A good deal of what has constituted headline news over the past few days has been covered here before, and even if a story develops and takes on a different shape, a commentator can struggle to add something new to what has already been said. The nature of the Winegum – preferring to put most of what needs to be said on a subject into one post or perhaps a handful spread over several weeks – means there has to be a dramatic development in order for a fresh perspective. I suppose I could’ve written something about Prince Andrew; but I did that back in August.
Granted, HRH’s unprecedented act of television hara-kiri on Saturday night perhaps warranted a post; but social media spent most of the weekend doing what social media does best when it responds to a story by putting its most waspish hat on. I didn’t feel it was possible to top the endless spoof reviews of the Woking branch of Pizza Express. There were references to a surprising absence of sweat when enjoying an especially spicy pizza, a pizza that made such a deep impression it remained engrained on the memory whilst all around it utterly vanished, including meeting pretty young girls and having one’s photo taken with them. And at least we all now know what to do when ending a friendship – simply ceasing contact and ignoring their calls is not the way to do it; instead, you spend four days as their house-guest. Oh, and if you happen to be one of the world’s most recognisable public figures, with guaranteed Paparazzi snappers on your tail, you go for a stroll in Central Park. Stupid or arrogant? From everything I can gather it seems Prince Andrew is an unappealing blend of both.
Whether or not he enjoyed an intimate moment with a 17-year-old girl – an ‘action’ (as he would put it) that even US law (unlike the media) recognises as the action of a pederast rather than a paedophile – Andrew came across as a little boy who had done something naughty and would not take the George Washington route by owning up to it, instead digging himself a hole that grew deeper with each denial. Unlike Diana’s self-pitying confessional back in the 90s, Andrew didn’t come across as someone wanting the world to feel sorry for him – more someone who imagined the audience to be even stupider than him by believing him; and there’s nothing quite so funny as someone who thinks he’s smart and blatantly isn’t.
Just over 20 years ago, not long after Andrew’s equally nauseating ex had been exposed as a toe-sucker, brother Brian was present during the gift-wrapping of Britain’s final Far East imperial possession for its nearest neighbour. Despite Prince Charles’ scathing observations on 1997 events in Hong Kong, the transition itself was a smooth one; arranged well in advance, it had none of the spontaneous drama that had redrawn the map of Europe eight years earlier. Yes, there were bloody moments in Romania, though the brutal reprisals were mercifully brief; in East Germany, the armed enforcers of the system stood by and let it happen because they knew they were beaten. Just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, there had been a reminder that people power can be ruthlessly crushed on the very streets it sprang from – a watershed that exacerbated nerves over the prospect of Hong Kong being absorbed into Mother China’s suffocating bosom.
A memorable episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which the family accompany Marge’s ugly sisters to Beijing in order to adopt a baby sees Homer wander into Tiananmen Square and come across a plaque that reads ‘In 1989, nothing happened here’. That was probably not far from the official Chinese line for a long time, but the shadow of the student revolution that never was has no doubt lingered at the back of revolutionary Hong Kong minds ever since. Hong Kong youth born after the Handover, let alone the Tiananmen Square Massacre, know the potential risks involved in standing up to China, yet it would appear that many of them spearheading the current insurrection in Hong Kong now feel they have nothing to lose. There certainly appears to be a strain of nihilism governing the actions of some, and it’s difficult to see their brave stance ending in anything other than tears.
After months of disruptive protests, the siege of the Polytechnic University in Kowloon has taken events onto a scary new level. Watching scenes shot behind the campus barricades on TV, I was reminded not only of the improvised rebellion that marked the outbreak of the Northern Ireland Troubles fifty years ago – echoes of the DIY petrol bombs hurled from rooftops at the RUC; but the use of catapults recalled medieval sieges. So bizarre was the sight, I half-expected the protestors to launch a dead cow at the Hong Kong police from the battlements in the manner of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. It was both darkly comic and disturbingly frightening, for you can foresee the awful outcome – and I suspect the 100 or so still rumoured to be holding out can too. It’s all so horribly inevitable.
Many have attempted to escape the fortress since the siege began on Sunday, but few have managed it; the police have completely encircled the campus and claim that over 600 of the protestors have surrendered. This was after police retaliated to the catapults and petrol bombs with tear gas. Around 20 years ago, I remember a resident of the shared house I lived in charging indoors in the middle of the night having evaded arrest (for what, I cannot recall); unfortunately for him, before he slipped their grip the boys-in-blue had sprayed some mace-like substance to disable him. He’d still managed to get away, but his face was on fire; as I watched him furiously splashing water on his pained countenance, I moved a little too close and was smacked in the kisser by a stinging force-field that caused me to immediately pull back. If that’s just a miniscule taste of what tear gas can do, its employment in Hong Kong shouldn’t be seen as the police treating the protestors lightly.
Of course, the constant fear throughout all of this has been the anticipation of reprisals from mainland China, though so far China – probably mindful of international opinion – has shown remarkable restraint, leaving the Hong Kong police to handle things. It’s possible the ending of the siege at the Polytechnic University could be the beginning of the end of this current wave of protests, though if it isn’t one wonders how much longer China will allow the situation to go on. And when one looks at the Kowloon campus and the fate awaiting those still there, it does tend to put the pathetic, privileged complaints of western students into perspective; this is real life or death stuff, not quibbling over the offensiveness of bloody pronouns.
Probably having one eye on post-Brexit trade deals, the response from the British Government over the chaos in the old colony has been somewhat muted; however, despite our intentions to uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ promise of the Sino-British Joint Declaration we were party to, there’s very little Britain can do. Besides, there are other political distractions over here at the moment. We have the first televised head-to-head of the General Election to look forward to on ITV this evening, restricted to a strict Boris Vs Jezza clash, with the High Court having rather amusingly denied Swinson and Sturgeon the chance to add some anti-democratic Scottish spice to proceedings. So, once again, it’s dumb and dumber. And if that prospect is as depressing to you as everything else hogging the headlines, let’s lighten the mood with two pictures of a kitten that sleeps like a human. Spread the love…
© The Editor