Reading the ruins, or, Wait until we drop down dead

There are bad times just around the corner,
We can all look forward to despair,
It’s as clear as crystal
From Brooklyn Bridge to Bristol
That we can’t save Democracy
And we don’t much care.

The incessant heat and cloudless skies of this long summer have turned the dank and fickle Low Countries into the parched monotony of the Mezzogiorno. My Italian colleagues call this weather delizioso but it’s now conjuring the bleak prospect of the altered climate of our children’s generation.

The arseholes are in the ascendant, and the longer their arseholeyness prevails, the more inured we all become, a vortex of increasing susceptibility to ever more egregrious assaults on justice and dignity.  Trump brings his vitriolic demonisation of immigration and the free press to the gardens of Buckinghamshire and the British Prime Minister can do nothing but gurn and fawn. White supremacist Steve Bannon is given respectful attention on breakfast TV while an anti-Trump protester isn’t allowed to answer a string of aggressive questions. Essentially a Dickensian fraudster, Jacob Rees-Mogg gets daily airtime for being the living lanky parody of a stereotype. He erroneously cites an obscure chapter of English history to peddle the bullshit narrative of the UK being a ‘vassal’ state of the EU (King John, a French-dialect-speaking descendant of William of Normandy gave homage to the French him at Le Goulet with respect to his French territories – how the hell does that analogy work for a cack-handed Tory Brexit?).  The next journalist forced to interview him to boost ratings should be asking him to explore more the immediate historical precedents of the 1930s.

Trump, Bannon, Farage, Johnson, Rees Mogg, the Roma-baiting Matteo Salvini, and even Corbyn and his cult of followers, are all seemingly characters from a comic strip. But as they debase and further delegitimise politics they bring us closer to something resembling Fascism in the oldest democracies in the world. Fintan O’Toole, one of the best journalists chronicling our deepening malaise, wrote two weeks ago:  ‘Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed.’

I heard this morning for the first time in a long time Noel Coward’s There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner. It made me laugh out loud with lines like

From Colwyn Bay to Kettering
They’re sobbing themselves to sleep
The shrieks and wails
In the Yorkshire dales
Have even depressed the sheep

I assumed it was composed in the 1930s as a flippant and witty presaging of World War II. In fact he first released it in 1952, so two years before the end of rationing and five before Harold Macmillan would say that most people had ‘never had it so good’. In any case, the lyrics reward regular revisiting.  (I will never forget Kenneth Tynan’s account in his memoirs of his chance encounter with Coward at a New York restaurant: ‘”Mr T,” he said crisply, “you are a cunt. Come and have dinner with me.”‘)

Lastly, a tribute to Croatia who dumped England out of the World Cup and now are all that stand between a tedious and cynical French team and la Gloire.   I was sat during Arsenal’s inaugural season at the Emirates Stadium just above the away fans during a Champions League tie with Dinamo Zagreb. The Croatian contingent sustained an apocalyptic din throughout the match, polar opposite to the cafe-latte-imbibers among the home crowd.  The people in my stand were largely silent and brooding, especially when Dinamo took a shock lead in the first half. Eventually when the Arsenal fans managed to muster a song, the travelling zealots turned to face us in unison and chant with admonishing fingers, ‘Ingleesh pussies! Ingleesh pussies’.

Such atavistic spirits could be harnessed to produce a surprising result this evening in Moscow.