Sunday, 26 June 2016

A Great Read

Someone cut and pasted this and didn't tell me where it is from so I cannot give it full attribution, (thanks, Dave Lull, it is apparently from The Times, although I don't know what date). It is by AA Gill and, whatever your views about the EU, it is a hugely good read:

Brexit: AA Gill argues for ‘In’
It was the woman on Question Time that really did it for me. She was so familiar. There is someone like her in every queue, every coffee shop, outside every school in every parish council in the country. Middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow, over-made-up, with her National Health face and weatherproof English expression of hurt righteousness, she’s Britannia’s mother-in-law. The camera closed in on her and she shouted: “All I want is my country back. Give me my country back.”
It was a heartfelt cry of real distress and the rest of the audience erupted in sympathetic applause, but I thought: “Back from what? Back from where?”
Wanting the country back is the constant mantra of all the outies. Farage slurs it, Gove insinuates it. Of course I know what they mean. We all know what they mean. They mean back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink, back from the future, back-to-back, back to bosky hedges and dry stone walls and country lanes and church bells and warm beer and skittles and football rattles and cheery banter and clogs on cobbles. Back to vicars-and-tarts parties and Carry On fart jokes, back to Elgar and fudge and proper weather and herbaceous borders and cars called Morris. Back to victoria sponge and 22 yards to a wicket and 15 hands to a horse and 3ft to a yard and four fingers in a Kit Kat, back to gooseberries not avocados, back to deference and respect, to make do and mend and smiling bravely and biting your lip and suffering in silence and patronising foreigners with pity.
We all know what “getting our country back” means. It’s snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia. The warm, crumbly, honey-coloured, collective “yesterday” with its fond belief that everything was better back then, that Britain (England, really) is a worse place now than it was at some foggy point in the past where we achieved peak Blighty. It’s the knowledge that the best of us have been and gone, that nothing we can build will be as lovely as a National Trust Georgian country house, no art will be as good as a Turner, no poem as wonderful as If, no writer a touch on Shakespeare or Dickens, nothing will grow as lovely as a cottage garden, no hero greater than Nelson, no politician better than Churchill, no view more throat-catching than the White Cliffs and that we will never manufacture anything as great as a Rolls-Royce or Flying Scotsman again.
The dream of Brexit isn’t that we might be able to make a brighter, new, energetic tomorrow, it’s a desire to shuffle back to a regret-curdled inward-looking yesterday. In the Brexit fantasy, the best we can hope for is to kick out all the work-all-hours foreigners and become caretakers to our own past in this self-congratulatory island of moaning and pomposity.
And if you think that’s an exaggeration of the Brexit position, then just listen to the language they use: “We are a nation of inventors and entrepreneurs, we want to put the great back in Britain, the great engineers, the great manufacturers.” This is all the expression of a sentimental nostalgia. In the Brexiteer’s mind’s eye is the old Pathé newsreel of Donald Campbell, of John Logie Baird with his television, Barnes Wallis and his bouncing bomb, and Robert Baden-Powell inventing boy scouts in his shed.
All we need, their argument goes, is to be free of the humourless Germans and spoilsport French and all their collective liberalism and reality. There is a concomitant hope that if we manage to back out of Europe, then we’ll get back to the bowler-hatted 1950s and the Commonwealth will hold pageants, fireworks displays and beg to be back in the Queen Empress’s good books again. Then New Zealand will sacrifice a thousand lambs, Ghana will ask if it can go back to being called the Gold Coast and Britain will resume hand-making Land Rovers and top hats and Sheffield plate teapots.
There is a reason that most of the people who want to leave the EU are old while those who want to remain are young: it’s because the young aren’t infected with Bisto nostalgia. They don’t recognise half the stuff I’ve mentioned here. They’ve grown up in the EU and at worst it’s been neutral for them.
The under-thirties want to be part of things, not aloof from them. They’re about being joined-up and counted. I imagine a phrase most outies identify with is “women’s liberation has gone too far”. Everything has gone too far for them, from political correctness — well, that’s gone mad, hasn’t it? — to health and safety and gender-neutral lavatories. Those oldies, they don’t know if they’re coming or going, what with those newfangled mobile phones and kids on Tinder and Grindr. What happened to meeting Miss Joan Hunter Dunn at the tennis club? And don’t get them started on electric hand dryers, or something unrecognised in the bagging area, or Indian call centres , or the impertinent computer asking for a password that has both capitals and little letters and numbers and more than eight digits.
Brexit is the fond belief that Britain is worse now than at some point in the foggy past where we achieved peak Blighty
