Monthly Archives: January 2013

Nostalgia – Not What It Used To Be

Show me a person who’s never felt that aching, yearning desire for the ‘Good Old Days’, and I’ll show you a twenty-something, or – tops – a thirtyish glass-half-full type.  It’s part of the human condition, and believe me, you youngster nostalgia-heads, the longing for times past only gets worse and more compelling with age.

The thing is, though – it’s all a sham.  Nostalgia has spawned virtually an entire industry, making zillions out of the ever-increasing urge to regress to what we think of as happier times, flogging us kitsch memorabilia and useless antiques at premium prices.  All this, for a concept as hollow and insubstantial as a bubble.  I’ll try to explain what I’m getting at.

The main thing you need to know about The Good Old Days, is that – they don’t exist.  Or, more accurately, from the only perspective that matters – here and now – the memory of The Good Old Days is like a Siren’s song, calling seductively to you, whilst keeping the singer’s essential character hidden.  And the essential character of The Good Old Days may be summed up as follows:  more hardship, less enlightened attitudes, worse public health and life expectancy and just generally a lack of the things in life today we’d find it hard to live without.  I won’t drone on here about smart phones, the internet, flat-screen TV’s and spiffy microwave-grills.  You get the picture.

The late, lamented legend that was Tony Capstick summed up the flip-side of nostalgia very neatly indeed.  In his hilarious pastiche of a famous bread advert, filmed on a steep and cobbled street to the accompaniment of Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Capstick intoned “We had lots of things in them days, they haven’t got today.  Rickets.  Diptheria.  Hitler….. They dun’t know they’re born today”.  As with all the best comedy, there’s a kernel of truth there.

So why this fierce desire to re-live days gone by, through old photographs, maybe, or a TV series set in whichever decade speaks to us of our particular formative years?  Perhaps it’s a desire to meet up again with lost loved ones, which is readily understandable.  But the nostalgic ache affects the vast majority of people, including those lucky enough never to have experienced bereavement.  Maybe it really is just a longing for simpler times, but I truly don’t think so.

My pet theory – and I’ve thought about this a lot, as you tend to on your journey through middle-age – is that it’s not the mythical Good Old Days we’re all missing.  Rather, it’s the Good Young Us.  Everything that seems better in the eye of memory was originally seen through younger, sharper eyes, at a time when we inhabited a younger, more flexible and healthier body, when we mercifully lacked the cares of having to forge a living and look after dependents, when we could take life as it came to us, unafraid of the future and ready for anything.  This, sadly, is not a set of circumstances fully valued or appreciated at the time – only in retrospect, when physical and mental powers are waning and the gaze we cast on the world is more jaundiced, do we really understand what we had, and what we’ve lost.  Small wonder, then, that there’s a hankering to go back and regain our younger selves.

There’s a tendency, as well, for memory to reach further and further back into the distant past as we age.  This means that a lot of older people spend much more of their time delving through their long-term recall, and find happiness in contemplating the days of their youth, a refuge of sorts from a modern world that seems more and more bewildering to them.  It’s the kinder face of nostalgia – a therapy to help people cope with the iniquities of old age.  But again, I would argue that it’s their own younger selves that Gran and Grandad are contentedly revisiting, and that the period setting of those memories is purely incidental.

We associate our golden days of youth with a definite time frame, that’s all, and it’s that association our brains seize on to hook us into yearning for whatever past time.  For some, it’s World War Two, for others it might be the Fab Fifties, or even the Electronic Eighties.  I hark back to the Sensational Seventies myself, but I’ve no real desire to ride a Raleigh Chopper again, or even to come home and watch “Love Thy Neighbour” on a tiny TV.  But I would give a lot for the flat tummy, the sporting prowess, the soundness of wind and limb and the 20-20 vision I enjoyed, but never fully appreciated back then.

That’s what nostalgia is really all about, and we’d do well to face up to it – there’s more chance, after all, of science eventually mitigating the tyranny of old age, with its attendant infirmities, than there is of it building us a Time Machine.  So perhaps we’d all better settle for what we’ve at least some chance of getting, rather than pandering to this hopeless desire for a past to which distance has lent a false enchantment.  But that’s easier said than done – when the nostalgia bug bites, it bites hard.

Now – where did I put that Rubik’s Cube….?

