Thursday, 19 January 2017

Saying goodbye to the US at the end of the pre-Donald era

It’s the day before the US Presidential inauguration. I’m at the end of a two-week packed stay in the States, full of small but telling experiences in the run up to the country being Trumped, the end of what I suppose we shall have to think of as the pre-Donald era, an era we may shortly look back on with nostalgia.

I’ve always liked the character of Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar named Desire. She “always depended on the kindness of strangers” and, when I’m travelling alone, so do I. They’re not always kind, of course, but on this trip I met many that were.

In a Boston museum, I became aware of a woman pushing another in a wheelchair (her mother? I think it might have been). I sped up a little to get to the door ahead of us and hold it for them but, before I even got there, I heard the mother say, “why, thank you,” and when I looked around, she explained, “I see your intention.” I could only tell her I was pleased to have had it correctly interpreted.

In a restaurant, the Italian colleague who was with me on that occasion chose to apologise for a misunderstanding over our order by saying, “I am sorry. We are both foreigners.”

“Please don’t confuse me with Donald Trump,” came the answer.

Both in Boston and further up the coast north of the city, I could find no one with a kind word for the soon-to-be 45th President. But this of course is Massachusetts, which voted by a nearly two-to-one majority against him. In any case, as my mother pointed out when I told her, she had found it practically impossible to find anyone who had voted for Nixon when she was living in New York in the seventies, “and he was elected twice.”

Later I travelled to Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania which voted for Trump, giving a Republican the preference for the first time since Ronald Reagan. There I visited the hall where a bunch of insurgent liberals gathered back in 1776 and decided they’d had quite enough of British Tory government, just as I have today. It was ironic that it was in the city where Thomas Jefferson wrote the ringing appeal for liberty in the Declaration of Independence, that I first came across open backing of the Trump presidency.

Where the Declaration of Independence was adoptedCould they imagine they were preparing a Trump presidency?
I had lunch in a simple cafe where I had to return to the counter to fetch my meal. The tables were packed close and I must have bumped the man at the next table to mine. I didn’t hear what he said to me but apparently he’d sworn at me aggressively. When I returned, the young women at the table on the other side of mine pushed it aside and invited me to come through that way and not chance provoking the hostile diner. I thanked them.

“Strange things are happening to our country, one of them replied.

It struck me as a neat metaphor of the division in the US, between brutality on the one hand and a degree of tolerance on the other.

Later that day, I was sitting in an alcove of a hotel bar when a mother and daughter (yes, another pair) came in and took the seats opposite me. Most of the time they talked about everyday matters – you know, “well, you can always phone me”, “oh, I don’t want to disturb you, I know how busy you are”, the usual family things – but at the end they came to politics.

“Obama demeaned the presidency,” Mum assured us, “I’ve never seen the presidency reduced so low.”

There was a shocked pause, which struck me as the appropriate reaction to such an assertion.

“You mean…,” the daughter replied, “you expect Trump to raise the standing of the presidency?”

It seemed that was exactly what she expected. “He’ll speak for the nation, and won’t let special interests push him around or buy him off.”

As she was leaving, she pointed out that I’d probably listened to the conversation, and asked my view.

“I’m from the other side of the Atlantic,” I told them, “you won’t find many of us over there who are keen on the Trump presidency.”

The daughter smiled.

“Well, we are,” said Mum, with emphasis. “Friday. You’re going to see. We’re on the way back and not a day too soon. We have a lot to fix.”

Oh, well. That Friday’s nearly on us. Trump and his team start “fixing” things tomorrow. It should be quite a spectacle.

I’ll be watching it from a distance. I fly back on the eve of his triumphal entry to the White House. Back to the relative safety of Britain.

Where can I have the joy of watching my own country embrace its version of Trump: the ghastly retreat into walled-off isolation we call Brexit.

I see nothing to justify my indulging any sense of superiority over our American cousins...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Brexit, good and hard

So it’s official: Brexit is to be hard, with the UK leaving the Single Market and European Customs Union, as well as the EU itself.

As Donald Tusk, Chairman of the EU Council of Ministers, points out this position, espoused by Theresa May in her speech of 17 January, is “more realistic” than some of the aspirations that had been voiced before. Staying in the Single Market would mean virtually not leaving the EU, while giving up any say in the way it’s governed. Staying in the Customs Union would probably entail accepting the continued applications of certain regulations on Britain that most Brexit voters abhorred.

