This is hysterical

When my dad reached 65, the whole family, plus dog, went on holiday as his retirement gift.

We were a working class family from Manchester, and even though dad was a highly skilled engineer who had worked on missile systems and the world’s first supercomputer, he never received the kind of salary that bought international travel. That’s how much we valued the manufacturing sector in my dad’s day. Plus ça change.

So as a treat, we flew him to Edinburgh, carefully coordinated our journeys so one of us could meet him there in a rented people carrier, and then we spent the week touring The Highlands, as he’d always dreamed of.

We had rented a quiet cottage near Ft. William, settled in, had a few drinks, and went to bed.

That was 30th August 1997. I can be sure of that date because, in the small hours of the next morning, Princess Diana died in Paris.

I remember my mum waking me with the news. I got dressed, and stood in the cottage’s small lounge with my family, watching the rolling news for half an hour. It was sad.

And then we made sandwiches and set off on our holiday.

When the week was over, the cottage owners arrived to collect their keys, and were in tears, which stunned me. “What a terrible time to have a holiday”, they said, while we shuffled our feet and looked around awkwardly. “It must have been awful for you”, they said, and we looked at each other, puzzled, because we’d sort of… well, we hadn’t forgotten about it, exactly, but…

Diana and all her attendant dramas were, for me and my family, like a soap opera we didn’t watch. To be honest, we didn’t watch any soaps – we were a bookish, nerdy kinda family – but we definitely didn’t watch royal soaps.

Obviously we knew who the main cast-members were, but we didn’t care very much about them. We didn’t follow the details of who was shagging whom; didn’t care what Major or Butler or Celebrity Gal-Pal had sold what story to what tabloid; didn’t notice how tragic the eye makeup had become during any specific skiing holiday.

I felt no emotional connection to Diana. I wished her no harm whatsoever, but she didn’t enter my consciousness very much. I don’t buy tabloids, I tend to skip celebrity gossip, and I’m vaguely republican in a shrugging “does it really affect me” kinda way. To this day, I genuinely have to concentrate to remember which one of “the boys” is heir to the throne and which is only tangentially related to Charles. I know they’re called Harry and Wills, and I recognise their faces, but their names are interchangeable in my mind.

Diana was as important to me as, say, John Lithgow is to you. You are aware what he does, he seems quite nice, and you’d be surprised and saddened if he was killed by a roaming gang of photographers in a Parisian underpass one Saturday night. But that’s as far as it goes.

So the blubbering reaction of the holiday cottage landlords a week after her death perplexed me. I assumed they must be particularly ardent royalists, or have, to a crippling degree, some sort of congenital emotional diarrhoea. But this was just a taste of the ocean of histrionic slurry awaiting me as I drove back to Manchester again, on the day of her funeral.

The world had gone fucking mad.

Perhaps you still admit to being one of the lunatics, in which case you’re rare, and this blog will infuriate you. Sorry about that.

But I maintain you’d lost your collective minds. Literally millions of people were stood on the streets wailing and rending their clothes. I saw them actually tearing at themselves in grief, on streets in Eccles, for Christ’s sake. Lairy Mancunians called Gaz, Gaz and Gaz, with faces like a knuckle and knuckles like a ball-pein hammer, sobbing en-masse outside the Pig and Fetlock.

On arrival home, my neighbour, a man I scarcely knew, ran from his house in his underpants to throw his arms around me and cry, while I stood patiently holding my suitcase and wanting a wee. It was as if every single person in Britain had been given a puppy for a month, and then had to watch it being fed backwards, alive, through a bacon-slicer one morning, and I’d turned up just as the procedure was ending.

It bore no relationship whatsoever to the actual event, which in essence was: the pretty star of a popular reality show died in a car accident, and then show was unceremoniously cancelled while you were asleep.

Great for the press, though. Sold a lot of newspapers. The BBC’s Jennie Bond must’ve had a field day.

Could the insane coverage perhaps explain the insane public response? Hmmm, I wonder.

It’s possible I was always going to be immune from the cataclysm of weeping that descended over the nation, due to being a bit of a geeky cynic; or perhaps my family was like the guy in Day Of The Triffids, and our isolation from events during that critical week left us the only ones unaffected by the blinding meteor shower of Dead-Diana-Mania.

