Weekly Column

Any fool can be uncomfortable

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Most people enjoyed the old Betjeman poem I quoted last week (‘Safe Cornish Holidays before the Storm’); but one person accused me of ‘frivolity’; another thought I should not have gone on holiday at all, demanding instead that the House should be recalled (to what purpose?); someone was of the view that a Cornish holiday must be far more exclusive and expensive than an overseas one, thereby demonstrating that I was ‘not aware of the harshness of real life’, nor of the various crises facing us after the Summer. He obviously had not read the title of the poem.The reality is that through my surgeries, constant constituency engagements and visits of all kinds and my vast mailbox, every one of which I read, I am pretty well up to speed with the realities of life. Yet hair shirted virtue signalling achieves nothing. Nor do I believe that however awful the circumstances may be one should necessarily go around with a long face berating the World and all that is wrong with it. Doing so may in fact be a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. If you are cheerful optimist things tend to work out for the best; if you are a committed gloomster, you can but expect the worst. Did you see that Andover Town Council have refused the £4000 necessary to re-appoint the Town Crier “because there is nothing much to crow about these days”. But surely a town crier like Royal Wootton Bassett’s Owen Collier’s very job is to seek out precisely those events and news which will cheer us all up.The herd instinct is worst of all. Because everyone else seems to be saying that everything is ghastly, so must we. There is no bandwagon too gloomy for the old pundit in the corner of the pub with his “not like it used to be; gone to H… in a handcart; couldn’t run a p… up in a brewery” fake wisdom. By contrast, my own instinct is to halt and reverse the bandwagon, divert the galloping herd towards sunnier uplands and cut though the gloomy pessimism of so many pundits. I would even go so far as to argue that the worse things are the more cheerful and positive one should become. Think of ENSA, Bob Hope, Larry Olivier and Vera Lynn who cheered us all up in the darkest of days. Think of Churchill “We will never surrender…”We don’t want to hear from Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss about what a pile of problems will be facing whoever it is becomes PM. We want to hear what they are planning to do about it; how they are going to make Britain a better place, not how ghastly it all is. I am firmly of the view that there is no such thing as a problem. Either there is a solution of one kind or another; or if you really can’t mend it, then you are just going to have to live with it. Either way round it stops being a problem. Not only that, but if you pile all your problems real or imagined up in a great heap, the less and less solvable they become. What you should do is separate your problems out. They seem much less fearsome on their own; you can think through each separately and quietly; work from the known to the unknown. Life is a great ball of insolvable tangled up string. Yet all you need to do is find an end or two and start teasing and sooner or later it will all straighten itself out.So let us now approach the challenging times which lie ahead- the economy, climate, Ukraine, immigration, fuel prices, health, education and so much more not as a great pile of insoluble problems; but with a cheerful and optimistic spring in our (holidayed) step, as a series of matters each of which is perfectly capable of solution. As they used to say in the Army “Any fool can be uncomfortable.”

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James Gray
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August 18, 2022