Make a point of visiting us weekly!        Tell a friend about us. The Rich Tapestry of Life Page This is PAGE FORTY   - Commentators Comment To return to “Tapestry CONTENTS”, CLICK HERE

IN THE MEANTIME (May 1979 comparisons between elections, American and British. All the excitement appears during the hustings; the read mundane stuff follows. Insights from the man who brought us Letter from America every week )

In the end, it seemed to me, the British campaign resolved itself into a hoarse exchange between two Billy Grahams. In the final days, the Labourites were warning us of a coming orgy of capitalist greed and 'a free for all', and the Conservatives were frightening us with the nightmare of a slave state hell-bent for Moscow.

But then, at last, there is a winner. And the new President or Prime Minister who, through the fever of the campaign had declared the great aim to be nothing less than to usher in the Great Society or the New Britain, must get down to the business of government: which is to decide whether or not to give truck-drivers a four-day week, to put a national sales tax on bran flakes, to call out the troops in a garbage strike, to recognize the latest African dictator, to subsidize the shoe industry bankrupted by Italian imports, to make social security cover middle-aged immigrants.

The glitter of the election fades, and it is then seen to be only a christening, a wedding, a graduation ceremony, a holy war, a re­volution even: it is a firework display, a gaudy promise of what  life ought to be, not life itself. And since in all Western democracies the popular vote is about evenly divided, since there is – thank God – no thumping majority for a single ideology, the incoming government liquidates its rhetoric and the outgoing government promises a livelier firework show next time. In the meantime, everybody enters what a modern poet calls those `spaces between stars' which say what 'common-sense has seen'. We settle down to the long grey pull of mending-and-making-do, the day-to-day duties and favours and shenanigans and small kindnesses, and the grumbles and chores of life.  .

(Alistair Cook: Letters from America 1969-1979)

FIDGETS ON THE MARCH  (February 2007 A humorous glimpse at how the little things in life can impact us.)

I once knew a young man who tapped his fingers on the table while he spoke. He didn't tap them loudly. He just tapped them to accompany the rhythm of what he was saying, so that the general effect was more varied than monotonous. But it drove me crazy, and I went even crazier because I wasn't allowed to say that I was going crazy. In the polite Anglo-Saxon culture from which the Australian culture derives you don't tell people who have the fidgets to stop fidgeting. This young man was in our house quite a lot, tapping away for a couple of years, and never once did I feel that I had the leeway to tell him to stop doing that or I would arrange to have him escorted outside and inserted upside down into the wheelie bin for compost-able matter.

Then he married one of my daughters and I felt free to speak. I spoke gently, trying to leave room for the consideration that I might be unusually sensitive to the fidgets in other people, and might even have a case of the fidgets myself that I didn't know about. The possibility that there are deliberate cases of the fidgets is one that we will have to examine, but surely the fidgets in general are just a sign of nervous energy, and almost all young people fidget. My son-in-law has been exemplary since I finally felt free to explain my point with the aid of a mallet, and lately he hasn't even needed to keep his hands in his pockets during a conversation.

(Clive James: A Point of View)

Another Day's Holiday? Please, Give Me a Break (January 2001. More mundane struggles of experience brought to life by the man who tells it like it is - and beyond)

According to a poll, the vast majority of people ques­tioned as they struggled back to work last week thought that England should have followed Scotland's lead and made Tuesday a bank holiday.

Two things strike me as odd here. First, that anyone could be bothered to undertake such research and, second, that anyone in their right mind could think that the Christmas break was in some way too short.

I took ten days off and by 11 o'clock on the first mor­ning I had drunk fourteen cups of coffee, read all the newspapers and the Guardian and then ... and then what?

By lunchtime I was so bored that I decided to hang a few pictures. So I found a hammer, and later a man came to replaster the bits of wall I had demolished. Then I tried to fix the electric gates, which work only when there's an omega in the month. So I went down the drive with a spanner, and later another man came to put them back together again.

I was just about to start on the Aga, which had broken down on Christmas Eve, as they do, when my wife took me on one side by my earlobe and explained that builders do not, on the whole, spend their spare time writing, so writers should not build on their days off. It's expensive and it can be dangerous, she said.

(The Amazing World according to Jeremy Clarkson)

Are the people who are interviewed different from the rest of us? (From the writing of he man who exposed so many other men and women, a glimpse of a well-known figure overstepping the mark).

