Saturday, 6 September 2008

The Sound of One Foot Tapping

Life dances to hidden music and I have only rarely caught the sound. The first time was when a very senior officer in the Courts Service explained how the Establishment had massaged the murder statistics in order to justify abandoning the death penalty.

The second time was more pleasant. My eldest daughter took me to a promenade performance of Shakespeare’s “farewell” play The Tempest in the breathtaking Memorial Park in Lancaster. Set on a hill, it is really a series of parks and each scene of the play was performed in a different area of its 50 acres.

As I watched, entranced, on a lovely summer evening, it became clear in this separation of scenes that buried in The Tempest are echoes of the Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and so many other of his masterpieces.

It became clear that Shakespeare was saying goodbye to his audience with a series of “trailers”, reminders of earlier successes. Shakespeare, the professional writer, recycling his material. If possible, it made me love him even more.

Now I hear the music again. This time it is hard and atonal. It is the sound of a society being driven into obedience.

Councils are seeking volunteers to pry on their neighbours, clerks are being given powers of arrest. It is the overture of the Stasi state in Britain.

At the Buxton Festival some years ago I interviewed one of Mrs Thatcher’s inner cabinet of advisers. Talking of “Yes Minister”, the satirical TV look at Westminster, he admitted that it came very close to the truth about the governance of Britain.

The founder of Welsh Nationalism Gwynfor Evans told me he did not care if a Plaid Cymru MP was never elected so long as he had a cadre of nationalist civil servants.

The rot began, in my view, during the war when the bureaucrats were allowed to bring in all manner of petty legislation whilst their "masters", the MPs, slept. The first post-war Labour government - the only one that thought of the electorate as human beings for whom it had a duty of care - sought control with draconian planning regulations.

Proliferation as policy is the driving force of the bureaucrat. It lives through endless cloning and it has been quick to take advantage of the laziness of our MPs who no longer scrutinise the legislation proposed by Civil Servants.

Another weapon is the manufacture of false fear. Dangerous Dogs legislation has done little or nothing to reduce attack. The Dunblane gun panic succeeded only in closing gun clubs where weapons were handled with respect. A man who altered replica guns to facilitate eight murders will do a year in prison for every life he stole. If I carry a penknife, or sgian dhub in Highland Dress, I risk imprisonment. Our young are slaughtered by the day.

The smoking regulations were supported by spurious research. The World Health Organisation tried for six years to prove there was such a thing as passive smoking but had to admit failure.

We were told there was evidence to prove that more than four units of alcohol were harmful. It later emerged the figure had been plucked from the air.

TWO centres for the European Parliament in Strasbourg and Brussels? Why?

The European parliament exists to control; and its legislation is often harmful. It decrees that each member country must produce a given rate of fuel economy. The foreign owned utilities are offered huge sums to establish wind turbines and farmers paid excessive rents to house them, although it is accepted the entire output of wind farms is less than that of one power station.

We are persuaded there is a vast terrorist army waging war against us. In fact we are suffering from understandable resentments which date from the Crusades. The terrorists are separate entities, like the Afghans who have been fighting us for centuries, the Saudis whose Wahabi beliefs are the product of the self interest of Ibn Saud. Pakistan, that nest of trouble, is an artificial construct that came into being because Ghandi, Nehru and the rest of that self serving crew got tired of fighting for control of a united India. The partition boundaries were decided by a lawyer who did not know the sub-continent and never left his bungalow.

As if being bombed is not bad enough, we are told that our profligate ways are changing the world's climate. Rubbish. Life on the planet has only been possible for 25,000 years, separated by massive natural climate change.

How far are we from emulating the law recently imposed in Japan that requires all adult citizens to have their waists measured? If they repeatedly exceed the allowable limit – 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women – they are subjected to "health re-education" and their employers become liable to financial penalties.
Obesity is still almost a crime in our society. But it is also a commercial opportunity. Oxo are large scale manufacturers of slimming aids. When I puzzlingly slimmed on radio, I discovered the firm financed magazines, slimming clubs, even appetite-diminishing toffees.
In The Independent, Dominic Lawson disclosed that an anti-obesity report from Dr Foster Research was funded by Roche, the pharmaceutical company which developed the anti-obesity drug Xenical.
A year ago, Dr Foster issued a report which complained that "around 3 per cent of Primary Care Organizations do not fund the use of drug therapy for obesity, despite the recommendations of organizations such as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence."
The most blatant twisting of the truth has been in the climate that produced the Drink and Drive legislation.
In 1985 I wrote a column warning that Orwell’s 1984 had been ominously prescient.

The Central Statistical Office’s “Social Trends Survey” disclosed that year that, despite a vast increase in breath tests from 97,000 in 1971 to 245,000 in 1983, the rate of positive tests had fallen steadily from 58 per cent twelve years earlier to33 per cent in 1983. The overall figures for death and serious injury on the roads had been dropping since 1971.

Prompted by this, I discovered that the statistics for drunken driving included all road deaths in which drink was a factor. Including those of drunken pedestrians who walked into the path of traffic and accidents in which drunken drivers were involved, though not responsible.

More and more laws until at last you have a totally obedient population and it is welcome 1984!

Never mind 1984. Remember 1986 when there was this passion for getting machines to talk? Cars, rubbish bins, bus stops. There were even talking sewing machines.

I believe that machines, like small boys, should be seen and not heard. Or, if heard, should provide an agreeable hum from the kitchen as a background to the rustle of the evening paper and the light, rhythmic snore of the head of the house. Carefully employed by the malevolently-minded, the foot pedal of such a machine could be brought into sharp contact with the lino and, if the timing was right, jolt the head of the house out of the deepest slumber, mewing with fright.

On some sewing machines it was even possible to so operate them that the needle in its downward progress and the rhythmic hum of the motive wheel provided a backing group to that haunting lyric which I am convinced all wives learn as little girls at their mother’s knee. You know the one. It goes something like this: “You use this house like a hotel. You only come in to change your socks.” Or “My mother said to me, I’d rather be carrying you through that front door, feet first, than see you marry that man.”

I just hope that they haven’t been teaching sewing machines to make remarks like that. It will be the end of civilised marriage as we know it.

Then there was the talking bus stop. Funny to think that it’s not all that long ago when a person found listening to a bus stop ran a very real risk of being arrested as drunk and disorderly and being returned home some time later and several shillings the lighter.

But we lived in an age of technical miracles. When you could go to ten phone boxes on the trot and couldn’t get a peep out of any of them. But the bus stops talked your head off.

Have you ever wondered why there are so few odes to objects? It is common enough to laud abstract ideas but objects get pretty short shrift. Keats penned a stave or two to his Greek vase and Rupert Brooke did rather go on about cups and saucers, wet roofs and bread crusts.

The reason more people don’t, in my view, is that at this very moment the damned things are probably writing them themselves. The sewing machine in question, by the way, was Japanese and was called “Brother”, an Orwellian coincidence that has not gone unnoticed in this house.