We listen to the Brexit lot talk about the trade deals they’re going to make with Europe after we leave, and the blithe insouciance that what they’re offering instead of EU membership is a divorce where you can still have sex with your ex. They reckon they can get out of the marriage, keep the house, not pay alimony, take the kids out of school, stop the in-laws going to the doctor, get strict with the visiting rights, but, you know, still get a shag at the weekend and, obviously, see other people on the side.
Really, that’s their best offer? That’s the plan? To swagger into Brussels with Union Jack pants on and say: “ ’Ello luv, you’re looking nice today. Would you like some?”
When the rest of us ask how that’s really going to work, leavers reply, with Terry-Thomas smirks, that “they’re going to still really fancy us, honest, they’re gagging for us. Possibly not Merkel, but the bosses of Mercedes and those French vintners and cheesemakers, they can’t get enough of old John Bull. Of course they’re going to want to go on making the free market with two backs after we’ve got the decree nisi. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Have no doubt, this is a divorce. It’s not just business, it’s not going to be all reason and goodwill. Like all divorces, leaving Europe would be ugly and mean and hurtful, and it would lead to a great deal of poisonous xenophobia and racism, all the niggling personal prejudice that dumped, betrayed and thwarted people are prey to. And the racism and prejudice are, of course, weak points for us. The tortuous renegotiation with lawyers and courts will be bitter and vengeful, because divorces always are and, just in passing, this sovereignty thing we’re supposed to want back so badly, like Frodo’s ring, has nothing to do with you or me. We won’t notice it coming back, because we didn’t notice not having it in the first place.
Nine out of 10 economists say ‘remain in the EU’
You won’t wake up on June 24 and think: “Oh my word, my arthritis has gone! My teeth are suddenly whiter! Magically, I seem to know how to make a soufflé and I’m buff with the power of sovereignty.” This is something only politicians care about; it makes not a jot of difference to you or me if the Supreme Court is a bunch of strangely out-of-touch old gits in wigs in Westminster or a load of strangely out-of-touch old gits without wigs in Luxembourg. What matters is that we have as many judges as possible on the side of personal freedom.
Personally, I see nothing about our legislators in the UK that makes me feel I can confidently give them more power. The more checks and balances politicians have, the better for the rest of us. You can’t have too many wise heads and different opinions. If you’re really worried about red tape, by the way, it’s not just a European problem. We’re perfectly capable of coming up with our own rules and regulations and we have no shortage of jobsworths. Red tape may be annoying, but it is also there to protect your and my family from being lied to, poisoned and cheated.
The first “X” I ever put on a voting slip was to say yes to the EU. The first referendum was when I was 20 years old. This one will be in the week of my 62nd birthday. For nearly all my adult life, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been pleased and proud to be part of this great collective. If you ask me for my nationality, the truth is I feel more European than anything else. I am part of this culture, this European civilisation. I can walk into any gallery on our continent and completely understand the images and the stories on the walls. These people are my people and they have been for thousands of years. I can read books on subjects from Ancient Greece to Dark Ages Scandinavia, from Renaissance Italy to 19th-century France, and I don’t need the context or the landscape explained to me. The music of Europe, from its scales and its instruments to its rhythms and religion, is my music. The Renaissance, the rococo, the Romantics, the impressionists, gothic, baroque, neoclassicism, realism, expressionism, futurism, fauvism, cubism, dada, surrealism, postmodernism and kitsch were all European movements and none of them belongs to a single nation.
There is a reason why the Chinese are making fake Italian handbags and the Italians aren’t making fake Chinese ones. This European culture, without question or argument, is the greatest, most inventive, subtle, profound, beautiful and powerful genius that was ever contrived anywhere by anyone and it belongs to us. Just look at my day job — food. The change in food culture and pleasure has been enormous since we joined the EU, and that’s no coincidence. What we eat, the ingredients, the recipes, may come from around the world, but it is the collective to and fro of European interests, expertise and imagination that has made it all so very appetising and exciting.
The restaurant was a European invention, naturally. The first one in Paris was called The London Bridge.
Culture works and grows through the constant warp and weft of creators, producers, consumers, intellectuals and instinctive lovers. You can’t dictate or legislate for it, you can just make a place that encourages it and you can truncate it. You can make it harder and more grudging, you can put up barriers and you can build walls, but why on earth would you? This collective culture, this golden civilisation grown on this continent over thousands of years, has made everything we have and everything we are, why would you not want to be part of it?
I understand that if we leave we don’t have to hand back our library ticket for European civilisation, but why would we even think about it? In fact, the only ones who would are those old, philistine scared gits. Look at them, too frightened to join in."

