The Spectator's Notes

The rise of the robot lawnmower

17 July 2021

9:00 AM

17 July 2021

9:00 AM

A special animus is aimed at Priti Patel, perhaps because the combination of being Indian, female and firmly Tory is unbearable to the left. The BBC’s Chris Mason, though paid to report, not pass judgment, speaks of the Home Secretary’s ‘at best equivocal stance’ about racist insults in football. The particular anger against her is that earlier on in the Euros, she described taking the knee as ‘gesture politics’, declining to condemn fans who booed it. Yet taking the knee is a gesture and is political. In its current form, taking the knee was invented by Black Lives Matter. Last summer, after the murder of George Floyd, there was a sort of ambush by BLM activists trying to force the West to kneel. It was wrong to succumb to this pressure: BLM is a Marxist movement with an extreme agenda. It explicitly attacks what it calls ‘whiteness’. It sees being white as something intrinsically bad, an original sin which must be atoned for. This is provocative to most people who follow football — indeed to most people in this country. Which is not surprising, since the doctrine of ‘whiteness’ is racist. Footballers who want racial harmony in sport can help kick out racism by getting off their knees.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism protested against Raza Kazim, a maths tutor at Middlesex University, but he has survived with no disciplinary action. No doubt it is extremely unimportant, even at Middlesex University, what Mr Kazim thinks. But the story caught my eye because of the words he chose. On his WhatsApp profile, Mr Kazim said: ‘The world stopped Nazism. World stopped apartheid. World must stop Zionism. The legacy of settler colonialism is a civilisation of death.’ These sentences encapsulate the way of thinking which now dominates pro-Palestinian argument. First, invoke the Nazis and (wrongly) suggest that a united world beat them. Second, invoke apartheid. Third — with deliberate, pointed offensiveness — equate Zionism with both Hitler and apartheid. Fourth, condemn ‘settler colonialism’. The last point is in some ways the most significant. The phrase ‘settler colonialism’ covers not only Israel, but also the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It extends to Britain too, since we provided most of the original settlers. Thus can many of the freest countries in the world be reworked as monsters — a process assiduously advanced in many of their own universities — and thus can ideology purport to turn Jews from victim into oppressor. Those running institutions, such as Kew Gardens, the National Trust etc, who wish to ‘decolonise’ them should be aware that this process necessarily involves anti-Semitism. This is an under-noticed strand in the thinking of BLM: ‘We are a movement committed to ending settler colonialism in all forms and will continue to advocate for Palestinian liberation.’

A friend, Ned Mackay, reports from Wembley Stadium. The football, he says, was fine, but the rest was ‘the worst match experience I’ve ever had’. The ‘brazen and the thugs’, ticketless, tailgated paying customers through the turnstiles and dangerously blocked the gangway to the seats. Covid checks were flouted. Many legitimate fans did not dare challenge the menacing men who had occupied their places. Near him was a group of three adults and two children who had paid £2,500 each for their tickets. After Italy scored, two Italian fans, a 60-year-old and a much younger man, cheered. They were set upon by eight England louts who, in front of the helpless children, beat them up. The younger Italian ended up with grossly bruised lips and probable tooth damage. One of Ned’s companions filmed the attack and, when he could find the police (there were none in the ground except by the pitch), gave them the film. They said they would pursue it, but didn’t. The stewards were helpless. The lawbreakers were there in their thousands, most pissed, some literally pissing as they waited in queues. ‘England isn’t fit to hold football tournaments,’ says Ned, normally a keen England fan. ‘I’m glad Italy won.’

Staying with friends in the country recently, I noticed two objects nosing their way silently across the wide expanse of lawn. Something about their shape made me think of muntjac without legs, but in fact they are plastic. For the safety of human beings, they are equipped with tiny headlights. Their task is to mow the lawn, and they take their duties very seriously, never stopping except when commanded on a smartphone app or when they detect, at 90 per cent of electricity use, that it is time to return to their charging stations. My host told me that these ‘auto-mowers’ are provided by a Swedish firm called Husqvarna and cost £3,500 each. They mow to an invisible boundary, a wire buried three inches underground by a sort of torpedo supplied by the company. The mowers can manage angles of up to 45 degrees. Within a year, his cost in buying them is recouped by the labour and diesel saved. The diligent little machines are wonderful in every way, except they cannot do posh stripes and your dogs tend to attack them.

As I searched through an ottoman full of old papers at the weekend, I found a few of the form cards which boys received about four times a term when I was at school. In Biology, mine say things like ‘Very wishy washy’, (when I come 21st out of 22), ‘Unworthy’, ‘Wasting time completely’, ‘O level lost?’, ‘Hopeless — should be in bD5 5’ (the lowest form of all). A female member of my family was described in her matron’s report as ‘very dirty and greedy’. Would such words be written nowadays? Would they even be legal if they were? The modern version of such strictures would be something like ‘There are issues around the challenges Charles faces in this subject’ or ‘X needs to share with us her learnings around her hygiene and dietary behaviours’. By the way, I did (just) get the O level.

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