Sunday 15 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'No engaging with enemy of reality for Boris'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

A few minutes into the Tory TV game-show called Our Next Prime Minister, I started thinking about Chernobyl.

It has been a surprise hit, Chernobyl, with its underlying theme that institutionalised dishonesty, if left unchecked, has the potential to destroy the actual world.

The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg was thinking about something else, when she tweeted: "I hate to be trivial but why did Rory Stewart take his tie off after a few minutes?"

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Well now… if it's trivia we're talking about, there is one image which has defined the style of TV reporting during the past few years in Britain, and it's not Rory Stewart taking off his tie. It is that of the distinguished correspondents gathered outside some grand residence in London, waiting for the one they giddily call "Boris" to emerge.

There's a speech that Rory Stewart made in the House about hedgehogs that is infinitely more serious than any of that, and if they were to think it through, they might realise that Stewart taking his tie off was actually quite significant - after all, the electorate in this case consists of the members of the Tory party, and the man who will take his tie off in these circumstances is one who knows he is going to lose, and doesn't care.

To a Tory member, the idea of the rest of the UK being Brexited out of existence seems to be acceptable, but breaching a dress code would be the ultimate delinquency - not only would they never vote for such a man to be leader, they'd have him chucked out of the golf club for that.

But if you really wanted to say something serious about this "debate", you'd report it as a straight contest between Stewart, who recognises the existence of objective reality, and the others who are denying it.

That was "the story" - that the winner of the prize of UK prime minister will be someone who does not care for reality, or even acknowledge it. Indeed, in the case of Johnson there is even some speculation as to how many of his own children he acknowledges.

But no correspondent that I saw put it like that. They spoke about how each of the candidates "performed", but they didn't seem to connect with Stewart's repeated questions to "Boris" to explain how he plans to get a deal with people who have stated many times they have already done that deal, or indeed how he plans to get a no-deal which he knows will not get through Parliament.

Reality, that errant whore, is Boris's enemy. Truth is a thing that has them all terrified, with the Tories and many of the correspondents engaged in a constant struggle to keep their distance from it. And to protect our old friends "the people" from the deeper aspects of it, indeed from any aspect of it.

Michael Gove tried to relate to "the people", with his cracking line that "we sometimes have extra time in football matches in order to slot home the winner".

Of course, you don't have extra time if you're already 5-0 down at the end of normal time - but leaving that aside, the Gover in his efforts to be folksy, to "slot home the winner", sounded like one of those Pathe newsreel commentators from the 1930s, declaring, "Hip Hip Hooray we're on the Road to Wembley Way".

Yet on the night, this was a relatively minor breach of the rules of Reality, and the laws of Truth. The scene overall was one big pathological lie, and so Stewart, the only one who could see it for what it was, had to be given the red card, as the Gover might put it.

For simply declining to join in the mass delusion of the Brexiters, he became a kind of existential threat to them. He was wrecking their buzz. And to compound this sense of a nation unhinged, you needed to remind yourself that the two hollow men - Johnson and Hunt - who are left, and the electorate to whom they are pandering, will be among those who are least affected by these garbled fantasies of theirs - you needed to remind yourself, because the Westminster correspondents will not remind you, because as they see it, Rory Stewart was just advocating different policies to the others.

In this version of the game, to say that night follows day becomes a mere matter of political opinion, which must immediately be rebutted by a Brexiteer condemning this whole night-follows-day thing as yet another diktat from Brussels.

In this country, we can see a Government in denial about the housing crisis, oblivious to the grief it is causing. We know what it looks like, this determined evasion of a larger truth, this refusal to engage with reality. We know how draining it is, what a waste of everyone's time and money and energy.

Crank that up a hundred-fold and you have England, where the next prime minister will be one who "believes in Brexit", the way they believed whatever they needed to believe in the old Soviet Union. Waiting for the meltdown.

Scorsese curates the priceless genius of Dylan

"William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll..."

It is the first line of Bob Dylan's The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, and it is a great first line, followed by about 40 other great lines, written in 1963, the year that the events of the song took place "at a Baltimore hotel society gathering".

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll, "with a cane that he twirled round his diamond ring finger". He had "high office relations in the politics of Maryland". She was "a maid in the kitchen, she was 51 years old and gave birth to 10 children…"

I could end up quoting the whole thing to you, if you're not careful, because I find it all mesmerisingly perfect, the way Dylan's version of this true story rises to such heights of cold fury, such loathing for William Zanzinger and for the system which gave him a six-month sentence, and such pity for Hattie Carroll.

And the very names of the people and the places seem to lend this richness and righteousness to the words and the music, making a ridiculously beautiful thing out of a horrible state of affairs.

I was watching Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese on Netflix, and I was happy to see Joan Baez declaring this song to be one of Dylan's finest, because that's how I've been calling it for a long time too.

I'd compare it to the best of Yeats, except it's better than that, because Dylan is also singing very well and playing the guitar.

Indeed, apart from some tremendous performances by Dylan and his band at various gigs on the Rolling Thunder tour, I especially liked Allen Ginsberg's generous acceptance that his poetry, and any other poetry if it comes to that, had become the poor relation of whatever Dylan and his kind were doing - and Dylan agreed with this, and I agree with both of them.

He praised Ginsberg for his breakthrough line that "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked," but added that the great lines that people remember now, are the lyrics of songs: "Your cheatin' heart will make you weep... What a difference a day makes… Don't change a hair for me, not if you care for me… Ain't misbehavin'…"

I didn't entirely agree with those parts of the film which Scorsese essentially made up - interviews with fictional characters and the like - but I feel that his ultimate purpose here was to serve humanity in the manner of an archaeologist curating ancient treasures.

Certainly in a thousand years' time they will be watching Joni Mitchell accompanied by Dylan and Roger McGuinn trying out this new song of hers inspired by the tour and by her brief relationship with playwright Sam Shepard, called Coyote. Oh, and there's Gordon Lightfoot just hanging around at the back of the room, while Mitchell, Dylan and McGuinn run through the almost-finished masterpiece.

"No regrets Coyote…"

Which is not a bad first line either.

Going back to where it all began, and the bookies are still winning

I was able to enjoy Frankie Dettori winning a load of races at Royal Ascot in real time, because usually I have these big meetings on the telly with the sound turned down - I find that it connects me to my teenage years, when I was fiercely devoted to horse racing, particularly the Flat.

My father had taken me to a few race meetings and I'd become hooked to the point of obsession. I would note the results of races at all meetings as they were announced on RTE radio - compiling a database, as it were, my own personal Form Book. I suppose I wanted to be some kind of a professional gambler when I grew up, but being an amateur would have been fine too - I was doing this for the love of it, not the money.

And indeed I would eventually learn that you wouldn't want to be doing it for the money, because no matter how much you knew, there was something about horses running around a track that tended to defeat even the best-informed minds, the most thorough analysis.

They were… how can I put it? They were… horses.

So I just drifted away from it in my 20s, convinced that there was something so inherently foolish about backing horses, you could only do it for a laugh - which in an odd way, meant it was no fun.

And I've never gone back to it, though I still keep an eye on the big meetings. Even with the sound off, there is some deep affection for the Turf that I have never lost.

Partly it's a sense of mystery, that you can be so attached to something in your youth, only to let it go when life gets more complicated. Then it occurs to me that I have, after all, been writing about online gambling and sports betting and suchlike, for much of this century.

But maybe the research was done much earlier - and I have just gone back to where I started, taking on the bookies.

And they're still winning.

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