In Praise of Thomas the Cake Cat

February 15, 2020

When I write or work from home, I’m generally not alone. My cat Thomas is usually sitting on the sofa beside me, curled up as close as he possibly can be. Often, he’s dozing.

Thomas is a remarkable character. He has lived with me for nearly 8 years. I found him, or rather, he found me when I was living in Bradford. Not long after I’d moved to the city, I was out in my back garden hanging up laundry on the line. A red folding chair stood on the deck. It was there I first caught sight of him. He is a big white cat with a few black markings. He looked rather regal sitting there, his paw draped over the edge in a leonine fashion. His eyes narrowed when he first saw me; in retrospect, I believe he liked me at first sight. He certainly was not afraid.

Thomas was a stray. Enquiries made around the neighbourhood indicated that he had been living by his wits and on handouts from humans for about 4 years. He became a regular at my back door, asking for food: he was always indulged.

March 2012 in Bradford was unusually warm: I recall driving through the Bradford Moor neighbourhood and seeing families play in the sunshine. In Bradford Moor Park, a father dressed in a kurta pushed his young son on a swing. The boy’s feet went higher and higher with each undulation, till he probably could see the clear blue skies through his bare toes. It seemed Spring had been given a miss and we had jumped into early Summer. The trees were in leaf and swayed in the strong, warm breeze. Thomas showed up in the mornings, walking along the top of the fence that enclosed my small garden. He ate his breakfast, then went out into the day, perhaps looking for a place in the sunshine to sleep after his repast.

April grabbed Yorkshire by the shoulder and brought Bradford back to its senses. A blizzard hit. I recall seeing heavy, thick snow pelting down and the trees bending in the cold wind. I had two other cats at the time, Sarah Jane and Amelia: I quickly went to the glass door leading onto the garden and let them in. Then Thomas appeared. He cried out. I let him in.

Not far from the door stood a cat basket which neither of my two cats had used. Thomas bounded directly into it and sat there as if it had always been his. It was clear from that moment that he was here to stay.

There is a photo which was taken not long afterwards, after Thomas had the inevitable tests for diseases such as Feline AIDS and Leukaemia (negative, thankfully) and had been neutered. By that time, Spring had been restored and I was able to wear a t-shirt again. In the picture, I am seated at a chair and using my laptop. Thomas had leapt up onto the chair arm and was looking at me. The next photo in the sequence shows Thomas peering at the screen with me. The impression given is that we are looking at the internet together. There have been photos over the years which show episodes in which he is peering at books I am reading and watching television with me.

As the years have passed, the bond between he and I has only grown stronger. Every evening, when I go to bed, he follows me up the stairs. I climb into bed. He leaps up beside me and curls up right next to my chest and stomach. I stroke his head and tell him what a remarkable boy he is. Sometimes I even sing to him, to the tune of “Little Donkey”:

Little Thomas, little Thomas
On the dusty road
Got to keep on, carrying on
With your heavy load
Little Thomas, Little Thomas
Such a lovely boy
Little Thomas, Little Thomas
He’s our pride and joy!

This tune came to me not long after he arrived: he had wandered far throughout Bradford, his paws were covered in callouses. As a result, he is named after the most well-travelled of Christ’s apostles.

If I’m not gripped by insomnia, we fall asleep; if I am trapped by wakefulness, we go down to my study. He sleeps beside me on the couch. But, after the nights that insomnia has loosened its grip, he will awaken me either with an intense stare from his big, dark eyes, or by digging his paws into my duvet covered back. We go downstairs. I put on the coffee and the radio. I fill his food bowl. He has his breakfast, I have mine. His love of food makes him a gourmet among cats; not long after he arrived, I discovered that he loves cake. A photo of him devouring a cake has become widely circulated on the internet. What the photo doesn’t tell you is that he also tried to eat the cake I bought to replace it. But it’s not just cake, he is so food oriented, I’ve also come up with another little ditty in his honour:

Food, oh food
I don’t mean to be presumptuous or rude
But when you’re a cat
Food’s where is its at
Life isn’t life without food!

Food, oh food
It’s not a question of fad or of mood
Savoury or sweet
It makes life complete
Life isn’t life without food!

In addition to inspiration, Thomas provides proof that animals do have emotions and they feel ours. There is another photo of me, taken while I was asleep in a chair. Thomas had leapt up onto my lap. He stared at me adoringly. When I am unhappy, somehow he knows, and sometimes he will reach out a reassuring paw to touch me. “It’ll be OK,” is perhaps what he is trying to tell me. As a result, when things go wrong, when the days are full more of hurt than laughter, he is there to remind me that life is not all like that. He is indispensible.

I set these words down knowing that Thomas’s presence on this earth is likely to be much shorter than mine. He is getting old. His hard early years have manifested themselves recently in aching joints; he is not as fast as he used to be, though often I can still see the kitten in him and when the sun is warm, he still plays like one. Nevertheless, I sometimes have to give him an anti-inflammatory drug to ease his stiff paws. I have quietly worried when I have had to help him get up onto surfaces that previously he could mount in a single leap. Sometimes he aches so much that after I aid him, I have to wipe away a sympathetic tear.

Furthermore, his early years exposed to the elements mean that he develops a black growth on his nose which falls off after a certain point: it’s a form of cat melanoma, which fortunately doesn’t threaten his overall health, though I closely monitor it. If he looks tired, I reassure him, pet him, tell him quietly, “You stay here with me” and tell him he looks “trim, and fit, and lovely”. He purrs in response. As I type these words, he again has put a paw on my leg. Is he encouraging me? Is he comforting me? I pet him again and repeat, “You stay here with me”. I think he will, as long as he can.

I have a reoccurring dream. I have died, and what lays ahead is a portal of light. And out of that portal steps Thomas to lead me to the next world. Sometimes our dreams tell us what awaits us, sometimes they speak to us of our hopes. All I can be certain of is that this street cat from Bradford has given me so much. I believe he feels similarly about me; I hope that everyone who has let a cat or dog or any other animal into their lives gets as much heartfelt joy.

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Deliver or be Damned

February 11, 2020

British responses to the Irish election prove that there is nothing quite like the blindness that makes you unable to see what is right in front of you. Ireland is a major trading partner, the only country which shares a land border with Great Britain, and many Britons have recently had cause to remember they have Irish roots. Yet, the country is strangely invisible to British eyes. Voters in the 2016 referendum seemed to forget Northern Ireland; British commentators after Sinn Fein’s success in this election are wallowing in misunderstanding. The execrable Darren Grimes, whose only credentials are being employed by a secretive far right wing think tank and being forced to pay a £20,000 by the Electoral Commission for breaking the rules during the 2016 referendum, suggested that rent controls were to blame for high rental costs in Ireland. This, he suggested, led to Sinn Fein’s success. It is no wonder that the Irish separated themselves from the British: they have been subject to being patronised, ignored, and oppressed by people who could not be bothered to understand them, or indeed, Google what is going on.

