Friday, 20 January 2017

Trump, Trump, Trump...

Brexiteers continue the civil war that's been going on ever since former Prime Minister David Cameron announced the unbelievable news that UK voters would actually have a referendum on membership of the European Union.

Mr Cameron's successor, Theresa May, set the warring factions against each other again this week - intentionally or otherwise - by making a speech at London's Lancaster House in which she declared that Britain would be leaving the EU single market, at some time, in some way. Lancaster House was the place where Margaret Thatcher declared emphatically that membership of the single market was a really good thing. She may even have believed that, for a while.

While some Brexiteers like Nigel Farage cheer on Mrs May and, with Donald Trump as President of the United States, look forward to another Thatcher-Reagan era, others, some of whom publicly welcomed her as the best possible successor to David Cameron, are now prophecing catastrophe. Is it a car crash? No. Is it a train wreck? No. Is it a Jumbo Jet explosion? Almost certainly. What, then, does that make President Trump? Why, a nuclear holocaust of course. According to Polly Toynbee at least.

So, Brexit doesn't mean Brexit after all: it means Exit. The main thing that struck me about Mrs May's speech, though, was the outfit in which she chose to make it. The blue-green tartan bum-freezer jacket and matching trousers, hitched high round her middle, instantly reminded me of the Bay City Rollers, the 'tartan teen sensations' from Edinburgh whose biggest hit in the 1970s was Bye Bye Baby. The main difference between Mrs May and Les McKeown and the boys was that she wore flat shoes rather than boots with big heels.

Forty-odd years ago, while young Fionas, Daphnes and Theresas were leaping up and down with tartan scarves tied to their wrists, the man with a nose like a ship's rudder, Edward Heath, was tying Britain up to the European Economic Community, as it was then designated, assuring the nation that 'twas but a trading agreement, a market of six sovereign states. Thirty years later Uncle Ted superciliously admitted to BBC television reporter Michael Cockerall that it was in fact a political union.

No it wasn't. The 1972 European Communities Act was a web and sitting in the middle of it was the European Commission, spinning out ever more sticky strands to bind more and more member states together. The six became 28 or 27 plus 1. More nations need even more sticky rules, regulations, directives, thousands and thousands of them, many of them from international conglomerates a long way from Brussels. A great sticky ball of rules and regs larger than the Gordian Knot that Alexander the Great is said to have loosened with a single blow of his sword.

Is that what Theresa May has at the back of her mind, a single low to slice through thousands of strands of sticky red tape? Is that what President Trump has in mind as outlined in his inaugural speech attack on Washington's governing elite? - the talkers who do nothing but prosper while swathes of America turn into rusting tombstones. An unlikely image if you think about it, but President Trump is more a man of phrases than images. "The American carnage," was the phrase he used to describe the white collar crimes against America's blue collar industries.

Because I am easily distracted by trivialities, phrases from a popular song from the 1950s pinged into my mind before President Trump's big show in Washington. It goes:-

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk

And said goodbye to the circus
Off she went with a trumpety-trump
Trump, trump, trump
Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
And trundled back to the jungle
Off she went with a trumpety-trump
Trump, trump, trump

Nellie ended up on the road to Mandalay. Donald Trump unpacked his trunk in Washington, specifically at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I imagine him, the fuss of the great day over, taking off his trousers in the master bedroom, a day after ex-President Obama had put his on in the same room, perhaps, and turning to the First Lady, saying: "Melania honey, did you ever hear of the Bay City Rollers?" Chances are, of course, that Trump's pants could be tartan in honour of his mother's Scottish connection.

In response to all the Apocalypso Now doom-mongers, the time has come to echo that world-weary voice responding to the hapless J Alfred Prufrock in T S Eliot's poem and repeat:-

That is not it at all/ That is not what I meant, at all.

While it may be a mistake to impose the pattern of the past on the future, seeing in May-Trump another Thatcher-Reagan, I well recall that 1980 to about 1987 was a time of trouble, turbulence and fear, from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan. America was in retreat while the clunky Soviet Union was on the advance. Few foresaw in the mid-1980s the way things would work out by November 9, 1989 - the day when the German Democratic Republic accidentally abolished the Berlin Wall.

