The Adventures Of Phileas Brain-Fogg
I wait impatiently for my brain fog to lift. I am Phileas Brain-Fogg. My mind is a tabula rasa, each day vanishing into grey smoke. The howling wind and rain outside, constantly tearing at the new planting in its determination to point out that last year’s pleasant summer was a freakish anomaly, never lets up in what must be our worst summer ever. The tail of the Gulf Stream flicked away in spring, reminding us that we live on a rain-blasted rock not terribly far from the North Pole. High point of the month? I bought a thick sweater. And am wearing it right now. I read of folks complaining of the heat in Europe and I struggle to recall what it’s like feel warm.
People I hate this week: Marina McLoughlin
Our friend Wichet opened a florist shop on the nearby Caledonian Road and completed his dream by adding a Thai restaurant to it called Superwan. It’s a beautiful little place with excellent spicy authentic food. Then Marina McLoughlin from the Sunday Times reviewed it in her lovely looping relaxed prose style, and raved about it. Now none of us can get in.
Around the corner, an unpretentious little café with just four tables opened, called ‘Dim Sum Duck’ because that was all they served. So we shifted our palates there. Guess who turned up to review it and rave? Marina Bloody McLoughlin. Now the queue goes down the street, and there’s an hour wait for takeout. I suppose it’s wonderful for small businesses that she does this, but she’s starving me out of the neighbourhood.
A small news item went unnoticed last week. According to American think tank the Commonwealth Fund, the NHS has had its health rating lowered and is no longer the best system in the world. That honour has now gone to Norway and the Netherlands. The USA health care system remains bottom of the league among the world’s wealthiest countries despite spending more on healthcare than anywhere else.
The problem is a simple one. Our Clown Prince Of Lies is still intent on systematically smashing up the NHS by stealth. Brexit removed a vast number of staff, but the biggest problem – explain to me by a surgeon – is that we have fewer doctors than almost any country in the EU.
I resolve to read no more doom-laden press articles. I subscribe to too many online newspapers, all of which are filled with what I call ‘Conditional stories’. Conditional stories haven’t happened yet. This might happen if that goes ahead, this will stop working if that gets passed. Likely, may, could, possible, probably – words which warn that an article is built from clickbait stardust, not fact. The Daily Mail raised an empire on one sentence; ‘Why we should all be afraid’. The pernicious paper still causes physical harm to everyone it touches. Nobody working there has anything to be proud of.
Too Big A Risk
I settle down to the collected works of Peter Barnes. I saw his play ‘Red Noses’ with Anthony Sher, about a comedy troupe crossing Europe during the Black Death, and loved it – but I’m shocked as to how it reads. How did this become that? It’s almost indecipherable on the page, yet everything works on stage. Could it even be staged in our puritanical times, with its ‘conga line of cripples’ and its leading lady complaining about the poor quality of raping these days? The play is about compassion and kindness, the end of suffering, the corrupt absurdities of the church.
But all it takes to get Barnes cancelled is a sentence removed from its context. He is irascible, outrageous, educated, utterly truthful. He is now, also, dead, but the man who was raised in a seaside amusement arcade continues to amuse. A quote from the play ‘Red Noses’ will suffice to whet the appetite.
‘Death doesn’t count, and probably doesn’t read or write either. When he comes again we’ll play it to the very end. Whether dying in a privy or marbled halls, green field or white bed, the hand pointing to zero, the smell in your throat, don’t do Death’s job for him. Don’t start dying before you die, already half dead. Don’t go easy, make him work for you, let the calendar tear its own leaves, fight dirty.’