Snouts In The Trough – But It’s Time Those Living High On The Hog Picked Up The Tab

Snouts In The Trough – But It’s Time Those Living High On The Hog Picked Up The Tab.

Snouts In The Trough – But It’s Time Those Living High On The Hog Picked Up The Tab

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The thing about politicians is – if they’re not talking, or furiously thinking of a way out of their latest web of deceit, or maybe sleeping (a swift forty winks on the backbenches, the ultimate power nap), then they’re most likely at some or other official function, stuffing their faces with the finest of freebie food and drink.

Now, I’m not making a party political point here. I said “politicians”, and I meant the whole unsavoury crew of them, be they high-powered cabinet members, lobby fodder rank-and-file MP’s, or even your humble Joe Bloggs, Mavis Dogood or Tarquin FitzHerbert-Smythe in the local Council chambers. They all have the same basic bodily need for nutrition as us mere mortals. The difference is, they will quite often fill up to the Plimsoll line at the taxpayer’s expense. Is this fair or appropriate in these straitened times?

At a veritable crisis point of global financial meltdown, when our national debt is so high that even Wayne Rooney would need to ask for an extra week or two to pay it off, I find myself wondering: what’s the accumulated value of all the state and civic banquets, dinners, receptions, working lunches and other freebie jamborees that take place every day, all over the country? It must come to a good few bob. We’re not, after all, talking a few limp ham sandwiches, curling up at the edges and accompanied by motley shreds of anaemic lettuce. No, sir. These people do not skimp; they do themselves well, very well indeed. There’s proper, grown-up, posh food on heavily-laden and groaning tables – and it must be highly debatable how much productive thinking is left in those bloated plutocrats, after the desserts have been and gone, and the port, nuts and cigars pass around.

Of course, piling into the scran at the highest levels of power is nothing new. It’s been pretty much de rigueur ever since Henry I wolfed down half-a-dozen too many eels, and expired before he could gasp “surfeit of lampreys”. Kings, Queens, and assorted courtiers and other hangers-on have always been notable for their over-indulgence on rich food and fine wine. It sort of went with the territory in those far-off times, but it strikes a more discordant note these days when essential services – the culmination of the whole process of civilisation and enlightenment since before Henry I – are being cut left, right and centre. And yet still the state and political chomping goes on apace.

It’s only a matter of a couple of weeks since MP’s of all parties were calling for a 32% pay rise, despite their broad consensus that the rest of us should be grinning bravely and tightening our belts. Just what sort of message does that send out, when so much of their weekly calorific intake is provided and paid for, as part of their remit as legislators of our country? And the same applies at least in some degree to our business leaders – no subsidised canteen serving scrummy beans on toast with a poached egg on top for them – it’s Marco-Pierre White catering at the very least, no error – and waiter, send that bill to Accounts, there’s a good chap.

What if – bear with me here – what if MP’s, ponderous boardroom types, and indeed power-brokers everywhere were to embrace a novel concept, and actually pay for some of the scrumptious fare that comes their way so often, and gratis at that?  If this were the general principle, multiplied across all the many thousands of vastly expensive official meals and banquets that take place in this over-stretched nation every week, what would be the saving to the national purse?  I’m struggling to work that out on my fingers and in my head, but it’s a big, big number, make no mistake. It’s not as if the people we’re talking about are exactly impoverished – are they now? And what do the rest of us do when it’s time for lunch at work? Not everyone has even the subsidised canteen; many of us are away down to the high street for a cheese roll, which we’re – quite reasonably – expected to fund out of our own pockets.

It’s about time we all woke up to the fact that, on a grand scale, we’re being made right mugs out of, you and me. Every time there’s a new cost-cutting measure, or another idea for a wage freeze, you can bet your life it’s been hatched over the smoked-salmon canapés and the pâté de foie gras. And what’s more, we’re the simple souls paying for it. Could that money not be used much more productively, elsewhere?

Just think about that, the next time you’re counting the pennies at the end of the month, and wondering whether you can delay the big shop till after the weekend. Then again, that might even act as an appetite suppressant. Just thinking of all those banquets, all that luxury food, and above all, where the bill’s heading – might just actually make you sick.