Perhaps it's not the great set-piece policy statements in London and Washington that make the real difference, except to the money changers, so much as unforeseen events along the way.   

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Bow Wow Factor

Some people are apt to get really boring about the misuse of words and phrases on radio, television and in the press. I'm one myself. I can't watch or listen passively. The frequent misuse of 'iconic', 'awesome', 'fantastic' and lately 'wow' is yet another indicator, to me at least, of the way the public is being treated like a regressive infant.

Only the testy old Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge appears to have any expectation of audience intelligence or at least a ready willingness to understand. But I don't suppose many would think of judging the nation by the standards applied to University Challenge, more like Gogglebox.

The willingess to use ready-made words and phrases as unthinking expressions of surprise, shock, incredulity or amazement exists against a soundtrack of Munchkin muzak in supermarkets, gyms, cafes and other public places. So no surprise that at a time of emotional cliches in popular music, invariably about love, the tendency to talk in cliches, like, is bound to be more noticeable. That doesn't make it any more tolerable, though.

I've just watched a programme on BBC2 about home make-overs in which amateur designers are given £1,000 and a bit of help to change a room in a house in the space of 48 hours. In every instance, two of the three judges inspecting the make-overs uttered 'Wow' as they walked into the room. Not a short, to the point, 'wow' but a lingering 'wo-o-ow', as though Greg Wallace had fed the entire prodution team of Master Chef with five loaves and two fishes. When God surveyed the created universe you may be sure he did not say 'wow, 'awesome', 'fantastic' lor even, 'wow, thar's iconic.'

I have a family relative who, last time I saw her, had a really annoying way of using the expression 'okay'. In response to virtually any new piece of information she replied, 'okaaaay?' interogatively, as though what you had told her was subject to some kind of commission of inquiry for validation. This is the same as saying 'right?' That little qualifier so common in conversation nowadays which indicates that the person using it is checking constantly that you are following his or her drift. Usually the subject is not at all difficult to follow, just bloody tedious, right?

Listen dog, next time you talk to me leave your wows in the kennel where they belong. Likewise awesome, fantastic and iconic. Either find a way of expressing what you think or feel or, if you feel and think nothing worth saying, then keep your mouth shut. Nod instead or shake your head.


Saturday, 10 December 2016

A A Gill: A Man for all Seasoning

It's been a busy year for obituary writers: David Bowie,Terry Wogan, Prince, Tony Warren, Cliff Michelmore, Ray Fitzwalter, Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels, Victoria Wood, Johan Cruyff, David Herd, Mohammed Ali, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen, Robert Vaughn, Fidel Castro, Peter Vaughan, John Glenn and now the Sunday Times columnist A A Gill.

Not being a regular reader of the Sunday Times - it looks as though it's lost its style to me - I was not familiar with Adrian Gill's food criticism; but I imagine that it was every bit as witty and perceptive as his television criticism. Before I was shunted out of my job as a regional hack I had a book of his TV pieces. On my last Friday I passed it on to a colleague in the hope that it would provoke both thought and laughter as it had done for me.

Gill's favourite target was costume drama - oh no, it's Dame Judi in yet another Georgian/Victorian dress and hat. If I remember rightly not even my beloved Middlemarch was spared. Try defending your fondness for Andrew Davies's adaptation to Mr G, I thought. Well, I think I can. The serial was not about wigs, country houses and four-wheelers but humility in all its various emanations - Bulstrode's sanctimony, Casaubon's lifeless piety, Lydgate's frustration, Dorothea's resignation and Sir James Chettam's unrequited love for Dorothea.  You can't always get what you want and all that - although that doesn't appear to apply to Sir Mick Jagger, a father for the seventh time at 73. The sound-track was good as well, good enough to win a BAFTA. You can't say that about many TV sound-tracks.

