Friday, March 25, 2016

Like a bore at a party ‘Brexit’ is the bane of our lives. Roll on June 23 after which we will know whether it’ll be terminal cancer or a debilitating stroke

It’s fair to say we’ve all met a boring person or, indeed, several. I always recall one in particular, a reporter on the Birmingham Evening Mail called Barry P, a Brummie, who was responsible for property stories. He was immensely dull, but the trouble I had was that he was a nice guy and I always felt hellishly guilty when speaking to him of actively trying to find some way of ending the conversation a lot sooner than later. A quote I came across years ago, by one Samuel Foote, originally of Bodmin - yes - but who went to London and made his name in the theatre: ‘He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others’. Many a time I’ve escaped a conversation with Barry (who was our National Union of Journalists rep for while) after realising with horror that I was beginning sound equally dull.

That is not, of course, to say that Brummies are necessarily boring, despite the jokes about their accent. They’re not. I should imagine that if such an exercise were possible you would find the proportion of Brummies who are boring identical to the proportion of Yorkshiremen, Scots, Devonians, Muslims, men who sell and repair bicycles, journalists and gays. None of these, and none of every other category you might care to come up with (except, of course, the category of boring people) is intrinsically more or less boring than anyone else. In fact, I’m prepared to go out on a limb and suggest that you might well, if your luck’s in, come across some quite interesting - as in not-at-all boring - trainspotters, country and western fans and passionate environmentalists.

You might yourself be on the boring side, although you would, of course, pretty much be the last to know it. If you really want to know, finally to establish the truth of whether or not you actually are quite boring – and my advice is to let well alone and on your head be it - have a word with friends and ask them directly: ‘Am I boring?’. If the honest ones take more than even a millisecond to respond with a thoroughly convincing ‘you, boring? Of course, not, old chap, whatever gives you that idea?’ and if there’s even the slightest hesitation, you know the honest answer they would like to give but most certainly dare not is ‘well, er, you know, er, sometimes, er, you can, er, rattle on a bit. But you know, I’m pretty sure I’m boring too, well, possibly sometimes, so don’t feel too bad about it.’

. . .

What of all this talk of ‘boring folk’? Why bring it up? Simple: just as you will at some point most certainly been cornered by someone who assumes you are just as fascinated as they are in the long and laborious process of selling their house which a surveyor has just confirmed is threatened by subsidence, along come the various Brexit campaigners trumpeting at every opportunity why it would be a tragic folly to leave/remain in the EU. Every day now some jackanapes with some kind of alleged expertise in some field or other joins the fray of bores warning us that to leave/remain in the EU is unthinkable.

Most recently it was one Sir Richard Dearlove who for five years was head of MI6 (in newspaper speak ‘Britain’t top spy’). He announced a few days ago in a magazine called Prospect that leaving the EU would mean Britain would be safer from terrorism. Perhaps, perhaps not. He should know, you might think, he’s ‘Britain’s top spy’, and, you know, spies sort of, you know, know that kind of thing, like they have information the rest of us don’t ’cos their spies and we’re not, if you see what I mean’. Well, in Sir Richard’s case, perhaps not.

A year and a half ago he also had something to say about how safe we are from terrorism: jihadists, he said, were more concerned with affairs in the Middle East and the threat they posed to the West was overstated. (The media were making monsters of ‘misguided young men, rather pathetic figures’ who were getting coverage ‘more than their wildest dreams’, said Dearlove, adding: ‘It is surely better to ignore them.’) That was in July 2014. Sixteen months later just under 100 people were massacred by jihadists in Paris, and three days ago around 30 died in Brussels.

Prospect makes a point of not being ideological and has also published a piece which claims the opposite of Sir Richard’s view, that leaving the EU would make it more difficult for Britain to fight terrorism. So there you have it: you pays your money and you makes your choice. You want Britain to leave the EU, then here, from the mouth of Britain’s top spy (‘Look, he’s got to know what he’s talking about, of course he does and it would be silly to pretend otherwise’) is the proof that ‘Britain would be safer out of the EU’. If you want Britain to remain a member, then here David Anderson’s piece in Prospect supplies your proof that it would be sheer folly from the point of view of Britain’s security to leave the EU. David Anderson is billed as an ‘independent QC [i.e a barrister] tasked with reviewing the UK’s anti-terrorism laws’. It seems that he was appointed by the government, but don’t get too cynical about that - it’s often useful in important matters to point out where you are going wrong. Well, the ‘we must remain in the EU at all costs’ folk will say ‘Look, he’s got to know what he’s talking about, of course he does and it would be silly to pretend otherwise’.

