After a couple of short walks, it doesn't really feel like I'm getting better in the slightest, but my body is just about beginning to mend itself. It's difficult to accept a limit to what you can do - particularly when that limit is small, and even more so when just a week-or-so ago it really wasn't so small - and learning to live within that limit is a bit of challenge. There have been several occasions where even mild exertion has resulted in a two-hour recovery in bed or on the settee. Still, bodies do heal and I can expect at some point to be able to do things like walk a quarter-mile without needing a sit down.
So, continuing the theme from earlier this week of short fictions that I have written, here's another. This one does very much fall foul of some of my own criticisms of other people's short writing, but here you go. I was obviously reading something achingly pretentious when I wrote it, judging by the way it's written. Enjoy...
The heat of battle is a good place to make a resolution, I suppose. Looking back on it now, from the distant reaches of my old age, it might seem that my recollections ought to be fuzzy, somehow, lacking the distinct detail of recent memories. It is not so, however. I wonder whether there is an element in what I remember of the extra flavour, the after-the-fact additions that enhance the story in the retelling, gradually accumulating until what is told is unrecognisable as what actually happened.
It happened at night, but in the flickering light of fire glinting from all manner of metal I could pick out the warped faces of friend and foe, indistinguishable because of their being alike in expressions of exultation. I fought my way through, trying to find sanctuary, desperate to be released from the press of bodies, sweating, heaving, limbs flailing, flinging salt liquid that stings the eyes.
As I looked round, I saw one man fall, lost beneath the moving throng, trampled into the murky, muddy grime. His face is still clear to me now, young enough for me to think even at the time that he was too young. Now I look back and my mind's eye sees him as a child of thirteen or fourteen, but that cannot have been true. Age has changed something, but whether it is my perception or the content of the memory itself I cannot tell.
I spoke of resolution. I did not intend when I began to recount this memory to make some great play of this moment, but it seems that the change it brought was of such significance that I can't help but do so. I saw him, and the effect was like the proverbial bolt of lightning. When I remember I do not see through my own eyes, but as though from the perspective of a bystander, looking at me and at him from some impossible angle. Impossible, because there cannot have been a place to stand from which you could see me and him without there being a mass of humanity in between.
I seem to stand proud of that melee, elevated perhaps. He likewise is alone, unsurrounded. The noise, the heat, the density of the atmosphere all disappear, a distant and dim background to the two figures who approach each other untouched by the hands of those around them. In that moment I decided, I made my vow. He comes close, such that I can see his long fingers, his easy, supple strength, his life. For a moment, hesitation takes me. But I am first.
“Would you like to dance?”
A brief diversion on the subject of John Denver: some great songs, expressing some feelings with great deftness and articulacy. Obviously the Greasy Chip Butty version is better than the original Annie's Song, but other than that... Here's the question, though: you hear someone express all these emotions, this strength of feeling, this purity of thought and love and whatever, and then (according to something I read on the internet, therefore obviously reliable) you find out that he chainsawed their bed in half as they (Denver and 'Annie') argued about their divorce. Does that diminish the art? Does the fact that Morrissey is an allegedly far-right anti-Islam supporting bellend mean the Smiths weren't good? Where to draw the line, though? Would you still listen to Michael Jackson? I don't really propose an answer to this, only to suggest that there are more things that artistic people do wrong than the very news-grabbing things that Michael Jackson (among others) did wrong.
Anyway, all of that was a diversion from the good and simple news: I'm finally home, and I no longer have the company of a bunch of other ill people to entertain (divert? distress?) me. Instead, I have to anticipate every situation in which previously my little boy might have thought it okay to jump with his full weight onto my belly, and make sure he doesn't. For some reason, he doesn't seem to understand the concept of internal infections and recovery times of days-to-weeks. Perhaps if he applied some of the mental energy he diverts to pursuing better snacks, he'd get there at some point. Perhaps not. Being a doctor looks like hard work, particularly in a hospital, and I have the most respect for anyone who would choose to pursue that as a job. Being a nurse looks equally hard. In fact, for both categories, there are some who seem to do their jobs a certain way, with care, integrity and effort. And it's those ones for whom the job looks difficult. When the surgeon breezes in with a large entourage and introduces himself very clearly as Mister (mate, you spent your whole career trying to shake off the distinctive bit of it; I'm bloody Mister), you can't help but feel that his job (it was a bloke in this case) may be technically difficult, but he doesn't commit that part of him that, for example, the nurse who started chatting to me about the universe expanding does.