A Day In The Death Of Leeds United

It’s not safe to identify any one day, defeat or disappointment as the nadir of Leeds United’s fortunes just now.  At the moment, takeover and “fresh start” notwithstanding, we appear to be plummeting downhill faster than a greased pig.  Today’s news that top scorer Luciano Becchio has submitted a transfer request is another notable low point – Leeds are making an unfortunate habit of losing their top players in January transfer windows.  And yet, you somehow have that uncomfortable, chill feeling – even as a committed Whites fanatic – that, however bad things may seem, there’s plenty of scope for them to get worse.

Indeed, it’s arguable that things HAVE been worse – much worse – in the fairly recent past, than they are today.  The run-up to the 2007-08 season, the club’s first in the third tier of English football, was catastrophic.  Administration had brought about the unprecedented penalty of a 15 point deduction, leaving the beleaguered giants 5 wins short of zero points as the season started.  But that season turned into a triumph of sorts – promotion was narrowly missed, and the whole points-deduction saga seemed to galvanise the support.  On the pitch, the team delivered, particularly in the early part of the season, and a seemingly irresistible momentum was built up.  Leeds really were United at this lowest ebb in their history.

At present, in some superficial measures, things are better – but in the most fundamental ways, they appear significantly worse.  Obviously, the club now enjoys a higher status within the game – the dark days of League One football are receding into the past, at least for the time being.  There have been high spots too, famous Cup victories and the odd satisfying away performance.  At Elland Road, once a fortress notorious for intimidating opponents, form has been patchy.  And yet Premier League teams have been put to the sword, and generally speaking the team will give anyone a game on their own patch.  The underlying problem today though is more insidious than the acute emergencies immediately post-administration.  It is the creeping cancer of apathy that pervades the club now.

It’s not difficult to see the signs of this.  Read any of the fans’ forums, and a pattern swiftly emerges.  The supporters, by and large, are sick of the way the club has been run over the past few years.  Sick of paying top dollar for a distinctly second-rate product.  Sick of the club’s habitual prevarications over transfer policy, of seeing our best players form a procession out of the exit door, sick to death of seeing lesser clubs easily out-match us for wages and transfer fees, despite the fact that our turnover and potential remain at the top end.

Leeds United, a great name in English football, by any measure, appears to have been run on the cheap for a long time now.  Investment is minimal, the ability to retain promising players practically non-existent.  The supporters’ expectations, born of great days in the past, remain high – and why shouldn’t they be?  But those expectations show no sign of being met, or even approached.  Last summer’s long drawn-out agony of a takeover saga descended too often to the depths of farce, as rumour countered rumour, and we all rode an internet-driven roller-coaster of optimism and despair, over and over again.  But once concluded, that saga has not spawned a legacy of more investment and better club/fan relations.  We appear to be stuck with more of the same; the changes appear to have been purely cosmetic.

On Saturday 12th January, Leeds United played Barnsley away, a fixture that had produced humiliating three-goal thrashings in the previous two seasons.  This time around, it was only a two goal thrashing, but the manner of defeat – the abject failure to muster any real threat up front, and the spectacle of midfield players gazing skywards as the ball whistled to and fro far above them – was too much for the long-suffering band of away fans in Leeds United colours.  They complained, loudly.  They advised the manager to be on his way.  They questioned the fitness of the players to wear the famous shirt.  The supporters feel they are being taken for mugs, and they have had enough.

All this has been true for a while – but for much of the past year, change has been in the air, and it has seemed reasonable to expect that things might be about to get better.  Some of us dared to dream.  But after the final whistle at Barnsley’s Oakwell ground, it seemed all of a sudden quite clear that the options for change had been exhausted, and that the future remains as bleak as it has been at any time since top-flight status was relinquished 9 long years ago.

Some of the fans – not all, but some – feel that there is now no way back for Leeds – not to anywhere approaching the pre-eminence they once enjoyed in the game.  If that’s the case, then the question arises: what is a reasonable aim now?  To gain promotion to the Premier League, and strive to survive?  To become a yo-yo club, with promotion and relegation in successive years, never becoming established in the top-flight?  That might be enough for many clubs, but at Leeds the memories of glory are that bit too vivid for the fans to settle for any such precarious existence, scratching around in the hinterland of old rivals’ success.

It may well be that, on that cold day in Barnsley, realisation dawned that the club Leeds United once were is now dead and gone.  What is left behind may well still be worth supporting, but it is likely to be a pale shadow of what we once knew.  Yesterday, there were rumours of high profile signings – and you knew, you just KNEW, that we were being softened up for more bad news.  Today, it seems that Becchio is off, and we hear reports that recent loanees didn’t want to stay “because of the money situation up there”.  It all stinks of a club rotten to the core, and dead at the top.

Leeds United – one of the truly great names in English football.  RIP.

“Blue Bloods” – Off-The-Peg Morality and The American Dream

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“Blue Bloods” is a CBS-produced TV drama – now in its third season – airing on Sky Atlantic in the UK, which typifies the successful formula used to create a top-rating series stateside.  It centres on the Irish-American Reagan family, a bunch of high-achievers and strong role models, who pretty much run the NYPD between them, and also – in the shape of Assistant District Attorney Erin Reagan – have a massive influence over the prosecution of all the ne’er-do-wells apprehended week by week.

The Reagans are a disparate collection of characters – all human life is there, of a positive and admirable kind, anyway.  Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) is the head honcho, as Police Commissioner, his Pop and perennial éminence grise Henry (Len Cariou) also held that office, but is now retired and dispenses slightly crotchety wisdom informally, in the family setting.  Frank’s two sons are obligingly different types of police officer – Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) is the hard-nosed yet lovable detective, and Jamie (Will Estes) is the rookie, law-graduated yet lovable street cop.  Between them, these two officers are responsible for just about all the law enforcement and bad-guy nabbing in New York City on any given day, swinging into action after receiving pearls of fatherly wisdom from dad Frank, and hauling their quarry to be processed by sister Erin (Bridget Moynahan), the principled yet lovable prosecuting counsel.

As we can clearly see, the family theme beloved of American popular culture is particularly strong here.  The Reagans, we learn, have hauled themselves up from humble and inauspicious circumstances (Frank’s grand-daddy was – whisper it softly – a shiftless alcoholic!) by hard work, unswerving rectitude, devotion to the Mother Church and regular injections of moral fibre dispensed at the family dining table.  They think no small beans of themselves – oft is heard the stern admonition “Remember – you’re a Reagan”.  The aforementioned dining table is a huge affair, laden with food symbolising the bounty deserved by all God-fearing, hard-working folk, and it is here that family issues are thrashed out, subject always to the casting-vote wisdom of one or other elder statesman.

On the street, the action is often hot and fierce, and some moral dilemma is always just around the corner.  Detective Danny tends to be the fulcrum for most of this activity, his hard-nosed yet lovable tendencies neatly counter-balanced by his partner detective, Jackie Curatola (Jennifer Esposito), a tough yet lovable dame whose trusty gun is worn artlessly displayed upon a shapely hip, and whose heart is good.  Patrolman Jamie, during momentary lulls, will deal with less immediately life-threatening issues – he brings a fresh-faced approach to law enforcement, frequently showing his more hard-bitten and cynical colleagues the error of their ways, by the application of homespun Reagan principles and a boyish grin.

The Reagans have had their problems; all has not always been rosy in their garden.  Frank’s eldest son, Joe, died in the line of duty – but this might almost be seen as lay-your-life-down credibility, an essential qualification for such an exemplary family.  Frank is also a widower, bless him, and daughter Erin is divorced – we get the distinct feeling she married beneath her, but hey, it would be hard not to.  There are three generations of service veterans to provide the right kind of backbone for this American dream, and the recurring visits to the family table are a hymn to extended-family devotion, enlightened discipline for the youngsters, unquestioned fidelity in the surviving marriage (Danny’s, despite his regard for his disconcertingly hot detective partner) and just generally The Right Way Of Doing Things.

For anyone who likes some fairly compelling action, a neat delivery of morals and homilies every week, and the pre-packaged security of the family home and fairly smug prosperity, “Blue Bloods” is the ideal TV series.  Beyond a nagging feeling that it would be easier to watch for a UK audience without some of the schmaltzy sermonising, it’s actually a pretty good watch – the production values are excellent, the acting generally good, and you do get used – eventually – to Selleck’s habit of slowly exhaling through his nose in a wise way, whenever he’s contemplating some knotty problem, or about to deliver a tablet of sagacity.