What larks, eh Pip? Mr Gill had an eye and an ear for the false note, the bogus, the pretentious, the duplicitous. I'd love to know his thoughts about the current TV drama obsession with serial killers on BBC1, 2 and 4 as well as ITV. Men killing women seems to me the acting out of a subliminal fantasy. Aren't there other subjects to explore, for example: political correctness and corruption, grooming in Northern cities, paedophilia in sport, the proliferation of food programmes in an age of obesity and seven days of the girlie-whirly Strictly Come Dancing across BBC1 and BBC2? 

I think he also had an appreciation of that which was genuinely touching, funny or authentic. He approved of sentiment, the kind that is not accompanied by a piano score in a minor key. He was made to engage in mental strife with this tattooed age in which style, the appearance of things, dominates over substance. Twas ever thus, you may say. I disagree. It wasn't like that in 1963 when Philip Larkin made the Beatles' first LP and Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' articulated what a lot of people were feeling but couldn't put into words. Look at the first part of Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home bio-pic of Dylan dominated by Pete Seeger, Odetta, Woody Guthrie, Dave Van Ronk, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Jacob Niles, a young Nat King Cole, Izzy Young and Joan Baez. That wasn't an age for old men pretending to be wise or young men posturing.

After George Orwell died in 1950, W H Auden said he would miss Orwell's opinions, implying that the loss was public not private: national life as a whole would be poorer for Orwell's silence. I hope that's not the case with A A Gill's passing. We need all the judicious, fearless, oxyacetalyne voices we can get to cut through the climate of conceit and delusion that surrounds us.

As readers of The Sunday Times know, he wrote his last piece of journalism for the colour supplement. The subject was his diagnosis, treatment and reflections on the NHS which, he asserts, suffers from a kind of institutional cancer:-

We know it's the best of us. The National Health Service is the best of us. You can't walk into an NHS hospital and be a racist. That condition is cured instantly. But it's almost impossible to walk into a private hospital and not fleetingly feel that you are one: a plush waiting room with entitled and bad-tempered health tourists.

You can't be sexist on the NHS, nor patronising, and the care and the humour, the togetherness ranged against the teetering, chronic system by both the caring and the careworn is the Blitz, "back against the wall", stern and sentimental best of us - and so we tell lies about it.

We say it's the envy of world. It isn't. We say there's nothing else like it. There is. We say it's the best in the West. It's not. We think it's the cheapest. It isn't . Either that or we think it's the most expensive - it's not that eiher. You will live longer in France and Germany, get treated faster abd nore comfortably in Scandanavia, and everything costs more in America......

......Actually it's not being told you've got cancer that is the test of character, it's the retelling. Going home and saying to the missus: "That thing, that cricked neck. Actually it's a tumour, the size of a cigar." It ought to come with a roll of thunder and five Jewish violinists, instead of the creaky whisper of fear.

People react differently to different cancers: most women think they'll survive, and statistically they're right. Most men think they'll die - and likewise......

......I'm sitting in bed on the cancer ward trying to get the painkillers stabilised and a young nurse comes in. "There you are. I've been waiting for you all day. You are supposed to be with me down in chemotherapy. I saw your name. Why are you up here?"
"Well, it turns out the chemo isn't working." Her shoulders sag and her hand goes to her head. "F***, f***, that's dreadful." I think she might be crying.
I look away, so might I.
You don't get that with private healthcare.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen: Going Home

Even to talk about one's self at a time like this is a kind of unwholesome luxury. I don't think I've had a darkest hour compared to the dark hours that so many people are involved in right now. Large numbers of people are dodging bombs, having their nails pulled out in dungeons, facing starvation, disease. I mean large numbers of people. So I think we've got to be circumspect about how seriously we take our anxieties today," Leonard Cohen said in an interview published in July, 2009.

Well, he goes out as President-elect Donald Trump comes in. As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said: Coincidence is God's way of remaining invisible.

Leonard Cohen will be remembered by the unreliable media as a lugubrious Spock-like troubadour of mournful love songs. Of all the songs that Leonard Cohen wrote and recorded the ones I like most are not, wirh the exception of Suzanne and Famous Blue Raincoat, love songs. Ever since David Marlow, a Jewish friend with whom I shared a basement flat in Hackney in the early 1970s, introduced me to his work I think I have always preferred the outward Cohen of Story of Isaac to the introspective Cohen of Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. I made my compilation last month after reading David Remnick's monumental interview with the man himself in The New Yorker. All of it is worth reading, twice; but here are the last two paragraphs, an apt post-script, Cohen signing off from the material world:- 

"I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not," Cohen said. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to co-operate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich.

“What I mean to say is that you hear the 'Bat Kol.' The divine voice. You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really."  

My top twenty Cohen songs are:- Sisters of Mercy: Suzanne: Story of Isaac: Joan of Arc: Famous Blue Raincoat: Hallelujah: Who By Fire: Song of the Partisan: Everybody Knows: Tower of Song: In My Secret Life: Here it Is: By the River's Dark: In the Land of Plenty: The Future: Democracy: Going Home: Show Me the Place: Darkness: You Want it Darker.

Pick any one and you’ll find apposite lines that resonate with the times, trials and tribulations of the reality in which you’re living. The tawdry Trump versus Clinton scrap for the sepulchre of the White House prompted me to nominate You Want it Darker, the title song of Cohen’s latest LP, as the soundtrack for this particular movie. Others might say, ‘Yes, but what about the more sardonic Democracy? Or the ironic but poignant last lines from In the Land of Plenty:- May the light in the land of plenty/ Shine on the truth some day 

But of all Leonard Cohen’s songs I have chosen Going Home to send him on his way. God bless, Mr Cohen.

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
To refuse 

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow

Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Saturday, 5 November 2016

One Law in Belfast, Another in Westminster?

In the aftermath of Thursday's High Court decision, that the Government had not made a water-tight case for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without a Parliamentary debate, I'd like to ask a question.

How come the Government failed so dismally in London, in spite of the efforts of Attorney General Jeremy Wright, when a similar attempt to scupper the Brexit process in Belfast was thrown out by a High Court judge?

The challenge was made by politicians from Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party. They said the UK government could not trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. The Brexit decision should be examined and voted on by parliament or, failing that, by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Central to their argument was that the peace process in Northern Ireland would be put at risk by pulling out of the European Union. In the June referendum a majority of voters in Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU.

According the BBC in Belfast, the judge ruled that prerogative power could still be used, arguing that triggering Article 50 is merely the start of a legislative process in which acts of parliament will be necessary. "While the wind of change may be about to blow, the precise direction in which it will blows cannot be determined," he said.

Unlike his three counterparts in the High Court in London, he concluded that discussing the use of prerogative power to enact the EU referendum result was not suitable for judicial review  It had also been argued that the Good Friday Agreement gave the power of sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland and that the Westminster government could not therefore make the region leave the EU.

But the judge rejected that argument as well, saying he could not see anything in the agreement or the relevant legislation that confirmed that view.

It's a strange equation to contemplate. England voted in favour of Brexit but can't have it unless Parliament says so whereas Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, can irrespective of both the Westminster Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.  

You may say that a bear of astonishingly little brain, such as I, should not paddle in the deep and treacherous waters of constitutional and legal matters, especially where differences between Belfast and Westminster are concerned. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that none of the media reports, indeed none of the bloggers I have read since Thursday, have seen any merit in taking up this dichotomy.

Is that strange too, or merely an oversight by commentators and pundits? Some are busy exonerating themselves for not anticipating the High Court reversal; others are saying the decision is in reality good news for Brexit because British sovereignty has been endorsed. Only Peter Hitchens appears to be saying that both sides are talking bollocks.

The judicial review was without doubt an attempt to block the process of Brexit by putting the referendum result ino the hands of the Parliament. Everyone knows that in both the House of Commons Commons and the House of Lords there is a majority against Britain leaving the EU. That's why the three High Court judges' decision delighted the Remainers and outraged some of the Brexiteers.

Parliament is paramount for democracy, we are told. Is it? Wasn't this the same institution that voted for the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, on the dubious evidence of a flawed intelligence report? Wasn't this the same hallowed institution many of whose members were caught fleecing British tax-payers six or seven years ago? Isn't this the same institution thought to be implicated in covering up or hindering investigations into a paedophile ring of the geat but not so good?

