Tuesday, 11 April 2017

An old friend - a Guardian reader - wonders what the point of this blog is, and why I'm so angry and aggressive

I was pleased last week to discover that I'd received an email from a childhood friend I hadn't seen since school. Whenever I hear "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys, this erstwhile chum always pops into my head, along with a vision of the muddy garden of the new house his family had just moved into when the Best of the Beach Boys LP was released (or, at least, when I'd managed to save up enough pocket money to buy it). I used to be rotten at keeping in touch with people, and only began making an effort as I approached my half-century - in one case I wrote to a friend's old school asking for a contact address, only to discover that he was living in the same flat, with the same phone number, as when I'd last seen him 25 years earlier. Anyway, my old schoolfriend's email started off pleasantly enough, with personal stuff - but then moved on to the subject of The Grønmark Blog. Here's what he had to say:
My reaction to your blog is one of bemusement. Not because your views are diametrically opposite to my own although it has always amused me that in a generation of people with free university, relatively secure jobs for life and excellent pensions,  there are those who argue for a small state when they have been such beneficiaries of a liberal democracy. It's more the aggressiveness and anger that comes through. I thought at first that it was a parody but then realised it wasn't. And it did occur to me of course that people express far more definitive and polarised views on blogs than they might do in real life and come across in a different way: perhaps you are a pussycat really. But if not, where does that anger against those who have a different perspective come from? And quite what's the point?
It won't come as much of a surprise to learn that my correspondent self-identifies as a liberal Guardian-reader (and as a "humanitarian"-  but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant "humanist"). He also invites me to visit him - "we would always be happy to demonstrate that your perceived enemy might not be as nasty as you perceive" - adding that there's "a village nearby populated mostly by Conservative voters so you won't feel too alone."

I've been dithering about the email: I just don't know how to respond. After mulling it over for a few days, I've decided to answer some of the points in his email here - in my usual angry, aggressive style - having excised any clues as to the writer's identity.

My correspondent's bemusement is understandable. Educated leftists are always astonished to discover that other educated people don't share their political opinions. As for his "amusement" over the phenomenon of people who've apparently benefited from "big state" socialist policies supporting the concept of a small state, it's matched by my "amusement" at a generation of middle-class leftists who benefited massively from the economically liberal policies of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative governments of the 1980s but who have nevertheless spent the past 25 years vilifying the woman and the political philosophy of which they were "beneficiaries". I was similarly "amused" by all those enemies of "divisive", "elitist" private education at the BBC who ended up paying through the nose to send their precious offspring to London's finest private schools - the most committed left-winger I ever worked with, who once told he he had become a journalist to "change the world", sent his son to Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School! He said he felt awful about doing so, so that was all right, then. Up the workers! (In case I sound too "angry", he was a lovely bloke, very funny, and we got on like a house on fire - even after I told him he was a colossal hypocrite. To be fair, he also had one or two things to say about my support for Mrs. Thatcher.)

I'm also "bemused" by the implication that "liberal democracy" is somehow synonymous with a large public sector - i.e. a big state - when this is in fact one of the defining characteristics of totalitarian systems. Liberal democracy is the most enlightened, liberating, civilised political arrangement yet devised, and I wouldn't wish to experience any other. But the idea that, in order to count as a liberal democracy, the state needs to turn itself into a vast, coercive wealth-redistribution scheme which appropriates over a third of GDP (OECD average) in order to maintain an enormous public sector - well, that's nonsense. There seems to be a notion on the Left that without, say, the NHS, nobody, apart from the very rich, would be receiving any medical treatment in this country, and that if the state didn't provide "free" education the large mass of children wouldn't receive any education at all. I'm not a libertarian - I believe the state has a sizeable role to play. But, while it needs to defend the country from foreign aggression and protect its citizens from criminals, the rest is up for discussion. (It's odd that the only parts of the state machine the Left innately distrusts are the only truly necessary elements - the military, the security services, and the police.)