Theresa May announcing that Brexit will be hard
A hard Brexit certainly seems closer to the wishes of the majority who voted to leave the EU last June.

That reminds me of H. L. Mencken’s view that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”.

Just because hard Brexit comes closest to the popular view doesn’t mean that people will enjoy the outcome. It’s the old business of being careful what you wish for. The pain that Brexiters will have inflicted on themselves – and, sadly, on the rest of us too – will only become apparent over the next few years, but it will be no less painful for that.

Friends tell me that Britain is in a strong position in international trade negotiations because we import so much: no one would want to imperil such a lucrative market. My view is that imports principally enrich us. They mean we can buy the goods we want, cheaply. Cheap clothes? Fresh produce throughout the year? Foreign cars or household goods at competitive prices? It would hurt British people far more than those of the producing countries to have to give them up.

Again, I’m told that we can negotiate trade deals with anyone in the world. That’s true. But if anyone thinks it would be easy, they might do well to think again.

The EU has been negotiating with the US over the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership since 2006. Negotiations are now set to continue until 2019 or 2020 at least. One of the holdups has been that many in Europe regard TTIP as deeply slanted against Europe, or even against the common people of both Europe and the US, in favour of multinational corporations.

If that is a problem for the EU with its population of 550 million, why should we assume that Britain would find it any easier?

After all, in 2003 Britain signed a new extradition treaty with the US. A freedom of information request from 2012 revealed there have been no extraditions of US citizens to the UK for offences committed in the US, though there have been cases of extradition the other way around. It’s hard to believe the treaty’s even-handed.

No doubt Britain can obtain a trade deal with the US. But quickly? And one that is equitable? That seems unlikely.

In any case, the EU isn’t simply about trade or economics, just as the Euro isn’t simply about a currency or finance. At root, they are measures designed to move towards collaboration instead of the centuries-old conflict between European nations, always damaging even when it didn’t explode into outright war. Nations that profit from trade with each other, and even more nations that even trade in a common currency, are far less likely to fall out.

Brexit says that Britain wants no part of this. It fears the consequences of remaining in the EU more than it values the benefits of peace and a slowly, painfully emerging collaboration that it embodies.

Why does it fear the EU so much?

Again, May made the answer clear. Britain insists on having control of its borders back. It must be able to limit immigration across the borders, including immigration from the EU. And yet, is there any serious evidence that such immigration is causing us harm?

The answer is clearly no. Proportionately fewer immigrants than native-born residents draw on benefits or are imprisoned for offences. The vast majority work, allowing services to keep functioning, and pay taxes that more than outweigh what it costs Britain to have them here.

So what’s the problem?

We’re up against the essential issue of xenophobia. There is an inherent tendency to dislike outsiders. Their food is different and it smells different. They speak another language, which I can’t understand, on streets that I regarded as my own. Worst of all, since they are often highly motivated individuals, they may work harder and better than I do. So they take what I felt was my job, work I regarded myself as entitled to, by birthright.

It’s true that they may also work for a lower wage which depresses the earning power of the native born. But that’s easily fixed, as Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party has pointed out: we have to put regulation in place to ensure that unscrupulous employers can’t use foreign labour to undercut domestic.

That measure wouldn’t mean leaving the EU. But a majority of Britons want to leave. Like the EU or the Euro, it seems the motivation isn’t economic but political: a dislike of foreigners as foreigners, particularly if the foreigner may be rather better at what they do.

That’s a base motive. Base motives seldom lead to good outcomes. Now we know that the outcome is going to be hard Brexit.

The people have voted. Seems they’re going to get what they chose. Good and hard.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Down Memory Lane. A frighteningly long way

It was with some pride that I realised, in my thirties, that I remembered events in my life that had happened twenty years earlier, even though I had been practically adult at the time. It felt like a sign of growing maturity. But then, some years on, it struck me that I was talking to my sons about thirty-year old memories, and remembered how, at their age, I’d been shocked when my parents had talked about such things. With my conscious mind, I knew it was possible to remember things that old, but something deeper in my being simply couldn’t adapt to the notion.

This morning I boarded a plane for a destination which brought back a fifty-year old memory. Fifty years. Half a century. It makes me feel like a living history book. Only history measures matters in fractions or multiples of a century.

The destination was Philadelphia – or Philly, as I’m assured I should call it – and I was last there when I was fourteen. Practically half a century, since in two weeks I shall start a year of boring all around me by asking them whether they’ll still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine.

