Skip to content

A Very Penitential Valentine’s Day and a Gooey Romantic Ash Wednesday to one and all – on this unique hybrid Holy-Day!



I wonder if you can buy lingerie made of sack-cloth?  I wonder if they sell wormwood flavoured chocolates?

For the first time in decades, we wake up to this unfamiliar combination of dewy-eyed soppiness and steely-eyed mortification.   For the first time in decades, the calendar commands us to indulge and yet mortify the flesh on one and the same day.

Now I think there are stores that cater to this peculiar combination – but not in North Kildare.  Possibly in Meath.  The Lord only knows what they get up to there.  The rest of us will just have to make do and mend.

Is there any way of sexing up the 1662 CoE Book of Common Prayer Collect for Ash Wednesday I wonder?

AL M I G H T Y and everlaſting God, who hateſt nothing that thou haſt made, and doſt forgive all the ſins of thoſe who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our ſins, and acknowledging our wretchedneſs, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remiſſion and forgiveneſs; through Jeſus Chriſt our Lord. Amen.

Now I’m trying to imagine this collect spoken by Barry White.  Hey girl, how worthily do you wanna lament your sins?  You and I could get together and acknowledge our wretchedness if you like… ’cause I know some remission that’s just… “perfect”.

Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius tries to establish a hybrid funeral/wedding of course in which mixed emotions are somehow permitted to co-exist…

With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole…
… but this policy results in a big pile of corpses on stage by the end of the play.
Yet perhaps in self-effacement, contrition, and being open to newness is, after all at the heart of all romance.  Perhaps admitting the love of another people is sort of cognate with a Lenten project.   True love tests if not threatens selfhood because it’s a courageous signing of a blank cheque, a willingness to take on unforeseeable demands further down the road.  It’s humility and it’s nudity and it’s a kind of heroic passivity all rolled into one.

And, after all, the Collect for Ash Wednesday does mention hearts.

And, as Feargal Sharkey so memorably observed… “a good heart these days is hard to find.”
Perhaps Feargal Sharkey is the supreme balladeer of the hybridized Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day festival.  His “loser ballads” of the 1980s treated a version of self-abasement as paradoxically negating romance while asserting it at one and the same time.   Who can forget the metrical boldness of

“It never happens to me
It never happens to me –

And metrical boldness is all about quickening the pulse.

Worries with Lincoln

Reposting on the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday…



Rather belated I know, but here are some irritations with Spielberg’s Lincoln movie.

Let me first say that I liked and admired the film.  It seemed to me, an admirable attempt to film a complex political situation, and Lincoln himself emerges as a work in progress, one who was constantly renegotiating the space between that which is desirable and that which is doable.  This is a film about the complex morality of political compromise, the need to get ahead of public opinion without getting too far ahead – the kind of cautious idealism that stands a chance of actually getting something done.

But a few things chafe.  They chafe away for months and months and won’t leave me alone.

Firstly, the music.

A very conservative and predictable John Williams score is used to underscore certain of Daniel Day Lewis’ speeches.  The score does not so much inform or decorate or…

View original post 319 more words

A. Lincoln. By Ronald C. White Jr. Where does the time go?

Reposting on the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday…



I finally got around to reading this one, first published in 2009.  Any single volume biography of Lincoln, inevitably offers an overwhelming reading experience of frenetic haste.  Before you know it, it’s done, and there’s a sense that an extraordinary life has barely been excavated.  As Abe and Mary arrive at Ford’s Theatre and you realise that only 674 pages have slipped by, there’s an deep sense of frustration as well as of loss.

The final few months of Lincoln’s life seem especially accelerated by White.  The struggle to pass get the 13th Amendment through Congress – the struggle that Spielberg made a whole film about – is permitted just two pages in this book.

I am grateful to Ronald C. White for three reasons, however,  Firstly, the book is beautifully written  A lucid work of history will always feel too short and the brevity of the experience is, I…

View original post 577 more words

Donald Trump and Abe Lincoln.

