Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 28 July 2023

Sucker Ponchos

If ever there were a news item one fervently hoped would turn out to be a hoax, it is the description of ‘gratitude ponchos’ enthusiastically shared online by an academic involved with NHS staff training.The accompanying image shows employees wearing the ponchos - made by cutting a hole in pieces of flip-chart paper - standing in a line (wouldn’t a circle be more efficient?) while colleagues supposedly write supportive and positive messages for them on their backs.

Now I’d like to think of myself as a reasonably responsible and well-mannered individual, but I can’t be the only one thinking that, should my employers try this (and should I be unable to think of a plausible excuse to leave), I would be sorely tempted to produce something entirely out of keeping with the wholesome and affirmative intentions of the organiser. I admit it would be a low blow, especially when someone’s back is turned, but it would be hard to resist, at the very least, some sort of backhanded compliment:“You seem to have an amazing ability to identify with Year 10” perhaps, or “Your lessons always sound so lively from next door”.

Disturbingly, such a scenario is not at all out of the question; in recent years, those of us with a sense of humour have struggled valiantly not to laugh during an earnest staff training session on ‘the coat-hanger of innovation’ - complete with gift-wrapped packs of clothes-pegs for each of us “to hang our ideas on the thinking line” - and silently applauded the dignified and erudite Head of History who, when a guest speaker concluded a particularly meaningless stream of pretentious  psychobabble and asked if there were any questions, replied, “Yes; am I alone in having absolutely no idea what you are talking about?”

What worries me is that, at least in the NHS, this adviser seems to believe that the poncho* initiative, rather than eliciting universal derision (and possibly some interesting anatomical artwork), would be be taken seriously by the participants and produce the desired collection of suitable compliments to ponder and appreciate at leisure. Either she is spectacularly deluded - always a possibility in academic circles these days - or she is confident that the workplace is populated by complacent drones who would not dream of subverting such an exercise.

If it is the latter, she may have reason, al least if our recent staff training days are anything to go by; it’s noticeable that the healthy scepticism and sotto voce observations on the more egregious staff training antics are, by and large, confined to the older staffroom demographic, while the most recent recruits - the ones ready to denounce any colleague who fails to adhere to modern orthodoxy - are far more willing to play along, accustomed as they are to mass virtue-signalling and observance of progressive rituals.

A family friend, born in 1930s Germany but now a proud British citizen, says that, in her opinion, the rise of the Nazis could not have happened in Britain because of what she calls ‘the ever-present voice in the back row’: the quick-witted irreverence and mocking of pomposity inherent in our culture. It is, as my mother says, ‘in with the bricks’, a part of us which has survived wars, religious oppression and hard times but is now under threat as never before from the media-backed forces of political correctness and groupthink.

Still, let’s not give way to pessimism; when it comes to staff training days, here’s hoping that the younger generation will eventually grow up and stop doing as they are told!

*Do you think we could persuade the Mexicans to go after her for cultural appropriation?

Sunday 23 July 2023

‘And did those feet...’

Things have been rather quiet here partly because I’ve been doing a lot of walking in various scenic locations, much of it in the company of venerable but intrepid members of Clan Macheath.

Thus it was that I recently tackled a section of the Cornwall Coastal Path in the role of guide, Sherpa and helper-over-stiles to an assortment of female relatives in their eighth and ninth decades. They are a jolly and talkative bunch and, as we progressed merrily along, they were keen to explain how much of their enjoyment of the walk stemmed from their shared appreciation of a television series on the area - and, indirectly, of its presenter, Michael Portillo.

“Just think,” exclaimed one of them in awed tones, “he probably walked along this very stretch of path!”  “Ooh yes!” cooed the others, stopping for a moment’s reverential contemplation of the vista once enjoyed by the politician-turned-broadcaster. The ladies in question are relatively apolitical - although one did go rather pink as she recounted how a canvassing Nigel Farage once shook her by the hand (rather literally, I gather; she’s not very big and he was rather enthusiastic) - but Michael Portillo clearly had the collective seal of approval.

What was particularly interesting, though, was the revelation, in the discussion which followed, that none of these ladies wants to vote Conservative. They concede that they might be obliged to do so in the case of potentially disastrous local candidates for the other parties, but they are unanimous that they have had enough; enough of Party infighting and backbiting, enough of pointless targets and ill-informed virtue-signalling policies, enough of the myriad shortcomings of the NHS and, above all, enough of being, as one of them put it, ‘farmed’ by the state for fees and taxes while their interests are largely ignored.

Quite rightly, they point out that they survived bombing and wartime disruption as children (one was actually born under the kitchen table during an air raid) and then endured years of rationing for the common good. They and their friends have worked hard, many of them in public service, and raised families and have, as they see it, a major stake in the society they helped to create in the post-war decades, but now they feel utterly abandoned by a government which expects them to do everything online and stands idly by while they are vilified for their age, presumed opinions and supposed ‘privilege’.

Since election strategy, like so many other things these days, is in the hands of statistical computer types - not to mention people of an age to dismiss the elderly as irrelevant - I wonder whether the Conservative party may be under the mistaken and patronising impression that these older voters will stick to their previous voting patterns. Truly we live in interesting times!