My parents were living in New York at the time. I travelled to Philly with my then girlfriend’s family. They were artists and they were taking us to see an exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Only one canvas sticks in my mind: it was the first time I’d seen a “white-on-white”. The artist – for such, I was assured, he was – had gone to considerable trouble to screen print white paint onto a white canvas.

White on White: profoundly meaningful. Right?
Callow, uncouth youth that I was, I couldn’t bring myself to take this seriously as a piece of art. How shall I put this? Translating a fine old Anglo-Saxon expression into more clinical terms – I don’t want to shock, after all – I was more inclined to view it as extracting the urine.

Of course, fifty years on I’ve become far more sophisticated in my appreciation of art. Today, I fully grasp the concept that behind such a piece of work lies a great mind, a fount of insight, generating a message of complexity and power.

It’s just, sadly, that I still don’t grasp it.

It’s fun to be back in Philly, half a century on. The place where the colonists first declared they’d had enough of their British overlords. It’s a sentiment with which, as a subject today of the descendants of those same overlords, I entirely sympathise.

In fact, it was a little odd, when I made my way into the plane, to discover that the greeting message was being spoken in a British accent. English, indeed. Home counties, even. I’m told it’s an accent, like the Scottish one back home, that’s trusted out here.

My advice? Be less trusting. I know people with that accent who have my confidence but plenty, sadly, who don’t – many of them in government.

I shall enjoy my brief stay here. Even if it does remind me of how old I’ve become. Still, as I always say, there really is only one way of not growing old.

That’s to die young. That was never an attractive proposition. In any case, it’s a great deal too late for me to adopt it.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Brexit: a veritable chorus of muddled thinking

Some people were upset with me when I recently mentioned that the Brexit movement seemed dominated by muddled thinking. ‘Condescending’, they found my comments, not to say snobbish, prejudiced and dismissive.

Well, let me confess that I’m as muddled as anyone.

It seems to me that the entire subject is dogged by, shot through with, submerged under muddled thinking. That’s for a simple reason: no one has any idea of what the implications of Brexit are.

It’s easy to say “Brexit means Brexit” but what could possibly be more dismissive than that? When it comes down to it, we in Britain are going to have to tackle the details behind such a casual slogan. On that detail, there’s nothing but muddle.

A recent report by Gavin Shuker, our MP in Luton South, opened my eyes to some of the issues I’d lost sight of but which we shall need to address in leaving the EU. 

The United Kingdom has devolved much political authority from the centre to its constituent nations, most of all to Scotland. But when that happened, certain areas of responsibility weren’t even discussed because they had already been delegated to Brussels, to the EU. An example would be agricultural matters, covered by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

After Brexit, those powers will be repatriated to the UK. But where will they go? Will they be handled by the central government in London? Or will they be transferred to the devolved governments in the constituent nations? Has given anyone even given thought to the matter?

Agriculture: when “we” take back control, who will that “we” be?
Westminster – or Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast?
In any case, what’s going to replace the Common Agricultural Policy? Farmers are already getting organised. They want to see all the CAP’s subsidies maintained. In other words, they want the British government to go on paying them once they stop receiving them from the EU. That’s not to say that they’re not prepared to adapt to Brexit. They’d be prepared, you  may not be surprised to learn, to accept a lot less regulation than the EU tended to impose.

Those subsidies are paid for out of taxes. So there might be some outside the farming community who would take a rather different view. For my part, I’d be happy to see the subsidies continued, but I’d like the health and environmental regulations at least maintained. 

Things are no easier in the industrial or service sectors. Luton depends heavily for employment on the car industry (Vauxhall) and the airport. Can we count on similar guarantees for Vauxhall as were offered by the government to Nissan? Those guarantees persuaded the company to keep to its plan of producing a new model in Sunderland, North East England. It’s clear that other car manufacturers would like similar treatment. But can everyone be offered the same sweeteners? And if they were, wouldn't companies in other industrial sectors demand them too? 

So will Nissan turn out to be a one-off?

And what about aviation? Britain is currently covered by the European Common Aviation Area agreement. Other non-EU countries are signatories to it, such as Norway or Serbia. Nothing stops us coming to an arrangement with it too, though that would mean continuing to accept EU rules in the area. But is anyone making this a priority? 

Shuker didn’t mention this problem, but one that strikes me as important is fisheries. That’s principally because there has been real EU success in that area: fish stocks that were seriously threatened before are now recovering. But British fishermen are frustrated with the constraints EU regulation put on them. Do we want more cod wars? Do we want to go back to over-fishing again? Do we want to roll back that significant achievement?

