Love thy Neighbour

Times of London, 28 Jan 2020

This isn’t something I’d normally want to write about, but two stories in the Times of London today caught my attention. An apparently senseless stabbing today at a London rail station on the one hand and a near-riot as five black men were sentenced for murder at the Old Bailey for similar offences. I couldn’t help but feel that their facial expressions varied between defiance and stupidity. In large cities, knives are carried by an alarming number of young men and they’re not being used to sharpen pencils. Sometimes these are large enough to be described as ‘machetes’, normally used to chop away at undergrowth, fell small trees and so on. These, carried by young, often black men, are used as weapons of war to maintain control over what they regard as their ‘turf’ where draconian protectionism concerning drug supplies can be controlled against other predatory local groups seeking to overthrow them by force of arms. This isn’t new; inner city knife crime has existed since urbanisation but never, ever on this scale. People are afraid to walk the streets; they wring their hands, demand more police, community workers, park keepers and janitors; in fact any responsible adult who is just ‘there’. Mostly, they wait, helplessly, for someone to do something.

Some argue that parental discipline is at fault where children as young as 11 or 12 are simply allowed to do as they like and in the absence of appropriate role modelling, often from paternal absence, seek out similar to act as role models, to bond with, undergo initiation ceremonies and join an organisation to which they feel they can be part of, to belong. Frequently, they are used as drug mules to supply to outlying districts, the coke, MDMA, ketamine or whatever is currently in demand by the well-heeled and feckless who are inoculated against the social deprivation driving so many to desperate measures and care nothing for the social costs of supply.

Others argue that schools are at fault, but, like King Canute, they too cannot stop the tide, however much effort, money or professional investment is hurled at the problem. Children are excluded, mostly because they have proclaimed their disdain for education with such vigour that they become uneducable, disruptive and often violent. More police? Yes, of course – we shall see whether the magic 20,000 more actually materialises. I don’t think it’s nearly enough because the disaffection, disillusionment and sheer rebellion run too deep. The Church is considered by many to be a collection of meaningless fairy stories for the feeble-minded, its tenets suitable for old women and the notion of God is as irrelevant as a chocolate soldier.

The UK, in common with so many other places, has lost a moral compass. We have forgotten how we came to be successful, kind, hardworking and content, discarding, even sometimes refusing to learn the lessons our history has taught us. We live in an era of unprecedented privilege yet have allowed ourselves to be compromised spiritually and emotionally and in so many tragic cases, we are reaping what we have sown in the form of the bad fruit so very present in some of our children. One of the core commandments of Judaism is “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). This commandment stands at the centre of the Torah and enjoins individuals to treat each other as equals which requires first valuing oneself in order to be able to mirror that love towards others. As the great Talmudic scholar Rabbi Akiva is credited with saying: “you shall love the Lord your God …..and love your neighbour as yourself. Everything else is commentary.”

Babylon, Brushes and Birthdays.

Pastry heaven

Damn the Babylonians. Their astronomy was a bit primitive but they figured out that the stellar patterns returned to the same place roughly every 360 days. It took us about two thousand years, but we now know the actual figure is 365.25 days for planet Earth to haul its carcass around the sun. All this to say that one more notch was added to my bedpost yesterday and the admittedly vague spectre of the Grim Reaper is a little bit closer to the horizon. Some take the addition of a new number to life’s clock better than others.  I felt a little like W B Yeats, a gloomy sort of chap who at dinner with H G Wells in the 1930s bemoaned the fact that that all his friends were dead. “But, you’re not”, H G replied. “I’ll have the steak.”

Which is rather how I’d quite like to look at it.

I had a lovely time on my birthday, pampered by cinema tickets and dinner with cake worthy of Pouchkine in Paris, so much so that I almost imagined myself to be four again when I was sick at my birthday party through gross and unfettered indulgence. I’d’ve liked to have posted a picture, of the cake, not me being sick, of course, but it all got eaten, thus the picture above, second-rate as it is, will have to do.

