THE CLOWN DUELS

Yeah, I’m back again for another isolated observation in my occasional series of ‘Stars on 45’-style topical medleys. But while I might poke and prod a few minor irritants today, they essentially remain of a trivial nature to me; none of them irritate me enough to bring forth the froth to my mouth – unlike the subjects that fire the warring extremes on Twitter. One might almost imagine they have nothing else going on in their lives. Anyway, it felt right to endure one more unwelcome anniversary by stepping out of the shade for a few minutes; after all, if I leave this neglected baby of mine in the sun too long the poor whelp risks suffocation by spam – mostly in ‘Russian’ by the look of its distinctly Slavic appearance. By Jove, I’m being spied on!

God knows why I could possibly be of any interest to whatever name the KGB goes under these days, but it’s moderately exciting to think I am. Maybe Vlad’s online agitators think everyone here is pretending to be a ‘Communist’ now and they’re curious. I’m as guilty as the next spoon when it comes to hankering after something before your own time simply because your own time is uninspiring and your perception of the time before your own has been shaped by something you read or a movie you saw. But it’s a risky business. When one has no first-hand experience of something intriguing, it acquires a romantic allure and can be embraced without any awareness of its less attractive realities.

The latest fashion for proclaiming one’s self a Communist is one that is only being followed by those with no personal memory of life behind the Iron Curtain. As far as irrelevant ideologies go, Communism is currently the fatuous political equivalent of a Ramones T-shirt, generally worn by people of an upbringing untroubled by hardship whose way of coping with guilt over their good fortune is to lecture those without it how they should live their lives. Each generation of Trotsky groupies cherry-picking Marx’s greatest hits and compiling its own mix-tape knows what’s best for the rest of us; and it’s ironic that the current crop’s default insult is to call their opponents Nazis when they themselves espouse a belief system responsible for more death and misery in the last century than even Adolf’s mob managed.

Great in theory, terrible in practice, Communism’s good intentions have been open to abuse from day one simply because the system makes it easier for the worst side of human nature to assert itself than even the far-from faultless Capitalism can boast. International sporting events being beamed into my childhood living room gave the names of now-defunct countries such as East Germany, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia an undeniably nostalgic ring – as did the pronunciation of them by British TV commentators sounding as though they had socks stuffed in their mouths. But that’s as far as the nostalgia goes. Communism is not some forgotten musical genre from the 70s long overdue for critical reappraisal in ‘Mojo’ or ‘Uncut’. Just ask the good people of North Korea.

I have a particular fondness for the Regency era, but as no one alive today experienced it, reading written accounts in the absence of living testimony is the closest I or any other interested party can get to it. Therefore, safe in the knowledge I’ll never be put in such a position, I can comfortably declare life would be so much easier if gentlemen could still duel. Yes, it was an antiquated and illegal method of settling arguments over ‘honour’ even in the century that finally saw it disappear from civilian circles (i.e. the nineteenth); but it lingered for several decades as a controversial means of redressing a slight on one’s character or simply ending a long-running dispute. For all the talk of Cabinet ructions today, the incumbent Government Ministers don’t come close to their predecessors.

In 1809, Lord Castlereagh (Secretary of State for War and the Colonies) challenged long-time critic and Foreign Secretary George Canning to a duel on Putney Heath, a clandestine clash that resulted in amateur shot Canning being wounded in the thigh. Twenty years later during his stint at PM, the Duke of Wellington challenged the Earl of Winchilsea to a duel on Battersea Fields, sparked by the latter’s opposition to Catholic Emancipation. The Duke missed whilst the Earl refrained from firing; honour was upheld. Hard to imagine today’s Tory Brexiteers and Remoaners sorting out their differences in the same manner, but one cannot help but picture it as an alternative solution to political differences that conventional means seem incapable of resolving. Who knows what form Brexit might take were those involved in its implementation able to lock swords or aim pistols at the crack of dawn? Personally, there are some in this world I’d love to challenge to a duel tomorrow; and even knowing I could be mortally wounded wouldn’t dissuade me, as I can think of far worse ways to go. Alas, as ever, I am a man out of time.

Ironic in a way that an item of clothing one always associates with Regency duellists – the waistcoat – has experienced an unexpected resurgence of popularity this summer courtesy of Gareth Southgate. Unusually dapper for an England manager, Southgate worked wonders with the limited means at his disposal during a World Cup in which team spirit triumphed over the Prima donna superstar; his refusal to sanction a homecoming victory parade for a team that didn’t win anything is also a refreshing change that goes against the tiresome ‘plucky Brit’ strain of celebrating failure in the absence of success. Eddie the bloody Eagle can probably be blamed for that. Mind you, maybe we could play the Croatia game again – y’know, make it a ‘People’s Replay’ now that we have a better understanding of how the aim is to prevent the opposition from scoring. Best of three, eh? I’m sure Gary Lineker would tweet his approval.

Something non-toxic coming out of Russia was a welcome contradiction to the ongoing narrative, though headline-writers quickly focused on another defining characteristic of the summer. While that exceptional heat-wave was viewed by some as the harbinger of the climate apocalypse, to others it was just another of those sweaty intermissions we have every few years. More people seemed concerned the nation was poised to run out of beer during the World Cup than by the fact that every summer from now on threatens to evoke the kind of comparisons with 1976 that are destined to rival Fleet Street’s inevitable references to 1963 come each winter. Of course, if long hot summers are to be normalised, it sadly reduces the comical sight of red-skinned natives wincing with every step in their air-conditioned Crocs, as I should imagine most are now aware enough of what the sun can do to pale flesh to take precautions beforehand. Anyway, it’s already started raining again.

I don’t think the expression ‘burning the post-midnight oil’ actually exists, but I hereby invent it because it seems more applicable to the twilight zone I inhabit. Hell, a heat-wave is never conducive to a good night’s sleep, for one thing; but I was still active at 3.00 or 4.00am six months ago, back when my frozen frame was dependent on a fan heater as well as an invaluable electric blanket (when I felt I ought to finally drag myself towards the mattress whose warmth is strictly artificially-induced). Therefore, I can’t blame this joyless interlude devoid of all beauty on the summer. At the moment, brief bursts of creative energy just aren’t enough to let the sunshine in. Look at the example below and be fooled into believing it’s the work of a man as sharp as the blade that duellists once pierced a waistcoat with. It’s not. But it’s quite funny if you like that sort of thing. Anyway, I’ll shut up and keep trying until I’ve awakened from my dream of life.

 

© The Editor