Oliver Cromwell was so disgusted by the carry-on in the House of Commons after the Civil War that  on April 20, 1653, he led an armed force into the Commons Chamber (as Charles I had done in January 1642) and forcibly dissolved the Rump, declaring: " You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... In the name of God, go!" 

Who hasn't felt like that in the past few years?  It was Parliament where the vote in favour of the 1972 European Communities Act was gerrymandered by the the major party whips. Why would any self-respecting sceptic believe that this institution, which so readily gave away British sovereignty to Brussels, is the best place to protect and defend it now?

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Think Like a Champ, Don't Act Like a Chump

Donald Trump didn't invent the Mexican Wave; but the wall he proposed for the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants has been reviled by his detractors in this country and elsewhere in Europe. 

However, the UK Government is paying for a wall to be built outside Calais to deter would-be economic migrants from Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere from getting into Britain. And this weekend the people of Hungary are likely to vote against a European Union proposal to share out 160,000 refugees among its member states. 

The wall is the nearest thing to a world-changing idea that Donald Trump can claim for himself. The rest, to rephrase the last line of Hamlet, is ridicule. Mostly.

Television news clips from America about Donald Trump, prospective Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, are almost wholly negative. He is an object of mockery on programmes like the News Quiz on BBC Radio 4. No self-respecting social satirist or commentator has a good word to say about him though there are plenty of others, such as sexist, racist and misoginystic.

It reminds me of the time when George W Bush was in the White House. Clever people on radio and television took to referring to him as "Gyeorge Wyuh", as though they knew him personally. The contempt had the opposite effect it was supposed to have on me: even after the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, which I supported, I was inclined to extend more sympathy to him than he merited.

I wish I could say the same about Mr Trump. While the chattering classes enjoy themselves depicting him as the great Satan - reminiscent of the sentiment that used to come out of the Islamic Republic of Iran about all things American - I ruefully reflect on the man I used to enjoy watching as the hiring and firing boss of American Apprentice and Celebrity American Apprentice. It was one of the few reality TV shows that I liked.

The BBC used to screen back numbers of the series, so that in 2010 I was watching shows that were three or four years old. That didn't matter to me: the pleasure was in the interaction of the contestants and Donald Trump's comments and judgements. In his mid to late sixties he was an object of fascination: the conspicuous ostentation - the Trump brand on everything, the helicopter, the jet, the sleek limos, the golden apartment in Trump Tower, the sharp suits and (especially) the immaculate ties of red, blue or gold, that hung perfectly below his chin like a Roman sword. Here was a man who seemed to be innately self-confident. My admiration had nothing to do with a desire to emulate him; I just felt he was a larger-than-life character who got things done. Of course, I suspended my disbelief.

That's why on the afternoon of November 17, 2009, I bought a copy of his book Think Like a Champion, sub-titled An Informal Education in Business and Life. Only an innately unself-confident person would buy a book with that on the cover. I underlined many passages in pencil as I read. Afterwards I appended, in pencil, a list of the 48 Laws of Power as compiled by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers, as well as the following by Steve Jobs:- 

Don't waste time by living somebody else's life...Don't be trapped by dogma...Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They already know what you want to become...Stay hungry...Stay foolish.

The chapters of Think Like a Champion are no longer than two to three pages and each chapter starts with a maxim. Plato, Pythagoras, Oscar Wilde, Pearl S Buck and Aristotle, are among those quoted. The chapter Have the Right Mindset For the Job, for example, starts with one from Henry Ford:-Don't find fault. Find a remedy. This is what Donald Trump says on page 67:-  

I've also noticed how much time The Apprentice teams spend bickering and infighting, which is not only a waste of precious time, but annoying and sometimes even embarrassing. These people are highly qualified, and to see and hear them carrying on at length, many times over in inconsequential things, is a clear indication that they should heed Henry Ford's advice about finding a remedy instead of finding fault.

