Tank Park Salute

David, off-duty in Bergen-Belsen, 1949

David, off-duty in Bergen-Belsen, 1949

Tomorrow is my father’s funeral. David Anthony will be carried into St Michael’s Church, Ledbury, wearing his Royal Tank Regiment tie. Dad served as a tankie during his National Service, single-handedly saving western Germany from the Russian invaders. He profoundly resented the time he had to waste, serving King and Country, and the bloody politicians – indeed he spent much of his retirement reading, with relish, various accounts of high-ranking military incompetence.

Chieftain Salute

Chieftains salute

Even so, he is wearing his Royal Tank Regiment tie, because he was immensely proud of his time as a Tankie. He would never have expressed it as “service”, but that’s what it was.

Twenty years ago I heard Bill Bragg’s song, Tank Park Salute. Bragg was also, briefly, a tankie, and his father was a tankie during World War Two. Following the death of his father Bragg wrote this song which expresses the eternal wonder of the relationship between son and father: the questions the father can answer, the safety he provides, the hero he becomes. It is an eternal wonder because, even though death leaves us bewildered that the permanent presence of our father is gone, the connection between father and son remains.

Tomorrow I will give the address at my father’s funeral. It won’t be a tank park salute; it won’t be nearly as worthy of him as that. But in the back of my mind will be Bragg’s words, “to remind me that I’m but my father’s son”.

The Good-Morrow for my father

My father, David Anthony, died today. He had been living with dementia, diabetes, parkinsonism, and a whole host of debilitating conditions and symptoms. He died peacefully, with my mother Sheila by his side. I had given him Last Rites 36 hours before he died.

This morning, I said morning prayer by his bedside, and realised that today was the feast day of John Donne. I was reminded of Donne’s poem The Good-Morrow: I read the poem to him:

THE GOOD-MORROW by John Donne

I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean’d till then ?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly ?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den ?
‘Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be ;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear ;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone ;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown ;
Let us possess one world ; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest ;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west ?
Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally ;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

My mother said “that says it all”. My father died three days before the 60th Anniversary of their wedding.

Of your charity,
pray for the repose of the soul of
David Anthony,
26 October 1928 – 31 March 2014 

David Anthony

David, serving King and Country, aged 19

Chris Christie and the dark side of strong leadership

bridgegateleadership

Jonathan Freeland in today’s Guardian takes the opportunity to connect Chris Christie (Republican Governor of New Jersey), “Bridgegate“, and the tempting dangers of strong leadership:

“Strong leader” is the medal every politician wants on his chest, pinned there by the voters. Those who have succeeded – Thatcher, Blair, Reagan – are those who’ve been branded strong, while weak is synonymous with failure: step forward, John Major. No matter what else the polls say, Conservative strategists draw comfort from the data showing David Cameron trumping Ed Miliband on the “strong leader” measure.

Yet the Christie affair suggests our desire for strength is a complicated business, that we want it but only up to a point. For a while, Republicans especially liked the fact that Christie seemed more Goodfellas than West Wing, happy to intimidate teachers or tell a disgruntled voter to “keep walking” (unless, one presumes, the voter wanted to get hit). But when that machismo turns into outright abuse of power, at the expense of large numbers of ordinary citizens, it loses its lustre. There is, it seems, a line that separates the muscular, decisive leader from the aggressive bully – a line Christie has crossed, to what could prove his fateful cost.

If only, Freedland muses, there were some scholarly work which could describe accurately and convincingly this danger, the transmogrification of leader into bully… Fortunately for Freedland he has the inside dope on just such a work:

In April, the veteran political scientist and former professor of politics at Oxford, Archie Brown, will publish The Myth of the Strong Leader, suggesting we should cure ourselves of our attraction to the alpha male model of leadership. Once a dominant single individual rules, the way is paved towards “important errors at best, and disaster and massive bloodshed at worst”.

Wonderful. Can’t walk to see Archie Brown’s book come out. Can’t wait to see how much of his argument, if not his examples, walks over the ground set out in this book, published a whole year before Brown’s book, and already warning about the dangers that seemingly have only just occurred to Freedland.

 

Impiety

To neglect my parents in old age is not an act of injustice but an act of impiety. Impiety is the refusal to recognise as legitimate a demand that does not arise from consent or choice. And we see that the behaviour of children towards their parents cannot be understood unless we admit this ability to recognise a bond that is ‘transcendent’, that exists, as it were, ‘objectively’, outside the sphere of individual choice.

Roger Scruton, ‘Authority and Allegiance’, The Meaning of Conservatism (2nd edition, 1984)

Archbishop warns against ‘hero leader culture’

… or so goes the headline on the BBC news report of the Archbishop’s first Easter sermon.

As well as fear a false view of people leads to hero leaders, who always fail. Put not your trust in new leaders, better systems, new organisations or regulatory reorganisation. They may well be good and necessary, but will to some degree fail. Human sin means pinning hopes on individuals is always a mistake, and assuming that any organisation is able to have such good systems that human failure will be eliminated is naïve.

I wonder if he has been reading an advanced copy of this?

Now here!

Meanwhile, in local news…

There is a dispute about opposition to a proposed airport to be built in the Thames estuary. A local council has earmarked £35,000 as a “fighting fund”. Most people in Medway, possibly, are opposed to the building of the airport, but some people have called for a referendum to test the extent of the opposition, and to see whether £35,000 would be spent according to local will. The Deputy Leader of Medway Council (Conservative led), Alan Jarrett, doesn’t see the point of a referendum. First of all, it would cost too much (he says): anything up to £250,000. Second of all, and most impressively:

The assumption which we are correctly making is the vast majority of people are in favour of what we are doing.1

Stuff the Ballot!Read that again… ”The assumption which we are correctly making is the vast majority of people are in favour of what we are doing.”

I am really, really impressed, that the satire of Bertolt Brecht is alive and well and living in Tory-run Medway Council

  1. From here
    BBC News Thames Estuary airport: Row over Medway ‘fighting fund’
    []

Bryan Appleyard on “Dark Wealth”

“Shocking” is too soft a word to describe the crimes of the financial sector. They are almost thrilling in their creative abundance – laundering money for drugs cartels; defrauding old people, small businesses, investors and shareholders; rigging markets; sugarcoating dud loans to look like good ones; loading the world economy with ever greater levels of risk and throwing millions of people out of work. And so on. All the time, they were enriching nobody but themselves. The banks and their buddies have been on a crime spree that would have glazed over the eyes of Al Capone.

Read it all

The Triumph of the Therapeutic II

[Jung, Reich and Lawrence] tried, in their disparate ways, to go so far beyond psychologising that it would become a way of life, that culture would be destroyed as a system of controlling consolations and reconstructed as a system of more immediate releases of impulse… They did not so much seek some new consolation as that culture of release which would render the many consolations of high culture unnecessary. However, what they achieved was new consolations, locked forever in a struggle against defensive cultural ideologies.

Philip Rieff, ‘The Analytic Attitude’, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, (2006), p. 29

The Triumph of the Therapeutic

from Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn’s 2006 introduction to Philip Rieff’s seminal work:

Ephebe NarcissusWith nothing shared beyond a commitment to the self, which turns out to be a commitment to nothing, the individual lacks essential resources for flourishing in ordinary times and for solace in periods of great need. The anything goes mentality of niche marketing prevails, driving what qualifies as reading and thinking downward to new lows.

Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, “Introduction (2006),” in Triumph of the Therapeutic: uses of faith after Freud, by Philip Rieff, 40th Anniversary Edition. (ISI Books, 2006), vii–xxvi.