Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What on earth can one say tonight about Europe and the euro? The Greek government has unexpectedly - and for unfathomable reasons - decided to play at unilateral democracy. And this hasn't exactly gone down well with the oligarchs in various EU capitals, who see democracy as (inescapably) incompatible with the creation, development and, now, rescue of the European dream. The deal struck last week was already, of course, unravelling but now the Greeks have well and truly kiboshed the bazooka this was said to have delivered, causing the markets to hurtle wildly downwards. While Italy's cost of borrowing shot upwards, to enter what is regarded as unsustainable levels. It would be a very brave person who predicted the next step. Aside, of course, from the Greek premier being summoned to the Headmaster's office for a dressing down.

Is it any wonder that China, Japan and the BRICs are reluctant to get too involved in this imbroglio?

Anyway, the death of Jimmy Saville had prompted one Times columnist to expatiate on the issue of eccentricity:-

We British, he says, like to think of ourselves as not only tolerant of eccentricity but defined by it, a society that actively promotes individuality.

Eccentricity is hardwired into the culture, a reaction to the authoritarianism of the French Revolution, reflected in the individualist Romantic ideal of Shelley and Byron and the gloriously varied characters imagined by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens. 

“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” sang Noël Coward, celebrating the unorthodox behaviour of an island race one rock short of a full coastline.

The right to be odd has been jealously guarded for centuries. “That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time,” wrote John Stuart Mill. “The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour and moral courage which it contained.”

But all this has changed, insists the writer - Today, we are suspicious of oddness, terrified of the strange. Eccentrics are mocked and frequently destroyed in a culture that automatically assumes that anyone whose life does not conform to established patterns must be deviant and dangerous.

There has, he says, been conventionality-creep in this country, a place once described by George Santayana as a “paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies and humour”. 

In place of eccentricity the culture is swamped with American-style exhibitionism, a self-conscious, attention-seeking wackiness that has little to do with personality and everything to do with performance. America has always valued the extrovert over the eccentric; indeed, the only first-rate eccentric in American literature is Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s "A Confederacy of Dunces."

A great shame. By the way - "A Confederacy of Dunces" is one of the best books you'll ever read. The author failed to get it published and, depressed, took his own life. More than a great shame.

Talking of eccentrics, I see the great British bluesman - John Mayall - has gone back on the road at seventy seven. An example to us all.

Walking to Headingley station yesterday morning, I passed a place signed "Barbers Shop". Absent any apostrophe, I was left wondering what this was - a shop selling barbers, a shop exclusively for barbers or, the most likely I guessed, a place where I could get a haircut. I thought about calling the woman (Lynn Somebody) who wrote Eats shoots and leaves - or was it Eats, shoots and leaves? - to seek her opinion, but abandoned the notion when I realised I didn't have her number.

Finally . . . Reader Colin in South Africa has kindly sent me this article, sub-titled "There’s a different attitude to noise – and time – in Spain." It took me right back to the years of noise and dust involved in the construction of the seventeen still-empty houses behind mine. And my friend Ian in Oz had pointed me at an article in the Voz de Galicia in which the claim is made that London Dry Gin was first produced in Pontevedra. Possibly by Christopher Columbus in his natal house there, I suppose.


ANA said...

I have to agree with the demise of eccentrics in general. I remember so many when I was a kid many moons ago but Spain seems to have plenty left judging from what I see here. Likewise I think Confederacy of Dunces is one of funniest books everyone should read.

ANA said...

the funniest...

chicha.in said...

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