Rational optimism, Swiss social distancing and love thy neighbour
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has been over three months since ‘lockdown’ began.
the credit side, I have finally got round to doing almost all the jobs that
needed to be done in and around the house. New gates at the side entrance, a
freshly painted front door with gleaming brass. The faulty wardrobe doors have
been repaired, the contents of the wardrobe culled, a new jacket and shoes
bought (online, of course). And much more besides.
temperature is soaring, so continuing to work in the garden today is not a
pleasant prospect, though work will have to be done if I am to have in reality the
garden I have created in my mind. Perhaps it would be best to wait until the
early evening, when the heat has gone from the day, but enough light remains.
the meantime, I realised just a few minutes ago that the end of June is
approaching and I promised Debbie I would provide an offering for July’s ‘Now
on what subject? I don’t want to dwell on the parlous state of the travel and
holiday industry, as its woes are well enough known, and dwelling on them will
lead to pessimism, and I am, by nature, an optimist. (I’ll get back to optimism
in a moment.)
often think that the hardest part of this job is choosing the topic. After
that, the writing sort of takes care of itself. But don’t tell anybody.
do you get your ideas from?” I was asked by an earnest young lady after I had
addressed a meeting of literary enthusiasts in Croydon towards the end of last
year. It’s a common, and straightforward, question.
A newspaper headline will
often do it. A couple of weeks ago I spotted one in The Daily Telegraph
on a news item recording that, while continuing its ban on
boxing, wrestling and judo, the Swiss government had relaxed the ‘social
distancing’ rules so as to permit golf. And while it was in the
process of sorting out sports and recreations, it was also permitting the
re-opening of brothels, though participants in that particular form of
recreation would be required to keep their faces ‘a forearm’s length’
apart. No mention was made of what they should be doing with everything
below the neck, however.
never bought into the idea that the Swiss are a boring bunch – “an outdoor
branch of Barclays Bank, populated by head waiters” – so was unsurprised to
learn that, prostitution being legal in that country, they keep a proper
regulatory eye on the premises used. A very sensible approach, too, not to
mention how it benefits the tax man.
Other inspiration comes from stuff that simply
happens to cross my path. During the present situation the emergence of a
website called nextdoor.co.uk is a
I was a trifle suspicious
at first, as it spells ‘neighbour’ ‘neighbor’ and drops other clues to a
transatlantic origin. But it is definitely local, as the messages and
discussions are all about this ‘neighborhood’, its shops and services, its
local council and so on.
regularly carries messages from folk asking where they can find a good
carpenter or bricklayer or plumber. (Have these people never heard of
Checkatrade?) It has offers of items for sale, or available free if one is able
to collect. These posts come complete with seductive illustrations. I am sometimes tempted, but have to keep
reminding myself that I am already overstocked with goods and chattels.
The local police frequently post information about how they are successfully fighting crime – mainly nicking shoplifters and drunks.
posts are then commented on by folk who are 100% behind the efforts of our boys
(and girls) in blue. Often they are the same folk who post messages about
people congregating in the local park, other people lighting bonfires in their
gardens, and assorted infringements of the new order.
Thus, Plod and Prodnose combine to provide a source of innocent merriment.
have learned not to participate in the various electronic conversations that
take place on this site. A recent one about feeding foxes tempted me to do so,
to my instant regret. I had not realised how firmly what I call ‘Beatrix Potter
syndrome’ has embedded itself into the hearts and minds of my ‘neighbours’.
Foxes (and squirrels, come to that) are not little furry people. They are wild
and they are pests.
(And don’t get me started about ‘Miss Two Dogs’, the girl who walks a black Labrador and a smaller hound, and regularly pours two or three pounds of grain from a carrier bag to feed the feral pigeons that infest the car park in front of the local railway station, and roost in the bridges which cross the road there.)
news about my home and garden improvements, Swiss brothels, or the antics of my
neighbours (including Miss Two Dogs), wouldn’t hold your attention for an
instant, so I am still stuck for something to write about.
brings me back to optimism. I realise that, at the moment, it may be in short
supply, though things are getting better, light is at the end of the tunnel,
and so forth. But I’ve been trying to look beyond the current Covid crisis and
am convinced that we shall see a massive improvement in the situation long
before the end of this year, and life afterwards will continue to improve.
reinforces this belief are facts, not opinions. Facts that were outlined a
decade ago in a book by a chap named Matt Ridley (officially Matthew White
Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley). It’s called ‘The Rational Optimist’,
and I cannot recommend it too highly as the perfect antidote to the current
gloomsters and doomsters, forever banging on about facemasks and second spikes
and goodness knows what else.
rightly points out that we are living through the greatest improvement in
living standards in history, our ecological footprint is steadily shrinking and
we are living more sustainably.
January, he forecast (in a magazine article) that by the end of the 2020s there would be (I quote) “...less poverty, less child mortality, less
land devoted to agriculture in the world. There will be more tigers, whales,
forests and nature reserves. Britain will be richer, and each of us will use
concede that forecast was made pre-Covid, but believe it will nonetheless come
true. So, if you need cheering up, ‘The Rational Optimist’ is the very book
you’re looking for.
Read more articles by John Carter
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