There are huge numbers of other measures that need to be agreed and taken.

Only last week, the British representative to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers resigned. He had warned the government that negotiating all the details associated with Brexit could take as long as ten years. That wasn’t information the government wanted to hear, so he went.

However, when we think about just the issues I mentioned above – who gets the powers repatriated from Brussels, how do we deal with farmers’ subsidies and regulation, how do we agree a fisheries policy, what do we do with the auto industry, how do we sort out aviation – and add that these are just a few of the myriad matters to deal with, ten years doesn’t sound like an exaggeration.

It’s been reported since that there is serious disquiet among the civil servants handling the negotiations with the EU. They feel there are too few of them and, as Rogers’ case demonstrates, their advice isn’t listened to attentively enough.

Too few people. A government that believes it can forge ahead without listening to expert advice. Far more extensive and far more complex issues than we or the government seem to be allowing for.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like muddled thinking to me.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Luci's Diary: Christmas. And is Toffee growing?

The last few weeks have been just great.

Two of the young humans came to see us, and that’s always fun. They’re very good at playing with dogs. And for a couple of days, two other people came and stayed too. It was glorious! Six people in the house! Oh, laps galore, everywhere you looked! Our young puppy Toffee and I had a whale of a time. They call this season Christmas and a lot of humans make a fuss about it – not just my humans but others too – so I’m all in favour. Let’s have lots of Christmas. It’s fun.

One thing about having Toffee around is that I’ve learned to eat a lot faster. There was a time I could take my time over meals, have a bit now, leave it for a while, go back and have some more. The worst that might happen was that the cat Misty tried to eat some of it, but I always found that a run at him with a few barks was enough to drive him off.

Doesn’t work with Toffee. When she gets her nose in a bowl, that’s it. The nose doesn’t get withdrawn until the bowl’s clear. What am I saying, clear? The right word’s clean. Not a speck of food to be seen. You can bark as much as you like, it doesn’t do the slightest bit of good. Running at her’s no use either. I mean, you could jump up and down if you felt like it, she wouldn’t see you anyway, with her nose that far inside a bowl.

“She’s like a magnet,” I heard one of the humans say, and the other one agreed. 

Now I don’t know what a magnet is but I gather it’s something pretty sticky, and once Toffee gets stuck into food, she stays stuck. Like she’s glued. Can’t be shifted. I saw human number 2 try to take a bowl away, but she kept following it, sucking up the last few crumbs just as he was trying to save them.

So I eat fast. Get my food finished before she’s finished hers. Because as soon as she’s gobbled hers down, she wanders over to see what she can find in my bowl. And you know what? I can’t stop her. She’s not much bigger than a bag of treats, but she’s got drive like other dogs have fleas. When she turns up at my bowl and pushes her nose in, I just back away. I can’t explain it, it’s just stronger than me.

Still, it’s not all bad having her around. It makes walks more interesting. It’s good to have the company.

Walks can be more fun with company
Besides, we often do a lot of playing. She likes to chase me. That’s fine. I’m happy to be chased when it’s by something as small as that. Besides, there’s no way she’s going to catch me. When I take off, I show her a clean pair of heels, I can tell you. She doesn’t give up – she keeps trying, I’ll give her that – but she doesn’t get close.

That’s great. We have some good fun together. And it spares me having anything to do with other dogs – big, noisy, smelly things, I think they are, full of strange smells and threatening motions. Not that it bothers her: she just runs up to them, jumping up and trying to lick their faces, saying “like me, like me, like me.” Some of them seem to, though I must say I’d find that kind of thing annoying.

Anyway, I just hang back a bit, well clear of any other dog, and wait for Toffee to finish. Then she can play with me again. Which gives me another chance to show her how much better I am at it than she is. As I streak away from her.

Though sometimes I get worried: she is getting faster.

There’s a bit of an argument between the humans about that.

“She’s barely growing,” says number 1, “she’s going to be a teacup poodle.”

“Nonsense,” says number 2, “she’s doing just fine. She’s put on hundreds of grams since we’ve had her. I think she’s developing a bit of an Eiffel Tower syndrome.”

I don’t know what the Eiffel Tower is, but apparently he thinks she’s going to be enormous. Now number 1 knows more about dogs than number 2 – a lot more – but what if he’s right? Is Toffee going to be bigger than me? Will she start catching me when she chases me in the park?

It doesn’t bear thinking about. What would I do?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Shooting the messenger

People tell me it’s commendable to speak truth to power. My inclination is to scoff in reply but then I’ve lost a couple of jobs by irritating powerful people with unwelcome truth. Generally, power isn’t interested in hearing the truth – what it seeks is confirmation.

This week the UK’s ambassador to the European Union, Sir Ivan Rogers, resigned. This highly-experienced diplomat, an expert in dealing with the EU, had warned the government that it might take ten years to finalise British separation.

Sir Ivan Rogers:
the messenger shot when he told the truth to power
That feels like the kind of judgement he’s qualified to make, and the kind of information a government negotiating Brexit needs. It wasn’t what Theresa May wanted to hear. This being a time when experts are regarded as unnecessary at best, and at worst a positive hindrance to the fine things that the Trumps and their ilk want to do, Rogers had to go.

The problem for May is that she has to walk a fine line in the Brexit negotiations. Many in her party or its voter base would like to remain in the EU or, if they have to leave, do it on terms that maintain as much as possible of the benefit of membership – they favour what’s known as “soft Brexit”. They support that position even though it comes at a price, in particular giving up some of the control over immigration which was the objective of a great many Leave voters. She’s working to keep those soft Brexiters on side without losing the hard ones, who want to get clear of the EU and all its works.

So far, she’s done a good job on that political front, holding the two wings of the centre-right together. She’s done it by refusing to come down clearly on either side of the fence, by being all things to all men. It could all end in tears, when she has to make a definitive choice, but she’s a skilful opportunist and she’s riding her current wave of popularity masterfully, hoping no doubt that it’ll take her far enough that the crunch, when it comes, won’t be too painful.

Things could not be more different in the ranks of the main Opposition Party, Labour. Ironically its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, seems as disinclined as May to state clearly where he stands. Officially, the Labour Party backs the Remain position, and its spokesperson on Brexit, Keir Starmer, has been promoting a soft Brexit: he accepts the people’s decision to leave, but wants to retain as much as he can of the trade and tariff system that comes with membership. Here, on the other hand, is what Corbyn said in his New Year’s message:

2016 will be defined in history by the referendum on our EU membership. People didn’t trust politicians and they didn’t trust the European Union.

I understand that. I’ve spent over 40 years in politics campaigning for a better way of doing things, standing up for people, taking on the establishment, and opposing decisions that would make us worse off.

We now have the chance to do things differently. To build an economy that invests and works for everyone across all our nations and regions.

Labour accepts and respects the result of the referendum. We won’t be blocking our leaving the European Union, but we won’t stand by.

At first sight, this doesn’t seem to favour either side of the debate. But, reading between the lines, words like “we now have the chance to do things differently” suggests he rather backs Brexit than the contrary. That’s awkward for him, not just because it conflicts with Party policy, but because it’s known that something like 5 million out of 7 million core Labour voters are Remainers.

I’m no supporter of Corbyn, but I do understand why many in the Labour Party still do – after all, I voted him in his first leadership election. I believe his admirers see in him a man of principle, who has fought long and hard against powerful opposition, for a clearly socialist view of the world we live in and the solutions to its problems. He’s a pacifist who utterly rejects nuclear weapons, he’s firmly on the side of the poor and downtrodden, speaking out forcefully against cuts in benefits and in favour of greater investment in healthcare.

It seems to me that his supporters feel that if only this message could be communicated to voters, they too would see how obviously true it is and would come flocking around to back Labour under his leadership.

Unfortunately, when I see Corbyn dodging and weaving on the Brexit issue, speaking in code and in hints, I see a man who is trying to trim, to hide his true colours and hang on to some at least of his support. That’s exactly like Theresa May. It’s also exactly like Tony Blair, regarded by most Corbyn supporters as a monster of mendacity: ‘Blairite’ is a favourite term of abuse for Corbyn opponents even if, like me, they abhor Blairs appalling behaviour. There are times when I feel that, despite the obvious difference in policy, in political behaviour Corbyn is no breach with the Blairite past, but Blair’s worthy heir.

The difference is that Blair was good at it, as Theresa May is still. She may be all things to all men on Brexit; Corbyn, by trying the same trick of balancing on two stools, is managing only to fall between them. The result is disastrous for Labour and for all those whose livelihood depend on it. The Fabian Society, one of the organisations that first founded Labour, has published a report analysing the dire state of the party and warning that it could fall to below 150 seats at the next election, the worst result since 1935.

