I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…
Saturday… bombarded all week – as no doubt you were – by Brexit saying immigration would be out of control for as long as we remained, and by Remain saying the UK would be an economic basket case if we departed, I sought spiritual succour at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s final concert of the season. Ironic really. They played the EU anthem, Beethoven 9. For one crazy moment I thought the conductor might announce, “Before you make your decision, I would think very carefully…” It set me wondering, how would Beethoven have voted in the referendum? Like Burns, he was certainly attracted by the universal brotherhood of man. Alle Menschen warden Bruder… But then, I can imagine him hearing (with difficulty) reports that maybe the EU wasn’t as democratic as it purported to be, that it misused public funds, that the powerful nations of the north forced harsh austerity on the poorer nations of the south. He might then fly into a rage, enter the polling booth and spoil his ballet paper, much as he defaced the title page of the Eroica Symphony when Napoleon declared himself Emperor.
Sunday… took communion at Dunblane Cathedral. The holier I get, the less I believe anything. I have no opinion on the doctrine of transubstantiation. In my quotidian experience I’d prefer not to encounter the miraculous, and I’m not at all sure what the continued consciousness of JCC ad infinitum would entail, far less whether it would be either felicitous to myself, or propitious to anybody else. Yet in the cathedral, somebody shared with me a confidence of such intensity that I was completely undermined. Lachrymae. But of this I cannot speak.
Monday… and talking of banks, my local branch is closing. I wasn’t surprised. It has been providing an intermittent service for some time now. I got the letter to gloom me up at the beginning of the week. “Don’t worry – we’ll take care of everything for you.” A plug for internet banking, then “You can check your balance at the Post Office.” Actually the Post Office in my village closed some years ago. Like the bank, it downgraded first. A dedicated building closed, the village shop took over for a while, and now we have a van that occasionally parks by the village hall. I always suspect that when something goes from full-time to part-time, it’s the beginning of the end. In a way it’s no big deal. My 14 mile round trip to the bank/PO is now going to be a 20 mile round trip.
Tuesday… entered the Bridport literary comp, at the last possible moment, twice. One short story, one snippet of “flash” fiction. Cast your bread upon the waters. And, suitably galvanised, sent a piece, designed to entertain rather than inform, to a prestigious medical journal. All submissions to this ancient organ must now be electronic. I bit the bullet and negotiated the endless menus. Mostly I could write “not applicable”. No, I did not need informed patient consent for this piece of whimsy. Sometimes I had difficulty negotiating a compulsory field. The system admonished me in red and sent me back to the template I’d tried to ignore. But nothing in the drop-down menu would fit my special case. So I just made something up, attached my flight of fancy, and pressed send. I got an automated acknowledgement…
Wednesday… … followed by an email from a person of flesh and blood to say they couldn’t open my attachment. This was because my piece was a little fantastic and employed a special piece of software. I suggested the best solution would be that I send the piece by the Royal Mail. Negative. All submissions must be electronic. I said I’d see what I could do.
Thursday… printed out the piece and then scanned it back into my computer as a pdf doc. Then renegotiated the endless menus of the prestigious journal and resubmitted. I think it worked. This is the wonder of life upon which our digital dystopia will founder; we are all a special case – you will not be found in a drop down menu. F R Leavis said, “Only in living individuals is life there, and individual lives cannot be aggregated or equated or dealt with quantitatively in any way.”
Friday… Ebola survivor Pauline Cafferkey revealed that NHS 24 failed to put her in touch with a medical professional when she called the hotline. She said, I thought rather diplomatically, “NHS 24 weren’t a great deal of help.” I should mention that this information is in the public domain (Herald, June 3). She called 111 to say she had a high fever, and rigors. The call was not escalated. Fortunately, being a nurse, she had NHS contacts and was able to arrange her own hospital admission. The extraordinary thing is – it happened twice. The second time, she had Ebola meningitis. She called 111 and complained of severe headache, neck pain, photosensitivity, and vomiting. The call was not escalated. In other words, somebody without any medical training scrolled through some algorithms on a computer screen, ticking boxes, and then, presumably, “reassured” the patient. It beggars belief.
Saturday… brings us back to this wretched question of whether in or out. People are put off by the remoteness of Brussels, not just because it’s overseas, but because of the impregnability of the institutions. What differentiates the European Council, the Council of Europe, and the Council of the European Union, and which one of these is not actually in the European Union, although each EU member state is in the council in question? All politics are local, but do you know your MEP? As a Scot, I have six. There are 2 Ians, 2 Davids, an Alyn and a Catherine but I could only put one face to one name. Do they hold any local surgeries? I don’t know. I like face to face interactions. The whole of the art of medicine is based on the beautiful medical consultation, which is why medical advice over the phone is such a disaster. I’d like the option of going to the bank or the post office. A live orchestral concert is more rewarding than a performance on a CD or on some download mechanism. I’d like the option of contacting my prestigious medical journal by mail. On the web site of big multinational conglomerates the hardest thing to find is a High St address.
Will any of this disillusion with the faceless impersonal world we now inhabit, help me in my decision? I can certainly see a reason for coming out, and dumping all that bureaucracy. And the Remain Campaign has been pretty grim. They make staying in taste like a heavy dose of castor oil.
Yet there is (heaven help us) a “third way”. We could actually join the EU – properly. We’ve always been a bit semi-detached. Mr Cameron never had any remote chance of renegotiating conditions. Imagine trying to change the constitution of a golf club if you were only a part-time and reluctant member. Nobody would pay you the slightest attention. No, if you want to change something from the inside, you need to get in with the bricks, and become integral. Why do this? Do it, because the greatest problems facing the world today, among them poverty, disease, climate change, anarchy, and (the elephant in the room) overpopulation, can only be solved by global institutions working on a global scale. I worry about the people who want to leave. I suspect a lot of them still believe in the reality of the British Empire. But the Empire is no more. And as for the special relationship, who knows who the President-elect will turn out to be in November? Our island begins to look to me like Prospero’s Castle. Read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. It swayed the issue for me. You might say I made up my mind after paying attention to a crazy guy from New York.