Re-blogging for Abe Lincoln’s birthday…



Having  recently read  Ronald White Jn’s recent biography, I’m struck by the extent to which Donald Trump time and time again functions as a sort of anti-Lincoln.

Trump has a kind of habitual need to desecrate just about everything that is admirable about the United States and accordingly during his election campaign, Trump took the time to deliver his own version of the Gettysburg Address at that hallowed site in Pennsylvania.   While Lincoln spoke movingly about those who had given their all because they believed in something bigger than themselves, Trump trampled on the memory of selfless patriotism by choosing to focus on purely personal grievances.

More significant, is their attitude to literacy.  White’s biography confirms and extends a universal consensus among all who have studied the life of Lincoln that Abe had a lifelong passion for reading.  Abe did not think of himself as having grown up especially…

View original post 596 more words

Happy Birthday Abe Lincoln and also Chas Darwin, born on this exact day in 1809.



Yes, Abe Lincoln has a birthday today.  In a few week’s time, we’ll note the sorry anniversary of his removal from this sphere by means of a shabby piece of melodrama.

Abe’s most astonishing achievement, in many ways, was to define a version of “doable” idealism.

Like most politicians of his age,  Abe was a trimmer and a compromiser.  He was not the most anti-racist or the most anti-slavery elected politician of his age.  (That was Charles Sumner.)  The difference between Abe and the other mid-century politicos trying to thrash out a compromise was that Abe recognised that “middle ground” was a mobile concept.  Unlike Buchanan and Pierce and Douglas etc. etc.  – Abe could see that public opinion needs a gentle push – or rather a push of exactly the correct measure of force.  He never wanted to get too far ahead of “public opinion”, but (in hockey parlance) he had the ability to skate to where the puck was going to be rather than where it already seemed to be.

Abe got on surprisingly well with Sumner – the utterly humourless repository of anti-slavery virtue whose most important rhetorical achievement was to get beaten up.  Because for Abe, Sumner was putting down a marker – was showing the future trajectory of civil rights, against which he could measure his own more “practical” settlement.

And Abe always hated slavery.  This is not disputed.  What was always disputed was Abe’s practical and legal sense of what he thought a federal government could do about slavery.  Until well into the civil war, he insisted that his government had no intention of abolishing slavery where it was already well established.  As a Free Soil republican, he did however assert that the Federal government had the power and the democratic mandate to check the advancement of slavery and prevent its being established in new territories.  He had supported the Fugitive Slave Act (an Act which did more to galvanise anti-slavery opinion in the North than anything else) and at one point tried to initiate a Liberian re-settlement scheme based on the depressing conviction that racism was too ingrained in within North American culture for dark skinned people ever to achieve any worthwhile freedom there.

Nobody ever used language more carefully than old Abe.  He was always precise when he had to be precise and vague when he had to be vague.  He was prepared to allow a range of incompatible people to believe that they had him onside.

Had Lincoln lived through his second term, the trials and compromises of Reconstruction would have tarnished his image, but the USA would have been better for it, assuming his efforts had served to establish a civil rights agenda on a more sustainable footing.  His martyrdom enabled various incompatible interests to claim that they had owned him.  He even appears as a benevolent patriarch, a loving father to the wounded South, in Griffith’s racist epic Birth of a Nation.

Lincoln has been described by Henry Louis Gates as, at best, a recovering racist.

(There’s an instructive Q & A session to be found here…

What he certainly was, was a work in process.  He was someone who refused to articulate liberating hopes that he believed beyond the scope of what was possible.  When events changed what was possible, he started to articulate them.  He was anti-Utopian without being complacent or cynical.   He did not think (out loud) the unthinkable but he appreciated it when other people did because when a critical mass of people started thinking the unthinkable the unthinkable became thinkable and then he would do more than just think it.  He got stuff done.