It's very hard to recover gracefully from an illness. The toughest thing is judging when you're actually up to doing something useful, and you're often very wrong. I managed a five-minute walk this morning, but that's been enough to sit me down for a couple of hours. When you're used to knowing how your body will react, not knowing is full of unpleasant surprises. And it certainly confuses the other people around you (notwithstanding the very small one's general confusion!), because you can come across as pretty well for five minutes here and there, and then need to be asleep for an hour in the middle of the day just to function. This is equally true for the kind of physical ailment that I've recently encountered and for the kind of mental illness that I have experienced in myself and others. A lot of people have all sorts of sympathy for the physical kind, and not for the mental. It's a slow process, and one that takes time, effort, a willingness to confront, embarrass, challenge and argue, but it seems that people in general are starting to take the mental health as seriously as they do physical health. Let's hope so, eh?
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
There is a sign here that forbids, amongst other things, excessive swearing. It's a tricky call, that. At one point when a doctor was prodding me to establish what was wrong, excessive would have been difficult to achieve. If, on the other hand, nothing more significant has happened than that the nurse came over to do blood pressure, a full-on Malcolm Tucker barrage would definitely be excessive.
The calling to work in a hospital (or otherwise in healthcare, but it seems to be particularly intense here) must be strong, because some of the stuff that happens here would be enough to put off the average person. A nurse yesterday apologised for being late with painkillers and antibiotics after she had had a short 'negotiation' with one of her other parents that had left her bruised and covered in wee. It was one of those situations where a large number of sensible people are dealing with one unpredictable person, and you could hear them 'woah'-ing as she clearly contemplated doing something naughty. I think that is love - of the 'caritas', Christian sense - in its purest form, with no expectation of anything in return, just doing good and being kind because that is right. It must be a very stern test of even the most dedicated person.
On a lighter note, I am also delighted by the fact that I am now on E bay. This has great joke potential, particularly given the well-established family chatter about putting the baby on eBay. He has been in the hospital, but is not allowed on any of the wards. Presumably that's because they've already met him or at least heard about him, but the net effect is that he is only allowed in a little interview room at one end of the ward. He did not seem bothered in the slightest. To him it was just a new place to sway dangerously, fall into hard objects and otherwise make a nuisance of himself. He has no associations with hospitals. The big one does, though, and my initial reaction to being kept in was to say that neither of them should come at all. This is perhaps to protect them from developing the same sort of long-range negativity I have about this place, the association of those hopeless walks along trackless corridors before and after spending time with an ill relative or friend, the smell, the creaking of the beds.
For some people, the last few days or weeks of life in hospital is a sad end, often made more so by the fact that the person himself only asks to be at home, regardless of the impracticality of that request. That is sad, desperately so, but it is a very different thing to face death knowing it is coming, to be able to make one last unfulfillable request ("I'd like a pint. No? What about just a half?"), to have seen everyone that one last time and to know that it is the last time. For those people, wishing them back is redundant for the most part. Their lives were, and whatever the course of them, that course ends. Mourning someone's passing is right, but celebrating life in this case is easy. Much more difficult to accept is those whose lives end without any of this preparation, without this coming-to-terms, however frightening it might be to think about. In that case the grieving response of wishing them back for one last conversation, one last chance to say sorry or goodbye or thank you makes much more sense.
Sometimes it is only after someone is gone that you quite realise how much they mattered, or how well they understood you. Sometimes it is just a shared moment that you want to say thank you for, or a time they listened when others didn't. Sometimes, it's all of those things. For someone with no belief in life-after-life, the zero-chance-ness of ever putting that right weighs heavy. It would be easy enough to write on here 'tell that person while there is still a chance', but even in this most sentimental of moods I recognise the practical barriers for doing this. But memories of good things passed don't have to be sad memories. Hope - for a future to make more memories of the good things - seems to be the big driver of the sadness. That's the why for all this mindfulness stuff I occasionally spout: it's about 'now'. So instead of living in Hope, let's settle for living in Hathersage.
I have followed what footprints you have left for four years. Sometimes I felt myself connected to you, as though I could sense your presence in those distant places, far from what either of us might call home. Sometimes I felt lost and alone, awed by the vastness of the world and the smallness of us, its occupants, in it. My search has taken me as far as the Holy Land, beyond even Constantinople, of which I spoke to you long ago. I went to Jerusalem, sought out the Temple and stood before it, but God did not speak to me there. He would not tell me. No matter my prayers and promises, He does not bargain, at least not with me.