The suspension of disbelief is, in any event, a pre-requisite for a TV drama these days – the way real life pans out simply wouldn’t make good viewing.  So you find you can handle the apparently accepted fact that one family seems to hold such complete sway over law enforcement and the administration of justice in a teeming metropolis like NYC.  Then again, the Reagans are simply one hell of a family – as they’re usually just about to tell us.

Les Misérables – Making A Good Thing Even Better

As a devoted fan of the stage show since January 1988 when I first experienced it at The Palace Theatre in London, I have to confess:  I was extremely reticent over the prospect of seeing the film adaptation.  Perhaps I was unsure of my own ability to switch environments – seeing new faces and hearing new voices, fearful of sitting there for three hours annoyed, and missing my old heroes.  Maybe it was just my inherent small “c” conservatism, an instinctive preference for the cosy familiarity of the “Les Mis” I know so well and have loved for so long.  Whatever it was, I was wrong – and I would now like to don the sackcloth and ashes, and order a large slice of humble pie.

Les Misérables on the big screen is magnificent – even magnifique.  Epic in its scale, it is an assault on willingly-receptive senses right from the off.  The adjustment I had so feared being unable to make was accomplished right away and without protest from my latent prejudices. One immediately noticeable improvement is the enhanced exposition of the movie version – little linkages are made in the narrative of the story that are not apparent – to me, anyway – from countless viewings of the stage show.  The downward spiral of Fantine is thus portrayed and explained more effectively, and the emotional impact is increased.  The same can be said of various other points in the film, where the reaction to unfolding events is unexpectedly raw, largely because what has caused those events to unfold is a lot clearer.

This shuddering impact – the emotional equivalent of a kick in the guts – is never more pronounced than during the suffering and despair of Fantine.  We know what she is going through when we see the show at the theatre.  It’s horrible, and unfair, and we weep for the hapless victim of pitiless exploitation.  But withal, there is an ethereal prettiness about the character even as she labours under the cruelty of fate as manifested by various uncaring men.  It’s a broad brush which paints the picture on the stage, skilfully as it might be done.

Contrast this with Anne Hathaway’s no-holds-barred portrayal of descent into despair, loss and death.  No soft focus here, no semi-comic images of the harlots scene.  There is an ugliness and horror about Fantine’s situation as it plummets downhill, and Ms Hathaway treats us to a smorgasbord of blood, sweat, grime and tears, not to mention snot, spit and coarse dentistry.  Her evocation of innocence and anger at cruel fate is compelling even as it is repellent.  The pathos of her dawning, disbelieving hope as Valjean whisks her away to hospital is palpable, and the skill of the performer is complemented by pitiless close-ups, every nuance of expression and suffering right in your face.  The impact is awesome, in a way that could never be achieved on stage.  You sit there in the dark, and you suffer – vicariously it’s true, but nonetheless convincing for that.

Look out for and beware many such moments of tear-jerking, sob-racking grief in this three hour marathon which yet somehow flies by.  The rebel’s badge placed with unexpected tenderness on the corpse of a young boy, whose sightless eyes rivet the watcher in horror at such waste.  The last two students, cornered by an open window and snarling defiance behind their tattered flag as they face the guns levelled at them, determined on their martyrdom and quite impervious to fear.  Powerful, massively emotive stuff.

This is the magic of the movie treatment of Les Mis.  Time and again, you are drawn inexorably into the inner feelings of a character in extremis, and this applies to heroes and villains alike.  The distinction between the two poles of good and evil is fine, as it should be with any real, human story.  These are three-dimensional characters given full rein by the possibilities offered on the big screen.  Our feelings are not spared, and there is uncomfortably little distance between our perspective and the struggle and conflicts unfolding before us.  But the same also applies to the moments of love and beauty, and to the final message of redemption, and we are warmed by these in equal measure to the shock and grief we experience elsewhere.

Les Misérables is a motion picture tribute to an immortal piece of musical theatre, and as such it has more than achieved its goal, which must – as a minimum – have been to leave the legacy untarnished.  In actually enhancing the experience, it has certainly surpassed my expectations, and I feel that the next time I see the show, it will be with an increased understanding of the story, the characters and the whole phenomenon.  An amazing movie and one I would heartily recommend to anyone – but make sure you’re adequately hydrated, and take plenty of tissues….

Unity, Not Division – The Lessons Of The London Olympics.

Unity, Not Division – The Lessons Of The London Olympics..

