I’m in a book group. Our meetings have never been enlivened by English Defence League members chanting about the Taliban or keeping England English, as happened in Newcastle recently when they stormed a discussion of Russell Brand’s “Revolution” expecting to find him there.
That time we read “The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald, they didn’t pop their heads round the door wanting to take him to task for his decadent portrayal of the jazz age.
When we were all disagreeing about Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, they didn’t throng the room to see if Henry VIII was there so they could congratulate him on standing firm against the Spanish.
I like to think my book group would terrify the English Defence League more than any gentle left-wing revolutionaries. Marjorie could make use of her rock buns as improvised missiles. Lauren would ask them to improve the grammar in their chants, as she can’t bear sloppy use of apostrophes. Doreen would ask them to please all just be quiet as we haven’t all answered the question yet about whether or not “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an instruction manual or a warning. Mavis would have addressed them in her best schoolteacher voice and told them all to stop being so silly.
I think we would have sent the lot of them running away in terror more quickly than the uniformed officers who dispatched the Newcastle group. Then we’d have got back to our Zadie Smith, and our Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie, our Jonas Jonasson and our Tove Janson. To the pleasure of reading about, learning about people from completely different cultures to our own. To the satisfaction of discussing the issues facing them and us and recognising our common humanity.
Ordinary Northern men and women (mostly women to be fair), quietly engaged in the truly revolutionary act of empathising and reading. Maybe the greatest defence we have against the idiots of the EDL.
:: The debate about the pre-election TV debates is leaving me perplexed.
How can it even be optional that this is happening? How can it be that politicians are talking about terms and conditions as if they’re doing us a favour by airing the issues?
We live in a democracy where the main forum for political debate is the adversarial House of Commons. Shouting at each other is their thing. The very least we would expect, when they’re asking us to vote for them, is that they will come and do it on what is still the biggest media platform there is - the telly.
None of this “I won’t be coming unless they give me a pot of green M&Ms and my own make up artist” (making up statistics-artist more like).
There might be talk of the party leaders being “frit”, but any withdrawal is more about them being a “twit”.
Never mind one pre-election debate every five years. We should have at least bi-annual, prime-time party leader debates. We deserve to hear how our parties justify their ongoing records. It may be the thing that makes politics feel relevant again.
I am restraining myself from suggesting there should also be a live eviction and Will i Am and Rita Ora watching with their backs turned and only spinning their chairs round if they hear something interesting. But that might help the level of debate too.
:: Exciting news that Newcastle is to get it’s very own cat cafe. I recently took our dog Norbert to a comedy workshop I was running because I couldn’t get a dogsitter. It made participants more relaxed and broke the ice quicker.
Study after study proves that stroking dogs and cats reduces blood pressure and prolongs lives, but we are still a “Pet-tolerant” rather than a “Pet-friendly” society.
There’s no law that bans them from restaurants - though owners often say there is.
I think if we allowed them everywhere, we’d have a happier, friendlier society.
Maybe the House of Commons and party political debates would be transformed into havens of rationality and calm with the presence of a feline or canine creature or two.