Saturday, December 19, 2009

Introducing Matt, our obsession with 'heritage', why global warming is a tragedy/godsend (delete as applicable) and the art of faking knowledge

One of our better newspaper cartoonist is Matt of the Daily Telegraph, so I have decided to post four of his recent cartoons, just for the craic, as they say. The first two will raise a smile more from British readers than anyone less familiar with Britain and its vast array of obsessions, but the third and fourth will strike a chord with everyone. Here they are:

I've never 'got' this obsession with 'preserving the past'. Certainly, many buildings and artefacts are worth keeping, and we should always remember the past (especially our past mistakes). But here in Britain, and, I should imagine, elsewhere, there is a manic drive to save absolutely everything merely because it is more than 30 years old. Futhermore, such 'preservation' is now such a given that it is far more likely for my grip on reality to be questioned for wondering exactly why everything must be preserved than querying why we are now obliged to preserve everything we can lay their hands on. A result of this obsession is what has been referred to as the 'heritage industry'. At its best it can produce some extremely interesting, not to say, fascinating sites which serve as a useful educational tool for younger generations. At its worst it is downright ridiculous, as when public lavatories are preserved on the grounds that we should know exactly how our forefathers chose to take a dump.

This must ring a bell or two in many: you are sitting listening to something like a Budget speech and allowing portentous phrases such as 'the fiscal imperative of blue-book adjustments being acknowledged no later than the third quarter of the next financial year' to roll over you and, quite simply, you despair. Oh for the days when your standing in the community was not at all great, when 'respectability' was something vaguely ludicrous and you were perfectly happy to settle for a colourful newspaper graphic of a pint of beer, a packet of fags and a petrol pump and the cheering news that it's 'a giveaway Budget'. I would not claim to be a total moron and I do - up to a point - understand aspects of the economy which in my younger days not only baffled me but bored me rigid. But it would be a lie to pretend that when Darling, Clarke, Brown, Lawson or whoever the current incumbent is gets up at the Dispatch Box and drones on for an hour or so my eyes don't glaze over sooner rather than later. When I was still working as a evening paper district reporter in the Seventies, one story we found ourselves writing every year was an account of the local council putting submitting to the county council for is 'precept' (which is what I think it's called - it was asking for the money it would need in the coming financial year). Before the meeting of the relevant finance committee ('Ways and Means' or some such) which would debate and then vote on a 'precept' figure - I do hope I am getting the jargon right - we reporters were always sent the committee minutes to look through beforehand. And I would always spend about 30 seconds looking through them and understanding absolutely nothing of what was laid out there in all its tedious glory. The drill was to put in an appearance at the meeting, then get a few quotes from councillors (making sure they kept it short - councillors are liable to drone on a little, especially in the South Wales valleys), then head back to the office to construct a story. I say 'construct' a story rather than 'write' one because that is exactly what we did: it was a question of producing 300-odd words of copy which did not betray that the writer was wholly out of his depth and which, furthermore, pulled off the useful trick of persuading the reader that if what he was reading seemed like complete goobledegook, it was his fault - he was simply too dumb to understand perfectly ordinary matters. One vital strategy in 'constructing' that story was to rifle through the bollocks in the committee meeting minutes and judiciously chose one or two passages to quote verbatim which might seem plausible and, crucially, were anodyne and said nothing whatsoever. I am rather proud to report that every year I managed to pull off the trick of writing a decent, intelligent, yet thoroughly meaningless, story about matters of which I understood nothing at all. That I was never caught out was, though, no great achievement but merely down to the fact that everyone else - from the news editor, to the subs, the editor himself and the readers - was also completely at sea in such matters (and, I hope, felt is was their fault that my account made no sense to them at all). The few people who knew what was being printed in the paper was all complete nonsense would have been the council finance director and, one hopes, the chairman of the finance committee. But they preferred to keep quite, content that the least attention drawn to their figures, the better. Scrutiny is not popular with council chief financial officers.

Crusty old farts who are agin everything are surely a universal figure, as likely to be found in Tblisi, Jakarta, Andean Chile and Kansas as Kent, Cheshire and Pittenweem. But that is not to say that scepticism about exactly what is going on with the world's climate and, if something is, who is causing it is necessarily thoroughly outlandish and irrational. My dad was the kind who might, were he still alive, have been prepared to doubt even the existence of Copenhagen, but I am more intent on trying to keep an open mind in both directions (and make damn bloody sure my children also understand the importance of keeping an open mind). That is, of course, an admirably quality if keeping an open mind means you are still inclined to see my point of view and might well eventually think I am right. But if, similarly, it means you are also quite prepared to consider that my point of view might well be a load of cack, 'keeping an open mind' is becomes shorthand for 'sitting on the fence', 'an irrational inability to see sense' and being 'wilfully contrarian'. (Er, being 'contrarian' might already be 'wilful', but having so far spent the best part of an hour writing this blog entry, I can't be arsed to look it up and will leave it to some wiseacre in Tucson to set me straight if necessary.) Perhaps there are those who feel it best to keep an open mind on the virtue or otherwise of keeping an open mind.

This last cartoon and my inclusion of it here might seem a little callous, given that for whatever reason, the Arctic is shrinking and polar bears are finding foraging ever more difficult. But I would point out that since life has existed on Earth, environments have changed and species have always been forced to adapt. Are we really going to shed a tear about the passing of the North European mammoth? Or the bears and wolves which were once indigenous everywhere? Or that the wild boar no longer roams the countryside on Britain? I'll repeat that it might sound callous, but the polar bear is simply faced with having to adapt to a changing environment. Apart from all that Matt has come up with rather a good joke.

NB. I assume the Daily Telegaph and/or Matt hold copyright to all four cartoons shown here, so I would like to point that out so that my arse is covered and I don't have my festive season spoiled by some slick legal department brief getting in touch and demanding money with menaces.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Patrick,
    Just wanted to stop by to say..."Happy Holidays" and my wish for you in the coming year is that it will be overflowing with new and wonderful accomplishments.

    Best Regards,