Dave’s modest proposal

This sounds perfectly reasonable to me:

Fitness enthusiast Dave May has urged his local gym to allow him to continue to enjoy the benefits of belonging to his gym after cancelling his gym membership.

In an e-mail sent at 3am on Monday morning, Dave expressed his desire for “the freest and most frictionless use” of both equipment and personal trainers after his membership expires.

To achieve this, Dave wants his gym to allow services and facilities he has been using before exit day to be used by him without “any additional requirements or restrictions” after he leaves and for him to remain authorised to access the gym after ceasing to be a member.

These proposals would reassure Dave and allow him to “plan ahead with certainty” as he prepares to exit his 12-month contract, the e-mail says.

In a Facebook post accompanying the e-mail, Dave said: “This e-mail will help give me certainty and confidence in my status as a fitness powerhouse after I have left my gym.

“It also shows that as I enter negotiations with my fitness provider, it is clear that my separation from my gym and my future relationship with it are inextricably linked.

“I have already begun to set out what I would like to see from a future relationship on issues such as the use of cardiovascular and resistance machines and am ready to begin a formal dialogue on this and other issues.”

And he can’t say fairer than that…


“Don’t tell him, Pike!”

We Brits never tire of reminding ourselves that we’re world leaders in having a sense of humour and we’ve now even got something called “the Gold TV Comedy Audit” to remind us of our past national triumphs in hilarity, as the Express revealed earlier this year:

“DON’T tell him, Pike!” and “I know nuh-thing” are among Britain’s favourite comedy oneliners, critics have revealed.

The classic Dad’s Army line – uttered by Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) after Ian Lavender’s gormless Private Pike has been asked for his name by a German prisoner – topped a list of iconic gags from hit shows like Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous.

It was a pretty funny line back in the day, but it feels as if, somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten why it was so funny.

The joke works on at least three levels. First, Captain Mainwaring contradicting the whole point of his own order was a witty, compact logical absurdity, in the paradoxical tradition of Lewis Carroll’s word games. Second, it’s part of a comedy of manners – if this was just some random character slipping up on a metaphorical banana skin it would have been slightly amusing verbal slapstick, but it became properly funny because of the pomposity and self-importance of the character who was falling flat on his face. But the slapstick element of the situation also worked in its own terms, too – watching people bumbling about and doing something really badly can be genuinely hilarious in itself, which is why fail memes are a thing.

The thing is, on any of those three levels, the joke is only funny because we, the audience, can see the absurdity of the situation. The characters on the other side of the fourth wall are oblivious to their own logical inconsistencies, character quirks and ineptitude. The writers, actors and audience are sharing a joke at the expense of the characters. Admittedly, in this case, it’s quite a gentle joke – Dad’s Army was always about affectionate mockery – with the possible exception of all-purpose killjoy Warden Hodges, most of the characters were essentially likeable, if very silly. But it’s only funny because we have a sense of the ridiculous which is lost on the characters.

We’ve been exposed to this sort of comedy for so long that you’d think that nobody on these islands could fall into the trap of parroting logical absurdities, getting puffed up with self-importance, or making a chaotic hash of things without some memory from Dad’s Army, or Blackadder, or Fawlty Towers, or Python, or whatever, popping into mind and prompting some thought along the lines of “Hang on, this is just getting silly.” But no, at least for influential people making some of the most important decisions in our national life, there is no fourth wall. Our chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis, isn’t watching Captain Mainwairing and laughing at him. He is Captain Mainwaring, blissfully unaware of his own logical inconsistencies, pompous bluster and incompetence…

“You’ll find it difficult sometimes to read what we intend, that’s deliberate, I’m afraid in negotiations you do have constructive ambiguity from time to time.”

…or maybe, as Cliff Taylor has suggested, he’s channeling Blackadder’s cheerful, but turnip-brained, sidekick, Baldrick:

If there is a cunning British plan in the background here it is being particularly well concealed. Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis said “creative ambiguity” was needed during a negotiation and that London could not show all its hand. But this looks more like Blackadder than Machiavelli.

London must know that the rest of the EU will not allow it to simultaneously leave the EU, retain the benefits of free trade within Europe and also be able to negotiate new trade deals with other countries such as the US, Latin American and Asian countries and so on.

In political terms this is firmly in the cake-possession-and-eating department. In economic terms, the key problem is that Britain wants to trade freely and without barriers with the EU, while at the same time striking its own trade deals with other countries.

Even when the mockery is affectionate, you’re supposed to laugh at these characters, not become them. It’s kind of the point of comedy. If you don’t get that, you’re suffering from a sense of humour failure that leads to some very dark places indeed, as the consistently excellent Flipchart Rick has just pointed out:

I said years ago that if we ever had an authoritarian movement in Britain it would not have uniforms, goose-stepping marches and torchlight parades. It wouldn’t be that interesting. Ours would be a shabby poujadism, led by golf club bores, residents’ association busybodies and parish Pol Pots.

The boorish self-righteous know-all is a staple of British comedy, perhaps because every neighbourhood has at least one. It’s easy to imagine Terry Medford, Martin Bryce, Warden Hodges and Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy in your local UKIP branch. Basil Fawlty would have joined in the early years but left once they started letting in riffraff like Eddie Booth and Alf Garnett. But at least in the comedies even the most dislikable characters had some redeeming features and, in the end, they usually got their comeuppance, their own puffed-up stupidity eventually bringing about their downfall.

Alas, in 2017, this once-ridiculed tendency in our national culture is now calling the shots. As Rafael Behr said last week, to the rest of the world, Britain now looks urbane but unhinged. Sitcom characters, only without the comedy…

You should definitely click through and read the whole thing (as well as Rafael Behr’s bleak but brilliant polemic on the subject).

Welcome to the UK, the looking-glass kingdom of backwards Karl Marx, where history repeats itself first as farce, then as tragedy.

Cross-posted here.

“If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country”

I’ve never been a great fan of restaurant critic Jay Rayner. Thanks to his condescending manner on foodie shows like Masterchef, he’s known as as “floppy-haired sneery bloke” in our house. But it turns out there’s a time and a place for everything, even condescension. The time is now and the place is the in-tray of our mutton-headed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, the man who famously announced that “people in this country have had enough of experts.”

Apparently Brexit’s great expertise denialist had bit of a change of heart recently and decided to invite a few food experts, including Jay Rayner, to join him for a round table discussion which he hoped might generate a few ideas about what he could do in the new cabinet post he’s been gifted (by Gove’s fact-free standards, Jay Rayner counts as an expert, by virtue of having actually used research and factual information when writing about food security and sustainability).

Sadly for Gove, experts in this country have had enough of people like Gove, so Jay Rayner declined the invitation to join him at his round table. Instead, Jay replied with a caustic open letter. I’ll quote some of it to give you a flavour, but do click though here and read the whole thing:

In the early 1990s Britain’s self-sufficiency in food reached its highest in modern times. We were producing just over 70% of all the food we were eating. Since then the story has been one only of decline. We now produce 60% of our own food, but because of exports only around 50% of the food we eat is actually produced here…

…The huge expansion of a vibrant middle class in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere has challenged the conventional wisdom on the flow of produce around the world. For many years the British supermarkets had free range over the produce from the southern hemisphere. However, many of those producers have increasingly chosen to trade with China and India. In 2000 14% of the world’s middle classes were in Asia; by 2050 that will be 68%. We no longer have unfettered access to the global larder. Given the fall in our self-sufficiency, this means we are now at risk from global shocks…

…And so now the UK sits with dwindling self-sufficiency, in a stormy world in which food has become one of the great economic battlegrounds. Added to that is the appalling folly of Brexit, forced through by a cabal of ideologues happy to trot out falsehoods about the sunny uplands of economic joy that leaving the European Union would bring…

…If, as many fear, a bad deal is done for Britain resulting in huge tariffs and penalties on trade, food price inflation is going to be in double digits for years to come. That’s if we can get hold of food at all. The people who will suffer the most, of course, are those who already have the least. For them the buying of food will use up a massive proportion of their expendable income…

…By leaving the EU the UK will be forced to open itself up to food production practices that are far less healthy, palatable or even safe. Likewise we may end up importing much more meat produced at a much lower welfare standard than we are used to. In short, Brexit risks exposing UK consumers to much lower food standards than we have come to expect…

…I find it extraordinary that, in the correspondence inviting me to the meeting of food experts called by you, your colleague Fiona Gately said that Brexit would not be part of the discussion. She later retracted that verbally; said it was of course something we could discuss. The point I made to her then and I make now is that, where our food supply is concerned, Brexit is the only subject. It is implicated in every single aspect of our food supply chain and risks imperilling the very health of the nation.

A few years ago, when discussing food security in the UK, Lord Cameron of Dillington – a farmer and first head of the Countryside Agency – said Britain was just ‘nine meals from anarchy’. It would take just three days of empty supermarket shelves, just three days of meals missed by hungry children and despairing parents, for the country to descend into massive civil unrest.

When I first heard that statement I regarded it as an interesting and diverting piece of hyperbole. Now it feels to me like a prediction.

Of all the things that were said to me when I was researching my recent an article on the importance of migrant labour to our food supply chain, the one that stayed with me most came from Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation: ‘If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country’.

Excellent stuff.


Farage to abandon UK, after screwing it up for everybody else

Rats are well known for leaving sinking ships. Usually the rats themselves aren’t directly responsible for sinking the vessel in question but, in this case, it’s one of the rodents chiefly responsible for gnawing through the hull that’s now thinking about jumping ship:

Reviled by many Britons, including those who voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit campaign that he helped spearhead when he was head of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage has expressed interest in moving to Maine.

Farage cites the animosity he has encountered in Britain and his fears for his family’s safety as motivating his desire to emigrate to the United States. He fails to mention that even his erstwhile supporters became angered when, shortly after urging Britons to vote to leave the U.K., Farage resigned as the UK Independence Party’s leader in a classic political cut and run.

What the good people of Maine will think about introducing this specimen of alien vermin into their native ecosystem remains to be seen, although the author of this article, Pamela Ballinger, sounds suitably unimpressed:

Why should we roll out the welcome mat for a man who sowed divisions in his own country, helped destabilize Europe and then shrugged his shoulders and decided to move on to greener pastures? We’ve got plenty of homegrown political cowards and cheats without having to import one from across the pond.

One wonders, too, what particular appeal (apart from its natural beauty) Maine holds for Farage. Perhaps it’s as simple as the promise of a “new” England in which Farage can reinvent himself.

Or maybe Farage is attracted by Maine’s demographics and nurtures a fantasy of homogeneity and whiteness, one that underwrote his Brexit messaging and led him to exploit the European refugee crisis for political gain.

Or perhaps he’s drawn to a state with a governor who tilts at windmills, given that one of Farage’s first meetings with Trump after the U.S. election involved a discussion in which the president-elect urged Farage and his associates to oppose a proposed wind farm that would affect the view at Trump’s golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Or maybe he just thinks we’re simple rubes who won’t know enough about his brand of lies and sleaze to call him out on it. Whatever the reason, we should not normalize such behavior by making Farage feel comfortable here.

However fast Farage runs, let’s hope that his dodgy expenses fiddles still  catch up with him.

Cross-posted here.

“Thick as mince” revisited

I almost wish that I hadn’t said “The main problem with Brexit isn’t the competence of the people trying to carry it out“, now that our leading Brexiteers are routinely generating headlines like this:

Andrea Leadsom mocked after calling Jane Austen ‘one of our greatest living authors’ in House of Commons

…and this…

Britain’s Fox says UK-EU trade deal ‘easiest in human history’, sterling falls

But I still think my point, that Brexit itself is a terrible idea regardless of the calibre of the people trying to make it work, is valid. Of course, the fact that Brexit was originally dreamed up by morons like this probably explains why it’s such an unremittingly terrible idea…

Global Trumpist tantrums

What is this, International Throw Your Toys Out of The Pram Week?

“It will be a lot easier and I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you Republicans are not going to own it,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, in the UK:

Cabinet tensions over Brexit intensified today as Tory sources accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of trying to force Theresa May into storming out of Brexit talks.

An insider told the Standard the pair were using the row over Britain’s divorce payment to the EU to bring talks “crashing to a halt” to engineer a “hard Brexit” with no transitional deal.

“They want a situation where the EU just say ‘enough is enough’ and show us the door,” claimed the source. “They want the hardest of hard Brexits.” Mr Johnson last week caused a furore by saying the EU could “go whistle” for the money it is seeking.

And these are the sort of people who go around calling Remainers “saboteurs.”