Reporting A Crime? That’ll Be £1.50 A Minute – Thanks.

Reporting A Crime? That’ll Be £1.50 A Minute – Thanks..

Reporting A Crime? That’ll Be £1.50 A Minute – Thanks.

Someone’s suggested making 999 calls premium rate, to cut down on prank calls. I sometimes think no example of dribbling stupidity can shock me any more, but I must confess this rather takes the breath away.

Firstly – it’s another example of trying to regulate public behaviour by financial sanctions. All this does is make abuse of the service concerned the preserve of the rich, and it’s those chinless wonders who are more likely to act like brainless kids anyway.

Secondly – make people think twice before summoning the emergency services, because of the cost? Really?? Are the poor to be marginalised out of the right to be rescued by police, firefighters or ambulances??

This idea is so utterly nonsensical and thoughtlessly dumb, I can only assume it’s the product of a right-wing, Manchester United-supporting redneck American. That the BBC have decided to give it air time is, sadly, typical of that Corporation’s current tabloid mentality.

Unity, Not Division – The Lessons Of The London Olympics.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens’ summing up of one particular period in history could serve very well as an epitaph for many years in this century, or any other – but few more so, surely, than 2012 – a time of unity, yet a time of division.

This was a year of high peaks and deep troughs. From a United Kingdom perspective, we can look back with pride on a triumphant staging of the Olympic Games and the Paralympics in London last summer. Rarely can a sporting spectacle have so united people; many who would normally fail to show a flicker of interest in sport were swept along on the wave of enthusiasm generated by the performances and achievements of our gallant competitors.

Sport in a wider sense came to the fore as a catalyst for optimism and togetherness. Andy Murray had his best Wimbledon ever, won over cynical hearts with his tears after narrowly losing in the Final, and then swept to Olympic gold and – at last – won a Grand Slam event, the U.S. Open. The Ryder Cup golf team, having dug themselves into a frightful hole, emerged gloriously as winners in the end, a comeback as miraculous as any other in that competition’s history. Even the Test Cricket team, having started the year poorly, ended it victoriously, winning in India for the first time since 1984.

As we are always being told, though, sport isn’t everything. In a wider sense, the news has not been so good. Austerity continues to cast a shadow over all of us – though that shadow appears to be significantly longer for some than for others. The mantra chanted by our rulers is “we’re all in it together”. But the question of just what we’re in, and to what depth, is left open.

What seems undeniable is that there are unsettling signs of division being created in society as a matter of policy. Divide and rule, as the old saw has it. The arithmetic of recovery seems to dictate that the way forward is belt-tightening all round. But some sections of the population are in danger of ending up so emaciated, that however much tighter they might fasten their belts, they’re still liable to be caught with their pants down when the bills fall due.

People claiming benefits – even the majority who claim in-work benefits – are being cast as the villains of the piece when culprits are sought for the mess we’re in. The marginal effect of cuts to income at this end of the scale is far greater than could be perceived by – to pluck an example out of thin air – a City banker. But such cuts are proving to be a popular measure, and this is due largely to the rhetoric directed against those whose circumstances force their reliance on state benefits. And let’s not forget that many of these citizens are just as industrious as anybody else, but are forced by low pay to seek financial assistance from the benefits system. Then of course there are the genuinely disabled. Who’s the real villain here?

Benjamin Franklin, prior to signing the U.S. Declaration of Independence, memorably stated “Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately”. The message that no group of people can succeed and prosper who are divided against themselves, applies equally to society at large. We must beware the toxicity of creating schisms among our populace, however pragmatic an approach this might appear in Whitehall or Fleet Street when harsh measures need to be justified.

The feel-good factor of 2012 was all about unity and pride in the nation and its achievements; anybody who witnessed the Olympics, or Wimbledon, or indeed the traditional Last Night of the Proms could bear witness to that. The contrast with this current process of division is stark, and telling. Any policy that promotes whispering campaigns, suspicion and dislike of any group of people, merely to popularise draconian financial sanctions, is negative and unjust in the extreme. We must surely look to the good of last year, to unity and positivity, as embodied when the nation as a whole got behind our athletes and parathletes. This is the ethos that should drive any programme of recovery, not a selective demonising of a whole, hapless section of society.

If we really are all in it together, then we have to stick together, and succeed together. Surely that is the best lesson 2012 has for this New Year.