Monday 9 November 2009

Gordon's doing his best; imagine the worst

15st 4lb (I know, I know), 4.5 units. We should have been leaving Northumberland for good the day after tomorrow. The “Under Offer” sign is still outside the house, and will no doubt remain there until our fuel shortage grows so severe that I take an axe to it. Instead we have just had a nice man from a removal company around to give us a quote for “rebalancing” my possessions between our two homes. I could see him wondering why anyone would pay good money to shift a load of junk that the council’s bulky waste collection service could deal with so much more economically (albeit not as economically as in the days before we had an efficient, undemocratic “unitary” council, when I seem to recall that it used to be removed free of charge).

Still, I do at least have fewer possessions than there were weighing me down 48 hours ago. Because, over the weekend, Mrs H finally managed to hold my hand on the first, faltering steps towards the life laundry. Together we went through cupboard after sideboard after cabinet clearing out at least some of those things I have insisted on accumulating over the last 20-odd years in case they might come in handy one day, though they never do. A good insight into my mindset is provided by the plastic box I unearthed in the tall press in the conservatory, on the lid of which a previous co-habitee had written, with a suitable touch of irony, “Mysterious Odds and Ends”.

I have to concede that I do feel better for it, and am quite looking forward to doing even more, though I fear that it will be a while before I can bring myself to tip the programme of every play, opera and ballet I have seen since 1973 into the recycling bin. Nor could I resist keeping the small bag I found among my late mother’s possessions, containing my own first pairs of baby socks and shoes.

It is interesting to observe the inevitable process of change and decay in action. Once treasured objects that had been carefully put away in apparently dry, warm cupboards came out again mysteriously covered in mould, rust or rodent droppings, which at least made it psychologically easier to add them to the bulging bin liner. Paper, apparently the most fragile thing I habitually put aside, strangely seems to keep the best. I never cease to be amazed that flimsy handwritten letters keep so well, when the big, solid people who penned them have long since turned to dust.

Talking of handwritten letters, I found myself in the unusual position this morning of actually sympathizing with Gordon Brown, as the BBC reported some grief-stricken mother laying into him for misspelling the name of her son in a supposed letter of condolence for his death in Afghanistan. At least he is consistent; as useless in bringing comfort to the bereaved as he is at making decisions, practising diplomacy or fulfilling any of the other key roles that comprise the Prime Ministerial job description.

It was also amusing to hear his spinners’ defence centring on the man’s poor eyesight; something which they have done their utmost to dismiss in every other context. Indeed, when Jeremy Clarkson described their man to an Australian audience as “one-eyed Scottish idiot” he was deemed to have caused such massive offence that he was compelled to issue a grovelling apology for every word. Apart, tellingly, from “idiot”.

Still, I thought the mother was a touch ungrateful. God knows, it is never easy writing letters of condolence at the best of times, and it must be a hundred times harder when you are the person responsible for putting the deceased in harm’s way in the first place. As one who wrecked the prize-winning calligraphy of his schooldays through years scrawling frantic notes at meetings, I now find it almost impossible to write legibly. Indeed almost the only times I attempt it are when writing greetings cards and letters of sympathy – and, in the latter case, I type out what I want to say first so that I can achieve a complete focus on making my handwritten words at least partially decipherable.

What I can’t find out from my extensive researches on Google is when this habit of Prime Ministerial empathizing kicked off. I naturally assumed that the dour Scotchman must have inherited it from his touchy-feely predecessor, until I recalled that Mr Blair was opposed at Sedgefield in the 2005 General Election by an anti-war candidate whose long indictment included a complaint that The People’s Tony had not dropped him a line when his late military policeman son was shot 31 times in Iraq, though he had found time to dash off a letter of sympathy to Ozzy Osbourne when he fell off his quad bike.

Did Mrs Thatcher write to the victims of the Falklands War or Wilson, Heath and Callaghan to those killed in The Troubles? We can safely assume that Churchill, Lloyd George and Asquith did not trouble to write individually to soldiers’, sailors’ and airmen’s families, or they would have done nothing else for the rest of their lives.

How long will it be before some ill-intentioned observer points out that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in this country is actually The Queen, and demands that she sends a handwritten letter to every bereaved family herself?

Yes, it’s a crazy thing to have started, but it was a nice idea and for once I feel that Gordon was doing was best. It’s just that, as usual, his best really isn’t very good.

As for letting the whole thing drop, it will be awfully hard now it’s kicked off. So why not extend it? “Yes, that’s right, Mr Blair. You’ve got the job. President of Europe, palace, motorcade, weekly trolley dash around Iceland for Cherie. The works. And you can start just as soon as you’ve written a personal letter of explanation and sympathy to all the bereaved parents and partners of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No, no, not the Americans. You can leave that to Obama. But don’t forget all the Iraqis and Afghans, will you?”

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