Nostalgia for a pre-PC world
Covid madness continues, and our leaders continue to pursue demonstrably perverse policies, unchecked by an effective parliamentary opposition, unbalanced by a properly sceptical and half-way scientifically literate mainstream media. But it’s time for Harrumpf to direct its grumpiness elsewhere for a change – time for a change of diet.
So let’s have a look at cancel culture, the bastard offspring of our rather older friend, political correctness. In a world in which the paladins of Silicon Valley have determined that Donald Trump should no longer be able to communicate through the medium of Twitter, but that the Taliban, Hamas, Ji Jin Ping, and a gallimaufry of other bloodthirsty thugs are just fine, there’s little I can usefully add to the words of the likes of Douglas Murray, James Allan or Toby Young.
But grumpiness will out, especially here on Harrumpf. So if you do still harbour the unfortunate belief that the rules of politically correct speech are no more than a code for instilling simple decency and kindness in our discourse, or – more – likely – if you have a friend who cleaves to this infuriating view, this is for you – to pass on to them.
It used to be said that the French were polite to their friends and rude to strangers, while the English were polite to strangers and rude to their friends. The same could very well be said of my adoptive Australia. We used to establish our friendships by teasing and joshing; by risking offence. No more, though – the PC crowd have seen to that.
Many years ago, shortly after I migrated from Britain to Australia, I suffered an attack of polio. I was a one-man epidemic, polio having been ‘eliminated’ from Australia two decades previously (NB, Covid-elimination nutjobs). It was a devastating disease – it damn nearly killed me, and left me with a useless left arm and the use of my right forearm only – I cannot raise that arm.
As I convalesced, I began the process of reconciling myself to the fact that my earlier life was effectively at an end – no more tinkering with cars, no more playing the trumpet. So much of what I used to do – of what had defined me as a person, and had taken for granted, was no longer possible, that I had, in effect, to set about constructing a new person from the remains of the old.
I lived in Sydney’s Paddington, near the Grand National Hotel. It was, in those days, a pretty rough and ready inner city pub. On Saturdays, it hosted an illegal bookmaking operation, run by a gentleman by the name of Machine-Gun Jack, and informally supervised by the local cops, who, in recompense, drank for free. The pub’s clientele was a strange hybrid of 70s baby-boomer youth, and unreconstructed inner-city unionised working men of advancing years. The latter group’s primus inter pares was Chicka, possessor of a total of five teeth, and not merely a patron of the pub, but a resident, having lived in one of its rather shabby upstairs rooms for half a century. It’s safe to say that Chicka had never heard of political correctness, would have struggled to understand the concept and, if he had grasped it, would have dismissed it as absurd.
Although afflicted with a slight stammer, Chicka had a fine turn of phrase when the spirit moved him, something which typically happened when he read something disagreeable in the tabloid newspaper which constituted his sole source of reading material.
“That Marjorie W-wallace!’ he once spluttered, stabbing with his finger the latest picture of the vivacious – and ubiquitous – Miss World winner, ‘she’s f-fucked up Jimmy Connors for Wimbledon, she’s f-fucked up James Hunt for the Grand Prix…’, he paused briefly,
‘…and if I’m not careful, she’ll come over here and f-fuck me up for the Grand National!’
The ‘Nash’ also had a pool table, and a justified reputation as a hard school; it was common to see fifteen or twenty names on the challenge board. I had played a little before my illness, and I began to wonder if I could do so again, using some kind of device to serve as a rest in place of my bridge hand. At first I used an upturned table brush, but soon found a fitter and turner who knocked up a rest – the first of many, each one an improvement, although none came close to emulating the human hand.
Notwithstanding this hindrance, and with a great deal of practice, I soon found I was beating rated players. On a challenge table, success breeds success, as you warm up and drink less, and your opponents get colder, and drink more. Chicka, who loved a battler, watched these developments from his corner seat. He himself no longer played the game; his eyes weren’t up to it. But he would occasionally applaud a good shot, or guffaw at an unfortunate foul. Like I say, it was a tough school. On a couple of occasions, towards closing time, when I was seriously running the table, and being challenged by latecomers, he’d warn them: ‘watch out for the Gimp!’
Now, even with my imperfect grasp of the rules of political correctness, I’m pretty sure that calling crippled people gimps is strictly forbidden, and grounds for cancellation. It’s supposed to make us feel despised and excluded. It’s supposed to make our already difficult lives even bleaker. So pervasive has been the PC creed that even the Chickas de nos jours would know better than to say such a thing, wouldn’t they?
Here’s the thing, though. When I heard Chicka say that, I didn’t feel despised and excluded, I felt bloody marvellous. I knew that what I’d just done was bloody difficult, and here was a connoisseur of the game saying that he knew it, too. And it wasn’t because I happened to know that he meant well. Even if he hadn’t, it would still have been an acknowledgement that I was, if only temporarily, the best bar-table pool player in Paddington. And sometimes a feeling like that can serve the not insignificant purpose of convincing one that life really is worth living, after all.
I don’t really play pool any more. Like Chicka, who’s long in the grave, my eyes aren’t up to it. But I suppose that somewhere out there there’s a young version of me, freshly crippled and trying to construct a new self out of the remains of the old. Who, I wonder, will be there to deliver that life-affirming crack from the sidelines? Sadly, I’m afraid that the latter-day Pharisees have cancelled the Chickas of this world, as they have done for so much else that used to enrich the lives of the English-speaking world.