That seems a far from implausible warning. I recently wrote about the poll position of Labour now and at the equivalent point of the 1992-1997 and 2010-2015 parliaments. Here are the figures completed with the results at the election that followed:
Poll standing
Election Result
1992-1997 20% lead Victory wih a 10% lead
2010-2015 3% lead Defeat with a 7% deficit
2015-date 7% deficit

Labour is less well placed today than it was in either of those previous parliaments. In both those cases, its result in the election was worse, whether in victory or in defeat, than the polls suggested. The worst news of all is that even the 7% deficit today is only the result of a single poll (the most recent); in others, the deficit is far greater.

Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s largest union and one of the architects of Corbyn’s second leadership victory, warned recently that if the poll position didn’t improve, Corbyn would have to consider his position. That’s code for “resign”.

You can see where he’s coming from, can’t you? After all, Corbyn promises to do far more for the poor and the working class than the much-maligned Blair ever did. But Blair delivered far more than Corbyn’s likely to. Why? Blair got into government. Corbyn’s far from well-placed to equal that feat.

But his supporters don’t want to hear that. They hammer me for suggesting it on Twitter. And within the Labour Party, they’re the ones in power.

Power, I’ve observed, doesn’t want the truth told to it. It wants to hear what it wants to hear. And, as Sir Ivan Rogers shows, it’s happy to shoot the messenger otherwise.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Forgetfulness of things past

The thing about Tweed is that it never goes out of fashion. Of course, you might think that was because it was never in fashion in the first place but, hey, that doesn’t make the statement any less true.

I’m deeply attached to my fine, old Tweed jacket.

I say old because it is old but, to be fair, it was probably old when it was new.

And by “attached” I don’t mean I’m sufficiently fond of it to wear it. Every year or so I go through my wardrobe picking the clothes I never wear and chucking them out. Or rather, this being England where the only thing in constant growth is poverty, not chucking them but recycling them through a charity shop.

Each time I carry out this culling exercise, I come across the tweed jacket and I think, “I shouldn’t get rid of that one. I should wear it a bit more”. It’s a thought that comes with a pang of guilt, since each time I realise that I haven’t worn it, even once, since the last time. It continues to hang in my wardrobe, seemingly immoveable because I’m no more prepared to part with it than I am to put it on.

Today I was preparing an expense claim and realised I’d mislaid a train ticket. Whenever this happens – and, alas, it happens more often than I like – I always check through the breast pockets of all my jackets, since that’s an obvious place to stuff a ticket which you’re going to need at a barrier in a short time.

What prompted me to look in the tweed jacket I can’t imagine. There was no chance the missing ticket would be in a garment I hadn’t put on for years. But what I did find was something even better, a discovery that opened a door to a trip down Memory Lane. Except in my case Forgetfulness Lane is far more apt.

I found two boarding card stubs (remember when airlines used to have those? Before you could use a phone?) They were for a flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Barcelona, one 12 November. The outward flight was at 7:30 am.

The last time I lived close enough to the airport at Roissy to catch a plane there at 7:30 was 1998. We’re talking about a trip that happened up to two decades ago (you might spot the fact that my seat was in the ‘no-smoking cabin’ which certainly dates things a bit).

The trigger for a flood of memories.
Or in my case none at all
Sadly, I have no memory of the trip at all. Which seems a pity, since Barcelona is one of my favourite cities.

Was it the 7:30 start? In November? Maybe it was sheer trauma that led to my memory failure. A kind of act of mercy by my psyche. Particularly as I notice from the return stub that I flew back the same day, on the flight that left just before 6:00. I can only have had about six hours in the city itself, making it an experience to bury rather than relive.

What can have possessed me to wear tweed to Barcelona? It’s true that it’s cold in November. Even so, the Spaniards dress so well. Was I trying to make a point of my Englishness, it being a profoundly English tradition to wear that quintessentially Scottish cloth?

Lots of fascinating questions. Speculating on the answers is almost as pleasurable as reliving the lost past. It’s a kind of non-nostalgia.

For Proust, it was the taste of a Madeleine cake. For me, it was the rough feel of tweed. Of course, for Proust the experience triggered an avalanche of remembrance of things past. In mine, it merely reminded me of my forgetfulness.

Where I have the edge over Proust, though, is in my succinctness. He used a million and a quarter words on recreating his memories. I’ve taken fewer than 700 on the failure of mine. 

A small mercy, dear reader, to be thankful for.