He thought this blog was a parody? Did he really believe I hated all the books, music, paintings, films and people I write about so enthusiastically? Or that I couldn't possibly be so silly - so misguided - as to actually disagree with all those self-regarding, virtue-signalling, EU-loving, Israel-hating, climate change-endorsing, Conservative-loathing, America-despising, frackophobic, LGBT-obsessed, "humanitarian" academics, broadcasters, journalists, politicians, pop stars, actors, students, TV personalities, writers, quangocrats etc. who seem convinced that the moral correctness of their own opinions gives them the right to demand that the money appropriated by the state from the rest of us should be spent only on those things which accord with their own modish left-liberal metropolitan preferences - while they impugn the intelligence, sanity and morality of everyone who doesn't share their opinions?

So, having accepted that I actually mean what I say, he then begins to question my emotional state - I am "angry", "aggressive". He wonders if I am expressing "far more polarised and definitive views" than I would in "real life". Sorry to disappoint him, but this is the way I express myself in "real life". As for my views being "definitive" or polarised", I wonder if he'd describe them in the same way were I expressing similarly vigorous support for the NHS, the EU, multiculturalism, state schools, higher taxes and mass immigration? I suspect not: after all, then I would be displaying righteous, justifiable anger on behalf of acceptable causes - whereas, since I'm supporting unacceptable causes, I must be emotionally damaged. Au contraire - despite suffering from a debilitating, medically-untreatable condition for the past three and a half years, I considered myself a cheerful, level-headed and relatively unsplenetic sort of cove who holds strong opinions and expresses them forcefully and, sometimes, exuberantly. If he would like to argue with me about issues - rather than speculating about my emotional well-being - he should feel free to avail himself of the comments section handily situated below each post.

As for his question, "What's the point?" - I don't understand what he's getting at. What's the point of writing a blog? What's the point of expressing my opinions? Well, because I enjoy doing so and quite a few people seem to enjoy reading what I write. What's the point of expressing myself forcefully? Because that's the way I think - I only write about things that matter to me, and I'm not a lukewarm sort of person. Besides, why would anyone write an anodyne personal blog full of milksop, namby-pamby, vacillating "on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand" pap - unless that's just the sort of person they are, of course? I'm not. Sue me!

Finally, his kind invitation to visit - not, it seems, so that two old pals can get together to reminisce and find out whether they still have something in common - but so that I can be helped to realise that my "perceived enemy might not be as nasty as you perceive". Thanks for the invitation, but as I don't see Guardian-reading liberals - whether humanitarian or otherwise - as enemies, or as intrinsically "nasty", I'm not sure what the point would be. Having attended a left-liberal university, having worked for several years in the left-liberal milieu of publishing, having spent twenty years working for the BBC - an organisation stuffed to the gunnels with left-liberal Guardian-readers - and as I live in an impeccably left-liberal, Remain-voting neighbourhood, as I'm a member of a church which is basically New Labour at prayer, and as many of my dearest friends are Guardian-reading left-liberals, I don't quite see what I would learn from meeting another example of the breed. Now, if he just wanted to chew the fat with an old pal who just happens to see the world differently, that would be different.

And I still can't figure how to respond to his email!


  1. Meet him at least for a beer or two - there might be some common ground....
    I was contacted by an old school acquaintance last year after a gap of 37 years...we arranged to meet for lunch but he pulled out a day before pleading an important business meeting. No problem, I said, we can rearrange....that was the last I ever heard from him.
    Now if that had happened after we met I could have seen some logic....

    1. Unfortunately he lives three hours drive away - and that's a long way to travel for a lecture! Mind you, I've met some half a dozen old school friends as a result of this blog, and not a single dud among them, Guardian-readers and all. Whether they'd say the same of me, I've no idea - but it has left me wondering exactly what the old alma mater was doing right back then. Something, anyway.

