Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dr Johnson's Aardvark

It is variously said, including in Blackadder I think, that Samuel Johnson's Dictionary both does and does not include the words 'aardvark' and 'sausage'. Well, having finally got around to doing a little research I can confirm that 'aardvark' is not there but 'sausage' is.

This is perhaps not surprising, since, although the Dutch were in southern African over a hundred years before Dr Johnson published his magnum opus, and had presumably given their own name to the animal by then, the word did not enter the English language until British settlers arrived at the beginning of the 19thC. The earliest quote in the OED is from 1833, and curiously, the second edition of the OED (1989) still considers it to be a non-naturalized word, and hyphenates it (as aard-vark). The taxonomic information it gives is also known now to be highly inaccurate, since it is not a close relative of the anteater at all, but rather it belongs, as confirmed by DNA analysis, to the fascinating superorder Afrotheria, which also, rather surprisingly, includes the elephants, shrews, tenrecs, manatees, dugongs and hiraxes. Lots of rapid change going on there.

'Sausage' is recorded in English from the 15thC (the product is much older, and probably the word as well) and comes from the Latin salsicus-a, via the Vulgar Latin and the Norman French, whence the conversion of the lateral to a close back vowel (something similar happens in some London speech, where 'balls' becomes /bouz/).

I can't find a reliable etymological dictionary of Dutch or Afrikaans, to see how early the word 'aardvark' is, but it is safe to assume that it was coined in the late 17thC. All of which explains why I never get anything done, since a casual mention of a word has got me spending half the afternoon researching all this. The good thing is that, being 'Homo blogens', I don't have to let it go to waste.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Brussels Press: Not Going Native at all

The EU Observer is always a fascinating read, because of the way everything it says (it doesn't really report anything in the traditional, factual sense) is interpreted in the light of its unshakeable belief that the EU is the most important thing in the world and that its very existence is a matter of unspeakable joy. It (the paper I mean) describes itself, hilariously, as
  • Editorially independent, open-minded and balanced.
  • The trusted source of EU related news and information across the European Union.

As a taster I offer you the following items from today's edition, if an online medium can be said to have editions.

- New EU laws to target Facebook: people are interacting without rules, they are daring to use new ideas and technologies without waiting for the EU to tell them how to do it; reality must be paused indefintely while Barroso and company have meetings to decide what they must try to stop us all doing in the name of something or other, and when they finally produce a law that no one seems to want or need (how many real governments are bothered about this?) they will be so far out of date that it will not even serve the purpose it was supposed to have.

What of the ninety-two percent of the world's population that does not live in the EU? How can they possibly use Facebook without the laws which the unelected bureaucrats at the commission propose to inflict upon us? What will they do? Just muddle through, one imagines. What a terrible way to have to live. That 92%, of course, includes the founders, owners and operators of Facebook, so if the EU makes it too expensive or complicated to offer Facebook over here, they will just stop, and millions of people will have been deprived of something free and harmless which gave them pleasure, because Barroso and company cannot bear the idea, in fact cannot conceive the idea, that something can exist without their permission, and function without their control.

- Single market needs tax co-ordination: 'unfair' tax competition is an old idea in Brussels, and the fact that it can only exist in the mind of a totalitarian paper-pusher with no understanding of freedom, or even of the real world, doesn't stop it reappearing with the inevitability of an unloved season. We normal people think that tax is a painful business that is necessary, to some degree, in order to pay for certain services which we can't all pay for individually for a variety of reasons. Politicians in democracies think that tax is a way of getting money to bribe the people they expect to vote for them and to punish those who they know aren't going to. Leaders of undemocratic countries think of tax as a means of paying for all their palaces and keeping the army loyal. Bureaucrats in Brussels, who don't have to worry about elections, and have no responsibilty for freedom, general well-being, social stability, civil unrest, economic growth or anything else, because when they took all the power from national governments they made sure that the blame for what went wrong stayed firmly where it was, think of tax as a piece in their little game of trying to make everything and everywhere exactly the same. Peace, prosperity, happiness, liberty, history, identity, creativity, progress, even reality may be sacrificed without a thought, as long as harmony can be achieved, at least on paper. The goal, the obsession of the bureaucrat is the simplicity of the paperwork. As long as they can tick the boxes easily and their pensions are safe, nothing outside of them matters in the slightest.