Three or four years ago, my beautiful, talented and exceptionally competent daughter left her electric toothbrush at my house. Despite the fleeting thought that she privately considered my dental practices to be woefully inefficient and the article was left as a dark reminder to do better, I used it faithfully, having changed the head for reasons both aesthetic and hygienic. It had a rechargeable battery which could not be reached, changed or interfered with unless one was an expert with a soldering iron, a degree in electrical engineering and endless patience. It reminded me with a little red light if I was pressing too hard, had a timer that momentarily slowed it every fifteen seconds so that the requisite two or even three minutes’ industrious lathering could be counted off and a little battery light to tell me it when it needed recharging. In recent days, however, like the gloomy W B, and perhaps myself, it had reached its geriatric years and needed now to be confined to the place of repose where all toothbrushes go when they die. I other words, I chucked it away. Having replaced it at the supermarket the other day, the new but somewhat inferior item was busily recharging when she-who-must-be-obeyed walked in. Her face fell when she saw my new brush. I wondered guiltily if I had been remiss in some way, like not replacing the loo roll. She then produced a gift, beautifully wrapped in silver paper. In childish haste, I tore it open and nestling therein was a beautiful, top-of-the-range electric toothbrush, complete with carrying case. This was a Van Gogh compared to the fingerpainting I had bought.

I laughed so hard I almost split my hernia stitches, since now I have two toothbrushes, one for the mountains and one for here. She saw the funny side. Eventually. After hitting me on the head a few times with a Tupperware box containing feta cheese (OK, I lied about that last bit but there was a homicidal gleam in her eye…)

I’d like it placed on record that I enjoyed the best birthday I have had in a while. Thanks too to all the Facebook crowd who took the trouble to send good wishes and in some cases, kisses, all of which were gratefully appreciated.

Scraping the Stubble

Many might remember that is was Christmas a few days ago, so we can all start saving to the next Saturnalia bacchanal. I received a present. Unusually, since most people think I’m dead.

But this post isn’t about presents. It’s about what most of us gentlemen, not blessed with a valet or living in Mayfair, or the hairy types who grow fungus on their faces because it’s ‘woke’ and who spend most of their time writing code which appears on multiple screens like on the set of a futuristic movie.

I mean, of course, scraping the stubble that appears as if by magic every morning on a man’s face, as if the beard fairy has visited overnight.

There are a number of ways to deal with this problem. It’s like mowing the lawn, a necessary but evil trick of Nature who, of course will one day inherit the Earth.

I refer, of course to the ART OF SHAVING.

There are a number of possibilities. First, you are late. Stumbling, semi-conscious into the shower, one grabs the disposable which has been hanging for weeks beside the shampoo that always gives you dandruff, stand like a guard dog underneath the blessed flow and scrape industriously, ignoring the pain and flecks of rust on the blade. Sometimes, the handle is pink, and after a microsecond of reflection and the fleeting thought that she’ll never find out, one sweeps the affected area with as much detail as a nasty hangover permits and hopes for the best. One ends up looking like a badly trimmed privet hedge but hopefully nobody will notice and one then proceeds to the bedroom and puts on ones socks, not realising that both of them are inside out. This is what can best be described as the Speedy Motors method, where all work is done by apprentices.

Those of us who have renounced daily toil, however, have a different method. I mentioned Christmas. A particularly kind friend, of which more anon, spent hours, yes, hours on the Internet (using up my bandwidth, I might add), selecting a beautiful, heavy shaving ‘set’, consisting of a badger hair brush, a little cup thingy to hold the soap and a razor with its own little holder. All mounted on a plinth heavy enough to support Nelson’s column. The thing is a work of art. The brush has black tips and a brown superstructure so the animal who donated it can rest assured it died in a good cause. The razor handle is heavy, straight and manly, none of these ‘fit in your hand’ things which are tailor made for castrating a cat. The Italian soap comes in a container which precisely fits the little silver cup for which it was intended. And the soap has a little twirl on the end like a Mr Whippy ice cream. One is almost tempted to lick it. Hot water – one Internet source recommends 120 Celsius but I was damned if I was going to shove the thing in a pressure cooker, so the blade relaxed nicely at 80 or so degrees. Clockwise stirring of the soap produced a profusion of lather with the brush, so after a refreshing splash of water on the face, one then applies the product, smelling faintly of sandalwood. Nothing too heavy, otherwise you smell like a pimp. Brushing is an act of sheer sensuality, it’s like being stroked by a cat and produces a Santa-like profusion. The blade glides effortlessly, sweeping the detritus away like a leaf-blower, with no epidermal damage. A quick finish on the sideburns with an open razor (the kind that Glasgow hoodlums carried) to just straighten up the edges, followed by a hot towel to open the pores and some Ferragamo cologne to close them up again. Just a little tip about open razors – if moved horizontally, the resultant profusion of blood makes one look like one of Dracula’s recent victims.

A man can now face his day with the confidence of a job well done, knowing that he can fire someone in a heartbeat. The fact that his bed is as unmade as Tracey Emin’s and his shirt is unironed is a detail best overlooked.