Most of my knowledge is of the scavenged variety. It consists of tidbits and scraps gathered here and there which can then be stitched together into an apparently coherent whole. Carefully trotted out and dipped into conversation as almost an aside, this knowledge can then give the impression of being but the tip of an iceberg, that had I but world enough and time others might well be treated to a marvellous exposition of some more arcane aspect of what is being discussed, but that I am far too well-mannered to ‘show off’ and quite possibly risk showing up some in the company who might not be as well-read, well-informed and as wise as I apparently seem to be. It takes a little, though not a great deal of, skill to achieve the effect and, as always, the admirable principle is ‘less is more’.
In the 140-odd words I have written so far, I have already attempted (and, I bloody well hope, achieved) persuading some of you - though most certainly not all - that I am rather well-read and you might well have marvelled at my skill in weaving into the fabric of this piece, a paraphrase of a well-known poem. It is, of course, all complete bullshit. Despite having taken an English literature course at Dundee University, I was comprehensively failed by the English department for hardly turning in any work and what I did turn in being immature cack. Oh, and I read very, very few of the set texts.
Incidentally, you might be familiar with another ploy used by some to intimidate others. It consists of some twat or other declaring something along the lines of: ‘As Mallarmé put it so well ...’ followed by a minute or two of something in French, delivered in the sure knowledge that you don’t ‘have’ any French of any kind and that even if you did, you would not be familiar with the piece quoted. The intention is the not-so-subtle ‘you’re an ill-educated oik, whereas I’m not, and I think it is best to make sure we both know it sooner rather than later in a relationship which, believe me, will be as brief as it is unimportant’. A related ploy is to
The above should set the scene nicely for what comes next: I came across it a few days ago, and it seems rather apt for our times. I shall now look it up on the net to make sure that my belief that it is indeed by Mark Twain (that’s what the chap said who used it in the piece I read). A minute later: Yes it was. He is said to have remarked: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
I have recently done many things, but two of them are to watch every episode so far of Boardwalk Empire, and to dig out reports of the rise of (Χρυσή Αυγή or, for those who don’t ‘have’ Greek, Chrysi Avgi). (‘Mum, he’s doing it again!’ ‘Just ignore him, dear, he only wants attention, and if you ignore him he’ll go away. Just ignore him.’)
Boardwalk Empire is relevant because it portrays the lives of a list of Prohibition Era gangsters in Atlantic City, New York, Chicago and Philidelphia and the speakeasy culture which evolved because of prohibition. The Twenties were also known as the Jazz Age and were a time of expansion, growing credit and exuberant business of all kinds and which ended rather suddenly with the Wall St. crash in October 1929. The Depression followed the crash and the misery it caused help the fascists in Germany and Spain (and far earlier in Italy) gain popular support.
I am not, of course - I’m not daft - declaring that the Noughties (as the first decade of the 21st century is known to some) is a repeat of the Twenties, but they do seem to rhyme and I would be on firmer ground to claim that there are a great deal of similarities: the wilful business exuberance, the delusion that the stock bull market was here to stay (one of the bigger idiots produced by ‘New’ Labour promised there would be ‘no return to boom and bust’. Yeah, right), everyone living the life of Riley (mainly because the Chinese were selling the goods they produced at or even below cost in order to ‘grow’ their economy) and generally the conviction that the good times were here to stay. They weren’t, of course, as many said and we all - in our heart of hearts - knew. We are now paying the price.
I have been banging on about what a dog’s dinner the whole euro project is and always has been and, to be honest, it would bore me too much yet again to bang on some more. Like many others I follow the news and the ‘latest developments’, and in if one takes those developments individually, they can seem to make sense. But if, metaphorically, you go up the hill and survey the European economic landscape from a better perspective, it would be hard to argue that it is all complete madness. In both Greece and Spain, one in four people of working age is out of a job. In Spain the Spanish Red Cross has appealed to ‘the better off’ to donate food to ‘those who aren’t so well off’. In Greece, hospitals are opening only two or three days a week and many pharmacies have run out of drugs. There are daily demonstrations outside the Spanish parliament. In several weeks, Catalonia will hold a referendum on whether to declare independence. And in Greece, Golden Dawn, a gang - it would simply be dishonest to describe them as a ‘political party’ - is gaining ever more support. Several years ago, they were regarded by the Greeks as the nutters they are and
The point must be made again that none of this would be possible without the misery the euro crisis has created in Greece. Certainly, what Angela Merkel insists upon as part of her plans to ‘save the euro’ makes a certain sense in context: why should a country like Greece which lived beyond its means for so many years be bailed out without itself helping to sort out the problem by cutting back on public spending? But that misses the point entirely: and
We all - all of us ‘baby boomers’ who have lived through the 67 years of peace which - oh, the irony! - have earned the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize - imagine that it will all ‘come right in the end’, that now is not the time to become a Cassandra, ‘they’ will sort it out. Oh really? Yes, it will ‘all come right in the end’ rather as the fuckup that was Nazi Germany ‘all came right in the end’ 23 years later by the mid-1950s. Me, I’m 63 next birthday and won’t see the worst of it. It is my 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son whose lives and well-being I fear for.