A is for akrasia

B is for blond

C is for control


A is for alt-right

B is for Brexit

C is for Conservative

This is from the thread sticking out of the warp and woof of my mind. (I love the idea of a Woof in my mind). We used to play skips singing “A you’re adorable/B you’re so beautiful/C you’re a cutie full of charm” and once I built a birthday address for the guest of honour on the alphabet, using it to underline different emphases and components in her life.  In front of another audience, presenting for the second day running and having discussed the previous day which magazines and newspapers, which radio and television, what freelance, I said people always asked me what I did and as the range was much wider than they expected, I proposed to answer alphabetically and it worked wonderfully well, to pull people in to contribute.

So I began with the alphabet today because I have been up all night (N for noise, O for over there, P for party) and because a close friend has now twice told me that I must just let where we are politically be. I can do nothing about it and obsessing won’t help. (See Mammy’s advice to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind: “be like the buckwheat, just bend a little”)

The (S for) sound of the new cabinet gives me the pip, all those wah-wah voices.   It’s all very well to posit that “you can’t judge a book by its cover “ … heaven help me, if these were spoken books I’d never get past the cover. “Yes, yes” said my friend soothingly.   “Not more than one newscast a day.”

I had never heard of akrasia which apparently means “not being in command of oneself”: thank you (F for) Fintan O’Toole, writing in the New York Review of Books about Boris Johnson’s 2004 novel.   It is the stop/start blah of the sentences which highlight the fan dance Mr. Johnson is doing: isn’t there a song called “Promises, promises” and isn’t the retort – fine but what about fulfilled, fulfilled ?

And I suddenly thought about another word I only know the look of – (L for) legerdemain – which led me to sleight of hand. Of course sleight of hand could refer to a confectioner making meringues – or it can call up the picture of your favourite (U for) uncle pulling a penny magically out of your collar.   But supposing we look at the term less literally, and we see a subtle mixture of will and recognition, with historical undertones of wanting the other fellow to do it for you, a strange transaction between what you want to see and what the other fellow means, a psychological space between you, laced with confidence on his part and wishing on yours ?

Confidence is fascinating. It breeds itself. You can because you can.   The more you get away with whatever it is, the more sure you become that (a) you can and (b) even if you slip, you can get out of that momentary difficulty.

Last week Channel Five pulled the advertised Michael Portillo documentary called The Trouble with the Tories, apparently because the cricket overran. There was nothing else to watch and Talking Pictures TV was showing the 1968 film about The Boston Strangler. I had seen this many years ago, I watched for 15 minutes, then switched off and went to the bookshelves where I knew I had Gerold Frank’s best selling book which I had carried round and I don’t think I had ever read before.

Fascinating in its appal, what became clear was that, in spite of the co operation of the press, enormous amounts of money, manpower and overwhelming effort, what kept the assailant free was his confidence, his repeated double axels of assault and evasion, his innate understanding of no pattern, just his will.   It was very unsettling to read now, 50 years later. |Of course today’s context is different but the sleight of hand is familiar. 

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