Mr Trump would have done well to have refreshed his memory before he started his campaign. A few quotes from Abraham Lincoln,, Carl Jung or even one Donald J Trump - 'Is it a blip, or is it a catastrophe' would have set a statesman-like tone. The TV debates with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic prospective Presidential candidate, could have done with one or two. 

The clips that I saw on television in the UK made him look condescending, petty and disruptive. He looked puffy and heavy in his dark blue suit. Mrs Clinton, head to toe in her Santa suit - a motorway diner bottle of ketchup - seemed lighter on her feet. Overall, what I was shown was depressing - as I knew it probably would be - as was the thought of either of these two in the White House. I could imagine the late Allen Ginsberg declaring, in a state of irony and shock: America! Is that the best you can do?

Friday, 15 July 2016

All That Post-Brexit Uncertainty

A friend of mine used to say that the only certainty in life was its uncertainty.

He wasn’t a quantum physicist parroting the principle associated with Werner Heisenberg in 1927. My friend described himself as a romantic capitalist who liked the adventure of entrepreneurship. He died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 47, a couple of years after surviving a serious cancer operation in London.

Uncertainty has been a feature of daily life ever since Albert Einstein proved that space is curved and time is not linear. If the behaviour of a quantum particle is unpredictable why should packets of quanta in the shape of human beings be any different?

And yet, post-Brexit, all you hear on the BBC and see in most of the papers, is that the UK is in a state of uncertainty. Some people have short memories. I remember that before June 23 uncertainty was rife about a number of things – the state of the NHS, the Cameron Government’s borrowing deficit, the likelihood of Roy Hodgson’s England football team achieving something notable in the European Championships.

We were far from certain about whether the summer would be sunny or changeable.

But now it seems all manner of things are being blamed for the uncertainty created by the Referendum vote to leave the European Union. Travel firms go bust – post-Brexit uncertainty is the reason given. The Governor of the Bank of England talks about cutting interest rates and then doesn’t do it – post-Brexit uncertainty is the reason given. Prime Minister Theresa May appoints Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – post-Brexit uncertainty is…wait a minute, I’ll come on to that later.

The 67 years that constitute my timeline from 1949 could be described as The Age of Uncertainty, like one of the books making up the Roads to Freedom triology of novels by Jean Paul Sartre.

The Labour Government from 1974 to 1979, in which Jim Callaghan took over from Harold Wilson halfway through, was the embodiment of uncertainty, principally because of the dependency of support from other political parties.

Lucky Jim lost the 1979 General Election after Labour’s prolonged uncertainty turned into the Winter of Discontent. Out of piles of uncollected bags of rubbish on the streets of London, Margaret  Thatcher emerged triumphant, Britain’s first female Prime Minister and a template, did she but know it, for the daughter of Eastbourne clergyman Hubert May and his wife Zaidee.

The Cuban Missile crisis of October 1962, the assassinations of President John F Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King and the collapse of Soviet Communism between 1989 and 1991, generated enormous uncertainty, as did the near total collapse of American banking and finance between 2007 and 2008. Remember that one?

Uncertainty has been part of life for longer than I can remember. I don’t suppose the Romans waiting for the arrival of Alaric’s barbarians in 410 AD looked upon the immediate future as a glass half full.

But just as there are always people who hope for certainty, there are those who refuse to accept the result of votes that go against them.

Assuming that the House of Commons doesn’t follow Tony Blair’s advice and vote down the EU Referendum result, the question of whether we should remain or leave has been settled - after all the past broken promises. The time has come to start shaping the future.

The ill-informed petulance of those who wanted to remain in the past has surprised and rattled me. What did they imagine they belonged to? A country with no name, no flag, no history or tradition, an all-inclusive borderless zone invisibly managed by a benign unelected bureaucracy?

Probably most of them are below the age of 43 and have no living memory of the way Britain was signed up for the European Communities Act in 1972, a process that included the gerrymandering of votes in the House of Commons contrived by the whips of both Edward Heath’s Tory Government and Harold Wilson’s Labour Opposition. 