  2. Actually, don't bother. Life is too short for wasting your time on reactivating friendships that will probably not add materially to the sum of your happiness and, pace Mr Jack Hughes, I have never seen you as a 'let's settle this over a couple of pints' sort of chap. Mind you, the village nearby sounds quite fun, although there is the impression from the way he writes of a wife or partner in the background who probably wouldn't lend him the bus fare to get there.

    Carry on, Gronners! Yours is a great blog. As a point of personal preference, I look forward more to your posts on painting and music than to your repeated grumpiness with Marcus Brigstocke but the whole point is that this is what websites are for. They are not like the Victor Gollancz bookclub which people joined in the 30s if they wanted only to read material which conformed to their view of the world. Leave the man to his muddy garden and muddled thinking.

    1. I'm imagining glowering, red-faced men in double-breasted blazers and MCC ties hurling racial epithets at all and sundry as they stomp through the village on the way to that week's meeting of the "Keep Britain Jolly Angry" Society, while seething yokels wearing KKK hoods and carrying pitchforks aggressively question any visitor with a pronounced suntan concerning their racial pedigree. Actually, it's probably full of pink-cheeked David Cameron clones and their gluten-intolerant wives wittering on about inclusivity and "putting something back" - and I can get all that here!

      Thanks for the kind words re the blog, ex-KCS - as a result of which I'll forgive you for being a dirty, low-down, no-account Brigstocke-lover! (I wonder if the village is actually called Brigstocke? Hmm.)

  3. Lefties are tricky to argue with.Maggie Thatcher should be praised by Guardian-readers for being The Greatest Feminist since Queen Boadicea ,but of course she's dismissed with a sneer.
    I would love to partake of a few sherberts myself.Perhaps I could go to this boozer in your place?
    We could play darts and have a beer-drinking competition.
    However, it may not be that sort of pub.

    1. More likely to be playing pétanque while sipping a skinny latte, I suspect. You could always bring your own Party Seven can, I suppose. When my son recently told me what a pint (or even a bottle) of beer now costs in a London hostelry, I almost passed out. Apparently, the practice of getting your round in is dying out (when I broke the habit of a lifetime and offered to buy a round for a bunch of Norwegians on my last trip to Oslo, they all burst out laughing at the very idea - seems we're heading the same way).

  4. Onan the Contrarian.

    1. I really wish I'd used that as the title for this blog!

  5. They say on average, monetary value halves every seven years. Now I distinctly remember a pint costing 18p in 1973. Now let's calculate what todays equivalent will be:
    1973 18p
    1980 36p
    1987 72p
    1994 £1.44
    2001 £2.88
    2008 £5.76
    20015 £11.52

    So the problem isn't beer is getting dearer but people becoming stingier.

    1. Yes, Tomahawk - but milk, bread, petrol, and even housing are even cheaper than beer, compared to 1973, so it probably just seems expensive. I'm reliably informed that younger people solve the problem of the pricey pint by getting hammered on cheap supermarket booze before going to the pub - which might account for the state of some of many of them come closing time. As an enforced teetotaller for the past 30 years, I can't speak with any authority - but it does strike me that the other thing to be said in favour of the price of a modern pint is that it's likely to be a lot nicer than the insipid, gassy weasel-piss we were quaffing in'73!

  6. Ah, the joy of a Party Seven! Arriving semi-invited where someone had said someone was having a party, with a large lurid tin tucked ostentatiously under your arm, getting in after a slight scuffle and heading to the kitchen where one of those viciously pointed can openers would explode a fountain of orangey booze and spray half the contents across the walls and ceiling......halcyon days.....

    1. ...and then pouring the rest if into crappy plastic cups that would inevitably topple over, depositing yet more sticky orange gunk over the kitchen floor. And the reward for all that palaver was a few mouthfuls of something unpleasant that tasted of chemicals and took you straight from sobriety to hangover without an intervening period of pleasant intoxication.

      I wonder why the Party Seven died out?