Now that I have found your trail once again, I reflect again on the moment when I told you, “Hide where not even I would think to look for you.” What a foolish thing to say to someone of your cast of mind! And, if I am right, your solution to that challenge was close to perfection. And it must have been torture for you.
I have arrived at Rome. Of all the places I have been, it is the one city where I could remain forever. The strength of will that you have shown to be here, to be what you have become, is far past my comprehension. If it is, as you once said to me, “Better to die for truth than live in falsehood,” I can only hope that you have faced this punishment with equanimity. I hope too that you have found consolation in the peace of your cloister.
God cast me from Him before I ever knew you, but I never quite forgot Him. Even now, when I stand in His house, I am humble, penitent. My last true confession was more than ten years ago, after I killed a man. The priest absolved me, but my guilt did not diminish. Even the sure knowledge that he would have killed me without any remorse did not make his dead eyes stop looking at me.
By God, Santa Maria is beautiful. I sat in the Carafa chapel, looking at Filippino Lippi's frescos, waiting for the Abbess. How I envy those for whom the religious life is satisfying. I cannot imagine that you have adapted to that life, but there was a dreadful fear in me that you would see me and tell me to go home, to leave you to your vows. First, I needed my answer: had I finally got it right?
“An Englishwoman?” she says, in an accent that I cannot place. “Yes. If that is all you wish to know, you may leave us now. She is safe.”
“I wish to see her,” I say, reluctant to look this abbess in the eye, as though her vows mean that I should not look upon her earthly body. That feeling of proscription is doubled by the aim of my coming here, to bring you away from God and back to me. Providence is on my side, as she is unprepossessing, plain and old under her hood, I see her as a woman, not a woman of God, and somehow I feel I can hold her gaze as long as I wish.
“If it is,” she says, “to confirm her identity, then that may be done without your meeting. If it is to encourage her to break her vows to God, then I forbid it.”
“Tell her I am here. If it is truly her, she will see me. Not even God may deny her that.”
“You are not speaking to God, Sir. You are speaking to me, and in my convent, I may permit or deny as I see fit.” She looks at me, and I can feel that in that moment she is deciding whether to indulge me or to send me away. I am no charmer, able to sway people with a smile or a well-chosen word. Indeed, it is more common for me to bring out anger. So I say nothing, but try to clear my mind of all but you and everything that we said and did before you went away, in the hope that God might, for once, intervene on my behalf.
She points a finger at me, accusatory. “To break her vows... I should not have let her take them.”
“She is not hidden in here because of forbidden love,” I say, the words out before I recognise what I am saying. Calmer, I carry on. “She is hiding from the world.”
“She has told me a little. The world thinks her dead.”
“And so it shall remain. She had already devoted herself to God, more than even the most devout of your nuns. But this is where she was best hidden.”
The abbess stands, and lays a hand on my shoulder. “God's love is great, my boy. But her's for you...” She leads me into the main body of the church, past Michaelangelo's Christ, and bids me be seated. She leaves me alone.
Then the world stops. Time ceases its flow. You are here.
It is difficult to get across how it feels, this illness. A long time ago, I had such vigour, such life. Now I simply wish that my life would end. It is not that my current infirmity is unbearable in itself. It is what I was that occupies my mind. Some of the things I achieved are – were – so remarkable that now I can barely comprehend that I did indeed achieve them. You may even have had the pleasure of reading about them, though I suspect you would not connect what you have read with this litany of misery.
Degeneration is, I am told, a 'fact of life', as though that is some compensation. My body began its long, significant decline many years ago, though it is only recently that my mind has joined it on this downward slide. I suspect that this experience is common. However, I wonder whether any who were to share my specific predicament would, or could, feel differently to me. I wonder if any have have indeed shared my unusual fate.
I had given up on being explicit, because those with whom I am honest seem to lose interest in my story. Consequently, I have found myself resorting to a kind of trickery, I suppose, enticing the eager reader with what might at first come across as sophistication. This has been better, at least, than facing again the seemingly widely-held assumption that I am a fantasist, simply confused about 'wie es eigentlich gewesen'. Well, Leopold, at the time I told you a few tales, I told you how it essentially was, but you didn't believe me then and no one believes me now.
I do not pretend that now I could tell you everything, but if you cared to ask, I could probably give you some idea of what happened, if I was there. And for a lot of the events you might ask about, I was there. My legacy torments me every time I visit the library, every time I begin to read, and I find that now my mind is failing, now that I can no longer grow and change, this is intolerable. I cry for help but my captors – they do not think of themselves that way – do not heed it.
A new pestilence seems to have arisen, the rapid and untrackable proliferation of the insignificant. This internet that captures so many imaginations, the emptiness of transient fame for nothing other than displaying ignorance, these are the tropes of the modern day. I had thought that the printing press would be the end, a challenge greater than I could meet. Then, I mastered my enemy. Now, I am beaten, decrepit, when I was once so accustomed to proficiency, to comprehension. I do not understand. That is the first time I have written those words, and I foresee myself uttering them frequently. I no longer understand. Help me.
The worst aspect of sitting in the Surgical Assessment Unit is that all these other folks come in, you end up hearing the bit where the doctor tells them what's wrong and what will happen next, meeting their family who - this being Sheffield, of course - will start chatting nonsense about where they used to work or David Baldwin's fish and chip shop (or whatever), conspiring with them to smuggle in a bacon butty, getting all set up for the first bit of the story, then they disappear off elsewhere in the hospital and never come back. That is all to be expected, of course, but there's a bit of me that just wants to hear that Peter's hip is fixed, or that George finally did get that bacon sandwich.
It's not that long ago that these stories would have washed over me, and I would have left the hospital broadly unaffected. I suppose when the stories were about people that I directly cared about, people that were related to me in most cases, I would feel myself start to invest myself in them, but it's only relatively recently that the full force of thinking about someone else's life, its beginning and middle and inevitable end, has hit me. Perhaps that is why I have taken up writing, to try to channel that new experience into something worthwhile. Although I suppose it is a bit ambitious for me to claim that my writing is worthwhile. All the good bits of my books and most especially this website are pinched from someone else!
What's the point of all of this? Well, trying to derive some sort of value out of the whole experience (beyond the absolute confirmation that the people who staff these hospitals, from the orderlies up to the surgeons, but mostly the orderlies and nurses are great), I set to thinking about these stories that I was missing such a large part of. I've always had a rocky relationship with intentionally short fiction, generally because a lot of it is self-indulgent rubbish (of a piece with what I write on here!). That's two exclamation marks in two paragraphs, which ought to be a sign of some kind, by the way, but I'm not sure what it signifies. I suppose since one was inside a bracket I can absolve myself. Short stories always struggle to create a complete world, for me. I've tried it, and the only way I've ever found to execute them convincingly is to embed them, almost as though the short story is just a scene from a longer one. But I'm a writer of limited skill, and with an equally limited range of things to say.
One of my big complaints, I think, is that a short story is often a vehicle for a writerly trick, a sleight of hand or a deliberate misleading of the reader, and I don't really enjoy being misled as a reader. And I think over the course of a novel, if you're planning on executing a similar move, you've got a lot longer to charm me into it. Short fiction is also often a way of excusing plotless writing, where there is an event or a scene, but no actual movement, no change. I'm quite happy with that in itself, because I'll happily read a whole chapter of character sketch in Scott or Dumas, but when it is merely an exercise, something done because the writer could, not so much. And there we go, I think. I have revealed my prejudice. Short stories always end up seeming to me to be written for the writer, not for the reader. But when it comes to novel-sized books, I find the idea that someone would have thought about their reader (instead of their plot, characters, their writing) and used it to drive the writing of the book quite unattractive. So there we go. A bundle of contradictions. And just to add to the bundle, I'll post a couple of short stories on this news feed.
Not for the first time, I have the NHS to thank. When you consider what an extraordinary redistributive project the whole thing is, the fact that there are odd bits of it that don't work especially well is hardly surprising. Some people I know have struggled to get the best out of the mental health services, for example, and there will always be the occasional story of someone whose exceptional case is mishandled for whatever reason. But these should not blind us to what the NHS is. Some of my family, by way of example, have a tendency to think in terms of the service being as straightforward as complain-diagnose-treat, and that any deviation from that simple pattern is because of a lack of insight or efficiency in the practitioners. That's a bit like seeing children failing to get top grades as the fault of their teachers. There are many ways it might have come to pass, most unavoidable, and the treatment, such as it is, is often a best-guess at what might improve matters. We have accumulated incredible knowledge of the human body and the various ways it goes wrong, but the beautifully clean-cut examples that Dr Google provides never seem to quite fit the patterns that we as patients present to the doctors.