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Humpty Dumpty

One of my favourite bits in Through the Looking Glass is when Humpty Dumpty tells Alice how he uses words:

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'"

I thought of this passage, when I read this blurb on the BBC website, promoting a forthcoming programme:

"Bettany Hughes investigates the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx. Born to an affluent Prussian family, Marx became an angry, idealistic radical, constantly on the run for his political agitating and incendiary writing. In Paris he first formulated his explosive analysis of capitalism and its corrosive effects on human nature. In Brussels he co-authored the Communist Manifesto with Frederick Engels. In London his obsessive theorizing dragged his family into poverty and tragedy. 

Marx's masterpiece Das Capital was largely overlooked in his lifetime, and only 11 people attended his funeral. Yet his ideas would generate one of the most influential, and divisive, ideologies in history. Drawing on expert opinion and new evidence, Bettany reveals the flesh-and-blood man and his groundbreaking ideas."

All well and good, except that the programme is called "Genius" and Marx is being presented as the first example of the species.

No. No. No. The last half century or more endured by those who have lived in countries run along Marxist lines does not provide evidence that Marx can be classified a genius - at least not from where I'm sitting wearing this nice cravat - or is it a belt? - atop this very fine wall*.

*  "What a beautiful belt you've got on!' Alice suddenly remarked.
(They had had quite enough of the subject of age, she thought: and if they really were to take turns in choosing subjects, it was her turn now.) 'At least,' she corrected herself on second thoughts, 'a beautiful cravat, I should have said—no, a belt, I mean—I beg your pardon!' she added in dismay, for Humpty Dumpty looked thoroughly offended, and she began to wish she hadn't chosen that subject. 'If I only knew,' she thought to herself, 'which was neck and which was waist!'
Evidently Humpty Dumpty was very angry, though he said nothing for a minute or two. When he did speak again, it was in a deep growl.
'It is a—most—provoking—thing,' he said at last, 'when a person doesn't know a cravat from a belt!'"

Saturday, 18 June 2016


At lunch yesterday someone's meal arrived with chips - not something you'd remark on in Belgium, almost one of those things where you're actually saying the same thing twice, (oxymoron?) There, if a meal didn't arrive with chips, it would be a very remarkable thing.

But I'm in Australia and yesterday only one of the three meals we ordered for lunch arrived with chips. By the end of the meal though not one of us had resisted their allure.  As a result, I began to wonder if anyone has ever in the history of the world since chips were invented been able to sit at a table with a bowl of the things and not eat at least one or two.