Addendum.  I’ve just remembered that Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day in 1809.  They are both exactly the same age.  Oddly enough, Lincoln’s racist enemies used to highlight Abe’s somewhat simian appearance and described him as a kind of “missing link” – a gorilla in a suit.

Donald Trump and the Cyrus Defense


How do so many self-identifying (white) Christians passionately support Donald Trump – a man who is the living negation of just about every Christian principle you’re liable to read about in The Bible?  Well…. it’s called the Cyrus Defense, and it involves quoting these verses the beginning of the Book of Ezra:

EZRA, 1-8.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,

Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.

And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.

Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.

And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.

Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;

Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.


According to the book of Ezra, the emperor Cyrus the Great effectively reversed the Babylonian captivity and not only permitted Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem, but also provided for the restoration of temple worship.  There is no suggestion that Cyrus himself was tempted to become convert to Judaism or became personally sympathetic to monotheism.  He remained what he always was – a polytheistic pagan.  He was, however, the instrument of Divine purpose.  The most powerful man in the Ancient World at the time became the expression of God’s larger plan for His people – regardless of Cyrus’s private life or personal belief system.

In the same way, argue the “Trump as Cyrus” apologists,  it does not matter that Trump seems so unChristian.  Trump is the expression of Divine Will in the same way that Cyrus was.   It does not matter that Trump has no concept of repentance or forgiveness, that he boasts of never saying sorry or forgiving his enemies.  It does not matter that Trump has no concept of “rule of law” – of any objective standard of morality against which he, Trump, can be judged.  It does not matter that Trump is incapable of worshipping anything other than Trump or of standing in awe of anything larger and wiser than himself.  The fact that Trump repeatedly evidences his utter contempt for the teachings and personality of Jesus Christ is likewise unimportant.  Trump is Cyrus – a mighty power raised by God to defend a chosen, privileged people – frightened white American “Christians”

There are a few key differences between Cyrus and Trump.  Cyrus was renowned throughout the Near East – all the way from India to Egypt – for the justice and benevolence of his rule.  He was regarded not only as an outstanding administrator but as someone with an interest in something we’d actually recognise as “human rights”.  Although the historicity of the precise form of words referenced in the Book of Ezra may be disputed, this generosity to the Jews is considered congruent with a general policy of strategic and rational religious tolerance practiced throughout his empire.  Cyrus was one who sought to ease religious and cultural tensions rather than enflame them.  By the standards of the age in which he lived -he was a bit of a liberal.  The author(s) of the Book of Ezra were appealing to a fairly global consensus when they suggested that this remarkable man must be Divinely sanctioned.  There is, on the other hand, a fairly deafening twenty-first century global consensus that Trump is a disgusting and delusional race-baiting sex criminal, whose rise to power is enough to trouble anybody’s religious faith.

When the Cyrus Defense is invoked, it is sometimes accompanied by the more familiar mantra that “it’s about politics, not personalities”.  You don’t demand moral virtue on the part of your leaders – you care about the policies they will enact.  This is a problematic maxim to apply to Trump whose main stated policy is “Trust me – I am Trump”.  Trump’s horrible horrible personality is, depressingly enough, the basis of his political success – “trust me and I will get things done – you don’t need me to tell you how.”  Those who prostrate themselves in front of Trump at rallies are not prostrating themselves in front of a policy agenda but in front of a personality – a demagogue who they believe should be allowed to rule absolutely and autocratically according to their own unchecked whim.

The truth about the Cyrus Defense is, I think, that it’s all about appealing to the frightened sense of entitlement of white privilege.  There are many people for whom “Christianity” is a mere synonym for whiteness – who have grown up sort of believing in a God who wants white Christians to be in charge of everything, for ever.  This sense of entitlement is never complacent or secure for however – and such people have no concept of “freedom” as such.  For these people loss of automatic and exclusive privilege is the same thing as slavery and persecution.  If the USA elects one dark-skinned president (out of 43), then white people are being persecuted. If gay people can get married – then heterosexual marriage is somehow being undermined.  There is no conceptual middle ground of equality and freedom under the law for these people – either you enjoy a monopoly of privilege – or you are being tortured and persecuted.

The Cyrus Defense and a paranoid tribal sense of “Christianity” go hand in hand.  God has made a Cyrus out of Donald Trump because God is not a God of Love but a God of paranoid privilege.  Trump can be an instrument of Divine Will only if Divine Will is not about love, justice and redemption but about hatred.  You will only deploy the Cyrus defense of Donald Trump if you believe that fighting the culture wars and hating and fearing those outside your own tribe is the one and only Christian obligation.


I misread the headline initially and thought that “Siri” would be representing the UK at the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest.

Either a very bold or a very lazy move, I thought – picking an app as the official representative of a nation state.  Maybe it’s a bold leap forward into posthuman recognition, a step into a cyborg futurity that cannot help to resonate with a tech obsessed continent.  Then again, perhaps it’s the expression of a kind of post-Brexit ignorance and indolence – a refusal to engage on any sort of human level.  Perhaps this is taking the notion of “phoning in” a performance to a whole new and literal level.

An intriguing prospect though – especially if there’s some kind of show down between Siri and Alexa in Lisbon.  One day it will happen.

But of course, it’s not Siri, it’s SuRie.  Or rather, it’s Annie Lennox as far as I can see.   The Annie Lennox of my teenage years is reborn on stage.

Although at times during the performance as she raises her long slender arms, she is Servalan, ruler of the galaxy, on the bridge of the Liberator shouting “MAXIMUM POWER”.

There was a very fine article published by Gillian Rodger back in 2004 in Popular Music, which treats the gendered aesthetics of this cropped hair/full length ballgown combination in some detail.

Certainly she’s better than all but one of the other options being showcased.  There’s an act with the rather contrived sounding name of Jaz Ellington who offers expressive loops and mood swings of some sophistication.  Unfortunately, I think that Jaz Ellington is seductively effective for precisely the same reasons that Portugal’s winning entry was a year ago – and this similarity of approach would not have gone unnoticed.

SuRie meanwhile is dramatically astute.  She’s got pipes on her – but she’s also got a sense of how to cadence her three minutes in terms of emotional trajectory.  She knows how to initially shiver and appear vulnerable.  She knows how to build to crescendos that denote both personal and collective triumph.  The song itself is a chorus and nothing more – which should not disqualify it in any way.  Many successful Eurovision efforts aren’t in the least interested wasting melodic interest on the verses, which frequently involve mumbling on more or less one note for a while, marking the necessary gaps between re-iterations of the hook, the chorus, the anthem, the bit you’ll be humming.  And “The Storm” does have such a chorus.

So SuRie, not Siri will represent UK within the EU for the last time at Eurovision.  There were many EU flags within the crowd, which is always nice to see.  This essentially silly event has meant many things since the 1950s.  For those who continue to watch it in the UK over the next few years, Eurovision seems likely to become the cherished preserved of the Europhile half of the UK.  This at least, should rejuvenate it, literally, as watching it becomes a small but very glittery protest against Brexity parental scoffing.

The effect of binge-watching eleven series of Murdoch Mysteries….


Perhaps we do have obsessive compulsive tendencies.  It’s just that as we browsed through categories of virtual box set availability on our Sky package, we learned that the complete Murdoch Mysteries was “only available” for a very limited time.  Suddenly a show that we might have treated as an occasional recreation or even as ambient background, became a precious and ephemeral resource.  And so we binged.

Now I’m not actually sure that I’ve really seen every episode, because I may have been asleep for some of them.  I only know that a great many Murdoch Mysteries have washed over me.  I was in the room.

Perhaps the most important thing that we can learn from Murdoch Mysteries is that law enforcement agencies from around the world should descend on modern day Toronto to discover how this city managed to decimate its homicide rate in the course of the last century.  The show opens in the 1890s and continues into the Edwardian era.  Toronto’s population at that time was about the same as that of Windsor Ontario today.  Famously, Windsor Ontario recently went for more than a year without recording a single homicide.  In the space of any given single season of Murdoch Mysteries covering the events of roughly a year, at least twenty murders are recorded.  This would give Murdoch’s Toronto a murder rate of 10 per 100,000 inhabitants.  21st century Toronto’s actual murder rate is less than 2 per 100,000 inhabitants.  This figure assumes however that Station House No. 4 is the only police station in c.1900 Toronto that investigates murders.  The series tells us that there are at least five police stations in the city at the time.  If murders recorded at Station House No. 4 are merely representative rather than exceptional, we’re looking at a murder rate of 50 per 100,000 inhabitants, making Murdoch’s Toronto as dangerous as 21st century St Louis Missouri.  In any case, war on violent crime in Toronto since 1900 has been so successfully waged that it ought to be a model for every other large city on the planet.

That’s if Murdoch Mysteries is even slightly realistic, needless to say.

Another thing you can learn from Murdoch Mysteries is that almost everyone in the world who was famous between 1890 and 1910 had a run in with the Toronto constabulary.   Edison, Tesla, Ford, Winston Churchill, Rosa Luxembourg, Helen Keller… the list goes on and on.  Arthur Conan Doyle is a regular visitor to Station House No. 4 – though disappointingly, he’s mislaid his correct Scottish accent.  The only celebrities who don’t visit are those whose lives are too well documented to permit a North American detour – and I’m sure the show-runners are working their way round such historical difficulties.

For those who don’t know, this series has four main characters.

In charge of the station, for some reason, is Inspector Brackenreid – a very stereotypical Yorkshireman.  Like all stereotypical Yorkshireman, he mentions Yorkshire in any sentence capacious enough to contain a subordinate clause.  His phraseology also contains some rather anomalous Cockneyisms.  His one and only investigative method seems to consist of leaping to a conclusion, arresting a suspect, and beating the living daylights out of them until they agree to scrawl a signature across the bottom of a pre-typed confession.  This is not a very original method and it’s been widely practiced throughout history and across the world.  For some reason Brackenreid inspires great affection among his employees, even though he starts hitting the scotch bottle at 9.00 am when he arrives at work and shouts at his constables continuously for the remainder of the day without doing anything that resembles actual work – unless a suspect has been delivered to the cells of course.  Nobody ever rebukes him properly for his violent methods.  He is also an opera buff and a talented painter.   I suppose that makes up for everything.

Constable George Crabtree is the most obviously sympathetic member of the tetrarchy.  Though only one constable among many, he is the first choice constable to attend any difficult or dangerous investigation.  If any job to be done is difficult, uncomfortable, smelly, or embarrassing, Crabtree will do it. If there’s a deep hole to be be dug – Crabtree will dig it.  Crabtree’s repertoire of diagnostic explanations is far more imaginative than anyone else’s and he firmly believes in vampires, zombies, werewolves, mummies etc. etc. etc.   He is also the author of a moderately successful if opportunist work of Egyptian-themed fantasy fiction.   Crabtree is an orphan and a foundling who was raised by scores of aunts.  His romantic life is also more complex than that of any other character.  He’s also capable of crucial deductive breakthroughs and his eccentric ability to “think outside the box” is responsible for more than one mystery being solved.  In addition, he can accurately extrapolate the large scale applications for prototype one-use clunky inventions.  If you’re playing a drinking game during Murdoch Mysteries – try taking a drink every time Crabtree says “I foresee a time when…”   Only do so in a room with a thickly carpeted floor.

Then there’s Dr Julia Ogden, Toronto’s most versatile liberated woman.  Pathologist, psychiatrist, feminist, naturist (briefly), fertility rights activist – there’s not a “cause” available to a radicalised woman in either 1900 or 2018 that she does not eagerly embrace.  She is Lisa Simpson.  Indeed, part of the problem with the series is its periodic conservative insistence on having the guy whose name is in the title of the show rescue a damsel in distress on a fairly regular basis.  She does return the favour on a regular basis.  I’m fairly sure that Dr Ogden was the only female police pathologist working in a major North American city at the time.  She dissects overwhelmingly male bodies with a kind of professional pride and elegance that reminds me of the excitingly retributive paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi.   Do not cross Julia Ogden.

As for the titular character, William Murdoch himself – he is by far the most mysterious of the four principles and by far the most “unknowable”.  He has mastered every science known to humanity and his inventions – if profitably marketed – would make him wealthier than Edison (who’s also a recurring unsympathetic character).  He’s a very deliberate reversal of clichés – which of course results in the reinforcement of those very clichés.  We’re all used to moody loose cannons who refuse to play by the rules and are on terrible terms with their immediate superiors – dysfunctional geniuses prone to temper tantrums and alcohol fueled bouts of maudlin self pity.   Well Murdoch is the opposite of all that. He’s scrupulously polite, abstemious,  and almost always follows official protocol. He’s a devout Catholic who crosses himself whenever confronting a dead body – which is very often indeed.  He has a strangely inexpressive face.  He is of course in love with Dr Ogden (and catholicism and feminism have some interesting conflicts), but in all honesty this love is more credible in the earlier series when it is thoroughly repressed.  We are told that William and Julia enjoy passionate conjugal relations but the door is firmly shut on any representation of their felicity – partly of course to ensure that the show remains prime-time viewing but also because the idea of Murdoch in the grip of passion of any kind seems unthinkable.  His strangely inexpressive face is somewhat hypnotic and Yannick Bisson… without seeming to act at all – manages to be the cynosure of everyone’s gaze.  Bisson like Murdoch, is also a keen cyclist.  It is pleasant to think that Toronto’s most famous fictional detective cycles everywhere in a show broadcast during the mayoralty of a man who vehemently hated bicycles and declared that urban cyclists thoroughly deserved to die at the hands of motorists.

This show isn’t The Sopranos or The WireMurdoch Mysteries is downright silly – though silly in interesting ways.  It could be described as “steampunk” – though I must confess a lack of detailed knowledge of the genre.  It is steampunk in the same way that The Flintstones is “stonepunk”.   Just as the Flintstones enjoy everything available to Californians c. 1960 in rough-hewn granite form, so Torontonians are exposed to everything that a 21st century Canadian citizen is exposed to – in clunky prototypical form.   Video surveillance, email, space travel, lie detectors are all tried and tested in Station House No. 4.  Likewise every social issue that impacts on the lives of 21st century Canadians is test-driven in Murdoch Mysteries, reinforcing a broadly liberal and progressive world view.  This is not a work of historical reconstruction but a show that shamelessly addresses itself to the modern world.  Not co-incidentally, it is fascinated by time travel.

The liberalism of the show is clunky and unconvincing.  But these days I’ll take clunky liberalism any day of the week in preference to opportunistic shows which flatter and nurture raw prejudice under the treacherous banner of “not politically correct”.

Has my time been thoroughly wasted during this binge?   Very probably.  I’m just hoping that watching such a formulaic show has heightened my powers of formalist analysis in some way.   And Murdoch is frequently so formulaic as to be downright exoskeletal.

Mary Queen of Scots had her Head Chopped Off. On This Day.



Yes, it’s that time of year again.  On February 8, 1587, the former Queen of Scotland, the widow of the King of France, and the distant cousin of the Queen of England, had her head removed in three awkward strokes.

It’s the kind of anniversary that makes me think a deal about what sort of lives matter and how the “mattering” of lives creates the Starkeyfied creature that we now know of “History”.

During the Scottish independence referendum (the FIRST Scottish independence referendum I should say), Alex Salmond, who did felt (wrongly I think) that republicanism was a step too far for the Scottish people, suggested that following independence, Queen Elizabeth could remain “Queen of Scots”.  It would be hard to think of a less encouraging historical precedent.  To be accused of murder, deposed, unable to return to either of the countries you care about, kept under house arrest for…

View original post 460 more words

Thinking about “Cake and Eat it” Brexit gives me chest pains… but I don’t get a sick note.


