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.

Mince, a toad and a sow’s ear

When Dominic Cummings, the former director of Vote Leave, called David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus” he was kind of missing the point. Even if Davis was as wise as Solomon, as busy as a bee and as humble as somebody too humble for you to have even heard of, it wouldn’t matter.

The main problem with Brexit isn’t the competence of the people trying to carry it out. The problem is that the flawed idea is predictably falling apart at the proof of concept stage. Arguing about the who’s the best person to deliver Brexit is as pointless as arguing about whether Alice or Bob could brew a better pot of tea in a chocolate teapot.

What’s in Mr Tumble’s spotty bag?

According to the headline writers, David Davis “uses spy-proof briefcase to stop snoopers accessing Brexit secrets.” Which does make me wonder what he keeps in there in there. I’m guessing:

  • One copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People (unread)
  • Several packets of extra soft tissues, for those meetings where you go in telling everybody how you’re going to show the other guy who’s boss, then have to slink out in abject humiliation and cry yourself to sleep
  • Lots of Prozac (see above)
  • A few of those old Commando war comics from the good old days, when Britain’s opponents did the decent thing and died yelling “Donner und blitzen!”, rather than just looking pitying and exasperated like these dastardly Eurocrats
  • A pair of noise-cancelling headphones, to be worn for the whole duration of the Brexit negotiations
  • A large supply of spare underpants (brown)
  • Several passport application forms from countries that still have a chance of not turning into ungovernable basket cases after March 2019



Image © BBC, but I’m, saying fair use. So there.

Oi! Davis! Where’s your Dunkirk spirit?

Christopher Nolan’s wartime epic, Dunkirk, goes on release next Friday. Although the Second World War and the Dunkirk evacuation in particular loom large in Brexit mythology, it seems to me that the Brexiteers haven’t learned anything very useful from their obsession with this part of history. Which is a shame, because David Davis, in particular, could benefit from a bit of the old Dunkirk spirit.

The reason why Dunkirk is worth remembering and celebrating is because is represents a particular brand of courage. The courage needed to face up to reality when a plan isn’t coming together. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had been outmaneuvered and beaten. There was no realistic prospect of it achieving its strategic goals.

The British were faced with two options – reinforce a hopeless position and waste more blood and treasure, with no prospect of victory, or plan an orderly withdrawal, saving as many as could be saved from death or capture. We only celebrate Dunkirk as a success because the British chose the latter option, saving around 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops.

As well as the many, Britain saved the few, when Fighter Command’s Hugh Dowding resisted sending more pilots to France and withdrew the ones already there – if he’d thrown more of his men and machines at the battle of France, he could easily have lost the Battle of Britain.

David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator is now in the same position as the BEF, in chaotic retreat, outmaneuvered by an opponent he has no realistic prospect of beating. The courageous thing to  do at this point would be to put the needs of the country first and save what can still be saved, rather than putting the nation in peril by throwing away its remaining reserves. Seriously, David, take yourself off to the movies and think hard about what you see:


The cake is a lie

This week started on an optimistic note. There were signs that the Brits were becoming slightly less delusional about this whole having-your-cake-and-eating-it idea.
That was from Dan Roberts in Monday’s Graun.

But, no, the UK’s head of financial regulation, Andrew Bailey, apparently didn’t get the memo:

Does Brexit have to mean abandoning the benefits of free trade and open markets in financial services? It should not.

Does it require membership of the single market to get the benefits of free trade with the EU? No.

Does Brexit mean abandoning the use of regulatory co-operation to ensure sufficient alignment of standards and outcomes so that open markets can prevail? It should not.

Shouldn’t it? The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, begs to differ:

I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible.
I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible.
The decision to leave the EU has consequences and I have to explain to citizens, businesses and civil society on both sides of the Channel what those consequences mean for them.

These consequences are the direct result of the choice made by the UK, not by the EU. There is no punishment for Brexit and of course no spirit of revenge. But Brexit has a cost, also for business in the EU27, and businesses should assess with lucidity the negative consequences of the UK choice on trade and investment and prepare to manage that.

Maybe David Davis can expain to Michel Barnier why the EU should grant Andrew Bailey’s wish list and let the UK contiue to enjoy the benefits of EU and single market membership without any of the obligations. Second time lucky? I’m not holding my breath.