(In the same vein, I remember someone who lived in France wondering if a baguette had ever reached anyone's home after purchase, without the end being nibbled off.)

While we were in the restaurant, it started raining pretty heavily. At the end of lunch, going out into the street behind a group of people I did not know, I heard the one at the front observe to their companions that it was 'pissing down', and the next thing I knew I found myself forgetting about chips and wondering instead about when 'it's pouring down' was replaced by 'it's pissing down'. The latter seems to me to be far more the common usage these days, sadly, in my view. But I shall restrain myself from pulling out the soap box and climbing onto it to rant and rave about the sad decline in contemporary taste and manners.

Besides, I had a wider horizon on which to wonder - namely, whether as a species we are too far decayed to be redeemed. It was the dreadful murder of a British MP by a frenzied madman, possibly egged on by things he'd read and seen on the Internet, that prompted this line of gloomy wondering. For a change, the man's rage had not been whipped up by misinterpreters of a religion, so far as I know, but by haters of a different kind.

People have, since the event, been lecturing anyone who'll listen about not using inflammatory language, but it's too late for that, I reckon. Now the Internet exists, with all its wild pockets, that horse has well and truly bolted and there is no stopping the madness. Maybe trying to stay in touch with each other, attempting to lessen isolation between neighbours, might help, even if some of them seem a bit nutty. Easier said than done though, if your neighbours are slightly terrifying.

I felt pretty miserable as I pursued this line of thought. I was in the car by this time and the radio news was on. Some gotcha journalist had dug up the fact that the Prime Minister of Australia, while making an attempt to bridge gulfs between different groups by having a dinner to do with Ramadan at his house, had unwittingly entertained a guest who has in the past advocated violence to homosexuals.

As the guest's name was Shady, it does strike me that someone in the checking process probably ought to have given him a second glance, but it isn't really the most enormously huge deal, in my view. From my perspective, it looked like one of those increasingly regularly whipped up little storms in teacups beloved of journalists these days, the kinds of things that make me wonder whether the media has got muddled and begun to think that provoking outrage is their main role, rather than providing information.

Anyway the journalist asked their snidey little question and the Prime Minister began to answer it and I drove along half listening and feeling sad about the world. And suddenly the Prime Minister started talking about love and how really it is the only thing that matters and that had been the only point of the occasion, to promote love, which really is at the heart of everything and actually the most important thing in all of existence.

And as he spoke, I saw a bus stop on my left, and in it - the bus stops in Canberra are hideous, circular concrete things to look at from the outside but, much as I hate to admit it, really rather cozy when you are inside them - there was a young couple sitting on the curved bench running around the inner wall. They were holding hands and chatting. They looked happy and possibly not without love. The sight of them reminded me that not all humans are frenzied madmen or homophobic preachers or gotcha journalists.

Sadly, since that cheering moment, I have been unable to find any footage of the Prime Minister's odd little outbreak. Until I heard it, I'd been very unsure what I thought of him, but the honesty and lack of spin his words seemed to contain made me wonder if perhaps he is really quite all right and we may be in safe hands, (at least until 2 July, when we hold our election and he might find himself feeling no love from the Australian people).

Mind you, someone I'm very fond of suggests that what he said - as I recounted it - was just motherhood stuff and a frightful load of cliche. She may be correct - but she didn't actually hear it. And maybe I didn't either. Maybe I slipped briefly into a parallel universe or I had a moment of delusion. If so, it was nice while it lasted.

Sadly, that wasn't very long.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Chilling Illogic

One afternoon in 1996, a young man in Tasmania decided to go out and kill total strangers. By the time he had finished, 25 people were dead.

The Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, in the face of heavy opposition from the 'gun lobby', quickly introduced laws to restrict gun ownership. More recently, he wrote this article about that decision and about gun laws in general. It is worth reading in the light of events in the last week or so.

"EARLY in 2008 [my wife] Janette and I were guests of the former president, George H. W. Bush or ''41'', as he is affectionately known, at his Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.  I spoke to a warm and friendly audience of more than 300, who enthusiastically reacted until, in answer to a request to nominate the proudest actions of the Australian Government that I had led for almost 12 years,  I included the national gun control laws enacted after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996.

Having applauded my references to the liberation of East Timor, leaving Australia debt free, presiding over a large reduction in unemployment and standing beside the US in the global fight against terrorism, there was an audible gasp of amazement at my expressing pride in what Australia had done to limit the use of guns.

I had been given a sharp reminder that, despite the many things we have in common with our American friends, there is a huge cultural divide when it comes to the free availability of firearms.

Just under two weeks ago, my wife and I were in Dallas, Texas, when the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, took place.  The responses of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his presumed Republican opponent, were as predictable as they were disappointing.  While expressing sorrow at such a loss of life, both quickly said that they supported the Second Amendment to the US constitution: long regarded as providing an extensive right for Americans to bear arms.

The Second Amendment, crafted in the immediate post-revolutionary years, is more than 200 years old and was designed to protect the right of local communities to raise and maintain militia for use against external threats (including the newly formed national government!).  It bears no relationship at all to the circumstances of everyday life in America today.  Yet there is a near religious fervour about protecting the right of Americans to have their guns - and plenty of them.

In this respect it is worth noting that the local police claim that James Holmes, the man now formally charged over the Aurora shootings, had in his possession an AR15 assault rifle (similar to one used by Martin Bryant at Port Arthur), a shotgun, two Glock handguns and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.  All had been legally obtained.

Obama and Romney are both highly intelligent, decent men who care deeply about the safety of Americans.  Yet such is the strength of the pro-gun culture in their country that neither felt able to use the Aurora tragedy as a reason to start a serious debate on gun control.

There is more to this than merely the lobbying strength of the National Rifle Association and the proximity of the November presidential election.  It is hard to believe that their reaction would have been any different if the murders in Aurora had taken place immediately after the election of either Obama or Romney.  So deeply embedded is the gun culture of the US, that millions of law-abiding Americans truly believe that it is safer to own a gun, based on the chilling logic that because there are so many guns in circulation, one's own weapon is needed for self-protection.  To put it another way, the situation is so far gone there can be no turning back.

The murder rate in the US is roughly four times that in each of Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Even the most diehard supporter of guns must concede that America's lax firearms laws are a major part of the explanation for such a disparity.

On April 28 1996, Bryant, using two weapons, killed 35 people in Tasmania.  It was, at that time, the largest number of people who had died in a single series of incidents at the hands of one person.

The national gun control laws delivered by the Howard Government following this tragedy received bipartisan support.  They, nonetheless, caused internal difficulties for some of my then National Party colleagues.  Tim Fischer and John Anderson, then leader and deputy leader of the National Party federally, as well as Rob Borbidge, then National Party premier of Queensland, courageously faced down opponents in their own ranks to support a measure they knew to be in the national interest.  Many believed, in the months that followed, that hostility towards these gun laws played a role in the emergence of Pauline Hanson's One Nation cause.

These national gun laws have proven beneficial.  Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Law and Economics found that firearm homicides in Australia dropped 59 per cent between 1995 and 2006.  There was no offsetting increase in non-firearm-related murders.  Researchers at Harvard University in 2011 revealed that in the 18 years prior to the 1996 Australian laws, there were 13 gun massacres (four or more fatalities) in Australia, resulting in 102 deaths.  There have been none in that category since the Port Arthur laws.

A key component of the 1996 measure, which banned the sale, importation and possession of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, was a national buy-back scheme involving the compulsory forfeiture of newly illegal weapons.  Between 1996 and 1998 more than 700,000 guns were removed and destroyed.  This was one-fifth of Australia's estimated stock of firearms.  The equivalent in the US would have been 40 million guns.  Australia's action remains one of the largest destructions of civilian firearms.

Australia is a safer country as a result of what was done in 1996.  It will be the continuing responsibility of current and future federal and state governments to ensure the effectiveness of those anti-gun laws is never weakened.  The US is a country for which I have much affection.  There are many American traits which we Australians could well emulate to our great benefit.  But when it comes to guns, we have been right to take a radically different path.

John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

But Is It Gluten Free

I am reading a novel by John Buchan called Huntingtower. In its pages, I have just come across a description of a meal that might be straight out of Enid Blyton's Famous Five fantasies.

The two protagonists of Buchan's novel have just persuaded a widow in a village to give them beds for the night and now they are sitting down to a really good tea. I love posting fictional meals, so here is the passage about what exactly the old lady gives them to eat:

"A quarter of an hour later the two travellers, having been introduced to two spotless beds in the loft and having washed luxuriously at the pump in the backyard, were seated in Mrs Morran's kitchen before a meal which fulfilled their wildest dreams. She had been baking that morning, so there were white scones and barley scones, and oaten farles, and russet pancakes. There were three boiled eggs for each of them; there was a segment of an immense currant cake ('a present from my guid brither last Hogmanay'); there was a skim-milk cheese; there were several kinds of jam, and there was a pot of dark-gold heather honey. 'Try hinny and aitcake,' said their hostess. 'My man used to say he never fund onything as guid in a' his days.'"

(We are in Scotland, I should add, for those baffled by the rendering of the widow's accent.)

Sunday, 12 June 2016

I Wouldn't Start from Here

Oh dear. I'd just taken a look at Trump talking and consequently got the US presidential contest straight in my mind - that is, it has to be Hillary was the conclusion I'd come to - when along came Christopher Hitchens and his essay The Case against Hillary Clinton.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Peak Preaching

I had often seen photographs of Donald Trump. His ludicrous hairstyle was enough to make me think he was unlikely to be the ideal man for the job of President of the United States. Not because I think physical attributes matter, but because I think his decision to brush his hair frontwards so that it looks very peculiar is evidence that he has poor judgment.

Until a couple of days ago though, I had never seen or heard him speak. But, following a Tweeter's instructions, (I am a very obedient sort of person really), I clicked on a video link and actually saw Trump being interviewed. By the end of the clip I was genuinely baffled - and that's how I thought I would remain.

Why is this man so appealing, I wondered. In the interview, he kept repeating himself. He was not coherent. He appeared to have the kind of eyes that might concern you if he were your dog and you had to leave him alone with your children.

As often happens when I'm feeling in a bit of a muddle I decided to take a walk. And while I walked I thought I would take my mind off the disturbing puzzle of Donald Trump's popularity by listening to a podcast. The one I chose was from the London Review of Books. It was a recording of some kind of Edward Said memorial lecture. I don't know why I chose it as the speaker was Naomi Klein and I have never been a big fan of Naomi Klein. Perhaps my choice was a sign of poor judgment. Perhaps if I were a man I might brush my hair frontwards. I suspect we will never know. I hope not.

Anyway, unsurprisingly, given that this has been pretty much her one-note cry since she first came to prominence, Klein's message was essentially that we in the West are greedy and thoughtless and irredeemable. We have never acted from anything but self-interest, we are selfish and destructive and vile.

By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty downcast so I put away my podcast gadget and turned on the telly, hoping for something a bit cheering. A broadcast about the EU referendum in Britain appeared on the screen.

The programme featured, among others, Chris Patten, a Tory who was the last Governor of Hong Kong. In the course of his remarks about people who question the EU as an institution, he referred to their "spittle-flecked ways".

"Spittle-flecked"? I was shocked by the disdain in Patten's tone, the sneering. A snobbish sense of moral and intellectual superiority resonated in every syllable of the phrase.