Tony Blair was once at a European Union summit in Holland at which all the heads of government had been invited to an evening reception. Like the other politicians, he worked the room with a grip-and-grin handshake introduction, at ease in his own importance. Thrusting his hand out to a rather older woman, he smiled, “Hello, I'm Tony Blair.”  “And I'm Beatrix,” came the reply. Before he could stop himself, Blair had asked the Queen of the Netherlands, “And what do you do, Beatrix?”

Very few of the people I interview are troubled by self-doubt. But take away the trappings of office, the staff and outriders, the uniforms or guns, and they are little different from, and often less impressive than, the person who runs the local Scout group or works at the Citizens Advice Bureau. Quite apart from the capacity for blunders like that of Tony Blair, they may — like Gordon Brown or David Cameron — be visited by awful family tragedy, have embarrassing relatives, find that their bodies let them down or their children don't care for them. They're just human beings.

(Jeremy Paxman: A Life in Questions)

It's all just one big arcade game  (27 August 2006.  As this is such a wonderful example of the art of taking miscellaneous information and weaving it together to produce humour, we include the entire article here.)

JUST IN CASE YOU WERE thinking of going out today, may I remind you that it was exactly nine years ago that a camel, minding its own business at Knowsley Safari Park, Merseyside, was killed by lightning. The chances of this happening are apparently slight. You are about as likely to be fried from above as you are to go to eternal rest by falling out of bed.

Indeed, I can go one further and tell you that in America there is a higher probability of meeting your maker via legal execution than by lightning strike. I think this says more about the American judicial system than it does about the vagaries of weather. Nevertheless, however unlikely the event, I would feel bad if I hadn't warned you.

It would seem that every minute of every day there are about 1,800 thunderstorms threatening camels and the rest of the Ark with lightning somewhere on Earth. For reasons I can't fathom, most casualties occur on a Sunday afternoon. My suspicion is that this is because it is a time when the bulk of golfers are adamantly lifting metal sticks above their heads in defiance of good sense.

Coming across the demise of the Knowsley camel reminded me of unlucky Major Summerford. The major was a good British egg who fought at Flanders. Sadly, in February 1918, he was knocked off his horse by a flash of lightning and paralysed from the waist down.

He retired and moved to Canada. Six years later he was fish­ing when, bam, more lightning, and his entire right side was paralysed. Summerford spent two years retraining himself to walk, only to be dashed once more by a bolt from above in the summer of 1930 that finally scuppered all movement. He died two years later and was laid to rest. Four years after his demise his tombstone was destroyed by lightning.

The study of lightning is called keraunopathology and, accord­ing to keraunopathologists, eighty per cent of all people hit by lightning are male, because men are five times more likely than women to be struck by a bolt from the blue. (I have read that in Britain two women were killed in 1999 by lightning conducted through the underwiring in their bras, but that claim hasn't, as it were, been upheld.)

Generally, I don't take part in games of chance. I regard the lottery as a stealth tax on people who aren't good at maths. I also think it is a small jump from studying the statistics of chance to believing that every coincidence helps build a case for the fact that we are all just participants in some giant arcade game. Albert Einstein said that coincidence was 'God's way of remaining anonymous', but it is sometimes hard to imagine why the good Lord would bother, unless he's just having a laugh.

There is, for example, the strange tale of Anthony Hopkins and his part in the film The Girl from Petrovka. The movie was based on a book written by George Feifer, and when Hopkins got the part he went to Charing Cross Road, in central London, to buy a copy. Unable to find one, he headed home. At the sta­tion, he noticed a book abandoned on a bench. It was the missing tome.

Two years later, while filming in Vienna, Hopkins was visited by Feifer. The actor apparently told his story to the author, who said he had lent his own copy of the book, complete with anno­tations in the margins, to a friend who had lost it in London. Well, yes, it was the very book Hopkins had found.

I can move swiftly from tales of curiosity to full-blown celestial conspiracies. You have only to examine the deaths of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy to begin to see a curious pattern — they were both assassinated on a Friday while beside their wives, one in Ford's theatre, the other in a Ford motor car, they were elected 100 years apart, they both had seven letters in their last names ... OK, it's getting silly but you catch my drift.

What does it all mean? Probably very little. We know that life is 'a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing', so why do I care about all this? Well, here is a strange thing. I am hoping to move house by Christmas, but was recently told I had as much chance of that as a camel has of being hit by lightning. My question is: what are the chances of someone using that bizarre expression to me, the only person I can think of who might know that particular statistical possi­bility?


    Top of page