Just so any unsuspecting readers are aware, there may be dad-jokes ahead. Let's start with this blindingly obvious one: the last place anyone needs to go when they are ill is to a hospital full of other, more ill people. That'll do for a start. The other people here have illnesses and injuries that are a little bit more obvious than mine, but it is still a privilege to be looked after without question, judgement or prejudice by some fantastic people. There seems to be a bit of a spirit about the place, despite the terrifying nature of what is happening to people all around. I have ended up looking up whether the painkillers I am taking lead to melancholy or depression (apparently they do not) as I start to take in the stories of these people around me, to hear about the lives they have led and how they might be beginning to face the end of those lives. I don't know whether this is Sheffield-specific, but there seems to be quite a high chance of starting a random conversation with the family surrounding the person in the bay opposite, or in my case a conversation with the nurse about the way the universe expands.
In my family, the legend is that Huntsman 7 is the one to avoid. According to the inter web, though, Huntsman 7 is orthopaedics, which you wouldn't normally associate with impending doom. I've only ever been a casual visitor as a patient to the actual hospital, although I do have some fairly dense associations with the Longley Centre just over the way. But everyone dies of something, and generally the thing that you die of will hospitalise you first. It's unfair to expect hospitals, therefore, to never let anyone die. They do somewhat focus the mind on the possibility, though.
I don't have some sort axe to grind on this. It's more of a kind of thank you, a nod of respect for those people - many of whom are EU migrants or indeed from further afield - who choose to involve themselves in what must at times be a very difficult set of professions. That some of those people who work to make things better for other people end up suffering on the wrong end anti-immigration sentiment is a great shame, because the guiding principle of the NHS was that you don't bother with establishing eligibility over fifty layers of bureaucracy before administering treatment. You just get on with it. So even as I spend a second night away from home, I can take some comfort in the fact that there is still that sentiment here. Just get on with it, treat people with kindness and compassion, and worry about the cost later.
“I cannot go through all my thoughts, so as to make them clear to you, nor have I ever dwelt on things, to shape a story of them. I know not where the beginning was, nor where the middle ought to be, nor even how at the present time I feel, or think, or ought to think. If I look for help to those around me, who should tell me right and wrong (being older and much wiser), I meet sometimes with laughter, and at other times with anger...
...I think; and nothing ever comes of it. Nothing, I mean, which I can grasp, and have with any surety; nothing but faint images, and wonderment, and wandering...
...Often too I wonder at the odds of fortune, which made me (helpless as I am, and fond of peace, and reading), the heiress of this mad domain...
...You must be tired of this story, and the time I take to think, and the weariness of my telling; but my life from day to day shows so little variance. Among the riders there is none whose safe return I watch for- I mean none more than any other- and indeed there seems no risk...”
It's a while since I read Lorna Doone, and its frankly forbidding size makes thinking about reading it again a bit of a non-starter. It's not got so much of the swashbuckling that one might like from a Victorian novel, but it did teach me a great deal about how to work the land of Devon. It also features a beautiful central story of love between John Ridd and Lorna herself, much like the even grander sweep of the story of Olivier and Andrée de Charny (her married name; she is 'de Taverney'). I actually think the Marie Antoinette sequence is even better than either the Musketeers or the Count, but I do not have many allies in that opinion. Anyway, to illustrate (and at the possible risk of a spoiler):
"But I have something to ask you," said the queen.
"Will you pardon me?"
There was an instant's silence as if Andrée hesitated.
"Yes," she replied at length, "for tomorrow I will be with him."
Andrée de Taverney is possibly Dumas' most fully-realised female character, the one with the most affecting story of all, the one into which he poured his heart and soul. I can't help but think that she was the great man's favourite, as well, in amongst all the beautiful heroines. I think she might have been the one that he fell in love with while writing her. There's no doubt for me that RD Blackmore wrote Lorna as a sort of fantasy woman, impossibly beautiful, innocent, in need of rescue. That is not Andrée, although she is a victim of some terrible male behaviour. Dumas - I think, although I do not pretend to know the inner workings of his mind - wrote her into existence and then developed something of a passion for her. Blackmore created a woman to love. Dumas created a woman, and found her to be so rich that he couldn't help but fall in love with her.
