Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Out of step

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


Years ago, London’s glittering West End put on a show called The Play Wot I Wrote. (Or something similar; too tired to Google.) It was a huge, whacking, roaring, screeching success. People fought in the streets for tickets. Hardened critics sobbed with joy.

I ruthlessly sold my grandmother and got tickets. I took my lovely Man of Letters and his Beloved, as a very, very special treat.

The theatre was packed to the gunnels. (I am sure that will go soon onto John Rentoul’s banned list, so I am using it while I can.) Almost from the moment the actors came on stage, people started to bark with laughter. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I checked my funny bone. No tickling yet. Never mind, it would surely come.

It never did. For two excruciating hours, I sat, with a face like stone, whilst the rest of the audience rocked and wept with hilarity. At one point, the waves of laughter were so corporeal it felt like being on board ship in a high swell.

I did not dare look at the MOL. I did not hear him laughing, but perhaps he was shrieking on the inside. As we filed out of the theatre, the three of us looked at each other, a little island of solemnity amidst the happy crowds.

Awful,’ we all said in unison. ‘AGONY.’

There was a tremendous, streaming comfort in knowing that at least we had each other. But we spent most of dinner discussing what was wrong with us. We could not work out why we were so utterly out of step with the taste of the great British public, the chattering classes, and the theatrical establishment. Sometimes it’s rather a lovely idea, being a contrarian; sometimes it just makes you feel slightly peculiar.

I had that over the MPs’ expenses. I could see it was bad and regrettable and wrong, but I did not see that it was the most scandalous scandal that had ever hit British politics. I remember thinking at the time that it was nothing like as bad as the scandal of the billions of pounds wasted on IT projects that did not work, or the fact the soldiers in Afghanistan did not have boots, or the practice of extraordinary rendition, and no one made a huge fuss about those for week after week.

I start to feel the same about the hacking scandal, and its political ramifications. It’s a fascinating story; it’s a shocking crossing of journalistic lines; it should absolutely be remedied. But it’s being treated as if it is the only news just now. Is it really as important as the fact that the entire Euro Zone is teetering on the brink? If the Euro goes smash, on account of Greece defaulting and God knows what happening in Italy, Portugal and Spain, then the banking crisis will look like the Teddy Bears’ picnic.

At the very same time, even if President Obama finally gets a deal on the debt ceiling, the ratings agencies are threatening to downgrade America’s credit rating. This sounds very dry and geekish, but it will have unintended consequences as far as the eye can see. (One clever person I know speculates it could even spell the collapse of NATO.)

Gold is shooting through the roof, always a sure sign that the people who know are panicking. I am starting to consider getting goats and planting carrots and going self-sufficient.

As all this outrage rages, it is quietly reported, by a journalist who should know, that the head of one electricity company took delivery, last week, of a large home generator. Old coal-fired plants are reaching the end of their lives; there has been no coherent policy announcement about what to do to replace them. The CEO clearly knows something we do not: there is a real danger that the lights will start to go out. Along with the keeping of goats and the growing of root vegetables, I may have to start collecting firewood and stockpiling candles.

Disproportion is always a worry, in any story. I still can’t get over George Monbiot saying ‘this is our Berlin Wall moment’, when Mr Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB was withdrawn. Now, people are starting to say: Worse than Watergate. Twitter is alive with reports that William Hill has the odds of David Cameron resigning at 8-1.

As I write, the House of Commons is baying at the Prime Minister over the matter of Andy Coulson. Apparently, according to the Leader of the Opposition, this is the most important matter of the day. Over the last two weeks, he has repeatedly said that he is acting on behalf of the People of Britain. ‘The People think,’ he says. ‘The People want to know.’ When the BSkyB bid failed, he actually said: ‘This is a victory for the People.’ A poll out yesterday revealed that six percent of The People put the hacking scandal in their top ten concerns. SIX PERCENT.

It’s a very easy thought experiment. Imagine you have just lost your job. Is your number one worry that the Prime Minister hired Andy Coulson? Or would you not want to know what his policy is for employment, economic growth, and the welfare state? Would you consider it a resigning matter that his erstwhile Director of Communications once edited The News of the World, or would you hold your fire until you see what he will do when Greece defaults?

It’s not that political leaders and newspaper tycoons should not be held accountable for their decisions, but that there should be a sense of proportion. But I suppose that does not make for a sexy headline.

It’s not that I am not interested. I’m slightly embarrassingly interested. It’s geek heaven. But it’s not the most important thing in the world, and I worry that it is being treated as if it were.

And one more thing, since I am ranting. I feel embarrassed and ashamed that all this newspaper dodginess happened on the watch of a Labour Party for which I voted. I voted for them proudly, until Gordon Brown lost me. There is something slightly odd about the current tone of self-righteousness coming from the Left, when it was Mr Blair and Mr Brown who were all over Mr Murdoch, with tea parties and weekends and flying visits and wedding trips and the horridly named ‘slumber parties’. Where was the outrage then? And how does the outrage now actually help in the running of a very complicated country? I’m just asking.

I suppose I should at least be grateful that all these questions are taking my mind off my bashed old heart. Perhaps I should stop being cross and write all those shouty outragers a nice thank you letter.

And, to reward you for your patience, here are some diverting pictures of the garden and the trees and the sheep and the DOG:

20 July 1

20 July 2

20 July 3

20 July 5

20 July 7.ORF

20 July 8.ORF

20 July 9

20 July 10

20 July 10.ORF

20 July 11.ORF

20 July 12

20 July 14

20 July 16

20 July 14.ORF

20 July 16.ORF

20 July 19

20 July 20

Look at old Posy Posington, all ready for her close-up. At least she knows what is important. To whit: biscuits, and rabbits. Oh, and The Love, of course. Perhaps she should be running the country.

Really must stop now, before I am entirely overcome by whimsy.


  1. Commonsense at last - I've been thinking the very same thing, admittedly from Ireland where we certainly should have other things to worry us. Phone-tapping is reprehensible, politicians in cahoots with the popular press are highly undesirable - but The People lauded by the insufferably smug and deeply hypocritical Milliband had no objection to gorging themselves on the information obtained by snooping. As for Murdoch wielding unacceptable power - quelle surprise! Charge those guilty of illegal acts, put an effective press regulation system in place and be properly critical of the utterances of the press and politicians in the future. And then let everybody get back to the issues that really matter. Rosy

  2. Rosy - Lovely comment, thank you. Always hate to have a go at the Great British Public, but do think you are right about people happily reading of the sex scandals of the famous. Bit of a double standard.

  3. Not got a moment to comment as fully as I'd like, but - yes, quite. I listened briefly to Jeremy Vine today and he had reporters from all over Europe giving their predictions about what happens if Greece defaults and so on - it's a little unnerving to say the least. Get going with the carrots, I say.

  4. I too am bored to sobs with this story. I don't mind when there is news but I wish the comment writers would turn their attention elsewhere.
    But - Murdoch had far, far too much power for one man and the links between his organisation and our public institutions are inappropriate. This doesn't mean that those institutions aren't equally to blame nor that that the hypocrisy isn't breathtaking from Labour. But for Murdoch's news empire to find itself on the ropes is an important day for British democracy. It takes a sledgehammer to crack a sledgehammer - ie if the fuss had been less hysterical he would never have been called to account as he was yesterday. And we should be glad he was. (I have just come back to the UK after nine years in Italy and having experienced a so-called democracy where the prime minister is a media baron I cannot tell you how glad I am to be in a society which, albeit belatedly and hypocritically, finally says enough is enough.)
    Your writing, by the way, is as lovely as ever Rachel

  5. Jo - hurrah for the carrots!

    Rachel - really interesting sledgehammer point. And thank you for the kind compliment. :)

  6. Something to consider: you and the MOL and his Beloved may have been the only sane people in the house that evening.

    It may well be that there were others who did not find it funny, but who felt obliged to behave as if it were so, being caught up in group behavior, or being concerned with appearances and the opinions of other people. In other words, yet another episode of the emperor's new clothes.

    Integrity, honesty, authenticity...are rarer than could be hoped for.

  7. This has just fricken terrified me; particularly the home generator part (frowny face)

  8. Razinah - love that new perspective. :)

    Fwengebola - to reassure you, I have been reading the lights going off story for eight years. But it does still freak me out a bit, when I have not had enough sleep.

  9. The Eurozone is definitely taking a back row seat as all the papers gloat over the NOTW scandal. We are heading for a mega disaster but no-one seems to really care. I hear the new name for the PIGS is now GIPSI(s); whatever ... the whole thing is on the point of imploding.
    I have seen quite a few mutters around and about on the Internet about power cuts this winter, so maybe we will start dining by candlelight again as we eat our carrots, leek and parsnips from the allotment (allotment I have, veg for winter, not).
    Grim things ahead.

  10. My 'browser cookie functionality was disabled' but I have persevered to say 'quite so' and did you hear P.D.James saying much the same sort of thing this morning on the Today programme?

  11. I really couldn't agree more about the whole hacking thing - aside from anything else, did anyone REALLY think that news stories reporting how many text messages a celebrity had sent in a day or what the content of voicemails was were legitimately researched? I don't understand why people are so surprised. Sorry, no, people don't care. Newspapers are surprised - as distinct from journalists, who presumably knew. It's all just so disingenuous. And dull. I am MUCH more concerned about the possibility of the US defaulting. I think it's unlikely, but it is really really alarming nonetheless.

  12. I completely agree with you, there are so many important things going on in the world and this story is taking over. That is not to say that it is not important, but what about the debt ceiling, what about the continued loss of jobs, what about Social Security, what about the rising costs of gas, and food. What about all of the important things that affect us on a daily basis?
    The hacking scandal is disgusting, hacking into a dead girls phone, could you sink any lower. But there is a culture of people that thrive on this sort of news, those are the ones that are buying and reading these sensational papers.

    I for one and so tired of the scandal, like every other thing like this, no one but the little people will be hurt. Murdoch is worth 3 Billion dollars, nothing will happen to him!

    Sorry to vent. It is roasting here in the steamy south of the USA and I am tired. Thank you for the thought provoking post!

  13. Return of the Native - let us hold out hope for the power of the allotments. :)

    Sharon - yes, yes, YES! And you know I try to avoid exclamation marks at all times.

    Lucille - did not hear PD, but so lovely to think that she and I think alike.

    Kate - so lovely to know I am not alone.

    Elizabeth - you know you never have to apologise for venting. Always so thrilling for me to hear from the steamy south.

  14. We have a similar problem in Australia. FINALLY, there will be a carbon tax and some sensible action on climate change (long overdue, especially as we are so very vulnerable in terms of drought and most of the population living on the coast). And what do we have? An idiot of an opposition leader banging on about it being a toxic tax and how it should be reversed. A government that is not selling it intelligently. A media that seems to be consumed with facile soundgrabs and opinion polls rather than actual considered thought.

    No long term thinking, no appreciation of short term pain for longer term gain (or at the very least, alleviation of the damage that will be done).

    And I'm supposed to be horrified at the corruption of the Murdoch clan or the intransigence of the plutarchy?

    No - soothing dog, plant and landscape photos are definitely needed....

  15. Erika - one of the things I love most about this blog is the bulletins coming in from all over the globe. And most delighted that the Pigeon is, at least, soothing. She lives to serve.

  16. Please don't apologise for ranting. You only ever do it in a well written, interesting and informative way. I am so glad I never saw that play, I was in London at the time and I've always felt that I'd missed out on something. I am so glad to hear that I did not. Pigeon is looking so so sweet lately, more than usual, if that is possible.

  17. What is so "shocking" about the News Corps. hacking is that police officers were involved and BRIBES were paid, all highly illegal. I know some cops are dirty (I grew up in Miami, for heaven's sake, hardly known for its sterling police force!) and also know (coming of age in the 60s) that authority is there to be questioned. However, if you can't trust Scotland Yard, then who...?

    Meanwhile my sister is feeling about the same about Barack Obama as you do/ did about Gordon Brown. Having just spent six weeks in the USA, all I can say is that the "craziness" is everywhere. Buy that generator asap and start the veggie garden! (By the way my Fla. sister does have her own generator, apparently as a back up when hurricanes knock out their power. Such foresight!)


  18. I agree. I have no more to add. I really like the photo of the wall too. I love reading your writing, it makes me feel glad that there are people like you in the world who can take a step back and think.

  19. Lou - you are always so kind. And I can't help but agree: I think the Pigeon IS getting sweeter.

    Pat - so agree about Scotland Yard; that to me is the most shocking thing in all this murky business.

    Siobhan - such a lovely and kind thing to say.


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