Saturday, August 27, 2011

And one more, just for the craic, why the misery of others cheers us up and filthy, filthy Brits

It’s Saturday morning, I’m off to London a little earlier this week, I always miss my children so here’s another short, this one for parents and sentimental saps everywhere.


Actually, I could quite get into posting a short video or two on this blog lark. See what I can come up with.

. . .

I'm sure we have all been glued to the television screen these past few days what with the mounting misery taking place in the world. And there's nothing like the misery of others to cheer us up as we realise that however dull, frustrating, uninspired and essentially lifeless our existence is it could be a lot worse. The two major stories for the past few days have been Libya and the threat of mass destruction to the good Yankee folk who have the misfortune to live on the East Coast. Granted there has been untold misery in Northern Kenya and Southern Somalia as millions - I believe it is now millions - have nothing to eat, but for us in the West Somalia and Kenya are just a tad too far away to elicit more than just a resigned 'God, isn't life bloody! Makes you think, doesn't it'. Then there were the dramatic events in Egypt, but Egypt, too, seems rather distant. And anyway, despite the limited viollence earlier this year, their dictator was got rid of apparently quite easily with no incidents of wholesale massacre. But it's a whole different matter in Libya which arouses our interest rather more in that it is actually 'quite close'. Sitting just south of Sicily and even closer to Malta (which ran a ferry service to Benghazi until recently) we can relate to Libya. And many Brits of a certain age - those who are now between 65 and 85 - might well have a certain sentimental affection for Libya as the place where they got roaring drunk for the first time and might even have lost their cherry while serving in the forces during the war and its aftermath. ('Ah, Tobruk Tessa, what she couldn't do with a ... well, better leave it there.') Those feeling a little argumentative might argue that in that case Tunisia is almost 'closer', to which I would retort that that country's revolution also passed off comparatively peacefully and, anyway, the French had and have their fingers all over Tunisia which rather spoils it for us Brits.
But for the horror of revolution, Libya fits the bill neatly, and it's a comfort that we are able to see it all on our TV screens, which is as close to all the misery as we will get, which is just the way we like it. Which brings me to Hurricane Irene and the havoc it is wreaking on America's East Coast. We Brits know a thing or two about rain but this is ridiculous. And rather as the horror in Libya oddly afffects us more than the human misery in Somalia, the scenes of destruction in North Carolina and - heavens! - New York seem curiously more appalling than when we see virtually identical footage shot in Florida and Lousiana. I mean those Southern States have several hurricanes every year and they are geared up for it. But the East Coast? New York? Hurricanes? Surely not? Isn't that where America's intellectuals live? Can't have that can we? Granted that the mainstream news media are apt to exaggerate these days - in fact, I believe it is written into their contracts that everything is bigged up and then some - but I recall hearing the astounding snippet that one million New Yorkers are fleeing their homes for safer parts. But where are those safer parts? All I know is that beyond New York and to the west lie New Jersey, where no New Yorker would care to be seen dead, and the Catskills where - I think I've got this right - numerous Jewish comedians and playwrights honed their talent. Is that where they have gone?
. . .
I have strayed from the path. What brought on this particular sermon/rant/diatribe/delete as applicable is that I am sitting on a train bound for Bristol where I am due to pick up my car and carry on to London. (Long story, but briefly, my brother has inherited all the property, goods and chattels of an elderly bachelor friend of the family who died last year and having no use for a rather smart Vauxhall Astra automatic which was part of the package has given it to me. Yes, that's right, he gave it to me. Lovely chap, my brother. So I now have three cars to my name, and must now decide what to do with one of them. But that's all for another time.)
My journey didn't get off to a good start in that my wife dropped me off at the station one hour and 15 minutes before my train was due to leave for what she regards as 'good reasons' but which I regard as nothing but provocation. In the even it turned out an earlier train was leaving Bodmin Parkway for Bristol and although my ticket specifies that I can only catch the train I am booked for, I decided to chance my arm. When the ticket collector came - officially train manager - came along, a bottle blonde Mancunian, I immediately fessed up and asked humbly that as my wife had dropped me at the station earlier, would it be all right ... Yes, she said, but she was only travelling as far as Plymouth and I would have to ask the next ticket collector/train manager. And, she added, he was new and stuck to the rules, so good luck. And so he did, and so I got off the train at Plymouth (the station is as dreary as the town) and waited for the 18.23 for Leeds, which, as usually happens on these occasions when one detail becomes out of kilter arrived 35 minutes late.
What got me thinking about Libya was the state of the lavatory at the end of my carriage. There was no water, so it couldn't be flushed and it had been used by quite a few others by the time I got around to using it. And its state was not a one-off. I have been driving to London to work for these past few years but for many, many years I used to catch the train at Exeter. And all too often the loo was somehow out of order. But the Brits don't seem to care. How can I make that claim? Because if they did care, the train companies would ensure that their lavatories were always clean, and if they didn't, the public would put pressure on them to do so. But the public doesn't. At the end of the day, the British public would far rather have a good old moan about the state of the loos on the train - and Lord it was late! And Lord the state of the carriage - than actually get someting done.
How did I get to Libya from there? Well, simple really: whenever I've seen coverage of the war, the country seems to consist of God-awful scrubland and desert and the towns seem so down-at-heel that they, too, could be described as scrubland. Certainly, the country, thanks to its oil wealth, had modern hospitals and certainly Gaddafi and his sons and daughter lived very high on the hog. But it would seem the Abdul Public wasn't quite as fortunate.
Years ago, I went to Greece, to Corfu, in September, and it seemed to me that because it was getting towards the end of the season and because its 19th-century sewage system couldn't cope with the 20th-century hordes of, mainly British, tourists, the whole place stank of shit. I spent the second week in a small more or less purpose-built resort on the north of the island - pupose-built several decades earlier, I should add - and running to the sea was a small stream. This stream was thick and grey and stank atrociously, yet not feet away Brit tourists were sunbathing on the grass. Sadly, the Brits don't seem to care.

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