fifth child.
We’re very good at talking about what bothers us, as long as it is at a distance. For example, global warming, though no sooner admitted than denied (tell that to the polar bears and seals) or the rise of minority violence, or over-population – but as soon as somebody gets serious about any of these big issues, we back off, positively nimby (Not In My Back Yard).
When you talk about overpopulation, few can see beyond their own horizon.
People talk about “them” and “us” – as if it’s terrible that there are all those Chinese/Africans/Asians/Muslims/Orthodox Jews – “because there aren’t enough of “us” – principally Caucasian, educated, neo-American “all right” people.
But there are more children than there are places for them in primary schools in London. And that isn’t all about primary schools of choice, it’s about places – and of course the education authorities and the teachers say they will do their best – but the relentless expansion of bodies means I can’t recall a time when some school or other wasn’t working out of a municipal building or a Portacabin, or hired the big house over the road for the overflow. New builds are expensive and time consuming. I’d much rather we used existing buildings and I’d much rather we used them more imaginatively and better but my point is – too many bodies.
I shall miss Foyle’s War though I applaud the author’s wish to stop now, now that WWII (when the stories were set) is over. I am sure that it is easier to read about than to have lived through the period immediately after the war – when certainties dissolved like salt in hot water. We thought everything would be “all right”. And it wasn’t.
The displacement of people (peoples?) was so enormous that the war wasn’t going to end and everybody go back at once, to where they started from.
And that’s before you start thinking about enemies, friends, allies, double dealing, special interest groups, the damaged, the fearful, the ill.
Before you start thinking about states and nations, zones and agreements, passports, proofs and a blind eye.
Before you acknowledge the lack of food. An American journalist wrote that Europe was beaten in to submission by starvation.
It is fashionable to applaud how much more wisely we ate during the war in the sense of less fat and more vegetables but that presumes you could get enough of it – and many didn’t.
Reading (Sunday Times magazine 18.01.2015) about the millions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, I thought “Here we go again!” There is no structure, no government – no wood for the fires to keep the young and the elderly warm. Established refugee camps risk solidifying into a state within a state. Lebanon doesn’t want them – it has seen them in neighbouring countries. And they are poor, struggling. The suffering is horrible.Putting a man on the moon (even if he has to pee through a catheter) is a doddle compared with keeping a man in his village and allowing him to be a man.
· with apologies to the poet Robert Browning and in gratitude to the late Alan Coren at Punch (he gave me a column called Broad Sheet).