But today, I meet almost nobody who admits to being swept up by it all. Sad, sure. But hysterical? Nobody I meet was hysterical. Yet at the time, millions were.

Globally, 2.5 billion watched the funeral. Literally half of the people in Britain watched it, and almost a quarter of us had to take time off work due to the grief.

So surely at least one person in 10 would today admit to being part of the festival of sobbing. But no: practically everybody seems to remember their husband, wife or friends being overwhelmed, but they themselves were models of British dignity, detachment and reserve.

I report this because in my life I remember two instances of mass hysteria, and two instances of mass political protest. And, like a Venn Diagram, mass hysteria and mass political protest overlap in Brexit, right now.

The hysteria is Diana. The protest is Iraq. The cause, with Brexit, Iraq and Diana, is wildly inaccurate and demented press coverage.

54% of us supported the invasion of Iraq a month or so before it started. Today, 38% remember doing so. The war was built on lies, had no plan for what happened after victory, was widely predicted to be a disaster, stoked by loathsome right wing press, secretly promoted by even more loathsome American right-wing pressure groups, opposed by almost every expert, brought millions of protestors onto the streets, nearly broke the governing party, and revolted most of Europe… but scraped together a tiny public majority at one key moment, which then fell apart during implementation.

Good job we’ve learned our lesson, eh? Won’t make that mistake again.

Brexit feels like a cross between the manufactured consent of Iraq and the manufactured hysteria of Diana. And just like them both, Britain is already feeling embarrassed that it got so carried away and has been taken for such a fool. Our cynicism for Britain’s press knows no bounds 99% of the time, but come a war, come a celebrity death, or come a chance to feed our 1000-year-old suspicions about the bloody French, and we’ll lap up any bullshit The Daily Mail spoonfeeds us.

It’s time to slap ourselves in the face, realise the bollocks we’ve just fallen for, and stop this demented moment of collective hysteria. Cos tomorrow, you’ll deny you were ever taken in: but like Diana’s untimely death, Brexit is permanent.

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What Brexit means

So we lost. I mean we all lost, not just Remain.

If you don’t follow politics, let me put it in a football metaphor. This was England vs England in the World Cup final: and England still managed to lose on penalties. 

Facepalm
Oh Christ, what have we done?
If it seems I’m laughing, I’m not: this is hysteria. This it terrifying. The consequences are appalling, and will last decades. I’m not prone to histrionics, but this feels like being tied to a madman who’s just gleefully hurled himself off a cliff. It’s gonna hurt. A lot. 

In the last week I’ve been retweeted over 42,000 times, sometimes on purpose, and I’ve had hundreds of conversations on social media (I avoided the real world after being shrieked at by a momentarily insane elderly in-law for suggesting Nigel Farage might not be honest). 

But in all those conversations I only reached Remainders. Leavers, predominantly, sent abuse, told me my data were nonsense, chanted “project fear” and blocked me.

Fine. I’m nothing special. But facts are. You can have your own opinion, but not your own facts.

It terrifies me that so many simply refused to accept facts. “We don’t believe experts”, you cry, then blithely plod into the Apple Store looking for a Genius with eccentric glasses who can sort out your basic shit. 

You need experts, you just don’t like to be challenged. It’s a horrifying glimpse into a Trumpian wet-dream of a gullible public drinking the Kool-Aid of belligerent, quasi-fascist lying monsters. 

But I accept: facts can be hard. Harder than gut feelings. But the thing about thinking with your gut: your gut literally has shit for brains. 

Now, I’m no genius; I belong in no Apple Store. I’m no better, richer, smarter or more moral than you are. And like most people, I find big numbers hard to wrap my head around. So my trick is this: turn them all into time. And then you can picture it. 

So if you’re talking about millions or billions of pounds, convert it into millions or billions of seconds. Google can do this for you, and it really helps. 

Let’s try it on the cost of the Brexit vote on its first day. Just on the 24th June. One day.

And to put it into context, I’ve included the cost of the UK’s membership of the EU. Remember, every £1 of cost to the nation is converted into 1 second. 

Annual cost of the EU
251 years

Cost to the Bank of England in one day
15,854 years

The cost to the global economy today
63,419 years

I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment. Just look at those numbers. Feel good about voting Leave?

Let’s move on.

I guess the good thing – I always look for the good thing – is that the people hit most quickly will be the ones drawing pensions today. It’s cost them 12% of their assets and 10% of their pension pot today. Just today. 

Gloating may seem stupid, given that my team lost. And gloating about the elderly losing money might appear unfair; hell, it is unfair to the many pensioners who voted Remain.

But it’s more unfair to the majority of their kids, who are equally affected, have to live with it for longer, and didn’t vote for it. 

Truly, they fuck you up, your mum and dad. 63% of under-50s voted to Remain. But their parents… Their parents have a lot to answer for. 

Their parents got free education, solid gold pensions, young retirement age, great healthcare, cheap, plentiful housing, the chance to travel the world, and an atmosphere you can breathe. And unless they’re 90, they did not fight in the war, no matter what they tell you, so they don’t even have the excuse of being the Greatest Generation. 

Not only are they getting their offspring to fund their largesse and clean up the godawful mess, they just voted to deny it to the rest of us.

Argue all you want. And I know it wasn’t all of you. But it was most of you, grandma. It happened. You did it. It’s true. 

Worse that that; in fact, if you’ve got a moment, the absolute worst thing I can imagine under these unbelievably stupid circumstances: it achieved nothing. 

It won’t change immigration, the Great Topic that looms behind everything. That will continue as before, because there never has been any alternative. Boris and Nigel are trying to find a way to park this particular knowledge-turd on your driveway right now. They know it. Now they have to tell you lot, without getting strung up.

Basically, we can’t not sell to the EU. We sell (or rather, sold) more to the EU than we sell to the USA, India, Saudi Arabia, China, Canada and Brazil combined. We cannot survive without that market. It would bankrupt us in months. 

But to continue to sell to the EU, we have to accept its rules. Including regulation. Including tariffs. Here’s a video that explains it all. You’ll hate it. It has facts. 

And those unavoidable EU rules include the free movement of people. Immigration. Just as before. It’s what Norway has, and Norway thinks we’re demented to vote for the same thing: all the costs of membership, no access to the clubhouse. For Norway, with great responsibility comes no power, like a shit Spider-Man.

We protested that you can’t change the EU from inside: apparently we decided that the best way to change it was from 500 miles away, having resigned, by shouting impotently at the sea and burning our pensions. 

So we lit a fire, we threw on kerosene, fried our industry, and cooked and ate our young around the conflagration, like heathen gods. 

And for what? A 2-hour smug feeling about kicking politicians, which wore off as soon as the markets opened. We’re idiots. And don’t say I didn’t warn you. I did. We all did. You were too busy kicking.

Britain is closed. Bereavement. 

Jo Cox

It’s a sad day, and I’m trying to focus on that, and not be angry.

Her poor kids.

Of course, it’s too soon to judge Jo Cox’s killer. He may be mentally ill. So I’m not judging him.

I’m perfectly happy to judge others though: the politicians who sacrifice peace and honour and public good for their ambition.

Are you happy now, Nigel? Sleeping well tonight, Boris?

img_3752Those things that used to define Britain… calmness, rationality, openness, kindness, thoughtfulness, intelligence, safety and peace… those things are being snuffed out.

But not by immigrants; by anti-immigrants.

By the angry, by the ill-informed; by the noisy, tiresome mob; the furious nostalgic pensioner who’s political curiosity is as deep as the front page of the Daily Mail.

By the raging middle-class who vote for cuts at home, then blame Belgium when little Cassandra can’t get into their favourite school.

By the Sun-reading, X-Factor-addled, mindlessly irate, who don’t recognise their own Home Secretary, yet regurgitate low-grade xenophobia about Bulgarians each day.

By the closed-minded, furious fools without even the courage to admit that skin-colour is behind their rhetoric.

Those thing that define Britain? They’re important.

And they’re being stamped out by the British: not by foreigners.

If you “want your country back”, start behaving how you want that country to behave.

You want it fair? Be fair to refugees.

You want it honest? Don’t tell lies about migrants.

You want it to be rational? Believe evidence, don’t dismiss it as the lies of the elite.

You want it peaceful? Don’t pour gasoline on the flames or racism.

RIP Jo Cox.