Something to be proud of: the Village Cricket Club of St Margaret and St Bernard (St Bernard was her dog)* celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year. As one of my fellow-founders said on Saturday evening, he has spent his life doing things of which he can't always be proud, but bringing this club into being and navigating it through its various crises of playing staff, fixtures and political decisions about whether to play league or friendly cricket has been and remains a source of great pride. One observation made by a non-cricketing member was that the current crop of young(ish!) people at the core of the club love it every bit as much as we did fifteen years ago when we first started, living, breathing and talking non-stop nonsense about cricket from about February through to September. It ought to be kept in mind that through the first couple of years, we didn't really win any games. And on some occasions we got thoroughly, utterly humped. But we didn't care, and by Tuesday we were discussing the next match on email. Either that, or trying to figure out the highest prime-numbered bus routes in London. Inevitably, we would be dreadful the following weekend, but that never seemed to put us off.
Now, in the capable hands of someone capable, my old cricket club wins more of its games than it loses. In some sense, that is a dereliction of the original point of the enterprise, but winning or losing was never that high on the agenda, mostly because the result was never in doubt. But now, just as then, Thursday afternoon is spent sending various emails, ringing round likely (or in the early days, less likely!) candidates for filling that tenth or eleventh berth in the team. There is still endless talk of statistics, repeats of stories about legendary tour incidents - Morgans' shower or Frankie's Chip Van from the early days, this year they went on (cricket) tour to Montenegro! - and the even more legendary missing scorebook from the first two seasons. Of course, I took 50 wickets at about 6 apiece and made 1000 runs in each of those two seasons. In my own head, at least!
Some folk - who tend, for whatever reason, to be of the lefty, liberal political persuasion - don't do pride. That is as distinct from those of the more righty, illiberal persuasion who don't do Pride, of course... I think it's possible to do both, as it happens. It can be immensely difficult to be proud of the good stuff, because it's distinctly British to be modest, but also because for most of us the bad stuff outweighs the good stuff. The Village CC is something of which I can be proud to have been a part. It still gets it right: cricket is about larking around on the field, the social event, the endless inane banter. The glue that binds a bunch of people together, not just a game but a way of life. In a few years' time, the first VCC children will don the ridiculous white uniform of the 22-person rain dance that is cricket on a Saturday afternoon, and we can only hope that they will not be led too far astray by the current crop of Villagers, whoever that turns out to be. So, thank you to those people who have and continue to put in the immense effort it takes to get a cricket club working, and to everyone who has been a part of it since the beginning.
*I think I have that right. The VCC constitution also includes the 'right to bare arms' joke. Among others.
Offered without further comment...
No, wait, I can't quite manage it. I don't think the cocaine use is the (biggest) issue here. I think it's writing an article that condemns middle-class drug users whilst being one of the very people at whom the article aimed. Realistically, as David Cameron asserted a few years ago, politicians are entitled to a private life before entering politics. He, of course, was the subject of a particularly embarrassing story that he might have wanted to avoid becoming public. No one really seems to know whether the content of that story is true or not, but given what I saw my fellow students get up to, it would be no surprise if it were in fact true.
So the question is: to what standards should we hold people? One can't help but feel that things like the Fiona Onasanya case and Gove's recent revelations reveal that whatever they say in public, politicians are unlikely to ever be squeaky clean, and in some cases will be a lot worse than that. But this is a field which puts non-experts into jobs as the absolute head honcho, and expects them to do a good job of it. Michael Gove is widely pilloried by those within the teaching profession (one of my teacher friends has a book, called 'Everything I Know About Teaching', supposedly by Gove himself, which is a full book's worth of blank pages), but again it is no surprise to find someone who has no background, no professionally-gained knowledge (beyond his own education) of the system and no academic expertise (again, beyond the education he received) in any of the subjects about which he would subsequently pronounce to be at odds with members of the profession. Gove is often slightly misquoted as saying that 'we've had enough of experts'. In fact, according to Wikiquote, the exchange ran thus:
Gove: I think the people in this country have had enough of experts, with organizations from acronyms, saying--
Interviewer: They've had enough of experts? The people have had enough of experts? What do you mean by that?
Gove: People from organizations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.
Inteviewer: The people of this country have had enough of experts?
Gove: Because these people are the same ones who got consistently wrong what was happening.
Interviewer: This is proper Trump politics this, isn't it?
Gove: No it's actually a faith in the--
Inteviewer: It's Oxbridge Trump.
Gove: It's a faith, Faisal, in the British people to make the right decision.
Gove is also on record as saying that he could not be PM.
So there you go. Does Gove's cocaine use mean he couldn't be a good PM? What he gets up to in private is his business, and his alone. But once he goes public with condemnation of other people's drug use, he has brought his private behaviour into the field of discussion. It will be interesting to see what the repercussions of that decision turn out to be.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought