January – battening down – maybe not

Zenpolitics it seems has taken January off, almost unwittingly. It’s a month for battening down the hatches, keeping out the winter chill and all that sort of stuff, but unless you’re a determined recluse in acres of snowy countryside with a icy wind blowing so you hardly dare venture out, and ideally there are one or two wolves a-roaming and howling just to drill home the message… unless you’re all that and a bit more you’ll be on the train to work, driving round the M25, all the usual headaches but just a bit more in the dark than at other times of year.

And with almost February comes the snow and the ice, but no wolves yet.

Now the serious stuff. January has been the month of Charlie Hebdo, and much talk, wise and foolish, on the subject of free speech. And inequality in the wider world, with wealth ever more concentrated, has had a local reflection in the impact of the spending cuts on social welfare in the UK.

Two quotes have penetrated through to me in my eyrie above west London –

‘Like most religions, Christianity contains a faintly left-wing, anti-wealth message,’ said Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph. ‘Naively utopian, anti-growth.’ Christianity, Jeremy, was around long before left and right-wing came into common speech, and we trust that the message from the archbishops, wiser men than you, that economic growth alone won’t solve the country’s economic problems, and that the effect of recent spending cuts has been seriously damaging, will resonate with many, including most Telegraph readers. Rarely has a journalist looked so egregiously foolish.

Just to even things out, there’s Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian, claiming that in linking his mother and his faith, and suggesting (playfully) he might punch someone who insulted his mother, the Pope is using, in her words, ‘the wife-beater’s defence’. Quite how she got there only she knows, but it’s cheap and anyone who listened to the Pope’s actual remarks will know that it entirely misses the subtlety of the point he was conveying. To misrepresent wilfully (and I assume it is wilfully) is … let’s just say poor journalism.

Faith let it be remembered is deeply personal to countless millions and they will take insults against their faith seriously. If discrimination, bigotry or cruelty attaches to a faith it should be criticised, I’d almost say hammered, but for the attachments it carries, not for the faith that lies at its heart.

Free speech is priceless and an absolute, but so too are compassion and understanding. And of their nature, or rather human nature (everyone having their own point of view, as many shades of opinion as there are individuals on the planet),  they will conflict, and we all must strike a balance as best we can.

But, please, avoid barmy remarks, and cheap swipes. We can all do better than that.

Another New Year…

One day, Ming extravagance, and the epic achievements of Gutenberg and Luther, the next shove ha’penny (which can be highly competitive, but no history of fights as far as I am aware) and singing Auld Lang Syne outside a country pub. Yes, it’s New Year. And I wake to greet a murky and windswept morning with, no, not a hangover, but a stonking cold. (Origins of ‘stonking’?)

England can get no greyer than this, which lunch at another, lesser country pub hardly alleviated. The sin of serving no real ales was cardinal and all but unforgivable. And yet there was something appealing about the desolation of the Cotswold landscape, and braver, healthier souls than us were walking the country paths and straggling along the roads, and leaving muddy boots in pub porches.

Dustin Hoffman and Judy Dench falling in love on TV surprised us, less so Miranda marrying Gary. Hot toddies and we were both of us off to bed, early bed. With the ‘Blue Danube’ lightening a heavy step: we’d watched the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna in the morning, almost an indulgence, a perfect world, perfectly happy, music and ballet and gilded Baroque a bright concoction that always serves to erase the old year and set us out with optimism into the new…