Probably most of them have no memory or even interest in Britain’s pre-history of the EU, when this country was one of seven members of the European Free Trade Association. Efta, formed in 1960 to facilitate trade rather than a political idea, lost three of its members to the European Economic Community, Britain included. By one of history’s little ironies, freeing ourselves from the political octopus of the EU is likely to mean re-joining Efta. which now comprises Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. All four countries appear to be doing better than some of those who left, not only in trade but in football as well.

Probably most of the Remainers believe that continued membership of the EU means protecting the planet from man-made climate change. They won’t be pleased about Theresa May’s decision to scrap the Climate Change department as an independent entity and merge it with business and environment.

Probably most of them think that the EU embodies the equivalent of the United Nations: a consensus of national interests mitigated by four freedoms: free movement of people, goods, services and money.

Probably most of the Remainers think that leaving the EU inevitably means less freedom and more constraints; less altruism, less generosity and more selfishness.

Probably most of them really do believe that Britain is more prosperous inside the EU, not realising that we currently have a trade deficit in the region of £96 billion because we buy more from other EU member states than they buy from us. In short we import more from the EU than we export and our exports to Euroland are falling principally because of trade with countries in other parts of the world.

Probably most of them regard the EU as a bastion of peace and goodwill in a factitious world of national and sectional conflicts. The EU is a cosy harbour offering protection to 28 countries from the currents and storms beyond the arms of the harbour wall in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now they feel all at sea or they think that Britain is all at sea. For a country with a long maritime history and tradition this response is odd.

Would the EU have prevented World War II, had Jean Monnet and Arthur Salter’s post World War 1 ambition been realised in time to stop Hitler’s rise to power in 1933?
The League of Nations didn’t. Hitler could have been stopped had Britain and France taken unilateral action in 1936 when Nazi Germany unilaterally re-occupied the Rhineland; but they didn’t and Hitler prospered.

Those who believe the EU’s hands are cleaner of blood than Pontius Pilate’s should take the trouble to look again at the break-up of former Yugoslavia in the wake of the collapse of the political entity known as the Soviet Union.

They should also re-examine what happened in Ukraine following political advances made by the EU.

And those troubled by refugee boat people fleeing conflicts largely stemming from political and military adventures by Britain and the US in the Middle East might ask themselves why the EU failed to respond adequately to the crisis.

Some commentators are now saying that Theresa May has set up her new Cabinet to sabotage Brexit. According to this interpretation the appointment of David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson is the equivalent of three men in a leaky boat up a creek without a paddle.

I always thought Mrs May was regarded as a pretty dull woman, not noted for cunning. In the six years of her life as a Cabinet Minister under David Cameron, I cannot recall anybody either praising or damning her for Machiavellian super-subtlety.

Barbara Castle once observed of Margaret Thatcher that when she metamorphosed from leader of the Opposition to Prime Minister her confidence and authority visibly grew with the job. Can this have happened to Theresa May?

If it has, why would she risk jeopardising her own Government and the future of the country it is supposed to represent by engineering a political catastrophe or, in the language of the EU, a ‘beneficial crisis’ that results in Baby Bunting Britain hurrying back into the swaddling arms of the EU?

Personally I think her three appointments have more to do with balancing conflicting elements in the Conservative Party – for the time being. The way things are now may not be the shape of things to come, especially if EU member states are subject to further damaging economic and migration crises.

Meanwhile there is a lot of background reading and talking to do by officials being recruited into the new department for leaving the EU, a necessary prelude to mapping out a strategy whether or not it is on the lines of the six-stage process detailed by Richard North’s protean Flexcit magnum opus.

Dr North, who seems to prefer notoriety to popularity, nevertheless has gifted the UK one tremendous idea: that leaving the EU is not an event but a process. This means it wasn’t accomplished on June 23; the result of the Referendum was an instruction to the Government to proceed, nothing else. Achieving it is going to be painstaking and demand a lot of time and patience.

Pieces to camera by excitable TV news journalists should be regarded as light entertainment. The process of working out the details is not going to be dramatic. Any attempt to sex it up should not be heeded.