So what’s the upshot? Simple: we are up shit creek, but not yet a lot further.

. . .

Being the chopsy sort who is not afraid to talk to strangers (about my only one gift which made me suitable to work as a reporter all those years ago) I conducted an ad-hoc vox pop the other night. For reasons which are far to dull - that word again - to go into, last week and for the next two weeks I shall not be driving to work in London, but taking the train. And that means that rather than stopping off at the Brewer’s Arms in South Petherton, I stopped off at the Tor Valley Inn, in Sticklepath, Devon, on my way home last Wednesday. And as I was chatting to a couple of guys, I asked one what he thought about ‘Brexit’.

His name was Paul, he was about mid-forties and had a wife and two teenage children. He said he was sitting on the fence on the matter, but thought when push came to shove (it will do in the voting booth on June 23) he will vote to stay, mainly because he feels it would be safer. Not much of a ringing endorsement, you’ll have to admit. He went on to say that he felt overall the majority of those casting their vote in the referendum would feel the same way.

Then there was Keith (pictured). Originally from West London, he moved to Sticklepath many years ago and eventually started a drainage business. He recently sold this to a firm in Wales (who, according to Keith, haven’t a clue) and plans to retire next year when he will be 70. I don’t know
how he sees himself politically, but I should imagine he’s a Tory, though like most Brits, whether nominally Tory or Labour, thinks ‘the government’ is pretty much ‘fucking it up’, whatever ‘it’ might be. I have been friendly with Keith and his wife, who are more or less permanent fixtures at the Tor Valley Inn, since I started dropping in several years ago. I asked him how he intended to vote: he is pretty unequivocably for getting out.

So was Roger, another punter that night who was there for the darts (the pub has thriving darts team, and more often than not when I drop in of a Wednesday a match is on against some team from another pub, for which the landlord, another Keith, always lays on sandwiches, crisps and nuts. Very friendly pub is the Tor Valley Inn). I don’t know how old Roger is, but should guess in his early seventies. He has a very florid face and a boozer’s now, not just florid but lined with thin purple veins. Before he retired, he did something in technology and travelled throughout Europe quite a bit, so I shouldn’t mark him down as some kind of little Englander.

Unsurprisingly, when I asked him whether he was for Leave or Remain, he unequivocally said get the hell out of Europe and, like Keith, cited the fact that ‘we can control our own borders again. Surprisingly, both Roger and Keith’s views are most certainly not rigid: when I gently put the opposite case for the sake of argument, they agreed that there might also be good reasons for staying. So the Lord knows what they will eventually vote.

None of the three was or is boring, though Keith’s rather robust somewhat blokeish humour wouldn’t go down to well among bien pensant folk. And I don’t say that the question of whether or not we should leave the EU or remain is necessarily dull. But I do, however, object to is the sheer zealotry of both sides and how in the media they take you by the lapels and shake you, shake you, shake you until you see sense!

And my attitude? Well, I’ve said before that as far as I am concerned we are on a hiding to nothing whether we leave or remain. Whatever the leave goons say, economically it could get very rough indeed for several years as Britain has to go about the very laborious business of negotiating new trade agreements.

On the other hand to me it seems pretty obvious that unless major reform takes place and the EU draws in its horns on several fronts, not least its obsession with ‘ever closer union’, it will pretty much collapse in on itself under the weight of its contradictions, not the least of which is its paper-thin claim to unity among members.

As for the future of Britain whether in or out of the EU: well, can anyone reading this care to tell me what the weather will be like on the weekend of, say, October 15/16? No? Didn’t think so.

. . .

A couple of snaps which I took last May in Mallorca, just for the craic.

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