Reasons to be cheerful in midwinter

  • Oranges are in season.
  • I am reunited with certain favourite winter clothes.
  • Underwear won’t show, so it doesn’t need to be chosen with any care.
  • Cats choose to spend more time indoors.
  • I wake with Andrew (not hours earlier).
  • If the garden is tidied, it stays tidy—weeds don’t grow back.

There must be more.

Repartee

Andrew: … the weird thing, when you go to visit and actually look at what they are saying, is how moderate and reasonable the Occupy people seem to be. Most of them are only saying the same sort of things as most of the other people you hear. [As he talks he is approaching the wall with a new photo off the big printer, this one cropped to a tall portrait format.]

I: [looking critically at the new print] Why such huge margins?

Jón: [without missing a beat] Yes, that’s the kind of question they’re asking.

It’s this sort of thing that makes me glad I live in Cambridge, despite the drizzle.

The coldest May night for some 15 years

… so said the weather report on the radio. And it was.

But it could have been worse. And at least now there is something definite to do: we have a referendum to win. I know it’s only for AV, but still it must be won.

AV does at least solve some of the problems with the current system: it removes the need for tactical voting—you give your first preference to the one you really want, and your second preference to the one you would have picked as the safe tactical choice—and it has the potential to lay to rest all those tedious arguments about how the voters would have supported a party if only it had been either more or less extreme in its policies: you can test the theory by putting up candidates of both flavours and seeing which of them the voters actually prefer.

And an AV system can be modified later into a true PR system. Once people have got used to the idea of preference voting, perhaps expanding the size of constituencies (so that it becomes STV) or adding top-up members (so that it becomes AV+) would seem like less of a leap into the unknown.

The next five years, or however long this coalition lasts, are going to be grim for the country, though. I haven’t forgotten the 1980s. And I went to Cambridge, and I met a lot of people like that Cameron chap, and I know how obnoxious they are when they aren’t trying to sound nice.

Electoral reform – can we do something in Cambridge?

This is the moment electoral reformers have been waiting for—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I feel inclined to do something active. I’d have been in London yesterday outside the Lib Dem meeting, shouting, if I hadn’t had a work commitment. I know that a lot of people here in Cambridge feel as I do on the electoral reform question. Can we get ourselves together and do something locally, in the way of a public meeting, rally or demonstration?

I think it is important to remind the Lib Dems that a lot of their support came from anti-Tory tactical voters who will be outraged if they sacrifice this chance in order to make a deal. The long-term health of the country will be best served by their insisting on a referendum now.

For a statement of the main arguments for PR as I see them, see a piece I wrote some time ago in a quieter moment.

Appropriate verse

In Hull on Friday for the funeral of my lovable though sometimes difficult aunt, who was keen on poetry, and particularly on the local product. Which set a recurring theme for the day, starting with one cousin’s reading at the crematorium,

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said …

and ending, after many hours of revisiting family history and several bottles of good red wine, with a spontaneous rousing chorus of

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Not that it was a morbid day. There were spring flowers everywhere and we basked in spring sunshine, and there was a new baby to admire. And a great deal that was very good to celebrate in the family history, too.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

I’m very glad I went. I don’t see my cousins often, but they are important to me, and it’s lovely to see the next generations of their families flourishing (so far nobody other than me has actually followed Larkin’s advice on the question of reproduction). The whole day formed a fitting send-off for a vivid, complicated and often wonderfully entertaining aunt. A hangover the next morning seemed a small price to pay.

Déjà vu

These are notes for what might become an essay one day. It’s a big theme and I’m not sure I will ever write it up properly. The elements are:

  • Chapter 12 of Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: ‘In oval mirrors we drive around’: on experiencing a sense of déjà vu;
  • My own experiences of revisiting, after an interval of three(?) years, the half-remembered city of Lecce (‘I went in there—I’m sure I did—and there’s something to see in there, something quite grand, I think …’);
  • A visual illusion—an infinite regression—caused by two not-quite-parallel mirrors (see photo), which in turn reminded me (déjà vu!) of …
  • The downstairs front room in my grandmother’s house, long ago: the ‘shop’, as it was still called, though it hadn’t really been one for years—where there was just such an arrangement of mirrors, endlessly delightful to small children, and presumably also, though in a quieter way, to the ladies of Abergavenny in former days as the fit of their tailored costumes was altered (Granma with a mouthful of pins, measuring, tugging, adjusting with a confident hand—as she still did for us as children, though I never saw her with her paying customers).