Don't get me wrong - I am not a Remainian or a Brexiteer.  The EU question, it seems to me, is one where there are good arguments to be made on both sides. But let's leave it aside for the moment, as it wasn't the issue under discussion that attracted my attention when I listened to Patten's comment. What attracted my attention was the way that its tone echoed that of Naomi Klein in the lecture I'd just heard.

I imagine that Patten and Klein are probably not on the same side of politics, but at that moment I realised that they do have one thing in common. They are both elitists. They both belong in the overcrowded ranks of the self-righteous. They are both self-appointed celebrity opinion givers who, whenever they are given an opportunity, indulge their passion for telling others what to do and chastising their less enlightened, ("spittle-flecked") fellow citizens for their unspeakable stupidity. Klein's stock in trade is railing against the environmental, racist and gender-related errors of her fellows, not to mention their unforgivable flippancy in the face of inequality and inter-cultural misunderstanding. Patten appears to be armoured in a self-satisfaction built mainly on a belief that he is much, much cleverer than the riff-raff who make up the bulk of his nation's population.

Anyway, as Patten's contemptuous words boomed out of my telly, I heard the faint clink of a penny dropping in my head. Simultaneously, I was transported back several decades to a classroom in London where, as a six-year-old, I faced my most loathed - until that date, at least - teacher. Her name was Miss Pickard, and she couldn't bear me. I was too excitable, too exuberant, too clumsy, too impulsive and too eager. I was too alive, too untidy, too disorganised and too inclined to act before I thought. Proof of all this, of course, was that I was left-handed.

It was clear to me that Miss Pickard found me irretrievably revolting. Of course, I fully admit that I may have caused this situation myself, as very soon after we had encountered one another for the first time I had decided that she was prim, dull, shrewish, unimaginative and lacking in warmth.

I expected teachers to be enthusiastic and interesting. I didn't mind if they were quite odd, provided they amused me. If they had strict rules, I would obey them, provided they had gained my affection and respect. Miss Pickard did none of these things. Worse still, she loved rules purely for their own sake.

Miss Pickard - at least so it seemed from where I was standing, (and I do understand that when you are only three foot four your perspective may be skewed somewhat) - very much enjoyed imposing restrictions on her charges, even if those restrictions were unnecessary. On top of this, she exhibited no lovable characteristic quirks. Furthermore, she didn't appreciate such things in others. She wasn't intrigued by individuality. The qualities Miss Pickard held dear were neatness, quietness and orderliness. The norm she wanted us to conform to was that of a rule-observing, unquestioning, silent child, with no ink spotted about their uniform and no rips on their clothes or skin from tripping over in their rush to get to the playground. The more we deviated from that norm, the less she appreciated us.

It was very clear to me that I was never going to win Miss Pickard's approval. In those circumstances, my childish reaction was to flout her at every turn.

Could this be what is happening today in politics?  Is there a similarity between my reaction to Miss Pickard and the attitudes of Trump supporters? Are we seeing a spasm of hurt spite, a kind of bloody minded "up yours" to all those prominent disapproving elitists who have set themselves up as the custodians of correctness in our world? Is the Trump phenomenon, (and, as in so many things, Australia, I would like to point out, pioneered the clown politician figure when Mr Clive Palmer became a force to be reckoned with, [ah, patriotic pride]), caused by a rift in society? Are the people who claim to believe most fervently in democracy inflaming their fellow citizens with their keenness to lecture and their unwillingness to listen to large sections of the public whose points of view they regard as beneath contempt?

If the answer is yes, then the only solution is to reestablish communication between the two sectors. For that to happen, the Kleins and the Pattens, the Junckers and the Benedict Cumberbatchs and all the rest of the class of people who appear never to question their own rightness will need to learn to listen as well as to proclaim.

There is an urgency about this too. Because, judging by that interview, Donald Trump is a very frightening prospect indeed.

I hope that doesn't mean that I have crossed over and become one of the preachers I have just railed against. Oh well, let's cheer ourselves up with a bit of Dusty, who was fond of preachers' progeny apparently: