Robert Owen’s dictum, suitably doctored, starts with ‘The whole world’s mad …’ Certainly when ego and anarchy marry they can give birth to madness, even to the absurd:

We’d just eased ourselves into our seats when the tannoy crackled into life. The strident voice of the air stewardess launched into an accelerated mantra advising passengers that any alcohol bought before boarding was ‘not to be drinked’ during the flight. I was depressed by the fact that nobody seemed particularly surprised or even bothered. ‘Persistence wears down resistance,’ to coin William J Federer’s words. I suppose I could have raised an objection, but what difference would that have made? On the other hand, perhaps thinking more logically, I ought to have picked up on the lesson from Josh Billings in his poem ‘The Kicker’: ‘I always long for peace, But the wheel that does the squeaking, Is the one that gets the grease.

And now we hear the railways talking about bringing back segregated carriages: ‘Ladies only carriages’. Well, Thomas W. Jacobson - representative to the United Nations, Focus on the Family - points out that there are now 22 possible so-called sexual orientations. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Station platforms won’t be long enough.’ Ok, so let’s make them longer… but, then again, what’s the point of that if we all disguise ourselves with nongender- specific clothing?

I can’t remember how Owen’s dictum ends. Roy Hattersley, one-time Labour parliamentarian, has written an impressive tome entitled The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the Present Day (see Reviews p25). I quote from the dust cover: ‘Catholicism survives because it does not compromise.’

Josh Billings would tell us that we don’t squeak loudly enough.

Jay Kettle-Williams


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