10/01/2021

A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

The Day the Crazy Died?

 

After four years of craziness, the droll antics of our Dear Leader lost most of their amusement value this week. But fortunately for the Gentle Readers of this column, Crazy is a hardy perennial in this town. At the Dear Leader's behest, the craziest of his supporters crossed a line for which neither he nor they will ever be forgiven, storming the Capitol building. Even Dear Leader's own aides have been telling journalists that they believe he is unhinged, divorced from events and reality, and even actively excited by the scenes of violence sweeping through the Capitol (forgive us the admittedly tasteful image, just the facts, ma'am, just the facts). The Vice President and some Cabinet Officers have quietly discussed invoking the 25th Amendment, the mechanism for removing a President deemed incapable of performing the duties of office for reasons physical or mental.

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Insane he may be, but Dear Leader is still cunning enough to realize he might have just stepped over the edge, and like Wiley E. Coyote he is now flailing the arms and the legs wildly to get himself safely back on the cliff top. Shortly after Congress completed the process of certifying the election of Joe Biden and Kamal Harris, the Dear Leader had his body man tweet that he'd cooperate in an orderly transition (Dear Leader's own account had been put in Twitter Jail for twelve hours). Yesterday he made a canned, affectless statement acknowledging that a change will happen on 20 January. Further proof, if any is needed, that a bully knows when it's time to grovel and crawl away to live for another day. Dear Leader's uncharacteristic silence suggests that he is indeed very worried about the prospect of being further disgraced as the Democratic leadership has called for his removal from office, whether through the 25th Amendment or by impeachment.  

 

Thankfully for the future of your Intrepid Reporter's column, none of this is sufficient to deter his craziest followers from probing ever new depths of lunacy. Slate noted that less than 24 hours after the dumbest coup attempt in history, two of them, Reps. Mat Gaetz and Paul Gosar, "gunned it straight for Looneyville, repeating the fast-metastasizing conspiracy theory that the people who attacked the Capitol were actually left-wing antifa members masquerading as Trump supporters." You'd have to be not only nuts but stupid to purvey such drivel (luckily, they're both) when many of the insurrectionists have been identified from camera footage and - surprise, surprise - they turn out to be known members of the Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracists and garden variety MAGA-heads. In a crazy little irony that many are savoring, the perps are likely to face up to ten years as guests of the federal prison service under a law that Dear Leader himself urged to protect federal monument from the desecrations of rioting Black people.

 

Fear not, Gentle Reader, the marriage of crazy and stupid is alive and well in many other quarters of the Republican Party as well. The leading members of the sedition caucus in the U.S. congress, including Senator Ted Cruz (once memorably described as "a snake covered in Vaseline") and Senator Joshua Hawley, have actually patted themselves on the back for the great thing they did yesterday. These two have even put out fund raising letters on the strength of their efforts to overturn the Constitution, ever so carefully tip-toeing along the high wire between praising and condemning the insurrectionists for the first assault on the U.S. Capitol since British troops did the honors in 1814 (it's ok, we forgive you - it was just a little misunderstanding among friends, and besides hardly anyone from those days is still serving in the Senate Leadership today).

 

And the craziest thing of all? The Invertebrate Republicans who hold office live in mortal fear of a nasty tweet from the man who in a mere four years has turned their total hold on the levers of power in the USG into a total lack of power. From holding the presidency, the House, and the Senate in 2017, as of 20 January they will control exactly none of them. The Republican sojourn in the wilderness was confirmed the very same day as Dear Leader's electoral loss was certified. Democrats won both Senate seats in the Georgia runoff elections, guaranteeing their lock on power for at least the next two years. Dear Leader's political genius is credited by Georgia Republicans with costing them both races as he spent his time attacking the state's Republican leadership for not stealing the presidential election for him. Naturally, Republican voters in Georgia, not enjoying the far-reaching vision of our Dear Leader, were confused, bemused, and demoralized by this craziness. And, they stayed home in droves. Dear Leader reportedly sat back, observed what he had wrought, and pronounced himself well pleased.

 

Tsk, tsk, Intrepid Reporter, some Gentle Readers have been heard to murmur, are you not being overly harsh? What's a poor Republican to do, after all? Faced with the choice between country and career, how can they resolve such a crazy dilemma? Thankfully, some of the Invertebrates have shown us the way. Billy "Bad Ass" Barr, who has appeared often in these lines, issued a stinging rebuke of Dear Leader today from the safety of his retirement. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has set a standard for twisted, obsequious postures the envy of pretzels the world over, has said "count me out." Oh dear; forgive me a moment while I clutch my pearls.A number of officials have resigned, including the wife of the Dear Soon-About-to-be-Former Majority Leader, who gave up the difficult task of setting national transportation policy for the good of her family-owned shipping line in order to exercise her backbone for the first time in four years. Or perhaps like Betsy de Vos, the semi-literate but thankfully now-former secretary of education, she merely wanted to avoid responsibility for a decision to invoke the 25th Amendment.

 

The Crazy paid a visit to our very own Flat Rat Alley last evening around the midnight hour. Your Intrepid Reporter heard the familiar sounds of D.C. Metropolitan Police helicopters sweeping low over the 'hood, and said to Mrs. Intrepid, "oh, sounds like another drug-related shooting (or words to that effect)." Fortunately, the local constabulary soon restored order and we could trundle off to well-deserved rest. In the morning, however, we learned that a goodly number of Proud Boys were lodging nearby and decided to pay a visit to these precincts, where they were met with an uncharacteristically cold welcome. Thus it is that we hereby offer our public and unreserved apology to law abiding drug dealers everywhere for jumping to the conclusion that they were responsible for this upset.

 

But speaking of F.R.A., even as we're all fixated on the scenes unfolding here in Crazy Town, the installation this week of another denizen of reduced dimensions (sporting a snazzy set of tired-induced racing stripes down his back) served as a timely reminder that the virus rages on, uncontrolled. Thursday over 4000 deaths in a single day were reported for the first time. This, we have somehow learned to accept as background noise, even while frothing excitedly over the shooting death, mid-riot, of an Insurrectionist inside the Capitol building. Sadly, as the accompanying illustration highlights, we may soon lose our most reliable indicator of the state of the plague, as the local varmints quickly scurry away in search of greener pastures. But we live and breath in confidence that the craziness will somehow live on.

10/01/2021

Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

The end of a Picrocholine War

 

At the close of the year there were a lot of explanations from commentators about the end of UK-EU negotiations on Christmas eve. I read some of them, but I see it now as more like the end of a "Picrocholine War".

For those who have never heard of this important event, it comes in Rabelais' famous book, Gargantua (published in 1534). Rabelais was a doctor by profession in the medical faculty of Montpellier (which celebrated its 800th anniversary last year, the oldest continuously functioning medical faculty in the world. Today you can visit the very room where Rabelais defended his thesis, and as do young Doctors now, and in the same style of robe. I mention this proudly because our daughter works as a doctor in Montpellier hospital).

Rabelais is one of my favorite authors, greatly comic and never out of date - Rob says there is a wonderful (free and even more exaggerated) translation in English by Sir Thomas Urquhart, also famous for dying of a fit of apoplectic laughter when he heard of the Restoration of Charles the Second - all those decades of trouble, he thought and just to end up pretty well where we started. Perhaps that rings a bell?  

Gargantua is quoted in Shakespeare's As You Like It,
"You must borrow me Gargantua's mouth first"- Celia, Act III Sc II.
 

The Picrocholine War started with a dispute between two neighboring villages about some local bread: the bakers of Lerné refused to sell their bread to the hungry shepherds and grape pickers of the next village. The great battle is set near Chinon, in La Roche-Clermault. I used to drive through this village every day going to work long ago, and was always amused, thinking of Rabelais and his famous war, with so many thousands of soldiers fighting over a wild country of cliffs and precipices. The village is in fact tiny and the countryside around gently undulating. All the places mentioned in Rabelais' work (in the French version) still exist, near to the house where he was born, La Devinière, which also still exists, a modest and lovely building. As you will have guessed, I love those places. (Rob just checked Urquhart's translation and now can't stop laughing).

Going back to Brexit, I wish now that I had thought of Rabelais before, as that would have saved me from taking it so seriously. That's one of the difficulties of our time, we don't feel like laughing about many things. Most of the time we get instantly serious and pompous when it comes to politics. We believe too much in our opinions. Paul Valéry said "Je me méfie des opinions, surtout des miennes, je sais trop comment elles se sont formées" - "I distrust opinions, and especially my own opinions, I know too much about how they came to be formed". I will try to remember that lesson. And read Rabelais when needed, more than the newspapers. Rabelais 'book has lasted for five hundred years. In five hundred years' time, David Cameron or Michel Barnier will not be remembered at all, even in the Wikipedia of that distant epoch. 

Now, seven days later, Brexit has practically disappeared from the headlines. I was surprised not to see a big Brexit firework display to celebrate the occasion. True, there are rarely divorce celebrations.

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Illustration:
Rob's copy of Gargantua and an old post-card of La Devinière, used as its bookmark.

10/01/2021

Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, VA, USA

Hearing Test

 

Tapping. Tapping on the membrane of space.

High pitched broadcast

the warble of an alien bird, 

summer sound, origin unknown.

Falling silent.

 

Chatting internal voice

overdubbed by a resonating bass tone

plumbing down through my aural threshold,

acoustic feathers of fall migrating

into the static cosmic hiss.

 

A disembodied voice transmitting

on a pulmonic egressive air-stream:

consonants, vowels, fricatives, sibilants

breath of language, respiration of sounds,

broken meaning stuttering across the void

fading, fading frequencies ebbing, ebbing away into winter.

 

Earpieces out I reenter the atmosphere

in the center of my auditory galaxy

accompanied by the whistle of tinnitus

slicing through the soundscape

of an acoustically pure room.

 

 

With thanks to Dr. Alexandra Melahn

10/01/2021

Bookbinding

John Underwood, Norfolk

Blinking in the spotlight.

 

As I write, we are awaiting the final count results for the United States Senate in Georgia. It seems likely that the two seats will fall to Democrats which will be a huge advantage to incoming President Biden. He will enjoy an equal number of seats of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with the casting vote going to the incoming Vice President. This means that Biden’s proposed legislation will not fall at the first hurdle, and that change will be possible in the future. Fingers crossed. The prospect of change in America puts the writing on the wall for prime minister Johnson. He made a point of cosying up to the yellow one (somebody gave me a Donald Trump toilet brush for Christmas last year - with bright yellow bristles) and is apparently viewed with some… distaste by the incoming President Biden. Surely not?

 

It is beginning to feel as if the new populist right (or at least, this current iteration) is finally being dragged into the light and revealed to public gaze. Trump’s excesses, seemingly tolerated for so long, are finally challenged by the electorate. Johnson’s weaknesses, his propensity to over promise and under deliver, his casual acquaintance with truth, his government’s lack of shame (doesn’t anybody resign any more?) when incompetence is revealed or even celebrated, are all being recognised and splashed across the media. It has become widely understood that a failure to act quickly has resulted in further hospitalisation and deaths. “World beating” track and trace has been shown to be largely ineffective; apart from a poor record of tracing contacts, the sections of the population found to be most at risk of contracting COVID and transmitting it, are the very people who cannot afford to isolate themselves and stop working. The government subsidies intended to help, do not apply to people on very low wages or working in the gig economy. This is well known but seemingly not acted upon. It must be impossible for the billionaire chancellor to imagine himself into the lives of people to whom COVID is almost irrelevant. If you don’t work, you don’t eat or heat. God knows how you cope with children off school when you have to earn a weekly or daily wage. Easy to lockdown when you are warm, fed and comfortable. Not so easy when your children go hungry if you stop working.

 

We have so far inoculated 1.3 million vulnerable people, and a bigger rollout of vaccination is being trumpeted. It cannot be allowed to fail, and my major hope for the New Year is that the process is fully in the spotlight and there are no excuses that we will tolerate.

10/01/2021

Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

It’s not so much a New Year as a Continuation of Chaos. If nothing, we are courageous and learning resilience daily. 

 

Congress in Washington was breached last night. We watched it in real time, mouths agape in shock. A tin pot dictator and his mob making a mockery of democracy. How the mighty have fallen. 

 

We have been mourning for the victims of the disaster on the 30th December at Gjerdrum near Oslo, where a mudslide destroyed a large area of houses, and challenging rescue work was undertaken in the unstable crater that was formed. The quick rescue response using drones, thermal imaging, sniffer dogs, use of mobile phone tracking and helicopter rescue helped locate and save many in the midst of the dark and icy conditions. Both humans and their many pets were saved. Sadly, ten people perished and three bodies have yet to be found.  

We became conversant with a new word, ‘kvikkleire’. Or quick clay. Ten other areas in Norway have been identified with a quick clay foundation, which is actually the old sea bed, and can change under adverse conditions into a soggy, heaving, unstable mass. The authorities had originally made recommendations before the houses were built in Gjerdrum and investigations will clarify if these were followed. Interestingly, in this country, the first question NOT being asked is « Who shall we sue?». Our frail King, who is recovering from heart surgery, and the Queen were quick to visit the site and the survivors and they were clearly overcome with emotion.  

 

However, accountability going forwards is important. 

 

Accountability is increasingly a missing link in today’s world, where one can hide behind a fake account and troll away. What’s happened to Honour, to having the Courage to admit wrongdoing and taking Responsibility? We don’t operate in black and white today, rather, in the amorphous grey. Our children grow up without clarity and clear boundaries. 

 

We have been asked to stay home as much as possible and finally, been advised to use masks on public transport and shops. Our version of lockdown. 

 

I’ve put on three kilos in three weeks of eating and drinking. Whoopsie! Accountability time!

I’ve gone back to my version of intermittent fasting. No alcohol or refined carbs, like bread, potato chips, pasta, pizza or rice (not so difficult though I do miss an occasional glass of good, peaty Scottish whisky). No sugar (very difficult). Goodbye Christmas cake, fruit juices, puddings and mince pies! I gave away all the Christmas goodies to a neighbour who happily offers them to customers in her antique store. I have no willpower around food so it’s easier just to clear the pantry out. We are trying to eat cod (cod season has started) with vegetables alternating with occasional meat and veg. It sounds boring but stomach enzymes love Boring. They can relax because the next meal is predictable. Buffets and wildly varying meals give the stomach enzymes a big headache. However, in my dear husband’s world, potatoes are not carbs. Fake news! But I can’t impose a No Potato rule in the house. Not A Dictator (but would jump to the chance if given the opportunity). So Intermittent fasting... I used to maintain 12 hours fasting between supper at 6 or 7 pm and breakfast 12 hours later. I’m trying to fast now for 16 hours and eat within a 8 hour window. For example, breakfast at 12 noon and supper by five pm. Technically allowed to eat till 8 pm but I’ve never been a fan of late meals. It’s not so difficult if I keep busy with writing for the journal, cleaning, cooking, washing and doing errands. And most importantly keep drinking two litres of water and visualise it washing the fat away. This system works for me as I find counting calories tiresome or eating tiny amounts of food impossible. Watching a movie, MasterChef or reading late into the night is a challenge to fasting. The weather report and the News is what I may have to restrict myself to. Let’s see how long I last. Accountability to my own body. 

 

God helg dear readers.

10/01/2021

My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

Oh dear happy new year and things are getting worse with no let up on the virus

 

More things are going wrong for me adding to my daughters burden of keeping me safe from Covid.

One of my hearing aids went kaput and needed taking to the hospital for repairs. Sarah my youngest had to drive a 20 mile round trip during working hours to take it for me and did it under sufferance as her car was out of MOT and she had to borrow her sons car, all very stressful.

I suggested doing it myself going on bus and tram but that made her more stressed. 

The good news was that they returned it by registered post the very next day. Well done the NHS and the hearing dept of the Hallamshire Hospital Sheffield - and well done Sarah. 

 

The next thing is that my right eye has started misting up and a trip to the optician for an eye test was needed. At least I can sort that out myself, I drove there and got parked easily as lots of space was available due to the new lock down.  What I found out was that after having a cataract removed the new lens can get a film grow over it and needs removing by laser treatment. If I wait a while longer it would be better for it to be removed. OH goody.

The best part of that excursion was that all the food shops were empty so I went on a shopping spree for food. What fun I had in secret from Sarah, I could fill my freezer with meat and got all my fruit and veg and treat myself to a lovely pork sandwich.

I came home elated with my first trip to the shops for ages. I couldn't believe what a joy a shopping trip gave me.

 

But then I got the news that my sister in law had passed away, at least she is no longer in pain.

 

Earlier in the week the sun came out and I was able to get my walk up the lane feeling stiff as a board with all the sitting around I have been good at. On my way a large van parked by the chapel I pass and a woman got out and asked me if I new the vicar Maud who she had known from Edinburgh. She told me she was new to Sheffield and we had a long chat. She moved around the country with her husband who worked for the university. She had an American accent and I asked her where she came from and she said she was from Washington. Then she asked me where I lived and I pointed to the hill above and she said whats the name of the road so I told her. Then she said I am Diane and I told her my name and she said what number is your house. So I innocently gave this stranger my address.

She said I will come knocking on your door. I was shocked as I had not invited her. I think I will have to keep it locked. Perhaps she was just trying to make new friends? What an experience.

 

The next day I had a physio face time appointment with the 25 year old Physiotherapist. He tells me I must persevere with the exercises for my shoulder which I tell him that I stopped doing as they were too painful. Every time I tell him this he changes them and told me to dust with my left arm. I tell him I hate dusting and he said do them a little and often it will make your house all spic and span. I smile at him and think I wonder what he would do at 82.

K-e-e-e=e-p Dusting

10/01/2021

Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

I am glad that Georgina continues to puzzle over jigsaws rather than the dreadfulness of news every time the radio is switched on... 4000 pieces in two weeks... next one is Mineralogy and as I write she is pouring over the picture in preparation!

 

I have started my pre spring clean... so far just the bedrooms but very satisfying... this has included yet another assessment of my clothes... why do we have wardrobes with hanging space these days when all our clothes are folded?  I am planning to convert them by installing shelves.

 

Two little pleasures have been the arrival of this lovely delft tile with its dancing fritillary and the placement of hellebore in an elm vessel turned by Norfolk woodman Richard Chapman whose workshop is a delight and whose rubbish heap is the stuff of dreams!!!

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10/01/2021

Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

Another week of trying to keep busy to avoid dwelling on the grim news headlines. From our house we can hear the ambulance sirens in the distance and the air ambulance on its trips in an out of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.  

 

I worry most about my father who lives on his own in Surrey and has had a few falls in the last couple of years. In normal times I travel down by train from Norwich every few weeks to spend a few days with him. This year I have seen him three times, the last was for one night in October to celebrate his 95th birthday. Every morning I email him a puzzle called a Niner from the newspaper and every afternoon at 4pm I ring him. He is very stoical, has a positive outlook on life, and a routine to his day. Fortunately my sister lives nearby and is his ‘bubble’. He is a little worried about leaving the house to have the vaccine and has heard nothing about his own appointment. He was a bit aggrieved that Lionel Blair, younger by 3 years, was pictured in his local newspaper having his vaccine before Christmas at the Grandstand on Epsom Racecourse.

 

We have packed the Christmas decorations away this week and it seemed strange that only the two of us had enjoyed our efforts this year. When they emerge from the loft again next December, will our son and his wife have been over from Canada for their postponed visit and will our niece and her fiancé have had the wedding in July they should have had a year ago – I do hope so!

 

Now the decorations have gone, I felt the need to add some colour to the house which I have done by making 6 pots of marmalade lined up on the kitchen shelf.  Seville oranges were in the Farm Shop this week. I’ve added some stem ginger for a bit of warmth.

 

My grandmother was Welsh and the country, visits to relatives and holidays there have always played a large part in my life. Until last February, just before lockdown, when I attended the funeral of an aunt in Bala, I had never thought to learn the language, just took for granted that everyone I knew there was bilingual. So in March I decided to try and learn a little via an app called Duo Lingo. It’s a very encouraging app with a little green owl that jumps up and down and tells you how well you are doing.  However, if I tune into Welsh radio or television stations, I realise just how far I have to go! A relative in Wales wished me a happy new year and used the word “Calennig” in her greeting. It means New Year celebration/gift although literally means first day of the month and the English word calendar shares its root with this word. This then led me to a Welsh folk group called Calan and their rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter (Ganol Gaeaf Noethlwn) which I attach here as a Youtube clip. I thought it was a beautiful version to share with you.

 

https://youtu.be/OlRUF2wMRSk

10/01/2021

From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

It all seems so inevitable now, what's kicking off in America. From this safe distance, for four years and more, we've watched the antics of The Tangerine Fuckwit with horrified and sometimes, it has to be said, frivolous fascination; now, it seems that it had to come to this, of course we knew all along that it would, that he would never go quietly as everyone from Washington onwards has done. A logic, as inexorable as Aeschylus, seems to be working itself out. 'Unbelievable,' I texted to my niece last night but the only thing that we couldn't believe was that he was as appalling as we'd always known him to be, as insane as his every utterance indicated. In all the four years that he held office did he ever utter a single sentence that wasn't freighted with senseless paranoia? Infantile narcissism is one thing  in the pram but when The Big Baby, entrusted with the most powerful office in the world, finally decides to throw all of his toys out of the buggy as he did yesterday, and the scene is not the nursery but Capitol Hill, the effect will be cataclysmic.   

 

I had to start with that this week because it's in the front of my mind, pressing  on my temples to explode on to the page. Neither historian nor political expert, I'm not qualified to explain or comment on these strange and far from hilarious events but they transcend the prose of  politics - 'the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties' - to become the stuff of drama  - 'an exciting, emotional, or unexpected event or circumstance,' and I suppose I do know a thing or two about that. 

 

Over 1,000 covid cases yesterday. In the morning  I'd called my agent's assistant, Rachael. She's working from home. I knew immediately, from some hesitancy in her voice, that something was up. 

'Did you have a good Christmas?' I said.

'Lovely,' she said, but something was up. I knew it. 

''Are you ok?' 

'Thing is,' she said 'We've all got covid.' 

'God Rachael. Well, look it's not important. I'll call Nicki or Clarissa.'' 

'I'd love to talk but I've got to look after Fred.' (Fred is three).

"Are you better now? Has it been bad? '

'Horrible for a few days. But I'm much better now.'

Really brought it home to me. Right up close and personal. 

 

A lot of my friends tell me how lucky they feel themselves to be in the circumstances. They have a roof over their heads and plenty to eat, loving partners, friends, cats, zoom, The Crown. The Queen's Gambit. Some geezer in Twickenham even claims he's memorising all of Shakespeare's sonnets..How irritating is that?It's a mustn't grumble thing I suppose and it's taken for granted that it's brave and  laudable. But what a relief when a friend says as someone did yesterday 'Actually I'm fucking depressed.' I don't think one has to have a certain number of deprivation points to feel unhappy nor do I think unhappiness a mental illness. It doesn't do anyone any harm to say it now and again. Same goes for joy. Bring it on. Shout and scream. Tell it like it is. Within reason, of course. I mean, we're not Italian. 

xx