I have never read a poem by Robbie Burns and quoting him here might give the impression that I am quite well-read when all along I have been perfectly honest by admitting that given a book, I would need written instructions on what to do with it (and those instructions would, in any case, have to be read out aloud to me slowly). But given the most recent development on the combined euro-crisis/EU endgame/end of the world situation, a line from Burns came to mind. (Incidentally, I was reading up about the latest fuck-up - the Germans are demanding an imminent British surrender or else they will shoot us out of the skies - in the Guardian rather than the Telegraph or the Mail because I was keen to read a sober account of what is going on, whereas the Telegraph and the Mail are so apt to overegg the eurosceptic pudding.)
When I say ‘a line from Burns came to mind’, what I mean is that a saying came to mind, which I then googled and discovered is from Burns’s poem To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough. It begins Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie / O, what a panic's in thy breastie! and in it are the familiar lines The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley. That sums up very neatly indeed the situation the European Union finds itself in. And when considering what looks increasingly like the EU’s undignified slow disintegration, the phrase ‘overreached itself’ comes to mind.
At the heart of it all is the eternal truth that you cannot legislate sentiment. You can’t by law oblige the common man to love his king. Well, you can try but you have as much chance of succeeding as you would have of nailing jelly to the wall (US: gello to the wall). It’s all very well for assorted bien pensant social democrats to wax lyrical about an end to war in Europe and a common purpose through the pan-European institution, but unless you carry the people with you, you’re pissing in the wind. Most certainly the EU was popular in the days of milk and honey, but even at the first squall of trouble - and that was long ago, we now have gales blowing about our heads - national self-interest rules supreme. Funny that.
The EU overreached itself by trying to evolve from what almost everyone was happy with - a common economic community - into a political union, with which rather fewer agreed. In those fabled days of milk and honey, those who were caught dragging their feet were roundly castigated for their lack of enthusiasm and the charge of ‘not being a European’ was sufficiently serious to dragoon most politicians into line. No more. It is only a matter of weeks, if not days, that there is quite open talk of the EU as we know it coming to an end, whereas even two months ago any such suggestion would have been regarded as the raving of a mad man.
I always thought the starry-eyed wouldn’t-it-be-wonderful if we all got together and really, really, really tried awfully hard to find a universal cure for cancer and brought about peace on Earth was a load of cack - and, dear reader, I am only slightly exaggerating - but on the other hand I am
Not least of these, of course, was that although everyone knew the Italians and Greeks had cooked the books in order to qualify for membership of the precious euro, they chose to ignore it. All for the common good. I mean, we were about to enter Heaven on Earth, so why let an inconvenient detail or two spoil the party?
We’re not there yet, of course. The EU hasn’t collapsed and it will trudge on for a while yet. But I’m certain that the EU those who supported the project knew and loved for these past few years will be a completely different animal in, say, five years time.
. . .
Apropos nothing at all, no not even the euro shambles, Germany’s alleged attempt to take over the universe or the origins of World War III as they are now taking shape in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – pray the Lord I’m wrong – here are two jokes I’ve remembered from way back. They're not original, you might well be familiar with both or either, but what the hell:
An Englishman, a real Major Thompson type, is sitting in a bistro in Paris when he spots a fly in his soup. Appalled, he calls the waiter.
‘Garcon, garcon, ici. Guardez, le mouche dans le soupe,’ he declares in his heavily accented French.
‘Non, monsieur,’ the waiter replies, ‘la mouche.’
‘Good God, man,’ says the Englishman, ‘you’ve got good eyesight!’
Or how about:
Q. Why does President Sarkozy eat only one egg for breakfast?
A. Because one egg is un oef!
Awful, I know, but it’s 6pm on a Wednesday night and I am about to hit the road for my four-hour drive back home.