Plus ça change: editing, comedy, politics

Harry-dozing 1

A flurry of activity, since we are—finally!—in the last throes of preparing for the printer the second issue of Last Post: A Literary Journal from the Ford Madox Ford Society. Before that – days of depressing weather and weathering depression as British politicians plot, plod, falsify, feint and fail, some of them apparently paralysed while others are clearly willing to jeopardise not only the wellbeing of the United Kingdom as a whole but the still fragile peace in Northern Ireland too.

Still, there was my elder daughter’s birthday, though on the actual day she was—not exactly abroad but offshore, that region so favoured by the rich—aboard a small train bound for Laxey in the Isle of Man, and then on another train up a mountain. On the other hand, her sister, who lives in Barcelona, arrived in Bristol to stay with the Librarian and I—and, crucially, Harry the house cat—for a few days before heading off to Scotland to unleash some stand-up comedy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a group of friends. (Such familial displays of extrovert behaviour might offset, to a degree, my increasingly wary view of the world out there and the people in it.)

The second issue of Last Post includes a reprinted article by Ford, dating from 1936, when he revisited London, a relatively rare event in the post-war years, since he lived first in Sussex, then Paris, then Toulon, with trips to New York and other parts of the United States – but not often to London.

Fordie-BBC

http://www.fordmadoxfordsociety.org/last-post-journal.html

In the world-before-the-war, he’d been based in London for a decade and his first commercially successful book (at least since his first, a fairy tale illustrated by his grandfather Ford Madox Brown) was devoted to the city: The Soul of London appeared in 1905. And, though Ford didn’t live there much after 1915, he continued to write about the city or to draw upon it in many of his later books. More than eighty years old, then, that article but I was struck by his characterisation of the politicians of the day:

‘It was impossible to imagine a more impressive collection of dumb-bells and left-overs than were provided by H. M. Government and H. M. Opposition between them. A photograph of the lot of them impressed you with the idea that you were looking at a group-picture of the better-behaved inmates of Bellevue—as who should say Bethlem Hospital. And their political records were none of them more cheerful.’

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say in some quarters, I believe.

 

Going to the polls (greenly, liberally or laboriously)

Our English Coasts, 1852 ('Strayed Sheep') 1852 by William Holman Hunt 1827-1910

(William Holman Hunt Our English Coasts, also known as Strayed Sheep)

We go to the polls tomorrow; I mean that Europe does and, for now at least, the United Kingdom, if we’re sticking with that title, is on the list. The high anxiety for some Labour supporters has, though, been simplified by Mr Corbyn’s continuing to teeter on the fence, not unlike the grey cat that frequently passes, insecurely and unconvincingly, along the back of our garden.

As to the result, the predictions may be awry in some cases but no doubt right enough in one, that the Brexit Party will come out ahead. It’s simple arithmetic: Stayers will split their votes among three or four parties, Quitters will vote for one party. That reflects at least one aspect of the case: the world can be made to appear very simple; or it’s a complicated place where nuances and complexities abound. Louis MacNeice wrote, in ‘Letter to Graham and Anne Shepard’:

We are not changing ground to escape from facts
But rather to find them. This complex world exacts
Hard work of simplifying; to get its focus
You have to stand outside the crowd and caucus.

Still, this is where we are, in a tight spot. ‘My God’, the Librarian says, ‘the news is bleak.’ As it is. The United States national security advisor threatens war with Iran while, domestically, America wages war on women. The recent Australian election seems not to have been particularly good news for women either. On the European continent, there’s a struggle taking place that we’re likely to end up on the wrong side of; as with the environmental crisis, it seems extraordinary that the response to warnings that the building is on fire is so often to yawn and turn over in bed. Nancy Cunard recalled her friend Brian Howard’s bafflement over the lack of interest in the rise of Nazism in Germany. ‘How was it that, each time he returned to England, or even to France, not enough people cared nor wanted to be made aware of the hideous import of these facts, these obviously lucid indications? Why, save for a minimum of really politically minded people, were they, seemingly, not even interested? Must one be politically minded to be concerned at the appalling things going on? What about being merely human?’

tight-spot-Valloton
(Felix Vallotton, ‘A Tight Spot’)

What indeed? Ernest Hemingway famously remarked to George Plimpton: ‘The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.’ And for non-writers? ‘The road from appearance to reality is often very hard and long, and many people make only very poor travellers’, Franz Kafka once said. ‘We must forgive them when they stagger against us as if against a brick wall.’ He was a forgiving sort of person. Still, given the events of the past few years, not least in the United Kingdom and the United States, the most obviously essential tool for the voter, the citizen, is a built-in bullshit detector; and it’s clear that—to put it mildly—not everybody has one.

It was said after the EU Referendum in this country that, if it showed nothing else, it showed that a great many people didn’t mind being lied to as long as they liked the lie they were being told – and there have always been, in the phrase Pound used in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, ‘liars in public places’. But as Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit and many related books since have suggested, there’s a distinction to be made between lies and bullshit, even though overlap often occurs. While liars tend to know when they’re lying and also to accept that truth matters, even if they’re deliberately deviating from it, bullshitters often don’t even know what’s true and they certainly don’t care. The examples often cited here are Messrs Trump, Johnson and Farage ­– and the main reason why they’re able not to care appears to be that those they are speaking most directly to don’t care either.

Ah, well. As the excellent Marina Hyde concluded a recent column, ‘The UK remains in toxic stasis, presided over by a necrotic government, but now with a gathering sense that much worse could be in the post.’

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/17/tory-boris-johnson-leadership-candidate

A gathering sense. Yes. Watch that space.

 

 

Letting in water

Durer-ill-ShipFools

(Albrecht Dürer, illustration to The Ship of Fools)

There was a piece in The Guardian a few days back, which rounded up some foreign views of the state the United Kingdom is in, reminding us, if we needed reminding, that to many people outside this country, such a spectacle must seem extraordinary.

The Washington Post had a piece called ‘Brexit will mark the end of Britain’s role as a great power’, which observed that the UK, ‘famous for its prudence, propriety and punctuality, is suddenly looking like a banana republic’. Here was a country ‘determined to commit economic suicide but unable even to agree on how to kill itself’, led by ‘a ship of fools’ unwilling to ‘compromise with one another and with reality’. The result was an ‘epic failure of political leadership’, Friedman said: scary stuff, but ‘you can’t fix stupid’.

‘Ship of fools.’ That was an adaptation (1509) by the poet Alexander Barclay of a 1494 allegory by the German satirist Sebastian Brant; also the title of an allegorical novel by Katherine Anne Porter, published in 1962. The nautical theme recurs, not only in the header illustration by the Guardian design team, showing the HMS Britain steeply angled in an unfriendly-looking sea, but in one or two other comments. Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs, said many Indians saw Brexit as the latest chapter in a ‘sharp decline in the place Britain commands as a great power’. The UK ‘is not a gold standard to look up to’, he said. ‘We get a feeling of a sinking ship, and everybody wants to leave a sinking ship.’

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/06/a-shambles-on-which-the-sun-never-sets-how-the-world-sees-brexit

I was reminded of that stout phrase, ‘the Ship of State’, which I see is traced back to Book Six of Plato’s The Republic. In the old Jowett translation, one section caught my eye: ‘The sailors are quarrelling with one another about the steering—every one is of opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation and cannot tell who taught him or when he learned, and will further assert that it cannot be taught, and they are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary.’

No contemporary parallel there, obviously. Precisely in the middle of the nineteenth century, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow waxed optimistic:

‘Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O UNION, strong and great!’

And:

‘In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!’[1]

Traffic-Hole-Shoe

That of course, was another Union, which, eleven years later, didn’t seem so solid; while ours is certainly lower-case and seems to be letting in water. In another lifetime, Traffic had a hit with a Dave Mason song, ‘Hole in My Shoe’ (‘And all that I knew/ The hole in my shoe/ Was letting in water’) – only a shoe then, so the situation’s clearly deteriorated.

I’ve never been in a shipwreck before—certainly not one caused by the crew and passengers together scuttling the ship—so, while the joy is hardly unconfined, there is at least an element of novelty.

I remembered poor Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex, sunk by a sperm whale in 1820.[2] The survivors in their small boats were finally reduced to eating the bodies of the dead; the next stage, once those supplies were exhausted, was the drawing of lots and the shooting of those who lost. In Captain Pollard’s boat, the man shot was the captain’s own nephew, named Owen Coffin. In later life, Chase apparently developed an obsessive fear of starvation, ‘never wasting a morsel at the dinner table, and frequenting the market to buy supplies that he larded [stuffed] in his attic.’[3] We can perhaps glimpse certain elements of his story in our own too likely future—but not, we hope, all of them.

Turner, Joseph Mallord William, 1775-1851; The Shipwreck

(J. M. W. Turner, The Shipwreck: Tate Britain)

More relevant, perhaps, is Declan Kiberd’s comment on Homer’s epic: ‘The logic of the Odyssey is that of many tales involving shipwreck – the answers to problems will be found only after the act of destruction. The catastrophe must precede clarification.’

And he adds a little later that resurgences, such as modern Ireland’s, ‘often come after a period of trauma – what Gaelic poets called longbhriseadh (shipwreck), a terrible but challenging disaster which becomes the precondition of a change to a new future.’[4] ‘Resurgence’: rising again, basically resurrection which, as I recall, requires death as a precondition. So that’s another cheering thought.

Thoreau queried the sort of impulses that have been driving a number of political developments lately: ‘Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple-tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality. Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue glass over ourselves, though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the true ethereal heavens far above, as if the former were not?’[5]

Walden_1854_cover_image

Elsewhere, he suggests that ‘A book should contain pure discoveries, glimpses of terra firma, though by shipwrecked mariners, and not the art of navigation by those who have never been out of sight of land.’[6]

‘In our time’, Guy Davenport’s Dutch philosopher Adriaan van Hovendaal writes in his notebook, ‘we long not for a lost past but for a lost future.’[7] Thirty-five years on, that is true of some of us—but clearly not of others, which at least partly explains how we got here. Wherever here might be.

 
References

[1] ‘The Building of the Ship’, The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (London: Ward, Lock: n.d.), 103.

[2] His account was published in 1821. Herman Melville saw him, though not to speak to, in 1841; he did meet Chase’s son, who gave him a copy of his father’s Narrative: Melville, Moby Dick (1851; edited by Harold Beaver, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), 17; and ‘Appendix: The Earliest Sources’, 971-979.

[3] Paul Lyons, introduction to Owen Chase, Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex (London: Pimlico, 2000), xxvii.

[4] Declan Kiberd, Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living (London: Faber and Faber, 2009), 283, 307.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, edited by J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton University Press: Princeton and London, 1974), 326.

[6] Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (New York: Library of America, 1985), 80.

[7] Guy Davenport, Apples and Pears (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984), 63.

Radical calendar, pronouns, rats’ alley

March-poster

It’s a Radical Calendar for us this year, each page headed by a stirring quotation to put fire into the bellies of those fighting for justice, equality and other unfashionable things. (I have an exhortatory poster on the wall behind me, come to think of it: that particular ‘March’ is not the name of a month.)

https://www.radicalteatowel.co.uk/

January’s legend was from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, written in 1819, after the massacre at Peterloo:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.

That last line is now more widely familiar because of its adoption as a Labour Party slogan. It’s also one that I’ve tended to misremember as ‘We are many – they are few’. A little risky for the eldest – legitimate – ­ son of the MP Sir Timothy Shelley to designate himself one of the many, you might think. But of course he doesn’t, distancing himself from both the ‘Ye’ and the ‘they’, reasonably enough given his belief that poets, as the unacknowledged legislators of the world, can’t easily be positioned within any conventional constituency.

But then – who can? ‘The others’, no doubt. The deployment of such pronouns – ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘they’, ‘us’ – has probably never been a simple matter. It sure as hell isn’t now. Ironically, as this country becomes more conformist and more tribal and more wedded to willed simplicities, the issue is becoming thornier by the day.

February boasted a mention of Benjamin Lay (1682-1759), the four feet tall Anglo-American Quaker humanitarian and abolitionist, vegetarian and author of around two hundred pamphlets. And that chimed in nicely with the book I was reading at the time, Madge Dresser’s Slavery Obscured: The Social History of the Slave Trade in an English Provincial Port, the port in question being Bristol, of course.

Calendar

March offers a sliver of John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel:

Nor is the people’s judgment always true:
The most may err as grossly as the few.

Indeed. Then under 29 March is printed the notice: ‘Brexit Day’. The news has now come through about how well it all went this afternoon. It was diverting to learn that, before that particular piece of parliamentary business, Liam Fox, urging his Westminster colleagues to vote the prime minister’s deal through, was warning that they would undermine faith in mainstream politics by creating a ‘chasm of distrust’ if they failed to do so. Yes, really: that Liam Fox; and ‘would undermine faith in mainstream politics’ and would create distrust. There’s a man with his finger on the pulse of current attitudes towards ‘mainstream politics’.

So where are we (them, us)? One speaker in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land remarked:

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones

That’s definitely a possibility. Or is our whole planet a speck of dust beneath the fingernail of a trickster god unimaginably vast? There’s another one.

Will we ever come back from this, whatever happens now? Probably not. Still, I do enjoy having people with mad eyes explain to journalists that if X, Y or Z doesn’t happen, there’s ‘a risk of no Brexit at all’.

I think that’s a risk we’re—me, us, some of them—prepared to take. So why not just revoke Article 50? That, by the way, is called ‘a clean non-Brexit’.

 

An ethical dimension/ unethical dementia

Robin-Cook-Guardian

(Robin Cook via The Guardian)

I’m old enough to remember Robin Cook’s ‘mission statement’, more than twenty years ago now. Of course, we know how things worked out there but still, but still. ‘Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.’ And, towards the close: ‘Today’s Mission Statement sets out new directions in foreign policy. It makes the business of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office delivery of a long-term strategy, not just managing crisis intervention. It supplies an ethical content to foreign policy and recognises that the national interest cannot be defined only by narrow realpolitik. It aims to make Britain a leading partner in a world community of nations, and reverses the Tory trend towards not so splendid isolation.’
https://www.theguardian.com/world/1997/may/12/indonesia.ethicalforeignpolicy

Goodbye to all that, then. In Yemen, where war has been raging for several years, the latest atrocity is the dozens of deaths and injuries in a Saudi-led coalition attack on a bus full of children. An official Saudi press agency statement termed this ‘a legitimate military action’.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/09/dozens-dead-in-yemen-as-bus-carrying-children-hit-by-airstrike-icrc

Of an earlier offensive, the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell observed that, ‘The problem for Britain is that we are complicit in this attack. It is part of the coalition that supports Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen.’
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/13/britain-complicit-saudi-arabia-war-yemen-hodeidah

You could say that. You could, indeed, say more than that. Several months ago, David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, remarked that the British government ‘has been one of the strongest backers of the Saudis and their Gulf-led coalition. It has provided largely uncritical support for Saudi’s role in the war, as well as selling the Saudis £4.6 billion of military equipment over this period, seemingly ignoring its own rules about not selling arms when they are likely to be used unlawfully.’ As for British ministers, they ‘insist that staying close to the Saudis and offering advice privately is the most effective way to influence Saudi actions, alongside military advice and practical support through arms sales.’
https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/23/britains-policy-saudi-arabia-has-worsened-suffering-yemen

Well, well. Try this. ‘For many civilians, the realisation that one’s nation might be immoral or duplicitous was profoundly disturbing’, Trudi Tate writes, discussing Rudyard Kipling’s story, ‘Mary Postgate’, having commented a little earlier that, ‘Widespread literacy made it easier to spread lies.’ Yup. And she cited an essay by Sigmund Freud, ‘The Disillusionment of the War’, dating from 1915.[1]

Freud begins by writing that, ‘In the confusion of wartime in which we are caught up, relying as we must on one-sided information, standing too close to the great changes that have already taken place or are beginning to, and without a glimmering of the future that is being shaped, we ourselves are at a loss as to the significance of the impressions which press in upon us and as to the value of the judgements which we form.’

Take away ‘of wartime’ from his opening sentence and the essay could have been written this week.

sigmund-freud

Sigmund Freud
(‘when they were yung and easily freudened’—James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
Sometimes a psychoanalyst is just a psychoanalyst)

I see I marked another, later passage, about how, when a village grows into a town or a child into an adult, the earlier forms become lost in the later; but that it’s ‘otherwise with the development of the mind’. Succession, Freud writes, also involves co-existence and every earlier stage of development persists alongside the later stages. It may well happen, he suggests, that ‘a later and higher stage of development, once abandoned, cannot be reached again. But the primitive stages can always be re-established; the primitive mind is, in the fullest meaning of the word, imperishable.’[2]

So this is where we’ve got to. Our current, carefully selective and discriminating arms trade policy appears to boil down to this: ‘If they have the money, we’ll sell to anyone that asks.’ Appendix 1, no doubt, reads: ‘when, as is bound to happen, you use the weapons we’ve supplied to slaughter civilians, with a particular appetite for children, we agree to say nothing whatever about it. So long as your cheque is in the post.’

 
References

[1] Trudi Tate, Modernism, History and the First World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 39, 5.

[2] Sigmund Freud, ‘Thoughts for the Times on War and Death’, Civilization, Society and Religion, Penguin Freud Library Volume 12, edited by Albert Dickson (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 61, 73.

 

Bees, tea towels, staying at home

tolpuddle-martyrs

With a new tea towel to prompt me, I should at least finally commit to memory the names of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It was a part of, let’s call it, a bulk purchase of Radical Tea Towels, made by the Librarian on our recent trip to Manchester.

https://www.radicalteatowel.co.uk/

With limited time at our disposal, we hared off to the People’s History Museum – or intended to. Twenty-minute walk, my note said. Perhaps, if you’re a champion athlete, know the city like the back of your hand and don’t start off by coming out on the wrong side of Manchester Piccadilly station. After fifteen minutes, we made our way back to where we’d begun and climbed into a taxi.

Match-Girls

We might have stayed the night in Manchester had the Librarian not already been committed to a professional trip to London and Oxford the next day. So we arrived back in Bristol around midnight in order that, on Finland’s National Sleepy Head Day, I might roll out of bed at five o’clock, an hour earlier than usual.

Suffragette-Teatowel

’We went to Europe’, Flannery O’Connor wrote to Elizabeth Bishop in 1958, ‘and I lived through it but my capacity for staying at home has now been perfected, sealed & is going to last me the rest of my life.’ Yes. I recalled the painter Hurtle Duffield’s initial reaction as his Greek lover persuades him onto a flying boat for the first leg of their journey, in Patrick White’s The Vivisector: ‘In the air he huddled in his overcoat and longed for his abandoned house; nobody would coax him out of it again. In any case after childhood, or at most, youth, experience breeds more fruitfully in a room.’

We are home now, anyway, in the resurgent hot weather. The bees are entranced by African blue basil, lavender, roses and Skylover. The gabbiest magpie of the four regulars perches on the fence and sounds off. The neighbour’s cat is still digesting the news that the recent arrivals in the house beyond our back wall have rabbits in a hutch by their kitchen door. We, in turn, are digesting the news that, after several years of quiet, those recent arrivals subscribe to the new twenty-first century conventions: make as much noise as you can. Still, the hot weather will pass; windows will close; the novelty of careering loudly around a shared house and garden will wear off.

Birds

So we are left with the recent news items which have—certainly not comforted but, perhaps, diverted—such as Government ministers drawing up plans to investigate whether the government’s own policies are to blame for the sharp rise in the use of food banks.
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/01/revealed-ministers-plan-to-research-effect-of-policies-on-food-bank-use

Could they possibly be connected? As has already been pointed out several times, this is something of an ‘is the Pope Catholic?’ query. I remember thinking the same thing when, two or three months ago, after the deaths of many unarmed protesters, there was a headline on the BBC website: ‘Did Israel use excessive force at Gaza protests?’

And one which has caused extreme discomfort: the assault on Bookmarks, the Bloomsbury Street shop.
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/05/far-right-protesters-ransack-socialist-bookshop-bookmarks-in-london

There have been a good many recent attempts to suggest that we are seeing a rerun of the 1930s and, usually, I find the differences far outweigh the similarities. But masked thugs attacking a radical bookshop? That brings us a little closer, I think.

Summer ended: autumn begun.

Henry, George, 1858-1943; Autumn

George Henry, Autumn: Glasgow Museums Resource Centre (GMRC)

First day of August. ‘Very lovely with calm lake,’ John Ruskin wrote at Brantwood of Coniston Water in 1884, ‘but the roses fading, the hay cut. The summer is ended. Autumn begun.’ It seems a little early. Still, in February of that year, Ruskin had given his lectures on ‘The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century’ and the details of weather that he’d entered in his diary in the intervening months tended to focus on darkness, fierce wind and heavy rain.

As Jeeves conveys the seasonal news to Bertie, at the opening of The Code of the Woosters: ‘There is a fog, sir. If you will recollect, we are now in autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ Literature not being his strong point, Bertie can only reply, ‘Season of what?’ John Keats—he of To Autumn fame—probably wrote the poem in the second or third week of September, in 1819, a more autumnal sort of date.

So here, in a manner of speaking, we all are (as Ford Madox Ford often had Henry James say). Not that we have a very clear idea of where we are, though the general direction of travel is, alas, only too obvious. There seem to be increasingly loud hints and assertions that this country might end up with no EU deal ‘by accident’. That is to say, we might be moving in the direction that the extremists have been angling for from the outset, a result to suit their ideologies, their unsavoury friends and perhaps their business plans too. I heard one of them, a notable reactionary, say on the radio a week or two back, apropos of something or other: ‘this is not what the people of this country voted for’. Careful with the negative there, I thought, since 63% of the British electorate didn’t vote to leave the European Union at all.

Yeovil-early-morning

Jonathan Franzen once referred to ‘the one benefit of being a depressive pessimist, which is the propensity to laugh in dark times.’ There’s something in that though the laughter, like much else, is wearing a little thin of late. Even not particularly literary people have taken to quoting Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’ (‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity’).

Certainly, I’ve more or less given up on the Labour leadership: the last few years should have resulted in nothing remaining of the Tories apart from some unsavoury stains on the floor. But that would have required an opposition to oppose instead of sniping, posturing and bitching among themselves, endlessly inventing new pretexts for internal wrangling.

I look back to Mollie Panter-Downes’ London War Notes: 1941, since the Second World War seems to be the period that so many people in this country are still totally and curiously fixated upon. ‘As a nation’, she wrote, ‘the British wear disaster more gracefully than they do victory.’ Well, that was then and this is now; and while there’s absolutely no danger of victory I strongly suspect that there will be no visible signs of grace when the magic moment comes.