Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Man Who Drank The Band's Champagne

H. M. Bateman

The man who..., the girl who..., the family who... The thing is the convention breakers go about their business with such insouciance. They gaily break custom and taboo while others look on in horror. They quaff the band's champagne, they order milk at the Café Royal, they arrive at grand affairs in charabancs. And everywhere the same look of horror greets them.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, wrote Jenny Joseph. Some time ago it was voted the nation's favourite poem, anticipating Kipling's If... by a year or two.

Wearing purple is a private matter, but it is intended to produce an effect, and people like producing effects. Or they think they might, one day, like to produce an effect. The thought consoles them. It would be their act of rebellion. When I am an old woman I shall wear floral dresses and knitted cardigans lacks the right heroic spirit. When I am an old woman I shall wear white, sound a little too much like Miss Havisham. As for, When I am an old woman I shall wear black... that opens possibilities, none of which is entirely positive and cheerful. No, let's go purple instead.


But there is another form of non-conformity: the desire to go against the accepted opinions of your circle. I mean the opinions of your best and closest friends, who are the very nicest people, or else you wouldn't have made friends with them in the first place..

For instance, I see this post by Mick Hartley on the stoning of a woman by the Taliban. Or I read a book in progress about Israel and Palestine by a friend.

The view among nice people is often that the Taliban are awful but it's their culture, and our glass house culture is not in a position to, er, throw stones, especially given Dubya and Bliar. In this case I would quite like to be the man who volunteers the opinion that the glass house of UK, European, and indeed American society, for all its faults, smudges, cracks and dead plants, is an infinitely better place than any in which the Taliban look after the tomatoes. (The closest Wymondham got to stoning women in recent years was when builders pebble-dashed a woman's bungalow near the town centre. She hadn't buttoned her coat properly. Next time it will be the garden, the builders warned her.They were moral builders. It was very public.)

Similarly with Israel, I would like to be the man who says Israel is not much different from any other country surrounded by hostile states. It can act brutally, it can act unreasonably, it can act stupidly and violently, but it doesn't always act against entirely innocent, defenceless forces, who only want to live in peace. Sometimes it does, it is true, or it seems to be true, but that doesn't seem to be the main intention. It is not evil. Zionism is not Nazism. Zionism is not a wish to liquidate all people of Arabic origin in every part of the world. It began as the longing of an often-persecuted people for a homeland in which, for once in two millennia, they would not be in a minority. After the actual Nazis had killed half the Jewish population of the earth they were, more or less, not without a lot of violence and expulsions on both sides, granted their wish. Armenians once had that wish. Kurds still have it. Maybe the Roma have it.

This doesn't mean... well, there is a host of things it doesn't mean. But meaning works by association, and I am not as insouciant as the man drinking the band's champagne. So insouciance goes out of the window.

The friend's book seems very good to me. But it is far from finished.

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