- EU commission justifies Haiti 'visibility' concerns: such is the arrogance of the commissioners that they are actually prepared to sacrifice efficiency of aid relief in Haiti because they are miffed that the US and some other countries, including Britain, are getting more credit for the effort then they are. They are prepared to reduce the relief and divert money to a publicity campaign until EU workers have their own special, distinctive uniform and the EU flag flies over the area. The article linked to includes the desperate attempts by commissioners, who have realized that public opinion isn't entirely with them on this, to pretend that they are not bothered by 'visibility' at all, attempts which are best described by the phrase 'complete and utter pig's ear.' They really do care much more about their image than the desperate state of over a million people whose lives are in immediate and rapidly increasing danger from lack of food, shelter, sanitation and public order. They are beneath contempt. I really don't care whther Catherine Ashton went to Haiti or not. Far better, in fact, that she didn't. She would only have got in the way, demanded that a fortune be spent on travel and security for herself and her entourage, and insisted on preaching to and being photographed with people who had much more urgent and important things to do.

So that's the EU Observer. Thank God for the freedom of the press. Now, if only they had some idea of what to do with it... Perhaps Barroso should tell them what to do. Then again, that's probably the problem.

RIP JD Salinger

I see that J.D. Salinger has just died. I hadn't realised he was still alive. You know how it is with people who are known for something done long ago. He had long been labelled a recluse, although that seems to be metropolitan shorthand for 'lives in the country and and is not slavishly obsessed with getting his photo in the New York Times', or possibly just 'doesn't take journalists as seriously as they take themselves.'

In any case, he was still alive, and is now dead. Thomas Pynchon and Harper Lee are also still alive, but I had to look them up as well.

His great work, by general consensus, and almost his only work of any consequence, is, pof course, 'The Catcher in the Rye,' that handbook for disaffected adolescents through which they try to live experiences and think thoughts that they don't quite know how to have in real life. I wasn't an adolescent when I read it, and my reaction was not quite so unconditional as that of some critics.

It's hard to get an impression of how it felt to read it in 1951, but it was probably fresher and broader in scope than a lot of what people were reading. But even then, compared to the great American writers of a few years before, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Dos Passos, and others, it is stiflingly provincial, stuck in its own little self-referential world, wherever the character goes. By contrast, 'To Kill a Mockingbird', though set entirely in a small country town, has a sense of light and space, of being aware of the world, that 'Catcher in the Rye' simply does not have. It also seems to me to be a far better novel.

While in critical vein, I didn't really understand the insistence on the central metaphor, which is done to death, tediously presented to the reader as something new, over and over again (as in the books of Jose Saramago, where a simple and transparent idea is set before us through a dozen very slightly different narrative images over hundreds of pages). And then that central image is blown up by the explanation of the misunderstanding. Perhaps the point is to show that the vacuity of his existence is even greater than was previously apparent.

I didn't intend to be quite so negative when I sat down to write this, but I realize that my imporession of the book was rather poor. I shall now reread it, and write about it again, if I find I can be a little more upbeat.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Self-Defence and the Law

In the Times, and doubtless other places, there is much talk about how the Conservatives are planning to allow people more freedom to defend themselves, their familes and their property from intruders. It seems to reflect an appeal to populism in the light of some recent cases, and other not so recent ones which have excercised editorial writers for years. The comments are fascinating, as they reveal that people approach this from several completely different directions, and are incapable of understanding another point of view. Nothing new there, but it is surprising that some people don't seem able to imagine themselves as a householder faced with an intruder of unknown intention.

Anyone entering your house without permission is and will be perceived as a threat. It's the way we are. Any overtly threatening behaviour including the carrying of weapons will produce an overwhelming urge to react. If the owner and his family are at any time subject to the will of the intruder they will experience great fear and impotence. If one of them manages to gain control of the situation for a moment they will not calmly carry out a risk assessment, weighing this against that, running the letter of the law over in their minds and reevaluating it after each blow they land and each action they take. They will not do this because they are human, they are in a situation for which nothing has prepared them, their heartrate is over 200 and their body is awash with adrenalin. What they will do is beat the living s*** out of the intruder until they are absolutely certain, beyond any doubt, that he has ceased to be a threat.

That's what people do, and the law must adapt to human nature. None of this has to do with vigilantism or revenge attacks, but with defence against a present threat. If the law expects people to conform to it in these situations, rather than the other way around, then it will be seen to be an ass and will achieve nothing but to send people to jail who do not deserve to be there.

And if the local low-life have a more difficult and dangerous time making ends meet because of it, so much the better.

One of the cases mentioned recently was that of Myleene Klaas, who I had never heard of but apparently she appears on TV, who was cautioned by police after waving a knife at a gang who tried to enter her house. I don't know if anyone else has mentioned this, but I wonder how the police even knew what she had done. Did the thugs have the cheek to report it themselves? How did that conversation go?

"There we was, officer, me and the mates, going about our business, trying to break into this house where there's this woman alone with her baby, in accordance with our basic human right to live by nicking other people's stuff 'cos we can, and she waves a knife at us. I mean it's not on, is it, someone could've got hurt. Bloody scandalous it is, officer, didn't ought to be allowed. I mean start letting law-abiding people slice cubumber in their own kitchens and where'll you be? I mean that knife was bigger than all but three of the ones I had in my pocket. Bloody disgrace. You'll be talking to her? Thanks for your time, officer, glad we speak the same language."

Just a thought. It struck me as odd.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Not So Godless in Gower Street

I'm a bit late on this one, but it turns out the chap who tried to blow up his trousers in Detroit had studied at my alma mater, UCL. I was sorry to hear this, not because of the terrorism- he's not the first dodgy character to walk those halls- but because we like to think we're a bit brighter than that.

The Islamic Society has released a note on the subject by the way, which is worth reading. In my time I knew quite a few members of it, and I also had dealings with the Society as an organization, and found it to be an open, respectable and rationally peace-loving group. This was over twenty years ago and I wondered if things might have changed. The tenor of their communication, which is direct, clear and open with no attempt at obfuscation or implied qualification, suggests that things haven't, and I'm glad to hear it.

They make the point that no one, staff, Union or the Society itself, noticed anything worrying about him. This is consonant with what has been said about other such terrorists, including one of the London bombers who was a much respected primary school teacher (as I recall).

There has been criticism of the staff and the Union officers for not noticing a propensity for setting fire to his underwear, but how is a 50-year-old Professor of engineering supposed to know when a student is weird in a different or more dangeous way from the general eclectic weirdness that you find in a group of intelligent young people from all over the world? And the Union has other fish to fry.

In my day the political life of the Union was run by a rather nasty clique of Trotskyist homosexuals (it was the Trotting I objected to; I liked the Gaysoc, they had the best parties), who tried to stifle debate outside the claustrophobic limits of their own ideology, and as a result Union politics was not taken seriously by any but them. The sabbatical officers were the ones who ran the social manifestations of the Union, including (I think) the student health centre. They liked a bit of political posturing, but the ones I knew were fairly normal, and in any case their real function was to get enough money out of the University to keep the beer cheap and the sports grounds functioning. They are called sabbatical because they are just students who are elected to the position for a year and are allowed to interrupt their studies while they do the job. They have neither the responsibilty nor the training nor the experience to evaluate what someone might later turn into.

On balance I'm prepared to exonerate the Islamic Society too. But that's a personal, and perhaps partisan, judgement. Oh, and I should probably keep this quiet, but he's not the first we've had.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Are The Cracks Getting Bigger?

David Cameron thinks that the Edlington case is a sympton of 'our broken society'. I realize politicians have to spout profound-sounding vacuities on cue without frightening the horses- a difficult skill- but you would have thought he would have been better prepared to talk about a case which is currently the subject of much emotive coverage in the press. He probably meant what he said, which is pretty depressing.

Terrible as this case is, it cannot be called a symptom of anything, other than of the diseased minds of the boys who carried out the attack. We do not even know their background, as they haven't been identified, so we can't say if anything about their families or their upbringing has influenced their actions. (It is, of course, a fair bet that it has. You don't do something like that unless you have come to think of it as somehow normal or you simply don't care what happens to you; either way suggests a thoroughly miserable home life.)

But why does he think British society is 'broken?' In fact, what does he imagine British society is? Does he think it is a single homogeneous mass, responding as one to identical stimuli? Does he imagine that the entire country becomes hysterical when someone gets kicked off Big Brother or Manchester United lose or whoever is Chancellor at the moment makes a negative comment about the economy? Does he think that because unemployment has risen nobody has a job, or money, or is capable of looking after their family and being happy while they do it? Does he believe, above all, that the entire country is hanging on his every word, their lives and emotions governed by his lightest nuance?

People like Cameron, politicians, journalists and liberal arts types in general can never understand that the great majority of people do not take them seriously, do not care what they have to say even if they should happen to hear it, and have opionions and feelings based on experiences and ideas quite unrelated to Cameron and his kind.

British society is made up of many, many units, with connections within and between them, of a thousand different characteristics, the vast majority of which are not broken at all, they work perfectly well. The Edlington case is not in any way part of a trend, and is not an example of anything other than itself. There is nothing Cameron and his kind can do to change it or to prevent some child of the future from experimenting with the suffering of someone younger.*

I wonder what pointless, repressive law will result from Cameron's failure to recognise that sometimes thing shappen because people are bad and there is nothing he can do about it.

*Child murderers seem to act in pairs. That seems to be the only thing they have in common. Maybe Cameron can start by forbidding friendship.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Education is for Children; Is it hard to Understand?

A few remarks about schools, mostly things I have said before, but a bit more succinctly, and inspired by this, and this, as well as my general daily experience of idiots who think they know how education should work.

Education is supposed to benefit the children. The fact that teachers make a living from it is great for them, but it-s not the point of it.

Education should not be compulsory. Offer it to those who want it. If this causes other problems then so be it; they are better addressed outside of the schools.

Education is a fairly simple process at its most basic. It consists of instilling a number of skills and a certain amount of essential knowledge. There-sª a lot more if time and circumstance allows, but that-s more than most people get.

Education is not well-entrusted to left-wing pseudo-intellectuals who neither know nor care about the reality of teaching nor the value of education.

I also offer you this, in which Natasha Walter is astounded to discover that teenaged boys are interested in sex; a brilliant example of how to build a thesis from a couple of anecdotes about something which has nothing to do with the point of the story, and a few ideas cobbled together from what people are saying down at the wine bar.

This is great: I can see why some are arguing that the way forward really rests on creating more opportunities for women in pornography.

I-m almost tempted to agree with her, but I don-t think that was the idea.

ªMy keyboard has just changed all the symbols around and I can-t find the apostrophe. I have no idea how this can happen.

Hedgehogs are not Hand Luggage

Blogging is not life. I recognise this. It is not even a subset of life. Perhaps it is an assendum of life, something else to do. It might be a part of life, or just a way of passing the time.

Cricket is life, but I am currently pretending it doesn' t exist [inflates chest, makes eye-contact, congratulates South Africa sincerely and slumps back to position] and the Athletic beat Real Madrid yesterday, but football is ephimeral, so it's time for hedgehogs again.

The Northwich Guardian is just another local rag and you wouldn't expect much, but its attitude to Atelerix is distinctly unsound. I'd be very surprised if the great and the good go anywhere near the place, but someone of the brainless, tofu-weaving persuasion seems to have bought one of my kind and that's enough for a newspaper article.

A few points:

African hedgehogs (european ones, too) are strictly nocturnal. We do not appreciate having to get up before some time after sundown, and continued disturbance (such as being carted round by some bimbo in a Gucci handbag) makes us very poorly indeed. When we do get up we like to cover a lot of ground. Being stuck in a bag and petted by people with expensive hair is not our thing.

The comments on the article are in general fairle sound, but it's worth adding my two ha'porth. The next time some silly bint with a low-forehead and a shrill voice, whose main intellectual activity is working out how to show off her backside to its greatest advantage, babbles on about how she is in touch with nature and raises a great deal of money for the purchase of free-trade raffia pecan baskets and environmental sensitivity enforcement patrols, remember that the Atelerix sp x sp in her fannypack is cursing her ancestors and wishing he could lend her a few little grey cells.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bullfighting at the Times

The Times has an article about a young bullfighter who is going to fight six bulls on his own in his hometown this spring. It’s not very well informed, but at least it seems to recognise this, and it tries to quote sources it thinks are sound. It isn’t particularly successful, but it doesn’t talk opinionated rubbish from a position of complete ignorance.

The article itself seems to think it’s more significant than it is. A five-year-old in the ring is a circus, a 16-year-old, if he’s any good, is a bullfight. He is a full matador, although he took the ‘alternativa’ in Mexico so he isn’t really considered as such in Spain. Many bullfighters have been far more successful than Jairo at that age, it’s not something particularly notable, although it’s less common now.

And it’s not so unusual for a bullfighter to kill six bulls on his own. It’s true that it is usually done by matadors at the height of their popularity but he is doing it now for a very simple reason- he can’t get contracts and so his father has bought him the bulls to generate publicity.

Many of the commenters, on the other hand, are quite happy to reveal their stupidity in public. Many who understand bullfighting don’t like it, a perfectly respectable position, but if you don’t know anything about it keep your opinion to yourself. Not only because I don’t want to hear you, but mainly because you look like an idiot.

Several of them call it a sport, only so they can then say that it isn't. Well, they're quite right, but no one who knows bullfighting would claim that it was. It's not even a sport in the sense that hunting is. The bullfight is a spectacle, an art. To call it a sport is to show that you don't understand it.

We are told that if the tourists stopped going the whole thing would grind to a halt. Fortunately this is wishful thinking on the part of the antis. The fiesta is as healthy as it's ever been. Yes, there is some opposition, but most people in England don't like football and many would like to see the back of it because of the chaos it generates in their neighbourhoods every Saturday and the poor example it sets to the young, but football is not about to disappear.

Another thing they like to believe is that it does not require courage to stand in front of a bull. It does. It isn't supposed to be a fair fight, the point of it is to kill the bull. To kill a bull from the front with a sword you have to tire its neck muscles to keep its head down, and temper and control its charge and horn movements. Every part of the bullfight has this as its end. No part of it has the purpose of torture, humilliation or causing suffering. If it's done properly the bull does not suffer, though it dies of course.

I quite understand that there are people who don't like bullfighting, and some genuinely think it should be banned to protect the bulls (which would immediately cease to exist, but there you are). But you can't argue with the higher ignorance, so I haven't commented over at the Times.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Englishman Abroad

One of the things you find just about anywhere you go is the ex-pat. The Englishman abroad is embarrassing enough to his fellow man, but at least he has the excuse of being genuinely out of place. The ex-pat in his purest form displays a lack of self-awareness so complete as to inspire a kind of admiration. The type of person who can live for years in a country without learning a word of the language, without realizing that his clothes are ridiculous, without ever wondering what people around them are talking about, what the great issues of moment at the bar or café are, without trying to discover why they have the customs they have and what it means, without wanting to acquire some of the cultural background and references which are behind much of what they think and do, without ever being able to have a proper friendship (believe me, expecting people always to talk to you in a more or less forced second language in their own country does not lead to closeness and confidence), without any curiosity whatsoever, almost without knowing or caring where they are. To me it is inconceivable not to want to discover and understand what is happening around you.

I met one such in Malta. I was going to identify him (he has a bar there) but they were a pleasant and hospitable couple and it would not be kind. But he had lived there for years and not got past the, 'look at these funny people, aren't they funny, they talk funny and they do things that we didn't do in my street back home' stage of observation, all expressed with the effortless and complicit superiority that only the English ex-pat is able to feel.

He mentioned, inevitably, the driving. It is a bit unusual to the English eye, and hair-raising in its way, and my temporary acquaintance leapt from that observation to the conclusion that it must be very dangerous on the roads there. Well, it isn't, and despite all his years there he had never bothered to find out whether he might be wrong, or speculated as to why they have the fewest road deaths per head of any country in the EU.

These things are never directly comparable, naturally, and various other factors are relevant: about half the island is urbanized, for example, many times the proportion of all other EU countries, which means average speeds are lower and so fewer collisions result in fatalities. But the fact remains that a country with a very large number of cars per head has the lowest death rate on its roads.

I offer a form of explanation for this. In Britain there is a tendency to take the laws of the road as the principal reference point. If the light is green we go, if we see a zebra crossing we stop, if we brake we assume the chap behind us is well back, we explain a lot of accidents by saying that the other driver should not have been there. In some places, however, and Malta is one of them, the principal point of reference is the actual circumstances. This looks chaotic to the outsider, but if everyone is doing it it means that they are rather more attentive to the details of what is around them and what other drivers and pedestrians might be about to do than if you just assume they will do what the law says they should.

Just a thought, but as they don't have a death wish, it must be more rational than the Englishman imagines, and it seems to work.

Malta, a Few Remarks

Hickory has just returned from Malta, which is warm and sunny even in January, the beer is tolerable and the people very pleasant indeed, among the friendliest and most relaxed I've ever come across. When I got home it was snowing and, as I might have mentioned, I don't live in Aberdeen but in the south of Spain. I should have stayed in Malta.

I nearly did, in fact, the weather across the north of Europe causing chaos in the south, doubtless because of the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

Malta is known for a number of things, one of them being the great sieges. In 1565 the Turks tried to take it from the Knights, and failed, and during WWII it resisted everything the Axis threw at it, which was a lot. The reason for this success doubtless has a lot to do with the character of those doing the resisting, but the reason it was possible in the first place is that La Valletta is not just a citadel, it's a fortress, a 200ft high peninsula sticking out into the bay with walls up to 50ft thick all around, and as high as they need to be. Within the walls are more castles and forts. Just looking at it drains the will to conquest from you.

If you see nothing else you need to see the Cathedral and the Grand Masters' Palace. The Cathedral has a couple of Caravaggio's and the floor is covered with tombstones that have designs picked out in coloured marble and the odd touch of gold.

Anyhow, this is not a travelogue, I'll be showing you the holiday snaps next. Onward towards the point, for there is one.

What is isn't widely known for is the megalithic temples, a number of them, the oldest around 6,000 yrs old, and probably the oldest free-standing man-made structure on Earth. They presumably had some kind of ceremonial purpose, and there are things they call altars, and there is lots of speculation, but not much is known yet, and perhaps never will be. The fact that they are identified as having been built by the ‘Megalithic Temple Culture’ suggests a lack of further information.

Everyone has occupied or tried to conquer Malta at one time or another, and everyone else has traded with it. The Greeks, the Romans, the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Arabs, the Turks, the French, the Italians, the British, they’ve all been there. The Archaeological museums are full of artefacts from all kinds of cultures ancient and modern, from pre-Hellenic geometric pottery to mummified crocodiles, and skeletons of many ages, some still in their original place in the catacombs, which is just a bit disturbing.

I wondered if it was the only country in Europe, or indeed in the world, without a railway. Well it isn’t. Andorra, San Marino and, surprisingly, Iceland, don’t have railways either, and around the world there are a few more, including some large countries in Africa. Malta did have a single railway line until the 1930’s, but it has been completely dismantled.

OK so maybe there isn’t really a point to this post, and it is just a travelogue. On which note, pop across to Gozo if you go there. It has a mediaeval Citadel, the oldest of the temples, at Ggantija, some proper beaches, good country for walking in, and on the road to the port you get to see things that you wouldn’t normal bother with, including the islet that St Paul was supposedly shipwrecked on. And back on Malta, eat at The Kitchen, on Triq it-Torri (Tower Street) in Sliema. Maltese cuisine consists mostly of rabbit and swordfish, but here they provide much greater variety, and very well done.

Moving Pictures and Talking Heads

Much against both my better judgement and my usual practice, I have twice in the last few days watched a bit of news on the television, both times in English, as it happens. On the first occasion it was BBC World, in the hope of getting the Test score (since I had neither internet nor teletext in the hotel). I had to watch a series of unprepossessing people with stupid faces and silly grins chatting inanely and superficially about what was mostly gossip and anecdote, and who obviously thought they were important, clever chaps doing serious analysis of the major events in the world. I learnt nothing of any real interest (not even the Test score) and even what they did say could not be taken to be reliable, such was their obvious ignorance, and dependence on speculation rather than research. A complete waste of time and money, and a total absence of that, ‘brave souls taking a stand against tyranny on behalf of the freedom of all’, which journalists like to claim to be.

On the other occasion it was Sky news, and this was on Thursday so they didn’t even have to pretend to find real news, they just showed pictures of snow and ice and talked to people about how difficult it all was. Again, they didn’t tell us anything interesting or useful, it was all about brave reporters daring to enter Manchester or Scotland or Watford or Gatwick and the desperate scenes of horror and tragedy they had witnessed on our behalf. Almost everyone they spoke to was moaning, and they all seemed to have the very clear idea that it was someone else’s fault. I haven’t yet reached the age where you shout at the screen but I kept wanting to say, ‘Haven’t you got a bloody spade, you lazy bugger, or a pair of walking boots?’ at healthy youngish types who ‘can’t go to work because the council haven’t cleared the roads.’ And then we kept hearing from people waiting at Gatwick, ‘it’s complete chaos and no one’s doing anything.’ I know it’s not much fun being stuck at an airport without knowing when you’ll get out- the reason I was watching was that I was stuck in one myself- but it would have been rather more informative to find out what the situation really was and who was in fact doing what to try to palliate the problems to some extent. But that would have meant effort, of course, so we just got the moaning.

It reminded me again why I never watch television news. It’s very difficult to get proper news anywhere. A few newspapers do contain a bit of real news and proper analysis by people who actually know what they are talking about, but in Britain that means bits of the FT, on a good day, and that’s it. Over here it’s only a little bit better. Fortunately it’s now relatively easy to find the news yourself, but it’s still hard work and takes a lot of time. The press, which, if it has any serious purpose at all, is supposed to save us the time and trouble and do it much better than we could, doesn’t bother, and never has.