Archive for June, 2009

Underdogs and overdogs and nice green grass.

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The British love an underdog. Apparently. I’m not sure that the miscellaneous indigenous peoples who were wiped out to make space for the British Empire would have seen it that way, but hey ho, never mind.

 I mention this because Wimbledon approaches, when all of a sudden people with no real interest in any other sport pop out of the woodwork to spend hours a day flipping between simultaneous tennis coverage on BBCs 1 and 2. In reality it’s not just that they don’t like sport, they don’t even like tennis (or they’d watch the French Open too). What they like is looking at nice green grass, and the Duchess of Kent’s hat. Ah! How relaxing.

 For the most part, they support anyone other than the player who’s expected to win, unless it was Tim Henman, in which case they supported his opponent so that they could continue to make jokes about Tim being a loser.

 I’ve never quite got this. It’s very egalitarian, I suppose, and I guess that by supporting the guy who’s probably going to lose you can feel that you’re doing your bit to prolong the match and increase the entertainment value. But it’s still a strange way to go about it.

 I’m a fan of the best player winning. It’s the same in other sports – golf, for example. Or even, to the extent that I care, football. (Well, who I support in football is the result of a more complicated algorithm, mainly revolving around how much dodgy cash clubs have access to.) I like the players with the talent, and those who’ve put in the work, to win.

 I know this means I have a dull, predictable outlook on life. Although it’s a view I share with the French – who supported Roger Federer at the French Open, even when he was against a French player. In France, this isn’t being dull and predictable; it’s being knowledgeable about the game, or respecting the best player. I think I like that way of doing it. 

Duck islands and toilet brushes.

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Hmmm. I was a bit surprised to realise how long it’s been since I wrote anything here – I started off full of good intentions only a couple of months ago, and already it’s on the slide. If the contents of my ‘comments’ spam folder is any guide, by now Viagra salesmen all over South America will be distraught at my lack of blogging activity. With a bit of luck, they can cheer themselves up by getting in contact with all the Prozac salesmen.

But anyway, I’m here now. And gosh, what to write about? Oh, what the hell, everyone else is going on about MPs’ expenses, why shouldn’t I?

I’ll admit it’s been funny, at times absurd, occasionally just surreal – as when The Guardian found a duck expert (duckspurt?) who proclaimed that Sir Peter Vigger’s famous duck island wasn’t very well designed. As if that was the problem. ‘Well,’ said the Daily Mail, ‘it would have been OK if it had been a really good duck island. We’re all for duck welfare.’

The serious point is that, yep, some of the UK’s political representatives are not exactly moral paragons. Several of them, what ever way you look at it, are crooks, which when you consider the generosity of the rules they’ve managed to break  is an impressive achievement. Clearly, this is not something we should accept. I don’t want to be represented by a crook any more than anyone else does, and I don’t want to have to pay for the privilege either.

But the story has gone beyond reasonable; it’s become a sanctimonious witch-hunt. I heard an MP on the radio last week having to defend the purchase of a toilet brush for a London flat, rather than carrying one up and down from the constituency on the train.

What makes the story more difficult than most of the media would like is that MPs with constituencies outside London, if they’re going to do their jobs at all rather than just commute all day every day, do need a second home of some sort. It certainly doesn’t have to be big, but, amusing though it might be, it can’t be a cardboard box under Blackfriars Bridge. If there is no means provided to pay for this (I’d prefer Parliament to own flats outright), politics will become something you can do only if you’re rich. And that would be a pretty fundamental undermining of democracy.

What’s worse, though, is that none of this really matters very much. Like all personality-driven issues in politics, it’s just a distraction. It’s Big Brother with MPs. What does matter is that any kind of serious, general political discourse in the UK has fallen apart. No-one seems to want to talk about the principles, about how to make the UK a better place to live. These things matter a sight more than a toilet brush, or even a duck island.