I do not know whether the Greek gypsy couple accused of abducting a girl called Maria are guilty, but I am surprised by how the media, even the politically correct outlets, have seized on the story, grabbing the pretext of Madeleine McCann. Why does it matter that Maria has blonde hair and blue eyes? If she had been abducted and had dark hair and brown eyes, would that have been less objectionable? Now a similar case has come up in Dublin. Are news desks unaware that stories about gypsies stealing children are staples of mob-inciting propaganda, like accusations in Pakistan that Christians are flushing Korans down the lavatory? In eastern central Europe, hatred of gypsies is a major factor in political and social life. Since unrestricted immigration from the EU will make gypsies more common in Britain, this hatred will spread, especially if we fan it.
How one longed, as a child, to be abducted by the ‘raggle-taggle gypsies, O’. One would move round in horse-drawn caravans, and sit by campfires in the company of dusky, barefoot, ear-ringed girls in long skirts. Such operatic fantasies cannot be sustained when one looks at photographs of the accused gypsy couple. The man, Christos Salis, is wearing a sort of windcheater emblazoned with the words ‘JUST DO IT’. Just do what, poor man? One day, anthropologists will explain why words started to appear on clothing in the mid-to-late 20th century. The words rarely refer directly to the wearer or his or her interests, beliefs or occupation. Yet they are not perfectly meaningless either. They express, in garbled form, the modern world’s blind obeisance to Anglophone culture.
This Saturday, most hunts will hold their opening meets. According to the excellent Hunting Stock Market, from which I buy most of my kit, business has never been brisker. Last Saturday, for the modest occasion of what used to be called cub-hunting, our own dear hunt had a mounted field of 70. Children are the most numerous new recruits. There is no doubt that the hunting ban brought good publicity to the sport and rallied people to the cause. I do not agree, however, with those who say that the ban should be quietly left alone. It is unjust, and also bad law. This latter point may not matter much to the average person out for a jolly day, but it puts great strain on the hunt staff who have to take responsibility. They try to hunt within the law, but how can they be confident that a court will not find against them? Pro-hunting people complain that David Cameron is not doing enough. The criticism is unfair, since he just does not have the parliamentary numbers to win a free vote. But while he cannot right the hunting wrong in this Parliament, he could at least help the poor sheep farmers. In Wales (where they have recently reported) and England, they lose lots more lambs to foxes. If they could follow the Scottish system by which a full pack of hounds, rather than our measly two, may flush foxes on to guns, their flocks might stand a chance.
More attention should be paid to the failure of the Co-op Bank. It suggests that an ‘ethical’ motivation does not guarantee that the interests of the customer will be well served. Indeed, it may even serve those interests worse, because people who congratulate themselves on their motives are often more easily satisfied with poor results. The Co-op affair is a big smash. The mutual model is not a panacea. I find it encouraging, morally, that hedgies, the ‘vulture funds’ of capitalism, are sorting it out.
An Australian friend has sent me the oaths taken by recent Australian prime ministers on entering office. The Liberal John Howard said: ‘I, John Winston Howard, do solemnly swear that I will well and truly serve the people in the office of prime minister, and that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. So help me God!’ His Labour successor Kevin Rudd swore to ‘the Commonwealth of Australia, her land and her people’, but omitted the Queen. His fellow Labour successor, Julia Gillard, affirmed, rather than swore, and also dissed the Queen. When Kevin Rudd returned and ousted her, he restored the oath, but not the monarch. Now the Liberal Tony Abbott has ousted Mr Rudd. He prefers the John Howard words, and inserts three more of his own. After ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’, he adds, ‘Queen of Australia.’
Coming out of a film preview in Soho this week, I got into a taxi and caught up with the messages on my Blackberry. Suddenly, I was thrown forward by the brakes and I heard a piercing scream. Leaning against the bonnet, white-faced, was a moustachioed man. He was saying nothing, just staring. The screaming came from his wife. She yelled that the taxi had moved forward and hit her husband while a ‘green man’ was flashing to pedestrians to cross. Since I had been absorbed in my phone, I have no idea whether she was right. The driver immediately said that he was sorry, and offered all his details to the man (who was shocked, but uninjured). The man declined, almost politely, and the couple walked away. I was amazed: refusing to apologise is virtually, for insurance reasons, a law in road accidents these days, and taxi drivers are not known for admitting fault anyway. Yet the cabbie’s open offer was by the far the best tactic.
Another cab driver took me through Trafalgar Square on Monday. He complained about the fat, stupid blue cockerel on the fourth plinth. It was an insult, he felt, to the statues in the rest of the square. He informed me that each street lamp along the Mall is topped by the image of one of Nelson’s ships. The great man can survey them with his one eye from his column. Then I remembered it was Trafalgar Day. Why are we tormented with shifting, vacuous displays on the empty plinth when things worth remembering are forgotten?
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