The Irish election contains valuable lessons for any democratic society. Be in no doubt, Ireland is a better functioning democracy than many. In Britain, our electoral system creates a tyranny of the minority: most people didn’t vote Conservative, but thanks to the First Past the Post system, we have a Conservative government which will be immovable for the foreseeable future. Ireland relies on the Single Transferrable Vote. This makes the process of counting somewhat agonising: the vote took place on Saturday the 8th, and didn’t conclude until the evening of Monday the 10th. Nevertheless, the result may better reflect what the Irish think: the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parties saw their support bleed away, the public put their faith in Sinn Fein and newer left-leaning formations like the Greens and Social Democrats. They mainly went for the newly packaged Sinn Fein, which racked up the most first preference votes by far. Their leader, Mary Lou McDonald, could very well be the next Taoiseach.

Why? The current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had done a masterful job on foreign policy: he had managed to wring concessions out of Boris Johnson and unite the entire European Union behind Ireland’s position. Unemployment, by all accounts, is relatively low. Ireland is, for the most part, on the other side of the financial crisis, and economic growth levels are reasonable. However, the lesson of Ireland is one that every government should take to heart: listen or be left behind. Deliver, or be damned.

It probably came as a surprise to British observers that the exit polls indicated that Brexit was a major concern for only 1% of Irish voters. Britain has been caught up in its own psychodramas for so long that it has failed to realise that these are uninteresting to nearly everyone else. The Irish were focused on were housing and health. Housing was the main issue; Ireland has some of the most expensive housing in Europe. This phenomena is by no means isolated to getting a roof over one’s head: I recall when I visited Ireland and was looking at the prices of products in Boots. It was then I became acquainted with the meaning of the phrase which I had heard while I was drinking my coffee: “Rip-off Ireland”. Combating this was a theme of campaigns on the left, including the Solidarity / People Before Profit alliance. Yes, the economy is growing; however, most people aren’t apparently feeling particularly good about it. The Fine Gael government has been in power for 9 years and been slow to respond; they were propped up after the indecisive 2016 election by Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail’s policy mix wasn’t substantially different to Fine Gael’s; they only exist as two separate parties because of their positions on the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 (Fine Gael was for it, Fianna Fail, against). To use an expression I first heard in Ireland, they were seen by modern voters as “two cheeks of the same arse”.

The government’s lack of listening was highlighted by Simon Coveney’s response after Fine Gael’s poor showing; most British readers will remember Mr. Coveney’s repeated and masterful appearances in the British media regarding Brexit. Upon facing his own voters, he apparently lost his touch: he expressed frustration at the voters’ lack of “patience”. Blaming the voters is never a good look for any politician. It smacks of Bertold Brecht’s famous poem, the Solution, which jokingly suggests the government should dissolve the people and elect another.

In a democracy, a government that neither listens nor delivers should be punished. Ireland is a functioning democracy. Fine Gael was knocked into third place. Fianna Fail only holds the most number of deputies in the Dáil because the Ceann Comhairle (the equivalent of the Speaker) is of that party. Otherwise, it would be tied with Sinn Fein. Forming a government will be a tricky business, but at least this is reflective of what people think and their priorities. It is now down to the politicians to listen and find a way to deliver, otherwise they will be punished again at the polls. Far from being an episode in which democracy has broken down or succumbed to the forces of populism, this is an example in which it has done what it should. Compare and contrast to Britain: the public was swayed by cheap slogans, and bound to an outdated electoral system, a government that didn’t listen and had not delivered on matters which were actually important – such as housing and health – was returned to power with a large majority.

I suspect much of the British commentariat will continue to be blind to what just hapened in Ireland; this is a pity. There is so much to learn from the Irish example, not least of which is how a proper voting system should work, and how a government that doesn’t deliver on the real priorities of the people should be treated. The Irish showed good political health in other ways: for example, immigration was very low on their list of concerns. Racism apparently has little truck in the Republic. Nothing is perfect: I was horrified by what happened to the party of the famous Irish trade unionist, “Big Jim” Larkin, Labour. They have been reduced to a ghost of their former selves with only 6 seats. Nevertheless, Ireland is in better shape than Britain is, more secure in its democracy and identity than the United Kingdom. Perhaps rather than ignoring them, we ought to pay close attention and learn.

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Defeating Trump

February 7, 2020

At first glance, the Democrats are in a terrible state. The Iowa Caucus was a failure of both technology and organisation: the Republicans can and will use this example to suggest the Democrats couldn’t run a bath, let alone the country. Trump escaped punishment thanks to a compliant Senate, which decided that it was better to acquit him of things of which he was clearly guilty than to face into his Twitter tirades. Recently, his approval rating hit a high of 49%.

However, it’s February. There are 9 months between now and Election Day, a vast ocean of time in which Trump’s hopes can be holed below the waterline. In my opinion, this is going to require an acknowledgement of his main weakness: as much as some would like it to be otherwise, he cannot be felled on policy because he will say anything, even left wing things, in order to curry favour. Attentive observers may have noted that he vowed to preserve Social Security in 2016: of course, he was lying. But, because most people don’t lie without a single pang of conscience, some took what he said at face value. We can assume that if a position is popular, he will peddle new falsehoods with a similar shamelessness. Thus it will be difficult to eject him on the basis of his plans for America.

There are significant headwinds any Democrat must face. We can dispute the causes of why the stock market is hitting new records: however, it is indisputably higher than when Trump took office. The giant corporate tax cuts that the Republicans enacted were used to buy back shares, driving valuations higher. This is the fiscal equivalent of drinking a can of Red Bull: a period of frenetic energy, to be followed by a subsequent crash and hangover. The short term effect, however, is to raise the value of 401K retirement plans. One of my aunts, who despises Trump with a passion, has noticed that her retirement income has increased: she is reluctant to credit Trump with any of it. However, others will not be so hesitant.

So: how do the Democrats defeat Trump? This question has global significance: Trump was at the crest of the populist wave that crashed over Western democracy in 2016. We have been drowning ever since. Far right populists have succeeded in yanking Britain out of the European Union (Trump called himself “Mr. Brexit”), and thrust it into an uncertain future. The far right AfD party recently collaborated with centre right parties in the German state of Thuringia and deposed the competent socialist premier. Orban still rules in Hungary, Putin is planning on staying in office until he draws his last breath. Modi is pushing India in a more intolerant direction and has crushed dissent in Kashmir. If Trump can be defeated and far right populism can be stopped in one of the largest and most powerful democracies, the phenomenon could very well begin to deflate.

My suggestion is simple: let Trump talk, and make him talk. When Trump speaks, he seems to repel more than he attracts: yes, he has rabid fans who hang on his every word. However, this is not a majority of the country: it wasn’t a majority in 2016. He cannot withstand the tiniest pinprick of criticism: it was not enough to say that his phone call to Ukraine’s president was “inoffensive” or any errors were “unintentional”, rather, Trump said it was “perfect” and continues to say so. When he talks, his narcissism, lack of self awareness, and crudity rise to the fore. The suburban voters who helped flip the House of Representatives to the Democrats in 2018 will no doubt be reminded of why they voted the way they did.

The Democrats could extend this further: this should be an election whose main topic is character. Whatever one may say about any of the Democratic presidential contenders, each one of them represents an improvement in morality and temperament to Trump. Bernie Sanders is not a hypocrite and has a visible sense of humour. Elizabeth Warren has genuine empathy. Pete Buttigieg served his country. Joe Biden, for all his faults, truly loves his family: it is well known that he would commute daily between Washington and Wilmington, Delaware so that he could be present in their lives. If the election turns on the pivot of personal qualities and who is the most Presidential, then Trump will be headed for defeat. This means not responding in kind to Trump’s childish taunts: others have tried and only managed to make themselves look the worse for it. Rather, this approach entails seeming more like the President than the President.

Democrats generally are not comfortable contesting elections on the basis of character: Bill Clinton’s antics may have dulled this appetite. It is much more comforting to talk about free tuition and universal health care; these policies do have their place. However, with the recent example provided by Representative Adam Schiff in his fine precis of the case gainst Trump, they should embrace a character-based contest: not only do truth and right matter, but so does personal fortitude. If there is no restraint within, then indisciplined and harmful bombast is the result. We have been lucky so far that the disasters that have ensued have not turned into total catastrophe. How long are we going to continue to be so fortunate? Do we really want to push our luck?

The Democrats can also make the case that the low character of the inhabitant of the Oval Office can diminish the office. I am originally from New York. Trump Tower is now a feature on 5th Avenue: I recall visiting and feeling like having seen it once, I didn’t need to return. There was a restaurant, a few shops, a lot of brass: it was gaudy. It was tacky. It seemed out of place on 5th Avenue. That’s because it is: previously, the space was occupied by the Bonwit Teller building, an Art Deco masterpiece. Trump destroyed it, despite people pleading with him not to do so. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art asked for some of the wonderful friezes on the building, Trump refused and destroyed them anyway. It would have only cost him $9,000 to save them, however, even this was too much for his liking. A piece of New York history was demolished by, ironically enough, inexpensive immigrant labour (he apparently paid his workers only $4 an hour and insisted they work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week) and replaced by a brass and glass monument to his monstrous ego. It remains an eyesore. Do Americans, who by and large feel a sentimental tug on the heart strings when called to their heritage of loving liberty, want to turn the Oval Office into something so base? The case needs to be made: this is a time for personal integrity. Trump has all the resilence of a spoiled infant sitting in a soiled diaper; this era of global challenges requires a fully realised adult who will behave with dignity.

There is still time to frame the election. It appears that Speaker Pelosi understands what needs to be done: her subtle provocations of Trump, such as tearing up his speech, appear to have pushed his limited tolerance to the brink. Mitt Romney’s brave stand against Trump caused him to explode in a fit of apoplexy. Whoever wins this contested primary needs to provide the positive contrast. Then perhaps we can all rest more easy, knowing that the horrors unleashed by 2016 may soon abate.

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Wrestling with Insomnia

February 5, 2020

Over the past several weeks, I have experienced bouts of insomnia. There’s not been an obvious physical cause. I have tried warm drinks, I have tried listening to relaxing music, I have attempted sitting on a comfortable sofa with a purring cat beside me. For whatever reason, stress, an active mind, concerns about the future, I have had difficulty shutting down and falling into the arms of Morpheus. When sleep has finally arrived, it has been the deep, dark type notable solely for the absence of dreams. Then, usually, I am awoken at 3 AM by my dog needing to be let out.

I wish I could say these lost hours were productive. I have not had any earth shattering ideas at these times. Midnight comes, then 1 o’clock, 2 am, 3. The house is quiet: there is no ticking grandfather clock in the hall that chimes on the hour. By two at the latest, most of the cats have found where they are going to spend the night: as it’s February, this is usually beside or under a radiator. My faithful cat Thomas usually sits next to me on a sofa in my study, which is where I spend most of these restless hours. 3:30, 4, 4:30: sometimes there is a gust of wind brushing up against my window, but otherwise the world is quiet, lonely, more at peace than I am. Then I hear my dog huffing and puffing, bounding down the stairs needing to be let out. I encourage him, I follow him. I open the door and the cold night air strikes me across the face as he goes into the dew covered garden. I shut the door, then sit at a dining table underneath the light of a single bulb, as I wait for his insistent bark, demanding he be let back in. When I open the door, he shoots past me and back up the stairs to bed.

As this indicates, there is nothing romantic about insomnia. These lost hours are isolated: even Thomas will yield himself up to sleep after 1 AM, his white paws curled up around his face. I switch on the television. I find a film or television programme to stream. I hope it will bore my brain into switching off. I lean my head back onto soft cushions, trying to tempt myself into slumber. It rarely works.

There is little that is pleasant about the sunrise, when it finally arrives. These days, the skies are usually grey, so there’s not often the multicoloured palette of the dawn, which gives one hope. Surely, if the beginning of a day can be that beautiful, then the prospects for the hours ahead are elevated. However, lately there’s been generally no such luck, the sky merely turns a deep blue. It lightens, and then its true greys are revealed.