Does anyone else feel this, when having to think about Brexit?  It’s a physical pain on the left hand side, high up, not far from the shoulder.  Yeah – that pain.  It occurs whenever I’m forced to confront the senseless cruelty of the looming awfulness of the Hard Brexit agenda.

For medical reasons, I have to think about other things from time to time.  I return to early eighteenth-century poetry and related secondary readings for online teaching resources.  I try to figure out what exercises the imaginations of twelve year olds so that I can communicate with my son.  I think about Laurel and Hardy movies and 1970s episodes of Doctor Who and old movies and old songs and other stuff that cracks a collective smile on the part of people I care about.  Because if I thought about the condition of North West Europe as Hard Brexit looms all the time, then I’d have these chest pains all the time.

I’ve no right to complain of course.  I grew up in the UK and lived there till my late 20s.  the horribleness that is driving Hard Brexit was not suddenly manufactured in 2016 but had a very very long gestation.  I didn’t see what was going on because, as a younger man, I was a contemptible coward and an idiot.  I am now an Irish citizen, something I’m proud and happy to be.  I am, therefore, not leaving the EU myself in 2019, praise be – but neither am I shedding a legacy of decades of cowardice and idiocy.   Sometimes I can’t help but feel that these Brexity chest pains are a sort of cosmic payback for all those years of cruel smug complacency.  No, I don’t get a sick note.  I don’t get to stop thinking about Brexit.

Right now, the continuing official campaign to secure “Cake and Eat it Brexit” which secures a great trade deal without any commitments or responsibilities continues apace.  This battle is being depicted as a heroic “no surrender” struggle which deserves the support of every true British patriot.  It is  inconceivable to me that the UK government thinks it can actually win this.  The notion that one nation can change the rules of a much much larger organisation of which it no longer intends to be a member – so as to acquire a unique bespoke deal is incompatible with the expensive education that many of these politicians have received.

No, the only explanation I can think of for “cake and eat it” Brexit posturing is that the Government has given up any intention of “making a success” of Brexit and are instead focusing on controlling the narrative of its failure.  If crash out no deal Brexit can be blamed on “EU intransigence” or “Foreigners” in general, then they’ll count it a success.  The economy will suffer grievously, but the recession-proof millionaires who have been sponsoring hard Brexit are fully protected from the so-called “economy” and regularly get ever richer by betting against it.  Finally, and most importantly, controlling the blame for Brexit enables the Tories to remain in office for a little while longer.

In order for this deplorable strategy to work, it is important not only to vandalise Britain‘s economic health, but her moral and spiritual health also.  The only way this irresponsible foreigner-blaming national self-immolation can yield political dividends is by making people more horrible.  A poorer Britain has to be a nastier Britain.  Only by increasing the amount of fear, spite, stupidity and cowardice within the body politic can Hard Brexit “succeed”.  A cycle of poverty and recrimination and xenophobia – mutually reinforcing and endlessly recycled, seems to be the plan for modern Britain.

And I never saw this coming.  Because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m a coward and an idiot.

Still more urgent, of course, is the Irish border question.  The version of “sovereignty” peddled by the Hard Brexiters does not involve facing up to the responsibilities of sovereignty.  “Taking back our borders” does not seem to involve having the faintest idea of where those borders are or knowing how to best to take care of them.  Nor does this nationalism seem to involve any sense of national honour, or obligation to respect international agreements.  The consequences of a hard border are being casually disregarded.   Indeed it is Barnier who, on behalf of the EU, is trying to force the UK to face up to the most basic obligations to defend the peace and security of its own citizens – to actually be a sovereign state in any meaningful sense.

And there’s my chest hurting again.  Tomorrow I think I’ll ponder the effects of binge-watching Murdoch Mysteries.