5:30, 6. I wander into the kitchen and put on the coffee. The grinder goes and the water begins to boil and percolate. “Alexa,” I say to the Echo Dot on a ledge, “World Service.” The BBC World Service tells what’s going on around the world: an assasination in Lesotho, the spread of disease in China. It has often been my night companion: I am comforted by the thought that there are technicians somewhere, in some remote building in London or perhaps further afield, awake like I am, struggling with remaining awake so that the news runs through the night. They are making it possible for me to hear a programme in which the Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah talks about her novel, “The Book of Memory” with a studio audience. Alternatively, if I’m listening to Radio 3, I am sure that someone is there, watching indicators that suggest that the broadcasts of classical music are continuing. Where are they? Salford? London? Is there someone in a study like mine, working from home and watching over everything from a laptop? What happens if they fall asleep? I’d deem them lucky if they were able to do so.

I can hear the occasional lorry in the early morning travelling on the nearby dual carriageway; the wheels of commerce may turn more slowly through the night, but they do continue. I am certain that there are doctors and nurses at the hospital up the road, tending to the sick and the broken. The ill lay in beds, their monitors humming steadily, with nurses in light blue uniforms keeping watch. I know in town there’s a 24 hour fast food restaurant. When it gets to be 3 AM and no one wants chicken nuggets, what do they do? Consume coffee and donuts? Take bets on when the first order for pancakes will come?

I comfort myself with knowing that much of the world is still awake: when it’s 4 AM here, it’s 8 PM in Los Angeles. No doubt cars are still driving down the freeway; on a Friday night, the bars and restaurants are still open. Young couples raise glasses to each other, music plays. In Australia, it’s long past dawn. No doubt someone is taking their beige labrador for a walk along the shore: salty, turquoise hued waves crash in, the owner looks at the distant horizon. But where I am, it is time to sleep, but I cannot.

I hope that this period passes quickly: apart from listening to vinyl records and watching documentaries which have fully briefed me on the ins and outs of Watergate, the Ottoman Empire, and the 2008 Financial Crash, there isn’t much good to be had. How much better it would be to sleep properly, dream well, and to wake up when I should; I imagine what it must be like to face the dawn invigorated, rather than relying on caffeine and a sense of responsibility.

Once this period ends, however, I will no doubt recall this time when I saw the night through: largely, it’s pointlessness, but also the brief moments of value, like when a bright moon shone through the window, and I felt like I had the sight of it to myself.

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A Time for Courage

April 7, 2019

One of the most alarming statements British politicians have made in recent days can be summarised as follows: if we don’t do Brexit and quickly, massive unrest will be the result.  To put it another way, this argument states that if we don’t give in to the demands of extremists, they will create havoc.  There is some evidence to support this point of view: recently, “pro-Brexit” sabotage devices were left on train tracks in Cambridgeshire and Nottinghamshire.

I recall the 2005 film “V for Vendetta”; when I first saw it, I found its premise somewhat far-fetched.   The idea that Britain, which had so long resisted the siren calls of extremists, would suddenly elect an upstart fascist party (called “Norsefire”) and surrender its liberties seemed pretty ridiculous.  On the other hand, as the eponymous character V reminded the public, they were confronted with a “myriad of problems”, including war and disease. 

An old saying reminds us that the difference between fiction and history is that fiction has to be believable.  Britain has ceded a great deal of power to the far right of the Conservative Party not because of any cataclysm but because of one gigantic policy mistake, namely, to run the 2016 referendum without any safeguards (e.g., a 60% threshold or a second confirmatory referendum).  Not everyone who voted Leave is a racist or extremist, however, extremists believe that Leave’s victory indicates that the country agrees with them.  Hence, they tend to mask their demands behind phrases such as “Will of the people”.

No one who has any serious expertise in economics, diplomacy or politics believes leaving the European Union will be good for Britain.  Already investment is freezing, and billions of pounds have been shifted abroad. The fragile fabric of the United Kingdom may be torn asunder: advocates of Brexit forget that Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and Gibraltar all voted solidly to remain. Britain is an international laughing stock: the New York Times ran an article suggesting Britain has lost its collective mind and there is little disagreement.  Our parliamentary debates are punctuated by cartoon characters such as Mark Francois who invoked Christ to blaspheme a measure intended to inject some sanity into the Brexit process.   The Conservatives continue to run scared of extremists, saying that we must do as they command, lest they bring more havoc.

But if we enact Brexit out of fear rather than logic, what happens afterwards?  The tell-tale sign of an extremist is their inability to be satisfied by meeting their demands.  The reason for this is straightforward: an extremist tilts towards windmills.  When utopia is not achieved, the simplest thing to do is to try and find another target, another obstacle in the way of perfection being achieved.  Today, it’s the European Union.  If we execute Brexit and things don’t get better, tomorrow’s target could be the immigrants who are already here.  They have already be singled out for abuse. After them, who knows who may be next?

There are disturbing precedents.  Comparisons to Hitler are frequently overblown.  I am not suggesting we are about to fall into the grip of fascism; however, it is worth noting how the Nazis got into power.  The Nazis did not win the German parliamentary election in November 1932, the last before they took power in January 1933: on the contrary, there was a 4 percent drop in their vote share.  The Communists achieved the biggest gains, based on a 2.54% swing.  In the aftermath, more traditional conservatives led by Franz von Papen decided to give in to Hitler and make him Chancellor, mainly in order to prevent the Communists from gaining power.  They also believed that they could not access mass support without working with the Nazis.

This was a grave error: the centre of politics shifted to a new extreme.  In the short run, German democracy and civil rights were uprooted; eventually, millions were murdered.  The Nazis did not build utopia: rather, they gave humanity a new and terrible knowledge of what horrors it was capable of committing.

I repeat: Britain is not in this space.  History rarely repeats in the same way; it is the patterns of history that are worth noting. Extremists put forward a proposition, more conventional politicians lose the will to stand and fight.   In the pursuit of a quiet life, the politicians think if they give in, at some point the extremists will get bored and disappear.  But political anger is not always sated by achieving one reform or another.  When the demand cannot be met, such as getting society to throw its gears into reverse to back into a golden age that never was, the anger will remain.  We already see signs of this in the illogical proposition that “No deal is no problem” and its advocates not being deterred by facts.   No matter what happens, there will be a hard core that will stay enraged.   Sometimes, it is the role of democratic politicians on all sides to say “no”, and to call out the demagogues for precisely what they are: peddlers of illusion and disappointment.  In an era still haunted by the murder of Jo Cox and death threats being spewed on the internet every day, courage seems to be shorter supply than usual, though there are exceptions such as Jess Phillips. However, if we don’t want to go down the well-worn path to a dreadful conclusion, we need to find many more avatars of courage.

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Brexit Blues

March 28, 2019

On the basis of indicative votes, we now know what Parliament wants, or rather, what it doesn’t want to do with Brexit, which is anything.  There is a distinct absence, a lack, a void.  It’s great for nihilists but no one else.  We are no nearer a resolution to Britain’s current crisis than we were previously. 

All this would be more acceptable if it didn’t have an impact on people outside of the Westminster bubble.  However, farmers think in 18-month cycles: can anyone tell them with certainty to where their goods will be sold and shipped in 2020? Can industrialists plan out production?  Can anyone starting out a business today know if they can hire specialists from Spain or Denmark in 6 months’ time, let alone a year? 

Uncertainty is the bane of investment: all investment is a calculated risk.  The risks teeter into unacceptable without knowledge of the marketplace or business environment.  Those who cheerfully advocate for a no-deal Brexit seem to lose this fact amidst their enthusiasm for burning bridges with our nearest trading partners. 

I have personal experience of what uncertainty is doing to the economy: I am presently unemployed and have been so for nearly 6 months.  Brexit is not the sole author of this misfortune, and indeed, I’m lucky compared to many.   Nevertheless, Brexit has added a layer of difficulty to my job search and employment history.

I joined a Dutch firm in 2016, just prior to the referendum.  At the time, this company was very well established in London: in some respects, it still is.  However, after the referendum, there began a slow shift, which was clearly an attempt to de-risk the situation.  My boss was based in London: in a restructure, her role was moved to Amsterdam and she was let go.  Similar moves occurred throughout the business.  As I looked around me in my office, I was keenly aware of colleagues who had come to London from all over the European Union; their roles were quietly and slowly shifted or eliminated.  The centre of gravity tilted away from London, taking employment and employees away with it.

Eventually, I changed jobs.  Fortunately, my new role was with a company whose main focus was the UK.  However, there were risks there too: materials necessary for the company’s production were stockpiled in anticipation of trade possibly being cut off.  Furthermore, my role was made redundant after 6 months: the company moved the team I had assembled from working on a riskier area, which I represented, to a more established one.   The word “Brexit” was not mentioned: it didn’t need to be.  When uncertainty becomes part of the landscape, it shifts a business’s calculations, whether consciously or unconsciously.   Fear of the unknown pushes decisions more towards hunkering down, rather than expansion or trying new things.  I was granted a reasonable settlement: I am nearly at the end of it.

The job hunt, to say the least, has been daunting. I have a PhD in Creative Writing; I am towards the end of my studies for a second PhD in Engineering.  I have worked in IT for 23 years, leading teams which have developed e-commerce solutions.  I have worked in project management for over 20 years.  I am a skilled communicator and writer.  I have German and Dutch language skills, management experience, plenty of good references.   I am an expert in online communities. For the past 6 months, I have sat down nearly every day, gotten on my proverbial bike, and looked for work.  I have had some interviews: nothing has worked out.  I have noticed that the number of opportunities has been shrinking.  I see this on a day to day basis: as risk heaps up, so does the unwillingness to invest in new ventures and people.  More and more, it seems like firms are just replacing vital personnel that they lose through natural attrition.  I don’t recall a job hunt where as many positions I’ve applied for have simply been withdrawn because they decided not to proceed with hiring at all.

I must add a vital caveat: I was a witness in a high-profile court case, and thus anyone Googling me may find that reference daunting, even though I did nothing wrong.  While that might explain some of the rapidity in rejections I’ve received, it doesn’t explain the overall apparent contraction in the number of roles.   I should add that Brexit is not the only reason, but it is an important factor which is making the entire business environment much sourer.

I know that I am fortunate.  I have prospects; my education and experience should see me through eventually.  My family will help me to the extent they can.  However, not everyone is as lucky as I am: what happens to them?  Brexit has not made their lives any better; the dithering in Parliament is toxic, slipping a slow poison into the economy’s bloodstream.  It doesn’t need to manifest in anything as dramatic as a full-blown crash.  Rather, it alters the course of investment; money and production are shifted abroad.  People are forced to accept lower wages and / or more uncertainty.  Businesses rein in their investment strategies.  Then lo and behold, we find that we have less than what thought we did, we find that the economy is less than what we planned it to be.  There is no £350 million per week for the NHS, and companies wonder why they should come here when they get clearer access to the European Union’s market by investing in business-friendly Ireland or the Netherlands.  Young talent from all over the Continent will then go to Amsterdam and Dublin.  London fades.  Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool also diminish.  When that occurs, where will those wealthy individuals who led the headlong charge out of the European Union be?  What comfort will be empty slogans such as “Take back control”?  Will anyone say to the likes of John Redwood, who complained that Remainers had something against freedom, “freedom to do what”?  How many lives will be impacted before the final reckoning comes?  What will the cost be, and who will pay?  I suspect it won’t be the Jacob Rees Moggs of this world, but rather it will be the warehouse operator in Leeds, the engineer on the factory floor in Swindon, and yes, the IT professional in Cambridgeshire.  We are all going to pay or are paying for someone else’s fever dream; the best we can hope for is that we all wake up before we fork out any more than we already have.

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Revisiting “Four Weddings and Funeral”

March 25, 2019

I remember the first time I saw “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.  I was visiting the Cheshire town of Wilmslow, and it was being shown in an old movie theatre in the centre of town.  I speculated that the theatre hadn’t changed much since the 1920’s: the seats were worn, and the floors were sticky from spilled soft drinks and sugary popcorn kernels.

I had heard a great deal about “Four Weddings”, but not being a romantic comedy sort of person at the age of 21, I wasn’t the first in the queue to go see it.  However, the newspapers and television were all proclaiming its brilliance to the point my curiosity was sparked.

I found the film absolutely charming.  In 1994, when the film was released, I was still relatively new to living in the UK. I had some experience in matters of the heart, but these were largely tinged with regret and disappointment. I had just graduated from university and was both optimistic and uncertain about what course life would take.

Four Weddings presented a hopeful thesis, that somehow knowledge of one’s true love would arrive like a thunderbolt.  Once that person had been found, life would never be the same.  The path of life which had hitherto been relatively lonely would be traversed, hand in hand, with the other.  Looking back, I realise some of its elements were more subversive than they appeared at first glance: John Hannah’s and Simon Callow’s characters were in a loving same-sex relationship described as a “marriage”.  This did not disturb the heterosexual characters, rather, their love was seen as having equal weight and worth.  I don’t recall this being particularly controversial at the time.

Four Weddings also shows a time when “normal” people could live in London: Hugh Grant’s character doesn’t appear to be well off.  He can’t afford a reliable car and lives with his sister Scarlett.  Scarlett drives an old Mini.  Yet, they seem to be living in or near the centre of the city.  London seemed like a place where one could experience life, rather than the overstuffed pressure cooker it is now.

Overall, it was a happier time, certainly a gentler time, perhaps a less divided epoch, a period when we were more receptive to romantic thoughts and feelings.  Somehow, it didn’t seem silly; love was possible, if not certain.  We could be lifted out of conventionality by its grace.  All we needed to do was to be open to the possibility, wait, and it would come.

Time moved on, but the movie remained embedded in my brain: its theme song, a cover of “Love is All Around” by “Wet Wet Wet” would ignite memories of the film whenever it played on the radio.   I have loved, been in love, and been made eloquent and struck dumb by it.  It would be lovely to say that the thesis of Four Weddings was true in its entirety; however, fiction often dissolves in the acid of time and real life. 

Nevertheless, there was something wonderful about the recent 14-minute short film entitled, “One Red Nose Day and a Wedding” which was made for charity.  The director of the original film, Richard Curtis, gathered a surprising number of the original cast, including Andie McDowell (Carrie), Hugh Grant (Charles), and Kristin Scott Thomas (Fiona).  At first I didn’t recognise James Fleet (Tom) behind a thick beard.   Ms. McDowell is now aged 60; Hugh Grant is 58.  Nevertheless, they wear their years lightly.  Carrie and Charles are portrayed as having a daughter, played by Lily James.  She is marrying another young woman played by Alicia Vikander; Ms. Vikander’s character is Fiona’s daughter.  I smiled when this plot came to light: it showed the premise of the original film had kept up with the times, that love was what mattered, regardless of what form it took.  They had retreated somewhat from the original “thunderbolt” thesis: instead, the characters described knowing each other, and connecting in love when they held hands.  The word “thunderbolt” wasn’t used.  The ceremony was presided over by the awkward Father Gerald (Rowan Atkinson) who perhaps represented the previous era, as he had comedic-levels of difficulty getting his brain and words around two women marrying each other. The wedding was followed by a hesitant if sentimental speech by Charles, interrupted by his brother David (played by David Bower) providing cues in sign language.  The scene dissolved into the characters dancing, a whirl of white flowers and linen curtains. 

This visit to the past and present seemed all too brief, the characters left the stage too soon.  It would have been interesting to find out how love endured given all that time and fate had thrown at them.  Did Charles and Carrie have to go find a house in a quiet suburb somewhere, as London became too expensive?  Fiona was portrayed as dating Prince Charles at the end of the film: what happened?  Was Ms. Vikander’s character a result of that relationship?  Who in the world did Anna Chancellor’s character (‘Duckface’) marry, and why did he look like a latter-day version of Dr. Strangelove?   These, sadly, have to fall into the realms of speculation.  It was a sketch for charity, after all, and not intended to expand much upon the plotlines laid out in 1994.  I doubt a full sequel will ever be made, nor do I think we’ll pass this way again.  Perhaps it’s just as well: this is a harder, less sentimental age.   Weddings are more manufactured than ever; with rare exceptions, love appears to have been drowned in popular culture by the altogether less committal just “fancying each other”. 

I’ve arrived at the age of 46.  I have seen enough of life and love to know that it’s never quite as simple as one hopes.  The path I’ve followed is jagged, pockmarked with potholes and blocked at times by high mountains; it sometimes feels like I’ve made terrible mistakes just as often as good decisions.  But perhaps the obstacles presented by real life mean we desperately need the gentility that Four Weddings still represents: the capacity for one’s heart to be touched, for belief to be reaffirmed.  I still feel that desire swell whenever I hear “Wet Wet Wet” proclaim that “love is all around”, and see the first flowers bloom in the spring, hinting that it is wedding season.  Perhaps one day we will return to a kinder time when we have more space and capacity for sentiment.  I hope so.

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The Decline and Fall of the Tory Empire

March 24, 2019

The last emperor of the Western Roman Empire was arguably Romulus Augustulus, whose reign began in 475 and ended in 476.  He was deposed by the Germanic barbarian chieftain Odoacer; according to legend, the warlord “took pity on (Augustulus’s) youth” and let him live. 

I’ve always wondered what the people around Romulus Augustulus thought; did they and the people who lived in the Roman Empire believe that the regime would revive and continue?  Could they not see that their world was coming to an end?  Or could they simply not conceive that there was an alternative to Rome?

Much of the leadership of the Conservative Party has supposedly been educated in the classics; Jacob Rees Mogg has used Latin on Twitter, Boris Johnson inappropriately used the word “Carthaginian” recently to describe Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement.  I wonder if their myopia is similar to those around Romulus Augustulus: their world is coming to an end and they don’t realise it.

The Conservative Party has some young, talented MPs: however, they are far too liberal for the party they represent.  They tend to be anti-Brexit, and thus despised by the party’s rank-and-file membership.  It says something that two of them, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston, felt the need to abandon the Tories for the new Independent Group.  What remains is fiercely Eurosceptic and damn the consequences.

The consequences for the future of the Conservatives will be dire: young people are by and large Remain voters.  They generally do not vote Conservative; the Conservatives have given them no reason to change their opinion.  Promising to fill gaps in food supply with high fructose corn syrup and chlorinated chicken may have something to do with this.  It says much about Leave being an enthusiasm of a previous generation that they brought forth Tim Martin, the owner of Wetherspoon’s, who looks rather like “Father Jack” from “Father Ted”, as their spokesperson to appeal to young people.  Those young people who do support Leave appear to be dodgy, such as Darren Grimes who was fined £20,000 for helping illegally shift funds around in support of the Leave campaign.  Furthermore, there is no reliable economist who believes that leaving the EU will brighten the prospects of the young.   Indeed, they may diminish them, and on a personal as well as financial level. 

I have had the pleasure of teaching university courses: a number of my British students have formed relationships with partners that came from the European Union.  It was entirely possible for say, an English student to fall in love with a Polish one, and for them to live together in a cramped city bedsit for 6 months to see if their relationship was sufficient to withstand the accommodation.  Only true love survives sharing a bathroom and being elbow to elbow in a grimy kitchenette on a consistent basis.   Having endured, these couples would marry (or not), and in many cases, go on to have happy lives.  By dropping out of the European Union, this scenario has become more difficult.  Couples who already are together have had to fill out extensive forms so one or the other can remain in the cramped bedsit and leave their half-empty bottle of shampoo next to the drain.  Young people will remember this on top of the other more practical difficulties: finding their blue passport requires going into the longer queue, finding jobs are scarcer, finding that good food is more expensive, garbage food is all that can be afforded.   Why would they vote for the party that visited this misfortune upon them?  Why would they vote Conservative?

Brexit is only part of the picture: it is clear that the outer limits of free market ideology were reached long ago.  The Economist ran a cover not long ago decrying the “Rise of Millennial Socialism”.  There is a reason why Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn appeal to the young: return to the couple in the cramped city bedsit.  Their prospects of being to save up enough for a home are bleak, and they are saddled with debt to pay for the education which enabled them to get a job which paid for the bedsit at all.  Meanwhile, they can easily see how wealth and power is being concentrated into a smaller group of people at the apex of the economic pyramid.  These new economic overlords do not feel the same sense of obligation as the “Robber Barons” of the 19th century did to give back to society in the form of public works: for example, thanks to Andrew Carnegie, we have Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Mellon University.  There is no Bezos University being built in the Lincolnshire fens.

It’s also not a free market.  A free market implies that a superior product would overtake an inferior one once it was available.  If someone had a better idea than Amazon, they would find it tough going to get it deployed: first, they wouldn’t have the scale.  Second, they would likely have to pay their full tax bill, as opposed to Amazon which can shift its assets across the world to avoid paying anything.  If the entrepreneur with a better idea than Amazon failed, the heavy hand of the state would be upon them to find any paid employment; Amazon gets courted and feted by governments begging for their investment.  Rather than a “free” market, ours is a captive system, which was heavy on the laissez faire, to the point that it ignored lessons from statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt who taught that capitalism needed to be tightly controlled, lest the public suffer.  Never mind: the economic policies of the Conservatives appear to be based on the premise of paying lip service to the worries of the young and then promptly doing nothing about them.  Again, why would any young person vote for this?

The Tories may comfort themselves with the thought that as people get older, they tend to become more conservative in outlook.  That is more likely to be true in a scenario of younger people settling down and accumulating wealth: the aforementioned policies of the Conservative Party are making that nearly impossible.  Again, there is no incentive.

I once told a Conservative that Brexit had meant that they had eaten their future all in one sitting.  He didn’t care for my saying this, but he didn’t argue.  I have to wonder if someone at one of Romulus Augustulus’ feasts stood up from the table and said, “Stop, stop, can’t you not see our world is dying?”  If they did, I haven’t yet found a reference to it.  I suspect that such a person would have been a minority, surrounded by people who were still picking the choicest bits off the carcass of the regime that was perishing in front of them.  Eventually, there is nothing left to consume; Odoacer comes knocking at the door and doesn’t always take pity.  Time runs out, things pass.  The end of the Tory Empire is in sight: yes, the blue rosettes are still pinned to lapels, the MPs still hold their seats, they still have grand offices of state and are whisked to meetings in large black automobiles.  But what is certain today turns to dust unless one is willing to adapt to the present and future.  The Conservative Party has shown no willingness to do so.  Sic gloria transit mundi.

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Explaining Brexit

March 18, 2019

New Yorker Cover

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s point of view to see a situation more clearly.  Recently, the New Yorker magazine starkly showed how the United Kingdom is now viewed by the rest of the world.  On its cover was a rendering of Big Ben: its venerable dial was open, and a hysterical cuckoo had popped out.  The Mother of Parliaments appears to be losing the plot: it’s clear what it doesn’t want, it’s less clear what it does want.  Theresa May is adhering to Einstein’s definition of insanity, repeating the same process and yet expecting different results.

I have lived in the United Kingdom since 1988; I recall the Poll Tax riots.  I remember the protests against the Iraq War.  I don’t recall Britain being ever so angry and divided: Leave versus Remain, old versus young, city versus rural.  I also don’t recall a time when facts were ever so secondary to raw emotion, particularly on the Leave side.

How did we get here?  Why is our political system simultaneously in freefall and meltdown?

I think we can begin by examining what has happened to the global economy since (approximately) the late 1970’s.  It used to be that if you didn’t have a university degree, you could get a job at a factory, and that factory would give you a decent wage for working on assembly line, putting together anything from cars, to television sets, to widgets. Working this way, you could sustain, more or less, a reasonable lifestyle.  Britain’s inability to control inflation eroded this, however, up until the middle of the 1970’s, most working people experienced a steady improvement in their standard of living.  The last time inequality went down in the United Kingdom was under Harold Wilson’s Labour government.

The world changed: deregulation and privatisation were factors.  Also, vast new swathes of labour, from China to Eastern Europe, opened up due to capitalist reforms and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Another key element is technology: thanks to robots, it became possible to produce more stuff with fewer workers.  The remaining workers needed better skills and more education. 

Governments, blinded by the idea that globalisation and technology are good for everyone, rushed headlong into programmes to stimulate both.  Meanwhile, the ability to achieve the material progress to which people had become accustomed slipped away.  The promise underlining nearly every Western society was, “Our children will have it better than we do”: while these kids have smartphones, this promise of progress is largely no longer true.  People perceived to be elites told those disadvantaged by change that there was no alternative.  Anger was a result.

Meanwhile, not everyone had it so good under the previous order. They began to demand change: ethnic minorities, women, the LGBTQ community, and others all began to push for their rights.  The laws relaxed, eased and moved in the direction of equality, albeit equality appears to be a journey rather than a destination.  Those bewildered by the collapse of the previous economic order may have associated social changes with the deterioration of their economic situation.  This impression was probably enhanced by the same elites saying again in the name of equality and justice, there was no alternative; in that instance, the elites were right.

Monty Python once illustrated the distance between the elites and those resistant to change by deploying a curious inversion: they did a skit which showed a typical Northern scene. In it, Graham Chapman is drinking a glass of ale, dressed in braces and a sporting a working man’s mien.  Terry Jones is dressed as a frumpy housewife.  There is a knock on the door: Eric Idle shows up wearing a grey suit and tie.  His hair is long.  It quickly emerges that it is Graham Chapman who is part of the elite, albeit speaking with a strong Yorkshire accent. He has written a play about a “nymphomaniac homosexual killer involved in the murder of a well-known Scottish footballer”. It’s due to be performed at the National Theatre.  Eric Idle has just come from Barnsley, where he works as a coal miner.  Chapman’s character suffers from a dramatic seizure of writer’s cramp; Idle’s character retreats out the exit shouting that there is “more to life than culture…there is good honest sweat”.

If anything, the distance between these two Britains has grown since the sketch was first performed.  Those left behind became more susceptible to the siren songs of demagogues: Vote Leave promised that they could “take back control” via the magic of departing the European Union.  The European Union has admittedly not helped itself by being a rather dull and distant institution: generating rules for regulating trade, as would be necessary in any long-term economic relationship, is not a likely recipe for generating affection. The British are anarchic souls as it is, and bristle against rules they perceive to be unfair; tabloids looking for cheap headlines exaggerated and distorted the impact of the EU’s rules.  The vicious brew boiled and overflowed in June 2016. 

Now we are met with reality versus expectation: Vote Leave’s promises cannot be achieved.  There is no magic formula for “taking back control”: the EU is not the source of the problem.  Yet, some feel compelled to follow this bitter illogic to the end.  Others want to say, “stop the madness”.  The noxious mixture is not soluble; hence Parliament cannot make up its mind, whether to indulge fantasy to breaking point, or gather its courage and tell the public they’ve been sold a pup.

Theresa May has only made matters worse.  If she had any sense, she would have realised the folly of trying to bring about the impossible.  Furthermore, as neither David Cameron nor the leaders of Vote Leave had a viable Brexit plan, she could have said to Liam Fox, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, et al, and said, “Go away and form a viable Brexit plan; if you can come up with one which will satisfy the country and pass muster with the EU, then I’ll trigger Article 50.”  The end result of this would have been likely some squawking, but nevertheless, it would have kicked the issue into the long grass for a sufficient amount of time for the heat to dissipate. Furthermore, she could have introduced measures under existing freedom of movement rules, such as Belgium has, requiring any EU migrant to secure a job within 3 months else they have to leave.  This sense of control would probably have the effect of taking even more heat out of the issue before May was able to cancel Brexit altogether.

Instead, she chose to trigger Article 50 without any idea of what kind of agreement would emerge at the end.  This is rather akin to jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, thinking that there must be a haystack somewhere below.  She has run in fear of the far right of her own party which is still trying to catch unicorns with a butterfly net and insists that the mythical beast is just over the next hill.  She is also fearful of the DUP, unreconstructed doctrinaire religious fanatics directly from the 16th century who merely have upgraded their wardrobes.

So here we are.  No one in charge has the courage to call out the situation for the madness that it is.  Until someone does, the insanity will continue.  One of the oldest democracies in the world has been laid low by its failure to deal with the consequences of change, and its inability to summon up the courage to stand up for facts versus feelings.   The consequences are still being counted and not just in terms of the economy.  Scotland is being dragged out against its will: that may very well tip the balance in favour of it becoming independent.  Northern Ireland may opt to join the Republic: this is unlikely to be an easy process, and I suspect that the men of violence will come back if it happens.  Gibraltar will be isolated.  In short, things will get worse, and the United Kingdom we know and have loved with all its imperfections and problems may be no more.  Is it worth it?

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Transparently Love

March 15, 2019

People Holding Hands

I am not a fan of the Amazon series “Transparent”; I live in a country whose government is presently going through a nervous breakdown, so watching the neuroses of others played out on a screen is an unlikely form of entertainment.  Also, the revelations about Jeffrey Tambor’s conduct towards women makes the programme less than comfortable viewing; I’m also uncertain that a non-trans actor should be playing a trans role.

Nevertheless, there is one part of one episode that I saw which deserves praise, because through words and acting it captures something increasingly rare: genuine tenderness.

In Series 3, in an episode entitled “The Open Road”, the son of Jeffrey Tambor’s character is on a road trip with a trans woman (played by Trace Lysette) of his acquaintance.  They are on a strange sort of pilgrimage: the son has a son of his own, whose mother just committed suicide.  He’s going to break the bad news.  Ms. Lysette’s character is there to provide moral support. 

During the journey, they tire and pull over to swap places.  As they do, they spot a disused playground in the distance.  They quickly decide to break in. 

Chemistry and sexual tension between the two characters had been on a low simmer to that point, but it is in the playground that it begins to boil and overflow.  The two characters, who are ostensibly on a very serious and grave mission, play like children: shouting down slides, running with abandon through sandboxes, climbing monkey bars.  The regression into childhood perhaps is what uncorks the potential for tenderness.  Adults grow a thickened skin, become wary of sentiment, often lose the ability to play, and thus find it difficult to shed enough reserve to be genuine.  In this era, perhaps we are too baked into our shells to be childlike and surrender to wonder.  In this scene, the actors do so.  In particular, it is obvious in Ms. Lysette’s longing glances at her counterpart, the innocent smiles, and then eventually their shared kiss, hesitant at first, and followed by shared looks of revelation and joy.  In that all too fleeting moment, it’s clear: the characters feel for each other.

Of course, this being “Transparent”, the scene is entirely ruined.  Ms. Lysette’s character is the much braver of the two; she confides that she has HIV but there is medication available for those in long term relationships to mitigate the risks.  It’s clear that her prospective partner is too neurotic and squeamish to countenance the possibility of something long term, and certainly not something short term with someone who has a disease.  The delicate moment shatters, the mood is lost, the two break apart, ostensibly never to come back together.

What makes the writing and acting particularly beautiful – and this is a word I use advisedly – is that it shows something about love.  Not just how delicate it can be, but also, how at its core is the concept of acceptance.  Ms. Lysette’s character bared all her secrets; what the character of the son couldn’t do is see that as a way of saying “I love you: I accept you as you are, neuroses, sadness, and all.  Please accept me as I am: love me too.”  The scene disintegrates because the son lacks the perspicacity or maturity to do so.  

Nevertheless, it is instructive: so much of romantic writing in books, plays and movies, focus on a magic moment: somehow a realisation occurs that the other is the right person, the intended one.  However, perhaps “Transparent” can teach us that romantic scenes should be focused on the acceptance of another, which is a far greater statement.  Acceptance means that the other is taken wholesale, with their virtues and flaws: dressed to the nines, and in a t-shirt with holes in it, stumbling unkempt to the bathroom at 3 AM.  It means one is accepted for remembering to bring flowers home for an anniversary, and for forgetting to pick up milk from the corner store on a regular day.  It means that in good health or ill, the person is accepted: whether their nose is running, or they just completed a run. 

In just this brief scene, “Transparent” brought this to life: it was daubed in the vivid colours of an afternoon underneath the western sky.  It was beautiful writing and acting, and for a shimmering moment, it showed what a glow of romantic hope in a weary world can look like.  For that, the cast and the producers should be complimented.

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Me And My Blog

Picture of meI'm a Doctor of Creative Writing, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a published novelist, a technologist, a student, and still an amateur in much else.

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